Everything in this section now wore a promising appearance, but Vincennes was never absent from my mind. I had reason to suspect from some things I had learned, that Mr. Gibault, the priest, had been inclined to the American interest previous to our arrival in the country. I had no doubt of his fidelity to us. Knowing he had great influence over the people, and that Vincennes was also under his jurisdiction, I sent for him and had a long conference on that subject. In response to my questions he stated that he did not think it worth my while to cause any military preparation to be made at 1 the Falls for an attack on p60 Vincennes although the place was strong and there was a great number of Indians in the neighborhood. He said that Governor Abbott had left the place a few weeks since on some errand to Detroit. He thought that when the inhabitants should be fully informed of what had happened at the Illinois and the present happiness of their friends there, and should be fully acquainted with the nature of the war, their sentiments concerning it would undergo a great change. He was certain that his appearance there would have great weight even among the savages. If it were aggressive to me, he would take this matter upon himself, and he had no doubt of being able to bring the place over to the American interest without my being put to the trouble of marching troops against it. His business being altogether of a spiritual character, he desired that another person might be charged with the temporal part of the embassy, and named Dr. Laffont33 p61 as his associate, but he agreed that he would privately direct the whole undertaking.
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This was quite in line with what I had been secretly aiming at for some days. The plan was immediately settled upon, and the two doctors with their intended retire, among whom I placed a spy, set about preparing for their journey. On July 14 they set out with the following address,34 taking with them, also, a large number of letters from their friends to the inhabitants at Vincennes. Dr. Laffont's instructions are now lost. I gave Mr. Gibault verbal instructions how to act in certain contingencies. It is mentioned here that Governor Abbott's letters to Mr. Rochblave had convinced us that the inhabitants were warmly attached to the American cause. This was wholly a piece of policy on my part. No such thing had been said; but as they would naturally suppose that Governor Abbott's letters to Rochblave had fallen into our hands, we knew that if they were led to suppose he had written in that style concerning them they would the more cordially verify it. Mr. Gibault had been led to believe this, and my authorizing them to garrison their own town would convince them of the great confidence we reposed in them. All this had its desired effect. Mr. Gibault and party arrived safely, and after spending a day or two in explaining matters to the people they universally acceded to the proposal (except p62 for a few Europeans who had been left there by Mr. Abbott and who immediately left the country) and went in a body to the church, where the oath of allegiance was administered to them in the most solemn manner. A commander was elected and the fort was immediately taken possession of and the American flag displayed, to the great astonishment of the Indians.
Thus everything was settled beyond our most sanguine hopes. The people here at once assumed a new attitude; they began to talk in a different style and to act like perfect freemen. With a United States garrison at hand their language to the Indians was immediately altered; they informed the latter that their old Father, the King of France, had come to life again, and that he had joined the Big Knives and was angry at them for fighting for the English. The advised the Indians to make peace with the Americans as soon as possible; otherwise they might expect the land to be deluged with blood. Such was now the language the natives throughout that whole region received through correspondence from their ancient friends of the Wabash and the Illinois, and throughout all those tribes they began to reflect seriously upon it.
About the first of August, Mr. Gibault and party returned accompanied by several gentlemen of Vincennes, bringing the joyful news of our success at that place. His mission had p63 caused me great anxiety, for without the possession of Vincennes all of our plans would have been blasted. During his absence I was exceedingly busy regulating matters in the Illinois towns. Our troops had been enlisted only for the period of time necessary to reduce these posts. I was now at a loss to decide upon my future course, and how far I might venture to stretch my authority, since, as it had been impossible to foresee the course of events, my instructions were silent on many important matters. To abandon the country and all the prospects open to us in the Indian department at this time for want of specific instructions in certain respects would, I thought, amount to a reflection on the government as having no confidence in me. I resolved, therefore, to assume all the authority necessary to carry out my designs.
I caused the greater part of my force to be reënlisted in a new military organization, and appointed French officers, residents of the country, to enroll a company of young Frenchmen. I established a garrison at 3 Cahokia commanded by Captain Bowman, and another at 2 Kaskaskia under Captain (formerly Lieutenant) Williams. Affairs at Vincennes remained in the situation I have already described. Colonel William Linn35 who had accompanied us in the p64 capacity of a volunteer, took charge of a party of men who were to be discharged on their arrival at the Falls and I sent orders for the removal of that post to the mainland. I dispatched Captain John Montgomery with letters to the seat of government in Virginia and to conduct thither, also, Mr. Rochblave.
The principles of this gentleman were so fixed and so violent against the United States that it was quite unsuitable to permit him to remain in the Illinois. His wife had taken p65 away all her furniture and other property; all but a few of her slaves were detained by us to be sold as plunder for the benefit of the soldiers. The sale did not take place for some time, as the officers generally wished the slaves to be returned to Mrs. Rochblave, and were in hopes that the men might be induced to agree to this. Many of them were men of sentiment, and the credit from such a course would be considerable, while the amount of money each would receive would be small. The desired result was in a fair way to take place, when some of the officers were requested to invite Mr. Rochblave (I had confined him to his room in order to protect him from the soldiers, as he seemed to take delight in insulting them at every opportunity and I was afraid that some of them might harm him) to spend the evening at a certain house with a number of his acquaintances. He accepted the invitation, but at the gathering he abused them in a most intolerable manner, calling them rebels and other similar names. They immediately sent him off to the guard house, and dismissed all further thought of saving his slaves. These were sold and the proceeds, amounting to about 1500 pounds, were divided among the men.
