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George Rogers Clark Memoir - Part Four

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 four (of nine)

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

Part four:

July 1778 - taking Fort Sackville.
Captain Helm to St. Vincennes.
Tobacco's Son.
Clark's speech to indians explaining cause of war between Britain and the Americans.

Father Pierre Gibault

Father Pierre Gibault, a sketch based on a drawing the Historic Vincennes, Tourist's Guide (Vincennes: The Vincennes Fortnightly Club, 1925), page 31. Courtesy Indiana State Library.

CLARK'S MEMOIR. (continued)

July 1778-taking Fort Sackville.

Post Vincennes never being out of my mind, and from some things that I had learned I had some reasons to suspect that Mr. Gibault, the priest, was inclined to the American interest previous to our arrival in the country. He had great influence over the people at this period, and Post Vincennes was under his jurisdiction. I made no doubt of his integrity to us. I sent for him, and had a long conference with him on the subject of Post Vincennes. In answer to all my queries he informed me that he did not think it worth my while to cause any military preparation to be made at the falls of the Ohio for the attack of Post Vincennes, although the place was strong and a great number of Indians in its neighborhood, who, to his knowledge, were generally at war; that Governor Abbott had, a few weeks before, left the place on some business to Detroit; that he expected that when the inhabitants were fully acquainted with what had passed at the Illinois, and the present happiness of their friends, and made fully acquainted with the nature of the war, that their sentiments would greatly change; that he knew that his appearance there would have great weight, even among the savages; that if it was agreeable to me he would take this business on himself, and had no doubt of his being able to bring that place over to the American interest without my being at the trouble of marching against it; that his business being altogether spiritual, he wished that another person might be charged with the temporal part of the embassy, but that he would privately direct the whole, and he named Doctor Lafont as his associate.

This was perfectly agreeable to what I had been secretly aiming at for some days. The plan was immediately settled, and the two doctors, with their intended retinue, among whom I had a spy, set about preparing for their journey, and set out on the 14th of July, with an address and great numbers of letters from the French to the inhabitants, and letter to Mr. Gibault. Dr. Lafont's instructions are lost; Mr. Gibault, verbal instructions how to act in certain cases. It is mentioned here that Governor Abbott's letter to Mr. Rochblave had convinced us that they warmly adhered to the American cause, etc. This was altogether a piece of policy; no such thing had we known that they would, with propriety, suppose that Governor Abbott's letter to Rochblave had fallen into our hands, as he had written in that style respecting them, they most cordially verify it. Mr. Gibault was led to believe this, and authorizing them to garrison their own town themselves, which would convince them of the great confidence we put in them, etc.

All this had its desired effect. Mr. Gibault and his party arrived safe, and, after their spending a day or two in explaining matters to the people, they universally acceded to the proposal (except a few emissaries left by Mr. Abbott, who immediately left the country), and went in a body to the church, where the oath of allegiance was administered to them in the most solemn manner. An officer was elected, the fort immediately (garrisoned), and the American flag displayed, to the astonishment of the Indians, and everything settled far beyond our most sanguine hopes. The people here immediately began to put on a new face and to talk in a different style, and to act as perfect freemen. With a garrison of their own, with the United States at their elbow, their language to the Indians was immediately altered. They began as citizens of the state, and informed the Indians that their old father, the king of France, was come to life again, had joined the big knife, and was mad at them for fighting for the English; that they would advise them to make peace with the Americans as soon as they could, otherwise they might expect the land to be very bloody, etc. The Indians began to think seriously. Throughout the country this was now the kind of language they generally got from their ancient friends of the Wabash and Illinois.

Through the means of their correspondence spreading among the nations, our batteries now began to play in a proper channel. Mr. Gibault and party, accompanied by several gentlemen of Post Vincennes, returned to Kaskaskia about the first of August with the joyful news. During his absence on this business, which caused great anxiety in me (for without the possession of this post all our views would have been blasted), I was exceedingly engaged in regulating things in the Illinois. The reduction of these posts was the period of the enlistment of our troops.

