The web of history is woven from the countless threads of individual lives. Its pattern is controlled by the genius of great men.
Pontiac was the chief of the mighty confederacy of the Ottawas, the Ojibwas, and the Pottawotamies, which had its center of power in what is now the State of Michigan. But the genius of the mighty chief had spread his fame and influence, not merely through the confederacy, nor yet alone to the surrounding tribes, but over the greater part of the continent.
On the east his name was respectfully mentioned among the Indians of the Mohawk Valley as that of their greatest foe. Far to the south, the wandering tribes of Florida and Louisiana, had heard of the unapproachable prowess of Pontiac, and looked up to him as the greatest of all the Algonquin chiefs. His intellect was broad, powerful, and far-seeing. In him were combined the qualities of a great leader, a great warrior, and a great statesman. His plans continually reached out beyond the narrows of his tribe. His ambitions vaulted far beyond the scope of those of common chieftains. His understanding rose to higher generalizations, broader comprehensions, than those of any other Indian mind. In 1760 he was fifty years old, just at the meridian of all his splendid powers.
Great minds require great opportunities. The world is full of wasted genius. "Hands that the rod of empire might have swayed," are to be found holding the plow-handle and the plane. Cromwell without the English Revolution, Washington without the Revolutionary War, Grant without the Civil War, would have been indistinguishable from the common throng of men.
Pontiac was great. He also had great expectations. Let us take a survey.
The English had conquered America. The French, the idols of the Indian heart, to support whose cause the remotest tribes of the north and west had furnished quotas of warriors, traveling hundreds upon hundreds of miles to strike a blow at the English, were humiliated, driven from the continent.
From the small and widely separated forts along the lakes and in the interior the red man had, with sorrow and anger, seen the fleur-de-lis disappear and the cross of St. George take its place. This took place, although the Indian power was unbroken. Toward the intruders, victors over their friends, patrons, and allies, the Indians maintained a stubborn resentment and hostility.
We have already noticed the difference in the policies of the French and English. He abundant supplies of rifles, blankets, gunpowder, beads, pipes, and brandy, which had for so many years been dispensed from he forts with lavish hand, were abruptly stopped. When the Indians visited the forts, instead of being treated with politic attention and politeness, they were received gruffly, subjected to indignities, and not infrequently helped out of the fort with the butt of a sentry's musket or a vigorous kick from an officer.
In addition to these things the wilderness was overrun with brutal English traders, who plundered, cheated and cursed the warriors, dishonored their squaws, and indulged in every form of profligacy. The best settlers tried to break this up, sometimes stopping a mad revel by force of arms. Such a scene is presented in the opposite picture. Meanwhile France, still smarting under her defeats, dispatched emissaries to almost every council house and wigwam from the lakes to the gulf, saying that French armies were already on their way to drive out the English, and inciting the Indians to inflict swift and bloody revenge upon the foes of France.
Lashed almost into a frenzy by these agencies, still another disturbing influence appeared in a great Indian prophet, who arose among the Delawares, preaching the recovery of the Indian's hunting grounds from the white man, and claiming to have received a revelation from God. Vast throngs listened to his wild eloquence, his audience containing hearers who had come from distant regions to hear him. The white man was driving the Indians from their country, he said, and unless the Indians obeyed the Great Spirit, and destroyed the white man, the latter would destroy them.
This was the state of affairs among the Indians in 1761 and 1762. Everywhere was discontent, sullen hatred, and explosive passion. The shadows of the forest were not blacker than the ominous darkness which pervaded the Indian breast. His was not local, but far more nearly universal, spreading from the lakes to the gulf, than any other Indian disturbance before or since.
It is impossible to say how much of this state of affairs was due to Pontiac's designing intrigue and instigation, and how much arose spontaneously. We can not tell whether Pontiac made it, or whether it made Pontiac. Certain it is that Pontiac maintained close relations with the great Shawanese prophet. However this may be, we are certain of two things, that it constituted Pontiac's opportunity, and that but for his genius the whole mighty ferment would have evaporated in a few scattering Indian raids.
While these things moved the common Indian, the vision of the great and wise Pontiac took a wider scope, and was inspired by loftier notions than a mere resentment at the failure of the presents and the summary treatment of idle loungers about the forts. He saw that as long as France and England had been opposes to each other in America, the Indians had held the balance of power, and received the treatment which their importance merited. But now that England had no a rival, the Indians were spurned and crowded to the wall. This he saw must result in the destruction of the race, unless France could regain her foothold on the continent. This became his ambition. To this end he conceived and concerted the most wonderful conspiracy, taking into view the surroundings and circumstances, upon which the historian's toil has shed the light of day.
Toward the close of 1762, dark messengers from Pontiac, hearing the war belt of wampum, broad and long as the importance of the occasion demanded, threaded their way through the forest to the farthest shores of Lake superior, and the distant delta of the Mississippi. On the arrival of these ambassadors among a tribe, the chief warriors would assemble in the council house. Then the orator, fling down the red-stained tomahawk before his audience, would deliver, with energetic emphasis and action, the message from his lord. The keynote was WAR! On a certain day in May, after so many moons, the Indians from lakes to gulf, were to take the war-path simultaneously, destroy the English fort nearest them, and then throw themselves on the unprotected frontier.
The bugle call of such a mighty leader as Pontiac roused the remotest tribes. Everywhere they joined the conspiracy, and sent lofty messages to Pontiac of the deeds they would perform. The ordinary pursuits of life were given up. The warriors danced the war-dance for weeks at a time. Squaws were set to sharpening knives, moulding bullets, and mixing war-paint. Children caught the fever, and practices incessantly with bows and arrows.
