Beginning of the End

February 21, 2013

The distinguished Shawnee chief from Ohio was gone. For years after the war great controversy arose over who had killed him and what happened to his body. Much credence was at first given to Colonel Johnson as being the one to fire the fatal shot. The only thing that seems certain is that he did shoot a warrior at close range. By 1830 he was a senator for Kentucky and was being touted as a candidate for president and did rise to vice president in 1837. During this time many so-called witnesses who backed Johnson came forward to corroborate the story. Those who opposed him produced many more deniers. Credit for slaying the great chief had become valuable political capital but he had always resisted never claiming to done the deed. After all he had never seen the great chief in person. Finally he succumbed to temptation in 1843 by affirming that indeed it was him that shot Tecumseh dead, but there is no definitive proof.

Just as many stories swirled about as to where his body was put to rest. Many of the fallen warriors were scalped and mutilated at the end of the battle. Some were skinned for such things as souvenirs and to make items like razor straps. Harrison was shown one body the day after the battle as it lay mutilated on the field. He was told it was Tecumseh but it was so badly abused and the face so swollen that he could not recognize him. One story has the body given to the Canadians who took it back to Sandwich for burial. Another has him buried at the site of the battlefield. Mythical stories arose of his closest companions spiriting the body away to be buried in a secret place. There is a monument at Bkejwanong (Walpole Island, ON) that claims him to be resting on the island. Another possibility, if the story of him being carried away by his comrades is true, is that he may have been interred at the great burial mound west of Chatham. Other great war chiefs were taken there for burial as it was a great honor to be laid to rest with other fallen warriors.

The Battle of Moraviantown and especially the lost of Tecumseh effectively broke his confederacy. Many of the warriors who drifted away never came back. Ojibwa chief Naiwash of Saugeen complained the following year saying “perhaps the Master of Life would give us more luck if we would stick together as we formerly did . . . and we probably might go back and tread upon our own lands. Chiefs and warriors, since our great chief Tecumtha has been killed we do not listen to one another. We do not rise together. We hurt ourselves by it. It is our own fault . . . We do not go to war , rise together, but we go one or two, and the rest say they will go tomorrow.” But there were those who carried on like Wawanosh from Aamjiwnaang who fought at Lundy’s Lane and Megish, a Shawnee who was living at Little Bear Creek (North Sydenham River) in Upper Canada, who also  was killed at Lundy’s Lane. And of course the Caughnawaga Mohawks continued in the east at battles such as Chateauguay.

The War of 1812 ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. Nothing changed. The U.S./Canada border remained the same. First Nations were left out of the treaty process altogether. The war became a textbook example of how not to conduct a war. Like most wars it consisted of, at least for one side or the other, a series of blunders. One thing it did do for First Nations was usher in a new era. This was the last time they would be looked upon as allies. The future did not bode well for Tecumseh’s people.

In the fall of 1818 the Saulteaux Ojibwa of the St. Clair region were invited to an “Indian Council” at Amherstburg to treat with the British Indian Department for a large tract of land known as the Huron Tract. The Napoleonic Wars were over in Europe and there had been a great flux of immigration to Upper Canada. The Colonial Government of Upper Canada needed more land for the newly arrived settlers. On October 16th the council was convened. In attendance were twenty-seven chiefs and principal men of the bands as Chenaille Escarte, St. Clair, Sable and Thames rivers as well as Bear Creek. The colonial government was represented by John Askin, Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Lieutenant Colonel Evans recorded the minutes and J Bth Cadot served as interpreter.

The minutes record that it was the desire of the government to purchase all of the lands north of the Thames River owned by them and asked what their terms were for the tract’s disposal.

The chiefs responded affirmatively by saying a most curious thing. According to the minutes they replied they “were willing to sell our lands . . . that is our wish that he [the Lieutenant Governor of the Province] set the valuation on the tract required. The seller was asking the buyer to set the selling price!

We have here members from two different cultures not communicating. To understand the Ojibwa’s strange request one must also understand their culture. Various nations had always traded with each other but it was not like the trade Europeans conducted. For example when these Ojibwa lived on the north shore of Georgian Bay they traded with their Huron neighbors to the south. The Ojibwa were hunters and fishers while the Huron were more agrarian. Extra produce was exchanged each year but it was done in a spirit of sharing rather than one of negotiations. Commerce for this culture was a system of sharing and if one suffered some calamity such as drought and had no surplus the other shared theirs anyway.