I was at a great loss at this time to determine how to act and how far I might venture to strain my authority as my instructions were silent on many important points, as it was impossible to foresee the events that would take place. To abandon the country and all the prospects that opened to our views in the Indian department at this time, for the want of instructions in certain cases, I thought would amount to a reflection on government as having no confidence in me. I resolved to usurp all the authority necessary to carry my points. I had the greater part of our (troops) re-enlisted on a different establishment-appointed French officers in the country to command a company of the young inhabitants; established a garrison at Cahokia, commanded by Captain Bowman, and another at Kaskaskia commanded by Captain Williams, late lieutenant. Post Vincennes remained in the situation as mentioned. Colonel William Linn, who had accompanied us as a volunteer, took charge of a party that was to be discharged on their arrival at the falls, and orders were sent for the removal of that post to the main land. Captain John Montgomery was dispatched to government with letters, and also conducted Mr. Rochblave thither.

The principles of the latter gentleman were so fixed and violent against the United (States) that (his language) was quite unsuitable. His lady had been (allowed) to take off all her furniture, etc., without (opposition) among the soldiers, except a few. The whole of her slaves were detained to be sold as plunder to the soldiers, which did not take place for some time - the officers generally wishing them to be returned to Mr. Rochblave (he being confined to his room in order to secure him from the soldiers, as he seemed to take a delight in insulting them on all occasions, and it was feared that some might do him a mischief), and were in hopes that the troops might be brought to conform to it, as many of them were men of substance, and the dividend would be but small and the credit would be considerable. This was in a fair way to take place, (when) some of the officers were desired to ask Mr. Rochblave to walk out and spend the evening at a certain house where a number of his acquaintances would be assembled. He did, but at the assembly he abused (the officers) in a most intolerable manner as rebels, etc. They immediately sent him off into the guard-house, and all further thoughts (were abandoned) of saving his slaves. (They were) sold and ( proceeds) divided among (the soldiers), amounting to 1,500 pounds. I informed the governor, by Captain Montgomery, of the whole of our proceedings and present prospects, pointing out the necessity of an immediate acquisition of troops, and that some person should be sent as head of the civil department, and referring him to Captain Montgomery for a general information of things.

Captain Leonard Helm to St. Vincennes.

This party being dispatched, I again turned my attention to St. Vincennes. I plainly saw that it would be highly necessary to have an American officer at that post. Captain Leonard Helm appeared calculated to answer my purpose. He was past the meridian of life and a good deal acquainted with the Indian (disposition). I sent him to command at that post, and also appointed him agent for Indian affairs in the department of the Wabash, as others were of this, in different quarters, expecting, by the fall, to receive information from the governor, when a strong garrison should be sent to him. He was fully possessed of my ideas and the plans I proposed to pursue, and about the middle of August he set out to take possession of his new command.

Tobacco's Son.

An Indian chief, called the Tobacco's Son, a Peankeshaw, at this time resided in a village adjoining St. Vincent. This man was called by the Indians "The Grand Door to the Wabash," as the great Pontiac had been to that of St. Joseph, and, as nothing of consequence was to be undertaken by the league on the Wabash without his assent, I discovered that to win him was an object of great importance. I sent him a spirited compliment by Mr. Gibault; he returned it. I now, by Captain Helm, touched him on the same spring that I had done the inhabitants, and the following speech, with a belt of wampum, directing Captain Helm how to manage, if the chief was peaceably inclined, or otherwise. The captain arrived safe at St. Vincent and was received with acclamations by the people. After the usual ceremony was over, he sent for the Grand Door and delivered my letter to him. After having it read, he informed the captain that he was happy to see him, one of the big knife chiefs, in this town-it was here that he had joined the English against him-but he confessed that he always thought that they looked gloomy; that as the content of the letter was a matter of great moment, he could not give an answer for some time; that he must collect his counselors on the subject, and was in hopes the captain would be patient. In short, he put on all the courtly dignity that he was master of, and Captain Helm, following his example, it was several days before this business was finished, as the whole proceeding was very ceremonious. At length the captain was invited to the Indian council and informed by the Tobacco that they had maturely considered the case in hand and had got the nature of the war between the English and us explained to their satisfaction; that, as we spoke the same language, and (appeared to be) the same people, he always thought that he was in the dark as to the truth of it, but now the sky was cleared up; that he found that the big knife was in the right; that, perhaps, if the English conquered, they would serve them in the same manner that they intended to serve us; that his ideas were quite changed, and that he would tell all the red people on the Wabash to bloody the land no more for the English. He jumped up, struck his breast; called himself a man and a warrior; said that he was now a big knife, and took Captain Helm by the hand. His example was followed by all present, and the evening was spent in merriment. Thus ended this valuable negotiation and the saving of much blood.

