The Indians Take Part with the Mother Country against Her American Colonies
In the fifteen years that had elapsed since the fall of Canada, England had succeeded in transferring to herself the attachment that the tribes formerly had for France. They were therefore quite ready to lift the hatchet at her bidding against her rebellious colonies, understanding nothing of the nature of the controversy between them, and looking upon the contest as only a family quarrel between father and son, in which the father was undoubtedly in the right, and that, being the stronger, he would surely prevail.
It mattered little to the Indian whether king or congress governed the colonies, but his aid was required by the mother country, and in spite of the indignant protest of the great Earl Chatham in the House of Lords, the cruel and barbarous policy of employing him was adopted. Once more the tomahawk and scalping-knife were let loose upon the defenceless frontier settlements.
Congress made every effort to conciliate the tribes and secure their neutrality. They were visited by active and influential agents, who made use of every possible means for this object. They could effect but little. The Oneidas, the Tuscaroras, and the Mohicans, were the only tribes whose friendship they succeeded in retaining.
Fort Niagara, where Sir John Johnson, the son and successor of Sir William, had established the head-quarters of the Indian department, was, from its central location, the most eligible point from which the western tribes, the Chippewas, Ottawas, and others, could be effectively employed against the Americans. This fortress, erected by Denonville where La Salle had originally built a palisade, stood on the narrow promontory round which the Niagara pours its waters into the lower lake. It commanded the portage between Ontario and Erie, and controlled the fur-trade of the West. It at once became the seat of the royal influence, where marauding, plundering, and scalping parties were organized, supplied, and equipped. Hither also were brought the prisoners to pass the terrible ordeal of the gauntlet, and here also was paid the reward for the scalps of the victims.
Though in to way connected with the American Revolution, the battle of Point Pleasant, occurring just before its commencement, demands attention as one of the most severe and closely contested engagements ever fought between the red and white races.
The beautiful Ohio valley had just been explored, the axe of the pioneer was beginning to be heard, and emigration was rapidly pouring into the inviting region west of the Alleghanies. But the fierce Shawnees maintained a deadly hostility to this advanced guard of civilization. Between this tribe and the Delawares and Mingoes there was an ancient and a close affinity. These tribes, unwilling to give up their best lands with out a struggle, were still further alienated from the white settlers by murders and other outrages perpetrated upon them by lawless white men. Twelve Indians had been killed and a number wounded, about forty miles above Wheeling, by a party of these led by Daniel Greathouse.
In the summer of 1774, Logan, whom these murders had turned from a fast friend to a deadly foe of the whites, came suddenly upon the Monongahela settlements, and retaliated upon them the slaughter of his family and friends.
This celebrated chief, though allied by marriage to the Shawnees, was by birth an Iroquois. Shikellimo, his father, was a Cayuga chief, residing at Shamokin, on the banks of the Susquehanna. Here Logan, whose Indian name was Tah-ga-yu-ta, was born about the year 1725. Physically and mentally he was a noble specimen of his race. He was brave, manly, generous, and high-minded. The white men began war upon him without provocation. Maddened by the barbarity of which he was the victim, he added scalp to scalp from the treacherous pale faces, until the number was thirteen, equaling that of the Indian victims. "Now," said the chief, "I am satisfied for the loss of my relations, and will sit still."
From June to September the most sanguinary scenes were enacted along the border. To put a stop to them, General Andrew Lewis, with one thousand one hundred Virginians, marched to the mouth of the Kenawha, where he was to join another division of the army under Lord Dunmore, Governor of Virginia. Here he found himself opposed by a large body of Delawares, Iroquois, Shawnees, and Wyandots, under their most noted chiefs (among whom was Logan), and led by the able and brave Shawnee chief, Cornstalk.
The presence of the Indians was discovered soon after sunrise, and Colonel Charles Lewis and Colonel Fleming were ordered to reconnoitre the ground where they were seen. This at once brought on an engagement. The Virginia riflemen occupied a triangular point of land between the right bank of the Kenawha and the left bank of the Ohio, accessible only from the rear. Like their opponents, the reconnoitring force sheltered itself behind trees, but the Indians were more than a match for them. The struggle was severe. Soon Colonel Lewis was mortally wounded, and his troops were broken and gave way. Colonel Fleming, who advanced along the shore of the Ohio, was severely wounded, but his men held their position until the reserve under Colonel Field reached the ground.
The Indians then slowly fell back, disputing the ground with the obstinacy of veterans till one o'clock, when they reached a strong position. They had taken the precaution to erect a rough breastwork of logs and brush, extending from river to river, behind which they took refuge, the Virginians being enclosed in the apex of the triangle in their front. Here both parties rested, keeping up a desultory fire along a front of a mile and a quarter. The Indian plan of attack was well conceived, for if they had been victorious not a Virginian could have escaped. Warriors had been stationed on both sides of the river to prevent any from escape by swimming.
