The well known policy of the savages to ambush or outflank their enemies was well known to Washington. He warned St. Clair of this terrible danger in the Indian country, but his advice went unheeded. A pre-concerted attack might occur on the front ranks of an advancing column, and almost immediately spread to the flanks. This occurred at Braddock's defeat. The glittering army of redcoats, so much admired by Washington, with drums beating and flags flying, forded the Monongahela and ascended the banks of the river between two hidden ravines. Suddenly they were greeted by a terrible fire on the front ranks, which almost immediately spread to the right flank, and then followed a horrible ma.s.sacre of huddled troops, who fired volleys of musketry at an invisible foe, and then miserably perished. When St. Clair started his ill-fated march upon the Miami towns in 1791, his movements were observed every instant of time by the silent scouts and runners of the Miamis. Camping on the banks of the upper Wabash, and foolishly posting his militia far in the front, he suddenly saw them driven back in confusion upon his regulars, his lines broken by attacks on both flanks, and his artillery silenced to the last gun. The attack was so well planned, so sudden and so furious, that nothing remained but precipitate and disastrous retreat. Out of an army consisting of fourteen hundred men and eighty-six officers, eight hundred and ninety men and sixteen officers were killed and wounded. St. Clair believed that he had been "overpowered by numbers," and so reported to the government. "It was alleged by the officers," says Judge Burnet, "that the Indians far outnumbered the American troops. That conclusion was drawn, in part, from the fact that they outflanked and attacked the American lines with great force, and at the same time on every side." The truth is, that St.
Clair was completely outwitted by the admirable cunning and strategy of Little Turtle, the Miami, who concerted the plan of attack, and directed its operation. Nor is it at all likely that the Indians had a superior force. They often attacked superior numbers, if they enjoyed the better fighting position, or could take advantage of an ambush or surprise. A very respectable authority, who has the endors.e.m.e.nt of historians, says: "There was an army of Indians composed of Miamis, Potawatomis, Ottowas, Chippewas, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, and a few Mingoes and Cherokees, amounting in all to eleven hundred and thirty-three, that attacked and defeated General St. Clair on the 4th of November, 1791.
Each nation was commanded by their own chiefs, all of whom were governed by the Little Turtle, who made the arrangements for the action, and commenced the attack with the Miamis, who were under his immediate command. The Indians had thirty killed and died with their wounds the day of the action and fifty wounded."
Of such formidable mould, were the redmen of the northwest, who went into battle stripped to the skin, and with bodies painted with horrible stripes of vermilion. So disastrous had been the result of their victories over the armies of Harmar and St. Clair, and so illy equipped with men, money and supplies was the infant government of the United States, that immediately prior to the campaign of General Anthony Wayne, a military conference was held between President Washington, General Knox, Secretary of War, and General Wayne, to devise a system of military tactics that should thereafter control in the conduct of all wars against the Indians of the northwest.
The development of this system of tactics has been outlined by General William Henry Harrison, who was an aide to Wayne, in a personal letter to Mann Butler, one of the historians of Kentucky.
It was determined that in all future contests with the tribes, that the troops employed should, when in the Indian country, be marched in such manner as that the order of march could be immediately converted, by simple evolution, into an order of battle. In other words, that the troops while actually in the line of march, could be almost instantly formed in lines of battle. This was to prevent any sudden or unexpected attack, and this was always liable to occur in the thickly wooded country. The troops were also taught to march in open formation, each file to be more than an arm's length from those on the right and left.
The old European system of fighting men shoulder to shoulder was entirely impracticable in a wilderness of woods, for it invited too great a slaughter, interfered with the movement of the troops, and shortened the lines. The great object of the Indian tactics was always to flank their enemy, therefore an extension of the lines was highly desirable when entering into action. "In fighting Indians, there was no shock to be given or received, and a very open order was therefore attended with two very great advantages; it more than doubled the length of the lines, and in charging, which was an essential part of the system, it gave more facility to get through the obstacles which an action in the woods presented."