I informed the Governor, through Colonel Montgomery,36 of all our proceedings and present p66 prospects. I pointed out to him the necessity of immediately reinforcing us, and of sending some person to serve as head of the civil government, referring him to Captain Montgomery for full particulars. This party being dispatched, I turned my attention once more to Vincennes, and saw plainly that it was necessary to have an American officer at that post. Captain Leonard Helm appeared qualified to answer my purpose. He was past middle life, and was well acquainted with Indian affairs. I sent him to take command of that post, and also appointed him agent of Indian affairs for the department of the Wabash. I expected to receive reinforcements from the Governor by autumn, when a strong garrison should be sent to him. He was fully acquainted with my ideas and the plans I proposed to pursue, and about the middle of August set out to assume the duties of his new station.
An Indian chief, the son of Tobacco, a Piankeshaw at this place, lived in a village adjoining Vincennes. This man was called by the Indians the Grand Door to the Wabash, as the great Pontiac had been to the St. Joseph, since nothing of p67 importance could be undertaken by the league on the Wabash without his consent. Perceiving that it was an object of great importance to win his support, I had sent him by Mr. Gibault a very complimentary message, and he had returned the compliment. I now sent him a message by Captain Helm calculated to influence him in the same fashion I had already done the townsmen. I also sent the following speech with a belt of wampum, and gave Captain Helm directions how to act, both if he should be pacifically inclined and in the contrary event. The Captain arrived safely at Vincennes, and was received with acclamation by the people. After the usual ceremonies were over, he sent for the Grand Door and delivered my letter to him. After reading it, the chief informed the Captain that he was happy to see him, one of the Big Knife chiefs, in this town. He admitted that he had joined with the English against the Americans, but confessed that he had always thought the sky looked gloomy. As the contents of the letter were a matter of great moment, he could not return an answer to it immediately, but must first hold a council on the subject, and he hoped the Captain would be patient. In short, he displayed all the courtly dignity he was master of, and Captain Helm followed his example. Several days elapsed before this business was concluded.
At length the Captain was invited to the Indian council, where he was informed by p68 Tobacco's son that they had carefully considered the case in hand, and the nature of the war with the English and ourselves had been explained to their satisfaction. He had always thought that he was in the dark as to the truth of the matter, but now the sky was clear. He perceived that the Big Knife was in the right, and observed that if the English should conquer us they would perhaps treat them in the same manner they intended to serve us. In short, his ideas were quite changed, he would tell all the Indians of the Wabash to bloody the land no more for the English. At this he sprang up, struck his breast, called himself a man and a warrior, and saying that he was now a Big Knife, took Captain Helm by the hand. His example was followed by all present, and the evening was spent in merriment. Thus ended this important negotiation, which resulted in the saving of much blood. To the day of his death (which happened two years later) this man proved a zealous friend. In all his conduct he appeared to have the American interest much at heart. He desired to be buried near the Americans; his body was therefore conveyed to Cahokia and buried with the honors of war.
Within a short time almost all the tribes on the Wabash as far up as 5 Ouiatanona came to Vincennes and followed the example of their head chief, and since expresses were continually passing back and forth between Captain p69 Helm and myself while these treaties were being arranged, everything was settled to my entire satisfaction and greatly to the public advantage. The British cause lost ground daily in this section, and in a short time our influence over the Indians extended to the River St. Joseph and the lower end of Lake Michigan. The French gentlemen at the different posts in our possession engaged themselves warmly in our cause. They appeared to vie with one another, by means of their correspondence and their trade among the Indians, in promoting our interest. In a short time large numbers of Indians belonging to tribes inhabiting the Illinois country, came to Cahokia to make peace with us. The information they obtained from the Frenchmen (whom they implicitly believed) concerning us greatly alarmed them, and we were visited by the greater part of them without any invitation on our part. This circumstance gave us a great advantage in that we could use with the greater propriety such language as suited our interest.
The treaties we made, during the three or four weeks beginning about the last of August were negotiated in a different fashion, probably, than any others in America prior to that time. I had always been convinced that our general conduct of Indian affairs was wrong. Inviting them to treaties was considered by them in a different manner than we realized; they imputed it to fear on our part, and the giving of valuable p70 presents confirmed them in this opinion. I resolved, therefore, to guard against this. I took great pains to acquaint myself with the French and Spanish methods of treating with the Indians, and with their disposition and manners in general. Since the Indians in this section had not been spoiled by us as yet, I made up my mind they should not be. I was fully prepared for the business, having copies at hand of the British treaties. After the ceremonies commonly employed at the commencement of Indian treaties, they, as the petitioning party, made the opening speech. They laid the entire blame for their taking up the bloody hatchet to the deception of the English, acknowledging their error and making many protestations that they would guard in future against those bad birds (alluding to the British emissaries sent among them) flying through the land. They concluded by expressing the hope that as the Great Spirit had brought us together for good, as He is good, they might be received as our friends, and that peace might take the place of the bloody belt, at the same time throwing down and stamping on the implements of war such as flags and red belts of wampum, which they had received from the British. I told them I had given attention to what they said, and that I would give them an answer the next day, when I hoped that the hearts and ears of all would be open to receive the truth, which should be pure without deception. p71 I recommended that they keep themselves in readiness for the result of this day, on which their very existence as nations perhaps depended. I then dismissed them, not suffering any of our people to shake hands with them, as peace was not yet concluded. I told them it was time to give the hand when the heart could be given also. They replied that such sentiments were those of men who had but one heart, and who did not speak with a double tongue.
