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Tradition of Pontiac's Conspiracy and Death

Native American Nations | Thirty Years with the Indians

Tradition of Pontiac's conspiracy and death--Patriot war--Expedition of a body of 250 men to Boisblanc--Question of schools and missions among the Indians--Indian affairs--Storm at Michilimackinack--Life of Brant--Interpreterships and Indian language--A Mohegan--Affair of the "Caroline"--Makons--Plan of names for new towns--Indian legends--Florida war--Patriot war--Arrival of Gen. Scott on the frontiers--Resume of the difficulties of the Florida war--Natural history and climate of Florida--Death of Doctor Lutner.

1838. Jan. 1st. OFFICE OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, DETROIT,--In the recent trip to Flint River, Mr. Henry Conner told me one day that he had been acquainted with the Indian person who, in 1763, informed Major Gladwyn, the commanding officer at Detroit, of Pontiac's conspiracy.

The affair had other motives than Carver imagines. She thought more of saving the life of Major Gladwin than of saving the whole Anglo-Saxon race. She had been a very handsome person in her youth, being nearly white, though of Indian blood. Owing to her gallantries, her husband had bit off her nose. When an old woman, she became intemperate, and, on one of these occasions, at a sugar camp on the Clinton River, she fell backward into a boiling kettle of sap, and thus perished. Truly "the way of the transgressor is hard."

He stated the tradition respecting Pontiac's death as it was related by a chief who well knew the facts. The English made great efforts to conciliate a man of such powerful abilities and influence, and endeavored to enlist him as an ambassador among the Western Indians to bring them into their interests. Pontiac used deception in appearing to fall in with their views, and went on this business to the country of the Illinois, which was then about to be surrendered to them. They took the precaution to send with him, as an associate, a chief called Chianocquot, or the Big Cloud, who was strongly attached to their interests. When Pontiac reached the region of the Illinois posts, instead of persuading the Indians to peace and friendship with the English, he advised them not to surrender the country, and, in his addresses to them, he used the most persuasive arguments to dissuade them from permitting the surrendry at all, and gave vent to his natural feelings and sentiments in favor of the French and against the English.

This had been his policy at Detroit. He appeared instinctively to dread the advance of the English race, or, perhaps, really foresaw that their arts and industry, against the adoption of which he so vehemently inveighed, would uproot and crush the aboriginal race. Chianocquot was roused to anger by this duplicity and dispatched him1.

Mr. Conner continued: Pontiac's village and residence near Detroit was Peach Island and the main shore directly abreast of it, north-east. In the summer he lived on the island, and in the winter on the main land.

Pontiac was offended at the Indian who, during the siege, killed McDougel, and would have put him to death for the act had the murderer not fled. The man who did it had been absent, and did not know that this officer had received permission to return to the fort.

4th. Walter Lowrie, Esq., Secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions at New York, writes that the Executive Committee have determined to establish a mission and school among the Chippewas and Ottawas of Lake Michigan as early in the spring as suitable men can be procured.

8th. The Canadian, or patriot war, is now at its height. The city has been kept in a perfect turmoil by it for weeks. The setting fire to outbuildings or deserted houses almost every dark night, appears to be connected with it. One dark night I stumbled and fell on an uneven pavement on a part of Jefferson Avenue, and immediately a voice cried "Hurrah for Canada!" There was an intense excitement among the lower classes in its favor, which it required a high degree of moral energy in the lovers of law and order to keep down.

This morning a conservative force of 250 volunteer militia embarked, at two P.M., in a steamer for Amherstburg (the Malden of the war of 1812), to demand the surrendry of the State arms recently taken from their place of deposit--the city jail. This demand is to be made of the patriot refugee force from Canada, who are about to take post on the island of Boisblanc, at the mouth of the Detroit River. It was a well-armed force, with muskets and cartridge-boxes well filled; but it was found that, on the way down the river, their cartridge-boxes had been relieved, by persons friendly to the patriots on board, of every particle of ammunition. The detachment returned about eleven o'clock at night, having proved wholly unsuccessful in the object of the movement.