A system was also developed whereby, in case the Indians attempted to flank the enemy, they were met by a succession of fresh troops coming from the rear to extend the lines. When encamped, the troops were to a.s.sume the form of a hollow square, with the baggage and cavalry, and sometimes the light infantry and riflemen, in the center. A rampart of logs was to be placed around the camp, to prevent a sudden night attack, and to give the troops time to get under arms, but this rampart was not intended as a means of defense in daylight. "To defeat Indians by regular troops, the charge must be relied upon; the fatality of a contest at long shot, with their accurate aim and facility of covering themselves, was mournfully exhibited in the defeats of Braddock and St.
Clair. General Wayne used no patrols, no picket guards. In Indian warfare they would always be cut off; and if that were not the case, they would afford no additional security to the army, as Indians do not require roads to enable them to advance upon an enemy. For the same reason (that they would be killed or taken), patrols were rejected, and reliance for safety was entirely placed upon keeping the army always ready for action. In connection with this system for constant preparation, there was only a chain of sentinels around the camps, furnished by the camp guards, who were placed within supporting distance."
The outline and adoption of this system of tactics shows that both Washington and Anthony Wayne were fully aware of the dangerous nature of their savage adversaries; that they had a wholesome respect for both their woodcraft and military discipline, and that they regarded the conquest of the western wilderness as a task requiring great circ.u.mspection and military genius.
--_The savage painted in his true colors from the standpoint of the frontiersman._
The poets and philosophers who dwelt in security far from the frontier posts of danger, have been much disposed in the past to extol the virtues of the savage and bewail his misfortunes, at the expense of the rugged pioneer who had to face his tomahawk and furnish victims for his mad vengeance. They went into rhapsodies when speaking of the "poor Indian," a.s.suming that in his primitive state, before he was corrupted by contact with the manners and customs of the white man, he represented all that was pure, good and simple, and that only after the European came, did this child of nature take on that ferocity and savagery that made his name the terror of the wilderness. They said that he was cruelly and unjustly despoiled of his lands and possessions; driven like a wild beast before the face of the settlements, and by fraud and force deprived of every right that he had enjoyed. These philosophers, while thus impeaching civilization, were always ready to condemn what they termed as the "rude frontiersmen," the men who originally made it possible that the land might be inhabited, the soil brought to a state of cultivation, and the arts and sciences brought to bear upon the wild forces of nature. They were especially severe in their animadversions upon the Kentuckians. They denounced their raids upon the Indian towns and villages along the Scioto and the Wabash as barbarous and uncalled for. They pointed to the fact that the Kentuckians pursued the Indians with a fierce and relentless hatred, using the scalping knife, and burning down their cabins and corn fields, forgetting at the same time the thousands of Kentuckians cruelly slain, the carrying away into captivity of pregnant women and innocent children, and the horrible tortures ofttimes inflicted on the aged and the helpless.
It must never be forgotten that despite his stoicism in facing danger, his skill in battle, his power to endure privation, and his undoubted valor and bravery, that the Indian was a savage, and entertained the thoughts of a savage. Toward those who, like the French, pampered his appet.i.tes and indulged his pa.s.sions to secure his trade, he entertained no malice. The lazy, fiddling Canadians who dwelt in Kaskaskia and Vincennes, had no ambition to absorb the soil or build up a great commonwealth. The little land they required to raise their corn, their vines and their onions on, aroused no savage jealousies. But from the first moment that the Americans came through the gaps and pa.s.ses of the Blue Ridge, and swept down the waters of the Ohio, with their women and children, their horses and cattle, the savage scented danger. These men were not traders; they came to set up their cabins and to build homes.
The wild dwellers in the wilderness must be tamed or swept back.
Conflict was inevitable; war certain. On the one hand was a grim determination to advance civilization; on the other, just as grim a determination to resist it. The savage, employing the same arts in his wars with the white man as he did in his wars with his fellow savage, used stealth and cunning, the ambuscade, the scalping knife, and the tomahawk, and tortured his victims at the stake. A terrible hatred was engendered, that meant death and extermination. In the sanguinary struggles that followed, many outrages were no doubt perpetrated by lawless white men upon the Indians. Such men as Lewis Wetzel are no credit to a race. But there is no sufficient ground either for the exaltation of the savage, or the condemnation of men like Boone, Kenton, Hardin and Scott, who stoutly fought in the vanguard of civilization. It was a war for supremacy between white man and red, and the fittest survived. The wild hunters of the forest and river, gave way to farmers and woodsmen, who made the clearings, built their cabins, and laid the foundation for the future greatness of the west. The pa.s.sing of the tribes was a tragedy, but it would have been a deeper tragedy still, had savagery prevailed.
