Thursday, February 9, 2012

Shawnee Chief Cornstalk


   The reader of these pages is already familiar with the name of Cornstalk, "the mighty Cornstalk, sachem of the Shawnee, and king of the Northern Confederacy." His conduct in the memorable battle of Point Pleasant establishes his fame as an able and gallant warrior. He carried into that action the skill of an accomplished general, and the heroism of a dauntless brave. Neither a thirst for blood, nor the love of renown, ever prompted him to arms. He was the open advocate for honorable peace—the avowed and devoted friend of the whites. But he loved his own people and the hunting grounds in which they roamed; and, when his country's wrongs demanded redress, he became the "thunderbolt of war," and avenged the aggressions upon his tribe with energy and power. He fought, however, that peace might reign; and, after the battle in which he so highly distinguished himself, was the first among his associated chiefs to propose a cessation of hostilities. While he mourned over the inevitable doom of the Indians, he had the sagacity to perceive that all efforts to avert it, were not only useless, but, in the end, reacted upon them with withering influence. Shawnee Indian Photos
He has been justly called a great and a good man. He was the zealous friend of the Moravian missions; and warmly encouraged every effort to ameliorate the moral and physical condition of his people. "His noble bearing," says Mr. Withers, "his generous and disinterested attachment to the colonies, when the thunder of British cannon was reverberating through the land, his anxiety to preserve the frontier of Virginia from desolation and death, (the object of his visit to Point Pleasant,) all conspired to win for him the esteem and respect of others; while the untimely and perfidious manner of his death, caused a deep and lasting regret 046to pervade the bosoms even of those who were enemies to his nation; and excited the just indignation of all towards his inhuman and barbarous murderers." The strong native powers of his mind had been more enriched by observation, travel and intercourse with the whites, than is usual among the Indian chiefs. He was familiarly acquainted with the topography and geography of the north-west, even beyond the Mississippi river, and possessed an accurate knowledge of the various treaties between the whites and the Indian tribes of this region, and the relative rights of each party.
At the treaty with Dunmore, he made a speech alike creditable to his love of country and his sense of justice. He pourtrayed, in living colors, the wrongs inflicted upon the Indians by the colonists, and placed in strong contrast the former and present condition of his nation, the one being happy and prosperous, the other degraded and oppressed. He spoke in a strain of manly boldness of the repeated perfidy of the white people; and especially, of the unblushing dishonesty of the traders; and, finally concluded by proposing as one of the fundamental provisions of the treaty, that no commerce with the Indians should be carried on for individual profit, but that honest men should be sent among them by their white brother, with such things as they needed, to be exchanged, at a fair price, for their skins and furs: and still further, that no "fire-water," of any kind, should be introduced among them, inasmuch as it depraved his people and stimulated them to aggressions upon their white brethren.
As an orator, the fame of Cornstalk stands high. Colonel Benjamin Wilson, an officer in Dunmore's campaign, in 1774, who was present at the interview (at camp Charlotte) between the chiefs and the governor, in speaking of Cornstalk, says, "when he arose, he was in no wise confused or daunted, but spoke in a distinct and audible voice, without stammering or repetition, and with peculiar emphasis. His looks, while addressing Dunmore, were truly grand and majestic, yet graceful and attractive. I have heard the first orators in Virginia,—Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee,—but 047never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk."
The treaty at camp Charlotte did not bring much repose to the frontier. In the course of the two years succeeding it, new difficulties arose between the Indians and the inhabitants of western Virginia. Early in the spring of 1777, several tribes joined in an offensive alliance against the latter. Cornstalk exerted all his influence to arrest it, but in vain. Sincerely desirous of averting war, he resolved to communicate this condition of affairs to the Virginians, in the hope that they might dissipate the impending war-cloud. This information he determined to give in person. Taking with him Red Hawk, and one other Indian, he went secretly to the fort at Point Pleasant, with a flag of peace, and presented himself to the commander of that post. After stating to him the object of the mission, and fully explaining the situation of the confederate tribes and their contemplated attack upon the whites, he remarked, in regard to his own, "the current sets (with the Indians,) so strong against the Americans, in consequence of the agency of the British, that they (the Shawnee) will float with it, I fear, in spite of all my exertions." No sooner had this information been given to the commander, captain Matthew Arbuckle, than he decided, in violation of all good faith, to detain the two chiefs as hostages, to prevent the meditated attack on the settlements. This he did; and immediately gave information to the executive of Virginia, who ordered additional troops to the frontier. In the mean time, the officers in the fort held frequent conversations with Cornstalk, whose intelligence equally surprised and pleased them. He took pleasure in giving them minute descriptions of his country, its rivers, prairies and lakes, its game and other productions. One day, as he was drawing a rude map on the floor, for the gratification of those present, a call was heard from the opposite shore of the Ohio, which he at once recognized as the voice of his favorite son, Elenipsico, a noble minded youth, who had fought by his father's side in the battle of Point Pleasant. At the request of Cornstalk, Elenipsico crossed over the river, and joined him in the fort, 048where they had an affectionate and touching meeting. The son had become uneasy at his father's long absence; and regardless of danger, had visited this place in search of him. It happened on the following day that two white men, belonging to the fort, crossed over the Kanawha, upon a hunting excursion; as they were returning to their boat, they were fired upon by some Indians in ambush, and one of the hunters, named Gilmore, was killed, the other making his escape. The news of this murder having reached the fort, a party of captain Hall's men crossed the river and brought in the body of Gilmore; whereupon the cry was raised, "let us go and kill the Indians in the fort." An infuriated gang, with captain Hall at their head, instantly started, and in despite of all remonstrance, and the most solemn assurances that the murderers of Gilmore had no connection whatever with the imprisoned chiefs, they persisted in their cruel and bloody purpose, swearing, with guns in their hands, that they would shoot any one who attempted to oppose them. In the mean time, the interpreter's wife, who had been a captive among the Indians, and had a feeling of regard for Cornstalk and his companions, perceiving their danger, ran to the cabin to tell them of it; and to let them know that Hall and his party charged Elenipsico with having brought with him the Indians who had killed Gilmore. This, however, the youthful chief denied most positively, asserting that he came unattended by any one, and for the single purpose of learning the fate of his father. At this time captain Hall and his followers, in despite of the 
 and command of captain Arbuckle, were approaching the cabin of the prisoners. For a moment, Elenipsico manifested some agitation. His father spoke and encouraged him to be calm, saying, "my son, the Great Spirit has seen fit that we should die together, and has sent you here to that end. It is his will, and let us submit; it is all for the best;" and turning round to meet the assassins at the door, was shot with seven bullets, and expired without a groan. The momentary agitation of Elenipsico passed off, and keeping his seat, he met his death with stern and heroic apathy. Red Hawk manifested less resolution, and 049made a fruitless effort to conceal himself in the chimney of the cabin. He was discovered and instantly shot. The fourth Indian was then slowly and cruelly put to death. Thus terminated this dark and fearful tragedy—leaving a foul blot on the page of history, which all the waters of the beautiful Ohio, on whose banks it was perpetrated, can never wash out, and the remembrance of which will long outlive the heroic and hapless nation which gave birth to the noble Cornstalk.