Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac's Important Engagements Against the British


Hope grew strong in Pontiac's heart as week after week his tribes and allies brought to his camp trophies of victory—guns, prisoners, scalps. But Detroit troubled him. The most violent attacks produced no effect. To starve the garrison seemed the only way to conquer it.
When, therefore, Pontiac's messengers had brought word that the schooner was approaching he bent his whole energy to prevent her reaching Detroit. Along the river where dense underwoods grew, hundreds of Indians lay concealed with their canoes, waiting for the schooner.
When, in the darkness of a moonless night, they saw the great boat sailing steadily up the narrow channel they paddled silently toward her, dark specks on the breast of the dark, shining river. Nearer and nearer they pressed. All was silent on the vessel. Surely no one had taken alarm. Not a shot and they had reached the boat; they were clambering like rats up its bulky sides—when lo! a sharp hammering on the mast head, a flash of muskets in the dark, a cry of defeat and rage above the din of battle! Cannon boomed; canoes flew high into the air; bullets did their work.
For fourteen Indians the long struggle against the palefaces was over. The rest scurried to the shore
 as best they could, some paddling, some swimming. Once there, they took shelter behind some temporary earthworks, and opened such a fierce fire on the schooner that it was forced to drop down stream to a broader part of the river. For several days they delayed the ship, but at length she sailed boldly past, and was but little injured by the fire.
Pontiac was sorely vexed that the ship had succeeded in reaching the garrison. He and his people looked upon the boats with almost superstitious horror. Their dislike was not lessened when one day the smaller schooner made her way against wind and current up to Pontiac's village, and there sent shot and shell roaring through the frail dwellings.
Though no loss of life resulted, the Indians were greatly alarmed. Pontiac moved his camp to a safer place and then turned his attention to destroying the ships. Early in July he made his first attempt.
Two large boats filled with birch bark and pitch pine were tied together and set on fire. They were then cut loose and left to float down stream. Keenly the Indians watched; keenly, the English. Would the fireboats go close enough? the first wondered with bated breath. Would they come too close? questioned the British. Woe on the one hand, joy on the other! the space between the ships and the flaming craft widens—the fireboats float harmlessly down the river. A second and a third attempt to burn the boats failed. Fortune seemed to favor the English.[Pg 97]
Pontiac began to despair of taking Detroit unaided. He called a council of the French. He reminded them that the English were their enemies as well as his. He charged them with helping the English and told them that the time had come for them to choose sides and fight with him or against him. He then offered them the war belt. His hope was that they would take it up and join him against the English.
Now, the Canadians had become by the terms of the treaty that closed the French war, British subjects, but they were ashamed or afraid to admit it, and still deceived the Indians. They told Pontiac that much as it would please them to fight with him against the English, they must obey the commands of their father, the King of France, who had bidden them to remain at peace until his coming. They added that he, with a great army, was already on the St. Lawrence and would soon arrive to punish the enemies of his children and reward their friends. They advised the chieftain not to make an enemy of his mighty friend.
When the French speaker had finished, there was a short silence. Then an old trapper came forward, and, picking up the war belt, declared that he was ready to take sides with the Indians against the English. Several of his rough comrades followed his example.
Pontiac's hope of gaining aid from the French was thus not utterly defeated. Besides, he still believed their talk about the coming of the French king. So the French and Indians continued friends.[Pg 98]
Some of the tribes growing restless, now made peace with the English and deserted Pontiac. But a greater blow than the desertion of a few tribes was in store for the chief.
Late in July he learned that twenty-two barges bearing large supplies of food and ammunition and almost three hundred men had made their way up the Detroit River in safety, protected by a dense fog. The news came so late that it was impossible for the Indians to oppose the progress of the boats, and they reached the fort with little resistance.
At about two o'clock in the morning of the second day after the arrival of this convoy, Pontiac's spies brought him word that the English were coming against his camp with a great force.
Swiftly and silently the Ottawas broke their camp, and with some Ojibwas started to meet the British. On reaching the site of their former camp, about a mile and a half above the fort, near the bridge that crossed a little stream, called from that night Bloody Run, they formed an ambush and waited for the British.
They had barely time to hide behind their old earthworks, natural ridges and piles of brush. Already they heard the barking of watchdogs at the farmhouses along the river road, and the tramp of many feet. They listened and discovered that the enemy outnumbered them. What of that! The night was dark. They knew their ground. Their scouts would soon bring other tribes to help them.[Pg 99]
Every Indian was out of sight; every gun was loaded. The tramp of feet drew nearer. A dark mass of marching men came in sight. The quick steps of the advanced guard rang on the wooden bridge. All else was still. The vanguard had crossed the bridge and the main body of the English had started over, when, in front, to right, to left, burst blood curdling yells, blazed a fatal volley of muskets.
Back only, lay safety. Those who had not fallen in the first charge turned and fled, followed by a rain of bullets. Panic spread along the line. But the brave leader of the English, Captain Dalzel, sprang to the front and rallied his men. They made a bold charge, as they thought, into the midst of the enemy; but they found none to resist them. Every Indian had vanished. They pressed bravely on in search of their assailants; but the night was black and the way was rough and unfamiliar. Whenever they reached a place of difficulty the Indians unexpectedly renewed their attack.
The savages, whose eyes were accustomed to the darkness, saw the enemy after a parley return to the bridge. There, half of the men mounted guard while the others took up the dead and wounded and carried them to two armed boats that had accompanied them down the river.
Seeing that a return to the fort was intended, the Indians turned back in large numbers to form another ambuscade at a point where several houses and barns stood near the road and cut the English off from the fort.[Pg 100]
They again allowed the vanguard to pass unmolested and surprised the center with a galling fire. The soldiers, confused by the weird and terrible cries of the savages and the blaze of musketry, blinded by smoke and flash, and stung by pelting bullets, huddled together like sheep.
Captain Dalzel, though severely wounded, by commanding, imploring, fairly driving his men with his sword, at last succeeded in regaining order. He made a charge and as usual the Indians fled before the attack. As soon as the English attempted to continue their retreat the Indians were upon them again, firing from every fence and thicket.
The gallant Dalzel was among those shot down by this fire. He died trying to save a wounded soldier from the scalping knife of the Indians. In the confusion he was scarcely missed. The officers next in command took charge of the retreat. In the gray dawn the remnant of Dalzel's army reached the fort. The Indians went off, well satisfied with their night's work, to count their scalps and celebrate.
While the English lost about sixty men in this engagement, called the battle of Bloody Ridge, the number of Indians killed and wounded was not greater than fifteen or twenty. The Indians considered it a great victory and fresh warriors flocked to the camp of the Indian commander who seemed to be a match for the English.