For the one time in their history, a thousand wild and restless tribes were animated by a single inspiration and purpose. That which was incapable of union, united. Conjurors practiced their arts. Magicians consulted their oracles. Prophets avowed revelations from the Most Highest. Warriors withdrew to caves and fastnesses, where, with fasting and self-torture, they wrought themselves into more fearful excitement and mania. Young men sought to raise their courage by eating raw flesh and drinking hot blood. Tall chieftains, crowned with nodding plumes, harangued their followers nightly, striking every chord of revenge, glory, avarice, pride, patriotism, and love, which trembled in the savage breast.
As the orator approached his climax, he would leap into the air, brandishing his hatchet as if rushing upon an enemy, yelling the war-whoop, throwing himself into a thousand postures, his eyes aflame, his muscles strained and knotted, his face a thunderstorm of passion, as if in the actual struggle. At last, with a triumphant shout, he brandishes aloft the scalp of the imaginary victim. His eloquence is irresistible. His audience is convulsed with passionate interest, and sways like trees tossed in the tempest. At last, the whole assembly, fired with uncontrollable frenzy, rush together in the ring, leaping, stamping, yelling, brandishing knives and hatchets in the firelight, hacking and stabbing the air, until the lonely midnight forest is transformed into a howling pandemonium of devils, from whose fearful uproar the startled animals, miles away flee frightened into remoter lairs.
The time for the bursting of the storm drew near. Yet at only place on the frontier was there the least suspicion of Indian disturbance. The garrisons of the exposed forts reposed in fancied security. The arch conspirator, Pontiac, had breathed the breath of life into a vast conspiracy, whose ramifications spread their network over a region of country of which the north-western and south-eastern extremities were nearly two thousand miles apart. Yet the traders, hunters, scouts, and trappers who were right among the Indians, and were versed in the signs of approaching trouble, suspected nothing wrong. Colossal conspiracy! Stupendous deceit!
On the 27th of April, 1763 Pontiac met with the chiefs of the allied tribes, from far and near, in a grand war council, on the banks of the little river, Etorces, not far from Detroit. Parkman gives a vivid picture of the assembly, as band after band came straggling in before the appointed time. "Here were idle warriors, smoking and laughing in groups, or beguiling the lazy hours with gambling, with feasting, or with doubtful stories of their own exploits in war. Here were youthful gallants, bedizened with all the foppery beads, feathers, and hawk's bills, but held, as yet, in light esteem, since they had slain no enemy, and taken no scalp. Here were also young damsels, radiant with bear's oil, ruddy with vermilion, and versed in all the arts of forest coquetry; shriveled hags, with limbs of wire, and voices like those of the screech owls; and troops of naked children, with small, black mischievous eyes; roaming the outskirts of the woods.
"On the long expected morning, heralds passed from one group of lodges to another, calling the warriors in loud voice to attend the great council of Pontiac. In accordance with the summons they came issuing from their wigwams -- the tall naked figures of the wild Ojibwas, with quivers slung on their backs, and light war-clubs resting in the hollow of their arms. Ottawas, wrapped close in their gaudy blankets; Wyandots, fluttering in painted shirts, their heads adorned with feathers, and their leggins garnished with bells. All were soon seated in a wide circle upon the grass, row within row, a grave and silent assembly. Each savage countenance seemed carved in wood, and none could have detected the deep and fiery passions hidden beneath that immovable exterior.
"Then Pontiac rose. According to tradition, not above middle height, his muscular figure was cast in a mould of remarkable symmetry and vigor. His complexion was darker than is usual with his race and his features, though by no means regular, had a bold and stern expression, while his habitual bearing was imperious and peremptory, like that of a man accustomed to sweep away all opposition by the force of his Impetuous will. His ordinary attire was that of the primitive savage, a scanty cincture girt about his loins, and his long black hair flowing loosely at his back; but on occasions like this he was wont to appear as be fitted his power and character, and he stood before the council, plumed and painted in the full costume of war. Looking around upon his wild auditors, he began to speak, with fierce gesture and loud impassioned voice.
Parkman's story of the council reminds one of the council of infernal peers in Pandemonium, as described by Milton. One naturally expects Pontiac, this Moloch of the forest, to begin, "My sentence is for open war," and the expectation is fulfilled. He inveighed against the arrogance, rapacity, and injustice of the English, and contrasted them with the French, whom they had driven from the soil. He recounted the neglect, the insults, the outrages, which he and his braves had suffered at their hands. He pointed out how the English, no longer having the French to contend with, had not only ceased to treat the Indians with respect, but had stolen their hunting-grounds, and awaited only to destroy them. Next he showed them an immense belt of wampum, saying that he received it from the French king, whose armies and war-canoes were already on the way to sail up the St. Lawrence, and retake the forts from the English. The Indians and their French brothers would again fight side by side against the common foe, whose wavering banners had long, long ago been trailed in the bloody mire of defeat on the Monongahela.
The orator having lashed his audience into fury, quickly soothed them with the story of a Delaware Indian, probably the prophet before mentioned, who had had a dream, in which it was revealed to him, by traveling in a certain direction, he would at length reach the abode of the Great spirit.
After many days of journeying, full of strange incidents, he was before him a vast mountain of dazzling whiteness, so precipitous that he was about to turn back in despair when a beautiful woman, arrayed in white, appeared to him, and told him that, in order to proceed he must throw away his gun, ammunition, provision and clothing, and wash in a stream of crystalline purity, flowing nearby. He obeyed, but again failed to climb the mountain, when the vision reappeared and told him he must climb with one hand and one foot. So doing, he succeeded, and at last came to a city of splendid dwellings. Hesitating which to enter, a man, gorgeously attired, took him by the hand, and led him into the largest one, where, astonished by the unspeakable splendor which surrounded him, the poor Delaware found himself in the presence of the Great Spirit.
