THE WINNING OF THE WEST
LOUISIANA AND THE NORTHWEST
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED, WITH HIS PERMISSION
TO WHOM AMERICANS WHO FEEL A PRIDE IN THE PIONEER HISTORY OF THEIR COUNTRY ARE SO GREATLY INDEBTED
PREFACE TO FOURTH VOLUME.
This volume covers the period which opened with the checkered but finally successful war waged by the United States Government against the Northwestern Indians, and closed with the acquisition and exploration of the vast region that lay beyond the Mississippi. It was during this period that the West rose to real power in the Union. The boundaries of the old West were at last made certain, and the new West, the Far West, the country between the Mississippi and the Pacific, was added to the national domain. The steady stream of incoming settlers broadened and deepened year by year; Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio became states, Louisiana, Indiana, and Mississippi territories. The population in the newly settled regions increased with a rapidity hitherto unexampled; and this rapidity, alike in growth of population and in territorial expansion, gave the West full weight in the national councils.
The victorious campaigns of Wayne in the north, and the innumerable obscure forays and reprisals of the Tennesseeans and Georgians in the south, so cowed the Indians, that they all, north and south alike, made peace; the first peace the border had known for fifty years. At the same time the treaties of Jay and Pinckney gave us in fact the boundaries which the peace of 1783 had only given us in name. The execution of these treaties put an end in the north to the intrigues of the British, who had stirred the Indians to hostility against the Americans; and in the south to the far more treacherous intrigues of the Spaniards, who showed astounding duplicity, and whose intrigues extended not only to the Indians but also to the baser separatist leaders among the Westerners themselves.
The cession of Louisiana followed. Its true history is to be found, not in the doings of the diplomats who determined merely the terms upon which it was made, but in the western growth of the people of the United States from 1769 to 1803, which made it inevitable. The men who settled and peopled the western wilderness were the men who won Louisiana; for it was surrendered by France merely because it was impossible to hold it against the American advance. Jefferson, through his agents at Paris, asked only for New Orleans; but Napoleon thrust upon him the great West, because Napoleon saw, what the American statesmen and diplomats did not see, but what the Westerners felt; for he saw that no European power could hold the country beyond the Mississippi when the Americans had made good their foothold upon the hither bank.
It remained to explore the unknown land; and this task fell, not to mere wild hunters, such as those who had first penetrated the wooded wilderness beyond the Alleghanies, but to officers of the regular army, who obeyed the orders of the National Government. Lewis, Clark, and Pike were the pioneers in the exploration of the vast territory the United States had just gained.
The names of the Indian fighters, the treaty-makers, the wilderness wanderers, who took the lead in winning and exploring the West, are memorable. More memorable still are the lives and deeds of the settler folk for whom they fought and toiled; for the feats of the leaders were rendered possible only by the lusty and vigorous growth of the young commonwealths built up by the throng of westward-pushing pioneers. The raw, strenuous, eager social life of these early dwellers on the western waters must be studied before it is possible to understand the conditions that determined the continual westward extension of the frontier. Tennessee, during the years immediately preceding her admission to statehood, is especially well worth study, both as a typical frontier community, and because of the opportunity afforded to examine in detail the causes and course of the Indian wars.
In this volume I have made use of the material to which reference was made in the first; beside the American State Papers, I have drawn on the Canadian Archives, the Draper Collection, including especially the papers from the Spanish archives, the Robertson MSS., and the Clay MSS. for hitherto unused matter. I have derived much assistance from the various studies and monographs on special phases of Western history; I refer to each in its proper place. I regret that Mr. Stephen B. Weeks' valuable study of the Martin family did not appear in time for me to use it while writing about the little state of Franklin, in my third volume.
SAGAMORE HILL, LONG ISLAND,
I. ST. CLAIR'S DEFEAT, 1791
II. MAD ANTHONY WAYNE; AND THE FIGHT OF THE FALLEN TIMBERS, 1792-1795
III. TENNESSEE BECOMES A STATE, 1791-1796
IV. INTRIGUES AND LAND SPECULATIONS—THE TREATIES OF JAY AND PINCKNEY, 1793-1797.
V. THE MEN OF THE WESTERN WATERS, 1798-1802
VI. THE PURCHASE OF LOUISIANA; AND BURR'S CONSPIRACY, 1803-1807
VII. THE EXPLORERS OF THE FAR WEST, 1804-1807.
THE WINNING OF THE WEST.
ST. CLAIR'S DEFEAT, 1791.
The Westward March of the Backwoodsman.
The backwoods folk, the stark hunters and tree-fellers, and the war-worn regulars who fought beside them in the forest, pushed ever westward the frontier of the Republic. Year after year each group of rough settlers and rough soldiers wrought its part in the great epic of wilderness conquest.
The people that for one or more generations finds its allotted task in the conquest of a continent, has before it the possibility of splendid victory, and the certainty of incredible toil, suffering, and hardship. The opportunity is great indeed; but the chance of disaster is even greater. Success is for a mighty race, in its vigorous and masterful prime. It is an opportunity such as is offered to an army by a struggle against a powerful foe; only by great effort can defeat be avoided, but triumph means lasting honor and renown.
As it is in the battle, so it is in the infinitely greater contests where the fields of fight are continents, and the ages form the measure of time. In actual life the victors win in spite of brutal blunders and repeated checks.
The Grimness and Harshness of Frontier Life.
Watched nearby, while the fight stamps to and fro, the doers and the deeds stand out naked and ugly. We see all too clearly the blood and sweat, the craft and dunning and blind luck, the raw cruelty and stupidity, the shortcomings of heart and hand, the mad abuse of victory. Strands of meanness and cowardice are everywhere shot through the warp of lofty and generous daring. There are failures bitter and shameful side by side with feats of triumphant prowess. Of those who venture in the contest some achieve success; others strive feebly and fail ignobly.
Only a Mighty Race Fit for the Trial.
If a race is weak, if it is lacking in the physical and moral traits which go to the makeup of a conquering people, it cannot succeed. For three hundred years the Portuguese possessed footholds in South Africa; but they left to the English and Dutch the task of building free communities able to hold in fact as well as in name the country south of the Zambesi. Temperate South America is as fertile and healthy for the white man as temperate North America, and is so much less in extent as to offer a far simpler problem of conquest and settlement; yet the Spaniard, who came to the Plata two centuries before the American backwoodsman reached the Mississippi, scarcely made as much progress in a decade as his northern rival did in a year.
The task must be given the race just at the time when it is ready for the undertaking. The whole future of the world would have been changed had the period of trans-oceanic expansion among the nations of Europe begun at a time when the Scandinavians or Germans were foremost in sea-trade and sea-war; if it had begun when the fleets of the Norsemen at the threatened all coasts, or when the Hanseatic league was in its prime.
No race can Succeed Save at the Right Moment.
But in the actual event the days of Scandinavian supremacy at sea resulted in no spread of the Scandinavian tongue or culture; and the temporary maritime prosperity of the North German cities bore no permanent fruit of conquest for the German people. The only nations that profited by the expansion beyond the seas, and that built up in alien continents vast commonwealths with the law, the language, the creed, and the culture, no less than the blood, of the parent stocks, were those that during the centuries of expansion, possessed power on the ocean,—Spain, Portugal, France, Holland, and, above all, England.
Interest of the Race and the Individual Opposed.
Even a strong race, in its prime, and given the task at the right moment, usually fails to perform it; for at the moment the immense importance of the opportunity is hardly ever understood, while the selfish interests of the individual and the generation are opposed to the interest of the race as a whole. Only the most far-seeing and high-minded statesmen can grasp the real weight, from the race-standpoint, of the possibilities which to the men of their day seem so trivial. The conquest and settlement rarely take place save under seldom-occurring conditions which happen to bring about identity of interest between the individual and the race. Dutch seamen knew the coasts of Australia and New Zealand generations before they were settled by the English, and had the people of Holland willed to take possession of them, the Dutch would now be one of the leading races of mankind; but they preferred the immediate gains to be derived from the ownership of the trade with the Spice Islands; and so for the unimportant over-lordship of a few patches of tropical soil, they bartered the chance of building a giant Dutch Republic in the South Seas. Had the Swedish successors of Gustavus Adolphus devoted their energies to colonization in America, instead of squabbling with Slavs and Germans for one or two wretched Baltic provinces, they could undoubtedly have built up in the new world a Sweden tenfold greater than that in the old. If France had sent to her possessions in America as many colonists as she sent soldiers to war for petty townships in Germany and Italy, the French would now be masters of half the territory north of the Rio Grande. England alone, because of a combination of causes, was able to use aright the chances given her for the conquest and settlement of the world's waste spaces; and in consequence the English-speaking peoples now have before them a future more important than that of all the continental European peoples combined.
