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George Rogers Clark Memoir - Part Five

The introduction to the memoir and text of the memoir, which follows in nine parts, are quoted from Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio 1778-1783 and Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark by William Hayden English. The two volumes were published by The Bowen-Merrill Company, Indianapolis, Indiana, and Kansas City, Missouri, in 1897.

Part five (of nine)

Sections of the memoir have been titled to facilitate navigation within the document.

Part five:

Mr. Black Bird, the indian.
Chief lajes or Big Gate.

Cahokia, Peace or War with the Indians

Cahokia, Peace or War with the Indians is one of seven murals by Ezra Winter installed in December 1934 in the George Rogers Clark Memorial in Vincennes. The murals are approximately fifteen by twenty-six feet in size. (Bearss, Edwin C. George Rogers Clark: Vincennes Sites Study and Evaluation, George Rogers Clark National Historic Park, Vincennes, Indiana. Washington, D.C.: Division of History, Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1967.
Courtesy of the Indiana State Library and George Rogers Clark National Historical Park.

CLARK'S MEMOIR. (continued)

The behavior of two young men at the time of these treaties at Kohokias affected me very much, and (it will), perhaps, not (be) disagreeable to you to have their conduct related. A party of what is called the Meadow Indians, who rove about among the different nations, composed partly of the whole of them, were informed that (if) they would contrive to take me off they would get a great reward. They came down, as others had done, some pretending to treat for peace. They were lodged in the yard of Mr. Bradies, pretending some acquaintance. About one hundred yards from my quarters, and nearly the same distance fronting the fort, the little river Kohokias passes (fronting the houses, on the opposite side of that part of the street), which was then about knee deep. Having business at the time with other Indians, they listened to what was passing, loitered about, and got pretty well acquainted with our people. Having received but a bad report of them, I took but passing little notice of them. They had observed (that) the house I lodged in (was) very quiet of nights, and supposed the guards to be but few (and) formed their plan in the following manner: Some of them were to cross the river, fire off their guns opposite to their quarters, on which they were to attempt to get in, under the protection of the quarter guard, as flying from other Indians, their enemies, who had fired on them across the river; if they succeeded, to butcher the guard and carry myself off. A few nights after their arrival they made the attempt about one o'clock. Having too much to think (of) to sleep much, I happened to be awake at the time the alarm was given. They were immediately at the yard gate, when, the sentinel presenting his piece, being a light night, they saw the guard paraded in front of the door more numerous, perhaps, than they expected. They took a by-way and got into their quarters.

The whole town was now under arms. The guard was positive it was those Indians. They were immediately examined; said it was their enemies had fired on them across the creek; that they wanted to get under protection of the guard, but were not permitted, and made the best of their way back to defend themselves; but some of the French gentlemen, being better acquainted (with) them than the rest, insisted that it was them-gave the alarm, sent for a candle and discovered that (the) leggings and moccasins of the fellows who had crossed the river were quite wet and muddy. They were quite confounded-wanted to make various excuses-but (were not) suffered to speak. Their design was easily seen through. I said but little to them (and, as there were good many of other nations in town, and to convince the whole of the strict union of the French and us), I told them, as they had disturbed the town, the people might do as they pleased with them, and went away, but whispered that the chiefs should be sent to the guard-house and put in irons, which was immediately done by the inhabitants. They, in that situation, were every day brought into the council, but not suffered to speak, and, on finishing with the others, I had their irons taken off and told them that their designs were obvious to me, as a bird from their country had whispered me in the ear that all people said that they ought to die-which they must think themselves that they deserved, and what I intended-but, on considering the matter, and the meanness of the attempt to watch and catch a bear sleeping, I found that you were only old women and too mean to be killed by the big knives; but, as you ought to be punished for putting on British clothes like men, that shall be taken from you, and plenty of provisions given to (take) you home, as women don't know (how) to hunt, and as long as you stay here you shall be treated as all (squaws) ought to be; and, without any further notice of them, conversed indifferently with others present on very trifling subjects. They appeared to be much agitated. After some time they rose and advanced with a belt and pipe of peace, which (they offered) to me, and made a speech, which I would not suffer to be interpreted (at that time); and, a sword lying on the table, I broke their pipe and told them that the big knife never treated with women and for them to sit down and enjoy themselves as others did and not be afraid. What they had said was an acknowledgment of their design, excusing themselves by saying that it was owing to bad men that was among them from Michilimackinac that put it into their heads; that they were in hopes that we would take pity on their women and children; and, as their lives were spared when they deserved to lose them, they were in hopes that peace would be granted them as it was to others, etc. Several chiefs of other nations present spoke in their favor, condemning their attempt; as they saw the big knife was above little things, they wished I would take pity on the families of those men and grant them peace, etc. I told them that I had never made war upon them; that if the big knives came across such people in the woods they commonly shot them down as they did wolves, to prevent their eating the deer, but never talked about it, etc.