This system flowed out of the Ojibwa worldview where human beings as in the Western creation story were created last. But the stories are diverse from there.  In the Western story humans are presented as the pinnacle of God’s creation and placed on the top of creation’s hierarchy even over and above their environment. The Creator instructs them to subdue and have dominion over it. In this culture any surplus was held back for the best price and if that could not be met the surplus goods could even be let go to waste.

In the Ojibwa story human beings were made weak and vulnerable. Their place on the hierarchy of creation was on the bottom. They were so vulnerable that the Creator called a council with all of creation. He asks the animals, birds, fish, and plants if they would give themselves as sustenance for humanity’s survival. They agreed. So all of nature provided for their sustenance making all things a gift from the Great Mystery. To hold any surplus back would be an affront to him so negotiations were unheard of. The word of this system of sharing was daawed.

Daawed was translated into English variably as sell, purchase, price or trade as understood in Western Culture. The British understood the treaty to mean land title transfer but the Ojibwa understood daawed to mean  a sharing of surpluses. They knew because of a great decrease in their population due to war and disease they had a surplus of land but they had no way of knowing what the government had in the way of a surplus to offer them. So they asked and daawed was translated here as valuation. All treaties with the Crown have such misunderstandings embedded in them and unfortunately these historic documents are still misunderstood today.

For the Ojibwa the treaty was set that day but for the British the treaty would undergo two more revisions and not be completed until nine years later. Treaty No. 29 would see the title for 2.2 million acres transferred to the Colonial Government of Upper Canada and the creation of four reserves containing less than 20,000 acres. From there it would be all downhill.For example, Canada would see the infamous Indian Act enacted in 1876. It is a stifling  paternalistic, monumental piece of legislation designed to control every aspect of First Nations lives. It is still in effect today. In 1887 the U.S. Congress would adopt the Dawes Act. This piece of legislation was designed to relieve First Nations of more of what little land they had left. Today, in Canada, First Nations are calling for the treaty relationship with the Government of Canada to be reset to a nation to nation basis. One of equal partnership sharing the land and its resources as the original treaties called for. The struggle continues.


A Four Pronged Attack!

January 6, 2010

Here we are, another New Year. Best wishes to everyone and may this be your special year, full of good health, good times and prosperity! Last week the new moon had arrived and the four pronged attack on the Iroquois had begun. At the same time Young Gull was annihilating the Seneca town on the Thames White Cloud’s force landed at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula at what today is Cabots Head.

White Cloud was the leading war chief of the Amikouai Ojibway or Beaver People from the north shore of Georgian Bay. His division consisted of Ojibwa warriors and their first encounter was with a small force of Mohawks as soon as they landed. The battle continued to Griffith Island where this small band of Mohawks were finished off.

At the same time Young Gulls forces arrived at Saugeen where there was a Mohawk town. A great battle was fought there on the flats of the Saugeen River near the mouth. Evidence of this battle was still visible some 150 years later when the artist Paul Kane visited there. He wrote in his memoirs that he saw great burial mounds with many human bones protruding out of them. This battle is still know today as the Battle of Skull Mound.

Some of the other encounters in the area with the Mohawks were the Fishing Islands at Red Bay just north of the Saugeen. The bay was given its name for the condition of the waters after the battle that occurred there. Three hundred Mohawk warriors were defeated where they had entrenched themselves on White Cloud Island in Colpoys Bay. The island of course was named after the victorious Ojibwa chief.  There were other skirmishes at Skull Island in Georgian Bay so named because of the large quantities of human skulls left there. The Iroquois also suffered defeats at the Clay Banks near present-day Walkerton, Ontario, at Indian Hill near the Teeswater River and at Wadiweediwon or Owen Sound, Ontario.

Young Gull joined White Cloud at Owen Sound and both divisions moved east to Nottawasaga Bay where they encountered a body of 1000 Iroquois warriors who had moved down the Nottawasaga River. They met at the mouth of this river where the Iroquois were overwhelmed by the far superior numbers of the Three Fires. The Ojibwa called the Iroquois people Naudoways meaning serpents and saugeeng means a coming out place. So the meaning of both the Nottawasaga River and Bay is the coming out place of the Naudoways.

Sahgimah’s Ottawa had made landfall on the Penetanguishene Peninsula where they vanquished a force of about 1200 Iroquois who had arrived via the Lake Simcoe route. They moved south from there to Lake Couchiching where they fought another battle just north of present-day Orillia, Ontario.