Each Race Indifferent to its Own Future.
It is natural that most nations should be thus blind to the possibilities of the future. Few indeed are the men who can look a score of years into the future, and fewer still those who will make great sacrifices for the real, not the fancied, good of their children's children; but in questions of race supremacy the look-ahead should be for centuries rather than decades, and the self-sacrifice of the individual must be for the good not of the next generation but perchance of the fourth or fifth in line of descent. The Frenchman and the Hollander of the seventeenth century could not even dimly see the possibilities that loomed vast and vague in the colonization of America and Australia; they did not have, and it was hardly possible that they should have, the remotest idea that it would be well for them to surrender, one the glory gained by his German conquests, the other the riches reaped from his East Indian trade, in order that three hundred years later huge unknown continents should be filled with French and Dutch commonwealths. No nation, taken as a whole, can ever see so far into the future; no nation, even if it could see such a future, would ever sacrifice so much to win it. Hitherto each race in turn has expanded only because the interests of a certain number of individuals of many succeeding generations have made them active and vigorous agents in the work of expansion.
This Indifference as Marked in New as in Old Communities.
This indifference on the part of individuals to the growth of the race is often nearly as marked in new as in old communities, although the very existence of these new communities depends upon that growth. It is strange to see now the new settlers in the new land tend to turn their faces, not towards the world before them, but towards the world they have left behind. Many of them, perhaps most, wish rather to take parts in the struggles of the old civilized powers, than to do their share in laying the obscure but gigantic foundations of the empires of the future. The New Englander who was not personally interested in the lands beyond the Alleghanies often felt indifferent or hostile to the growth of the trans-montane America; and in their turn these over-mountain men, these Kentuckians and Tennesseans, were concerned to obtain a port at the mouth of the Mississippi rather than the right to move westward to the Pacific. There were more men in the new communities than in the old who saw, however imperfectly, the grandeur of the opportunity and of the race-destiny: but there were always very many who did their share in working out their destiny grudgingly and under protest.
The Race Grows because its Interests Happen to be Identical with those of the Individual.
The race as a whole, in its old homes and its new, learns the lesson with such difficulty that it can scarcely be said to be learnt at all until success or interests failure has done away with the need of learning it. But in the case of our own people it has fortunately happened that the concurrence of the interests of the individual and of the whole organism has been normal throughout most of its history.
The United States and Great Britain in 1791.
The attitude of the United States and Great Britain, as they faced one another in the western wilderness at the beginning of the year 1791, is but another illustration of the truth of this fact. The British held the lake posts, and more or less actively supported the Indians in their efforts to bar the Americans from the Northwest. Nominally, they held the posts because the Americans had themselves left unfulfilled some of the conditions of the treaty of peace; but this was felt not to be the real reason, and the Americans loudly protested that their conduct was due to sheer hatred of the young Republic. The explanation was simpler. The British had no far-reaching design to prevent the spread and growth of the English-speaking people on the American continent. They cared nothing, one way or the other, for that spread and growth, and it is unlikely that they wasted a moment's thought on the ultimate future of the race. All that they desired was to preserve the very valuable fur-trade of the region round the Great Lakes for their own benefit. They were acting from the motives of self-interest that usually control nations; and it never entered their heads to balance against these immediate interests the future of a nation many of whose members were to them mere foreigners.
Reluctance of the Americans to Enter into War with the Indians.
The majority of the Americans, on their side, were exceedingly loth to enter into aggressive war with the Indians: but were reluctantly forced into the contest by the necessity of supporting the backwoodsmen. The frontier was pushed westward, not because the leading statesmen of America, or the bulk of the American people, foresaw the continental greatness of this country or strove for such greatness; but because the bordermen of the West, and the adventurous land-speculators of the East, were personally interested in acquiring new territory, and because, against their will, the governmental representatives of the nation were finally forced to make the interests of the Westerners their own. The people of the seaboard, the leaders of opinion in the coast towns and old-settled districts, were inclined to look eastward, rather than westward. They were interested in the quarrels of the old-world nations; they were immediately concerned in the rights of the fisheries they jealously shared with England, or the trade they sought to secure with Spain. They did not covet the Indian lands. They had never heard of the Rocky Mountains—nobody had as yet,—they cared as little for the Missouri as for the Congo, and they thought of the Pacific Slope as a savage country, only to be reached by an ocean voyage longer than the voyage to India. They believed that they were entitled, under the treaty, to the country between the Alleghanies and the Great Lakes; but they were quite content to see the Indians remain in actual occupancy, and they had no desire to spend men and money in driving them out. Nevertheless, they were even less disposed to proceed to extremities against their own people, who in very fact were driving out the Indians; and this was the only alternative, for in the end they had to side with one or the other set of combatants.
The governmental authorities of the newly created Republic shared these feelings. They felt no hunger for the Indian lands; they felt no desire to stretch their boundaries and thereby add to their already heavy burdens and responsibilities. They wished to do strict justice to the Indians; the treaties they held with them were carried on with scrupulous fairness and were honorably lived up to by the United States officials.
The Government Especially Averse to War.
They strove to keep peace, and made many efforts to persuade the frontiersmen to observe the Indian boundary lines, and not to intrude on the territory in dispute; and they were quite unable to foresee the rapidity of the nation's westward growth. Like the people of the eastern seaboard, the men high in governmental authority were apt to look upon the frontiersmen with feelings dangerously akin to dislike and suspicion. Nor were these feelings wholly unjustifiable. The men who settle in a new country, and begin subduing the wilderness, plunge back into the very conditions from which the race has raised itself by the slow toil of ages.
Inevitable Shortcomings of the Frontiersmen.
The conditions cannot but tell upon them. Inevitably, and for more than one lifetime—perhaps for several generations—they tend to retrograde, instead of advancing. They drop away from the standard which highly civilized nations have reached. As with harsh and dangerous labor they bring the new land up towards the level of the old, they themselves partly revert to their ancestral conditions; they sink back towards the state of their ages-dead barbarian forefathers. Few observers can see beyond this temporary retrogression into the future for which it is a preparation. There is small cause for wonder in the fact that so many of the leaders of Eastern thought looked with coldness upon the effort of the Westerners to push north of the Ohio.
The Westerners Solved the Problem.
Yet it was these Western frontiersmen who were the real and vital factors in the solution of the problems which so annoyed the British Monarchy and the American Republic. They eagerly craved the Indian lands; they would not be denied entrance to the thinly-peopled territory wherein they intended to make homes for themselves and their children. Rough, masterful, lawless, they were neither daunted by the prowess of the red warriors whose wrath they braved, nor awed by the displeasure of the Government whose solemn engagements they violated. The enormous extent of the frontier dividing the white settler from the savage, and the tangled inaccessibility of the country in which it everywhere lay, rendered it as difficult for the national authorities to control the frontiersmen as it was to chastise the Indians.
Why the East backed the West.
If the separation of interests between the thickly settled East and the sparsely settled West had been complete it may be that the East would have refused outright to support the West, in which case the advance would have been very slow and halting. But the separation was not complete. The frontiersmen were numerically important in some of the States, as in Virginia, Georgia, and even Pennsylvania and New York; and under a democratic system of government this meant that these States were more or less responsive to their demands. It was greatly to the interest of the frontiersmen that their demands should be gratified, while other citizens had no very concrete concern in the matter one way or the other. In addition to this, and even more important, was the fact that there were large classes of the population everywhere who felt much sense of identity with the frontiersmen, and sympathized with them. The fathers or grandfathers of these peoples had themselves been frontiersmen, and they were still under the influences of the traditions which told of a constant march westward through the vast forests, and a no less constant warfare with a hostile savagery. Moreover, in many of the communities there were people whose kinsmen or friends had gone to the border; and the welfare of these adventurers was a matter of more or less interest to those who had stayed behind. Finally, and most important of all, though the nation might be lukewarm originally, and might wish to prevent the settlers from trespassing on the Indian lands or entering into an Indian war, yet when the war had become of real moment and when victory was doubtful, the national power was sure to be used in favor of the hard-pressed pioneers.
The Government Ultimately supports the Frontiersmen.
At first the authorities at the national capital would blame the whites, and try to temporize and make new treaties, or even threaten to drive back the settlers with a strong hand; but when the ravages of the Indians had become serious, when the bloody details were sent to homes in every part of the Union by letter after letter from the border, when the little newspapers began to publish accounts of the worst atrocities, when the county lieutenants of the frontier counties were clamoring for help, when the Congressmen from the frontier districts were appealing to Congress, and the governors of the States whose frontiers were molested were appealing to the President—then the feeling of race and national kinship rose, and the Government no longer hesitated to support in every way the hard-pressed wilderness vanguard of the American people.
