Conquest of the Old Northwest - James Baldwin

The Territory of Indiana

I. The Scattered Settlements

After the close of the long Indian war great numbers of settlers began to pour into the Ohio Valley. These stopped at various places east of the present state of Indiana; for there was plenty of land for all who came, and but very few cared to provoke the Indians by crossing the line which marked the limits of the white man's possessions. Down the Ohio again came an endless procession of boats loaded with settlers and their belongings. In the first year after the treaty more than a thousand vessels passed Marietta. The pioneer who came into the wilderness to hew out a home for his family could now buy the land direct from the government without becoming the victim of land speculators. The "siren song of peace and agriculture "was heard even in the depths of the forest. Fear had fled from the land, and to all classes of people there was safety. What wonder if the country was soon dotted with clearings and farmhouses and villages?

In the same year that Connecticut gave up her pretensions to the Western Reserve, Congress divided the Northwest Territory into two parts, and placed each under a separate government. The boundary line between these two divisions was in part the same as that which had been drawn between the Indians' country and the country that had been ceded to the whites by the treaty at Greenville. It extended from the mouth of the Kentucky River straight to Fort Recovery, near the source of the Wabash, and thence due north through Michigan. The division east of this line retained the old name, "The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio." The other division, being the country of the Indians, was called "Indiana Territory." The capital of the eastern division was Chillicothe, on the Scioto River, and General St. Clair remained its governor. The capital of Indiana Territory was Vincennes, and its government was placed in the hands of William Henry Harrison.

[Illustration] from Conquest of the Old Northwest by James Baldwin


In the vast territory of Indiana, which included about four fifths of the entire Northwest, there were at the beginning of the nineteenth century scarcely a dozen settlements. The chief of these were at the falls of the Ohio on the lands granted to George Rogers Clark, at Vincennes on the Wabash, and at Cahokia and Kaskaskia on the Mississippi. In none of these were there more than a thousand people. There were military posts at Fort Wayne, at Fort Massac on the Ohio, and at Mackinac; and a few white families were settled at Green Bay and two or three other points.

On the north side of the Chicago River, not far from the lake shore there was a single dwelling—a kind of blockhouse containing a storeroom and rooms for eating and sleeping. Here lived alone a French trader whose name was Le Mai. The house itself had been built twenty years before by another trader, Jean Baptiste Point de Saible, and it is supposed to have stood quite near the spot where Father Marquette passed his last winter more than a century earlier.

De Saible


De Saible was a French mulatto who had lived a long time among the Indians, and gained their complete confidence. His house soon became a great trading center for the tribes west of the lake, and especially for the Pottawattomies. There they bartered the furs of beavers and minks, and the skins of buffaloes and bears for guns and knives, blankets and rum; and soon Monsieur de Saible was able to retire from business with a handsome fortune. He was succeeded by Le Mai in 1796; and in the year of which we are speaking the lonely house on the bank of the Chicago River (Garlic Creek) was a favorite resort for the red hunters of the prairie. Such was the beginning of the metropolis of the Northwest, which before the end of the century then beginning would number its inhabitants by the million.

The few settlements that have been mentioned were separated by hundreds of miles of unexplored wilderness. There were no roads and no means of conveyance from place to place. There were no travelers except hunters and traders; and the Indians who lived there were by no means friendly to trespassers who crossed the border line of their country. When General Harrison was appointed governor of this wild and unsettled region, it became one of his chief duties to make treaties with the various savage tribes, to keep them at peace with the government and with each other, and if possible to secure from them still further grants of lands in the territory which they had reserved. Within the next five or six years he was able to purchase from them for the United States several large tracts in the most fertile parts of the Wabash and Ohio valleys. At a treaty held at Fort Wayne in 1803, the Miamis, Shawnees, and other tribes sold to the government more than two million acres, receiving therefor the pitiable sum of four thousand dollars. Other treaties followed, and several other similar bargains were made. The United States was never known to pay the Indians too much for their lands, neither were the agents who were sent out to deal with them ever known to favor them with undue kindness, except as a means of securing some sort of advantage over them.