The Great Spirit bade him to be seated, and addressed him, saying that he was the Maker of heaven and earth, that he had made this country for the Indian, and not for the white man; that as for the English, "these dogs dressed in red," the Indians must lift the hatchet against them, and destroy them from the face of the earth. Many other things did the Great Spirit say to the Delaware before the latter found his way back to his brothers. Pontiac next told the wide-laid plans for the outbreak during the next moon, urged his auditors to go to war, and, finally, laid before the vast council a stratagem for the capture of Detroit.
He ended. A deep roar of applause burst forth. No one was hardy enough to venture opposition to the proposal of their great leader. Chief after chief arose, and with solemn emphasis, entered his approval of the great Pontiac's conspiracy.
"The bold designPleased highly those infernal states, and joy
Sparkled in all their eyes. With full assent
"With this conclusion the assembly dissolved, and all the evening the women were busily employed in loading the canoes, which were drawn up on the bank of the stream. The encampments broke up at so an early an hour, that when the sun rose, the swarm had melted away, the secluded scene was restored to its wonted silence and solitude, and nothing remained but the slender frame-work of several hundred cabins, with fragments of broken utensils, pieces of cloth, and scraps of hide, scattered over the trampled grass, while the smoldering embers of numberless fires mingled their dark smoke with the white mist which rose from the little river.
In 1763, the site of the city of Detroit, Michigan, was occupied by a settlement of some twenty-five hundred people. In the center of the long line of dwellings, with their little gardens, straggling along the river shore for several miles, stood what was known as the Fort. It was, in fact, a fortified part of town. It consisted of a palisade twenty-five feet high, with a bastion at each corner, and block-houses over the gates. Within this palisade were crowded a hundred small, wooden, straw-thatched dwellings, crowded closely together, along narrow streets. Besides the incommodious dwellings, there was a little church, a council-house, and a well-built range of barracks. A wide roadway separated the houses from the palisade.
The garrison of the fort consisted of one hundred and twenty English soldiers, under Major Gladwyn. Besides these, were forty fur-traders, and the ordinary Canadian residents of the fort. Several light pieces of light artillery peeped out from the bastions, and two armed schooners, the Beaver and the Gladwyn, stood motionless in the stream. The settlement outside the fort, stretching out more than eight miles along both sides of the river, consisted of the dwellings of Canadians, and three Indian villages.
It was the afternoon of the 5th of May. A Canadian woman from the fort crossed the river to the Ottawa village, to buy some maple sugar and venison. She noticed some warriors in a strange occupation. They were filing off their gun-barrels. This left the entire weapon, stock and all, only a yard in length. Such a weapon could easily be hid under a blanket. That night the woman mentioned it to a neighbor. "Oh," said he, "that explains it." "Explains what?" "The reason why so many Indians have lately wanted to borrow my files." He was a blacksmith. No more attention was paid to either circumstance.
The next afternoon a plump and pretty Ojibwa maid came to the fort. She was Gladwyn's mistress. But this time Catherine's eyes no longer sparkled with pleasure and excitement. Her face was anxious, and her look furtive. She lingered long at the gate till she could speak to Gladwyn alone.
The major at once saw that the girl knew something she feared, yet longed to tell. He caressed her, and sought to win her secret, but it was not for a long while, and under solemn promises that she should not be betrayed, that the dusky sweetheart spoke. She said that on the morrow Pontiac would come to the fort with sixty chiefs, and demand a council. Each would be armed with a gun, cut short and hidden under his blanket. When all were assembled in the council-house, at a given signal from Pontiac, the chiefs would fire on the officers, then rush out and massacre the garrison. Gladwyn believed the maid.
She went back to her people. The guards that night were doubled. At times the watchers on the walls heard unwonted sounds, borne to them on the night wind from the distant villages of the Indians. They were the steady beat of the Indian drum, and the shrill choruses of the war-dance.
At the expected hour, Pontiac came, followed in single file by his sixty chiefs. Each was wrapped to the throat in his gaudy blanket, his face smeared with paint, and his head adorned with nodding plumes. The leader started as he saw the soldiers drawn up in line, and heard the ominous tap of the drum.
The council took place, but under the encircling guns of the soldiers Pontiac saw that the plot was discovered. The signal for attack was not given. After a short and uneasy sitting, he and his chiefs withdrew with marked discomfiture and apprehension. Better far had it been if Gladwyn had made prisoners of the chiefs of his conspiracy. But he knew nothing of the extent of the plot. He supposed it to be a fit of bad temper. He allowed his enemies, and the arch-conspirator, Pontiac, to slip through his fingers. Enraged at his defeat, and shrewdly perceiving Gladwyn's ignorance of the real situation, Pontiac returned the next day, to remove the suspicions of the garrison by smoking the pipe of peace.
On the 9th day of May a great throng of Indians appeared before the fort. Pontiac was told that he might enter, but his company must be excluded. Instantly the savage threw of the mask of deceit he had worn so long, and, casting one look of unspeakable rage and hate at the fort, he strode away across the plain. At his approach, the whole horde of savages rushed to an exposed cabin, where lived an old English woman and her family. The doors were beaten in, and the inmates tomahawked. On a neighboring island lived an Englishman named Fisher. In a few moments, he too, was murdered.
That night, while the garrison watched with sleepless apprehension, the whole Ottawa village was removed to that side of the river on which stood the fort. "We will be nearer them," said Pontiac. A messenger arrived at the fort with news. Two Englishmen had been murdered on Lake St. Clair, and Pontiac had been re-enforced by the whole war strength of the Ojibwas.
