The Indian Wars And St. Clair's Defeat


The Indians and the renegades at Sandusky would not believe their prisoners when Crawford's men told them that Cornwallis and his army had surrendered to Washington; but the Revolutionary War had now really come to an end. The next year Great Britain acknowledged the independence of the United States, and gave up the whole West to them, as France had given it up to her before. Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia claimed each the country lying westward of them, but the other states denied this claim. The West was finally declared the property of the whole Union, and in 1784 the first ordinance was passed by Congress for its government. It was not until 1787 that the great ordinance was passed which gave the future empire of the world to the West on terms of freedom to all men: "There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said Territory otherwise than in the punishment of crime."

This made the West free forever, but no law of Congress could make it safe without the consent of the savage nations which had again changed masters by the treaty of foreign powers. The war between England and America was over, but the war between white men and red men raged more fiercely after our peace with Great Britain than before. The backwoodsmen took this peace for a sign that they might now cross the river from New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia to settle in the Ohio country; and they were soon there by hundreds. It is true that the United States had made treaties with the United Tribes for certain tracts beyond the Ohio River, but the Indians declared that they had been tricked into these treaties. It is true that Congress meant to deal fairly by them so far as to drive the hard bargains with them for their lands which the white men had always driven with the Indians; but the backwoodsmen waited for nothing, and the old story of surprises and slaughters, of captivities and tortures, went on, with the difference that the war parties now need not cross the Ohio to take scalps and prisoners, and the vengeance of the pioneers had not so far to follow them in their return to the woods.

The first white settlers in Ohio were largely the kind of half-savages who had butchered the Christians at Gnadenhiitten. They built their cabins and cleared their fields on lands so shamelessly stolen that in 1785 a force of United States troops was sent to drive them out of their holdings. They seemed to go, but in reality they staid, and wherever the backwoodsman planted his foot west of the Ohio, he never turned his face eastward again.

He was unlawfully there, but from the Indian's point of view he was no more unrightfully there than the settlers who came a few years later to take up farms under the land companies authorized by Congress. If any other proof were wanting that these companies possessed themselves of land which the Indians believed they had never sold, it would appear in the fact that the first thing the settlers did was to build a stockade, or high bullet-proof fence of logs with a strong blockhouse for a kind of citadel, where they might gather for safety in case of attacks from any of the wild natives of the woods about them.

The invaders were from New England, from New Jersey, from Pennsylvania, and from Virginia, and with their coming, nearly all in the same year, there began that mingling of the American strains which has since made Ohio the most American state in the Union, first in war and first in peace; which has given the nation such soldiers as Grant, Sherman, Sheridan, McPherson; such presidents as Grant, Hayes, Garfield, Harrison, McKinley; such statesmen and jurists as Ewing, Cor-win, Wade, Chase, Giddings, Sherman, Waite. We have to own, in truth and honesty, that the newcomers might be unlawfully and unrightfully in the great territory which was destined to be the great state, but it is consoling to realize that they were not unreasonably there. It was not reasonable that the land should be left to savages who must each keep fifty thousand acres of it wild for his needs as a hunter. The earth is for those who will use it, and not for those who will waste it, and the Indians who would not suffer themselves to be tamed could not help wasting the land.

If the whites made any mistake, it was in allowing any man to own more land than he could use; but this is a mistake which prevails in our own day as it prevailed in the days of the pioneers, and they were not to blame for being no wiser at the end of the eighteenth century than we are at the end of the nineteenth. The states consenting to the organization of the Northwest Territory meant that their citizens who had fought for the independence of the nation in the Revolutionary War should first of all have their choice of its lands, and so we find Ohio divided up into the Virginia Military District, the Connecticut Western Reserve, and the Bounty Lands of Pennsylvania. But large grants were made to land companies, and the innumerable acres were juggled out of the hands of the people into the hands of the speculators, as the public lands have been ever since, until now there are no public lands left worth having.

The Ohio Indians knew nothing of all this, or as little as they have ever known of the fate of their ancient homes on the frontier which we have pressed further and further westward. They held in their stubborn way that the line between them and the whites was still the Ohio River, as it had been for fifty years; and they made war upon the invaders wherever they found them. At times they gathered force for a great battle, and in the first two of these battles they were the victors, but in the third they were beaten and their strength and spirits were broken. In 1790 General Harmar destroyed the towns of the Miamis on the Wabash; but they ambushed his retreat and punished his fifteen hundred men so severely that he was forced back to the Ohio. In 1791 General Arthur St. Clair led an army against the Indians in the Maumee country, and was attacked and routed with greater havoc than the savages had ever yet made of the whites, except perhaps in Braddock's defeat. In 1792 General Anthony Wayne set about gathering another army for the Indian campaign. He moved into the enemy's country slowly, building forts in Darke County and Mercer (where St. Clair was routed) as he advanced. In 1794, at the meeting of the Auglaize and Maumee, twenty miles from the last post, which he named Fort Defiance, he finally met the tribes in great force, and defeated them so thoroughly that for sixteen years they never afterwards made head against the Americans.

