First as to the mission of peace. In December, 1790, the Cornplanter and other chiefs of the Seneca tribe, being in Philadelphia, "measures were taken to impress them with the moderation of the United States, as it respected the war with the western Indians; that the coercive measures against them had been the consequence of their refusal to listen to the invitations of peace, and a continuance of their depredations on the frontiers." The Cornplanter seemed to be favorably impressed. On the twelfth of March, Colonel Thomas Proctor, as the agent and representative of the United States government, was sent forward to the Seneca towns. His instructions from the secretary of war were, to induce the Cornplanter and as many of the other chiefs of the Senecas as possible, to go with him as messengers of peace to the Miami and Wabash Indians. They were first to repair to Sandusky on Lake Erie, and there hold a conference with the Delaware and Wyandot tribes who were inclined to be friendly. Later they were to go directly to the Miami village at Kekionga, there to a.s.semble the Miami confederates, and induce them to go to Fort Washington at Cincinnati, and enter into a treaty of peace with General St. Clair.
On the twenty-seventh of April, Proctor arrived at Buffalo Creek, six miles from Fort Erie, situated on the north side of the lake, and twenty-five miles distant from Fort Niagara on the south sh.o.r.e of Lake Ontario. Both posts were held by the British. Here he found the Farmer's Brother, Red Jacket, and practically all of the Iroquois chieftains under the influence of the British officers. The Farmer's Brother, "was fully regimented as a colonel, red faced with blue, as belonging to some royal regiment, and equipped with a pair of the best epaulets." The Indians had practically given up hunting and were being directly fed and supported out of the English store-houses. From the very beginning, Red Jacket and the Farmer's Brother questioned his credentials. Proctor learned from a French trader, that about seven days prior to his arrival, Colonel Butler of the British Indian department and Joseph Brant had been in the village. They had told the Senecas to pay no attention to Proctor's talk, and to give him no aid in going to the Miamis, for they would all be killed.
In two or three days Proctor succeeded in getting the Indians into a council. He argued that it was the duty of all men, red or white, to warn the Miamis to discontinue their thefts and murders, before a decisive blow should be "levelled at them" by the United States. The lives of hundreds of their fellow men might thus be saved. He invited them to bring forward any gentleman of veracity to examine his papers, or to hear his speeches. In answer to this, Red Jacket proposed that the council fire be removed to Fort Niagara, so that all proceedings might take place under the eyes of the British counsellors. Proctor would not a.s.sent to this course, but indicated that he had no objection to the British officers being present. They were accordingly sent for, but in the meantime the Farmer's Brother and other British adherents were telling the Indians that Proctor proposed taking them to the "verge of the ocean" and that the treaty grounds were twelve months' journey away.
Shortly afterwards Colonel Butler with a staff of British army officers came into camp. Butler was bold, and told the Indians in Proctor's presence that Colonel Joseph Brant, of Grand River, and Alexander McKee, the British agent of Indian affairs at Detroit, were now preparing to go among the Indians at war with the Americans, "to know what their intentions were, whether for war or for peace;" that nothing must be done until their return, for should any emba.s.sy be undertaken, this would certainly bring down the wrath of war upon themselves, and result in the death of all, for the Miamis were angry with them already.
A strange event now happened. The Iroquois women suddenly appeared in the Indian councils and seconded the pleas of the American peace commissioner. Seated with the Indian chiefs, they easily swung the scales, and carried the day. Red Jacket and other chiefs and warriors were appointed to accompany Proctor to the west. But the English now played their final trump card. On the fifth of May, Proctor had written to Colonel Gordon, the British commandant at Niagara, to obtain permission to freight one of the schooners on Lake Erie, to transport the American envoy and such Indian chiefs as might accompany him, to Sandusky. He now received a cold and insolent answer that at once blasted all his hopes. Gordon refused to regard Proctor "in any other light than a private agent," and peremptorily refused to let him charter any of the craft upon the lake. This made the contemplated mission impossible.