II. Tecumseh

Among the Shawnees there was at that time a warrior of great influence and ability whose name was Tecumseh. When he was a mere child his father had been killed in battle with the white invaders of his country; and throughout his life he had brooded upon the wrongs which his people had been obliged to endure. As a young man he had been one of the most daring among those who had defeated Harmar and St. Clair; and even the disaster at Fallen Timbers did not wholly dishearten him. He was thirty-five years old when the great land sale occurred at Fort Wayne. He still hoped that at some time and in some way his nation might recover their lost hunting grounds. When he saw the limits of the Indian country growing smaller and smaller with each successive treaty with the white men, and realized that the red men would soon be deprived of all that they owned, he made up his mind to give his life, if need be, for the defense of his people.

His first plan was to unite all the tribes of the Northwest in a great league)similar to that which had been formed by Pontiac forty years before. (He was not a chief, nor had he any voice in the councils of the Shawnees; but his fine common sense and his known courage had gained for him great influence, both in his own tribe and among others) His brother, Ellskevatawa, commonly known as the "Prophet," greatly aided him in all his plans.

Tecumseh declared that bribes and bad whisky had been used to induce the chiefs to sell the lands of the tribes. He also claimed that since the lands were really the property of the Indian nation as a whole, the chiefs of no particular tribe could sell or dispose of any part of it without the general consent. That this plea was a just one we can hardly deny; but when Tecumseh made his appeal to Governor Harrison, he was told that the question must be decided by the President. "I hope, then," said Tecumseh, "that the Great Spirit will put sense enough into the President's head to induce him to decide aright and direct you to give up this land. It is true he is so far off that he will not be injured by the war. He may sit still in his town and drink his wine, while you and I will have to fight it out."

The decision of the President, as might have been foreseen, was not in favor of Tecumseh's claims. The United States had bought the lands; and, no matter of whom it had bought them, or at what price, it would continue to hold them. Tecumseh was now more than ever intent upon war. With his brother he visited the tribes in the South, as well as those in the Northwest, and tried to persuade them to join his confederacy. Tecumseh was untiring in his efforts, and went everywhere. To an American officer whom he met among the Iroquois in 1809, he said that he "had visited the Florida Indians, and Indians so far north that snow covered the ground in midsummer." Near the mouth of the Tippecanoe River, just above the present city of Lafayette, the Prophet had gathered a great following of discontented warriors from many tribes; and to influence them by an appeal to their superstitions, he had established a kind of religious order, with mysterious ceremonies and pretended communings with the spirit world.

At length, by invitation of Governor Harrison, Tecumseh made a visit to Vincennes. He had with him seventy-five warriors fully armed, and he held himself like a conqueror rather than suppliant. The governor received him at his own house courteously, and asked him to be seated with him in the shade of the veranda. The red man haughtily refused, saying, "Houses were built for you to hold councils in, but Indians hold theirs in the open air."



Governor Harrison then went out and talked with the warrior in the open common before his house. Tecumseh conducted himself gravely after the Indian manner, and delivered an eloquent speech in which he recited the many wrongs that his people had suffered at the hands of the Americans. At the close of his speech an officer invited him to take a seat by the side of his "father, the governor." He shook his head, and sat down on the ground, saying: "The sun is my father and the earth is my mother. I will repose on her bosom." For nearly two weeks the governor and the warrior were in almost daily consultation, and many speeches were made by each.

"Brother," said Tecumseh, "this land that was sold, was sold only by a few. If the land is not restored to us, you will see, when we return to our homes, how it will be settled. Brother, I wish you would take pity on the red people and do what I have requested."

But the conference closed without anything being accomplished. Everything was referred to the great father at Washington. The governor assured his savage visitor that "the moon would sooner fall to the ground than the President would suffer his people to be murdered with impunity, and that he would put petticoats on his warriors sooner than give up a country which he had fairly bought from its true owners."

Disappointed, but not down-hearted, Tecumseh returned haughtily to his people. He had pondered so long on the misfortunes of his race that his mind was full of bitterness toward all Americans, and he hated Governor Harrison beyond all measure. In a few days, with twenty trusted warriors, he started again for the South, determined to carry out his plan of uniting all the tribes in one wide-spread conspiracy.)