This man proved a zealous friend to the day of his death, which happened two years after this, when he desired to be buried (among) the Americans. His body was conveyed to the garrison of Kohokia and buried with the honors of war. He appeared in all his conduct as if he had the American interest much at heart.

In a short time, almost the whole of the various tribes of the different nations on the Wabash, as high as the Ouiatenon, came to St. Vincennes and followed the example of their grand chief; and as expresses were continually passing between Captain Helm and myself the whole time of these treaties, the business was settled perfectly to my satisfaction, and greatly to the advantage of the public. The British interest daily lost ground in this quarter, and in a short time our influence reached the Indians on the river St. Joseph and the border of lake Michigan.

The French gentlemen, at the different posts that we now had possession of, engaged warmly in our interest. They appeared to vie with each other in promoting the business; and through the means of their correspondence, trading among the Indians, and otherwise, in a short time the Indians of the various tribes inhabiting the region of Illinois came in great numbers to Cahokia, in order to make treaties of peace with us. From the information they generally got from the French gentlemen (whom they implicitly believed) respecting us, they were truly alarmed; and, consequently, we were visited by the greater part of them without any invitation from us. Of course we had greatly the advantage, in making use of such language as suited our (interest). Those treaties that commenced about the last of August and continued between three and four weeks were probably conducted in a way different from any other known in America at that time. I had been always convinced that our general conduct with the Indians was wrong; that inviting them to treaties was construed by them in a different manner to what we expected, and implied, by them, to fear, and that giving them great presents confirmed it I resolved to guard against this, and I took good pains to make myself acquainted fully with the French and Spanish methods of treating Indians, and with the manner and disposition of the Indians in general. As in this quarter they had not yet been spoiled by us, I was resolved that they should not be. I began the business fully prepared, having copies of the British treaties.

After the great ceremony commonly made use of at the commencement of Indian treaties, the (Indians) as the solicitors opening it, and after laying (the) whole blame of their taking up the bloody hatchet to the delusion of the English, acknowledging their errors, and many protestations of guarding in future against those bad birds flying through the land (alluding to the British emissaries sent among them), concluded in hoping that, as the Great Spirit had brought us together for good, as He is good, that they might be received as our friends, and that peace might take the place of the bloody belt-throwing down and stamping on those emblems of war that they had received from the British, such as red belts of wampum, flags, etc.

I informed them that I had paid attention to what they had said, and that on the next day I would give them an answer, when I hoped the ears and hearts of all people would be open to receive the truth which should be spoken without deception. I advised them to keep themselves prepared for the result of this day, on which, perhaps, their very existence as a nation depended, etc., and dismissed them, not suffering any of our people to shake hands with them, as peace was not yet concluded-telling them it was time enough to give the hand when the heart could be given also. They replied that "such sentiments were like men who had but one heart, and did not speak with a double tongue." The next day I delivered them the following speech:

Clark's speech to indians explaining the cause of the war between Britain and the Americans.