Let us now see what Alexander McKee and Joseph Brant were doing in the west. Shortly before Proctor's arrival at Buffalo Creek, Brant had received private instructions from British headquarters to set out for the Grand River, and to go from thence to Detroit. It appears that shortly after Harmar's defeat, the confederated nations of the Chippewas, Potawatomi, Hurons, Shawnees, Delawares, Ottawas, and Miamis, together with the Mohawks, had sent a deputation of their chiefs to the headquarters of Lord Dorchester at Quebec, to sound him on the proposition as to what aid or a.s.sistance they might expect in the event of a continuance of the war. They also demanded to know whether the British had, by the treaty of peace, given away any of their lands to the Americans. Dorchester, while hostile to the new republic, and firmly resolved to hold the posts, was not ready as yet to come out in the open. He informed the tribes that the line marked out in the treaty of peace, "implied no more than that beyond that line the King, their father, would not extend his interference;" that the king only retained possession of the posts until such time as all the differences between him and the United States should be settled; that in making peace, the king had not given away any of their lands, "inasmuch as the King never had any right to their lands, other than to such as had been fairly ceded by themselves, with their own free consent, by public convention and sale. * * * * In conclusion, he a.s.sured the deputation, that although the Indians had their friendship and good will, the Provincial Government, had no power to embark in a war with the United States, and could only defend themselves if attacked."
In strange contradiction to the Canadian governor's words, Alexander McKee came to the Rapids of the Miami in the month of April to hold a council with the Wabash confederates. Thither came Brant, summoned from Buffalo Creek. McKee waited three months for the gathering of the tribes, but about July first they were all a.s.sembled. "Not only the Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots, Ottawas, Potawatomis and others," says Roosevelt, "who had openly taken the hatchet against the Americans, but also representatives of the Six Nations, and tribes of savages from lands so remote that they carried no guns; but warred with bows, spears, and tomahawks, and were clad in buffalo-robes instead of blankets. McKee in his speech to them did not incite them to war. On the contrary, he advised them, in guarded language, to make peace with the United States; but only upon terms consistent with their "honor and interest." He a.s.sured them that, whatever they did, he wished to know what they desired; and that the sole purpose of the British was to promote the welfare of the confederated Indians. Such very cautious advice was not of a kind to promote peace; and the goods furnished the savages at the council included not only cattle, corn and tobacco, but also quant.i.ties of powder and b.a.l.l.s." England was determined that the Miami chieftains should command the valleys of the Wabash and the Maumee, and while breathing forth accents to deceive the credulous, were arming the red men with the instruments of war.
On the sixteenth of May, the American prisoner, Thomas Rhea, captured by a party of Delawares and "Munsees" arrives at Sandusky. An Indian captain is there with one hundred and fifty warriors. Parties are coming in daily with prisoners and scalps. Alarm comes in on the twenty-fourth of May that a large body of American troops in three columns are moving towards the Miami towns. The Indians burn their houses and move to Roche de Bout, on the Maumee. Here are Colonels Joseph Brant and Alexander McKee, with Captains Bunbury and Silvie, of the British troops. They are living in clever cabins built by the Potawatomi and other Indians, eighteen miles above Lake Erie. They have great stores of corn, pork, peas and other provisions, which, together with arms and ammunition, they are daily issuing to the Indians. Savages are coming in in parties of one, two, three, four and five hundred at a time, and receiving supplies from McKee, and going up the Maumee to the Miami villages.
Pirogues, loaded with the munitions of war are being rowed up the same stream by French-Canadians. They are preparing for an American attack.
Rhea hears some things. While he is on the Maumee he tells Colonel McKee and other British officers that he has seen Colonel Thomas Proctor on his way to the Senecas and has talked with him. That Proctor told him he was on his way to Sandusky and the Miami villages, and that he expected the Cornplanter to accompany him and bring about peace; that he (Proctor), expected to get shipping at Fort Erie, The British officers who hear these things, say that if they were at Lake Erie, Proctor would get no shipping. The Mohawks and other Indians declare that if Proctor, or any other Yankee messenger, arrives, he will not carry back any message. Simon Girty and one Pat Hill a.s.sert, that Proctor should never return, even if he had a hundred Senecas with him.