When the territorial legislature met at Vincennes in the following autumn, Governor Harrison urged the necessity of procuring still more lands from the Indians. "The eastern settlements," he said, "are separated from the western by a considerable extent of Indian lands, and the most fertile tracts that are within our territorial bounds are still their property. Almost entirely divested of the game from which they had drawn their subsistence, it has become of little use to them; and it was the intention of the government to substitute, for the scanty supplies which the chase affords, the more certain support which is derived from agriculture. By the considerate and sensible among them, this plan is considered as the only one that will save them from utter extirpation. But a most formidable opposition has been raised to it by the warriors, who will never agree to abandon their old habits until driven to it by necessity. As long as a deer is to be found in their forests, they will continue to hunt. Are, then, those extinguishments of Indian title, which are at once so beneficial to the Indian, the territory, and the United States, to be suspended on account of the intrigues of a few individuals? Is one of the fairest portions of the globe to remain in a state of nature, the haunt of a few wretched savages, when it seems destined by the Creator to give support to a large population, and to be the seat of civilization, of science, and true religion?"

III. Tippecanoe

Through the next spring and summer fear and uneasiness prevailed all along the border. The Indians had begun in various ways to annoy the settlers, stealing horses, killing cattle, and threatening to destroy the growing crops. Life was unsafe. The backwoods farmer was obliged to carry his rifle with him even when plowing his fields.

Every lonely cabin became a kind of fortified outpost, with loopholes in the walls, and the doors barred and guarded against surprise. Straggling savages prowled around the settlements, intent on mischief; and it was known that bands of warriors were collecting at the Prophet's town on the Tippecanoe with the avowed purpose of making trouble. It seemed as if the former dreadful days of terror and blood and midnight forays were about to come again. It was plain to every one that another Indian war was at hand, and the people of the territory declared, that if the government would not help them, they would take matters into their own hands.

Wilderness cabbin


Governor Harrison was convinced that the time for decisive action had come. In the last week of September, therefore, he set out from Vincennes with a strong force of militia and regulars, and marched northward through the Wabash bottoms toward the Indian rendezvous at Tippecanoe. At the end of a week the army reached a point on the eastern bank of the river, where, according to Indian tradition, a bloody battle had once been fought between the Iroquois and the Illinois. This place was called by the French settlers "Battaille des Illinois," and is now occupied by the flourishing city of Terre Haute. Here an encampment was made, and the army remained for three weeks engaged in building a fort which the soldiers called Fort Harrison. Provisions were scarce, and the supplies that should have followed were long delayed; and so it was not until the last day of October that the governor was able to resume the march.

On the 6th of November he reached the mouth of the Tippecanoe and saw the Indian village in plain view, about a mile and a half distant. The soldiers were anxious to make an immediate attack, but Governor Harrison, wishing to avoid bloodshed if possible, sent forward a messenger to invite the Prophet to a conference. The messenger made his way to the outskirts of the village, but the Indians whom he met refused to speak with him, and he was obliged to return without seeing the prophet or any of the leading warriors.

A deputation of three Indians came out from the town soon afterward, and asked the governor why he had thus brought an army out against them. They said that their people desired to keep the peace, and they begged that he would wait until the next day, when their chiefs would meet him in council and learn what he wished them to do. The governor willingly agreed to this, saying that his army would encamp near by for the night, and that no hostilities should be committed.

A suitable place was therefore found, and the soldiers settled themselves for the night, being much dissatisfied because there was no immediate prospect of fighting. They slept on their arms, their guns being loaded and their bayonets fixed. Strong guards were placed on duty, and every precaution was taken to prevent surprise.

In the meanwhile, the Prophet was busy stirring up his followers to the fighting point and urging them to make a bold stroke in defense of their new religion and their country. The Great Spirit, he said, was on their side and would give them the victory. No white soldiers could withstand them, but would fall before them as the wheat before the sickle. In the darkness of the night, he moved silently from wigwam to wigwam, arousing his warrior's and instructing each one in the part he was to take; and not a sound of all that was going on reached the ears of the sentinels before the American camp.

At about two hours before sunrise the camp was attacked by a great horde of savages, so suddenly that they were within the lines before many of the men could get out of the tents. The morning was dark and cloudy, and the Indians being concealed in the gloom, had much the advantage of the white men just roused from their sleep and plainly visible in the light of the glowing camp fires. The struggle which followed was a terrible one, and for a time the army was almost surrounded. But the officers were experienced Indian fighters, and the men bravely held their ground. Above the din and roar of battle the voice of the Prophet could be heard, urging his warriors onward and promising them a sure victory and great rewards. Daylight soon came and revealed a scene of blood and slaughter seldom equaled in savage warfare. Governor Harrison was in the thickest of the fight; his hat was pierced by a bullet; his officers were shot down by his side; but he himself escaped injury. In the gray dawn he ordered a charge to be made upon the savages. The onslaught was most furious. The Indians, driven at the point of the bayonet, turned and fled; many of them were killed, and the rest hid themselves in a swamp where they could not be followed.

