Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Seventh of May and Chief Pontiac


The Indians kept their secret well. A Canadian saw some Indians filing off their guns to make them short enough to hide under their blankets. But if his suspicions were aroused he held his peace and said no word of warning to the English. The appointed seventh of May was at hand and no alarm had been taken at the garrison.
But on the evening of the sixth, Major Gladwin talked long in secret with his officers, then ordered half the garrison under arms. He doubled the guard and himself went from place to place to see that every man was at his post. The soldiers did not know the reason for this unusual watchfulness, but they understood that it meant danger.[Pg 75]
It is said that in the afternoon an Indian girl who was deeply attached to the English Major had brought him a pair of moccasins she had been embroidering for him. She lingered at the fort and seemed unwilling to leave. At last she begged Gladwin to go away from the fort for a day or two. Her conduct and request excited suspicion. The Major questioned her closely and discovered Pontiac's plot.
Be that as it may, on the night of the sixth Major Gladwin was on the alert.
Nothing disturbed the peace of the mild May night. In the morning one watchman on the walls said to another, "See, yonder they come."
The man addressed looked up the stream and saw many birch canoes rapidly approaching the fort. "A perfect fleet!" he exclaimed.
"Yes; plenty of boats, but not many Indians; only two or three in each canoe," replied the first.[Pg 76]
"That's true. But see how deep the canoes are in the water, and what heavy paddling those fellows are doing! A dozen beaver skins to one, every canoe's got a load of those red rascals stretched on their backs well out of sight."
"You may be right," said the other, shaking his head. "It looks as if there might be some ugly work before us. They say the Major has ordered the whole garrison under arms. Even the shops are closed and the traders armed to the teeth."
Most of the Indians who came in the boats went to a green near the fort and began a game of ball. Soon Pontiac himself was seen approaching along the river road at the head of sixty of his chiefs. They wore blankets and marched in single file without a word. When they reached the gate Pontiac, with his accustomed dignity, asked that he and his chiefs might meet their English brothers in council to discuss important questions.
In answer to his request the gates swung open. Lines of armed soldiers appeared on either side. The Indians, trained to read signs, knew at once that their plot was discovered. Perhaps they felt that the treachery they had planned would be visited on their own heads. But if they feared, they gave no token; they said no word. They walked undaunted through the narrow streets, meeting armed soldiers at every turn.
At the council house they found Major Gladwin, his assistant, Captain Campbell, and other officers already assembled and waiting for them. If any Indian had doubted the discovery of their plot, he was certain of it when he saw that the officers wore swords at their sides and pistols in their belts. It was with some reluctance that they seated themselves on the mats arranged for them.
This was a trying moment for Pontiac. He stood there discovered, defeated. But he did not quail before the steady gaze of the English. His brow was only more haughty, his face more stern.
"And why," he asked, in a severe, harsh voice, "do our brothers meet us to-day with guns in their hands?"
"You come among us when we are taking our regular military exercise," answered the commander calmly.
With fears somewhat soothed, Pontiac began to speak: "For many moons the love of our brothers, the English, has seemed to sleep. It is now spring; the sun shines bright and hot; the bears, the oaks, the rivers awake from their sleep. Brothers, it is time for the friendship between us to awake. Our chiefs have come to do their part, to renew their pledges of peace and friendship."
Here he made a movement with the belt he held in his hand, as if about to turn it over. Every Indian was ready to spring. Gladwin gave a signal. A clash of arms sounded through the open door. A drum began beating a charge. Within the council room there was a startled, breathless silence. Pontiac's hand was stayed. The belt fell back to its first position. The din of arms ceased. Pontiac repeated his promises of friendship and loyalty, and then sat down.[Pg 78]
Major Gladwin answered briefly: "Brothers, the English are not fickle. They do not withdraw their friendship without cause. As long as the red men are faithful to their promises they will find the English their steadfast friends. But if the Indians are false or do any injury to the English, the English will punish them without mercy."
The one object of the Indians was now to turn aside the suspicion of the English. After Gladwin's speech presents were exchanged, and the meeting broke up with a general hand-shaking. Before leaving, Pontiac promised that he would return in a few days with his squaws and children that they might shake hands with their English brothers.
"Scoundrels!" laughed one officer, when the last Indian had left. "They were afraid to sit down. They
 thought they had been caught in their own trap. It's a pity to let them off so easily."
"No," replied another, more seriously. "The Major is right. If there is an outbreak, the Indians must take the first step. They depend more on treachery than force for success; now that their plan is foiled, the whole trouble will probably blow over."
The next day this opinion seemed verified by the appearance, of Pontiac with three of his chiefs. He brought a peace-pipe and approached the commander with smooth speeches: "Evil birds have whistled in your ears, but do not listen to them. We are your friends. We have come to prove it. We will smoke the calumet with you."
Pontiac then offered his great peace-pipe. After it had been smoked in all solemnity, he presented it to Captain Campbell as a high mark of friendship.