Finally a flank attack by three companies under Isaac Shelby, afterwards the hero of King's Mountain, George Mathews, and John Stewart, who had succeeded in reaching unobserved a point in their rear, compelled the enemy to withdraw, and ended a contest which had lasted till sunset.
Neither party could justly claim the victory in this sanguinary battle. During its continuance the gigantic Cornstalk encouraged his warriors with the cry, "Be strong! be strong!" The Virginians had half their commissioned officers and fifty-two men killed. The Indian loss was said to have been two hundred and thirty-three, killed and wounded.
After the battle all the prominent Indian actors in the war except Logan presented themselves at Lord Dunmore's camp at the Chillicothe towns, on the Scioto, to treat for peace. Logan, from his retirement, sent to Dunmore by an interpreter the following well-known address, unsurpassed for its eloquence and pathos:
"I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, 'Logan is the friend of white men.' I had even thought to have lived with you but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children.
"There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many; I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one!"
Logan was wrong in attributing the massacre to Cresap; it was the wretched work of men of a very different stamp.
Among the many anecdotes of Logan's kindness of heart and honorable dealing we select the following:
On one occasion he laid a wager for a trial of skill in marksmanship with a frontiersman, at a dollar a shot. Logan lost four or five shots with entire composure and suavity of manners. When the contest was over he brought from his lodge as many deerskins—then valued at a dollar each—as he had lost shots. The victor declined taking them, saying he was Logan's guest, and that the match had been merely a trial of skill and nerve, and not designed for gain. "No," said Logan, with dignity, "I wagered to make you do your best in shooting. My word is true. Had you lost, I should have taken your dollars; but as I have lost, you shall take my skins."
On another occasion he overheard a mother regretting the want of a pair of shoes for her little daughter, who was just beginning to walk. When he was ready to return to his wigwam, which was not far distant, Logan came and asked the mother to let him take the child with him. Confiding in his known character she consented, though with mingled feelings of trust and anxiety. This was in the morning, and the day wore away with many yearnings in the mother's heart at the long absence of her child. Just before sunset Logan reappeared, leading the little girl, who exhibited on her tiny feet a pair of beautifully wrought moccasins—the work of Logan's Lands.
For two years the Revolutionary War had been going on without much active participation on the part of the Indians. The campaign of 1777, which had for its object the cutting off New England from the other colonies, brought them to the front. At the beginning of August General Burgoyne had penetrated from Canada to the Hudson. His junction with Sir Henry Clinton, who held New York and the Hudson as far up as Peekskill, would have given to Great Britain the key to the military situation.
Burgoyne was proud of his management of the Indians, of whom he had detachments from seventeen tribes. On the 3rd of August they brought in twenty scalps and as many captives, and Burgoyne praised their activity. The Ottawas wished to return home, but on the 5th of August he took a pledge front all the warriors to stay through the campaign. After the lost battle of September 19th they melted away from him like snow beneath the summer sun. The murder of the beautiful Miss McCrea, the affianced bride of a British officer, by a party of Burgoyne's Indians, about this time, sent a thrill of horror throughout the civilized world.
Fort Stanwix, a frontier post at the head of the Mohawk River, the site of the flourishing village of Rome, New York, was the sole remaining barrier to the invader. It had been built to oppose the French in 1753, and was being repaired when a picked body of British, Canadians, and Indians, commanded by Colonel Barry St. Leger, a skilful and intelligent British officer, appeared before it. Its garrison consisted of seven hundred and fifty men, commanded by Colonel Gansevoort, a brave soldier who had accompanied Montgomery to Quebec. His lieutenant-colonel was Marinus Willett, who had earned a reputation in the French war twenty years before. St. Leger, too, had served in Canada, and had learned the habits of the Indians and their mode of warfare. He entertained no doubt that the garrison would surrender at discretion.
With St. Leger was Joseph Brant (Thayendanegea), chief of the Mohawks. He had been active in arraying the Six Nations on the side of King George, and only the Oneidas and Tuscaroras had refused to follow his lead.
Brant was now thirty-five years of age, tall, spare, and active—an ideal Indian—with the added advantages of a good English education and a training in the family of Sir William Johnson. He had recently been in London, where he was lionized, and while there had offered the services of the Six Nations to the King to help subdue his rebellions colonies. Brant's abilities were of a high order. He had been constantly rising in the esteem of his people, until he had attained the position of their ruler, and his influence over them was almost unlimited.