Among the Indians of the northwest there was one tribe that attained a considerable fame. In all their forays into Kentucky and Virginia the Wyandots fought with the most fearless bravery and the most disciplined skill. Their conduct at the battle of Estel's Station met with many words of praise from Mann Butler, the Kentucky historian. It was well known among the settlements that the Wyandots treated their captives with consideration, and that they seldom resorted to torture by fire.
Though few in numbers, they acquired the acknowledged supremacy in the confederation of the northwest, were intrusted by Wayne at the treaty of Greenville with the custody of the great belt, the symbol of peace and union, and were given the princ.i.p.al copy of the treaty of peace. Between the Wyandot and the Ottawa, however, and the Wyandot and the Potawatomi, there was a striking divergence. If the Wyandot represented the highest order of intelligence among the savages of the northwest, the Potawatomi represented one of the lowest. He was dark, cruel, treacherous and unattractive, and proved a willing tool for murder and a.s.sa.s.sination in the hands of the English. There was no place on earth for the chivalrous Kentuckian and the treacherous Potawatomi to dwell in peace together, and the imparting of some idea of the true nature of this Indian will now engage our attention.
When the Dutchman put flint-locks and powder into the hands of the Iroquois, one of the tribes that he drove around the head of the great lakes was the Potawatomi. Where did they come from? The Jesuit Relation says, from the western sh.o.r.es of Lake Huron, and the Jesuit Fathers knew more about the Algonquin tribes of Canada and the west than all others.
All accounts confirm that they were of the same family as the Chippewas and Ottawas. From the head of Lakes Huron and Michigan they were forced to the west and then driven to the south. In 1670 it is known that a portion of them were on the islands in the mouth of Green bay. They were then moving southward, probably impelled by the fierce fighting Sioux, whom Colonel Roosevelt so appropriately named the "horse Indians," of the west. At the close of the seventeenth century they were on the Milwaukee river, in the vicinity of Chicago, and on the St. Joseph river in southern Michigan. They had gone entirely around the northern, western and southern sides of Lake Michigan, and were now headed in the direction of their original habitations.
According to Hiram W. Beckwith, the Potawatomi were the most populous tribe between the lakes and the Ohio, the Wabash and the Mississippi.
Their debouch upon the plains of the Illinois has already been mentioned. This was about the year 1765. The confederacy among them, the Kickapoos and the Sacs and Foxes, resulted in the extermination of the old Illinois tribes, and after that extermination, the Kickapoos took possession of the country around Peoria and along the Vermilion river, the Potawatomi of eastern and northern Illinois, while the Sacs and Foxes went farther to the west. After the treaty of Greenville in 1795, the Potawatomi rapidly absorbed the ancient domain of the Miamis in northern Indiana, swiftly pressing them back to the Wabash, and usurping the major portion of the small lake region in the north end of the state. They had now become so haughty and insolent in their conduct as to refer to the Miamis as "their younger brothers," and the Miamis, by reason of their long wars, their commingling with the traders, and their acquisition of degenerate habits, were unable to drive them back. In 1810 and 1811, Tec.u.mseh and the one-eyed Prophet were eagerly seeking an alliance with their treacherous chiefs. A demand was made upon Tec.u.mseh for the surrender of certain Potawatomi murderers and horse thieves who had invaded the Missouri region and committed depredations, but Tec.u.mseh replied that he was unable to apprehend them, and that they had escaped to the Illinois country. The Potawatomi were now living in mixed villages west of the present sites of Logansport and Lafayette, and the southern limits of their domain extended as far down the Wabash as the outlet of Pine creek across the river from the present city of Attica.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Shaubena, the best of the Potawatomi Chiefs, and a follower of Tec.u.mseh. By Courtesy The Chicago Historical Society]
The Potawatomi loved the remoteness and seclusion of the great prairie, and many of their divisions have been known as the "prairie" tribes.