Men an[d] warriors! I pay attention to my words. You informed me yesterday that the Great Spirit had brought us together, and that you hoped, as He was good, that it would be for good. I have also the same hope, and expect that each party will strictly adhere to whatever may be agreed upon-whether it be peace or war-and henceforth prove ourselves worthy of the attention of the Great Spirit. I am a man and a warrior-not a counselor. I carry war in my right hand, and in my left, peace. I am sent by the great council of the big knives, and their friends, to take possession of all the towns possessed by the English in this country, and to remain here watching the motions of the red people; to bloody the patina of those who attempt to stop the course of the river, but to clear the roads from us to those who desire to be in friendship with us, that the women and children may walk in them without meeting anything to strike their feet against. I am ordered to call upon the great fire for warriors enough to darken the land, and that the red people may hear no sound but of birds who live on blood. I know there is a mist before your eyes. I will dispel the clouds, that you may clearly see the cause of the war between the big knife and the English; that you may judge yourselves which party is in the right; and if you are warriors, as you profess to be, prove it by adhering faithfully to the party which you shall believe to be entitled to your friendship, and do not prove yourselves to be only old women.

The big knives are very much like the red people; they don't know how to make blankets and powder and clothes.

They buy these things from the English, from whom they are sprung. They live by making corn, hunting and trade, as you and your neighbors, the French, do. But the big knives, daily getting more numerous, like the trees in the woods, the land became poor and hunting scarce; and, having but little to trade with, the women began to cry at seeing their children naked, and tried to learn how to make clothes for themselves.

They soon made blankets for their husbands and children, and the men learned to make guns and powder. In this way we did not want to buy so much from the English. They then got mad with us, and sent strong garrisons through our country, as you see they have done among you on the lakes, and among the French. They would not let our women spin, nor our men make powder, nor let us trade with anybody else.

The English said we should buy everything from them; and, since we had got saucy, we should give two bucks for a blanket, which we used to get for one; we should do as they pleased; and they killed some of our people to make the rest fear them.

This is the truth and the real cause of the war between the English and us, which did not take place for some time after this treatment.

But our women became cold and hungry and continued to cry. Our young men got lost for want of counsel to put them in the right path. The whole land was dark. The old men held down their heads for shame because they could not see the sun, and thus there was mourning for many years over the land. At last the Great Spirit took pity on us, and kindled a great council fire, that never goes out, at a place called Philadelphia. He then stuck down a post, but put a war tomahawk by it, and went away. The sun immediately broke out; the sky was blue again, and the old men held up their heads and assembled at the fire. They took up the hatchet, sharpened it, and put it into the hands of our young men, ordering them to strike the English as long as they could find one on this side of the great waters. The young men immediately struck the war post and blood was shed. In this way the war began, and the English were driven from one place to another until they got weak, and then they hired you red people to fight for them. The Great Spirit got angry at this and caused your old father, the French king, and other great nations, to join the big knives and fight with them against all their enemies. So the English have become like deer in the woods, and you may see that it is the Great Spirit that has caused your waters to be troubled because you have fought for the people he was mad with. If your women and children should now cry, you must blame yourselves for it, and not the big knives.

You can now judge who is in the right. I have already told you who I am. Here is a bloody belt and a white one, take which you please. Behave like men, and don't let your being surrounded by the big knives cause you to take up the one belt with your hands, while your hearts take up the other. If you take the bloody path, you shall leave the town in safety and may go and join your friends, the English. We will then try, like warriors, who can put the most stumbling-blocks in each other's way, and keep our clothes long stained with blood. If, on the other hand, you should take the path of peace, and be received as brothers to the big knives, with their friends, the French, should you then listen to bad birds that may be flying through the land, you will no longer deserve to be counted as men, but as creatures with two tongues, that ought to be destroyed without listening to anything you might say. As I am convinced you never heard the truth before, I do not wish you to answer before you have taken time to counsel. We will, therefore, part this evening, and when the Great Spirit shall bring us together again, let us speak and think like men with but one heart and one tongue, etc., etc.

Whatever their private conversations on this subject might be, we never could learn, but on their return the next day the business commenced with more than usual ceremony. A new fire was kindled, all the gentlemen in town were collected, and, after all this preparatory ceremony was gone through, the chiefs, who were to speak, advanced near to the table where I sat with the belt of peace in his hand, another with the sacred pipe, and a third with the fire to kindle it, which was first presented to the heavens, then to the earth, and, completing a circle, it was presented to all the spirits-invoking them to witness what was about to be concluded-on to myself, and descending down to every person present.