The Canadians and Loyalists were commanded by Sir John, the son of the distinguished Sir William Johnson, who had inherited his father's vast landed estates, but not his abilities. He held a commission as colonel in the British army, and one of his objects was to reclaim his confiscated estate and to resume his almost baronial sway.
"It was a calm and beautiful morning," says Schoolcraft, "when the enemy took up their line of march from Wood Creek. The intervening ground was an open plain of wide extent, most elevated towards its central and southern edge. Gansevoort's men were paraded on the ramparts, watching for the approach of the foe. Music was soon heard; the scarlet color of the British uniforms next showed itself. Their standards, taken from their cases that morning, were waving in the breeze. To many of Gansevoort's men who were newly enlisted the scene was novel. A few were veterans of the Old French War, some were mere lads. The Indians, spreading out on the flanks, gave the scene an air of picturesqueness not unmixed with terror, for their loud yells were heard above the British drum and bugle."
St. Leger's force, one thousand seven hundred strong, completely invested the fort, but his artillery could make no impression upon the sod-work of its walls. The garrison had little ammunition, but were determined to hold out to the last. The striped flag which had been hastily made, partly out of a camlet cloak, was duly displayed, and not a man quailed before the enemy.
Meantime the settlers in the Mohawk Valley, perceiving their danger, gathered at Fort Dayton, and under the lead of General Nicholas Herkimer, a brave old German, marched against the enemy. At Oriskany, ten miles from Fort Stanwix, this brave but undisciplined body of militia, neglecting to take proper precautions in the presence of a wily enemy, fell into a trap which Brant had skilfully laid for them. One thousand two hundred picked men, including all the Indians and most of Johnson's Tortes, lay in and around the ravines at Oriskany in the early morning.
Herkimer, who counselled a little delay in order that reinforcements might reach him, as he was to attack a force much larger than his own, was called a coward and a Tory. These taunts determined him to go forward. At ten o'clock his men were passing a deep ravine, through thick woods, when suddenly the forest became alive. Rifles flashed from behind every tree. Hatchet in hand, and bedecked with war paint, the Indians rushed upon the brave band, and, separating the rear-guard from the main body, cut it in pieces, and seized the supply train destined for the fort.
In the next ravine Herkimer rallied his men. Back to back, shoulder to shoulder, they faced the foe. Where two could stand together, one loaded while the other fired. Often the fight grew closer; patriot and Tory grappled with each other in deadly conflict, and the knife ended the desperate personal encounter. Herkimer, early wounded and his horse shot under him, sat on his saddle beneath a beech-tree, calmly smoking a pipe while ordering the battle. When urged to retire from a place of such danger, he replied,
"I will face the enemy." His calm heroism in this crisis of danger and disaster was of the utmost importance in keeping his men steady.
Against these German farmers, in their homespun garments, were pitted Johnson's "Greens," well equipped and uniformed in their gay color, the Hessian chasseurs, ranking among the best soldiers in Europe, with picked men of British and Canadian regiments, and the fierce warriors of the Iroquois. The brave farmers fought so well that an Indian chief afterwards said, in speaking of the battle:
"Me no want to fight Dutch Yankees any more."
After a five hours' conflict the Indians raised their cry of retreat, "Oonah! Oonah!" Johnson heard the firing of a sortie from the fort, and the British fell back. Herkimer and his brave men held the ground. In this sanguinary action the Americans lost two hundred killed—one-fourth of their whole force. A much larger number were either wounded or made prisoners.
The Indians lost one hundred of their bravest warriors, and the Tory loss was considerable.
The wounded Americans were all brought off by their comrades. On a litter of boughs they bore the shattered form of the sturdy old general to his home, where he died (August 6th), after suffering the amputation of his leg.
During the engagement a successful sortie was made from the fort by Colonel Willett, who captured two of the besiegers' camps, in which he found five British flags. Twenty-one wagon-loads of clothing, provisions, and ammunition were also captured. Sixteen days later the rumored advance of General Arnold caused St. Leger to precipitately abandon the siege.
Arnold had spread in advance the rumor of his approach. He also sent to St. Leger's camp a half-witted royalist, Hon Yost Schuyler, to exaggerate his numbers and his speed. Hon Yost told St. Leger that he had been hotly pursued and had narrowly escaped, exhibiting, in proof of his assertion, his coat, which he had perforated with bullet-holes. Some Oneidas friendly to the Americans also came to St. Leger's camp in hot haste, telling him that Burgoyne was cut to pieces, and that Arnold, with three thousand men, was close by. Speaking the Mohawk language fluently, Hon Yost advised the Indians to fly instantly. A panic and a perfect stampede among them was the result.
