Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



THE Indians along the border, at the close of the French war, were many of them in almost open hostility. There was much discontent in the north-west, and one of the Six Nations, the Senecas, was involved in it. It was discovered that these Indians had sent belts of wampum to the tribes of the northwest, inviting the Wyandots to massacre the garrison at Detroit, and plotting, in conjunction with the Delawares and Shawnees, to fall treacherously upon Niagara and Fort Pitt.

Under these circumstances Johnson set out on a wearisome wilderness journey to Detroit to hold a general Indian council. At Niagara he called a council of the Senecas. He told them about the discovery of their plot, and asked the meaning of such conduct. They replied with innocent surprise, denying all knowledge of such a conspiracy, and confirming their speech as usual with a belt. But Sir William was not in a mood for the mild remonstrances which he commonly used when dealing with the Indians. He had gained their affection and respect by his kindliness, and now when he used harsh words they were effective.

" As this is so villainous an affair," said he, " and carried so far, I must tell you plainly that I look upon what you now tell me as only an evasion and a kind of excuse to blind us. And I tell you that all the excuses you can make, and all the rhetoric your nation is the master of, will not satisfy the general nor convince me of your innocence, unless a deputation of your chiefs appears at the general meeting which I am now calling at Detroit, and there, in the presence of all the nations, declares your innocence and disapprobation of what was done by the two messengers last month at Detroit. This I expect you will do to show your brethren your innocence and all the Indians your detestation of so vile a plot." Sir William then returned their belt to show them that he did not believe what they had said. This staggered the Indians They consulted together for some time.

" Brother," they said at last, " you are very hard Upon us after our honest declaration of innocence. However, as \t does not give you satisfaction, We will send off to-morrow morning: your belt to our nation, with what you have said thereon, and we doubt not but some of our chief men will be ready to go to the proposed meeting at Detroit, and there satisfy you and the world of their innocence."

Sir William Johnson gave them some presents, such as must always sugar-coat any transaction with the Indians. They wanted ammunition. " How can you expect ammunition to be given to a people who are mad enough to think of quarrelling with the English?" said Johnson. Nevertheless he gave them enough to kill some game on their way home.

When Sir William Johnson had arrived at Detroit he was waited on by deputations of Indians with presents of corn. He returned the compliment by giving them pipes and tobacco, with the feast of a barbecued ox.

Before the opening of the great Indian council Johnson was kept occupied with various official business, but, like the gentlemen of his time, he found leisure to attend the balls given at Detroit in his honor, and to dance till five o'clock in the morning.

With the firing of two cannon the great Indian council opened. An immense concourse of the savages had gathered from the north, west, and south to see the man at whose house was the council-fire of the Six Nations. They were all in gala dress, painted and ornamented; for no one is more particular about personal appearance than the Indian. When the council was gathered Sir William and his officers, in full uniform, walked into the assembly. Johnson then made them a long friendly speech, after which the council adjourned till the following day, lest, said the Wyandot chiefs, some of the Indians, loitering around the fort, might get drunk. On the following day two cannon were again fired, and the great council again gathered. The nations of the north-west made a very satisfactory answer to Sir William's speech. Kaiaghshota, a Seneca chief, arose, and made an elegant speech clearing himself and his nation of participating in the recent plot. But Adariaghta, an influential Wyandot brave, sprang to his feet and confronted the Seneca with an exact account of how he had been one of the main plotters, and had been with the messengers sent to the Wyandots by the Senecas. Upon this an Ohio Indian, called the White Mingo, spoke accusing the Wyandot of endeavoring in his turn to incite the Indians of his locality to a massacre of the English garrisons. A hubbub ensued, which was likely to end in blows, when Sir William dissolved the assembly, announcing that to-morrow he would distribute presents, of which he had brought a large quantity with him. The council ended, and in a few more days Johnson started for home, first giving a farewell dinner and ball to the inhabitants of Detroit.