Mr. Ball, a representative in the local legislature from Kent County, called this day to inquire into the propriety of establishing a sub-agency at Grand Rapids, on Grand River, for the ostensible benefit of the Ottawas in that quarter. The question of the division of funds between schools established for a part of the same people at Gull Prairie, under the care of Mr. Slater, and the separate school at Sault Ste. Marie, in Chippewa County, in the care of Mr. Bingham, both of which are under the general direction of the Baptist Missionary Board at Boston, was considered and approved, and letters written accordingly.

These efforts, at detached points, to improve the race must, we are inclined to believe, eventually fail. Two races so diverse in mind and habits cannot prosper together permanently; but the hope is that temporary good may be done. An Indian who is converted and dies in the faith, is essentially "a brand plucked out of the fire," and no man can undertake to estimate the moral value of the act. A child who is taught to read and write is armed with two requisites for entering civilized life. But the want of general efficient efforts, unobstructed by local laws and deleterious influences, cannot but, in a few years, convince the Boards that the colonization of the tribes West is the best, if not the only hope of prosperity to the race as a race.

9th. Lieut. E. S. Sibley, U.S.A., sets out to pay the Grand River Indians. I commissioned Charles H. Oakes, Esq., to witness the pay rolls. Mr. Conner returns the same day from attending the payments of the Swan Creek and Black River bands. He reports the Indians on the American side of the lines not disposed to engage in the present unhappy contest in the Canadas. Exertions, he affirms, have been made by the British authorities to induce the Chippewas living in Canada, opposite to the mouth of Black River, to engage in the conflict against their revolted people, but without success. They threatened, if matters were pushed, to flee to the American side. He states, also, that a council to the same effect had been held with the Canada Indians opposite Peach Island, at the foot of Lake St. Glair, which resulted in the same declaration.

12th. The appraisement rolls transmitted to Washington by Messrs. Macdonnel & Clarke, the appraisers appointed under the 8th article of the treaty of 28th March, 1836, were judged to be too high; and the subject was referred for revision to Maj. Garland and myself. I this day transmitted a joint reply of the major and myself, stating how impossible it would be to revise so complex a subject without opportunities of personal examination in each case--a business which neither of us desires.

16th. Received the first winter express from Mackinack, transmitting reports from the various persons in official employ there. They report a great storm at that place on the 8th and 9th of December, 1837, in the course of which the light-house on Boisblanc was blown down, and other damage done by the rise of water.

18th. Received the Senate's printed document, No. 1, containing the President's annual message and all the Secretaries' reports. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs recommends the abolition of sub-agencies, and the raising of the pay of interpreters--two measures recommended in my annual report. The department is very much in the hands of ignorant and immoral interpreters, who frequently misconceive the point to be interpreted. Could we raise up a set of educated and moral men for this duty, the department would stand on high grounds. Surely, a sort of normal institute could teach the principles of the Indian grammar, as well as the Greek. There is no sound without a meaning, and no meaning conveyed without an orthographical rule. They do not gabble at random, as some think. Their modes of utterance are, it is true, often defective, but they are not without grammatical laws, I inquired into this matter at my first entrance into the Indian country of the Algonquins, sixteen years ago. I found that verbs had eight classes of conjugations, and ten including the broad vowels; five declensions of nouns, and two sets of pronouns, one to be placed before and the other at the end of the verb and substantive. That all substantives could be changed into verbs; that there were a stock of adjective and prepositional participles, and that the mode of forming compounds and derivatives was varied, but all subject to the most exact rules. They have a very accurate appreciation of sound and its varied meanings, and are pushed to use figures to help out or illustrate a meaning; but the excessive refinements of syntax, for which some contend, are theories in the minds of unpracticed collaborators.

18th. I wrote to Mr. Palfrey, E.N.A.R., declining to review Stone's "Brant," and apprizing him of the preparation of an article on the "North-west," by Mr. I. Lanman. "I take this occasion to say that I have received the proof-sheets of some hundred and fifty pages of Col. Stone's Life of Brant. It is a work somewhat discursive, and involves some critical points in Indian history and customs. I should not feel willing to commence a notice of it, without having the whole before me. The hero of the work hardly exerts influence enough on the revolutionary contest to justify the attempt of piling on him so much of the materials of that momentous contest, and I think, moreover, there is a perceptible attempt made to whitewash a man who lived and died with no slight nor undeserved opprobrium."