St. Leger quarrelled with Johnson, and the Indians had to make peace between them. Finding that the Indians were plundering his camp and leaving for home, St. Leger quitted it, leaving his tents, with most of his artillery and stores, spoils to the garrison. His men threw away their packs in their fright, and the flight became a disgraceful rout.
Serious as was the blow inflicted upon the patriotic farmers of the valley, their heroism was fruitful of good to the patriot cause. St. Leger's failure was a grievous disappointment to Burgoyne. Stark's success at Bennington occurred at the same time, and the combined effect of these two misfortunes rendered Burgoyne's grand scheme abortive, and paved the way for his ultimate defeat and capture.
Early in the summer of 1775, the inhabitants of the beautiful Wyoming Valley became alarmed at the movements of the Indians and Tories upon the upper waters of the Susquehanna. Atrocities had been perpetrated in the neighborhood of Tioga, and the Tories who had left the valley were in constant communication with those who remained.
Six stockades or forts were being erected by the people. Aged men, exempt by law from duty, were formed into companies to garrison them, while the whole of the militia were in constant requisition as scouts and guards. The attention of Congress had been frequently called to the danger menacing this exposed frontier. Nearly all its able-bodied men were away serving in the Continental army. Such was the condition of Wyoming when the Tory and Indian expedition was being prepared for its destruction.
Towards the last of June, Colonel John Butler, the commanding officer at Fort Niagara, organized an expedition to the Susquehanna, composed of three hundred Tories and about five hundred Indians, of various tribes. Entering the valley from the west, through a notch not far from the famous Dial Rock, they killed three men near Fort Jenkins. The inhabitants had made such preparation as they could to withstand the foe. A company of forty or fifty soldiers and a few militia composed the military force with which to oppose the enemy. Old men, boys, and even women seized such weapons as were at hand. Colonel Zebulon Butler, an officer of the Continental army, who happened to be at home, was made commander-in-chief. Forty Fort, so called from the first forty Yankee pioneers of Wyoming, was made the place of rendezvous, and thither the women and children fled for safety.
A council of war was held in the fort, the surrender of which was demanded. The alternative presented was either to fight or to submit to the tender mercies of the Indians and the more savage Tories. Colonel Zebulon Butler and the other leaders counselled delay, hoping for the arrival of reinforcements. To the majority prompt action seemed necessary, and they, bravely, but rashly, decided to march out and give battle to the invaders.
The plucky little American force, three or four hundred strong, approached and attacked the enemy's lines about four o'clock, the afternoon being extremely hot, advancing a step at each fire. Soon the enemy's left began to give way, but it was supported by the Indians, who kept up a galling fire. For half an hour this contest with greatly superior numbers was gallantly maintained, when the Indians succeeded in flanking Colonel Denison. His order to fall back was mistaken for an order to retreat, and the whole body fled in confusion.
Riding along the line, exposed to the fire of the contending parties, regardless of danger, the American leader besought his troops to remain firm.
"Don't leave me, my children," he exclaimed, "and the victory is ours!" All that brave and devoted officers could do was done by Butler and Denison, but it was too late; some fled to the fort, and some to Monocacy Island, nearly a mile distant.
A scene of horror ensued. The poet Campbell has faintly outlined its savage terrors in his "Gertrude of Wyoming," but no pen however gifted, no imagination however vivid, could adequately portray such a scene. Only sixty escaped the rifle, the tomahawk, and the scalping-knife. The prisoners were either tortured, or butchered in cold blood. Colonel Butler escaped to Wilkesbarre. Forty Fort was surrendered next day by Colonel Denison, there being no hope of a successful defence; but the terms of the capitulation were soon violated, the Indians having before night plundered the few remaining inhabitants and burned the abandoned dwellings. The village of Wilkesbarre was also burned, and the terrified villagers fled to the mountains. Except the few who gathered about the fort at Wilkesbarre, the ruined settlement was wholly abandoned by its former inhabitants and long remained deserted. Terribly as the valley had suffered, it continued to be harassed and devastated by the savage foe until peace was finally proclaimed.
Tryon County, New York, was also made a scene of desolation and misery. In June, Brant and his warriors burned the settlement of Springfield. In July, Wyoming, as we have seen, was desolated, and the valley of the Cobleskill laid waste. A little later the Schoharie Valley was ravaged by the Indians and Tories, and early in September the extensive and populous settlement of the German Flats was burned by Brant.
To the Indian, each foot of the surrounding country was familiar ground. Behind him stretched the illimitable forest into which he could retreat when he had struck his blow. He fought for his home and his hunting-ground, while the Tory, the bloodier of the two, had no motive but revenge. What the patriotic people of this devoted county suffered can never be known. Of her population, one-third were Tories, who went over to the enemy. Of those remaining, one-half were either driven from the country or died by violence. At the close of the war it contained three hundred widows and two thousand orphans.