On the ninth of March, 1791, the secretary of war issued orders to General Charles Scott of Kentucky, to lead an expedition against the Wea or Ouiatenon towns on the Wabash. The expedition was not to proceed until the tenth day of May, as hopes were entertained that Proctor might negotiate a peace. The force to be employed was to consist of seven hundred and fifty mounted volunteers, including officers. All Indians who ceased to resist were to be spared. Women and children, and as many warriors as possible, were to be taken prisoners, but treated with humanity.
The tenth day of May arrived, but Proctor was not heard from. The hostility of the savages was daily increasing. Scott was delayed a few days longer in the hope that intelligence might arrive, but on the twenty-third of May he crossed the Ohio at the mouth of the Kentucky and plunged into the wilderness. Before him lay one hundred and fifty-five miles of forest, swamp and stream. The rain fell in torrents and every river was beyond its banks. His horses were soon worn down and his provisions spoiled, but he pressed on. On the morning of the first of June, he was entering the prairies south of the Wea plain and approaching the hills of High Gap. He now saw a lone Indian horseman to his right and tried to intercept him, but failed. He pushed on rapidly to the Indian towns.
On the morning of June first, 1791, the landscape of the Wea is a thing of beauty. To the north lies the long range of the Indian Hills, crowned with forest trees, and scarped with many a sharp ravine. At the southern edge of these hills flows the Wabash, winding in and out with graceful curves, and marked in its courses by a narrow fringe of woodland. To the east lies Wea creek, jutting out into the plain with a sharp turn, and then gliding on again to the river. Within this enclosure of wood and stream lie the meadows of the Ouiatenons, dotted here and there with pleasant groves, and filled with the aroma of countless blossoms.
"Awake from dreams! The scene changes. The morning breath of the first day of summer has kissed the gra.s.s and flowers, but it brings no evil omen to the Kickapoo villages on this sh.o.r.e, nor to the five Wea towns on the adjacent plain. High noon has come, but still birds and gra.s.s and flowers bask in the meridian splendor of a June sunshine, unconscious of danger or the trampling of hostile feet. One o'clock! And over High Gap hostile hors.e.m.e.n are galloping. They separate; one division wheels to the left led by the relentless Colonel Hardin, still smarting from the defeat of the last year by the great Miami, Little Turtle. But the main division, led by the n.o.ble Colonel Scott, afterward the distinguished soldier and governor of Kentucky, moves straight forward on to Ouiatenon."
Scott's advance since the morning has been swift and steady. He fears that the Indian horseman will give the alarm. At one o'clock he comes over High Gap, a high pa.s.s through the hills to the southwest of the present town of Shadeland. To the left he perceives two Indian villages.
One is at a distance of two miles and the other at four. They were probably situated in the prairie groves. He now detaches Colonel John Hardin with sixty mounted infantry and a troop of light horse under Captain McCoy, and they swing to the left. Scott moves briskly forward with the main body for the villages of the Weas, at the mouth of Wea creek. The smoke of the camp fires is plainly discernible.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Showing the Wea Plains and the Line of Scott's March, Tippecanoe County, Indiana. Drawing by Heaton Map]
As he turns the point of timber fringing the Wea, and in the vicinity of what is now the Shadeland Farm, he sees a cabin to the right. Captain Price is ordered to a.s.sault it with forty men. Two warriors are killed.
Scott now gains the summit of the eminence crowning the south bank of the Wabash. The Wea villages are below him and scattered along the river. All is in confusion and the Indians are trying to escape. On the opposite sh.o.r.e is a town of the Kickapoos. He instantly orders his lieutenant-commandant, James Wilkinson, to charge the Weas with the first battalion, and the eager Kentuckians rush to the river's edge, just as the last of five canoes loaded with warriors, has pushed from the sh.o.r.e. With deadly and terrible aim the riflemen empty the boats to the last man.