19th. Hendrick Apaumut, a Mohegan chief, of Wisconsin, applied for aid, in money, to facilitate his journey to Washington. What the Indians lack, in their business affairs, is system and method; foresight to plan, and stability to carry into effect.

Received a copy of the message of the President, communicating the thrilling circumstances of the recent massacre on board of the ill-fated steamer "Caroline," and the gross outrage of national rights committed by the burning of that boat and the destruction of her crew. Palliatives for the act will undoubtedly be plead; but the act itself will probably make a hero, in the estimation of his countrymen, of Mr. McNab, if it does nothing more.

22d. The friends of education in Michigan, having assembled in convention, issue a circular calling attention to that vital subject, and recommend a "Journal of Public Instruction" to the patronage of the people. There can be no fear of our institutions as long as education is cherished.

24th. Maconse (the Little Bear), chief of the Swan Creeks, writes to Gov. Mason that it is reported some of his people are about to join the Canadian authorities to put down the partial revolt. The Governor, probably thinking I would better know how to deal with him, sends the letter to me. The fellow, whose moral code is not very high, only meant to give himself a little consequence by it. Both he and his people will take good care to keep out of harm's way.

24th. Gov. Mason informs me that he has communicated to the Legislature of Michigan my plan for a system of Indian names communicated to him on the 12th instant, for the new counties and towns, founded on the idea of the avoidance of the number of dead letters reported as annually received at Washington, from their misdirection. This misdirection is supposed to arise chiefly from great repetition of old township, city, county, and village names. Let any one take up a gazetteer or post-office list who wishes to see this. Names that are sonorous and appropriate are rejected; but there is hardly a county in any of the new States without their Springfields, and Fairfields, and Oxfords, and Warwicks without number. Where they do not abound taste is often put to shame. Mud Creek, and Jack's Corner, and Shingle Hollow are doubtless appropriate names compared to some. But cannot we supply a remedy by drawing on the aboriginal vocabulary?

26th. Completed the revision of a body of Indian oral legends, collected during many years with labor. These oral tales show up the Indian in a new light. Their chief value consists in their exhibition of aboriginal opinions. But, if published, incredulity will start up critics to call their authenticity in question. There are so many Indian tales fancied, by writers, that it will hardly be admitted that there exist any real legends. If there be any literary labor which has cost me more than usual pains, it is this. I have weeded out many vulgarisms. I have endeavored to restore the simplicity of the original style. In this I have not always fully succeeded, and it has been sometimes found necessary, to avoid incongruity, to break a legend in two, or cut it short off.

The steamer "Robert Fulton" arrived at Detroit, with three companies of U.S. troops, under the command of Col. Worth, to keep up neutrality, put down the wild "patriot movement," and prevent disturbances on the frontier.

27th. Mr. Trowbridge tells me that he has heard of the arrival of our minister to France (Gen. Cass), at Port Mahon, with his family, on his return to Paris, from his Mediterranean tour. He had carried out a letter to Com. Elliot, from the President, to offer him every facility in this trip to visit the sites of Oriental cities.

30th. Transmit to Washington a plan and estimates for building a dormitory at Mackinack, under the provision of the treaty of March, 1836. Such a building has been long called for at that point, where the Indians are often sojourners, without a place to sleep, or cook the provisions furnished them.

Feb. 1st. The Knickerbocker Magazine says: "That the Indian oratory contains many attributes of true eloquence. With a language so barren, and minds too free for the rules of rhetoric, they still attained a power of touching the feelings, and a sublimity of style, which rival the highest productions of their more cultivated enemies."

7th. Mr. Palfrey, in a letter of this date, observes: "I have only to repeat that, in the preparation of the article (on Stone's 'Brant'--which I hope you will not think of giving up), I trust you will not hesitate to introduce, with the utmost freedom, whatever your respect for the truth of history, and distaste for the tricks of bookmaking, may dictate."

11th. General Jessup writes to the department that, "we have committed the error of attempting to remove the Seminoles, when their lands were not required for agricultural purposes, when they were not in the way of the white inhabitants, and when the greater portion of their country was an unexplored wilderness, of the interior of which we were as ignorant as of the interior of China." He recommends a line of occupancy west of the Kissamee and Okee Chubbe, which they may be allowed to occupy.