Cherry Valley, near the head-waters of the Susquehanna, its most important settlement, was an object of hatred to both Indian and Tory. The people of the surrounding country had early flocked hither for safety. A small fortification had been thrown up around the walls of Colonel Campbell's residence, on a side hill commanding a full view of the valley. A fort was constructed in the town a little later.
Once already it had narrowly escaped. Early in May, Brant had planned a descent upon the settlement, having been informed that it was then unguarded. Stealthily approaching through the forest with his hostile band, he gained undiscovered the summit of a neighboring hill. Looking down, he beheld, to his utter consternation, a company of soldiers parading on the Green in front of Colonel Campbell's house. Satisfied that he had been deceived, he abandoned the attack. He learned the truth at a later day. The doughty warriors, whose appearance had so surprised him, proved to be a company of boys—the children of the settlement—decked out in paper hats and armed with wooden swords and guns. Though trivial in itself, this little incident yet serves to light up the dark background of the tragedy to come.
Walter Butler, son of the Tory colonel, John Butler, had been sentenced to be shot as a spy, but, unfortunately, through the intercession of friends, his life was spared and he was imprisoned at Albany. Escaping thence in the summer of 1775, he joined his father at Niagara. Thirsting for revenge, he planned an expedition against the settlement at Cherry Valley, and obtained the command of two hundred of his father's Tory rangers and the aid of five hundred Indians under Brant.
The fort was garrisoned by two hundred and fifty Massachusetts troops under Colonel Ichabod Alden. This officer received a despatch from Fort Schuyler informing him of the intended attack, but he treated the information with unconcern, and even refused to permit the alarmed inhabitants to remove within the fort. He did send out scouting parties on the 9th of November.
Alden's quarters were outside the fort. Early on the following morning the Indians were upon him. The advance consisted mainly of Senecas, the most untamed and blood-thirsty of the Six Nations. Realizing the danger at last, Alden fled towards the fort. Behind him followed a fleet-footed savage with uplifted tomahawk. Several times Alden turned and snapped a pistol at his pursuer, but the treacherous weapon failed him. At length the fort was nearly gained, and its doors stood open for his reception, when the Indian's tomahawk, hurled with unerring aim, cleft his skull.
As the assailants had no cannon the fort was not taken, the several attacks made upon it being repulsed. Outside the fort, however, the country was laid waste. The victims of the massacre numbered forty-eight; sixteen of them were Continental soldiers, the rest were mostly women and children. The Indians relieved themselves of their prisoners by humanely sending them back on the following morning.
The bravery of one man at Cherry Valley excited the admiration even of the savages. Captain Cannon, an old sea-captain from the north of Ireland, and a member of the Committee of Safety, was visiting his daughter whose husband was absent. As he was the only man present, except some negro slaves, he knew that a defence of the house would be useless, and would only endanger the lives of those intrusted to his care. But resolving to sell his life as dearly as possible, he sallied forth with a stock of muskets and a negro boy to load, and took post behind a tree which stood below the house.
As the Indians approached, he poured into them a rapid fire, until a bullet in the leg brought him to the ground. When the Indians rushed up they found the force which had opposed their progress consisted of one old man. Happily he was recognized, and his rank, together with admiration for his gallantry, saved his life. The house was then surrounded and the women and children taken prisoners.
A righteous retribution overtook the Tory leader, "the infamous Walter Butler." He lost his life in the rout which followed the battle of Johnstown. Swimming his horse across a creek, he turned to bid defiance to his pursuers. An Oneida Indian who, like a sluthhound, had followed his track, with a rifle-ball brought him wounded to the ground. Casting aside gun and blanket, the Indian plunged into the stream and swarm across. Butler begged piteously for mercy. The Oneida, brandishing his tomahawk, replied in broken English, Sherry Valley! Remember Sherry Valley!" and then cleft the wretch's skull.
Meantime a brilliant blow had been struck in the north-west. Colonel George Rogers Clarke, with a small force of Virginians, had surprised and captured the British posts at Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vincennes. He had long seen that the possession of Detroit and other Western posts gave the British easy access to the Indian tribes of the north-west, and that their capture would neutralize the power of those savages and render our frontier vastly more secure.
Clarke found great difficulty in raising men for the expedition, the Kentuckians having their own settlements to protect from Indian attack. The march was a long and difficult one, much of it through a wilderness. Fortunately for the success of his enterprise, the news of the alliance of France with the colonies had just been received, insuring for him the co-operation of the French and Indians of Illinois and the lakes. The victory was complete. Not a drop of blood was spilled.