The conversation on the subject dropped. For some time these fellows continued busy in private conversation. At last, two young men advanced to the middle of the floor, sat down, and flung their blankets over their heads. This, at first, I did not (know) what to make of. Two of the chiefs, with a pipe, stood by them, and spoke nearly in the same manner they had done before, and concluded by saying that they had offered those two young men as an atonement for things in general, and were in hopes that the big knives would be reconciled after this sacrifice of them, etc., and again offered the pipe, which I refused, and told them to go and sit down-that I would have nothing to say to them-but in a milder tone than I had before spoken to them.

It appeared that those people had got so completely alarmed (which I had taken pains to do guarding desperation), that they supposed a tomahawk was hanging over the heads of every one of their nation; that nothing could save them but (to) get peace before they left the place, and expected, by our putting to death or keeping those two young men as slaves, that we should be reconciled. The young men kept their first position and frequently would push the blanket aside, as if impatient to learn their fate. I could have no expectation of this business ending in this manner. I always intended, at last, to be persuaded to grant those people peace, but this astonished me. I hardly knew whether it was sincere or not, but everything proved it. Every person present (there were a great number) seemed anxious to know what would be done, and a general silence immediately took place. For some time all (was) suspense. I viewed those persons with pleasure. You may easily guess at my feelings on the occasion. I had read of something similar, but did not know whether to believe it or not, and never before, or since, felt myself so capable of speaking. I ordered the young men to rise and uncover themselves. I found there was a very visible alteration in their countenances which they appeared to try to conceal. I suitably harangued the whole assembly on the subject, and concluded by telling them I was happy to find there were men among their nation, as we were now witnesses there was at least two among those people. I then spoke to the young men-said a great (deal) in their praise-concluded by saying it was only such men as they that (should be) chiefs of a nation; that it was such that I liked to treat with; that through them, the big knives granted peace and friendship to their people; that I took them by the hand as my brothers, and chiefs of their nation, and I expected that all present would acknowledge them as such.

I first presented them to my own officers, to the French and Spanish gentlemen present, and, lastly, to the Indians, the whole greeting them as chiefs, and ended the business by having them saluted by the garrison. I wish I had a copy or could remember the whole I said on this business, but you may easily conceive from the nature of it. It appeared to give general satisfaction, but I thought the old chiefs appeared much cowed. Our new nabobs were now treated with great respect on all occasions.

A council was called in order to do some business with them, and great ceremony made use of, in order, more firmly, to rivet what had been done; and on the departure, some presents were given them to distribute among their friends at home, by whom I understood they were acknowledged and held in great esteem, and the Americans much spoken of among them. It would be difficult to account for the consequences, in case they had succeeded in their plan. It appears to have been but badly laid, but it (was) the worst problem they could have attempted in the town in daylight, and I never went out of it without guards too strong for them. The whole, as it turned out, was a fortunate adventure. It gave us much credit, and had good effect among the Indians in this quarter, as it soon became the subject of general conversation.

Mr. Black Bird, the indian.

I now turned my attention to Saguina, Mr. Black Bird, and Nakionin, two chiefs of the bands of Sotaios and Outaway nations, bordering on Lake Michigan and the river St. Joseph. Mr. Black Bird and party were in St. Louis at the time Major Bowman took possession of Kohos, got alarmed and packed off, knowing that their nation was warmly engaged in the war, and not believing the Spanish protection sufficient to secure them against the revenge of the big knives who were so near at hand although the governor persuaded them with a certainty of their being friendly received. Those chiefs, on their passage up the Illinois, met with numbers of traders (who had heard what had passed among their friends, and had already begun to alter their tone among the Indians) who persuaded them to turn back and see the big knives; for, as he had been so near them, and would not go to see them, they would think that he was afraid, and run away, etc. He excused himself by saying his family was sick, but that he would go in the spring; in the meantime would write to us. This letter I suppose he thought calculated to make us believe that they were friends to us, and I make no doubt but that their sentiments now daily changed in our favor. I made strict inquiry about Black Bird. I found that both were chiefs of considerable bands about St. Joseph, then at war; that Black Bird had great influence in that quarter, and it was thought by some traders lately arrived that he really wanted a conference, but wished to have an invitation, etc. I gave a man, who answered my purpose, two hundred dollars to visit him at St. Joseph, and wrote him a complete answer to his letter, inviting him to come (to) Kaskaskia that fall, which he did, with only eight attendants, and my messenger, Denoi.