20th. W. Lowrie, Esq., S.P.B.F. Missions, in a letter of this date, says: "I was glad to see your suggestion to the government in relation to a cabinet and library in the Indian office."

22d. Charles E. Anderson, Esq., of New York, announces his intention to visit Europe. "I will not leave here until the 15th of March, at least, when I shall take out my wife with me, and anticipate much gratification in presenting her to such a pattern of goodness and true feminine excellence as Mrs. Cass. Anything you wish to forward I will attend to with pleasure, and when in Paris will not forget the interesting subject of your letter, and will inform you what books may be obtained respecting the early history of the country."

26th. Gen. Scott this day arrived at Detroit, with a view to quiet the disturbances on the lines, and see to the proper disposition of the troops along the chain of lakes to effect this end. I immediately called on him, and offered him any of the peculiar facilities, which are at the command of the Indian department, in sending expresses in the Indian country, &c.

27th. Major H. Whiting, U.S.A., writes from St. Augustine, Florida: "I have been favored with your letter of a month since, it having, I dare say, made all due diligence the post office arrangements admit. But the time shows the sort of intercourse I am doomed to have with my Detroit friends. I consider that the country ought to feel under obligations to one who serves her at such a sacrifice. Indeed, she can make us no adequate return, but to allow me to return--the only return I ask. When, however, that favor will be granted is past my guessing. You ask when the war will terminate? You could not puzzle any of us more than by putting such a question. We are more at our wit's end than the war's end. And yet I do not see that anything has been left undone, that might have been done. The army has moved steadily toward its objects. But those objects are like a mirage, they are always nearly the same distance off. What can we do in such a case?

"The army for the last few weeks has been operating in a country that is more than half under water. It has often been difficult to find a spot dry enough for an encampment. If the troops do not all come out web-footed, it is because water can't make a duck's leg.

"I am on the lookout for specimens. I have one small alligator's bones, and have laid in for those of a larger one, an old settler, no doubt going back to Bartram's days. Alligators here have suffered more than the Indians in this war. I should judge that several hundreds have been killed from the boats as they pass up and down. They all have a bed just in the bank of the river, where they sleep in the sun, and the temptation is too great for any rifle, and they generally wake up a little too late. Mineral specimens here are not various. I have collected a few in order to show my friends, who can draw inferences from them. Shells have had a principal hand in the formation of this peninsula. They form the ninety-ninth part of the rock in this quarter. It is a most convenient formation, being worked almost as easily as clay, and yet it makes substantial walls. Frost, I presume, would play the deuce with it. But that is a thing not much known here. I have not yet had the pleasure to fix my northern eye on a piece of ice this winter, though there has been a cream thickness of it once or twice. A pitcher frozen over here makes more noise than the river frozen over at Detroit. The frogs have piped here all winter--happy dogs. I have been out at all times and in all places, and I don't think my nose has been blue but once since I have been here--I have not been blue myself once. I have not yet been to Ponce de Leon's spring. But there are some springs here of a wondrous look. They are so transparent that the fish can scarce believe themselves there in their own element. The Mackinack waters are almost turbid to them. They have a most sulphurous odour, and might renew a man's youth, but it must be at the expense of all sweet smells. I would rather keep on than go back on such conditions.

"In the fight which Lieut. Powell had with the Indians, a Doctor Lutner was killed, who was a scientific man, and had joined the expedition to botanize, &c. He had already done something in that way, and would have done much more. Such a life is a great loss."

1: Nicollet, in his Hydrographical Report in 1841, has placed this tradition in its proper light. He gives a somewhat different account of Pontiac's death, which he states to have taken place when he was in liquor, and the blow was insidiously given.

A Kaskaskia Indian, it seems, was hired for a barrel of rum by an Indian trader to commit the act. The blow he inflicted by his club fractured the skull of his victim, who lingered a while, but eventually died of the wound. This was at Fort Chartres, in Illinois.

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Personal Memoirs of a Residence of Thirty Years with the Indian Tribes on the American Frontiers, 1851

Thirty Years with the Indians


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