They seem to have lived for the most part in separate, roving bands, which divided "according to the abundance or scarcity of game, or the emergencies of war." Encouraged by the English, they joined in the terrible expeditions of the Shawnees and Miamis against the keel-boats on the Ohio, and against the settlements of Kentucky. They were inveterate horse-thieves. Riding for long distances across plain and prairie, through forests and across rivers, they suddenly swooped down on some isolated frontier cabin, perhaps murdering its helpless and defenseless inmates, taking away a child or a young girl, killing cattle or riding away the horses and disappearing in the wilderness as suddenly as they emerged from it. In the later days of Tec.u.mseh's time, these parties of marauders generally consisted of from four or five, to twenty. They were still striking the white settlements of Kentucky, and even penetrated as far west as the outposts on the Missouri river.
Their retreat after attack was made with the swiftness of the wind.
Pursuit, if not made immediately, was futile. Traveling day and night, the murderous riders were lost in the great prairies and wildernesses of the north, and the Prophet was a sure protector. The savage chief, Turkey Foot, for whom two groves were named, in Benton and Newton Counties, Indiana, stealing horses in far away Missouri, murdered three or four of his pursuers and made good his escape to the great plains and swamps between the Wabash and Lake Michigan.
There was nothing romantic about the Potawatomi. They were real savages, and known to the French-Canadians as "Les Poux," or those who have lice, from which it may be inferred that they were not generally of cleanly habits. In general appearance they did not compare favorably with the Kickapoos of the Vermilion river. The Kickapoo warriors were generally tall and sinewy, while the Potawatomi were shorter and more thickly set, very dark and squalid. Numbers of the women of the Kickapoos were described as being lithe, "and many of them by no means lacking in beauty." The Potawatomi women were inclined to greasiness and obesity.
The Potawatomi had little regard for their women. Polygamy was common among them when visited by the early missionaries. The warriors were always gamblers, playing heavily at their moccasin games and lacrosse.
Nothing, however, revealed their savage nature so well as their rapid decline under the influence of whiskey. As we shall see hereafter, one of the great motives that impelled their attacks on the flat boats of the Ohio river, was their desire not only for plunder, but for rum. The boats generally contained a liberal supply. Nothing was more common than drunkenness after the greedy and avaricious traders of the Wabash got into their midst and bartered them brandy for their most valuable peltries. Potawatomi were found camping about Vincennes in great numbers and trading everything of value for liquor. In General Harrison's day, he endeavored time and time again to stop this nefarious traffic. On all occasions when treaties were to be made, or council fires kindled, he issued proclamations prohibiting the sale of liquor to the Indians.
These proclamations were inserted in the Western Sun, at Vincennes, on more than one occasion, but they were unavailing. The temptation of a huge profit was too strong. Carousals and orgies took place when the Indians were under the influence of "fire-water." Fights and murders were frequent. At the last, whiskey destroyed the last vestige of virtue in their women, and valor in their warriors.
After the crushing of the Prophet in 1811, and the destruction of British influence in the northwest, consequent upon the war of 1812, the decline of the Potawatomi was swift and appalling. The terrible ravages of "fire-water" played no inconsiderable part. Many of their princ.i.p.al chieftains became notorious drunkards reeling along the streets of frontier posts and towns and boasting of their former prowess. Even the renowned Topenebee, the last princ.i.p.al chief of the tribe of the river St. Joseph was no exception. Reproached by General Lewis Ca.s.s, because he did not remain sober and care for his people, he answered: "Father, we do not care for the land, nor the money, nor the goods; what we want is whiskey! Give us whiskey!" The example set by the chiefs was not neglected by their followers.