The speaker then addressed himself to the Indians, the substance of which, was that they ought to be thankful that the Great Spirit had taken pity on them and had cleared the sky and opened their ears and hearts, so that they could hear and receive the truth, etc., etc.; and, addressing himself to me, said that they had paid great attention to what the Great Spirit had put into my heart to say to them, that they believed the whole to be the truth, as the big knives did not speak like any other people they had ever heard; that they now plainly saw they had been deceived; that the English had told them lies, and never had told them the truth, which some of their old men had always said, which they now believed; that we were in the right, and as the English had forts in their country, they might, if they got strong, want to serve the red people as they did the big knives; that the red people ought to help us, and so forth; that they had, with a sincere heart, taken up the belt of peace and spurned the other away; that they were determined to hold it fast and would have no doubt of our friendship, as, judging from the manner of our speaking, that there was no room for suspicion; that they would call in all their warriors and cast the tomahawk into the river, where it could never be found again, and suffer no more emissaries, or bad birds, to pass through their land, to disquiet their women and children; that they might be always cheerful to smooth the roads for their brothers, the big knives, whenever they came to see them; that they would send to all their friends and let them know the good talk they had heard, and what was done, and advised them to listen to the same; that they hoped that I would send men among them, with my eyes, to see myself; they were men, and strictly adhered to all they had said at this great fire that the Good Spirit had kindled at Kohokias [Clark sometimes spells this Cahokia, Kohokia, Kohokias, and Cohos.] for the good of all the people that would listen to it, etc.

This is the substance of their answer to me. The pipe was again kindled and presented to all the spirits to be witnesses; smoking of which, and shaking hands, concluded this grand piece of business, I suppose, with as much dignity and importance, in their eyes, as the treaty between France and America was to ours. They put on a different appearance; the greatest harmony now reigned, without the appearance of any distrust on their side, but we were not quite so tame, as I had set a resolution never to give them anything that should have the appearance of courting them, but generally made some excuse for the little I present them, such as their coming a long way to see me had expended their ammunition, wore out their leggings, or met with some misfortune or other; but they were generally alarmed, and the conclusion of peace satisfied them, and (we) parted, in all appearance, perfectly satisfied. I always made it a point to keep spies among them, and was pleased to find that the greatest of those who treated with us strictly adhered to it, so that in a short time from this we could send a single soldier through any part of the Ouabash (Wabash) and Illinois country, for the whole of those Indians came to treat, either at Kohokias or St. Vincennes, in course of the fall.

It is not (worth) while (to give) the particulars of every treaty, as the one already mentioned conveys the idea of the plan we went on; the whole was held on the same principle, always sticking to the text, but varying in the manner of delivery to the different tribes-sometimes more severe, but never moderating except with those we were in friendship with. Of course (to them) a very different kind of a language was made use of. Their reply was nearly the same through out the whole, and a boundary seemed now to be fixed between the British emissaries and our own at the heads of the waters of the lakes and those of the Mississippi, neither party caring much to venture too far. Some of the nations got divided among themselves, part for us, others for the English. Such a sudden change among the Indians in this region in our favor required great attention to keep up the flame from cooling, as the appearance of a reinforcement which we had reason to expect in the fall would ruin our influence. Every method was pursued to convince the French inhabitants that their interest, etc., was studied. Every restriction that they were formerly under that was disagreeable to them was done away. Their business with the commanding officers was done without fees-neither any at court, that sat weekly on their business and many other little things, that (had) good effect; and, through them, our interest grew considerably among the French on the lakes, and many traders and others, watching their opportunities, came across with their goods and settled in the Illinois and St. Vincennes. This also had a good effect among the Indians. The friendly correspondence between the Spaniards and ourselves was much to our advantage, as everything the Indians heard from them was to our interest.