Thursday, November 17, 2005

More on Pontiac

November 17, 1764: Pontiac's army surrenders at the Muskingham River.


Excerpt from "In the Country of the Walking Dead" by Walter O'Meara, published by Award Books. pp.18-19:

In King Phillip's War and the Seven Years' War the Indians were for the first time sucked into the white man's quarrels in a big way - with, as usual, disastrous consequences.

King Philip's War ended with Philip's head on a pole in Plymouth and the power of his people finished forever. The Seven Years' War brought defeat to the French and the loss of their vast domain east of the Mississippi. This was a staggering blow to the Indians, most of whom had fought on the losing side. Who was there now to block the steady push of the settlers into their hunting grounds? Who was to save them from the insatiable land hunger of the English? Bitter, defeated, resentful, they knew in their hearts what the answer was: it was nobody.

There was one Indian, however, who was willing to try. He was Pontiac, a war chief of the Ottawa. Pontiac, to be sure, did not know that the struggle between the French and the British was already over. And when he began to organize the tribes in the Ohio country for an attack on the British forts in that area, the French did not bother to tell him the war was already lost.

Pontiac's uprising was at first successful. A whole string of wilderness forts fell to his warriors, but at Detroit the great chief was thwarted by the Indian mistress of an officer who, turning informer, warned the British of the impending attack. Six months later Pontiac was still pinned down before the fort, while at Fort Pitt a small but stubborn force defied the Delaware, Mingo and Shawnee.

It was now that the Indians first came into solid contact with a new breed of foe - the Scotch-Irish frontiersman. While the British troops and Pontiac's forces were waging more or less organized warfare in the Great Lakes region, it was the riflemen of the backwoods who dealt with the border raiders.

These Ulster Presbyterians, of whom about 40,000 had settled on the frontier, played rough ... Hungry for land, they were perfectly willing to annihilate the Indians in order to get it. As a beginning, they shot and hatcheted all the peaceful Indians they could find in the neighborhood - women and children, as well as men. Then they marched a thousand strong on Philadelphia, with the idea of massacring a band of Christian Delaware. But the Quakers spirited away the Indians and bought off the backwoodsmen with a promise of scalp bounties.

Pontiac's War ended in defeat and disillusionment for the great chief and his warriors. All its blood-letting and suffering had proved nothing but man's shocking capacity for cruelty. It had served only t intensify the frontier's deadly hatreds - and to push the Indians still deeper into their dark swamp of desperation and despair.


From: Lee Sultzman's detailed history at :

A drought in the summer of 1762 brought famine that winter and increased discontent. At the same time a new religious movement of Neolin took hold among the Delaware and spread to the other tribes. Preaching a rejection of trade goods and a return to traditional native values, its most important convert was Pontiac, the Ottawa chief at Detroit. The leader of one of the most important tribes of the French alliance, Pontiac's mother was an Ojibwe, and he was also an important member of the Metai (Grand Medicine Society), a secret religious society in most of the Great Lakes tribes. Turning Neolin's religion into a call for revolt against the British, Pontiac sent messengers to the tribes assuring them of French support and received pledges from most, including the Illini. The British heard rumors but ignored them. When it hit in May, 1763, the Pontiac Rebellion captured nine of the twelve British forts west of the Appalachians. Three forts held, and as the British recovered from the initial shock, they brought troops back from the West Indies, and the uprising began to collapse. Especially critical was Pontiac's failure to capture the British post at Detroit. After a six-month siege, Pontiac learned of the peace between Britain and France. After agreeing to a truce, he withdrew to northern Indiana. That winter he made plans to salvage the situation, but as British troops advanced west the following summer, his allies deserted him and make their own peace. Pontiac, however, still had a considerable following in the west. Hoping to organize another rebellion in the west, he dispatched war belts to French allies on the lower Mississippi asking them to prevent the British from coming up the Mississippi to take the Illinois country. The Choctaw and Tunica responded, and the British had to fight their way past Baton Rouge, but, with this resistance, they went little farther.