The garrison passed the night in feverish anxiety. Not till the blush of dawn tinged the eastern sky did the fierce Indians, yelling with infernal power, come bounding naked to the assault; but when they came it was not the Ottawas alone, but the Wyandots, the Potawattamies and Ojibwas as well. For six hours the cautious Indians, from behind trees, logs, and cabins, showered their rifle-balls upon the fort with slight effect; and for the same time the garrison ineffectually returned the compliment. When the disappointed savages withdrew, Gladwyn, believing the affair ended, dispatched La Butte, a neutral interpreter, accompanied by two old Canadians, to open negotitions. Numbers of the Canadian inhabitants took this opportunity of leaving the place.
Pontiac received the three ambassadors politely, and heard their offers of peace with apparent acquiescence. La Butte hastened back to the fort, reporting that a few presents would fix up the difficulty, but when he returned to Pontiac he found the negotiation had made no progress. After a consultation with his chiefs, the treacherous Pontiac said the desired Major Campbell, the veteran soldier, second in command at the fort, to come. When the word reached Campbell, he prepared at once to go, in spite of Gladwyn's fear of treachery. The officer's companion was Lieutenant McDougal. A Canadian met them, and warned them that they were advancing into the lion's jaws, but the brave officers refused to turn back.
As the entered the camp, a howling mob, armed with clubs and rocks, surrounded them, but Pontiac quelled the tumult, and conducted them to the council-house, where they were surrounded by sinister faces. Campbell made his speech. There was no reply. For and hour he waited in dead silence before the steady gaze of his dark-browned enemies. Not a chief deigned to open his mouth.
At last Campbell rose to go. Pontiac made an imperious gesture for him to resume his seat. "My father," said the wily traitor, "will sleep to-night in the lodges of his red children." Campbell expostulated, he argued the matter to Pontiac with enforced calmness. Useless -- he was a captive. Late that night La Butte returned with anxious face to the fort. Some of the officers suspected him, no doubt unjustly, of a share in the treachery. Feeling the suspicion, he stood in the narrow street, gloomy and silent, refusing all efforts at conversation.
Pontiac proceeded to redistribute his forces. One band hid in ambush along the river below the fort. Others surrounded the fort on the land side. The garrison had only three weeks provisions. The Indians intended that this stock should not be replenished. Every house in the fort was searched for grease, tallow, or whatever would serve for food. Whatever was found was placed in the public storehouse.
The Indians, unused to protracted sieges, also suffered from want of provisions. The Canadian settlers were ruthlessly despoiled of their stores. Aggravated beyond endurance, they complained to Pontiac. He heard them. After that, each settler was required to contribute a certain quantity of food daily to the Indians, but it was to be deposited in a certain place. If any Indian entered a Canadian's premises, he was shot.
These dispositions on the part of Pontiac reveal his genius for command. He was an Indian Napoleon. He did another thing. After he had visited the house of each Canadian, examined the property, and assigned the amount of provision to be furnished by the owner, he found he had nothing with which to pay for it. In this emergency he hit upon a remarkable expedient. He issued promissory notes, drawn upon birch bark and signed with the figure of an otter, the totem to which he belonged. These notes were afterwards faithfully redeemed. This incident is wonderful. The whole principle of paper money, the great resource of modern statesmanship, was utilized by this savage. It was an issue of greenbacks -- a war measure.
Pontiac kept two secretaries, one to write letters, one to read those received. Neither secretary knew what the other transacted. It is to be remembered that Pontiac maintained his ascendancy among the Indians by his sheer force of genius. Accident, birth, fortune, laws, institutions, the power of the government -- all these things which make and help the leaders in a civilized country, were wanting. One day a bottle of whiskey was sent Pontiac as a present by our old friend, Rogers, of Rogers's Rangers, who was at the fort. His counselors urged him to let it alone, for fear of poison. As usual, he listened respectfully to them. Then he at once drank a large cupful, saying the man had no power to kill him.
Weeks rolled by with no change in the situation. Unawares of any trouble at Detroit, the British commander-in-chief at New York, had, as usual in the spring, sent a detachment up the lakes with food, ammunition, and re-enforcements for the forts along the lakes. In order to hasten this flotilla the schooner Gladwyn was dispatched down the river. On the 30th of May some faint specks appeared on the watery horizon. They grew larger and blacker. The sentry in the bastion called aloud to the officer, who eagerly ran to look through spy-glasses. They recognized the banner of St. George, under the cover of which advanced the expected fleet of canoes. Quick joyous commands were given for a salute of welcome.
When the sound of the booming cannon of the fort died away, every ear was strained to catch the response. It came, faint but unmistakable -- a war-whoop, and not a salvo of artillery. The faces of the watchers grew pale. The approaching flotilla was watched with breathless anxiety. When it was well in view, a number of dark and savage forms rose up from the leading canoe. The truth was manifest. The flotilla was in the hands of the Indians. In the foremost of the eighteen canoes, there were four prisoners and only three Indians. In each of the others there were more savages than white men. These latter were forced to row.
Just as the leading canoe was opposite the small schooner, which lay at anchor before the fort, one of the white men was seen to seize the first savage by the hair and throw him overboard. The Indian clutched his adversary's clothes and stabbing him again and again, dragged him into the river, and locked in a death embrace, the two floated down the stream. The two remaining Indians jumped overboard, while the prisoners pulled desperately toward the schooner, which they succeeded in reaching, amid showers of bullets from the pursuing canoes.
The poor fellows told the story of their misfortune. After coasting for days, without seeing a sign of life, the soldiers had landed for a night encampment, when they were surrounded by savages, and, after a desperate fight, overpowered. As was afterwards discovered, only three, including the commander, Lieutenant Coyer, escaped.