While all this was going on Bald Eagle and his eastern division of Mississauga met a force of Iroquois along the Mattawa River. Human bones have been found there attesting to this battle as late as the 20th century.  Following the victory there Bald Eagle encountered the Iroquois at the Otonabee River near Lakefield, the Moira River near Madoc and at Rice Lake. He then pushed west to destroy towns at the mouths of the Rouge River and the Humber River on Lake Ontario. There was also an Iroquois town at Burlington Bay where the Iroquois put up a stiff resistance. However, the Mississauga Ojibwa were just to numerous and they succumbed. There was an old Indian Trail that ran between Burlington Bay and the Grand River. Halfway along this trail was another Iroquois town which also capitulated to Bald Eagle.

Two major chiefs of the Five Nations approached the Earl of Bellomont, Governor of New England at Albany for help. He promised that if the British would help them in their war with the Three Fires they would have no further dealings with the French. But the British were neither in the position nor were they interested in helping their First Nation allies. They were most interested in the fur trade so the Governor’s advice to the two Iroquois sachems was to make peace seeing they were vastly outnumbered and further war would only end in their destruction.

The French were also only interested in the fur trade and with all this warring going on there was little trade being done. The French had much influence with the First Nations of the Upper Country so the Governor General of New France, Louis-Hector de Callieres, brokered a peace not only between the Three Fires Confederacy and the Five Nation Iroquois League but several other First Nations who were also fighting amongst themselves at this time. This peace conference at Montreal culminated in the Great Peace Treaty of 1701. The Iroquois War was over and the Five Nations had been dispersed to their original homeland of upstate New York. This left Southern Ontario a great vacuum.

NEXT WEEK: Great Changes and Expansions


The New Moon Arrives!

December 29, 2009

Well, Christmas is over. I hope everyone had a fine holiday. I enjoyed three Christmas dinners but I’m paying for it. I now have a few extra pounds to work off! My last post had the Three Fires warriors stealthily move into place for an all out attack on the Iroquois in Southern Ontario.

When the new moon arrived all four divisions went on the offensive. The western division had been camping along the western shore of Lake St. Clair and when the time arrived we moved around the top of the lake to the eastern shore and up the Horn River. We called it the Horn because it took the shape of an antler. The French would later call it Riviere La Trenche but today it is known as the Thames.

About 12 miles up the Thames, just west of the current city of Chatham, Ontario there was a very large Seneca town. Young Gull and his warriors put it under seige. During the first offensive against the well fortified town some Seneca warriors escaped with the plan to flee back to their homeland in up-state New York  then return with reinforcements. Young Gull sent a large force of Wyandotte in hot pursuit.

The seige lasted a few days before Young Gull’s forces finally burned their way through the double palisade. There was little the town’s 400 warriors could do. The western division was there with all its might, 3200 warriors minus the Wyandotte pursuing the escapees. A tide of fierce Ojibwa and Potawatomi warriors surged into the town massacring everyone in sight. None survived. The end was furious but mercifully it came quick.

All of the bodies of the slain were desecrated. They were decapitated and all the heads piled in a large pyramid. Later this pyramid of skulls would serve as a warning to all of the fierce power the Three Fires Confederacy.  The remainder of the bodies were dismembered and scattered. This was our practice and would prevent the enemy from entering the afterlife.

The warriors of the western division that fell in battle were buried in a mass grave with all funeral rites afforded the brave and loyal. They were buried with all of their weapons and daily utensils. This would provide them with the necessary items to make their four-day journey to the land of souls as easy as possible. The mass grave created a huge burial mound. It was still there some 115 years later when recorded on a British Naval Surveyor’s Map of the River Thames c 1815. The note on this map reads, “In the side of this knoll there are great quantities of human bones. A battle is said to have been fought between the Chippewas and Senekies contending for the dominion of this country, when the latter were put to flight with great slaughter and driven across the river at Niagara.”

The Seneca reinforcements never arrived. Young Gull’s Wyandotte warriors returned from Niagara to lay in wait at Long Point on Lake Erie. A huge force of Seneca came skirting along the north shore of the lake headed pell-mell for their town on the Thames. When they arrived at Long Point they were ambushed. The Iroquois typically used dug out canoes which were much heavier and more cumbersome than bark canoes. The Seneca were easily outmanoeuvred and all were killed on the lake. This is one of the few Native American naval battles to have occurred.

The victorious pursuers rejoined the main body of Young Gull’s warriors. They moved up the St. Clair river and then northward along the eastern shoreline of Lake Huron. Meanwhile, the other three divisions moved on their targets with equal devastation.

NEXT WEEK: A Four Pronged Attack!