The Illini had a desperate stake in French control of the Illinois country and had supported the rebellion, but it was with words rather than warriors. With French authority virtually nil, the Sauk had been pressing the Illini, and there had nearly been war between them during 1761. This was particularly frustrating for Pontiac, since the Illini were reluctant to commit warriors to his fight which were needed to defend themselves from neighboring tribes. He was finally won their promise of support only after threatening to attack them himself if they refused. With this very reluctant alliance, Pontiac then proceeded to Fort de Chartres with 400 warriors to to ask the French for supplies and gunpowder, but there was none. Captain Louis St. Ange de Bellerieve was an officer with a fort, and little else. His troops had been evacuated to New Orleans in July taking their powder they had with them. St. Ange was waiting patiently for the British to arrive and advised Pontiac to make peace.

Pontiac had some success in 1764 when the Kickapoo forced a British force sent to take the surrender of Fort de Chartres to turn back. The following May, a second expedition commanded by George Croghan was attacked by Mascouten and Kickapoo warriors near the Wabash. Groghan was captured, but three Shawnee chiefs in his escort were killed. Rather than risk war with the Shawnee, the Kickapoo turned Croghan over to Miami and asked them to ask the British to "cover the dead" with the Shawnee. While he was with them, the Miami arranged a meeting with Pontiac at Fort Ouiatenon., and heeding St. Ange's advice, Pontiac agreed to "bury the hatchet" and accompanied Croghan to Detroit in October to sign a peace. With Pontiac's surrender and the Kickapoo suddenly beholden to the British, the way was open to the Illinois country. That same month, St. Ange surrendered Fort de Chartres to Captain Thomas Stirling. The takeover happened so fast the Illini were caught by surprise and had no time to organize a defense. The Illini never lost their dislike of the British and harassed the garrison at Fort de Chartres (and later Fort Gage) for the next ten years.

This did not endear them to the British, but the Illini reserved a special hated for Pontiac, not only for the threats he had made, but for what they regarded as a betrayal which had allowed the British to take control of the Illinois country. At meeting with William Johnson in New York in 1766, Pontiac confirmed his earlier agreement at Detroit and promised never again to fight the British, but his reputation had suffered. At a meeting in Ontario that year, Ottawa warriors defied him, but far worse was the violent argument he got into during which he stabbed the Peoria chief Matachinga (Black Dog). The wound was not fatal, but the incident fueled the already considerable anger of the Illini. Despite this, Pontiac still enjoyed a large following in the west and left Detroit in 1767 for the Kankakee River in northern Illinois. After the Iroquois ceded the Ohio Valley at Fort Stanwix in 1768, there were rumors he was organizing a second rebellion.

The Illini may have been unprepared for the British takeover, but the French were not. A secret last-minute agreement before signing the treaty with Great Britain in 1763 had passed the ownership of Louisiana to Spain and denied it to the British. The Spanish were a little overwhelmed by this sudden bequest, and Don Antonio de Ulloa did not arrive in New Orleans to take formal possession of Louisiana until March of 1766. Even then, most of the administration and trade of Louisiana continued under the same French officials as before. There had also been a general exodus of the French population from the Illinois country across the Mississippi to the new town of St. Louis. Although they had lost their Jesuit missionaries when the order was disbanded in France in 1764, the Illini still had the large number of French who remained at Kaskaskia. Pontiac's differences with the Illini only worsened after his move to northern Illinois, and there were more bitter arguments with them at councils held during 1768.

In April, 1769 Pontiac went to St. Louis to visit his old friend St. Ange who was now working for the Spanish. To mark the occasion, he wore the French officer uniform given him by Montcalm in 1757. After a few days, Pontiac declared his intention to visit Cahokia, the mixed French-Illini village across the river. He was warned this might be dangerous, but accompanied by his bodyguards, he went anyway. After considerable drinking, his party ended up in the establishment of a British trader named Williamson where Pontiac got into an argument with a young Peoria warrior named Pina, who, as it would turn out, was a nephew of Matachinga the Peoria chief Pontiac had stabbed. Pontiac left and walked outside, but Pina followed and tomahawked him from behind. Pontiac's bodyguards started tearing the place apart looking for the killer, but the Illini drove them from the town.

Most historians agree that Pontiac was buried somewhere along the banks of the Mississippi, but local legend holds that an Indian burial mound on Apple Island in Oakland County's Orchard Lake holds Pontiac's remains.


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