The pacification of the Indians next occupied Clarke's attention. In this difficult task he displayed great tact and ability. He never loaded them with presents, nor manifested the slightest fear of them. He always waited for them to make the first advances, and after they had concluded their speeches and thrown away the bloody wampum sent them by the English, would coldly tell them that he would give them an answer on the following day, at the same time cautioning them against shaking hands with the Americans, as peace was not yet concluded. Next day the Indians would come to hear the answer of the "Big Knife," as they called Clarke, which they always found firm and decided.
An instance of his sagacity in dealing with the red men is seen in his treatment of a party of Meadow Indians who, while attending a council, tried to surprise and murder Clarke and his officers in their quarters. Their plot was discovered, and some of their chiefs were put in irons and daily brought to the council-house, where he whom they proposed to kill was constantly engaged in forming friendly relations with their red brethren.
At length when they had been sufficiently impressed by this scene, their irons were taken off, and the American commander, with quiet scorn, said to them,
"Your lives are justly forfeited, but you are not warriors, only old women, and too mean to be killed by the 'Big Knife.' Provisions shall be given you for your journey home, as women don't know how to hunt, and during the remainder of your stay you shall be treated in every respect as squaws."
The astonished red men, who were prepared for anger but not for contempt, felt keenly the degradation thus inflicted upon them. They consulted together, and presently a chief came forward with a belt and pipe of peace, which, with suitable words, he laid upon the table. Lifting a sword which lay before him, the American shattered the offered pipe, with the cutting expression that he "did not treat with women."
Two of their young men then came forward and, covering their heads with their blankets, offered their lives as an atonement for the misdeeds of their relatives. For a time deep silence prevailed, broken only by the deep breathing of those whose lives thus hung by a thread. Presently Clarke arose and bade the young men to be uncovered and stand up. "I am glad to find," said he, "that there are men among all nations. With you, who alone are fit to be chiefs, I am willing to treat; through you I am ready to grant peace to your brothers. I take you by the hands as chiefs, worthy of being such." The éclat of this occurrence made the name of the white chief famous far and wide through the north-west.
Vincennes having been retaken by a British force under Lieutenant-colonel Hamilton, Clarke at once organized an expedition which resulted in its recapture. Hamilton was intending to retake Kaskaskia also early the next spring. In a letter to Patrick Henry, Governor of Virginia, Clarke wrote: "I knew that if I did not take him he would take me."
This was a memorable exploit—one that tested the ability of the commander and the endurance of the men to the very utmost. The winter was exceedingly wet, and all the streams and lowlands of that region were overflowed.
After inexpressible hardships the small army of one hundred and seventy men reached the Wabash, the low bottoms of which were covered with water three or four feet deep. Rain had fallen nearly every day. Here they were to have found a boat with supplies, but there were no signs of it, and the troops were in an exhausted, destitute, and starving condition. Up to this point they had borne their hardships with great fortitude, but now the spirits of many began to flag.
There was a little relief to this sombre picture. One of the party was an Irishman who could sing many comic songs, and as the men waded with the water up to their waists, the Irishman sitting upon his big drum, which easily floated him, entertained the half-perishing troops with his comical musical performances.
At the beginning of the last day's march, the colonel reconnoitring in advance found the water up to his neck. His men read disappointment in his looks and were themselves greatly disturbed. "Seeing their confusion," he says, "I whispered to those near me to do as I did. Immediately I put some water on my head, poured on powder, blackened my face, gave the warwhoop, and marched into the water without saying a word. The party gazed, and fell in one after another, like a flock of sheep. I ordered those near me to sing a favorite song of theirs; it soon passed through the line, and the whole party went on cheerfully.
"I now intended to have them transported across the deepest part of the water, but when about waist deep one of the men informed me that he thought he felt a path. We examined and found it so, and that it kept on the highest ground, and by following it we got to where there was half an acre of dry ground where we took up our lodgings.
"That night was the coldest we had, and in the morning the ice was more than half an inch thick. I told my men that passing the plain that was then in full view and gaining the opposite woods would put an end to their fatigues, and immediately stepped into the water without waiting for any reply. A huzza was given and on we went.
"This was the most trying of all the difficulties we experienced. I generally kept fifteen or twenty of the strongest men next myself, and judged from my own feelings what those of the others must be. Getting about to the middle of the plain, the water mid-deep, I found myself sensibly failing, and as there were no trees or bushes for the men to support themselves by, I feared that the weaker ones would be drowned.
"To encourage the party I sent some of the strongest forward, with orders, when they got to a certain distance, to pass the word back that the water was getting shallower, and when getting near the woods to cry out, 'Land!' This stratagem had the desired effect. Encouraged by it the men exerted themselves almost beyond their strength, the weak holding on to the strong. The water, instead of growing shallower, deepened.