The Indians besieging Detroit now had two causes for rejoicing. One was the whisky of which the canoes, among other supplies, of course, brought large quantities for the garrisons. The other source of pleasure was the captives. Every Indian took his choice, either to become drunk with liquor or intoxicated with the fiercer frenzy of massacre. It was a puzzling alternative. Many chose the latter. After every species of torture and butchery, the poor mutilated corpses were thrown into the river, with knives sticking in their hearts. Floating past the fort, they were seen by its defenders. The gloom of despair settled upon them. At any time the slender palisade might be cut or burned through, and then ---!
Throngs of Indians, having proceeded to get blindly drunk on whisky, sought consolation for their sorrow in biting off each other's noses, a cheerful and amusing sport. But even this hilarious fun grew monotonous. Then they organized a massacre of their own. Having no captives to kill, they killed each other.
One afternoon the famished and anxious garrison heard the dismal death-cry. A line of naked warriors extended across the plain. Each savage was painted black and carried a pole. At the end of the poles were small fluttering pennants. An officer ran for a spy-glass. The pennants were discovered to be the scalps of white men. What had happened?
That night a Canadian crossed the river to the fort, bearing the tidings. Fort Sandusky was about seventy miles of Detroit. Its garrison was commanded by Ensign Paully. About dark, on the evening of May 16th, there had been a knocking at the gates. It proved to be a few Indians. It was a time of peace. The Indians were well known to Paully. What was more natural than to admit them? The dark visitors were seated in a circle in the council-house. The pipe of peace was being handed from mouth to mouth. Suddenly the guests sprang up, and in a hand to hand conflict butchered or overpowered the garrison. As the commander was hurried away in a canoe, he saw the fort wrapped in flames, where he had, fifteen minutes before, commanded in as he supposed monotonous security.
Twenty-five miles south of the present town of Erie, then Presqu "Isle, stood a heavy block-house, known as Fort Le Boeuf. Simultaneously with the treachery at Sandusky, a multitude of howling savages surrounded the little post. By means of flaming arrows the roof was fired. As the flames swept through the structure, the savages poured in a continuous storm of balls, expecting each moment that the garrison must be driven from the building.
The brave men, however, chopped a hole through the heavy logs in the rear of the building, and escaped, while the Indians were still covering the doors and windows with their guns. The refugees made their way to Fort Venango, to find only a heap of red-hot coals. Of this post, not a single white man survived to tell the story of its fate. Overcome with suffering and starvation, most of the desolate band from Fort Le Boeuf perished. Only seven haggard and weary men succeeded in reaching Fort Pitt.
The magnitude of the Pontiac conspiracy and the powers of combination which its creator possessed are demonstrated by the widely separated points at which the smoldering flames of Indian hostility simultaneously burst through the thin crust of peace. Fort St. Joseph stood on the river of that name near the southern shore of Lake Michigan. Here the priests of the Roman Catholic Church had, for many years, maintained a rude temple of worship. Here in the solitude of the wilderness, the toil-worn fathers labored, without recompense, to plant in the savage heart the germ of Christian faith.
One May morning a crowd of Indians pushed their way into the fort under various pretexts. At a sudden signal, they ran to the gates, tomahawked the sentinels, and threw them open to a host of savages without. The little band of fourteen soldiers made a fluttering attempt to rally, but in less than two minutes, as an eye-witness says, eleven of them were corpses, and the remaining three made captives.
Everywhere the Indian attack was made by stratagem and treachery. Everywhere their devilish ingenuity was successful. Fort Ouatanon, situated on the Wabash river, a short distance below the present flourishing and aristocratic city Lafayette, was captured in this way. The, Indians, however, did not massacre the garrison. They were merely made captives. About midway between Sandusky, St. Joseph, and Ouatanon, about one hundred and twenty-five or fifty miles from each of them, on the Maumee river, stood another one of these lonely and isolated posts -- Fort Miami.
One morning an Indian girl, a favorite of the commanding officer, Holmes, came to the fort. Unlike the Ojibwa maid at Detroit, this girl came to lure her lover into a trap. An old squaw, she said, was lying sick in a wigwam, a short distance from the fort, and she begged Holmes to come and see if he could do any thing for her. The unsuspecting officer yielded to the request. As he entered the lodge where the sick squaw was supposed to lie, a dozen rifles were discharged, and he fell dead. A sergeant, hearing the shots, ran out of the fort to see what was the matter, and met a similar fate. The panic-stricken garrison, possessing no longer a leader, threw open the gates and surrendered.
The news of these disasters poured in thick and fast upon the horror-stricken garrison at Detroit. It seemed to them that the whole fabric of English supremacy in the wilderness was falling around them. In the great San Domingo insurrection of slaves, Toussaint L'Ouverture, their great leader, took a cup full of gunpowder, and placed a few grains of rice on top. Showing it to his officers, he said, "The black grains of powder are the multitudes of negroes on the island. The few white grains of rice on top are the few white men who are our masters." Shaking the cup, the rice was quickly overwhelmed and covered by the powder. "This," said he, "is the negro rebellion." The illustration applies equally to the situation of the defenders of Detroit at the time of which we write. But the worst news was yet to come.
Fort Presqu "Isle, standing near the present site of Erie, was constructed on the lake shore, at the mouth of a small brook. At one angle of the fort was a heavy block-house. Its roof was of bark, and easily fired, but on the comb was an opening, with a small bulwark of plank, where the guard could, from this partial protection, pour water on the flames. One lovely June morning, just as the rising sun shot his hot horizontal rays far across the blue expanse of Erie, tipping each wave with gold, hideous yells broke the silence of the lonely spot. The soldiers, catching the alarm, ran to the block-house.
Two hundred Indians surrounded the post, and from behind some neighboring ridges of land discharged their guns at every opening visible in the walls of the block-house. In a short time fire arrows were showered on the roof. Again and again it burst into flames. Again and again they were extinguished. The tireless savages rolled logs to the summit of the ridges, and from these loftier barricades were enabled to command every point in the parade ground. Hour after hour the soldiers returned the shots of the savages. About two o'clock the besiegers could be seen throwing up vast heaps of earth and stone behind their breastworks. What could this mean? A mine?