In the meantime, a brisk fire has been kept up from the Kickapoo camp.
Scott now determines to cross the river and capture the town, but the recent rains have swelled the stream and he cannot ford it. He orders Wilkinson to cross at a ford two miles above, and detaches King's and Logsdon's companies, under conduct of Major Barbee, to cross the river below. Wilkinson fails, for the river is swift and very high. Barbee is more successful. Many of the hardy frontiersmen breast the stream, and others pa.s.s in a small canoe. But the instant the Kentuckians foot the opposite sh.o.r.e, the Indians discover them and flee.
About this time Scott hears from Colonel Hardin. The redoubtable old Indian fighter who was saved to die in the service of his country, has pushed on and captured the two villages observed from High Gap, and is enc.u.mbered with many prisoners. He now discovers a stronger village farther to the left, and proceeds to attack. This latter village is probably in the neighborhood of the present site of Granville, and opposite the point where the Riviere De Bois Rouge, or Indian creek, enters the Wabash. Scott at once detaches Captain Brown and his company to support the Colonel, but nothing can stop the impetuous Kentuckian, and before Brown arrives, "the business is done," and Hardin joins the main body before sunset, having killed six warriors and taken fifty-two prisoners. "Captain Bull," says Scott, "the warrior who discovered me in the morning, had gained the main town, and given the alarm a short time before me; but the villages to my left were uninformed of my approach, and had no retreat."
The first day of fighting had been very encouraging. The next morning Scott determined to destroy Kethtipecanunck, or Tippecanoe, eighteen miles up the river. His knowledge of geography was poor, for he talks about Kethtipecanunck being at the mouth of the Eel river, but his fighting qualities were perfect. On examination, however, he discovers that his men and horses are greatly worn down and crippled by the long march and the fighting of the day before. Three hundred and sixty men are at last selected to make the march on foot. At half after five in the evening they start out under the command of lieutenant-commandant Wilkinson and at one o'clock the next day they have returned, having completely burned and destroyed what Scott denominated as "the most important settlement of the enemy in that quarter of the federal territory." Wilkinson's detachment had reached the village near daybreak. The advance columns of the Kentuckians charged impetuously into the town just as the Indians were crossing the Wabash, and a brief skirmish ensued from the opposite sh.o.r.es, during which several Indian warriors were killed and two Americans wounded. Many of the inhabitants of Kethtipecanunck were French traders and lived in a state of semi-civilization. "By the books, letters, and other doc.u.ments found there," says Scott, "it is evident that place was in close connection with, and dependent upon, Detroit; a large quant.i.ty of corn, a variety of household goods, peltry, and other articles, were burned with this village, which consisted of about seventy houses, many of them well furnished." Scott lamented that the condition of his troops prevented him from sweeping to the head of the Wabash. He says he had the kind of men to do it, but he lacked fresh horses and provisions and was forced to return to Kentucky. On the fourth of June, he released sixteen of the weakest and most infirm of his prisoners and gave them a written address of peace to the Wabash tribes. It was written in a firm, manly tone, but without grandiloquence. He now destroyed the villages at Ouiatenon, the growing corn and pulse, and on the same day of the fourth, set out for Kentucky. The grand old man, who was to fight with Wayne at Fallen Timbers, had done well. Without the loss of a single man, and having only five wounded, he had killed thirty-two warriors "of size and figure," and taken fifty-eight prisoners. He took a receipt from Captain Joseph Asheton of the First United States Regiment at Fort Steuben, for forty-one prisoners.
On the twenty-fifth of June, governor St. Clair wrote to the Kentucky Board of War to send a second expedition against the Wabash towns. On the fifth day of July the Board appointed James Wilkinson as the commander. The troops were ordered to rendezvous at Fort Washington, by the twentieth of July, "well mounted on horseback, well armed, and provided with thirty days' provisions." In certain instructions from Governor St. Clair to General Wilkinson, of date July thirty-first, Wilkinson's attention is called to a Kickapoo town "in the prairie, northward and westward of L'Anguille," about sixty miles. This town will be mentioned later. Wilkinson was directed also to restrain his command from "scalping the dead." With a Kentuckian, the only good Indian was a dead one.
