Saturday, April 14, 2012

Chief Pontiac's Influence All Along the Frontier


The plan of Pontiac had been to take the forts all along the frontier by strategy and then destroy the defenceless English settlements.
We have seen that while there were many French farmers living outside of the walls of Detroit there were very few English. And, in truth, in 1763, there were not many English settlers east of the Alleghany Mountains. Most of the forts that had been taken from the French, except those on the Mississippi River, were garrisoned with English. Within reach of the protection of these forts, lived some British traders and trappers, and a few venturesome settlers. But the Mohawk Valley in New York, and the Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania, really formed the western limit of extensive English settlement.
Pontiac's war belts had stirred up the Indians all along the border. In the summer of 1763, while he and the Ottawas and Ojibwas were besieging Detroit, the Delawares and Shawnees were laying waste the Pennsylvania frontier.
Backwoodsmen, trappers or travelers, venturing into the wilderness were shot down without warning. Men, women, and children were miserably slain. Isolated farmhouses were attacked, their inmates scalped, the cabins burned. Churches and schools added to the blaze that swept the wilderness from the Great Lakes to the Ohio. One after another the smaller forts were taken by the Indians.
Panic seized the settlers. Women left the kettle on the hearth, men the plow in the furrow, and fled. Some crowded for refuge into the nearest fort. Others feared to stop until they had reached Lancaster or even Philadelphia.
The terrible butcheries committed by the Indians so maddened the frontiersmen that they forgot their civilization and resorted to methods as inhuman as did the Indians. Peaceable, friendly Indians were massacred by bands of ruffian borderers, organized for vengeance as well as protection. Even men in high places forgot their usual humanity. The commander-in-chief of the army, Sir Jeffrey Amherst, and Colonel Henry Bouquet planned to send smallpox among the Indians by giving them infected blankets. They even talked of fighting them with bloodhounds instead of soldiers. The Governor of Pennsylvania issued a proclamation offering a reward for Indian prisoners and Indian scalps.
Fort Pitt, one of the most important posts on the frontier, held out against the attacks of the Delawares and the Shawnees. When the commander-in-chief of the army learned of the distress of the fort he sent a strong force under Colonel Bouquet to relieve it.[Pg 106]
In August, when crossing the Alleghany Mountains, Bouquet's army was assailed by a horde of Indians that had been lying in wait for them at Bushy Run. The battle which followed was hot. The British were courageous, but they fell in large numbers under the fire of the Indians, who fled before every charge, only to return like infuriated wasps at the moment the English fancied they had repulsed them. Night brought relief from the galling fire. But the battle was not over.
The English were held penned up on the road without water till dawn, when the charge was renewed with such zest that for a time it looked as if there were no escape for the forces of Bouquet. The unusual boldness of the Indians suggested to him a stratagem.
He feigned a retreat. Thus encouraged the Indians rushed upon the British with war whoop and scalp cry. The forces of Bouquet divided; the Indians filled the breach. Then at the word of command the troops closed on them, charging with bayonets. Many of the Indians entrapped in this way fell; the rest fled.[Pg 107]
After that the English made their way to Fort Pitt without serious interruption. In the battle of Bushy Run the loss on both sides was heavy for an Indian battle. The English lost eight officers and over one hundred soldiers; the Indians, several chiefs and about sixty warriors. Though the English loss was greater than that of the Indians, it could be more easily made up. For that reason, and because the English had succeeded in reaching Fort Pitt, the expedition was regarded as a splendid victory for the palefaces.
As winter advanced the Indians were obliged to desist from war and go into the forest in small companies to hunt. During the winter that followed the rebellion, the Indians had no help from the white people, and the bitter hardships they suffered did much to put them into a pacific frame of mind.
Sir William Johnson, the king's sole agent and superintendent of Indian affairs, understood the red men better than most of his countrymen did. He lived among them on a great estate in the Mohawk Valley. He spoke their language and often dressed in Indian suit of slashed deerskin.
In his opinion it was wasteful and unwise to fight with the Indians. He said the English were largely to blame for the Indian war because of their injustice and their want of policy in dealing with the savages. He advocated following the example of the French, and winning the good will of the Indians by flattery and presents. He believed that under that policy the Indians would become so dependent on the white man that they could be easily subdued.
Early in the spring of 1764 he sent messages to the various tribes, warning them that two great armies of English soldiers were ready to start into the western forest to punish the enemies of the English, and inviting all who wished to make peace to meet him at Niagara.
Accordingly, early in the spring, the fields around the fort at Niagara were dotted with Indian encampments. Among the savages were friendly Indians who had come to claim their reward; enemies who, through want or fear, were ready to make a temporary peace, and spies, who wanted to see what was going on.
For many a long day Sir William Johnson sat in the council room at the fort making treaties with various tribes. All day the fumes of the peace-pipe filled the hall, and threats and promises were made, and sealed with long strings of wampum.
It would have taken much less time to make one treaty with all the Indians, but Sir William Johnson sought to discourage the idea of a common cause, which Pontiac had done so much to arouse among the Indians. He treated each tribe as if its case were quite different from that of every other tribe.
Some Indians were so bold that they would not even pretend to be friendly. The Delawares and the Shawnees replied to the Indian agent's message summoning them to Niagara, that they were not afraid of the English, but looked upon them as old women.[Pg 109]
The armies to which Sir William Johnson had referred were under the command of Colonel Bouquet and Colonel Bradstreet. The latter went by way of the Lakes to relieve Detroit, offer peace to the northern Indians, and subdue those who refused to submit. Bouquet, with a thousand men, penetrated the forests further south to compel the fierce Delawares and Shawnees to submission. Both succeeded.
Bradstreet found the northern Indians ready to come to terms. He has been criticised for requiring the Indians to sign papers they did not understand and make promises that they did not fulfill. He did not see Pontiac, but sent a deputation to find him and confer with him.[Pg 110]
Colonel Bouquet, on the other hand, was stern and terrible. In council he addressed the Indians as chiefs and warriors, instead of "brothers." He refused to smooth over their wrong doing or listen to the excuses they offered for going to war. He charged them openly with the wrongs they had done, and required them to surrender all their white prisoners and give him hostages from their own race.
Many of the captives had lived among the Indians so long that they had forgotten their white relatives and friends. They left the Indian life and Indian friends with tears, and would have remained in captivity gladly. But Colonel Bouquet would make no exceptions.
His stern measures subdued the warlike tribes completely. In the fall of 1764 Bouquet returned to the East to receive honors and rewards for his services.