Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac and the Hostilities Begin Against Fort Detroit


CHIEF PONTIAC AND THE HOSTILITIES BEGUN AGAINST FORT DETROIT


Bright and early the next morning hordes of naked savages gathered on the pasture land near the fort. A long quadrangle was marked out on the grass with lines across it. At each end of this "gridiron" two tall posts were erected five or six feet apart. This, as you may have guessed, was to prepare for an Indian game of ball.
When all was ready the young men of the Ottawa] tribes took their places on one side of the field. Opposite to them were the Pottawottomies. Each Indian had a long racket or bat with which he tried to drive the ball to the goal against the opposition of the players of the other nation. Such a yelling as they kept up, running and pushing and plunging and prancing the while! Small wonder that squaws, warriors, and chiefs should have come to watch so exciting a game!
INDIANS PLAYING BALLINDIANS PLAYING BALL
Still the men in the fort kept the gates closed and stayed behind their walls, as if they took no interest in the game. They were really watching with some uneasiness the vast crowd of Indians so close at hand.
When the game was finished Pontiac went to the gate of the fort. His chiefs attended him and a motley[ crowd of warriors, squaws, and children came trooping after. The great chief shouted in a loud voice, demanding admission. He received answer that he might come in if he wished, but the rest would have to keep out. With injured dignity he asked if his followers were not to be allowed to enjoy the smoke of the calumet.
The English commander, tired of false speech, gave a short answer, refusing flatly to let the Indians in. Thereupon Pontiac's brow darkened and he strode off to the river in high dudgeon.
The others withdrew a little and stood in groups, muttering and gesticulating. Then with wild whoops they bounded off to join their comrades who lay stretched on the earth around the ball grounds. After a brief parley, some started with blood-curdling yells toward a house across the fields where an English woman lived with her children; others leaped into their canoes and paddled off to an island where an English farmer lived alone.
Before sunset the men at the fort heard the exultant scalp yell of the Indians, and knew that the first blood of the war had been shed.
In the meantime Pontiac hastened with gloomy rage to his own village across the river. It was deserted by all but a few squaws and old men. These Pontiac ordered to pack the camp luggage and make all ready for removal, as soon as the men came with their canoes to carry the camp equipment to the Detroit side of the river.[Pg 82]
All labored to do their chief's will, while he went apart and blackened his face.
At nightfall the braves came in with the scalps they had taken. A pole was driven into the ground in the open space where the tents had been. The warriors gathered about it, their bodies decked with paint and eagle feathers.
Pontiac sprang into their midst, brandishing his hatchet and striking violently at the pole. As he danced about, he recited the great deeds he and his fathers had done in war. His appalling cries, his terrible words, stirred the hearts of his Indians and fired their blood. All were in a frenzy of excitement. With wild cries they joined their chief in his war dance.
Even the faint echo of the din these blood-thirsty demons made struck terror into the hearts of the watchers in Detroit. The soldiers kept close guard all night, expecting an attack at any moment.
But not till early dawn did the war cry sound. Shrill and near it rose from hundreds of throats. Strong men turned pale at the clamor of yells and cracking rifles. It seemed that the Indians must be at the very walls of the fort.
The guards on the ramparts, however, could see no enemy in the faint gray light. From behind every tree, every stone, every rise of ground, came the incessant flash of muskets. Bullets and blazing arrows rattled against the palisades. The Indians aimed at the loopholes and succeeded in wounding five of the English.[Pg 83] The soldiers returned a cautious fire, unwilling to waste powder on an invisible foe.
After an attack of six hours' duration the Indians, weary with their night's activity, gradually withdrew to their camps, having suffered no loss, but at the same time having inflicted little.
Gladwin, whose spirit was manly and humane, wished if possible to avoid further bloodshed. The Canadians took no part in the war, and could, therefore, be safely used as messengers. As soon as the battle had subsided Major Gladwin sent a deputation of them to tell Pontiac that he was willing to listen to any real grievance of the Indians, and do his best to redress whatever wrongs they had suffered.
Pontiac knew that his chief charge of injustice against the English, their presence in and claim to his lands, would not be considered by the English a real grievance. He thought the hour for talking had passed; the time for action had come. Treachery was his readiest weapon and he used it. He replied that he could consent to no terms unless they were made with the English in person, and asked that Captain Campbell, second in command at the fort, come to a council in his camp.
Captain Campbell had no fear, and urged Major Gladwin to permit him to go. He and another Englishman, accordingly, hastened to the Indian village. The women and the warriors were so enraged at the sight of their red coats, that they would have stoned them had not Pontiac interfered and led them to his lodge.[Pg 84]
After a long but fruitless talk around the council fire, the English rose to go. But Pontiac said: "Brothers, you will sleep to-night on the couches the red men have spread for you." He then gave orders that his prisoners should be taken to the house of a Canadian, where they should be treated with respect, but closely guarded.