On the following day I delivered this speech:
Men and warriors, pay attention. You informed me yesterday that the Great Spirit had brought us together, which you hoped was good, as He is good. I also have the same hope, and whatever may be agreed upon by us at the present time, whether for peace or war, I expect each party will strictly adhere to and henceforth prove ourselves worthy of the attention of the Great Spirit. I am a man and a warrior, not a councillor. I carry War in my right hand and in my left Peace. I was sent by the great council fire of the Big Knives and their friends to take control of all the towns the English possess in this country, and to remain here watching the conduct of the red men. I was sent to bloody the paths of those who continue the effort to stop the course of the rivers, but to clear the roads that lead from us to those who wish to be in friendship with us, in order that the women and children may walk p72 in them without anything being in the way to strike their feet against; and to continue to call on the Great Fire for warriors enough to darken the land of those who are hostile to us, so that the inhabitants shall hear no sound in it but that of birds that live on blood. I know that a mist is yet before your eyes; I will dispel the clouds in order that you may see clearly the cause of the war between the Big Knives and the English, that you may judge for yourselves which is in the right. Then if you are men and warriors, as you profess to be, prove it by adhering strictly to what you may now declare, without deceiving either party, and thus proving yourselves to be only old women.
The Big Knives are very much like the red men; they do not know well how to make blankets, powder, and cloth; they buy these things from the English (from whom they formerly descended) and live chiefly by raising corn, hunting, and trading, as you and your neighbors, the French do. But the Big Knives were daily becoming more numerous, like the trees in the woods, so that the land became poor and the hunting scarce; and having but little to trade with, the women began to cry to see their children naked, and tried to make clothes for themselves, and soon gave their husbands blankets of their own making; and the men learned to make guns and powder, so that they did not want so much from the English. Then the English became angry and p73 stationed strong garrisons through all our country (as you see they have done among you on the lakes and among the French) and would not let our women spin nor the men make powder, nor let us trade with anybody else. They said we must buy everything from them, and since we had become saucy they would make us give them two bucks for a blanket that we used to get for one. They said we must do as they pleased, and they killed some of us to make the rest afraid. This is the truth and the cause of the war between us, which did not begin until some time after they had treated us in this fashion. Our women and children were cold and hungry, and continued to cry. Our young men were lost, and there were no counsellors to set them in the right path. The whole land was dark, and the old men hung down their heads for shame, for they could not see the sun.
Thus there was mourning for many years. At last the Great Spirit took pity on us and kindled a great council fire that never goes out, at a place called Philadelphia. He stuck down a post there and left a war tomahawk by it, and went away. The sun at once broke out, and the sky became blue. The old men held up their heads, and assembled at the fire. They sharpened the hatchet and put it into the hands of the young men, and told them to strike the English as long as they could find one on this side of the Great Water. The p74 young men immediately struck the war post and blood ensued. Thus the war began, and the English were driven from one place to another, until they became weak and hired you red men to fight for them, and help them. The Great Spirit became angry at this, and caused your Old Father, the French king, and other great nations to join the Big Knives and fight with them against all their enemies, so that the English have become like a deer in the woods. From this you may see that it is the Great Spirit that caused your waters to be troubled, because you fought for the people he was angry with, and if your women and children should cry you must blame yourselves for it, and not the Big Knives.
You can now judge who is in the right. I have already told you who I am. Here is a bloody belt and a white one. Take whichever you please. Behave like men, and don't let your present situation, being surrounded by the Big Knives, cause you to take up the one belt with your hands when your hearts drink up the other. If you take the bloody path you shall go from this town in safety and join your friends, the English, and we will try like warriors who can put the most stumbling blocks in the road and keep our clothes perfumed with blood the longest. If you should take the path of peace and now be received as brothers to the Big Knives and the French, and should hereafter listen to bad birds that will be flying p75 through your land, you will no longer be counted as men but as persons with two tongues, who ought to be destroyed without listening to what you say, as nobody could understand you. Since I am convinced that have never heard the truth before, I do not wish you to give me an answer before you have had time to council if you wish to do this. We will part this evening and when you are ready, if the Great Spirit will bring us together again, let us prove ourselves worthy by speaking and thinking with but one heart and one tongue.
