The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 3

August 2, 2011

The year following Red Jacket’s failed negotiations President George Washington appointed three Commissioners to try to effect a peace with the First Nations Confederacy. Benjamin Lincoln, Timothy Pickering and Beverly Randolph left Philadelphia travelling north to Niagara. John Graves Simcoe, Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada, afforded them British hospitalities while they waited for word on a council with the First Nation chiefs. They hoped to meet with the Confederacy at Sandusky that spring.

The Americans thought the British would be useful as an intermediary, but the British’s interests were really making sure the Confederacy didn’t fall apart and long-term that an “Indian barrier state” would be formed. The United States also had ulterior motives. Although they would accept a peace as long as it was on their terms they would be just as happy with failure to use as an excuse for their “just war”. Simcoe had assessed the situation correctly when he wrote in his correspondence “It appears to me that there is little probability of effecting a Peace and I am inclined to believe that the Commissioners do not expect it; that General Wayne does not expect it; and that the Mission of the Commissioners is in general contemplated by the People of the United States as necessary to adjust the ceremonial of the destruction and pre-determined extirpation of the Indian Americans”. While all this was going on Wayne advanced his army to Fort Washington.

Meanwhile Washington asked the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant to travel to the Miami River where the Confederacy was in council. He was to try to persuade the Chiefs to meet the Commissioners at Sandusky. He was partially successful in that they sent a delegation of fifty to Niagara to speak to the American Commissioners in front of Simcoe.

The delegation demanded the Commissioners inform them of General Wayne’s movements and they also wanted to know if they were empowered to fix a permanent boundary line. The Commissioners must have answered satisfactorily because the delegation agreed that the Chiefs would meet them in council at Sandusky.

The Commissioners travelled with a British escort along the north shoreline of Lake Erie stopping just south of Detroit. Fort Detroit had yet to be handed over to the Americans and Simcoe refused to let them enter the fort so they were put up at the house of Mathew Elliott an Irishman who had been trading with the Shawnee for many years. While they were there another delegation arrived from the Miami. The Chiefs had felt that the first delegation had not spoken forcefully enough regarding their demands that the original boundary line of the Ohio River was to be adhered to and that any white squatters be removed to south of the Ohio. They also wanted to know why, if the United States was interested in peace, Wayne’s army was advancing? No answer was forthcoming. However, the Commissioners did informed this delegation that they were only authorized to offer compensation for lands and it was the United States’ position that those lands were already treated away. Besides, the United States felt that it would be impossible to remove any white settlers as they had been established there for many years. The delegation returned to the Miami with the Commissioners’ response which was totally unacceptable to the Chiefs.

A council was held at the foot of the Maumee rapids where Alexander McKee kept a storehouse. Both McKee and Elliott were there as British Indian Agents. Joseph Brant suggested they compromise by offering the Muskingum River as a new boundary line. The Chiefs were in no mood to compromise having just defeated the American Army not once but twice. Brant accused McKee of unduly influencing the Chiefs’ position. The Delaware chief Buckongahlas indicated that Brant was right. With the Confederacy unwilling to compromise and the United States, backed by Wayne’s army, standing firm things appeared to be at an impasse. The Chiefs crafted a new proposal. A third delegation carried it to the Commissioners on the Detroit.

The First Nations said money was of no value to them. Besides, they could never consider selling lands that provided sustenance to their families. Since there could be no peace as long as white squatters were living on their lands they proposed the following solution:

We know that these settlers are poor, or they would never have ventured to live in a country that has been in continual trouble ever since they crossed the Ohio. Divide, therefore, this large sum which you have offered us, among these people; give to each, also, a proportion of what you say you would give to us annually, over and above this very large sum of money, and we are persuaded they would most readily accept of it, in lieu of that lands you sold them. If you add, also, the great sums you must expend in raising and paying armies with a view to force us to yield you our country, you will certainly have more than sufficient for the purposes of repaying these settlers for all their labours and their improvements. You have talked to us about concessions. It appears strange that you expect any from us, who have only been defending our just rights against your invasions. We want peace. Restore to us our country and we shall be enemies no longer.

    The delegation also reminded the Commissioners that their only demand was “the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great country”. They could retreat no further since the country behind them could only provide enough food for its inhabitants so they were forced to stay and leave their bones in the small space to which they were now confined.

The Commissioners packed up their bags and left. There would be no council at Sandusky. They returned to Philadelphia and reported to the Secretary of War, “The Indians refuse to make peace.” Wayne’s invasion would be “just and lawful.”

Meanwhile, at the Maumee Rapids a War Feast was given and the War Song sung encouraging all the young warriors to come in defense of their country. “The whole white race is a monster who is always hungry and what he eats is land” declared Shawnee warrior Chicksika. Their English father would assist them and they pointed to Alexander McKee.