On the first day of August, Wilkinson rode out of Cincinnati with five hundred and twenty-five men. His destined point of attack was the Eel river towns, about six miles above the present city of Logansport. The country he had to pa.s.s through was mostly unknown, full of quagmires and marshes, and extremely hard on his horses. He made a feint for the Miami village at Kekionga, but on the morning of the fourth, he turned directly northwest and headed for Kenapacomaqua, or L'Anguille, as the Eel river towns were known. After some brief skirmishes, with small parties of warriors and much plunging and sinking in the bogs, he crossed the Wabash about four and one half miles above the mouth of the Eel river, and striking an Indian path, was soon in front of the Indian towns. He now dismounted and planned an attack. The second battalion was to cross the river, detour, and come in on the rear of the villages.
The first battalion was to lie perdue until the maneuver was executed, when a simultaneous charge was to be made on all quarters of the town.
Before the plan could be executed, however, the troops were discovered, whereupon an instant charge was made by plunging into the river and attacking the town on the front. Six warriors were killed, "and in the hurry and confusion of the charge, two squaws and a child."
Wilkinson found the towns of the Eel river tribes scattered along Eel river for a distance of three miles. These villages were separated by almost impa.s.sable bogs, and "impervious thickets of plum, hazel and black-jack." The head chief of the tribe, with his prisoners and a number of families were out digging a root, which the Indians subst.i.tuted for the potato. A short time before Wilkinson arrived, most of the warriors had gone up the river to a French store to purchase ammunition. This ammunition had come from Kekionga on the same day.
Several acres of green corn with the ears in the milk were about the town. All of this was destroyed. Thirty-four prisoners were taken and a captive released.
After encamping in the town for the night, Wilkinson started the next morning for the Kickapoo town "in the prairie." He considered his position as one of danger, for he says he was in the "bosom of the Ouiatenon country," one hundred and eighty miles from succor, and not more than one and a half days' forced march from the Potawatomi, Shawnees and Delawares. This was, of course, largely matter of conjecture.
The Kickapoo town that Wilkinson was headed for was in fact about sixty miles from Kenapacomaqua and in the prairie. But it was south and west of the Eel river villages instead of north and west. The imperfect geographical knowledge of the times led Wilkinson to believe it was on the Illinois river, but it was in fact on Big Pine creek, near the present town of Oxford, in Benton County, Indiana. Wilkinson was right in one regard, however, for he knew that the village he sought was on the great Potawatomi trail leading south from Lake Michigan. This trail pa.s.sed down from the neighborhood of what is now Blue Island, in Chicago, south through Momence and Iroquois, Illinois, south and east again through Parish Grove, in Benton County, across Big Pine Creek and on to Ouiatenon and Kethtipecanunck, or Tippecanoe. It was a great fur trading route and of great commercial importance in that day. This Kickapoo village "in the prairie," was about twenty miles west of the present city of Lafayette, and about two and one-half miles from the present site of Oxford, at a place known in later years as "Indian Hill." It was well known to Gurdon S. Hubbard, who visited it in the early part of the last century and had an interesting talk with the Kickapoos there about the battle of Tippecanoe. Jesse S. Birch, of Oxford, an accurate local historian, has preserved an interesting account of this village as seen by the early settlers in the years from 1830 to 1840. The Kickapoos had, at that time, moved on to other places, but bands of the Potawatomi were still on the ground. "Pits," says Birch, "in which the Indians stored their corn, were to be seen until a few years ago. The burying grounds were about half a mile northwest of the village and only a short distance west of the Stembel gravel pit.