What their private conversations upon this speech were, we never could learn, but on their return the next day, the business commenced with more than usual ceremony. A new fire was kindled, all the gentlemen of the town were collected, and after all their preparatory ceremonies were through, the chief who was to speak advanced to the table where I sat, with the belt of peace in his hand; another with the sacred pipe, and a third with the fire to kindle it. The pipe was first presented to the heavens then to the earth, and completing the circle it was then presented to all the spirits, invoking them to witness what was about to be concluded, then to myself and, descending in order, to every person present.
The speaker then addressed himself to the Indians. The substance of this talk was that they ought to be thankful that the Great Spirit had taken pity on them, and had cleared the p76 sky and opened their ears and hearts so that they could hear and receive the truth. Addressing himself to me, he said they had paid great attention to what the Great Spirit had put into my heart to say to them. They believed that it was all true, since the Big Knives did not speak like any other people they had ever heard. They now saw plainly that they had been deceived by the English, who had told them lies and never the truth. This, some of their old men had always said, and now they believed it. They said that we were in the right, and as the English had forts in their country, they might, if they became strong, want to serve the red people as they did the Big Knives; and that they, the red men, ought to help us. They had taken up the belt of peace with a sincere heart, and spurned the other away. They were determined to hold it fast, and would have no doubt of our friendship, as they saw from our manner of speaking that there was no room for suspicion. They would call in all their warriors, and cast the tomahawk into the river where it could never be found again. They would suffer no more emissaries or bad birds to pass through their land to disquiet their women and children, that they might always be cheerful to smooth the roads for their brothers the Big Knives whenever they should come to see them. They said they would send word to all their friends, letting them know what had been done and the p77 good talk they had heard, and would advise them to listen to it. They hoped I would send men among them to see for myself that they were men and that they adhered strictly to all that had been said at this great fire which the Great Spirit had kindled here at Cahokia for the good of all who would listen to it.
This is the substance of their answer to me. The pipe was again kindled and presented to all the spirits to be witnesses, and with smoking and shaking of hands this grand piece of business was concluded, with as much dignity and importance in their eyes, I suppose, as was the treaty between France and America in ours. The Indians now assumed a different attitude. Close harmony reigned without any appearance of distrust on their side, but we were not quite so complaisant. I had resolved never to do anything that should have the appearance of courting them, and I generally made some excuse for the little I presented, such as, having come a long way to see me, they had expended their ammunition, worn out their leggings, or met with some misfortune or other. But they were genuinely alarmed; the conclusion of peace satisfied them, and they parted from us with every appearance of perfect satisfaction. I consistently made it a point to keep spies out among them, and was pleased to find that the great majority of those who treated with us adhered strictly to their agreement, so that before long we could send a single soldier through p78 any part of the Wabash and Illinois country, for in the course of this fall all the Indians of these regions came to treat with us, either at Cahokia or Vincennes.
It is not worth while dwelling on the particulars of every treaty. The one already mentioned conveys an idea of the plan we adopted. All negotiations were carried out in accordance with the same principles, always sticking to the text, but varying with the different tribes in the manner of delivery. Sometimes we were more severe, but never more lenient, although a very different kind of language was employed, of course, toward those with whom we were on terms of friendship. Their replies were nearly the same throughout all the tribes, and a boundary between the British emissaries and our own appeared now to be fixed at the heads of the waters of the Great Lakes and those of the Mississippi. Since neither party cared to venture too far, some of the tribes became divided among themselves, part siding with us, and part with the English. So sudden a change in our favor among the Indians in this region required great attention to keep the flame from cooling too soon, as the appearance of a reinforcement which we had reason to expect in the autumn would renew our influence. Every method was employed to convince the French inhabitants that their interests were being studied by us. Every disagreeable restriction that they p79 had formerly been subject to was done away with, and business with the commanding officers was conducted without ceremony, nor was there any ceremony about the camps, which held weekly sessions. These things and many other minor ones produced a good effect; through them our cause was considerably promoted among their friends on the lakes and many traders, watching their opportunity, came over with their goods and settled in the Illinois country and at Vincennes. This had a good effect upon the Indians. The friendly correspondence between the Spaniards and ourselves was also much to our advantage, since everything the Indians heard from them was favorable to us.
The behavior of two young men at the time of these treaties at Cahokia affected me deeply, and the relation of their conduct may perhaps not be disagreeable to you. A party known as the Meadow Indians, that roved about the different nations, being composed of stragglers from all of them, were informed that if they would contrive to make me prisoner, they would receive a great reward. With this design they came down to Cahokia as others had done, pretending to treat for peace. Pretending some acquaintance with Mr. Brady, they were lodged in his yard, about one hundred yards from my quarters and nearly the same distance from the fort. The little river Cahokia, which was there about knee-deep, fronted the house p80 on the opposite side of the street. Having business at times with the other Indians, they loitered about, listened to what was passing, and became pretty well acquainted with our people. I had received but a bad report of them, and took but little apparent notice of them. Observing that the house I lodged in was very quiet by night, and supposing it had but few guards, they formed their plan in the following manner: Some of them were to cross the river and fire off their guns opposite their camping quarters, upon which they were to attempt to gain the protection of the guard on the pretence of flying from hostile Indians who had fired on them from across the river. If they succeeded, they were to butcher the guard and carry me off.