After they had got rested and refreshed (Black Bird) observed some usual preparations making for an Indian council. He sent and informed me that he came to see me on business of consequence that concerned both our nations, and wished that we should not spend our time in ceremony; he said it was customary among all Indians, but that it was not necessary between us; that we could do our business sitting at a table much better; that he wanted much conversation with me, and hoped that there would be no ceremony used, etc. I found Mr. Black Bird of different manners to what others had been-that he assumed the airs of a polite gentleman, etc. A room was prepared and the nabob formally introduced by a French gentleman. After a few compliments he took his seat at one end of the table, myself at the other, the interpreters to our right and left; gentlemen seated around the room. Black Bird opened the conference, and attempted to speak as much in the European manner as possible. He said that he (had) long wished to have some conversation with a chief of our nation, but never before had an opportunity; he had conversed with prisoners, but he put little confidence in what they said, as they were generally afraid to speak; that he had engaged in the war for some time, but had always doubted the propriety of it, as the English and us appeared to be the same people. He was sensible that there was some mystery that he was unacquainted with; that he had only heard one side of the story, and now wished me to explain it to him fully, that he might be a judge himself, as he would then have heard both sides.

To satisfy this inquisitive Indian, I had to begin almost at the first settlement of America, and to go through almost the whole history of it to the present time, particularly the cause of the revolution; and as I must not speak to him as I did to other Indians, by similes, it took me near half a day to satisfy him. He asked a great number of questions very pertinent, and must be satisfied as to every point, which I was now more able to do, being pretty well acquainted with all the British officers had said to them.

He appeared to be quite satisfied, and said that he was convinced, from many circumstances, that what I had said was a true state of the matter; that he long suspected, from the conduct of the English, that they wished to keep the Indians in the dark, and it was now obvious to him; that he thought the Americans were perfectly right, and that they ought to be assisted than otherways; that he was happy to find that their old friends, the French, had joined us, and that the Indians ought to do likewise; but as I had said we would not wish it, they ought, at least, to sit still; that he would not blame us if we did as I had said, drive the whole off the face of the earth who would not do so, for it was plain to him that the English were afraid, other ways they would not give so many goods as they did for the Indians to fight for them; that he was perfectly satisfied, himself, that I might be assisted; that his sentiments were fixed in favor of us, and would no longer pay any attention to the English; that he would immediately put an end to the war, as to his part, but as many of their young men were then out, I must excuse that, but as soon as they returned he would make them lay down their arms, and not one of those that he influenced should again take them up; that on his return home he would take pains to tell the Indians, of every denomination, what had passed between us, and inform them of the true cause of the war, and that he was sure that the most of them would follow his example; that it would have good effect if I would send a young man among them, under his protection (which I did), as his appearance would give great might to what he himself said to them; that for the future he was in hopes we should view each other as friends, and that correspondence should be kept up between us, etc., etc.

I told him that I was happy to find that this business was likely to end so much to both our satisfaction, and so much to the advantage and tranquillity of each of our people; that I should immediately (tell) the governor of Virginia of what (had) passed between us, and that I knew that it would give him (and) all the Americans great pleasure, and that the Black Bird would be registered among their friends, etc., etc. Thus it was passed between us of a public nature.

After spending a few days with us he returned home. A young man of mine accompanied him. I had two pack horses loaded with necessaries for his journey home, and sent some presents to his family, perhaps to the amount of two or three pounds. Thus ended the business between this chief and myself, and as I had frequent opportunity of hearing from him, in the course of this fall, I found that he strictly adhered to what he had declared to me; that he had not only stopped his own tribe, but had great numbers of Indians in that quarter to (become) very cool in the British interest.

I had thought it policy in the course of all my conversation with the Indians to inform them that I did not blame them for receiving what presents the British chose to give them, but that it was degrading to them to make war as hirelings, etc.; that it was beneath the dignity of a warrior, etc.; the big knife views others who were at war against them, on their own account, with more (favor) than they did the hirelings; that the one was kept as great trophies, when, perhaps, the scalps of the others were given to the children to play with, or flung to the dogs. This kind of language, to a people we most ardently wished to be at peace with, may appear strange, but it had good effect among persons of their education, and perfectly consonant to our system of policy.

Chief Lajes or Big Gate.

About this time, I received a letter from a chief named Lajes, or the Big Gate. It seems that this fellow, being a lad at the time Pontiac besieged Detroit, had shot a man standing in a gate, and immediately the name of Big Gate was given to him as a mark of honor. He had early engaged in the British interest and had led several parties against the frontier with good success, and on hearing what was going on in the Illinois, he fell in with some Pottawatimies on their way to see us, and came with them to hear what we had to say for ourselves. He had (the) assurance to make his appearance in a complete war dress, and the bloody belt that he had received from the English hanging about his neck; he attended the council for several days, always placed himself in front of the room and sat in great state, without saying a word to us, or we to him. I had found out (what) I wanted to know about him, and had fixed my resolutions, and in the course of my business with the other Indians, I had made use of several expressions in order to prepare my gentleman for what (was to come), and on the close of the business, I addressed myself to him. Told him I had been informed who he was, but, as he knew that public business must take place before private commences, I hoped that he would excuse me in (not) speaking to him before that time; that it was customary among the white people that when officers met in that manner, although enemies, they treated each other with greater respect than they did common people, and valued each other the more in proportion (to) exploits (they) had done against each other's nation. Especially as he had come designedly to see us, and business was now over, I hoped he would spend a few days more with us and that he would do us the pleasure of dining with the big knives that evening.