The garrison had no time to speculate on this problem. A more pressing danger was at hand. It was no longer possible to procure water from the well in the parade ground. The water barrels in the block-house were almost empty. Yet almost every moment the flames curled upward from the bark roof. The only resource was to dig a well in the block-house. While a part of the men discharged their heated muskets from the port-holes, the rest, with a strength inspired by the emergency, dug a hole in the ground. Before the well was finished the last drop of water was poured on the roof. It caught again. A soldier said, "I will put it out." He crawled out on the roof, amid a storm of balls, and tore the blazing shingle from its place.
Night came, but it brought little respite for the worn men. Some slept, while the others watched. All night long the flash of the enemy's guns startled the darkness. By morning the well was finished. It was fortunate! The savages had dug a mine to the commandant's cabin, which stood in the parade-ground. The building was fired. So close did it stand to the block-house, that the walls of the latter scorched, blackened, then burst into flames. Still the men passed water up from the well, and choked and blinded with the hot, sulphurous air of their wooded redoubt, fought with all the fury of the first repulse.
All day the storm raged, and nightfall brought no interruption. At midnight there was a sudden lull in the Indian fire. In a moment a voice was heard from the breastworks, calling for a surrender, saying that the speaker was an Englishman, who had been taken captive in childhood, and had espoused the Indian cause; that the besiegers had now completed a mine to the block-house itself, making its destruction certain; that a surrender would save the garrison's lives, while further resistance would result in certain death. At daybreak, the pale and haggard defenders of the block-house looking, after their fiery ordeal, almost blackened specters, marched out and surrendered. They were made captive, but not massacred.
The news at Detroit of the fall of Presqu "Isle was only surpassed in tragic importance by that of the fall of Michillimackinac.
The pleasure seeker who spends a summer on the lovely Island of Mackinaw, with its white cliffs, its piny woods, its "Tower Rock," and "Devil's Kitchen," its old fort and venerable hotels, its meandering drives, and all the quiet scenes which go to make up the Mackinaw of today, is impressed with a sense if its antiquity. The prevailing air of decay, the old-time buildings of the Old Mission and Island House hotels, the quaint manners of the resident population, the rotting sail boats, which lie at abandoned wharves, all tend to make this impression.
The old fort looks as if it had been built in some remote age. Every thing is antique, quiet, un-American. Our summer traveler is completely shut in from the roar and bustle of the busy world. Mails come twice a week, or rather did a year or two ago, when the writer spent a summer there. The only event of the day is the arrival of some steamer. One feels as if the clock had been turned back a hundred years.
Drinking in the pure and bracing atmosphere, indulging in such quiet sports as the place affords, he soon learns to love the island. Sometimes he spends a day in fishing. More often he wanders with some friends through the woods. Now he joins his lady friends, and visiting the few little stores, inspects the stocks of Indian ware. Birch bark canoes, from six inches to three feet long, pipes, bows and arrows, birch baskets, all these he finds in immense quantities.
Lower down on the island he will find the shanties of the Indians who manufacture these articles. Stolid, copper-colored men, with straight, black hair, everlastingly smoking tobacco pipes, lounge around on benches in the open air on summer day. Now and then a grunt or a guttural ejaculation breaks the silence. That is all. They look sullen and sad. Too infinitely lazy to do any work, they seem simply to be waiting, waiting the extinction of their race. Yet these are the descendants of the fierce Ojibwas, whose principal village occupied the Island of Mackinaw in the year 1763.
So the air of antiquity which hangs about Mackinaw is an illusion. In 1763 no white man resided on the island. It was the home of the terrible Ojibwa chief. Fifteen miles to the south, across the beautiful straits, in which the blue waters of Michigan meet and mingle with the fresh tides of the Huron, near the site of old Mackinaw, stood the fort of Michillimackinac, at the time of which we write.
This post was in 1763 nearly a hundred years old, while the Island of Mackinaw was yet only the seat of an Indian town. Parkman describes the post as it was on the eventful morning of June 4, 1763. The houses and barracks, containing thirty families, and a garrison of thirty-five men, were arranged in a square, inclosing a considerable area. Out side of this square was a larger one, formed by the high palisades. "In the vacant space inclosed by the houses, appeared the red uniforms of the British soldiers, the gray coats of Canadians, and the gaudy blankets of Indians, mingled in picturesque confusion. Women and children were moving about the doors; knots of Canadian voyagers reclined on the ground, smoking and conversing; soldiers were lounging listlessly at the doors and windows of the barracks, or strolling in undress about the area."
There was absolutely no suspicion of danger. Yet the garrison had warnings plain enough to put the British on their guard. Several Canadians had warned them that the Indians were plotting their destruction. The commander of the fort, Captain Etherington, did not overlook these warnings. He threatened to send the next alarmist in chains to Detroit! Only the day before the tragic forth of June an Indian named Wawatam, who had taken a fancy to Alexander Henry, a trader, who was in the fort, came over and first advised, then urged, and finally begged Henry, on his knees, to leave the fort that night. In vain!
All that day unusual throngs of Indians had visited the fort. Their special demand was for guns, hatchets, and knives. Valuable articles of jewelry were also called for, the place of their keeping carefully marked, and then the treacherous customers would leave, saying, "We will call tomorrow." This remark was deeply significant. What was the real state of affairs?