A few nights after their arrival they made the attempt, about one o'clock. Having too many things to think about to sleep much, I happened to be awake at the time the alarm was given. They were immediately at the gate when the sentinel presented his piece. The night being light, they saw the guard parading before the door more numerous than they had expected, and taking a by‑way they returned to their quarters. The whole town was now under arms. The guard was positive it was these Indians, and they were immediately examined. They said that their enemies had fired on them across the creek; that they wanted to get under the protection of the guard p81 but were not permitted to do so, and so made the best of their way back to defend themselves. Some of the French gentlemen, however, being better acquainted with them than the rest of us, insisted it was they that had given the alarm; and sending for a candle discovered that the leggings and moccasins of those who had crossed the river were quite wet and muddy. They were quite confounded at this. They sought to make various excuses, but their design was easily seen thru, and they were not suffered to speak. I said but little to them, and as there were many Indians of other nations in town, to convince the whole of the strict union between the French and ourselves, I told them that as they had disturbed the town the people might do what they pleased with them, and went away, whispering, however, that the chiefs should be sent to the guardhouse and put in irons, which was immediately done by the inhabitants. In this situation they were brought every day into the council, but not suffered to speak. When I had finished with the others I had their irons taken off and told them their design was obvious to me, as a bird from their country had whispered in my ear; that everyone said they ought to die, which was what I had intended and which they must themselves see they deserved; but that on considering the matter and the meanness of the attempt to watch and catch a bear asleep, I found that you were only old women and too mean to be p82 killed by a Big Knife. But as you ought to be punished for putting on breech-cloths like men, these shall be taken away from you, and plenty of provisions given you to go home, as women don't know how to hunt; and as long you stay here you shall be treated as all squaws ought to be.
Without taking any further notice of them, I proceeded to converse indifferently with others present on various trifling subjects. They appeared to be much agitated. After some time they rose and advanced with a belt and pipes of peace, which they presented to me and made a speech which I would not suffer to be interpreted to me at that time. Laying my sword on the table, I broke their pipe and told them that the Big Knives never treated with women, and for them to sit down and enjoy themselves as others did and not be afraid. The substance of their speech was an acknowledgment of their design, which they excused by saying some bad men from 6 Mackinac had put it into their heads. They hoped we would take pity on their women and children, and as their lives had been spared when they deserved to lose them, they were in hopes that peace would be granted them as it was to other tribes.
Several chiefs of other tribes present spoke in their favor, condemning their attempt. They said that they saw the Big Knife was above little things, and they were confident I would p83 take pity on the families of these men and grant them peace. I told them that I had never made war upon them. If the Big Knives came across such people in the woods, they commonly shot them down as they did wolves, to prevent their eating the deer, but they never talked about it. The conversation on the subject ceased, and for some time these fellows continued busily engaged in private conversation. At length two young men advanced to the middle of the floor, sat down, and flung their blankets over their heads. At first I did not know what to make of this action; however, two of the chiefs with a (peace) pipe stationed themselves by them, and delivered speeches in much the same manner as they had previously done, concluding by saying they offered these two young men as an atonement for their guilt and hoped that the Big Knives would be reconciled by this sacrifice of their people. They again offered me the pipe, which I refused, telling them, but in a milder tone than I had previously employed, to sit down and that I would have nothing to say at once them. It appeared that these people had become so thoroughly alarmed that they supposed a tomahawk was hanging over the head of every one of their nation. They thought nothing would save them but to secure peace before they left the place; and they supposed that by putting to death these two young men, or keeping them as slaves, we would become reconciled with them.
p84 The young men retained their first position, frequently pushing the blanket aside as if impatient to know their fate. I had no expectation of this business ending in this manner. I had intended all along to let myself be finally persuaded to grant peace to these people, but this action on their part astonished me. I hardly knew whether or not it was sincere, although everything indicated that it was. Every person of the large gathering present appeared anxious to know what would be done, and a general silence fell upon them and for some time all were in a state of suspense.
You may easily guess my feelings on this occasion and the pleasure with which I regarded these young men. I had read of some such action as this, but had never known whether or not to credit it. Never before nor since have I felt so capable of speaking. I ordered the young men to rise and uncover themselves. Upon this there was a very visible alteration in their countenances, which, however, they appeared to try to conceal. I harangued the whole assembly in suitable fashion on the subject, concluding by telling them I was happy to find there were men among all nations, as we were now witnesses to the fact that there were at least two among these people. I then addressed the young men, praising them much and concluding by saying it was only with men such as they as chiefs of a nation that I cared to treat; and that through them the Big p85 Knife granted peace and friendship to their people. I took them by the hand as my brothers and chiefs of their nation and said I expected all present to acknowledge them as such. I presented them first to my own officers, then to the French and Spanish gentlemen present, and lastly to the Indians, all of whom greeted them as chiefs. I concluded the business by having them saluted by the garrison. I wish I had a copy or could remember all that was said on this occasion, but you may easily conceive what was said from the character of the affair. It appeared to give general satisfaction, but I thought the old chiefs appeared to be much cowed. Our new nabobs were now treated with great respect on all occasions. A council was called in order to do some business with them, and get ceremony was employed in order to rivet more firmly what had been done. On their departure I gave them some presents to distribute among their friends at home, by whom I understood they were acknowledged as chiefs and held in great esteem, and that the Americans were much spoken of among them.
