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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter V. — The Western Indians Unite to Sustain France in the Possession of the Ohio Valley.

THE Indians never understood the benefit of combination sufficiently to resist, alone and in their own strength, the inroads of the European powers; although, in all the early epochs, they held the balance of power between them. The struggle which was at this period brewing on the western frontiers, was not only for the possession of supremacy on the Ohio, but, in fact, as became apparent in a few years, for the control of the entire Mississippi valley. It was a contest which would decide whether France or England should govern in America. The Indians were so far a party to the contest, that it was necessary for each nation to pay their court to them, and there was no surer method of acquiring their good will than by respecting their ancient mode of holding councils, and paying due reverence to their ceremonial rites and customs. To smoke a national pipe, to deliver a belt of wampum beads, to present a chief with a medal or a flag, were, in their eyes, acts of the most momentous importance. To do nothing in a hurry, to deliberate slowly, to measure, as it were, the importance of events by the time devoted to the performance of their ceremonies, were to the Indians very pleasing evidences of capacity for negotiation. When an Indian orator arose and pointed to the zenith, to the nadir, to the place of the sun and moon, and to the cardinal points, he fancied himself to be surrounded by a pantheon of supernal and spiritual influences. He loved this pomp of ceremonies, and he felt complimented to see an European official respect them. Trifles lead to success.

Light talk and frivolous manners never failed to be estimated by the old Indian sages at their true worth. They are considered as evidences of the want of sober thought and fixed purpose. It has been mentioned that the inroads of the Indians, which either preceded, or succeeded the occupation of the Ohio valley by the French, had the effect to bring Washington into that field of adventurous action. We are informed that he was but sixteen, when he first began his explorations on the Alleghany chain. 262 Five years of manly exercise, and experience in the life of woodcraft, surveying, and exploration, had given him a shrewd insight into Indian character, and prepared

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him for further and more important trusts in a department of service, requiring, above all others, perpetual vigilance and precaution. And if, in the estimation of the Indians and the pioneers, he surpassed the others engaged with him, it was doubtless owing to the Indians' appreciation of the solidity of his character. Tanacharisson, who was the head sachem of the Mingo-Iroquois of the Ohio valley, was the presiding chief in the first council, or consultation, in which Washington took part. In fact, he was well known among the tribes, and performed, at the place of his residence, the duties of a Charge d'Affairs in modern diplomacy, as the half king, Scarooyadi, did on the Juniata, and Skilelamo on the Susquehanna. Favorably impressed, from the first, the Indian remained a firm friend of the enterprising Virginian to the day of his death.

The double interest created by the fine soil and climate of Ohio, and by apprehension of the hostility of its native tribes, strongly directed the minds of Virginians to that quarter, and, at sundry times, they despatched agents to visit the country, and report its position, resources, and the feelings of the Indians. Among these reconnoissances, those of Croghan, Gist, and Trent, constitute marked epochs in the history of Indian policy and sentiments. The result of these missions, which extended to the Wabash and the Scioto, denoted that French influence was predominant; and that the Algonquin tribes generally, were in close alliance with that power, while the Mingoes expressed friendly opinions of the English. From a remark made by a Delaware sachem to one of their agents, it appeared to be a question, not whether Indians possessed, or wished to occupy any part of the country, but simply whether the French or English should have possession of it. 263 A year or two passed in rather fruitless efforts to obtain a better knowledge of Indian affairs in the Ohio, and in endeavors to adjust matters on a better footing. Governor Dinwiddie, at length deeming it proper to send an agent to the French authorities at the post of Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, committed the trust to Washington, whose experience on that frontier, together with his judgment and discretion, well qualified him for the task. Accompanied by a French interpreter, Washington left Williamsburg, the seat of government, on the 30th of October, 1753. He rode on horseback across the Alleghanies. At Cumberland, Mr. Gist joined him as Indian interpreter, and, at another point, a second interpreter and four experienced woodsmen were added to his cavalcade. All the rivers were so swollen, that he was compelled to swim the horses across. He reached the junction of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers (now the site of Pittsburg) without accident, and pointed out that spot as a suitable and desirable location for a fort. In that vicinity he found a Delaware sachem, named Shingiss, who gave him directions for finding Logstown, the residence of Tanacharisson, the half king. He reached that place after sunset in the evening, but the chief was absent. He immediately sent runners to invite him to an interview, and the chief arrived at his lodge the next day. He discovered

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him to be intelligent, patriotic, and tenacious of his territorial rights. He received him with courtesy, and despatched messengers to some of the other chiefs to invite them to a council. They arrived the following day, when he laid before them the purport of his instructions from the governor of Virginia, and requested guides to conduct him to the French posts, and a safe conduct on the way. A pause then ensued. The council having deliberated formally on the matter, the half-king arose, assumed an oratorical attitude, and gave his assent, declaring that the English and themselves were one people, and that he intended to return the French belts; thus, in the usual form of Indian diplomacy, rejecting their overtures. A delay of three days was required to summon the Indians from their camps, and secure their compliance, after which Washington was furnished with the required guides and aids. He was accompanied, also, by the half-king, by Jeskakake, a Shawnee, and by another chief, named the Belt-keeper, or White Thunder. They reached the post of Venango, a distance of seventy miles, in four days. This was but an outpost of the fortress near Presque Isle. After witnessing some of the peculiar manoeuvrings and intrigues of both French and Indian diplomacy, Washington proceeded to the latter, where he was received with ceremonious politeness by the commandant, St. Pierre. The purport of these details is merely to demonstrate how the Indian character fluctuated, under the operation of two diverse sets of counsels. Tanacharisson, the Mingo sachem, remained faithful to his professions, and informed Washington of the result of a secret council with St. Pierre, in which it was decided that a present of goods should be sent to secure the good will of his village at Logstown. The entire journey was fraught with unusual peril and hardship, being performed amid the severity of winter; and its results furnish, us with a good view of Indian character, as swayed by the alternating emotions of hope and fear, and by the operation of motives of self-interest on the Indian mind. The result of the mission was, however, unsuccessful. Early in the spring of 1754 the French took possession of the point at the junction of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers, dislodging a party of men engaged in the same work, under Captain Trent, of the Virginia militia, and erected Fort Du Quesne. The English had been overreached, and a fixed point established, whence to control Indian action. The spirits of the Indian allies of the French had been raised to the highest pitch, and the power of the English colonists defied.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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