The news of Pontiac's attack on Detroit, at the head of the Ottawas and their neighbors, had inflamed the Ojibwas of Mackinaw. With the exception of the tribes around Detroit, the State of Michigan was occupied by the Ottawas and Ojibwas. Their territory was separated about equally by a line running south from Michillimackinac. The western, or Ottawa, tribe had their principal village, L'Arbre Croche, on what is now Little Traverse Bay. At the head of this lovely inlet now stands the bustling town of Petosky, while a pocket in the shore of the bay forms a quiet harbor which the wildest storm scarcely ripples. The spot where now stands the microscopic settlement of Harbor Springs was once occupied by the populous lodges of the Ottawas.
The original plan was for the warriors of L'Arbre Croche to unite with the Ojibwas of Mackinaw in the attack on the fort. But so jealous were the latter that they resolved on carrying out the plot without telling their neighbors.
The scene outside the fort on the morning of June 4, 1763, was quite different from that we have described within the palisade. The plain in front was covered by throngs of Indians engaged in ball playing. The gates of the palisade were wide open. Groups of soldiers stood in the shade of the palisade looking at the sport. Most of them were without their arms. Sober Indian chiefs stood as if intently watching the fortunes of the game. In fact, however, their thoughts were far otherwise employed. Large numbers of squaws also mingled in the throng, collecting chiefly near the open gates. In spite of the warm day, they were wrapped to the throat in blankets. The game of ball or baggattaway was between the Ojibwas and the neighboring Sacs. At either extremity of the open ground stood a post, which constituted the station of one of the parties. Except that the ball was smaller and that a bat much like those used in lawn tennis served instead of the kick, the game was identical with our well known football.
The ball was started from the middle of the ground, and the game was for each side to keep it from touching their own post, and drive it against that of their adversaries. The game was played on this morning with unprecedented fury and abandon. Hundreds of naked warriors were running, jumping, bounding over each other, turning hand-springs, executing aerial somersaults, striking with the bats, tripping each other up, every way, any way, to get at the ball and foil the adversary. Now they surged together in a knotted mass, struggling furiously for the ball; now the sphere rose high in air, with the players bounding after it like hounds, with hilarious uproar.
Suddenly the ball rose high, and descending a wide curve, fell near the gate. It was no chance stroke. The players instantly bounded toward the ball, but just as they reached the neighborhood of the gates shouts of sport changed suddenly to the ominous war-whoop. The squaws threw open their blankets, and withdrawing therefrom guns, hatchets, and knives, the players instantly flung away their bats, seized the weapons, and fell upon the defenseless garrison and traders. Fifteen of the garrison were butchered outright.
The story of Alexander Henry, the trader, is full of interest. At the time the war-whoop was raised, he was in his room writing letters.
"Going instantly to my window, I saw a crowd of Indians within the fort, furiously cutting down and scalping every Englishman they found.
"I had in the room in which I was a fowling-piece, loaded with swan-shot. This I immediately seized, and held it for a few minutes, waiting to hear the drum beat to bear arms. In this dreadful interval I saw several of my countrymen fall, and more than one struggling between the knees of an Indian, who holding him in this manner, scalped him while yet living.
"At length, disappointed in the hope of seeing resistance made to the enemy, and sensible, of course, that no effort of my own unassisted arm could avail against four hundred Indians, I thought only of seeking shelter. Amid the slaughter which was raging, I observed many of the Canadian inhabitants of the fort calmly looking on, neither opposing the Indians, nor suffering injury; and from this circumstance I conceived a hope of finding security in their houses.
"Between the yard-door of my own house and that of M. Langlade, my next neighbor, there was only a low fence, over which I easily climbed. At my entrance I found the whole family at the windows, gazing at the scene of blood before them. I addressed myself immediately to M. Langlade, begging that he would put me into some place of safety, until the heat of the affair should be over, an act of charity by which he might perhaps preserve me from the general massacre; but while I uttered my petition, M. Langlade, who had looked for a moment at me, shrugging his shoulders, and intimating that he could do nothing for me, -- 'Que voudriez-vou que j'en ferais?'
"This was a moment for despair; but for the next, a Pani woman,1 a slave of M. Langlade's beckoned me to follow her. She brought me to a door, which she opened, desiring me to enter, and telling me that it led to the garret, where I must go and conceal myself. I joyfully obeyed her directions; and she, having followed me up to the garret-door; locked it after me, and with great presence of mind took the away the key.
"This shelter obtained, if shelter I could hope to find it, I was naturally anxious to know what I might still be passing without. Through an aperture, which afforded me a view of the area of the fort, I beheld in shapes the foulest and most terrible, the ferocious triumphs of barbarian conquerors.
"The dead were scalped and mangled; the dying were writhing and shrieking under the unsatiated knife and tomahawks; and from the bodies of some, ripped open, their butchers were drinking the blood, scooped up in the hollow of joined hands, and quaffed amid shouts of rage and victory. I was shaken not only with horror, but with fear. The sufferings which I witnessed, I seemed on the point of experiencing. No long time elapsed before, every one being destroyed who could be found, there was a general cry of 'All is finished.' At the same instant I heard some of the Indians enter the house in which was.
"The garret was separated from the room below only by a layer of single boards, at once the flooring of the one and the ceiling of the other. I could therefore hear every thing that passed; and the Indians no sooner came in than they inquired whether or not any Englishmen were in the house. M. Langlade replied that 'he could not say; he did not know of any; answers in which he did not exceed the truth; for the Pani woman had not only hidden me by stealth, but kept my secret and her own. M. Langlade was therefore, as I presume, as far from a wish to destroy me as he was careless about saving me, when he added to these answers, that 'they might examine for themselves, and would soon be satisfied as to the object of their question.' Saying this, he brought them to the garret-door.
"The state of my mind will be imagined. Arrived at the door, some delay was occasioned by the absence of the key, and a few moments were thus allowed me in which to look around for a hiding-place. In one corner of the garret was a heap of those vessels of birch-bark, used in maple-sugar making, as I have recently described.