NEXT WEEK:  The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 4


The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 2

July 24, 2011

St. Clair’s Shame left the fledging new nation in a precarious position. The First Nations had just destroyed the only army the United States had. President Washington put Major General Anthony Wayne in charge of building a new one and Congress appropriated one million dollars toward the project.

 Wayne’s nickname was “Mad Anthony” which he earned during the Revolution, but their was nothing “mad” about the man. He was methodical and extremely determined. Wayne set out to build the new army at Pittsburg. It would be an army well-trained, disciplined and large enough to take care of the “Indian problem”. And he would be sure to take enough time to ensure a successful campaign.

He began recruiting in June of 1792. His goal was an army of 5,120 officers, NCOs and privates whipped into the crack troops needed to defeat a formidable enemy. By the end of 1792 he had moved 22 miles south of Pittsburg to Legionville where he wintered. In the spring of 1793 he moved to Hobson’s Choice on the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Mill Creek. Finally, in October of 1793 he made his headquarters near Fort Hamilton.

Wayne received new recruits daily all the time relentlessly drilling them into the army he knew he needed. But all did not go well with the project. Desertion rates were extremely high. The First Nation’s stunning successes on the Wabash and in the Maumee Valley had instilled terror in the hearts of ordinary pioneers and moving further toward “Indian Country” only heightened their fear. Many new recruits would desert at the first sign of trouble.

The problem had become so chronic that Wayne posted a reward for the capture and return of any deserter. After a court-martial the guilty would be severely punished usually by 100 lashes or sometimes even executed. An entry in the Orderly Book Mss. dated August 9, 1792 reads, “Deserters have become very prevalent among our troops, at this place, particularly upon the least appearance, or rather apprehension of danger, that some men (for they are unworthy of the name of soldiers), have lost every sense of honor and duty as to desert their post as sentries, by which treacherous, base and cowardly conduct, the lives and safety of their brave companions and worthy citizens were committed to savage fury.”

Meanwhile, warriors from other First Nations joined the confederacy Little Turtle and Blue Jacket had forged. In October 1792 the Shawnee hosted a congress held at the Glaize, where the Auglaize River flows into the Maumee. Delegates from the nations whose territories were being defended attended. These were Wyandotte from Sandusky, Delaware, Shawnee, Mingo, Miami, Munsee, Cherokee and Nanticoke. Also attending were other First Nations from further away but all offering support for the war effort. Some of these were Fox and Sauk from the upper Mississippi, Six Nations and Mahican from New York, Iroquois from the St. Lawrence and Wyandotte from Detroit. There were also many warriors from the Three Fires Confederacy. They were Ottawa, Potawatomi and Chippewa from Detroit as well as Chippewa from Aamjiwnaang and Saginaw. There were even some Chippewa from Michilimackinac. This was the largest First Nation congress every brought together by First Nations alone.

Even though the United States had suffered two humiliating defeats at the hands of the First Nation Confederacy they still had little respect. Henry Knox characterized them as Miami and Wabash Indians together with “a banditti, formed of Shawanese and outcast Cherokees”.  However, because their military was in shambles and they had a deficiency in revenue peaceful negotiations were preferrable to another war.

Washington at first sent delegates to the Glaize from their First Nation allies with offers to negotiate. There were still some groups of individual First Nations friendly with the Americans despite the treatment received. The delegation of “U.S. Indians” arrived and the celebrated Seneca orator Red Jacket spoke for the U.S.

Red Jacket rose to speak to the nearly one thousand conferees at the Glaize. He spoke on two strings of wampum bringing the American message that even though they defeated the mighty British and now all Indian territories belonged to them by right of conquest they may be willing to compromise. They offered to consider accepting the Muskingum River as the new boundary between the United States and “Indian Country”. But the Confederacy saw no need to compromise. After all they had defeated American armies not once but twice in the last two years. They insisted the boundary agreed to in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768 be adhered to. That boundary was the Ohio and they would accept no other. 

The Shawnee chief Painted Pole reminded Red Jacket that while his Seneca group was in Philadelphia cozying up to the Americans the Confederacy was busy defending their lands. Now he was at the Glaize doing the Americans dirty work. He accused Red Jacket of trying to divide the Confederacy and demanded that Red Jacket speak from his heart and not from his mouth. Painted Pole then took the wampum strings that Red Jacket had spoken on and threw them at the Seneca delegation’s feet. Red Jacket was sent back to the Americans with the Confederacy’s answer, “there would be no new boundary line”.

There was a tell-tale sign at that conference that Red Jacket’s task would be difficult if not impossible. In normal negotiations the Civil chiefs would sit in the front with the War Chiefs and warriors behind them. In this arrangement it would be the much easier Civil Chiefs that would negotiate. But at the Glaize the War Chiefs sat in front of the Civil Chiefs meaning that Red Jacket would be dealing with the War Chiefs.