The Potawatomi were peaceful, John Wattles, who describes their winter habitations, visited them often in his boyhood days. Pits, the sides of which were lined with furs, were dug four or five feet deep, and their tents, with holes at the top to permit the escape of smoke, were put over them. By keeping a fire on the ground in the center of the pit, they lived in comparative comfort, so far as heat and Indian luxuries were concerned, during the coldest weather. There are evidences of white men having camped near this village. Isaac W. Lewis found an English sovereign while at play on his father's farm, but a short distance from the site of the village. In the early 30's, his father and eldest brother, while plowing, found several pieces of English money." The glittering coins of "the great father," had easily found their way into savage hands.
But Wilkinson was not destined to strike this main Kickapoo town. He encamped the first night six miles from Kenapacomaqua, and the next day he marched west and then northwest pa.s.sing between what are now the points of Royal Center and Logansport, and "launched into the boundless prairies of the west with the intention to pursue that course until I could strike a road which leads from the Potawatomi of Lake Michigan immediately to the town I sought." Here for eight hours he floundered about in an endless succession of sloughs and swamps, wearing out his horses and exhausting his men. "A chain of thin groves extending in the direction of the Wabash at this time presented to my left." Wilkinson now extricated himself from the swamps and gained the Tippecanoe trail, and camped at seven o'clock in the evening. He had marched a distance of about thirty miles, and several of his horses were completely broken down.
At four o'clock the next morning this little army was in motion again.
At eight o'clock signs were discovered of the proximity of an Indian town. At twelve o'clock noon, he entered Kethtipecanunck, but the savages had fled at his approach. They had returned since the expedition of June and cultivated their corn and pulse. These were in a flourishing condition. Having refreshed his horses and cut down the corn, he resumed his march for the Kickapoo town "in the prairie, by the road which leads from Ouiatenon to that place." After proceeding some distance he discovered some "murmurings" among the Kentuckians, and found on examination that two hundred and seventy of his horses were lame, and that only five days' provisions were left for his men. Under these circ.u.mstances, he abandoned the contemplated a.s.sault on the main Kickapoo town, and "marched forward to a town of the same nation, situated about three leagues west of Ouiatenon." He destroyed the town of thirty houses and "a considerable quant.i.ty of corn in the hills," and the same day moved on to Ouiatenon, forded the Wabash, and encamped on the margin of the Wea plains. At all the villages destroyed by Scott he found the corn re-planted and in a state of high cultivation. He destroyed it all, and on the twelfth of August he fell in with General Scott's return trace and marched to the Ohio, where he arrived on the twenty-first day of the month. He had traveled a distance of four hundred and fifty-one miles in twenty-one days; a feat of horsemanship, considering the wild and difficult nature of the country, of no small degree of merit.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Indian Hills on the Wabash River just below the old site of Fort Ouiatenon. Photo by Heaton]
The expedition had in all things been a success. He had captured a number of prisoners, cut down four hundred and thirty acres of corn in the milk, and destroyed at least two Indian towns.
Some of the historians who have commented on these campaigns of Scott and Wilkinson and the Kentucky militia, have sought to minimize and even to discredit these expeditions. Says Albach: "The expeditions of Harmar, Scott and Wilkinson were directed against the Miamis and Shawnees, and served only to exasperate them. The burning of their towns, the destruction of their corn, and the captivity of their women and children, only aroused them to more desperate efforts to defend their country, and to hara.s.s their invaders." The review of Secretary of War Knox, communicated to President Washington on the twenty-sixth of December, 1791, however, contains the following: "The effect of such desultory operations upon the Indians, will, by occupying them for their own safety and that of their families, prevent them spreading terror and destruction along the frontiers. These sort of expeditions had that precise effect during the last season, and Kentucky enjoyed more repose and sustained less injury, than for any year since the war with Great Britain. This single effect, independent of the injury done to the force of the Indians, is worth greatly more than the actual expense of such expeditions."
Other effects produced were equally important. The brave Kentuckians, for the first time, were acting in conjunction with, and under the direction and control of the federal authorities. The cement of a common interest, as Washington would say, was binding state and nation together. Not only were the soil and the long suffering people of Kentucky rendered more secure against Indian attack, but the hardy descendants of the pioneers were being trained for the eventful conflict of 1812, when seven thousand of the valorous sons of that commonwealth should take the field in the defense of their country.