"The door was unlocked and opening, and the Indians ascending the stairs, before I had completely crept into a small opening which presented itself at one end of the heap. An instant after, four Indians entered the room, all armed with tomahawks, and all besmeared with blood upon every part of their bodies.
"The die appeared to be cast. I could scarcely breathe; but I thought the throbbing of my heart occasioned a noise loud enough to betray me. The Indians walked in every direction about the garret, and one of them approached so closely that at a particular moment, had he put forth his hand, he must have touched me. Still I remained undiscovered; a circumstance to which the dark color of my clothes, and the want of light in the room which had no window, and in the corner in which I was, must have contributed. In a word, after taking several turns in the room, during which they told M. Langlade how many they had killed, and how many scalps they had had taken, they returned down stairs, and I, with sensations not to be expressed, heard the door, which was the barrier between me and my fate, locked for the second time.
"There was a feather-bed on the floor; and on this, exhausted as I was by the agitation of my mind, I threw myself down and fell asleep. In this state I remained till the dusk of evening, when I was awakened by a second opening of the door. The person that now entered was M. Langlade's wife, who was much surprised at finding me, but advised me not to be uneasy, observing that the Indians had killed most of the English, but that she hoped I might myself escape. A shower of rain having begun to fall, he had come to stop a hole in the roof. On her going away, I begged her to send me a little water to drink, which she did.
"As night was now advancing, I continued to lie on the bed, ruminating on my condition, but unable to discover a resource from which I could hope for life. A flight to Detroit had no probable chance of success. The distance from Michillimackinac was four hundred miles; I was without provisions; and the whole length of the road lay through Indian countries, countries of an enemy in arms, where the first man whom I should meet would kill me. To stay where I was, threatened nearly the same issue. As before, fatigue of mind, and not tranquillity, suspended my cares, and procured me further sleep.
"The respite which sleep afforded me during the night was put to an end to by the return of morning. I was again on the rack of apprehension. At sunrise I heard the family stirring, and presently after Indian voices, informing M. Langlade that they had not found my hapless self among the dead, and that they supposed me to be somewhere concealed. M. Langlade appeared, from what followed, to be by this time acquainted with the place of my retreat, of which, no doubt, he had been informed by his wife. The poor woman, as soon as the Indians mentioned me, declared to her husband, in the French tongue, that he should no longer keep me in his house, but deliver me up to my pursuers; giving as a reason for this measure, that, should the Indians discover his instrumentality in my concealment, they might revenge it on her children, and that it was better that I should die than they.
"M. Langlade resisted at first this sentence of his wife's, but soon suffered her to prevail, informing the Indians that he had been told I was in the house, that I had come here without his knowledge, and that he would put me into their hands. This was no sooner expressed than he began to ascend the stairs, the Indians following upon his heels.
"I now resigned myself to the fate with which I was menaced, and regarding every attempt at concealment as vain, I arose from the bed, and presented myself full in view to the Indians who were entering the room. They were all in a state of intoxication, and nearly naked, except about the middle.
"One of them, named Wenniway, whom I had previously known, and who was upward of six feet in height, had his entire face and body entirely covered with charcoal and grease, only that a white spot, of two inches in diameter, encircled either eye. This man, walking up to me, seized me with one hand by the collar of the coat, while, in the other, he held a large carving-knife, as if to plunge it into my breast. His eyes, meanwhile, were fixed steadfastly on mine. At length, after some seconds of the most anxious suspense, he dropped his arm, saying, 'I won't kill you!' To this he added that he had been frequently engaged in wars against the English, and had brought away many scalps; that on a certain occasion he had lost a brother, whose name was Musinigon, and that I should be called after him.
"A reprieve upon any terms placed me among the living, and gave back the sustaining voice of hope; but Wenniway ordered me down stairs, and there informing me that I was to be taken to his cabin, where, indeed everywhere else, the Indians were all mad with liquor, death again was threatened, and not as possible only, but as certain. I mentioned my fears on this subject to M. Langlade, begging him to represent the danger to my master. M. Langlade, in this instance, did not withhold his compassion, and Wenniway immediately consented that I should remain where I was, until he found another opportunity to take me away. Thus far secure, I re-ascended my garret-stairs, in order to place myself the farthest possible out of reach of the drunken Indians."
In an hour a rough voice again summoned Henry from his hiding-place. The savage ordered him to strip, and then follow him. The fellow owed Henry for some goods, and as he carried a dangerous knife, Henry feared he was to be murdered. The Indian conducted him some distance, when Henry, finding that their way led to a lonely and hidden spot behind some sandhills, stopped and told the Indian he believed it was a plot to kill him. The savage coolly replied that it was, and raising his knife, was about to suit the action to the word, when Henry turned and ran with all his might to the fort. The savage followed with uplifted knife, but the trader regained the house from which he had been taken, and the pursuit was abandoned.
The next morning Henry, with two other prisoners, was placed in a canoe, to be taken by several Indians to the Isles du Castor. When well out of the straits and into Lake Michigan, a heavy fog and stormy weather caused them to hug the gloomy coast. When within twenty miles of L'Arbre Croche, a hundred Indians suddenly jumped out of the woods into the surf, dragged the canoe ashore, and while making captives of the guards, explained to the three Englishmen that their lives had been saved by the Ottawas, as the Ojibwas were going to eat them. In a short time the Ottawas embarked for the fort, and Henry started back, arriving at Michillimackinac, the Ottawas coolly took possession of the fort and proceeded to abuse the Ojibwas for springing the trap without notifying their brothers. Henry hoped to be freed, but the two tribes patched up the quarrel, and he found himself a prisoner of the Ojibwas.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh