Conquest of the Old Northwest - James Baldwin

A Noble Red Man

I. A Dastardly Deed

While Pontiac and his warriors were carrying terror and destruction to many English posts in the Northwest, there was one Iroquois Indian of great influence who remained the firm friend of the whites. This was Tah-gah-jute, the son of a chief of the Cayugas. He had been brought up near a Moravian settlement in central Pennsylvania, and had been given an English name, John Logan, in honor of the secretary of William Penn, who was revered as a steadfast friend of the Indians. It is by this name that he is always known in history.

Logan, until misfortunes overwhelmed him, was one of Nature's noblemen. Among white people and red he was famed, not only for his fine appearance and his engaging manners, but also for the uprightness of his character. He was more than six feet tall, straight as an arrow, handsome in form and feature, an Apollo of the wildwood. He was courteous to all men, and gentle particularly to children. His word, once given, was never broken; he was loyal to his friends; he seemed to be the very soul of honor. The Indians of all tribes respected him for his courage and for his skill as a hunter. The rude backwoodsmen and the white vagabonds of the frontier esteemed him as a man superior to themselves, declaring that he was "the best specimen of humanity they had ever met with."

During the progress of Pontiac's war, Logan kept himself aloof from the rest of his people. He spent his time in hunting and trapping among the mountains and in dressing skins to sell to the Pennsylvanian traders. When his savage friends tried to persuade him to dig up the hatchet and join them on the warpath, he plainly told them that he preferred to stay at home with his wife and children.

A short time after the close of the war he removed with his family to the banks of the Ohio not far from where the town of Steubenville now stands. The Mingoes, who were relatives of the Iroquois, and whose homes were in that region, had long admired Logan for his woodcraft and his wisdom, and they now chose him to be their chief. He found that many white men had collected at different places in the country south of the Ohio. Some of these were criminals who had fled to the wilderness to escape punishment for their wicked deeds; some were hunters who liked nothing so well as the wild, rough life of the frontier; some were traders, with a plentiful supply of fire water for the Indians and no sense of honor in their hearts; a few were honest pioneers anxious to make new homes in the wilderness.

These men were the vanguard of the great western movement which was just then beginning, and which in time was to overrun and subdue the better part of the continent. They would have crossed the Ohio and opened settlements in the Northwest had they dared; but the English Parliament had made that river the boundary line between Virginia and the Indian country, and no white man was permitted to settle or remain on its northern side. Often, however, in spite of all this, some lawless border ruffian would push his way into the forbidden land and perhaps commit some outrage upon the savage inhabitants. Then the Indians would retaliate by crossing to the south side of the river and doing a like injury to the settlers there.

Matters were in this state when Chief Logan set up his lodge on the banks of Yellow Creek on the north side of the Ohio. There was much ill feeling between the Indians and the backwoodsmen, and as time went on this feeling grew worse and worse. At last the crisis came. A daring pioneer, named Walter Kelly, had made his home in the woods of the Kenawha Valley, eighty miles from the nearest stockade. One night a prowling band of Shawnees came upon the lonely cabin, burned it to the ground, and murdered the pioneer and his defenseless family. Soon after this it was reported that some other Indians had crossed the Ohio and stolen several horses from a party of land-grabbers who were encamped near the Kenawha.

The ruffians and backwoodsmen cried loudly for vengeance. They were anxious for an Indian war, and these two outrages seemed to give them an excuse for beginning it. Lord Dunmore, the royal governor of Virginia, had reasons of his own for wishing to punish the Indians, and he at once sent word to the backwoodsmen to be in readiness to repel any attack that the Indians might make upon them. This was rightly understood as meaning that they might attack the Indians if they chose.

The land-grabbers sought out Michael Cresap, the son of a famous frontiersman of the same name, and made him their captain. With them also was a daring young Virginian, George Rogers Clark, who had come out to survey a grant of land near the mouth of the Kenawha. Other men joined them, hunters, backwoodsmen, and lawless vagabonds, and all marched down to the spot where the city of Wheeling now stands. There were already a dozen log houses and a stockade there; and Colonel Zane, the founder of the settlement, gave the company a generous welcome.

A few days afterward Captain Cresap, with a few of his men, waylaid a small company of friendly Indians in canoes, killed and scalped them, and returned to Wheeling, boasting of what they had done. Colonel Zane, and some of the better men among the pioneers, loudly condemned this deed, declaring that such wanton murder would call for revenge and provoke a bloody Indian war.

"That is just what we want!" cried the ruffians. "Nothing can help this colony so much as a good Indian war."

That same evening Cresap learned that a party of Shawnees was encamped at the mouth of Captina Creek, a few miles below Wheeling. The next morning he led his company out, attacked the unsuspecting savages, and shot three of them, the others escaping into the woods.

Having begun the work of slaughter, these white men thirsted for more and more blood. The nearest settlement of Indians was that of the Mingoes under Logan, several miles up the river. Under the rule of their wise and gentle-hearted chief they had always been known as the friends of the white people; but they were Indians, and to Cresap and his followers all Indians were alike. Some of the men proposed that, since the war had now begun, they should march upon Logan's camp on Yellow Creek and destroy it. They thereupon crossed the river and started upon their savage errand.

But there were some in the company who had not lost all sense of humanity. They began to think of the kind of errand upon which they were bent. They were marching, not against enemies, but against friends. They were planning to murder defenseless women and children; for they knew that Logan's warriors were absent hunting. They had not gone many miles, therefore, before they began to feel ashamed of themselves. A halt was called, and all the better men among them declared that they would go no farther. Cresap, perhaps not unwillingly, was obliged to change his plans, and all returned to Wheeling.

On the left-hand bank of the Ohio, opposite the mouth of Yellow Creek, was a tract of fertile land called "Baker's Bottom "from the name of a backwoods trader who had built a cabin there. To this place came thirty-two of the most lawless men of the border, determined upon the destruction of Logan's camp. They were led by Daniel Greathouse, a ruffian of the lowest type who had persuaded them that the Indians were about to make a raid across the river at that point.

Baker's trade was the selling of whisky to the Indians; and the Mingoes, both men and women, were in the habit of crossing the river to buy liquor from him. Being a man without conscience or character, he was easily persuaded by Greathouse to help carry out a plot, one of the most disgraceful in the history of the Northwest.

Indians in the Old Northwest


On the last day of April a small party of Indian women and children paddled across the river and were lured to Baker's cabin. In the party were several of Logan's own family, and others who were dear to him. While Greathouse and his men lay hidden in the woods, Baker plied his visitors with liquor. Three of the men became hopelessly drunk, and the other warriors were persuaded to empty their guns by firing at a mark. Then Greathouse and four or five others suddenly rushed out and murdered them all except a little babe, the child of Logan's sister. Some Indians on the other side of the river, hearing the guns, jumped into their canoes and paddled across to the help of their friends, but before they could reach the shore they were fired upon by the white ruffians who were waiting for them, and nearly all were killed.

This cold-blooded outrage set the whole Indian country ablaze. Runners were sent to convey the news to all the tribes, and soon a strong war party under Logan had crossed the river, and was carrying death and destruction to all the white settlements along the border. The war which Lord Dunmore and Captain Cresap had thought would result in so much benefit to Virginia was actually begun.

The colony of Pennsylvania had all along held that white settlers should not encroach upon the country of the Indians. The Pennsylvanians wished to trade with the savages, not to dispossess them of their lands, and for that reason were anxious to keep their friendship. They therefore sent messages to the different tribes, deploring the outrages that had been committed, and condemning the lawless men who were responsible for them.

In the great struggle which followed, the Indians retained their friendship toward Pennsylvania, and sought revenge only upon Virginia. But since all the Monongahela Valley was claimed by Virginia, many of the first incursions of the savages were into territory which now forms a part of Pennsylvania.

II. Lord Dunmore's War

Lord Dunmore lost no time in preparing to crush the Indians of the Northwest. At the head of an army of fifteen hundred Virginians he marched to Fort Pitt. From that place, with a fleet of a hundred canoes, he descended the Ohio to the mouth of the Hock-hocking, where he built a stockade which he called Fort Gore. Then he marched across the country westward to the Scioto, and established a fortified camp, not far from Old Chillicothe, the principal town of the Shawnees. From this camp various parties were sent out against the different Indian settlements in the valley of the Scioto, villages were burned, cornfields were destroyed, and the savage bands were scattered and driven into the thick forest.

In the meanwhile, an army of frontiersmen, under Colonel Lewis, had marched down the Kenawha, and had camped at Point Pleasant, on the south side of the Ohio. There, while waiting for orders from Lord Dunmore, they were suddenly attacked by a large Indian war party under a Shawnee chief, known as Cornstalk. The battle that followed was one of the most desperate that has ever been fought between white men and red. There were about a thousand men on each side, and from early dawn until nearly sunset the conflict raged with varying fortune. Finally, by a well-conducted flank movement, the Virginians made a fierce and resistless charge upon the Indians. The latter were panic-stricken; they fled in great disorder across the Ohio, and hastened with what speed they could toward their villages on the Scioto. There, however, they found Lord Dunmore, ravaging their homes and carrying destruction before him. Disheartened and wholly subdued, Cornstalk, with his leading warriors, humbly appeared before Dunmore and begged for peace.

Cornstalk had gone into the war unwillingly. He had urged his people, at the very beginning, to make peace with the Virginians; but his hot-headed young men would not listen to his advice. At last, in sheer desperation, he cried out, "Since you will fight, you shall fight!" and plunged with all his savage energy into the conflict. The end was as he had foreseen. His conquered people were obliged to accept any terms that the haughty English lord would give.

A council was held, and a treaty was made. The Indians solemnly promised that no white man on the Ohio should be molested, and that none of their own people should be permitted to cross to the southern side of that river. They also agreed to give up all their prisoners and return the horses that had been stolen from the whites. On the other hand, Lord Dunmore promised that no white man should be permitted to land on the north bank of the Ohio, or to enter the Indian country—a promise which, like all others made to the Indians, was never intended to be kept.

III. Chief Logan's Speech

During all this unhappy war, Logan, the Mingo chief, had been one of the most active among the Indian leaders. The thought of the wrongs which he had suffered urged him to seek revenge. At the head of his band of young men, he made raid after raid into the settlements across the Ohio; but even while he was killing and burning and carrying terror before him, his strange tenderness of heart would often assert itself, and the kindliness of his nature would stay his hand. Frequently, at the moment of victory, he would spare those whom he had set out to destroy; and more than one captive was saved from torture and death by his timely interposition.

At last, when defeat came, Logan was not among those who sued for peace. When urged to attend the council with Lord Dunmore, he sullenly refused, saying that he was not a talker but a fighter. John Gibson, a frontiers-man well acquainted with the Indians, was sent to speak with him. He led Gibson aside into the edge of a grove, and there delivered a speech which the frontiersman wrote down and carried to Lord Dunmore. This speech is the most famous specimen of Indian oratory that has come down to us, and I quote it here in the condensed form in which it was written out and published by Thomas Jefferson, ten years after its delivery. It must be remembered that while the thoughts are Logan's the manner of expressing them is Jefferson's.

"I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war, Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate of peace. Such was my love for the whites that my countrymen pointed as they passed and said, 'Logan is the friend of the white man.' I had even thought to have lived with you but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country I rejoice at the beams of peace; but do not harbor a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one."

One evening, around a camp fire on the Scioto, were gathered a number of backwoodsmen and borderers who had followed Lord Dunmore in his conquest of the Ohio Valley. Among them were George Rogers Clark, Michael Cresap, Simon Kenton, and some others whose names are famous in the annals of the Northwest. One of them had obtained a copy of Logan's speech, and read it aloud by the light of the flames. They listened and could but admire its pathetic eloquence and the proud disdain with which Logan disclaimed any desire for peace on his own account.

"And you, Cresap," cried George Rogers Clark, turning sharply around, "what a great man you are! Why, you not only get credit for all your own deeds, but the Indians put everything else on your shoulders."

Cresap sprang up in anger. "If Dan Greathouse were here," he exclaimed, "I would tomahawk him for that dastardly murder of Logan's kin!"

After the war Logan felt himself alone in the world. He wandered from place to place, having no home and caring little for the friendship either of red men or of white. Conflicting stories are told of the manner of his death, but there is little doubt that he was treacherously slain by one of his own people to whom he had given some slight offense.

Logan's plight


Lord Dunmore's war accomplished much more than Dunmore himself could have dreamed. It so completely cowed the Indian tribes of the Northwest that when the Revolution began, a year later, they hesitated to make an alliance with Great Britain for the purpose of attacking the frontiers of Virginia; it opened the way for the settlement of the rich Kentucky region south of the Ohio; it strengthened the claim which Virginia was making for the possession of the greater part of the Northwest; and, finally, it made it possible for the Northwest to be won by the colonial forces, and, therefore, in the end, to become a part of the United States instead of remaining a part of Canada.