It would be difficult to overestimate the consequences which would have ensued had they succeeded in their plan. However badly it may appearº to have been devised, it was the most probable one open to them. They could not have attempted to carry out their project in town in the daytime, and I never went out of it without too strong a guard for them to p86 overcome. As it turned out, the affair proved a fortunate one for us. It gained us much credit and had a good effect upon the Indians in the quarter, as it soon became a subject of general conversation among them.
I now turned my attention to Saguina, Mr. Blackbird, and Nakewoin, two chiefs of the bands of Sauteur and Ottawa tribes bordering on Lake Michigan and the river St. Joseph. Mr. Blackbird and party were at 4 St. Louis at the time Major Bowman took possession of Cahokia. Knowing that their tribe was warmly engaged in the war, and not believing the Spanish protection sufficient to secure them against the revenge of the Big Knives who were so near at hand, although the governor assured them of the certainty of their being kindly received, they became alarmed and pushed off. On their passage up the Illinois river these chiefs met with a number of traders who had heard what had taken place among their friends in the Illinois and had already begun to alter their tone toward the Indians, persuading Blackbird to turn back and call upon the Big Knives, saying that as he had been so near them and did not go to see them they would think that he had run away from them through fear. He excused himself by saying his family was sick, but that he would go in the spring and meantime would write us a letter. I suppose he thought this would lead us to believe they were our friends, and I have no doubt but that p87 their sentiments daily changed in our favor. I made strict inquiry about Blackbird and Nakewoin. I found that they were chiefs of considerable St. Joseph's river bands who were then at war with us, and that Blackbird had great influence in that quarter. Some traders recently arrived at the Illinois thought he really wanted a conference with us but held back awaiting an invitation. I gave a man who satisfied my purpose $200 to visit Blackbird at the St. Joseph river and sent him a full answer to his letter, inviting him to come to Kaskaskia in the fall. This he did with only eight attendants, aside from my messenger, Denoe. After they had rested and refreshed themselves, observing some of the usual preparations being made for an Indian council, Blackbird sent word to me that he had come to see me on business of consequence to both our nations, and wished that we should not spend our time in ceremony. He said it was customary among all Indians but it was not necessary between us and that we could do our business much better sitting at a table. He desired to have a long talk with me, and hoped there would be no ceremony employed. I perceived that Mr. Blackbird conducted matters differently than other chiefs, and that he assumed the airs of a polite gentleman. Accordingly a room was prepared and the nabob was formally introduced to me by a French gentleman. After the exchange of a few compliments he took a seat at the end of p88 the table opposite me, with the interpreters at our right and left, and the gentlemen seated round the room. Blackbird opened the discussion and attempted to speak as much in the European fashion as possible. He said that he had long desired to have some conversation with the chief of our nation, but had never before enjoyed the opportunity to do so. He had conversed with prisoners, but he placed little confidence in what they said as they were generally afraid to talk. He said he had been engaged in the war for some time, but had always doubted the propriety of it, as the English and the Americans appeared to be the same people. He was sensible that there was some mystery with which he was unacquainted. He had heard only one side of the story, and now wished me to explain it fully to him in order that, having heard both sides, he might be in a position to judge for himself.
To satisfy this inquisitive Indian I was obliged to begin almost at the first settlement of America and go through its entire history to the present time, dwelling particularly on the cause of the revolution; and since I could not speak to him in similes as I did to other Indians, it took me nearly half a day to satisfy him. He asked a large number of very pertinent questions and required to be satisfied upon every point. I was the better able to satisfy him as I was now pretty well acquainted with all that the British officers had told the Indians.
p89 Blackbird appeared to be quite satisfied and said he was convinced from many circumstances that I had given a true account of the matter. He had long suspected from the conduct of the English that they wished to keep the Indians in the dark and it was now very obvious to him. He thought the Americans were quite right and that they ought to be assisted rather than opposed. He was happy to find that their old friends, the French, had joined us, and said the Indians ought to do likewise, but as I had said we did not wish this they ought at least to remain neutral. He said he would not blame us if we drove all that would not do so off the face of the earth. It was plain to him that the English were afraid; otherwise they would not give so many goods to the Indians to fight for them. He himself was perfectly satisfied about the matter, and I might rest assured that his sentiments were fixed in our favor and that he would no longer pay any attention to the English. He said that he would immediately bring the war to an end as far as his part was concerned. As many of their young men were then out on the warpath, however, I must excuse this, but as soon as they returned he would make them lay down their arms and no one whom he could influence should take them up again. Upon his return home he would take pains to tell the Indians of every denomination what had passed between us, and would inform them of the true cause p90 of the war. He felt sure that most of them would follow his example, but it would have a good effect if I would send a young man among them under his protection (which I did), as his appearance would give great weight to what he himself might say to them. He hoped that for the future we would look upon each other as friends and that a correspondence should be kept up between us.