"Reaching the woods at last, where the men expected to land, the water was up to my shoulders; but gaining the woods was of great consequence. All the short and weakly men clung to the trees or floated on the old logs until taken off by the canoes. The strong and tall men got on shore and built fires. Many would reach the shore and fall, with their bodies half submerged in the water, not being able to lift themselves out of it.
"Fortunately an Indian canoe came along filled with squaws and children, and in which there were some provisions. This was a grand prize. Broth was immediately made, and served out with great care to the most weakly. Most of them got a little, many giving up their portion to them, and at the same time saying something to cheer them up. Crossing a narrow, deep lake in the canoes and marching some distance, we came in full view of the fort and town about two miles off. Every man now feasted his eyes and forgot his sufferings."
Notwithstanding Clarke had surmounted so many grave difficulties, his situation was still critical. The town contained six hundred men, including Indians and inhabitants, and no retreat was possible for him in case of defeat. The French inhabitants, however, wished him well, and on the day following his arrival the fort was surrendered. The whole country along the Mississippi and the Wabash has ever since remained in the possession of the Americans.
On July 19, 1779, a night attack was made on Minisink, a town situated on an island in the Delaware River, by Brant, with a strong party of warriors and twenty-seven Tories disguised as Indians. Houses were burned, some of the inhabitants were killed, others were captured, the neighboring farms were ravaged, and cattle and horses driven off. The Orange County militia hastily assembled and started in pursuit.
At Half-way Brook they came upon the Indian camp of the previous night, its numerous watch-fires still smoking, indicating a large force. The leaders were for discontinuing the pursuit, but a large majority opposed this course and all pressed eagerly forward. At nine o'clock on the morning of the 22nd the enemy were in sight, moving towards a fording place. Hathorne, the American commander, so disposed his men as to intercept them; but Brant, perceiving his design, wheeled his forces, and gaining a deep ravine which the whites had crossed, took up an advantageous position in their rear and formed an ambuscade.
Not finding the enemy as they expected, the Americans were marching back when they were fired upon, and a desperate and bloody conflict ensued, lasting until sunset, when the ammunition of the Americans failed. They fought in a disadvantageous position and the Indians were greatly superior in numbers. One-third of Hathorne's troops became separated from the rest at the commencement of the action. A final attack broke the hollow square of the Americans at one corner, and they retreated, only about thirty of them succeeding in reaching their homes. One hundred and two had fallen, and seventeen who were wounded were placed in Dr. Tusten's care behind a rocky point. The Indians tomahawked them all, notwithstanding their appeals for mercy. Brant himself sunk his tomahawk in the head of Colonel Wisner, one of the wounded, and his savage cruelty on this occasion remains one of the darkest stains upon his memory.
For the protection of the western frontier, it was proposed, early in 1779, to take the British fort at Niagara, and also to carry the war into Central New York and Western Pennsylvania, so as to break the power of the savages. The task was committed to General John Sullivan, who wisely, perhaps—considering the means at his disposal—confined his efforts to the punishment of the Six Nations.
Much time was consumed in the necessary preparations, but on the 26th of August the army moved on Tioga Point, now the village of Athens, Pennsylvania. Sullivan's force numbered five thousand men, led by able and experienced officers. One of its two divisions, under General James Clinton, had marched across the country from Canajoharie to Otsego Lake. From this point he followed the outlet of the lake to the Susquehanna, when he joined Sullivan and the other division, composed of Pennsylvania troops, at Tioga Point.
At the Indian village of Newtown, now Elmira, on the Chemung River, Sullivan found the enemy in force, numbering about one thousand two hundred men, made up of British regulars, Tories, and Indians, led by Captain Macdonald of the British army, Colonel John Butler, and the Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant. This force occupied a steep ridge between a creek and the river, a bend in which protected two of its sides, while a breastwork partly hidden by trees strengthened its front.
This naturally strong position was skilfully taken advantage of for an ambush. It was supposed that the advancing Americans would march along the base of the ridge, by an open path parallel with the breastwork, and the intention was that when their flank was completely exposed, a deadly fire should be opened upon them from the heights above. A rifleman belonging to the American advanced guard discovered their entire line from the top of a tall tree, and thus rendered their skilfully laid plans abortive.
The battle was opened by General Hand's brigade, which occupied the enemy in front, repulsing the repeated and desperate sallies of Brant, while Generals Poor and Clinton made their may through woods and swamps to strike the enemy's rear and flank. Proctor's artillery opened upon the breastwork at the same moment that Poor and Clinton with their men marched up the hill, shouting, "Remember Wyoming!"
