Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac's End of the Siege of Fort Detroit


We have seen that after the battle of Bloody Ridge many tribes that had before been afraid to take up the hatchet against the English, presented themselves at the camp of Pontiac, eager for a share in the victory at Detroit, which they thought would follow.
Yet that English stronghold, that log palisade, was a prize out of reach of the chief and his warriors. The Indians kept close watch. If a head appeared at a loophole, bang went an Indian's gun. If a point was left unguarded, there was the torch applied. Fire arrows whizzed over the rampart in the darkness, only to burn themselves out in the broad roadway between the wall and the buildings. Again and again hundreds of painted warriors danced about the fort yelling as if Detroit, like Jericho, might be taken with shouting. Their spent bullets pelted the old fort like harmless hail. They tried to rush upon the gate, but the fusilade from the block house and the fire-belching cannon of the British drove them back helter-skelter.
Late in September an incident occurred which increased the Indians' awe of the British. A scout brought word to Pontiac that a dispatch boat with a large store of provisions was on her way to the fort. As there were only twelve men aboard, her capture seemed an easy matter.
The Indians planned a midnight attack. Three hundred of them drifted down the river in their light birch] canoes. The night was so dark and they came so noiselessly that the watching English did not know of their approach until they were within gunshot of the boat.
A cannon was fired, but its shot and shell went over the heads of the Indians and plowed up the black water beyond. The canoes were all about the ship and the savages, with knives in their teeth, were climbing up its sides. The crew fired once. One or two Indians fell back into the water; the rest came on. As they climbed nearer, the British charged them with bayonets, and hacked them with hatchets and knives. But where one man was driven back a dozen gained the deck.
The little crew defended themselves desperately; they were surrounded by brandished tomahawks; their captain had fallen; more than half their number were cut down. The Indians were raising their shout of triumph. Then the order of Jacobs, the mate, rang out: "Blow up the ship!" he said. One Indian understood and gave the alarm to his fellows. With one accord they threw down hatchets and knives and leaped into the river. They made haste to reach the shore and left six bloodstained British sailors to take their boat in triumph to Detroit.
As autumn advanced the Indians grew weary of the long siege. The prospect of winter with no food, the continued resistance of the British, and the report that a large force of armed men was coming to relieve Detroit, discouraged them.
One tribe after another sent delegations to Major Gladwin to sue for peace. They told smooth stories.
 They had always loved the English, but Pontiac had compelled them to go to war. Now they were sorry they had obeyed him and longed to be at peace with their English brothers.
Gladwin understood their deceit, but as he was in need of winter supplies, readily granted them a truce. The various tribes broke up their camps and separated for the long winter hunt.
Pontiac and his Ottawas still held their ground without flinching. "Surely," thought the proud-hearted chief, "our French father will send us help before long."
One day, near the close of October, a messenger did come from the French. The letter he brought was from M. Neyon, the commandant of Fort Chartres, in the Illinois country. Pontiac had written to him asking for aid. What had he answered? He had told the truth. He had told Pontiac that the French in America were now the subjects of the English king, and so could not fight against his people.
When the great chief heard this he did not put on his war paint and lead his warriors against the defenseless French who had so long dealt falsely with him. He sat alone for a long time, thinking. The next day he sent a letter to Major Gladwin saying that he was now ready to bury the hatchet, and begging the English to forget the past.
Major Gladwin thought that the French were more to blame than the Indians in the war, and was willing to be at peace with his red neighbors. So he sent Pontiac a] favorable reply. A few days later the stern-faced chief turned his back on Detroit, and began his march to the Maumee River, followed by his faithful braves.