He appeared in nettles and rose and began to excuse himself. I would not hear, but ran on upon the same topic. I would stop; he would commence, and I would begin again, until I found I had worked him up to as high a pitch as I wished for, and then (told) him to go on. He stepped out into the middle of the floor, took off his belt of war and a small British flag that was in his bosom and flung them on the floor; then the whole of his clothes that he had on, except his breech cloth, struck his breast and addressed himself to the whole audience, and told them that they knew that he was a warrior from his youth, that he delighted in war, that the English had told him lies. He thought, from what they had said, that the big knives were in the wrong, and that he has been at war against them three times, and prepared to go again, but thought that he would rest himself a while and come here and see what sort of people we were and how (we) talked; that he had listened to everything that had been said; that he was now convinced that the English were wrong and that the big knives were right, and that he was a man and a warrior and would not fight in a wrong cause; struck his breast and said that he was now a big knife, and came and shook hands with me and the whole company as his brothers. A great deal of merriment ensued. The whole company appeared delighted in being merry. The fellow himself kept up their merriment by speaking to them as a new man and a big knife, but, as our new brother was now naked, it was necessary that he should be clothed, those that he had pulled off being pushed into the street by one of the servants. As we dispersed (clothes were given him), Captain McCarty having a suit a good deal laced. Captain Big Gate, at dinner, was much the finest man at table; and, to appear in as much state as the rest of us, he ordered some of his men to wait on him, but was rather awkward. As we had not suffered the Indians to dine with us, except chiefs of the greatest dignity, to prevent any jealousy pains were taken with those in town that were of as high rank as Mr. Lajes. After dinner was over he informed me that he wished to have some private conversation with me and pointed to a room that had a large window opening against a back street. Being always suspicious, I did not know but my new brother intended to stab me and make his escape through the window. I privately, unknown to him, made provisions against this, and we were shut up with the interpreter nearly half an hour. He gave me a history of himself and a full account of the situation of things at Detroit; said that he could do almost what he pleased at that place; if I chose it, he would go and bring me a scalp or a prisoner in forty days; as they did not know what had happened here, he could have what opportunity he pleased.

I told him that we never wished the Indians to fight for us; all we wished them to do was for them to sit still and look on; that those that would not might expect to be swallowed up, as they would see the lakes covered with boats belonging to the big knives, and wished he would by no means kill any person on our account, but that he would bring me news or a prisoner if he could get one handily; I should be glad, but by no means to hurt him. I gave him a captain's commission and a medal the day he took his departure, many Indians accompanying him.

As he took his leave at my quarters many gentlemen were present. They saluted him by firing their pistols through the window; passing in front of them, he was again saluted, which elated him much. He did not advance far before he stopped, and said he supposed those poor soldiers were hungry for a dram and ordered one of his men to go to a trader of his acquaintance, then in town, and get a little keg of rum and give it to them to drink his health, which was done; and they went off by water, up the Illinois river, where he fell in with some traders of his acquaintance who had got a permit at Mackinac to trade on those waters with a design to come to see us, and were then on their passage. Lajes asked them which way they were going; they said only trading. Then he asked them if they were not afraid of the big knives at Kohos. They said not. He then asked who they were. He said are you for the king of England, or the big knives? Knowing the fellow's character, they answered for the king of England, certainly. Was he not? He said no; that he was a captain of the big knives, and produced his commission, and told them they were enemies to his country, and his prisoners; that he would return and take them to his superior officer it Kohos. The men got alarmed; did not know what to make of the fellow, but found he was in earnest, and had a commission from under my hand and seal. They then told him that they were running away, and were going to the big knives. He said they were liars and would not believe them, and detained them for two or three days, until a party came by that he knew was in the American interest and became surety that they should deliver themselves up; and got a letter written to me dictated by himself. He warned the men to take care of themselves, for, if they were deceitful, and fell into his hands again, that he should treat them ill. This was a curious Indian letter. I can't remember the particulars of it further than it touched on the above business. It's lost with all the papers of the present year, except a few that, by chance, have been recovered.

Captain Big Gate proceeded on his journey, and, as long as I heard of him, behaved well; spoke much of his new dignity, abusing the other Indians for fighting as hirelings, etc., etc. Whether or not he ever after joined the (British), I never learned.