Urged on by Brant, the Indians, though outgeneralled and outnumbered, fought with great obstinacy, yielding the ground inch by inch, and being frequently driven from their hiding-places at the point of the bayonet.
Finding themselves at length in danger of being surrounded, the yell of retreat was sounded by their leader, and they fled precipitately across the Chemung River, having lost heavily in the engagement. They scattered to their respective villages and did not afterwards rally to oppose Sullivan's progress. But a small portion of Sullivan's force could be brought into this action. Contrary to their usual custom, some of the slain warriors were left on the battle-field.
Sullivan's troops now pushed on, burning and destroying villages, corn-fields, and orchards, through the Genesee country. Kanadaseagea, now Geneva, the beautiful Seneca capital, containing sixty houses and many beautiful gardens, was ruthlessly destroyed. Canandaigua was obliterated, In this devastating raid not less than forty Indian towns were burned, and our countrymen showed themselves no less savage than were the people they attacked.
This blow, from which the Iroquois confederacy never recovered, strengthened their hatred of the white man, and extended it through the tribes upon the lakes and in the valley of the Ohio. Thenceforth Washington was named by them An-na-ta-kaw-les, "taker of towns," or "Town Destroyer."
In the following spring the Indians wreaked their vengeance on the inhabitants of the Mohawk Valley. Sir John Johnson, with a large Indian and Tory force, entered the doomed district at midnight, murdering, plundering, and destroying. Among the slain were four old men over eighty years of age, one of whom was the patriot Fonda. Johnson recovered the plate that he had buried at Johnstown at the beginning of the war, and then retraced his steps to Canada, after leaving a lasting mark of his vengeance on the home and familiar scenes of his childhood. The Schoharie Valley was the next to suffer, Brant and Johnson devastating it with fire and sword. One hundred persons were killed and many were carried into captivity.
We now come to the last Indian fight of the war. A short time before the British forces evacuated Savannah, General Anthony Wayne, who commanded the American force in its vicinity, was surprised in his camp by the Creek chieftain, Guristersigo. This warrior, intending to join the British with his followers, had marched through Georgia unobserved, and fell upon the rear of Wayne's camp at three o'clock in the morning. Wayne was not expecting an attack, especially from Indians, but his men, as usual, slept on their arms that night and were ready for action.
Guristersigo intended to strike Wayne's picket-guard, stationed at a little distance from the main body; as the two had that day exchanged places, he ignorantly attacked the stronger instead of the weaker party. The onset was furious; but, aroused by the Indian warwhoop, the infantry quickly seized their arms, and the artillerymen hastened to their guns. Two of the pieces were captured; but while the Indians were endeavoring to turn them upon the Americans, the latter had time to rally. Colonel Posey led his infantry to the charge, while Wayne headed the cavalry, who cut down the naked warriors with their broadswords, and, turning their flank, quickly put them to flight.
Wayne's horse was shot under him at the same moment that the cannon were captured. A severe struggle for their recapture ensued, in which the rifle and the tomahawk were no match for the bayonet and the broadsword. Guristersigo fought valiantly to retain his trophies, and only relinquished them with his life. He fell, encouraging his warriors to the last. Seventeen of them, besides his white guides, fell at his side. This renowned warrior was six feet three inches in height and well proportioned; his countenance was manly and expressive.
The Indians fled when they saw their leader fall, and were pursued far into the forest; many of them were killed by the bayonet. Wayne's loss was slight. One hundred and seventeen pack-horses, laden with peltry, fell to the victors.
In September, Colonels Pickens and Clarke completed the subjugation of the Creeks. Weary of the conflict, the Indians ceded all their lands south of the Savannah and east of the Chattahoochee rivers to the State of Georgia, as the price of peace. Treaties were made with the Iroquois at Fort Stanwix; with the western Indians at Fort McIntosh; and with the southern Indians at Hopewell. The Shawnees were the last, peace being made with them at the mouth of the Great Miami, on the 31st of January, 1786.
One of the most celebrated of the Indian orators was the Seneca chief, Red Jacket. Meeting General Lafayette at Buffalo, in the year 1825, he asked the latter if he remembered being present at the Great Council of the Indian nations, held at Fort Stanwix in 1784. The general replied that he had not forgotten that event, and asked Red Jacket if he knew what had become of the young chief who in that council opposed with such eloquence the "burying of the hatchet."
"He is before you," was the reply of Red Jacket. His speech on that occasion was a masterpiece of fiery eloquence. Red Jacket possessed talents of the highest order, and was a thorough Indian in his costume as well as in his contempt for the language, manners, and everything else belonging to the English. He fought for the United States in the war of 1812, and died near Buffalo, New York, on January 20, 1830.