Many Indian tribes had been forced by the results of the war to change from a long alliance with the French to an alliance with the English power. The French were most adroit in Indian diplomacy, insinuating themselves sometimes even into the affections of the implacable Iroquois. With some few notable exceptions, such as Sir William Johnson, Captain John Smith, and William Henry Harrison, the English and Americans were far from being successful managers of Indians. In the forts, where they had been formerly flattered and loaded with presents by the French, they found themselves gruffly treated, and their annual gifts stinted and sometimes cut off entirely. The English Government, now that there was no dangerous rival to compete with it in the affections of the Indians, unwisely thought to economize by stopping all gift-making. Moreover, the Indians, encroached upon by forts and settlements from all sides, and no longer courted by rival powers, found that their dignity and influence were fast waning. These were the causes of the fearful war which broke upon the remoter settlements, annihilating the garrisons, and sweeping from existence all the smaller forts of the west. The master-spirit of this war was the great Pontiac, who had laid a plot to massacre the garrison of Detroit, which only failed through the tender heart of a Chippewa girl, who revealed the conspiracy to the commandant.

While this bloody war was raging, it was most important that Sir William Johnson should preserve friendly relations with the Six Nations, otherwise the frontier of New York would have been devastated and all communication with the western posts cut off. The more eastern tribes of the confederacy were inclined to " hold fast to the chain of friendship," as they expressed it; but the Senecas, who were much the most powerful, having fully a thousand warriors, were implicated in the conspiracy. Sir William Johnson held various councils with the friendly Iroquois at this time. In one of his speeches he handed them an axe, saying, with regard to the Senecas, " I now deliver you a good English axe, which I desire you will give to the warriors of all your nations, with directions to use it against these covenant-breakers by cutting off the bad links which have sullied the chain of friendship."

Through the influence of Sir William Johnson, the friendly Indians of the Six Nations sent this message to their old subjects who were in open hostility: " Cousins, the Delawares : We have heard that many wild Indians in the west, who have tails like bears, have let fall the chain of friendship and taken up the hatchet against our brethren the English. We desire you to hold fast to the chain, and shut your ears against their words."

Notwithstanding all this, bands of hostile Indians occasionally got a chance at the more remote settlements of New York. A general terror spread over the country. The inhabitants of one settlement fled for life, terrified by hearing a band of hunters fire their guns off simultaneously at a covey of partridges. The hostile tribes especially threatened Sir William Johnson's life on account of his influence with the Iroquois. He armed his tenants, numbering some hundred and twenty Highland Scotch families, and fortified his home.

A war-party of the hostile Senecas lay in ambush on the carry at Niagara rapids and falls. As a convoy of wagons from Fort Schlosser, escorted by twenty-four soldiers, wound along the road, they rushed upon them, butchering them and driving- men, horses, and wagons over a precipice into the ravine known as the Devil's Hole. Two companies of soldiers hurrying- to their relief shared the same fate, and the Senecas returned with eighty scalps.

The friendly Iroquois had accepted Sir William Johnson's axe, and engaged themselves in the various expeditions of smaller war-parties against the hostile Indians. It was in such expeditions that Brant fought during the Pontiac war. He was a tall, handsome young- Indian, with a rather lighter complexion than most of his race and a very bright eye. In the light costume of the Indian warrior, divested of blanket and shirt, and decorated with war-paint, he sang the dismal warsong- and danced the war-dance around the Mohawk camp-fire, joined by some ambitious young men who were ready to go to battle under his leasership They nourished their hatchets over each others' heads, worked themselves into ferocious courage, and then set out upon the war-path. They creep through the unbroken forest, noticing every trail and marking the slightest sound. They come upon the track of a small war-party like themselves, and creep stealthily upon their camp, kill a hostile Delaware chief, and take three prisoners. With the scalp waving like a banner before them, and the prisoners bound and guarded, they march triumphantly to their village, and from there to Johnson Hall to receive approbation and perhaps a reward from the baronet; for he at one time offered fifty dollars apiece for the heads of two chiefs of the Delawares. Such was the warfare in which Brant engaged. An Indian who boldly carries out such expeditions gains renown as a brave, and is on the road to chieftaincy in coming battles.

The mere fact of the body of the Six Nations having taken the part of the English had a very salutary effect upon the hostile Indians. The Senecas were quick to sue for peace. Sir William Johnson was overrun with business in settling the affairs of both friendly and hostile Indians. In 1764 he wrote: " I have at present every room in my house full of Indians, and the prospect before me of continual business all the winter, as the Shawnees and Delawares may be expected in a few days." In finally making the great peace, Pontiac said : " I now deliver my pipe to be sent to Sir William Johnson, that he may know I have made peace and taken the king of England for my father in presence of all the nations now assembled; and whenever any of these nations go to visit him they may smoke out of it with him in peace."

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