Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac and Major Gladwin, The Two Leaders



When the officers at Detroit learned that their deputies were detained by the Indians, they realized that there was no hope of peace. Before the fort two armed schooners rode at anchor. Most of the officers wished to abandon the fort and seek safety by sailing away on these boats.
"There is no use trying to hold the old fort against eight times our number," they said impatiently.
But Major Gladwin had no thought of surrender. "We could not," he answered, "if the Indians should attempt to force the walls. But there is no danger of their venturing within gunshot in any numbers. They won't risk their red skins that way. They'll simply waste their powder and lead in such firing as they did this morning, and pretty soon they'll lose heart and drop off, leaving Pontiac to beg for peace."
"I don't suppose they will unite in a charge," assented one of the officers. "But they will keep a sharp lookout day and night to do us injury. We have four walls to guard and only one hundred and twenty men to do it. The garrison will be exhausted in no time."
"Yes, we have hard work before us," agreed the commander, "but we can do it. Our case is not so bad as you represent. The ship's guns protect two walls, so that virtually only two sides of the fort are exposed to the enemy. To me the most alarming feature of the siege is short rations."
"The supplies are low and we cannot hope for more within three weeks. We'll starve to death, penned up here with no hunting and no provisions from the Canadian farmers," complained some, ready in their alarm to magnify every danger.
"By taking care to prevent waste we can make the supplies last," the commander interrupted. "I shall buy up at once everything in the fort that can serve as food, put it into a common storehouse, and give to each person a daily allowance. If even with this care the food runs short, Canadians may be found who love gold better than Indians." In this way the courageous leader argued, until, at last, he overcame the fears of his aids and roused in them a spirit of resistance.
Pontiac had no lack of warriors, nevertheless he, as well as the British leader, had his fears and difficulties.
His own followers were not easily managed. He had brought them together from near and far with promise of easy victory over the English. After a short struggle many of the tribes lost heart and were ready to go back to their villages.[Pg 86]
The Canadians were neutral and were supposed to sympathize with the Indians; but Pontiac knew that many of them favored the English, and were ready at the slightest offense to take the side of his enemies.
His campaign against the English had begun with failure. Treachery had failed. He had put the English on their guard and must now use open force.
To hold a horde of savages together, to keep the fickle Canadians friendly, to take without cannon all the fortifications on the frontier, were the tasks the Indian general had set himself.
Pontiac's personal influence over the Indians was unparalleled. He had lost none of his power over them by the defeat of his plan to take Detroit. No Indian dared reproach him with failure. All quailed before his terrible rage and disappointment. They brought him the scalps of the English they had slain. They sought to please him with loud outcries against the English, and promises of the[Pg 87] bloody work they would do. He held all in awe of him. He commanded as if sure of being obeyed, and punished the slightest disobedience with extreme severity.
But he did not govern by fear alone. He took care that his warriors should not want for food; he took care to give them grounds for hope and to keep them busy.
No preparations had been made for a long siege. When provisions failed and the tribes were on the point of leaving, Pontiac had a conference with some Canadians and arranged that they should furnish his people with corn and meat. He had no money to pay for provisions, but he made out notes promising to pay for them at some future time. These notes were written on birch bark, and signed with the figure of an otter, the totem of the great chief. Many of the farmers feared they would never see the money promised them in these notes, but Pontiac paid them all faithfully.
Pontiac knew how wasteful his people were, feasting in the day of plenty without thought of the morrow. He therefore employed a Canadian as his provision officer. This man had charge of the storehouse, and doled out each morning the provisions for the day.
This novel arrangement increased the Indians' confidence in their leader. Yet some grew restless and were on the point of giving up the struggle as a failure.
On learning this, Pontiac sent out messengers to the Wyandot Indians, ordering them to join him in his war against the British or prepare to be wiped off the face of the earth. By this stroke Pontiac turned threatened loss into gain. The support of the warlike Wyandots renewed the courage of the faint-hearted, and for a time all thought of failure ceased.
The chiefs conduct toward the Canadians was highly praiseworthy. They had encouraged him to make war against the British by promising that the French king would send him help. Week after week passed and no help came. Pontiac's expectation of the arrival of a French army grew fainter and fainter. Still he did not lose faith in the truth of the Canadians. He protected them and their property from injury and theft; for there were many lawless young warriors who were ready to do violence to the French as well as to the English.
While pretending to sympathize with the Indians, many of the French farmers were secretly helping the English by selling them food and reporting the movements of the Indians. Pontiac heard many reports of their faithlessness.
One stormy evening the chief entered the cabin of a Frenchman whom he had known for many years. With only a nod for his host he sat down before the dying fire. He sat there wrapt in his blanket for a long time without a word. At last he faced the Frenchman and said: "Old friend, I hear that the English have offered to give you a bushel of silver if you will take them my scalp."
"It is false," cried the Frenchman in alarm. "I would not injure my friend for many bushels of silver."
"Pontiac has no fear. Pontiac trusts his brother," the Indian replied, and stretching himself upon a bench he was soon sound asleep. The Frenchman could not be false to such faith and the chief slept unharmed.
While successfully keeping together his warriors and strengthening the bond of friendship between the French and the Indians, Pontiac was carrying on the war against the English with vigor. His camp near Detroit was the center of action. From it Pontiac directed the war and kept constant watch over the garrison. He prevented the besieged from leaving their walls; he sent out parties to waylay the supplies the British were expecting from the East; he planned and managed expeditions against other forts held by the British.