The battle had been a short one, but the loss on both sides was great. Of the Americans, thirty-seven were killed and one hundred and fifty-one wounded, several of whom afterward died of their injuries. The number of Indians slain will never be known, as many are supposed to have been carried away by their comrades.

On the following day a company of mounted riflemen rode into the town, the Prophet's famous capital. The only Indian found there was a chief who had broken his leg. All the rest had fled in a great panic, leaving behind them their household utensils, and even some of their arms. A large quantity of corn was found, and many hogs and fowls; and these were gladly seized upon by the troops.

Governor Harrison, believing that this severe defeat of the Indians would oblige them to seek peace, set out as soon as possible on his return march. The army reached Fort Harrison just one week after the battle, and from that point the wounded were sent forward in boats. On the 18th of November, the governor with a large portion of his army arrived at Vincennes, where he received the thanks and congratulations of the territorial legislature.

Had the Indians been led by the wiser and more prudent Tecumseh instead of by the visionary Prophet, the contest would doubtless have been begun in another way, and the Americans might not have won the victory so easily. But Tecumseh was still absent in the South, trying to persuade the Chickasaws and the Cherokees to aid his conspiracy. When he heard of the defeat at Tippecanoe, he hastened home; but he arrived too late to retrieve his fallen fortunes. He reproached his brother for disobeying his orders, which were to keep peace with the white men until his return. It is said that when the Prophet tried to excuse himself, the angry warrior seized him by the hair and shook him as a dog shakes a raccoon.)

From that time the Prophet had no further influence/. Many of the chiefs hastened to make their peace with Governor Harrison, and to gain further favor promised to give the deceiver the punishment that he deserved. They even went so far as to seek him out and threaten to kill him. "You have lied to us," said they, abusing him. "You told us that the white people were crazy and could do nothing; but we found them to be in their right senses, and able to fight like the bad spirit himself." But they never delivered him to Governor Harrison; and he was suffered to remain among them, despised and disregarded until the day of his death.

Tecumseh's brother


As for Tecumseh, he gave up his plan of an Indian confederacy; and as the War of 1812 was then in progress, he went to Canada and allied himself with the English, and became an officer in the king's army. In the battle that was fought on the River Thames, he was the most striking figure. Even before the beginning of the fight he foresaw that the English must be defeated. This meant to him the end of all hope, and he made up his mind not to leave the field of battle alive. He took off the British uniform which had been given him, and put on the war dress of an Indian brave. Then, with a wild war whoop, he dashed into the thickest of the fight, where he soon found the death which he desired.

IV. A Harbinger of Prosperity

At the very time that Governor Harrison was marching against the Prophet at Tippecanoe, the first steamboat on the Ohio River was launched at Pittsburg. The name of the vessel was the Orleans, and as it floated down the river belching smoke from its tall funnel, the settlers along the banks were filled with wonder and consternation. There were no newspapers in that region, and news of every kind traveled but slowly. Not many of the people had ever heard of a steamboat, And the strange craft was regarded as some monster that might carry death and devastation in its track. At one place it was thought to be the British army, and the people fled in terror to the hills until it was safely past. At other places it was believed to be a comet that had fallen into the river and was floating down to the sea.

The coming of that strange craft, however, was the harbinger of greater prosperity in the Northwest. Trade with New Orleans and with the new towns on the Ohio and Mississippi was quickened and increased. Other steam-boats came, and there were demands for grain and wool and furs and pork to be shipped to the markets down the river. Commerce had begun. People in the Atlantic states were told about the possibilities and resources of the Northwest, and the tide of immigration soon increased.

When finally the war with England ended, and the Indians now no longer encouraged by British intrigue were ready to give up their lands and retire to other homes beyond the Mississippi, a new era dawned upon the country. Ohio had already been admitted into the sisterhood of states. In 1816, Indiana came into the Union with boundaries essentially as they are to-day; and two years later Illinois was admitted. But it was not until 1837 that Michigan was allowed to become a state; and Wisconsin remained a territory still eleven years longer.