The Situation in 1791.
The situation had reached this point by the year 1791. For seven years the Federal authorities had been vainly endeavoring to make some final settlement of the question by entering into treaties with the Northwestern and Southwestern tribes. In the earlier treaties the delegates from the Continental Congress asserted that the United States were invested with the fee of all the land claimed by the Indians. In the later treaties the Indian proprietorship of the lands was conceded. [Footnote: American State Papers, Vol. IV., Indian Affairs, I., p. 13. Letter of H. Knox, June 15, 1789. This is the lettering on the back of the volume, and for convenience it will be used in referring to it.] This concession at the time seemed important to the whites; but the Indians probably never understood that there had been any change of attitude; nor did it make any practical difference, for, whatever the theory might be, the lands had eventually to be won, partly by whipping the savages in fight, partly by making it better worth their while to remain at peace than to go to war.
Knox and the Treaties.
The Federal officials under whose authority these treaties were made had no idea of the complexity of the problem. In 1789 the Secretary of War, the New Englander Knox, solemnly reported to the President that, if the treaties were only observed and the Indians conciliated, they would become attached to the United States, and the expense of managing them, for the next half-century, would be only some fifteen thousand dollars a year. [Footnote: American State Papers, Vol. IV., Indian Affairs, I., p. 13.] He probably represented, not unfairly, the ordinary Eastern view of the matter. He had not the slightest idea of the rate at which the settlements were increasing, though he expected that tracts of Indian territory would from time to time be acquired. He made no allowance for a growth so rapid that within the half-century six or eight populous States were to stand within the Indian-owned wilderness of his day. He utterly failed to grasp the central features of the situation, which were that the settlers needed the land, and were bound to have it, within a few years; and that the Indians would not give it up, under no matter what treaty, without an appeal to arms.
Treaties with the Southern Indians.
In the South the United States Commissioners, in endeavoring to conclude treaties with the Creeks and Cherokees, had been continually hampered by the attitude of Georgia and the Franklin frontiersmen. The Franklin men made war and peace with the Cherokees just as they chose, and utterly refused to be bound by the treaties concluded on behalf of the United States. Georgia played the same part with regard to the Creeks. The Georgian authorities paid no heed whatever to the desires of Congress, and negotiated on their own account a series of treaties with the Creeks at Augusta, Galphinton, and Shoulder-bone, in 1783, 1785, and 1786. But these treaties amounted to nothing, for nobody could tell exactly which towns or tribes owned a given tract of land, or what individuals were competent to speak for the Indians as a whole; the Creeks and Cherokees went through the form of surrendering the same territory on the Oconee. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 15. Letter of Knox, July 6, 1789.] The Georgians knew that the Indians with whom they treated had no power to surrender the lands; but all they wished was some shadowy color of title, that might serve as an excuse for their seizing the coveted territory. On the other hand the Creeks, loudly though they declaimed against the methods of the Georgian treaty-makers, themselves shamelessly disregarded the solemn engagements which their authorized representatives made with the United States. Moreover their murderous forays on the Georgian settlers were often as unprovoked as were the aggressions of the brutal Georgia borderers.
Mutual Wrongs of the Creeks and the Borderers.
The Creeks were prompt to seize every advantage given by the impossibility of defining the rights of the various component parts of their loosely knit confederacy. They claimed or disclaimed responsibility as best suited their plans for the moment. When at Galphinton two of the Creek towns signed away a large tract of territory, McGillivray, the famous half-breed, and the other chiefs, loudly protested that the land belonged to the whole confederacy, and that the separate towns could do nothing save by consent of all. But in May, 1787, a party of Creeks from the upper towns made an unprovoked foray into Georgia, killed two settlers, and carried off a negro and fourteen horses; the militia who followed them attacked the first Indians they fell in with, who happened to be from the lower towns, and killed twelve; whereupon the same chiefs disavowed all responsibility for the deeds of the Upper Town warriors, and demanded the immediate surrender of the militia who had killed the Lower Town people—to the huge indignation of the Governor of Georgia. [Footnote: American State Papers, Vol. IV., 31, 32, 33. Letter of Governor Matthews, August 4, 1787, etc.]
Difficulties of the Federal Treaty-Makers.
The United States Commissioners were angered by the lawless greed with which the Georgians grasped at the Indian lands; and they soon found that though the Georgians were always ready to clamor for help from the United States against the Indians, in the event of hostilities, they were equally prompt to defy the United States authorities if the latter strove to obtain justice for the Indians, or if the treaties concluded by the Federal and the State authorities seemed likely to conflict. [Footnote: Do., p. 49. Letter of Benjamin Hawkins and Andrew Pickens, December 30, 1785.] The Commissioners were at first much impressed by the letters sent them by McGillivray, and the "talks" they received through the Scotch, French, and English half-breed interpreters [Footnote: Do., e.g., the letter of Galphin and Douzeazeaux, June 14, 1787.] from the outlandishly-named Muscogee chiefs—the Hallowing King of the War Towns, the Fat King of the White or Peace Towns, the White Bird King, the Mad Dog King, and many more. But they soon found that the Creeks were quite as much to blame as the Georgians, and were playing fast and loose with the United States, promising to enter into treaties, and then refusing to attend; their flagrant and unprovoked breaches of faith causing intense anger and mortification to the Commissioners, whose patient efforts to serve them were so ill rewarded. [Footnote: American State Papers, Vol. IV., p. 74, September 26, 1789.] Moreover, to offset the Indian complaints of lands taken from them under fraudulent treaties, the Georgians submitted lists [Footnote: Do., p. 77, October 5, 1789.] of hundreds of whites and blacks killed, wounded, or captured, and of thousands of horses, horned cattle, and hogs butchered or driven off by Indian war parties. The puzzled Commissioners having at first been inclined to place the blame of the failure of peace negotiations on the Georgians, next shifted the responsibility to McGillivray, reporting that the Creeks were strongly in favor of peace. The event proved that they were in error; for after McGillivray and his fellow chiefs had come to New York, in the summer of 1790, and concluded a solemn treaty of peace, the Indians whom they nominally represented refused to be bound by it in any way, and continued without a change their war of rapine and murder.
The Indians as Much to Blame as the Whites.
In truth the red men were as little disposed as the white to accept a peace on any terms that were possible. The Secretary of War, who knew nothing of Indians by actual contact, wrote that it would be indeed pleasing "to a philosophic mind to reflect that, instead of exterminating a part of the human race by our modes of population ... we had imparted our knowledge of cultivation and the arts to the aboriginals of the country," thus preserving and civilizing them [Footnote: American State Papers, Vol. IV., pp. 53, 57, 60, 77, 79, 81, etc.]; and the public men who represented districts remote from the frontier shared these views of large, though vague, beneficence. But neither the white frontiersmen nor their red antagonists possessed "philosophic minds." They represented two stages of progress, ages apart; and it would have needed many centuries to bring the lower to the level of the higher. Both sides recognized the fact that their interests were incompatible; and that the question of their clashing rights had to be settled by the strong hand.
The Trouble Most Serious in the North.
In the Northwest matters culminated sooner than in the Southwest. The Georgians, and the settlers along the Tennessee and Cumberland, were harassed rather than seriously menaced by the Creek war parties; but in the north the more dangerous Indians of the Miami, the Wabash, and the Lakes gathered in bodies so large as fairly to deserve the name of armies. Moreover, the pressure of the white advance was far heavier in the north. The pioneers who settled in the Ohio basin were many times as numerous as those who settled on the lands west of the Oconee and north of the Cumberland, and were fed from States much more populous. The advance was stronger, the resistance more desperate; naturally the open break occurred where the strain was most intense.
There was fierce border warfare in the south. In the north there were regular campaigns carried on, and pitched battles fought, between Federal armies as large as those commanded by Washington at Trenton or Greene at Eutaw Springs, and bodies of Indian warriors more numerous than had ever yet appeared on any single field.
The United States Government Driven to War.
The newly created Government of the United States was very reluctant to make formal war on the northwestern Indians. Not only were President Washington and the National Congress honorably desirous of peace, but they were hampered for funds, and dreaded any extra expense. Nevertheless they were forced into war. Throughout the years 1789 and 1790 an increasing volume of appeals for help came from the frontier countries. The governor of the Northwestern Territory, the brigadier-general of the troops on the Ohio, the members of the Kentucky Convention, and all the county lieutenants of Kentucky, the lieutenants of the frontier counties of Virginia proper, the representatives from the counties, the field officers of the different districts, the General Assembly of Virginia, all sent bitter complaints and long catalogues of injuries to the President, the Secretary of War, and the two Houses of Congress; complaints which were redoubled after Harmar's failure. With heavy hearts the national authorities prepared for war. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., pp. 83, 94, 109, and III.]