I told him I was happy to find that our business was likely to end so much to our mutual satisfaction, and to the advantage and tranquillity of our respective nations. I promised immediately to inform the Governor of Virginia of what had passed between us, and said I knew it would give all the American people great pleasure, and that he (Blackbird) would be regarded among their friends. After spending a few days with us he returned home, accompanied by a young man who went as my agent. I had two pack horses loaded with necessary supplies for Blackbird's return journey and sent some presents to his family, to the amount, perhaps, of $20 or $30. Thus ended the negotiation between this chief and myself, and as I had frequent opportunity of hearing from him in the course of the fall I found that he adhered strictly to what he had promised me. He not only withdrew his own tribe from the war, but caused great numbers of Indians in that quarter to become very cold toward the British interest.
p91 I thought it policy in the course of all my conversations with the Indians to tell them I did not blame them for accepting the presents that the British chose to give them, but that it was degrading to them to make war as hirelings. I said that this was beneath the dignity of a warrior, and that the Big Knives regarded those that were at war against them on their own account with more respect than they did the hireling. I said the scalps of the one were kept by us as great trophies, while those of the other were given to the children to play with or thrown to the dogs. The employment of such language to a people with whom we ardently wished to be at peace may appear strange, but it produced a good effect among people of their education and was perfectly consonant with our policy.
About this time I received a letter from a chief named Lajes or the Big Gate. It seems that at the time Pontiac besieged Detroit this fellow, then a lad, had shot a man standing at a gate and immediately the name of Big Gate was given to him as a mark of honor. He had early engaged in the British interest, and had led several war parties against our frontiers with good success. On hearing what was going on in the Illinois country, he fell in with some Potawatomi who were on their way to visit us and came with them to hear what we had to say for ourselves. He had the assurance to make his appearance before me in a complete p92 war dress, and with the bloody belt he had received from the English hanging round his neck. He attended the councils for several days, away placing himself at the front of the room and sitting in great state, without saying a word to us or we to him. I had found out what I wanted to know about him and had fixed upon my course of action, and during my business with the other Indians I had employed several speeches designed to prepare my associates for what was coming. On the conclusion of our business I addressed myself to him, telling him that I had been informed who he was but as he knew public business must be attended to before private ceremonies, I hoped he would excuse my not having spoken to him sooner. I said it was customary among white people that when officers met in this manner, even though they were enemies, they treated each other with greater respect than they did common people, and esteemed each other the more in proportion to the exploits each had performed against the other's nation. As he had come designedly to see us and our business was now over, I hoped he would spend a few days more with us and that he would do us the pleasure of dining with the Big Knife that evening.
He appeared to be on nettles and, rising, began to excuse himself. I would not listen, but ran on upon the same theme. I would stop, he would commence, and I would begin p93 again, until I found I had worked him up to as high a pitch as I desired and then permitted him to go on. He stepped to the middle of the room and removed his war belt and a small British flag from his bosom, flung them on the floor, followed by all of his clothing except his breech-cloth, then, striking his breast, he addressed the entire audience, telling them they knew he had been a warrior from his youth. He said he delighted in war, but that the English had told him lies. He thought from what they said that the Big Knives were in the wrong. He had been to war against them three times, and was ready to go again, but concluded he would rest himself for a while and come and see what sort of people they were, and hear how they talked. He had listened to everything that had been said and was now convinced that the English were wrong and the Big Knives right. He said that as a man and warrior he would not fight in a wrong cause; that he had flung away the bloody clothes the English had given him, and giving them a kick across the room he struck his breast and, saying that he was now a Big Knife, came and shook hands with me and the whole company, as his brothers. A great deal of merriment ensued.
The whole company appeared diverted, and the Big Gate being a merry fellow himself, kept up their good humor by speaking to them as a new man and a Big Knife. But as our p94 new brother was now naked, it was necessary that he should be clothed. The things he had pulled off were pushed into the street as despised, by one of the servants, and Captain McCarty37 having presented him with a suit covered with lace, at dinner Captain Big Gate was much the finest man at the table. In order to appear in as much state as the rest of us, he had ordered one of his men to wait on him. This was rather awkward, as we had suffered none of the Indians to dine with us except chiefs of the greatest dignity. Pains were taken to prevent any jealousy on the part of those in town who were of as high rank as Mr. Lajes.
After dinner was over he told me he wished to have some private conversation with me, and pointed to a room that had a large window opening into a back street. Being always suspicious, I did not know whether my new brother intended to stab me and make his escape through the window. I took precautions against this without his knowing it, and we were shut up with the interpreter nearly half p95 an hour. He gave me a history of himself and a full account of the situation of affairs at Detroit. He said he could do almost anything he pleased at that place. If I desired it he would go and bring me a scalp or a prisoner within forty days, since they did not know what had happened here and he would have the opportunity to do what he pleased. I told him we never wanted the Indians to fight for us. All we wished of them was to sit still and look on. Those who did not do this might expect to be swallowed up as they would see the lakes covered with boats belonging to the Big Knives. I desired him on no account to kill any person on our behalf. I told him I would be glad to have him bring me news or a prisoner if he could readily obtain one, but by no means to injure him, as it was beneath our principles to treat prisoners ill.