Nothing can better ill.u.s.trate the shocking savagery and depravity of some of their last chieftains, after the tribe had been contaminated by the effect of strong liquors, than the story of Wabunsee, princ.i.p.al war chief of the prairie band of Potawatomi residing on the Kankakee river in Illinois, and in his early days one of the renowned and daring warriors of his tribe. When General Harrison marched with his regulars and Indiana and Kentucky militia, on the way to the battlefield of Tippecanoe, he ascended the Wabash river, erecting Fort Harrison, near the present site of Terre Haute, and christening it on Sunday, the 27th day of October, 1811. From here, the army marched up the east bank of the river, crossing the deep water near the present site of Montezuma, Indiana, and erecting a block house on the west bank, about three miles below the mouth of the Vermilion river, for a base of supplies. Corn and provisions for the army were taken in boats and pirogues from Fort Harrison up the river, and unloaded at this block house. On Sat.u.r.day, the 2nd day of November, John Tipton recorded in his diary that, "this evening a man came from the Garrison (Fort Harrison) said last night his boat was fired on--one man that was asleep killed dead." Beckwith records that the dare-devil "Wabunsee, the Looking-Gla.s.s, princ.i.p.al war chief of the prairie bands of Potawatomis, residing on the Kankakee river, in Illinois, distinguished himself, the last of October, 1811, by leaping aboard of one of Governor Harrison's supply boats, loaded with corn, as it was ascending the Wabash, five miles above Terre Haute, and killing a man, and making his escape ash.o.r.e without injury."
Allowing a slight discrepancy in dates, this was probably the same incident referred to by John Tipton, and taking into consideration that the boats were probably guarded by armed men, this was certainly a daring and adventurous feat.
Yet it is recorded of this chief, that he always carried about with him two scalps in a buckskin pouch, "taken from the heads of soldiers in the war of 1812, and when under the influence of liquor he would exhibit them, going through the motions of obtaining those trophies."
Schoolcraft, whose attention was especially drawn towards this chieftain on account of his drunken ferocity, and who paints him as one of the worst of many bad savages of his day, says: "He often freely indulged in liquor; and when excited, exhibited the flushed visage of a demon. On one occasion, two of his wives, or rather female slaves, had a dispute.
One of them went, in her excited state of feeling, to Wabunsee, and told him that the other ill-treated his children. He ordered the accused to come before him. He told her to lie down on her back on the ground. He then directed the other (her accuser) to take a tomahawk and dispatch her. She instantly split open her skull. "There," said the savage, "let the crows eat her." He left her unburied, but was afterwards persuaded to direct the murderess to bury her. She dug the grave so shallow, that the wolves pulled out her body that night, and partly devoured it."
The cold, cruel treachery of this tribe is without a parallel, save in the single instance of the Shawnees. It has been admitted by Shaubena, one of their best chiefs, that most of the depredations on the frontier settlements in Illinois during the Black Hawk war, were committed by the Potawatomi. The cowardly and brutal ma.s.sacre at Chicago, August 15, 1812, was the work princ.i.p.ally of the Potawatomi, "and their several bands from the Illinois and Kankakee rivers; those from the St. Joseph of the lake, and the St. Joseph of the Maumee, and those of the Wabash and its tributaries were all represented in the despicable act." In that ma.s.sacre, Captain William Wells, the brother-in-law of Little Turtle, was killed when he was trying to protect the soldiers and refugees. He was discovered afterwards, terribly mutilated. His body lay in one place, his head in another, while his arms and legs were scattered about over the prairie. The warriors of this tribe, stripped to the skin, except breech-cloth and moccasins, and with bodies painted with red stripes, went into battle with the rage of mad-men and demons and committed every excess known to human cruelty.
Looking at the Potawatomi in the true light, and stripped of all that false coloring with which he has been painted, and the facts remains that he was every inch a wild and untamed barbarian. And while we must admire him for his native strength, his wonderful endurance through the famine and cold of the northern winters, and his agility and ingenuity in the chase or on the warpath, it is not any wonder that the children of that time, as Judge James Hall relates, "learned to hate the Indian and to speak of him as an enemy. From the cradle they listened continually to horrid tales of savage violence, and became familiar with narratives of aboriginal cunning and ferocity." Nor is it any wonder that when General Harrison crossed the Wabash at Montezuma and gave an order to the advance guard to shoot every Indian at sight, that the rough frontiersman, John Tipton, entered in his diary, "Fine News!"