Raid on the Marietta Settlements.
Their decision was justified by the redoubled fury of the Indian raids during the early part of 1791. Among others the settlements near Marietta were attacked, a day or two after the new year began, in bitter winter weather. A dozen persons, including a woman and two children, were killed, and five men were taken prisoners. The New England settlers, though brave and hardy, were unused to Indian warfare. They were taken completely by surprise, and made no effective resistance; the only Indian hurt was wounded with a hatchet by the wife of a frontier hunter in the employ of the company. [Footnote: "The American Pioneer," II., 110. American State Papers, IV., 122.] There were some twenty-five Indians in the attacking party; they were Wyandots and Delawares, who had been mixing on friendly terms with the settlers throughout the preceding summer, and so knew how best to deliver the assault. The settlers had not only treated these Indians with much kindness, but had never wronged any of the red race; and had been lulled into a foolish feeling of security by the apparent good-will of the treacherous foes. The assault was made in the twilight, on the 2nd of January, the Indians crossing the frozen Muskingum and stealthily approaching a block-house and two or three cabins. The inmates were frying meat for supper, and did not suspect harm, offering food to the Indians; but the latter, once they were within doors, dropped the garb of friendliness, and shot or tomahawked all save a couple of men who escaped and the five who were made prisoners. The captives were all taken to the Miami, or Detroit, and as usual were treated with much kindness and humanity by the British officers and traders with whom they came in contact. McKee, the British Indian agent, who was always ready to incite the savages to war against the Americans as a nation, but who was quite as ready to treat them kindly as individuals, ransomed one prisoner; the latter went to his Massachusetts home to raise the amount of his ransom, and returned to Detroit to refund it to his generous rescuer. Another prisoner was ransomed by a Detroit trader, and worked out his ransom in Detroit itself. Yet another was redeemed from captivity by the famous Iroquois chief Brant, who was ever a terrible and implacable foe, but a great-hearted and kindly victor. The fourth prisoner died; while the Indians took so great a liking to the fifth that they would not let him go, but adopted him into the tribe, made him dress as they did, and, in a spirit of pure friendliness, pierced his ears and nose. After Wayne's treaty he was released, and returned to Marietta to work at his trade as a stone mason, his bored nose and slit ears serving as mementos of his captivity.
Cincinnati Also Suffers.
The squalid little town of Cincinnati also suffered from the Indian war parties in the spring of this year, [Footnote: "American Pioneer," II., 149.] several of the townsmen being killed by the savages, who grew so bold that they lurked through the streets at nights, and lay in ambush in the gardens where the garrison of Fort Washington raised their vegetables. One of the Indian attacks, made upon a little palisaded "station" which had been founded by a man named Dunlop, some seventeen miles from Cincinnati, was noteworthy because of an act of not uncommon cruelty by the Indians. In the station there were some regulars. Aided by the settlers they beat back their foes; whereupon the enraged savages brought one of their prisoners within ear-shot of the walls and tortured him to death. The torture began at midnight, and the screams of the wretched victim were heard until daylight. [Footnote: McBride, I., 88.]
Difficulties Discriminating between Hostile and Friendly Indians.
Until this year the war was not general. One of the most bewildering problems to be solved by the Federal officers on the Ohio was to find out which tribes were friendly and which hostile. Many of the inveterate enemies of the Americans were as forward in professions of friendship as the peaceful Indians, were just as apt to be found at the treaties, or lounging about the settlements; and this widespread treachery and deceit made the task of the army officers puzzling to a degree. As for the frontiersmen, who had no means whatever of telling a hostile from a friendly tribe, they followed their usual custom and lumped all the Indians, good and bad, together; for which they could hardly be blamed. Even St. Clair, who had small sympathy with the backwoodsmen, acknowledged [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 58.] that they could not and ought not to submit patiently to the cruelties and depredations of the savages; "they are in the habit of retaliation, perhaps without attending precisely to the nations from which the injuries are received," said he. A long course of such aggressions and retaliations resulted, by the year 1791, in all the Northwestern Indians going on the war-path. The hostile tribes had murdered and plundered the frontiersmen; the vengeance of the latter, as often as not, had fallen on friendly tribes; and these justly angered friendly tribes usually signalized their taking the red hatchet by some act of treacherous hostility directed against the settlers who had not molested them.
Treachery of the Friendly Delawares.
In the late winter of 1791 the hitherto friendly Delawares who hunted or traded along the western frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia proper took this manner of showing that they had joined the open foes of the Americans. A big band of warriors spread up and down the Alleghany for about forty miles, and on the 9th of February attacked all the outlying settlements. The Indians who delivered this attack had long been on intimate terms with the Alleghany settlers, who were accustomed to see them in and about their houses; and as the savages acted with seeming friendship to the last moment, they were able to take the settlers completely unawares, so that no effective resistance was made. [Footnote: "American Pioneer," I., 44; Narrative of John Brickell.] Some settlers were killed and some captured. Among the captives was a lad named John Brickell, who, though at first maltreated, and forced to run the gauntlet, was afterwards adopted into the tribe, and was not released until after Wayne's victory. After his adoption, he was treated with the utmost kindness, and conceived a great liking for his captors, admiring their many good qualities, especially their courage and their kindness to their children. Long afterwards he wrote down his experiences, which possess a certain value as giving, from the Indian standpoint, an account of some of the incidents of the forest warfare of the day.
Utter Untrustworthiness of the Indians.
The warriors who had engaged in this raid on their former friends, the settlers along the Alleghany. retreated two or three days' journey into the wilderness to an appointed place, where they found their families. One of the Girtys was with the Indians. No sooner had the last of the warriors come in, with their scalps and prisoners, including the boy Brickell, than ten of their number deliberately started back to Pittsburgh, to pass themselves as friendly Indians, and trade. In a fortnight they returned laden with goods of various kinds, including whiskey. Some of the inhabitants, sore from disaster, suspected that these Indians were only masquerading as friendly, and prepared to attack them; but one of the citizens warned them of their danger and they escaped. Their effrontery was as remarkable as their treachery and duplicity. They had suddenly attacked and massacred settlers by whom they had never been harmed, and with whom they preserved an appearance of entire friendship up to the very moment of the assault. Then, their hands red with the blood of their murdered friends, they came boldly into Pittsburgh, among the near neighbors of these same murdered men, and stayed there several days to trade, pretending to be peaceful allies of the whites. With savages so treacherous and so ferocious it was a mere impossibility for the borderers to distinguish the hostile from the friendly, as they hit out blindly to revenge the blows that fell upon them from unknown hands. Brutal though the frontiersmen often were, they never employed the systematic and deliberate bad faith which was a favorite weapon with even the best of the red tribes.
The Federal Authorities Misjudge the Settlers.
The people who were out of reach of the Indian tomahawk, and especially the Federal officers, were often unduly severe in judging the borderers for their deeds of retaliation, Brickell's narrative shows that the parties of seemingly friendly Indians who came in to trade were sometimes—and indeed in this year 1791 it was probable they were generally—composed of Indians who were engaged in active hostilities against the settlers, and who were always watching for a chance to murder and plunder. On March 9th, a month after the Delawares had begun their attacks, the grim backwoods captain Brady, with some of his Virginian rangers, fell on a party of them who had come to a block-house to trade, and killed four. The Indians asserted that they were friendly, and both the Federal Secretary of War and the Governor of Pennsylvania denounced the deed, and threatened the offenders; but the frontiersmen stood by them. [Footnote: State Department MSS., Washington Papers, Ex. C., p. 11, etc. Presly Neville to Richard Butler, March 19, 1791; Isaac Craig to Secretary of War, March 16, 1791; Secretary of War to President, March 31, 1791.] Soon afterwards a delegation of chiefs from the Seneca tribe of the Iroquois arrived at Fort Pitt, and sent a message to the President, complaining of the murder of these alleged friendly Indians. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 145, Cornplanter and others to the President, March 17, 1791.] On the very day these Seneca chiefs started on their journey home another Delaware war party killed nine settlers, men, women, and children, within twenty miles of Fort Pitt; which so enraged the people of the neighborhood that the lives of the Senecas were jeopardized. The United States authorities were particularly anxious to keep at peace with the Six Nations, and made repeated efforts to treat with them; but the Six Nations stood sullenly aloof, afraid to enter openly into the struggle, and yet reluctant to make a firm peace or cede any of their lands. [Footnote: State Department MSS., Washington Papers, Knox to the President, April 10, 1791; American State Papers, IV., pp. 139-170, 225-233, 477-482, etc.]