I presented him with a medal and a captain's commission. On the day he took his departure, with many Indians accompanying him he came to take his leave of me at my quarters. There were many gentlemen present and they saluted him by firing their pistols through the window, and on passing in front of them he was again saluted. This elated him greatly. He had not gone far before he stopped, and saying he supposed those poor soldiers were hungry for a dram, he ordered one of his men to go to a trader with whom he was acquainted and who was then in town, p96 and get a little keg of rum and give it to them to drink his health. When this was done he went away by water up the Illinois river. Here he fell in with some traders of his acquaintance who had obtained a permit at Mackinac to trade in this section, and were then on their way to us. Lajes asked them which way they were going. They said they were only trading. He then asked them if they were not afraid of the Big Knives at Cahokia. They said they were not. He then inquired whom they were for, and they asked him what he meant by this. He answered, "Are you for the King of England or the Big Knives?" Knowing the fellow's character, they said certainly they were for the King of England, and asked if he was not also for him. He said no, he was a captain of the Big Knives, producing his commission told them they were enemies in his country and his prisoners, and that he would return them to his superior officer at Cahokia.
The men became alarmed, not knowing what to make of the fellow, but they found he was in earnest and he had a commission under my hand and seal. They then told him they were running away and were going to the Big Knives. He said they were liars and he would not believe them. He pestered them for two or three days until a party came along whom he knew to be in the American interest and became surety that they would deliver themselves up to me, and had a letter, which he dictated, p97 written to me. He warned the men to take care of themselves, for if they proved deceitful and fell into his hands again he would treat them ill. This was a curious Indian letter. I can't remember the particulars of it further than that it pertained to the foregoing matter. It is lost with all the papers of this year except a few that I have by chance recovered.
Captain Big Gate proceeded on his journey, and including I knew of him continued to behave well, speaking much of the new dignities and abusing the other Indians for fighting as hirelings, and so forth. Whether or not he ever afterwards joined the British I never learned.
33 We have only meager knowledge concerning Jean Baptiste Laffont, who proved so powerful an aid to the American cause at this juncture in Clark's affairs. He was a native of the West Indies, whence he removed to Florida and later to Kaskaskia, where we find him in the summer of 1770. He was still there in 1782, but by 1787 had removed to Vincennes. He died at Ste. Genevieve, probably about the year 1799. Prof. Alvord concludes (Illinois Historical Collections V, p. xxv-xxxii) that Laffont bore the main burden of the mission to Vincennes, in which Father Gibault aided with his influence, but for which he did not care to assume the responsibility.
34 Not included in the original manuscript.
35 Prior to this Linn had performed one of the most brilliant exploits of the Revolution. In its early stage the colonists were in desperate need of powder. In July, 1776, Linn and Captain George Gibson set out from Fort Pitt for distant New Orleans to obtain, if possible, a supply of powder from the Spanish commander there. They reached New Orleans in August and succeeded in procuring 10,000 pounds of powder. Gibson was thrown into prison by the Spanish, as a blind to lull the suspicions of the British consul, while Linn departed up river with the powder. He spent the winter at the Spanish post on the Arkansas, renewing his slow advance in the spring. Meanwhile Gibson, released from prison, made his way to Virginia carrying news of the issue of the enterprise, and the authorities there hastened to send a detachment to the relief of Linn. The latter, however, was beforehand with his plans, and by the first of May landed his precious cargo at Wheeling.
Linn was a native of New Jersey but grew up in western Maryland. He served in Forbes' army which captured Fort Duquesne in 1758. After Clark's Kaskaskia campaign Linn settled a station near Louisville. He served as colonel of militia in the Indian campaign of 1780. The following spring he was shot and killed by Indians near his home. He was an elder brother of Benjamin Linn, whom Clark sent out as a spy to Kaskaskia in 1777.
36 Colonel Montgomery was a native and a prominent citizen of western Virginia who came to Kentucky in 1778 as one of Clark's four captains in his Illinois campaign. When Clark retired to the Falls of Ohio after capturing Kaskaskia he left Montgomery in command of the Illinois country. At the close of the war he settled in Kentucky, removing later to Tennessee, where he founded Clarksville and named it in honor of his old commander. He was killed by Indians in 1794 near the mouth of the Cumberland River.
Thayer's Note: For a much fuller biographical sketch, see A. V. Goodpasture's Colonel John Montgomery (THM 5:145‑150).
37 Captain Richard McCarty was a trader from Canada who had located at Cahokia. He joined the American cause and was made commandant here in 1779, in which position he became involved in conflict with the civil authorities. In the summer of 1781 he was killed by Indians while enroute to Virginia to lay before the authorities a complaint of the inhabitants of Kaskaskia against certain of the American officials.
a Fort Ouiatenon (the now customary spelling) was the earliest European outpost in what is now Indiana. Visiting hours — of a replica not at the original location — and some historical information are given on a page by the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.
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The Conquest of The Illinois
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