At this day we can hardly imagine the dismay that the rout of St. Clair and the slaughter of his men spread through the Ohio country. He was a gallant officer, the governor of the Northwest Territory, and the trusted friend of Washington. It is true that his army was largely the refuse of the Eastern States, picked up in the streets of the larger towns and lured into the wilderness with the promise of three dollars a month; that these men were badly fed, badly clothed, and badly drilled; and that they were led by a general whose strength and spirits were impaired by sickness. But with them was a large body of Kentuckians and other backwoodsmen, skilled in Indian warfare, and eager for the red foes with whom they had long arrears of mutual injury to bring up; and the hopes of the settlers rested securely upon these. The Indians were led by Little Turtle, one of their greatest war chiefs, and at the point where General Wayne two years later built one of his forts, and called it Recovery, they surprised St. Clair's troops.

It was an easy slaughter. St. Clair was suffering so much with gout that he could not move from his horse when he was helped to the saddle, and was wholly unfit to fight. Yet he went undauntedly through the battle; horse after horse was shot under him, and his clothes were pierced with nine of the bullets which the Indians rained upon his men from every tree of the forest. The backwoodsmen had hardly a chance to practice the Indians' arts against them before the rout began. The cannon which St. Clair had brought into the wilderness with immense waste of time and toil, proved useless under the fire that galled the artillerymen. The weak, undisciplined, and bewildered army was hemmed in on every side, and the men were shot down as they huddled together or tried to straggle away, till half their number was left upon the field. Of course none of the wounded were spared. The Americans were tomahawked and scalped where they fell; one of the savages told afterwards that he plied his hatchet until he could hardly lift his arm. All the Ohio tribes shared in the glory of this greatest victory of their race,--Delawares, Shawnees, Wyandots, Ottawas, Chippeways, and Pottawottomies. There had been plenty of game that year; they were all in the vigor and force which St. Clair's ill-fated army lacked; and they lustily took their fill of slaughter.

Many stories of the battle were told by those who escaped. Major Jacob Fowler, of Kentucky, an old hunter, who went with the army as surveyor, carried his trusty rifle, but he had run short of bullets, the morning of the fight, which began at daybreak. He was going for a ladle to melt more lead, when he met a Kentucky rifleman driven in by the savages, and begged some balls of him. The man had been shot through the wrist, and he told Fowler to help himself from his pouch. Fowler was pouring out a double handful, when the man said, "Stop; you had better count them." Fowler could not help laughing, though it was hardly the time for gayety. "If we get through this scrape, my dear fellow," said he, "I will return you twice as many." But they never met again, and Fowler could only suppose that his cautious friend was soon tomahawked and scalped with the other wounded. Fowler took to a tree, and shot Indians till his gunlock got out of order. Then he picked up a rifle which had been thrown away, and which he found his bullets would fit, and renewed the fight. It was a very cold November morning, and his fingers became so stiff that he could not hold the bullets, which he had to keep in his mouth, and feed into his rifle from it. At one time he was behind a very small tree, and two Indians fired on him at such close range that he felt the smoke of their guns and gave himself up for dead. But both had missed him, and he got away from the battlefield unhurt.

Another Kentuckian, a young ranger named William Kennan, was one of the first riflemen driven back by the overwhelming force of Indians. He tried to hide in the tall grass, but found that his only hope was in his heels. The savages endeavored to cut him off, but he distanced all except one, who followed him only three yards away. Kennan expected him every moment his tomahawk at him, and he felt in his belt for his own. It had slipped from its place, and he found himself wholly unarmed, just as he came to a tree which the wind had blown down, and which spread before him a mass of roots and earth eight or nine feet high. He gathered all his strength, bounded into the air, and cleared it, while a yell of wonder rose from the baffled Indians behind him. A little later he came upon General Madison of Kentucky sitting on a log, so spent with the day's work and loss of blood from a wound, that he could no longer walk, and waiting for the Indians to come up and kill him. Kennan ran back and caught a horse which he had seen grazing, put Madison on it, and walked by his side till they were out of danger. The friendship thus begun lasted through their lives.

This is one of the few softer lights in the picture whose darker features we must not fail to look upon. One of the grimmest of them was the war chief of the Missasagos, Little Turtle, who planned the surprise, against the advice of all the other chiefs, and who merits the fame of the awful day. To the Americans who saw him then, he was a sullen and gloomy giant, who fought with his men throughout the battle, arrayed in the conspicuous splendor of a great war, chief, with silver ornaments dangling from his nose and ears. Hardly less terrible than the figure of this magnificent butcher is that of the Chickasaw warrior who accompanied the American army, to glut the hate of his nation for the Northern tribesmen. When the fight began, he said he would not stand for the Shawnees to shoot him down like a wild pigeon, and he left the ranks and took to a fallen log, where he fired with unfailing aim. But he could not be kept from leaving it to scalp the other Indians as he shot them, and his own turn to be shot and scalped came at last.

The battle ground was covered with a thick slush from the new-fallen snow, and this made the retreat more exhausting. A poor mother, perhaps one of the soldiers' or pioneers' wives, staggered along with a baby in her arms till she fell with it. The ranger McDowell then carried it awhile for her. When he gave it back, she threw it away in the snow, to save her own life, and the Indians found it, and took it to Sandusky, where they brought it up as their own.

Two years after, when a detachment of Wayne's army camped upon the scene of the carnage, they had to scrape away the heaps of bones and carry them out of their tents before they could make their beds, and they buried six hundred skulls on the field. Such is war, and we cannot look too closely on its hideous face, which is often so alluringly painted that we forget it is the face of a pitiless demon.


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