Intimate Relations of the British and Indians.
The intimate relations between the Indians and the British at the Lake Posts continued to perplex and anger the Americans. While the frontiers were being mercilessly ravaged, the same Indians who were committing the ravages met in council with the British agent, Alexander McKee, at the Miami Rapids; the council being held in this neighborhood for the special benefit of the very towns which were most hostile to the Americans, and which had been partially destroyed by Harmar the preceding fall. The Indian war was at its height, and the murderous forays never ceased throughout the spring and summer. McKee came to Miami in April, and was forced to wait nearly three months, because of the absence of the Indian war parties, before the principal chiefs and headmen gathered to meet him. At last, on July 1st, they were all assembled; not only the Shawnees, Delawares, Wyandots, Ottawas, Pottawatamies and others who had openly taken the hatchet against the Americans, but also representatives of the Six Nations, and tribes of savages from lands so remote that they carried no guns, but warred with bows, spears, and tomahawks, and were clad in buffalo-robes instead of blankets. McKee in his speech to them did not incite them to war. On the contrary, he advised them, in guarded language, to make peace with the United States; but only upon terms consistent with their "honor and interest." He assured them that, whatever they did, he wished to know what they desired; and that the sole purpose of the British was to promote the welfare of the confederated Indians. Such very cautious advice was not of a kind to promote peace; and the goods furnished the savages at the council included not only cattle, corn, and tobacco, but also quantities of powder and balls. [Footnote: Canadian Archives, McKee's speech to the Indians, July 1, 1971; and Francis Lafontaine's account of sundries to Indians.]
The Fur Trade the Prime Object of the British.
The chief interest of the British was to preserve the fur trade for their merchants, and it was mainly for this reason that they clung so tenaciously to the Lake Posts. For their purposes it was essential that the Indians should remain lords of the soil. They preferred to see the savages at peace with the Americans, provided that in this way they could keep their lands; but, whether through peace or war, they wished the lands to remain Indian, and the Americans to be barred from them. While they did not at the moment advise war, their advice to make peace was so faintly uttered, and so hedged round with conditions as to be of no weight; and they furnished the Indians not only with provisions but with munitions of war. While McKee, and other British officers, were at the Miami Rapids, holding councils with the Indians, and issuing to them goods and weapons, bands of braves were continually returning from forays against the American frontier, bringing in scalps and prisoners; and the wilder subjects of the British King, like the Girtys, and some of the French from Detroit, went off with the war parties on their forays. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 196. Narrative of Thomas Rhea, July 2, 1791. This narrative was distrusted; but it is fully borne out by McKee's letter, and the narrative of Brickell. He saw Brickell, whom he calls "Brittle," at the Miami.] The authorities at the capital of the new Republic were deceived by the warmth with which the British insisted that they were striving to bring about a peace; but the frontiersmen were not deceived, and they were right in their belief that the British were really the mainstay and support of the Indians in their warfare.
The Americans Draw the Sword.
Peace could only be won by the unsheathed sword. Even the National Government was reluctantly driven to this view. As all the Northwestern tribes were banded in open war, it was useless to let the conflict remain a succession of raids and counter-raids. Only a severe stroke, delivered by a formidable army, could cow the tribes. It was hopeless to try to deliver such a crippling blow with militia alone, and it was very difficult for the infant government to find enough money or men to equip an army composed exclusively of regulars. Accordingly preparations were made for a campaign with a mixed force of regulars, special levies, and militia; and St. Clair, already Governor of the Northwestern Territory, was put in command of the army as Major-General.
Rangers and Scouts are Raised.
Before the army was ready the Federal Government was obliged to take other measures for the defence of the border. Small bodies of rangers were raised from among the frontier militia, being paid at the usual rate for soldiers in the army, a net sum of about two dollars a month while in service. In addition, on the repeated and urgent request of the frontiersmen, a few of the most active hunters and best woodsmen, men like Brady, were enlisted as scouts, being paid six or eight times the ordinary rate. These men, because of their skill in woodcraft and their thorough knowledge of Indian fighting, were beyond comparison more valuable than ordinary militia or regulars, and were prized very highly by the frontiersmen. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 107, Jan. 5, 1791.]
Raid of Scott.
Besides thus organizing the local militia for defense, the President authorized the Kentuckians to undertake two offensive expeditions against the Wabash Indians so as to prevent them from giving aid to the Miami tribes, whom St. Clair was to attack. Both expeditions were carried on by bands of mounted volunteers, such as had followed Clark on his various raids. The first was commanded by Brigadier-General Charles Scott; Colonel John Hardin led his advance guard, and Wilkinson was second in command. Towards the end of May, Scott crossed the Ohio, at the head of eight hundred horse-riflemen, and marched rapidly and secretly towards the Wabash towns. A mounted Indian discovered the advance of the Americans and gave the alarm; and so most of the Indians escaped just as the Kentucky riders fell on the town. But little resistance was offered by the surprised and outnumbered savages. Only five Americans were wounded, while of the Indians thirty-two were slain, as they fought or fled, and forty-one prisoners, chiefly women and children, were brought in, either by Scott himself or by his detachments under Hardin and Wilkinson. Several towns were destroyed, and the crowing corn cut down. There were not a few French living in the town, in well-finished log-houses, which were burned with the wigwams. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 131, Scott's Report, June 28, 1791.]
Raid of Wilkinson.
The second expedition was under the command of Wilkinson, and consisted of over five hundred men. He marched in August, and repeated Scott's feats, again burning down two or three of the towns, and destroying the goods and the crops. He lost three or four men killed or wounded, but killed ten Indians and captured some thirty. [Footnote: Do., Wilkinson's Letter, August 24, 1791.] In both expeditions the volunteers behaved well and committed no barbarous act, except that in the confusion of the actual onslaught two or three non-combatants were slain. The Wabash Indians were cowed and disheartened by their punishment, and in consequence gave no aid to the Miami tribes; but beyond this the raids accomplished nothing, and brought no nearer the wished-for time of peace.
St. Clair's Difficulty in Organizing his Campaign.
Meanwhile St. Clair was striving vainly to hasten the preparations for his own far more formidable task. There was much delay in forwarding him the men and the provisions and munitions. Congress hesitated and debated; the Secretary of War, hampered by a newly created office and insufficient means, did not show to advantage in organizing the campaign, and was slow in carrying out his plans; while there was positive dereliction of duty on the part of the quartermaster, and the contractors proved both corrupt and inefficient. The army was often on short commons, lacking alike food for the men and fodder for the horses; the powder was poor, the axes useless, the tents and clothing nearly worthless; while the delays were so extraordinary that the troops did not make the final move from Fort Washington until mid-September. [Footnote: St. Clair Papers, II., 286, Report of Special Committee of Congress, March 27, 1792.]
Wretched Condition of St. Clair's Army.
St. Clair himself was broken in health; he was a sick, weak, elderly man, high minded, and zealous to do his duty, but totally unfit for the terrible responsibilities of such an expedition against such foes. The troops were of wretched stuff. There were two small regiments of regular infantry, the rest of the army being composed of six months' levies and of militia ordered out for this particular campaign. The pay was contemptible. Each private was given three dollars a month, from which ninety cents was deducted, leaving a net payment of two dollars and ten cents a month. [Footnote: American State Papers, IV., 118, Report of Secy. of War, January 22, 1791.] Sergeants netted three dollars and sixty cents; while the lieutenants received twenty-two, the captains thirty, and the colonels sixty dollars. The mean parsimony of the nation in paying such low wages to men about to be sent on duties at once very arduous and very dangerous met its fit and natural reward. Men of good bodily powers, and in the prime of life, and especially men able to do the rough work of frontier farmers, could not be hired to fight Indians in unknown forests for two dollars a month. Most of the recruits were from the streets and prisons of the seaboard cities. They were hurried into a campaign against peculiarly formidable foes before they had acquired the rudiments of a soldier's training, and, of course, they never even understood what woodcraft meant. [Footnote: Denny's Journal, 374.] The officers were men of courage, as in the end most of them showed by dying bravely on the field of battle; but they were utterly untrained themselves, and had no time in which to train their men. Under such conditions it did not need keen vision to foretell disaster. Harmar had learned a bitter lesson the preceding year; he knew well what Indians could do, and what raw troops could not; and he insisted with emphasis that the only possible outcome to St. Clair's expedition was defeat.
The Troops Gather at Fort Washington.
As the raw troops straggled to Pittsburgh they were shipped down the Ohio to Fort Washington; and St. Clair made the headquarters of his army at a new fort some twenty-five miles northward, which he christened Fort Hamilton. During September the army slowly assembled; two small regiments of regulars, two of six months' levies, a number of Kentucky militia, a few cavalry, and a couple of small batteries of light guns. After wearisome delays, due mainly to the utter inefficiency of the quartermaster and contractor, the start for the Indian towns was made on October the 4th.