The British sat in the wings waiting for the new republic’s experiment in democracy to fail and hoping at least for an “Indian boundary state” to be formed. The Spanish at New Orleans also sat by hoping for this new “Indian State” as it would serve as a buffer state preventing American expansion into Illinois country. The British even had observers at the Great Congress at the Glaize in the person of Indian Agent Alexander McKee and some of his men. Hendrick Aupaumut, a Mohican with Red Jacket’s emissaries, accused McKee of unduly influencing the conference’s outcome. But the Americans were not about to be deterred so easily.

NEXT WEEK:  The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 3


The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 1

July 9, 2011

United States’ Indian policy grew out of the idea that because First Nations fought on the side of the British during the Revolutionary War they lost the right of ownership to their lands when Britain ceded all territory east of the Mississippi. First Nations were told that the United States now owned their territories and they could expel them if they wished to do so. This right of land entitlement by reason of conquest stemmed from the hatred of “Indians” which had been seething for decades and the arrogance instilled by victory over the British. They needed First Nation’s lands northwest of the Ohio River to sell to settlers in order to raise much-needed revenue. But the impoverished new nation could not back up their new policy. So they took a different tact.

In March of 1785 Henry Knox was appointed Secretary of War and he began to institute a new policy. He proposed to Congress that there were two solutions in dealing with the First Nations. The first was to raise an army sufficient to extirpate them.

However, he reported to Washington and Congress that they didn’t have the money to fund such a project. The estimated population of the First Nations East of the Mississippi and south of the Great Lakes was 76,000. The Miami War Chief Little Turtle’s new “Confederation of Tribes” were quickly gaining numbers and strength and they were determined to stop American advancement at the Ohio. To try to beat them into submission not only seemed infeasible but immoral. He argued it was unethical for one people to gain by doing harm to another people and this could only harm America’s reputation internationally.

The second solution, which he favored, was to return to the pre-revolutionary policy of purchasing First Nation Lands through the cessation treaty process. In order to sell this idea to Washington and Congress he pointed out that the First Nations tenaciously held on to their territories and normally would not part with them for any reason. This was because being hunting societies the game on their lands supported their population. But, as proven in the past, time and again, when too many settlers moved into their territories game became scarce. Because the land was overrun by whites and ruined as a hunting territory they would always consider selling their territory and move their population further west

In 1785 an Ordinance was passed by Congress dividing the territory north and west of the Ohio River into states to be governed as a territory. In 1787 this Ordinance was improved upon by passing the Northwest Ordinance appointing Major General Arthur St. Clair governor of the new territory. The new Ordinance covered a huge tract of land encompassing the present-day states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Land would now be purchased and hostilities would cease unless “Indian” aggression were to provoke a “just war”. America was determined to expand westward as its very existence depended upon it. Clearly there would be “just wars”.

The first of these cession treaties was signed at Fort Harmar in 1789. This small cession did little to change the minds of the First Nations Confederacy. Hostilities continued provoking the first of the “just wars”. In 1790 President Washington authorized St. Clair to raise troops to punish Little Turtle’s  Confederacy of Miami, Shawnee, Ottawa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa nations. He raised an army of 1,200 militia and 320 regulars and set out from Fort Washington, Cincinnati, under the command of Brigadier General Josiah Harmar.

Little Turtle retreated before Harmar’s lumbering army. He led Harmar deep into enemy territory where he had set a trap in the Maumee River valley near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Harmar’s army was strung out in one long column. The trap was sprung and Little Turtle attacked Harmar’s flank killing 183 and wounding 31. Panic set in. Harmar retreated in disarray. Little Turtle pursued intent on wiping out the American army.  However, an eclipse of the moon the next night was interpreted as a bad omen so the pursuit was called off.

General Harmar claimed a victory but had to face a board of inquiry. The defeat was whitewashed but Harmar was replaced by General St. Clair who was a hero of the Revolutionary War. Little Turtle’s stunning success bolstered the ranks of the Confederacy. In 1791 St. Clair raised another army of 1,400 militia and 600 regulars. He marched them out of Fort Washington and took up a position on high ground overlooking the Wabash River.

Little Turtle and his war council decided take the Americans head on. Not their usually tactic it took St. Clair by surprise. Confederacy warriors scattered the Kentucky Militia. Other militiamen shooting wildly killed or wounded some of their own men. Bayonet charges were mowed down by fire from the surrounding woodlands. St. Clair tried to rally his troops but could not. With General Richard Butler, his commanding officer, wounded on the battlefield he ordered a retreat. It was no orderly one. Most flung their rifles aside and fled in a panic.

The American army was completely destroyed. Suffering nearly 1,000 casualties it would be the worst defeat ever suffered by the United States at the hands of the First Nations. Washington was livid. He angrily cursed St. Clair for being “worse than a murderer” and the defeat on the Wabash became know as St. Clair’s Shame. On the other hand First Nations’ hopes and confidence soared. 

NEXT WEEK: The Indian War of 1790-95 – Part 2