OUR INDIAN POLICY
_--The Indian right of occupancy recognized through the liberal policy of Washington and Jefferson._
By the terms of the definitive treaty of 1783, concluding the war of the revolution the territory northwest of the river Ohio pa.s.sed forever from the jurisdiction of the British government, over to the new born states of the United States. By the first article of that treaty, the thirteen former colonies were acknowledged to be free, sovereign and independent powers, and Great Britain not only relinquished all her rights to the government, but to the "proprietary and territorial rights of the same, and every part thereof." At the time of that treaty, the northwest territory was occupied by a number of powerful and warlike tribes of savages, yet no reservation of any kind was made in their favor by the English negotiators. The Iroquois confederacy of New York, and more particularly the Mohawks, had stood out stoutly on the side of the king, but they were wholly forgotten in the articles of peace. Of this action, Joseph Brant, the Mohawk leader, in his communications with Lord Sidney, in 1786, most bitterly complained, expressing his astonishment "that such firm friends and allies could be so neglected by a nation remarkable for its honor and glory." Yet if Brant had been better acquainted with the policy and usage of European nations, he would have known that England had granted away not only the sovereignty, but the very soil of the territory itself, subject only to the Indian rights of occupancy. In all the ancient grants of the crown to the duke of York, Lord Clarendon and others, there pa.s.sed "the soil as well as the right of dominion to the grantee." France, while adopting a liberal policy toward the savages of the new world, claimed the absolute right of ownership to the land, based on first discovery. Spain maintained a like claim. The war for supremacy in the Saint Lawrence, the Mississippi and the Ohio valleys between Great Britain and France, terminating in the peace of 1763, was a war waged for the control of lands and territory, notwithstanding the occupancy of the Indian tribes. If a country acquired either by conquest or prior discovery, is filled with a people attached to the soil, and having fixed pursuits and habitations, the opinion of mankind would seem to require that the lands and possessions of the occupants should not be disturbed, but if the domain discovered or conquered is filled with a race of savages who make no use of the land, save for the purpose of hunting over it, a different solution must of necessity result. There can be no admixture of races where the one is civilized and the other barbarous. The barbarian must either lose his savagery and be a.s.similated, or he must recede. The North American Indian was not only brave, but fierce. In the wilds and fastnesses of his native land, he refused to become either a subject or a slave. No law of the European could be formulated for his control; he obeyed only the laws of nature under which he roamed in freedom. He knew nothing of fee or seisin, or the laws of conveyancing, as his white brother knew it. He knew only that the rivers and the forests were there, and that he gained his subsistence from them. With him, the strongest and the fiercest had the right to rule; the right to hunt the buffalo and elk.
The European put fire arms into the hands of the Iroquois warrior, and that warrior at once made himself master of all north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi, without regard to the prior claims of other tribes. To expect that a savage of this nature could be dealt with under the ordinary forms and conventions of organized society, was to expect the impossible. To him, the appearance of a surveyor or a log cabin was an immediate challenge to his possession. Today he might be brought to make a treaty, but on the morrow he was filled with a jealous hate again, and was ready to burn and destroy. On the other hand, to leave him in the full possession of his country was, as Chief Justice Marshall said: "To leave the country a wilderness." To stop on the borderland of savagery and advance no further, meant the retrogression of civilization. The European idea of ownership was founded on user. The inevitable consequence was, that the conqueror or discoverer in the new world claimed the ultimate fee in the soil, and the tribes receding, as they inevitably did, this fee ripened into present enjoyment. When Great Britain, therefore, owing to the conquests of George Rogers Clark, surrendered up to the United States her jurisdiction and control over the territory north and west of the Ohio river, she did, according to the precedent and usage established by all the civilized nations of that day, pa.s.s to her grantee or grantees, the ultimate absolute t.i.tle to the land itself, notwithstanding its savage occupants, and the right to deal with these occupants thenceforward became a part of the domestic policy of the new republic, with which England and her agents had nothing to do. "It has never been doubted," says Chief Justice Marshall, "that either the United States, or the several states, had a clear t.i.tle to all the lands within the boundary lines described in the treaty, subject only, to the Indian right of occupancy, and that the exclusive power to extinguish that right was vested in that government which might const.i.tutionally exercise it." These facts should be kept in mind when one comes to consider the equivocal course that England afterwards pursued.