ST. CLAIR'S DEFEAT
_--The first great disaster to the Federal armies brought about by the Miamis._
The objectives of General St. Clair have already been mentioned. He was now to take the village of Kekionga, establish a garrison there, and erect a chain of posts stretching from the new establishment to Fort Washington at Cincinnati.
The army with which St. Clair was expected to accomplish this task consisted of "two small regiments of regulars, two of six months'
levies, a number of Kentucky militia, a few cavalry, and a couple of small batteries of light guns." In all there were fourteen hundred men and eighty-six officers. The Kentucky militia were under the command of Colonel Oldham, a brave officer who afterwards fell on the field of battle. The levies were "men collected from the streets and prisons of the city, hurried out into the enemy's country and with the officers commanding them, totally unacquainted with the business in which they were engaged." Their pay was miserable. Each private received two dollars and ten cents a month; the sergeants three dollars and sixty cents. Being recruited at various times and places, their terms of enlistment were expiring daily, and they wanted to go home. As they were reckless and intemperate, St. Clair, in order to preserve some semblance of order, removed them to Ludlow's Station, about six miles from Fort Washington. Major Ebenezer Denny, aide to St. Clair, says that they were "far inferior to the militia." On the morning of October twenty-ninth, when St. Clair's army was penetrating the heart of the Indian country, this disorderly element was keeping up a constant firing about the camp, contrary to the positive orders of the day.
In the quartermaster's department everything "went on slowly and badly; tents, pack-saddles, kettles, knapsacks and cartridge boxes, were all 'deficient in quant.i.ty and quality.'" The army contractors were positively dishonest, and the war department seems to have been fearfully negligent in all of its work. Judge Jacob Burnet records that "it is a well authenticated fact, that boxes and packages were so carelessly put up and marked, that during the action a box was opened marked 'flints,' which was found to contain gun-locks. Several mistakes of the same character were discovered, as for example, a keg of powder marked 'for the infantry,' was found to contain damaged cannon-powder, that could scarcely be ignited."
St. Clair was sick, and so afflicted with the gout that he was unable to mount or dismount a horse without a.s.sistance. On the night before his great disaster he was confined to his camp bed and unable to get up.
Born in Edinburgh, in Scotland, in 1734, he was now fifty-seven years of age, and too old and infirm to take command of an army in a hazardous Indian campaign. Besides, he had had no experience in such a contest. He was, however, a man of sterling courage. He had been a lieutenant in the army of General Wolfe at Quebec. He espoused the cause of the colonies, and had fought with distinguished valor at Trenton and Princeton. Under him, and second in command, was General Richard Butler, of Pennsylvania. Butler was a man of jealous and irritable temperament and had had a bitter controversy with Harmar over the campaign of the year before. A coolness now sprang up between him and St. Clair, which, as we shall see, led to lamentable results. The mind of General Harmar was filled with gloomy forebodings. Taking into consideration the material of which the army was composed and the total inefficiency of the quartermaster and the contractors, "it was a matter of astonishment to him," says Denny, "that the commanding general * * * * should think of hazarding, with such people, and under such circ.u.mstances, his reputation and life, and the lives of so many others, knowing, too, as both did, the enemy with whom he was going to contend; an enemy brought up from infancy to war, and perhaps superior to an equal number of the best men that could be taken against them."
Owing to delays the army which was to rendezvous at Fort Washington not later than July tenth, did not actually start into the wilderness until the fourth day of October. On the seventeenth of September, a halt had been made on the Great Miami, and Fort Hamilton erected. Twenty miles north of this place, a light fortification known as Fort St. Clair, was built. About six miles south of the present town of Greenville, in Darke county, Ohio, the army threw up the works of Fort Jefferson, and then moved forward at a snail's pace into the forests and prairies. Every foot of the road through the heavy timber had to be cleared. Rains were constant. The troops were on half rations and terribly impatient.