The Army Begins its March.
The army trudged slowly through the deep woods and across the wet prairies, cutting out its own road, and making but five or six miles a day. It was in a wilderness which abounded with game; both deer and bear frequently ran into the very camps; and venison was a common food. [Footnote: Bradley MSS. The journal and letters of Captain Daniel Bradley; shown me by the courtesy of his descendants, Mr. Daniel B. Bradley of Southport, Conn., and Mr. Arthur W. Bradley of Cincinnati, Ohio.] On October 13th a halt was made to build another little fort, christened in honor of Jefferson. There were further delays, caused by the wretched management of the commissariat department, and the march was not resumed until the 24th, the numerous sick being left in Fort Jefferson. Then the army once more stumbled northward through the wilderness. The regulars, though mostly raw recruits, had been reduced to some kind of discipline; but the six months' levies were almost worse than the militia. [Footnote: Denny, October 29, 1791, etc.] Owing to the long delays, and to the fact that they had been enlisted at various times, their terms of service were expiring day by day; and they wished to go home, and tried to, while the militia deserted in squads and bands. Those that remained were very disorderly. Two who attempted to desert were hung; and another, who shot a comrade, was hung also; but even this severity in punishment failed to stop the demoralization.
St. Clair a Broken-down Man and His Subordinates
With such soldiers there would have been grave risk of disaster under any commander; but St. Clair's leadership made the risk a certainty. There was Indian sign, old and new, all through woods; and the scouts and stragglers occasionally interchanged shots with small parties of braves, and now and then lost a man, killed or captured. It was, therefore, certain that the savages knew every movement of the army, which, as it slowly neared the Miami towns, was putting itself within easy striking range of the most formidable Indian confederacy in the Northwest. The density of the forest was such that only the utmost watchfulness could prevent the foe from approaching within arm's length unperceived. It behooved St. Clair to be on his guard, and he had been warned by Washington, who had never forgotten the scenes of Braddock's defeat, of the danger of a surprise. But St. Clair was broken down by the worry and by continued sickness; time and again it was doubtful whether he could so much as stay with the army. The second in command, Major-General Richard Butler, was also sick most of the time; and, like St. Clair, he possessed none of the qualities of leadership save courage. The whole burden fell on the Adjutant-General, Colonel Winthrop Sargent, an old Revolutionary officer; without him the expedition would probably have failed in ignominy even before the Indians were reached, and he showed not only cool courage but ability of a good order; yet in the actual arrangements for battle he was, of course, unable to remedy the blunders of his superiors.
St. Clair should have covered his front and flanks for miles around with scouting parties; but he rarely sent any out, and, thanks to letting the management of those that did go devolve on his subordinates, and to not having their reports made to him in person, he derived no benefit from what they saw. He had twenty Chickasaws with him; but he sent these off on an extended trip, lost touch of them entirely, and never saw them again until after the battle. He did not seem to realize that he was himself in danger of attack. When some fifty miles or so from the Miami towns, on the last day of October, sixty of the militia deserted; and he actually sent back after them one of his two regular regiments, thus weakening by one half the only trustworthy portion of his force. [Footnote: Bradley MSS. In his journal Captain Bradley expresses his astonishment at seeing the regiment and his inability to understand the object in sending it back. Captain Bradley was not over-pleased with his life at the fort; as one of the minor ills he mentions in one of his letters to Ebenezer Banks: "Please deliver the enclosed letter to my wife. Not a drop of cider have I drinked this twelve month."]
The Last Camp.
On November 3d the doomed army, now reduced to a total of about fourteen hundred men, camped on the eastern fork of the Wabash, high up, where it was but twenty yards wide. There was snow on the ground and the little pools were skimmed with ice. The camp was on a narrow rise of ground, where the troops were cramped together, the artillery and most of the horse in the middle. On both flanks, and along most of the rear, the ground was low and wet. All around, the wintry woods lay in frozen silence. In front the militia were thrown across the creek, and nearly a quarter of a mile beyond the rest of the troops. [Footnote: St. Clair's Letter to the Secretary of War, Nov. 9, 1791.] Parties of Indians were seen during the afternoon, and they skulked around the lines at night, so that the sentinels frequently fired at them; yet neither St. Clair nor Butler took any adequate measures to ward off the impending blow. It is improbable that, as things actually were at this time, they could have won a victory over their terrible foes; but they might have avoided overwhelming disaster.
The Indians Surprise the Camp at Dawn.
On November 4th the men were under arms, as usual, by dawn, St. Clair intending to throw up entrenchments and then make a forced march in light order against the Indian towns. But he was forestalled. Soon after sunrise, just as the men were dismissed from parade, a sudden assault was made upon the militia, who lay unprotected beyond the creek. The unexpectedness and fury of the onset, the heavy firing, and the appalling whoops and yells of the throngs of painted savages threw the militia into disorder. After a few moments' resistance they broke and fled in wild panic to the camp of the regulars, among whom they drove in a frightened herd, spreading dismay and confusion.
The drums beat, and the troops sprang to arms, as soon as they heard the heavy firing at the front; and their volleys for a moment checked the onrush of the plumed woodland warriors. But the check availed nothing. The braves filed off to one side and the other, completely surrounded the camp, killed or drove in the guards and pickets, and then advanced close to the main lines. [Footnote: Denny, November 4th; also p. 221.]
Desperate Fighting Follows.
A furious battle followed. After the first onset the Indians fought in silence, no sound coming from them save the incessant rattle of their fire, as they crept from log to log, from tree to tree, ever closer and closer. The soldiers stood in close order, in the open; their musketry and artillery fire made a tremendous noise, but did little damage to a foe they could hardly see. Now and then, through the hanging smoke, terrible figures flitted, painted black and red, the feathers of the hawk and eagle braided in their long scalp-locks; but save for these glimpses, the soldiers knew the presence of their sombre enemy only from the fearful rapidity with which their comrades fell dead and wounded in the ranks. They never even knew the numbers or leaders of the Indians. At the time it was supposed that they outnumbered the whites; but it is probable that the reverse was the case, and it may even be that they were not more than half as numerous. It is said that the chief who led them, both in council and battle, was Little Turtle, the Miami. At any rate, there were present all the chiefs and picked warriors of the Delawares, Shawnees, Wyandots, and Miamis, and all the most reckless and adventurous young braves from among the Iroquois and the Indians of the Upper Lakes, as well as many of the ferocious whites and half-breeds who dwelt in the Indian villages.
Fury and Skill of the Indians.
The Indians fought with the utmost boldness and ferocity, and with the utmost skill and caution. Under cover of the smoke of the heavy but harmless fire from the army they came up so close that they shot the troops down as hunters slaughter a herd of standing buffalo. Watching their chance, they charged again and again with the tomahawk, gliding into close quarters while their bewildered foes were still blindly firing into the smoke-shrouded woods. The men saw no enemy as they stood in the ranks to load and shoot; in a moment, without warning, dark faces frowned through the haze, the war-axes gleamed, and on the frozen ground the weapons clattered as the soldiers fell. As the comrades of the fallen sprang forward to avenge them, the lithe warriors vanished as rapidly as they had appeared; and once more the soldiers saw before them only the dim forest and the shifting smoke wreaths, with vague half glimpses of the hidden foe, while the steady singing of the Indian bullets never ceased, and on every hand the bravest and steadiest fell one by one.
The Troops at First Fight Resolutely. Bravery of the Officers in Command.
At first the army as a whole fought firmly; indeed there was no choice, for it was ringed by a wall of flame. The officers behaved very well, cheering and encouraging their men; but they were the special targets of the Indians, and fell rapidly. St. Clair and Butler by their cool fearlessness in the hour of extreme peril made some amends for their shortcomings as commanders. They walked up and down the lines from flank to flank, passing and repassing one another; for the two lines of battle were facing outward, and each general was busy trying to keep his wing from falling back. St. Clair's clothes were pierced by eight bullets, but he was himself untouched. He wore a blanket coat with a hood; he had a long queue, and his thick gray hair flowed from under his three-cornered hat; a lock of his hair was carried off by a bullet. [Footnote: McBride's "Pioneer Biography," I., 165. Narrative of Thomas Irwin, a packer, who was in the fight. There are of course discrepancies between the various accounts; in the confusion of such a battle even the most honest eye-witnesses could not see all things alike.] Several times he headed the charges, sword in hand. General Butler had his arm broken early in the fight, but he continued to walk to and fro along the line, his coat off and the wounded arm in a sling. Another bullet struck him in the side, inflicting a mortal wound; and he was carried to the middle of the camp, where he sat propped up by knapsacks. Men and horses were falling around him at every moment. St. Clair sent an aide, Lieutenant Ebenezer Denny, to ask how he was; he displayed no anxiety, and answered that he felt well. While speaking, a young cadet, who stood nearby, was hit on the kneecap by a spent ball, and at the shock cried aloud; whereat the General laughed so that his wounded side shook. The aide left him; and there is no further certain record of his fate except that he was slain; but it is said that in one of the Indian rushes a warrior bounded towards him and sunk the tomahawk in his brain before any one could interfere.