But how were the savage wards occupying these lands, and thus suddenly coming under the guardianship of the republic, to be dealt with? Were they to be evicted by force and arms, and their possessory rights entirely disregarded, or were their claims as occupants to be gradually and legitimately extinguished by treaty and purchase, as the frontiers of the white man advanced? In other words, was the seisin in fee on the part of the states, or the United States, to be at once a.s.serted and enforced, to the absolute and immediate exclusion of the tribes from the lands they occupied, or was a policy of justice and equity to prevail, and the ultimate right to the soil set up, only after the most diligent effort to ameliorate the condition of the dependent red man had been employed? The answer to this question had soon to be formulated, for on March 1st, 1784, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Hardy, Arthur Lee and James Monroe, delegates in the Continental Congress on the part of the State of Virginia, in pursuance of the magnanimous policy of her statesmen, executed a deed of cession to the United States, of all her claim and right to the territory northwest of the Ohio, the same to be used as a common fund "for the use and benefit of such of the United States as have become, or shall become, members of the confederation or federal alliance of the states." The only reservations made were of a tract of land not to exceed one hundred and fifty thousand acres to be allowed and granted to General George Rogers Clark, his officers and soldiers, who had conquered Kaskaskia, Vincennes, and the western British posts under the authority of Virginia, said tract being afterwards located on the Indiana side of the Ohio, adjacent to the falls of that river, and known as the "Illinois Grant," and a further tract to be laid off between the rivers Scioto and Little Miami, in case certain lands reserved to the continental troops of Virginia upon the waters of the c.u.mberland, "should, from the North Carolina line, bearing in further upon the c.u.mberland lands than was expected," prove to be deficient for that purpose. The cession of Virginia was preceded by that of New York on the first day of March, 1781, and followed by that of Ma.s.sachusetts, on the 19th day of April, 1785, and that of Connecticut on the 14th of September, 1786, and thus the immense domain now comprising the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with the exception of the reservations of Virginia, and a small reservation of the state of Connecticut in northeastern Ohio, pa.s.sed over to the general government, before the adoption of the federal const.i.tution, and before George Washington, the first president of the United States, was sworn into office, on the 30th day of April, 1789.
But the wisdom and the broad national views of the leading Virginia law-makers and statesmen, had already, in great measure, pointed the way to the Indian policy to be pursued by Washington and his successors. No state, either under the old confederation or the new const.i.tution, presented such a formidable array of talent and statecraft as Virginia.
Washington, Jefferson, John Marshall, and Madison, stood pre-eminent, but there was also Edmund Randolph, Patrick Henry, James Monroe, George Mason, William Grayson and Richard Henry Lee.
Washington had always taken a deep and abiding interest in the western country. In 1770 he had made a trip down the Ohio in company with his friends, Doctor Craik and William Crawford. The distance from Pittsburgh to the mouth of the Great Kanawha was two hundred and sixty-five miles.
The trip was made by canoes and was rather hazardous, as none of Washington's party were acquainted with the navigation of the river. The party made frequent examinations of the land along the way and Washington was wonderfully impressed with the future prospects of the country. Arriving at the mouth of the Great Kanawha, he ascended that river for a distance of fourteen miles, hunting by the way, as the land was plentifully stocked with buffalo, deer, turkeys and other wild game.
He also made critical observations of the soil here, with a view to future acquisitions. The whole country below Pittsburgh at that time, was wild and uninhabited, save by the Indian tribes.
At the close of the revolution the minds of Washington, Jefferson and other leading Virginians were filled with the grand project of developing and colonizing the west, and binding it to the union by the indissoluble ties of a common interest. There was nothing of the narrow spirit of provincialism about these men. Their thoughts went beyond the limited confines of a single state or section, and embraced the nation.