Parties of militia were daily deserting. On the twenty-seventh of October, Major Denny entered in his diary the following: "The season so far advanced it will be impracticable to continue the campaign. Forage entirely destroyed; horses failing and cannot be kept up; provisions from hand to mouth." The Little Turtle was again on the watch. A hostile army was entering the sacred domain of the Miamis. Indian scouts and runners were constantly lurking on the skirts of the army. In after years, a woman heard the great chief say of a fallen enemy: "We met; I cut him down; and his shade as it pa.s.ses on the wind, shuns my walk!"
This terrible foe, like a tiger in his jungle, was waiting for the moment to spring on his prey. It soon came. On the thirty-first of October, a party of militia, sixty or seventy in number, deserted the camp and swore that they would stop the packhorses in the rear, laden with provisions. St. Clair sent back after them the First United States Regiment under Major John Hamtramck, the most experienced Indian fighters in the whole army. These were the men the Indians most feared.
The savage chieftain determined to strike.
Later than usual, and on the evening of November third, the tired and hungry army of St. Clair emerged on the headwaters of the river Wabash.
"There was a small, elevated meadow on the east banks of this stream, while a dense forest spread gloomily all around." A light snow was on the ground, and the pools of water were covered with a thin coat of ice. The Wabash at this point was twenty yards wide. The militia were thrown across the stream about three hundred yards in advance of the main army. As they took their positions, a few Indians were routed out of the underbrush and fled precipitately into the woods. The main body of troops was cooped up in close quarters. The right wing was composed of Butler's, Clark's, and Patterson's battalions, commanded by Major General Butler. These battalions formed the first line of the encampment. The left wing, consisting of Bedinger's and Gaither's battalions, and the Second United States Regiment of regulars, under the command of Colonel William Darke, formed the second line. An interval between these lines of about seventy yards "was all the ground would allow." St. Clair thought that his right flank was fairly well secured by a creek, "while a steep bank, and Faulkner's corps, some of the cavalry, and their picquets, covered the left flank." No works whatever were thrown up to protect the army, but the great camp-fires of the soldiers illumined the whole host. In the circ.u.mjacent forests, and a little in advance of the position occupied by the militia, was a camp of over eleven hundred Indians, composed of Miamis, Shawnees, Potawatomi, Delawares, Ottawas, Chippewas and Wyandots, with a number of British adherents from Detroit, waiting for the first hours of dawn of the coming day.
What strange sense of security lulled the vigilance of the American leaders will never be known. During the night the frequent firing of the sentinels disturbed the whole camp, and the outlying guards reported bands of savages skulking about in considerable numbers. "About ten o'clock at night," says Major Denny, "General Butler, who commanded the right wing, was desired to send out an intelligent officer and party to make discoveries. Captain Slough, with two subalterns and thirty men, I saw parade at General Butler's tent for this purpose, and heard the general give Captain Slough very particular verbal orders how to proceed." Slough afterwards testified before a committee of Congress, that he was sent out during the night with a party of observation and that he saw a force of Indians approaching the American camp, with a view to reconnoitering it, whereupon, he hastened to the camp of the militia and reported to their leader. "I halted my party," says Slough, "near Colonel Oldham's tent, went into it, and awakened him, I believe about twelve o'clock. I told him that I was of his opinion, that the camp would be attacked in the morning, for I had seen a number of Indians. I proceeded to the camp, and as soon as I had pa.s.sed the camp guards, dismissed the party, and went to General Butler's tent. As I approached it, I saw him come out of the tent, and stand by the fire. I went up to him, and took him some distance from it, not thinking it prudent that the sentry should hear what I had seen. I also told him what Colonel Oldham had said, and that, if he thought proper, I would go and make a report to General St. Clair. He stood some time, and after a pause, thanked me for my attention and vigilance, and said, as I must be fatigued, I had better go and lie down." Fatuous and unexplainable conduct in the face of certain peril!
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