The Indians Capture the Artillery. Charges and Counter-Charges.
Instead of being awed by the bellowing artillery, the Indians made the gunners a special object of attack. Man after man was picked off, until every officer was killed but one, who was wounded; and most of the privates also were slain or disabled. The artillery was thus almost silenced, and the Indians, emboldened by success, swarmed forward and seized the guns, while at the same time a part of the left wing of the army began to shrink back. But the Indians were now on comparatively open ground, where the regulars could see them and get at them; and under St. Clair's own leadership the troops rushed fiercely at the savages, with fixed bayonets, and drove them back to cover. By this time the confusion and disorder were great; while from every hollow and grass patch, from behind every stump and tree and fallen log, the Indians continued their fire. Again and again the officers led forward the troops in bayonet charges; and at first the men followed them with a will. Each charge seemed for a moment to be successful, the Indians rising in swarms and running in headlong flight from the bayonets. In one of the earliest, in which Colonel Darke led his battalion, the Indians were driven several hundred yards, across the branch of the Wabash; but when the Colonel halted and rallied his men, he found that the savages had closed in behind him, and he had to fight his way back, while the foe he had been driving at once turned and harassed his rear. He was himself wounded, and lost most of his command. On re-entering camp he found the Indians again in possession of the artillery and baggage, from which they were again driven; they had already scalped the slain who lay about the guns. Major Thomas Butler had his thigh broken by a bullet; but he continued on horseback, in command of his battalion, until the end of the fight, and led his men in one of the momentarily successful bayonet charges. The only regular regiment present lost every officer, killed or wounded. The commander of the Kentucky militia, Colonel Oldham, was killed early in the action, while trying to rally his men and damning them for cowards.
Inferiority of the Troops to the Indians.
The charging troops could accomplish nothing permanent. The men were too clumsy and ill-trained in forest warfare to overtake their fleet, half-naked antagonists. The latter never received the shock; but though they fled they were nothing daunted, for they turned the instant the battalion did, and followed firing. They skipped out of reach of the bayonets, and came back as they pleased; and they were only visible when raised by a charge.
Feats of Some of the Packhorsemen.
Among the packhorsemen were some who were accustomed to the use of the rifle and to life in the woods; and these fought well. One, named Benjamin Van Cleve, kept a journal, in which he described what he saw of the fight. [Footnote: "American Pioneer," II., 150; Van Cleve's memoranda.] He had no gun, but five minutes after the firing began he saw a soldier near him with his arm swinging useless; and he borrowed the wounded man's musket and cartridges. The smoke had settled to within three feet of the ground, so he knelt, covering himself behind a tree, and only fired when he saw an Indian's head, or noticed one running from cover to cover. He fired away all his ammunition, and the bands of his musket flew off; he picked up another just as two levy officers ordered a charge, and followed the charging party at a run. By this time the battalions were broken, and only some thirty men followed the officers. The Indians fled before the bayonets until they reached a ravine filled with down timber; whereupon they halted behind the impenetrable tangle of fallen logs. The soldiers also halted, and were speedily swept away by the fire of the Indians, whom they could not reach; but Van Cleve, showing his skill as a woodsman, covered himself behind a small tree, and gave back shot for shot until all his ammunition was gone. Before this happened his less skilful companions had been slain or driven off, and he ran at full speed back to camp. Here he found that the artillery had been taken and re-taken again and again. Stricken men lay in heaps everywhere, and the charging troops were once more driving the Indians across the creek in front of the camp. Van Cleve noticed that the dead officers and soldiers who were lying about the guns had all been scalped and that "the Indians had not been in a hurry, for their hair was all skinned off." Another of the packers who took part in the fight, one Thomas Irwin, was struck with the spectacle offered by the slaughtered artillerymen, and with grewsome homeliness compared the reeking heads to pumpkins in a December cornfield.
The Soldiers Lose Heart. Panic Seizes the Army.
As the officers fell the soldiers, who at first stood up bravely enough, gradually grew disheartened. No words can paint the hopelessness and horror such a struggle as that in which they were engaged. They were hemmed in by foes who showed no mercy and whose blows they could in no way return. If they charged they could not overtake the Indians; and the instant the charge stopped the Indians came back. If they stood they were shot down by an unseen enemy; and there was no stronghold, no refuge to which to flee. The Indian attack was relentless, and could neither be avoided, parried, nor met by counter assault. For two hours or so the troops kept up a slowly lessening resistance; but by degrees their hearts failed. The wounded had been brought towards the middle of the lines, where the baggage and tents were, and an ever growing proportion of unwounded men joined them. In vain the officers tried, by encouragement, by jeers, by blows, to drive them back to the fight. They were unnerved. As in all cases where large bodies of men are put in imminent peril of death, whether by shipwreck, plague, fire, or violence, numbers were swayed by a mad panic of utterly selfish fear, and others became numbed and callous, or snatched at any animal gratification during their last moments. Many soldiers crowded round the fires and stood stunned and confounded by the awful calamity; many broke into the officers' marquees and sought for drink, or devoured the food which the rightful owners had left when the drums beat to arms.
St. Clair Resolves on Retreat.
There was but one thing to do. If possible the remnant of the army must be saved, and it could only be saved by instant flight, even at the cost of abandoning the wounded. The broad road by which the army had advanced was the only line of retreat. The artillery had already been spiked and abandoned. Most of the horses had been killed, but a few were still left, and on one of these St. Clair mounted. He gathered together those fragments of the different battalions which contained the few men who still kept heart and head, and ordered them to charge and regain the road from which the savages had cut them off. Repeated orders were necessary before some of the men could be roused from their stupor sufficiently to follow the charging party; and they were only induced to move when told that it was to retreat.
The Troops Break through the Indian Ring.
Colonel Darke and a few officers placed themselves at the head of the column, the coolest and boldest men drew up behind them, and they fell on the Indians with such fury as to force them back well beyond the road. This made an opening through which, said Van Cleve the packer, the rest of the troops "pressed like a drove of bullocks." The Indians were surprised by the vigor of the charge, and puzzled as to its object. They opened out on both sides and half the men had gone through before they fired more than a chance shot or two. They then fell on the rear, and began a hot pursuit. St. Clair sent his aide, Denny, to the front to try to keep order, but neither he nor anyone else could check the flight. Major Clark tried to rally his battalion to cover the retreat, but he was killed and the effort abandoned.
Wild Rout of the Army.
There never was a wilder rout. As soon as the men began to run, and realized that in flight there lay some hope of safety, they broke into a stampede which soon became uncontrollable. Horses, soldiers, and the few camp followers and women who had accompanied the army were all mixed together. Neither command nor example had the slightest weight; the men were abandoned to the terrible selfishness of utter fear. They threw away their weapons as they ran. They thought of nothing but escape, and fled in a huddle, the stronger and the few who had horses trampling their way to the front through the old, the weak, and the wounded; while behind them raged the Indian tomahawk. Fortunately the attraction of plundering the camp was so overpowering that the savages only followed the army about four miles; otherwise hardly a man would have escaped.
Story of Van Cleve the Packer.
St. Clair was himself in much danger, for he tried to stay behind and stem the torrent of fugitives; but he failed, being swept forward by the crowd, and when he attempted to ride to the front to rally them, he failed again, for his horse could not be pricked out of a walk. The packer, Van Cleve, in his journal, gives a picture of the flight. He was himself one of the few who lost neither courage nor generosity in the rout.