They entertained none of those jealousies which distinguish the small from the great. On the contrary, they looked upon the mighty trans-montane domain with its many watercourses, its rich soil, and its temperate climate, as a rich field for experimentation in the erection of new and free republics. The deed of cession of Virginia had provided: "That the territory so ceded shall be laid out and formed into new states, containing a suitable extent of territory, not less than one hundred, nor more than one hundred fifty miles square, or as near thereto as circ.u.mstances will admit: and that the states so formed should be distinct republican states, and admitted members of the federal union, having the same rights of sovereignty, freedom, and independence, as the other states." If this great public domain, thus dedicated to the whole nation, and under the control of its supreme legislative body, the continental congress, could be filled up with a conglomerate population from all the states, factions and sectional jealousies would disappear, and at the same time the original states would be more closely knit together by the bonds of their common interest in the new federal territory.
But there was one great obstacle to the realization of these hopes, and that was the difficulty of opening up any means of communication with this western empire. The mountain ranges stood as barriers in the way, unless the headwaters of such rivers as the Potomac and the James, could be connected by ca.n.a.ls and portages with the headwaters of the Ohio and its tributaries. If this could be accomplished, and if the headwaters of the Miami, Scioto and Muskingum, could be connected in turn with those of the Cuyahoga, the Maumee and the Wabash, then all was well, for this would furnish an outlet for the commerce of the west through the ports and cities of the Atlantic seaboard. There were other and highly important political questions that engaged Washington's attention at this time, and they were as follows: The English dominion of Canada bordered this northwest territory on the north. The British, contrary to the stipulations of the treaty of peace of 1783, had retained the posts of Detroit, Niagara and Oswego, to command the valuable fur trade of the northwest, and the Indian tribes engaged therein, and in addition they also enjoyed a complete monopoly of all trading vessels on the Great Lakes. To the south and west of this northwest territory lay the Spanish possessions, and the Spanish were attempting to bar the settlers of Kentucky from the use of the Mississippi for the purposes of trade.
In other words, they were closing the market of New Orleans against the Kentuckians. But suppose that either or both of these powers, who were then extremely jealous of the growth and expansion of the new republic, should hold forth commercial advantages and inducements to the western people? What then would be the result? What then the prospect of binding any new states to be formed out of this western territory in the interest of the federal union?
With all these great questions revolving in his mind, we see the father of his country again on horseback in the year 1784, traversing six hundred and eighty miles of mountain wilderness in Pennsylvania and Virginia and examining the headwaters of the inland streams. He made every inquiry possible, touching the western country, examined every traveler and explorer who claimed to have any knowledge of its watercourses and routes of travel, and after spending thirty-three days of fatiguing travel in the saddle, he returned to his home and made a report of his observations to Governor Harrison of Virginia. His remarks on the western country are so highly interesting and important, and manifest such a deep and profound interest in the future welfare of the western world, as to call for the following quotations:
"I need not remark to you that the flanks and rear of the United States are possessed by great powers, and formidable ones, too; nor how necessary it is to apply the cement of interest to bind all parts of the Union together by indissoluble bonds, especially that part of it, which lies immediately west of us, with the middle states. For what ties, let me ask, should we have upon these people? How entirely unconnected with them shall we be, and what troubles may we not apprehend, if the Spaniards on their right, and Great Britain on their left, instead of throwing stumbling-blocks in their way, as they now do, should hold out lures for their trade and alliance? What, when they get strength, which will be sooner than most people conceive (from the emigration of foreigners, who will have no particular predilection towards us, as well as from the removal of our own citizens), will be the consequence of their having formed close connections with both or either of those powers, in a commercial way? It needs not, in my opinion, the gift of prophecy to foretell."
"The western states (I speak now from my own observation) stand as it were upon a pivot. The touch of a feather will turn them any way. They have looked down the Mississippi, until the Spaniards, very impolitically, I think, for themselves, threw difficulties in their way; and they look that way for no other reason, than because they could glide gently down the stream; without considering, perhaps, the difficulties of the voyage back again, and the time necessary to perform it in; and because they have no other means of coming to us, but by long land transportations and unimproved roads. These causes have hitherto checked the industry of the present settlers; for except the demand for provisions, occasioned by the increase of population, and a little flour, which the necessities of the Spaniards compel them to buy, they have no incitements to labor. But smooth the road, and make easy the way for them, and then see what an influx of articles will be poured upon us; how amazingly our exports will be increased by them, and how amply we shall be compensated for any trouble and expense we may encounter to effect it."
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