Among his fellow packers were his uncle and a young man named Bonham, who was his close and dear friend. The uncle was shot in the wrist, the ball lodging near his shoulder; but he escaped. Bonham, just before the retreat began, was shot through both hips, so that he could not walk. Young Van Cleve got him a horse, on which he was with difficulty mounted; then, as the flight began, Bonham bade Van Cleve look to his safety, as he was on foot, and the two separated. Bonham rode until the pursuit had almost ceased; then, weak and crippled, he was thrown off his horse and slain. Meanwhile Van Cleve ran steadily on foot. By the time he had gone two miles most of the mounted men had passed him. A boy, on the point of falling from exhaustion, now begged his help; and the kind-hearted backwoodsman seized the lad and pulled him along nearly two miles farther, when he himself became so worn-out that he nearly fell. There were still two horses in the rear, one carrying three men, and one two; and behind the latter Van Cleve, summoning his strength, threw the boy, who escaped. Nor did Van Cleve's pity for his fellows cease with this; for he stopped to tie his handkerchief around the knee of a wounded man. His violent exertions gave him a cramp in both thighs, so that he could barely walk; and in consequence the strong and active passed him until he was within a hundred yards of the rear, where the Indians were tomahawking the old and wounded men. So close were they that for a moment his heart sunk in despair; but he threw off his shoes, the touch of the cold ground seemed to revive him, and he again began to trot forward. He got around a bend in the road, passing half a dozen other fugitives; and long afterwards he told how well he remembered thinking that it would be some time before they would all be massacred and his own turn came. However, at this point the pursuit ceased, and a few miles farther on he had gained the middle of the flying troops, and like them came to a walk. He fell in with a queer group, consisting of the sole remaining officer of the artillery, an infantry corporal, and a woman called Red-headed Nance. Both of the latter were crying, the corporal for the loss of his wife, the woman for the loss of her child. The worn-out officer hung on the corporal's arm, while Van Cleve "carried his fusee and accoutrements and led Nance; and in this sociable way arrived at Fort Jefferson a little after sunset."
The Remnant of the Army Reaches Cincinnati. Exultation of the Victors.
Before reaching Fort Jefferson the wretched army encountered the regular regiment which had been so unfortunately detached a couple of days before the battle. The most severely wounded were left in the fort; [Footnote: Bradley MSS. The addition of two hundred sick and wounded brought the garrison to such short commons that they had to slaughter the pack-horses for food.] and then the flight was renewed, until the disorganized and half-armed rabble reached Fort Washington, and the mean log huts of Cincinnati. Six hundred and thirty men had been killed and over two hundred and eighty wounded; less than five hundred, only about a third of the whole number engaged in the battle, remained unhurt. But one or two were taken prisoners, for the Indians butchered everybody, wounded or unwounded, who fell into their hands. There is no record of the torture of any of the captives, but there was one singular instance of cannibalism. The savage Chippewas from the far-off north devoured one of the slain soldiers, probably in a spirit of ferocious bravado; the other tribes expressed horror at the deed. [Footnote: Brickell's Narrative.] The Indians were rich with the spoil. They got horses, tents, guns, axes, powder, clothing, and blankets—in short everything their hearts prized. Their loss was comparatively slight; it may not have been one twentieth that of the whites. They did not at the moment follow up their victory, each band going off with its own share of the booty. But the triumph was so overwhelming, and the reward so great, that the war spirit received a great impetus in all the tribes. The bands of warriors that marched against the frontier were more numerous, more formidable, and bolder than ever.
In the following January Wilkinson with a hundred and fifty mounted volunteers marched to the battle-field to bury the slain. The weather was bitterly cold, snow lay deep on the ground, and some of the volunteers were frost bitten. [Footnote: McBride's "Pioneer Biography," John Reily's narrative. This expedition, in which not a single hostile Indian was encountered, has been transmuted by Withers and one or two other border historians into a purely fictitious expedition of revenge in which hundreds of Indians were slain on the field of St. Clair's disaster.]
Kentucky Volunteers Visit the Battle-field and Bury the Dead.
Four miles from the scene of the battle, where the pursuit had ended, they began to find the bodies on the road, and close alongside, in the woods, whither some of the hunted creatures had turned at the last, to snatch one more moment of life. Many had been dragged from under the snow and devoured by wolves. The others lay where they had fallen, showing as mounds through the smooth white mantle that covered them. On the battle-field itself the slain lay thick, scalped, and stripped of all their clothing which the conquerors deemed worth taking. The bodies, blackened by frost and exposure, could not be identified; and they were buried in a shallow trench in the frozen ground. The volunteers then marched home.
News of the Disaster is Sent to Washington.
When the remnant of the defeated army reached the banks of the Ohio, St. Clair sent his aide, Denny, to carry the news to Philadelphia, at that time the national capital. The river was swollen, there were incessant snowstorms, and ice formed heavily, so that it took twenty days of toil and cold before Denny reached Wheeling and got horses. For ten days more he rode over the bad winter roads, reaching Philadelphia with the evil tidings on the evening of December 19th. It was thus six weeks after the defeat of the army before the news was brought to the anxious Federal authorities.
The young officer called first on the Secretary of War; but as soon as the Secretary realized the importance of the information he had it conveyed to the President. Washington was at dinner, with some guests, and was called from the table to listen to the tidings of ill fortune. He returned with unmoved face, and at the dinner, and at the reception which followed, he behaved with his usual stately courtesy to those whom he was entertaining, not so much as hinting at what he had heard.
But when the last guest had gone, his pent-up wrath broke forth in one of those fits of volcanic fury which sometimes shattered his iron outward calm. Walking up and down the room he burst out in wild regret for the rout and disaster, and bitter invective against St. Clair, reciting how, in that very room, he had wished the unfortunate commander success and honor and had bidden him above all things beware of a surprise. [Footnote: Tobias Lear, Washington's Private Secretary as quoted by both Custis and Rush. The report of an eyewitness. See also Lodge's "Washington," p. 94. Denny, in his journal, merely mentions that he went at once to the Secretary of War's office on the evening of the 19th, and does not speak of seeing Washington until the following morning. On the strength of this omission one or two of St. Clair's apologists have striven to represent the whole account of Washington's wrath as apocryphal; but the attempt is puerile; the relation comes from an eyewitness who had no possible motive to distort the facts. The Secretary of War, Knox, was certain to inform Washington of the disaster the very evening he heard of it; and whether he sent Denny, or another messenger, or went himself is unimportant. Lear might very well have been mistaken as to the messenger who brought the news; but he could not have been mistaken about Washington's speech.] "He went off with that last solemn warning thrown into his ears," spoke Washington, as he strode to and fro, "and yet to suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered, tomahawked, by a surprise, the very thing I guarded him against! O God, O God, he's worse than a murderer! How can he answer it to his country!" Then, calming himself by a mighty effort: "General St. Clair shall have justice ... he shall have full justice." And St. Clair did receive full justice, and mercy too, from both Washington and Congress. For the sake of his courage and honorable character they held him guiltless of the disaster for which his lack of capacity as a general was so largely accountable.
The Blame for the Disaster.
Washington and his administration were not free from blame. It was foolish to attempt the campaign the Northwestern Indians with men who had only been trained for six months, and who were enlisted at the absurd price of two dollars a month. Moreover, there were needless delays in forwarding the troops to Fort Washington; and the commissary department was badly managed. Washington was not directly responsible for any of these shortcomings; he very wisely left to the Secretary of War, Knox, the immediate control of the whole matter, seeking to avoid all interference with him, so that there might be no clashing or conflict of authority [Footnote: State Dep. MSS., Washington Papers. War Dept. Ex. C., Washington to Knox, April 1, 1791.]; but he was of course ultimately responsible for the little evil, no less than for the great good, done by his administration.
Incompetence of St. Clair.
The chief blunder was the selection of St. Clair. As a commander he erred in many ways. He did not, or could not, train his troops; and he had no business to challenge a death fight with raw levies. It was unpardonable of him to send back one of his two regular regiments, the only trustworthy portion of his force, on the eve of the battle. He should never have posted the militia, his poorest troops, in the most exposed situation. Above all he should have seen that the patrols and pickets were so numerous, and performed their duty so faithfully, as to preclude the possibility of surprise. With the kind of army furnished him he could hardly have won a victory under any circumstances; but the overwhelming nature of the defeat was mainly due to his incompetence.
MAD ANTHONY WAYNE; AND THE FIGHT OF THE FALLEN TIMBERS, 1792-1795.
Demoralization Caused by St. Clair's Defeat.
The United States Government was almost as much demoralized by St. Clair's defeat as was St. Clair's own army. The loosely-knit nation was very poor, and very loath to undertake any work which involved sustained effort and pecuniary sacrifice; while each section was jealous of every other and was unwilling to embark in any enterprise unlikely to inure to its own immediate benefit. There was little national glory or reputation to be won by even a successful Indian war; while another defeat might prove a serious disaster to a government which was as yet far from firm in its seat. The Eastern people were lukewarm about a war in which they had no direct interest; and the foolish frontiersmen, instead of backing up the administration, railed at it and persistently supported the party which desired so to limit the powers and energies of the National Government as to produce mere paralysis. Under such conditions the national administration, instead of at once redoubling its efforts to ensure success by shock of arms, was driven to the ignoble necessity of yet again striving for a hopeless peace.