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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.
Sections of the memoir have been titled to facilitate navigation within the document.
By this time, we had done business with almost all of the Indians on the Wabash and Illinois, and as high as the Ioways, Sauks and Renards, the inhabitants of the bottoms of Lake Michigan, etc., and the country at this time appeared to be in a perfect state of tranquillity. I was pleased to learn that our new post, at the falls of Ohio, continued to gather strength, as well as the Kentucky in general, and that a powerful expedition was to move from Pittsburg to Detroit. This, with the thought of what we had done, caused us to enjoy ourselves for the first time since our arrival. But it did not last long. A party of the Missouri Indians came several hundred miles down that river to see us. Their curiosity was so great that they could not resist the temptation. They informed us that the whole of their business was a visit; that they had often heard of the big knives and wished to see them, and hoped that their curiosity (might) be excused, which was, and themselves and families treated (well) while they staid. They appeared to be something different in their manner, and complexion much fairer, than any other Indians I had seen, and suppose that that gave rise to the idea of there being Welch Indians in that quarter.
Captain Helm informed me, by express, that the British had sent an emissary to the (Ouiatanon) with considerable quantity of goods to attempt to regain the affections of the Indians in that quarter; that he thought he might be taken if I would authorize the attempt; several gentlemen at the Opost (Vincennes) were of the same opinion. I authorized the enterprise and empowed the captain to act agreeably to the councils held among themselves, but that if they, at any time, on finding the attempt dangerous or the chances against them, to relinquish the enterprise and return, giving out that they had only made a small excursion to see their friends, etc.
He set out by water with men, chiefly inhabitants of St. Vincent, and proceeded up the Wabash, the French merchants going along trading with the Indians on the way, and (the) captain speaking to (them) on public affairs as if this was intended as a visit he wished to pay them, and that those with him attended in compliance and to see a little about their trade. They did not appear as having any hostile intentions until they got near the Weaugh's. They then made all the expedition possible; entered the fort and took the Kite and twenty or thirty Chipeway warriors-then in council-prisoners. The emissary (I forget his name) frequently heard of this party coming up the river, but was told, by the Indians, that they meant no harm; that the big knives that were along only came with the traders to give good talks to his friends, etc. But after a few days he began to suspect the sincerity of the Indians and moved off up the river a little before Captain Helm arrived. Those Chipeways were a party he had invited to meet at the Weaugh and get supplied and make war at the Opost. They arrived but a few minutes before our party. Hearing the news and finding their friends gone, they stepped into the fort as a convenience to take some refreshments and hold a council. They had scarcely commenced before our party entered and closed the gate on them, as the inhabitants did not give them notice of the approach of the party. The Indians were much alarmed at finding themselves so suddenly taken, and had but little to say for themselves at first.
After some consultation between Captain Helm and the French gentlemen with him, it was thought that a good advantage might be made of this adventure, and fixed on the plan. There was a great deal said to the prisoners, but the whole amount was this: That the big knives never to catch a person stealing, and, as that was the case in the present instance, they, the Indians, were at liberty, and might fight for the English as long as they pleased; that if they again fell into the hands of the big knives, they might expect what would be their fate. The Indians gave a suitable answer to this seeming generosity, and declared that they would never fight against the big knives again, and I understand that these Indians frequently mentioned this adventure and spoke much in our favor.
Our party returned in safety to the Opost, having spoken with the greater part of the Indians, much to the satisfaction of both parties. So great was our interest among the Indians at this time, that Governor Hamilton, on his expedition against St. Vincent, with all his influence, could raise no more than four or five hundred Indians to accompany him.
The Chicasaws being at war, I wished to have some correspondence with them, to feel their pulse. I did not choose to send to them, as it would appear too much like begging a peace, as they call it. It occurred to me that the Kaskaskia Indians had been long at war with the Chicasaws, which had seemingly (subsided) for some time, and Batteast, the Kansas chief, I knew (to be) much in our interest. I proposed that he should go and propose a firm peace between him and the Chicasaws, and, if he succeeded, to mention something of the big knife. I was in hopes to bring on a correspondence in this manner. Batteast went without knowing what was my real design. The Chicasaws received him very kindly, but he could not complete his own business for the want of chiefs who were out of the way. He mentioned the Americans, but their conversation on the subject was cool and answered no good purpose.
The winter now approaching, things began to wear a more gloomy aspect. Not a word from government. Generally informed that there was a great preparation making at Detroit for a grand expedition and that some movement had already taken place as far as the Onitown (Weatown), and talks sent to all the Indians. We supposed that it was preparation to give the army from Fort Pitt as warm a reception as possible, etc.
All this information gave us, at first, some pleasure, until we learned that the army from Pittsburg, instead of marching into Detroit, had spent their time in parade and building a fine post to facilitate their future designs. This information we soon got from the falls and disappointed us very much.
One Denny, an inhabitant of Kohokia, was taken by Major Bowman for writing, through the Indians, to his friend near Detroit, giving dangerous information. His letters were intercepted, and himself tied to the tail of a cart, and by dawn received a lash at every door in town and (was) burned in the hand for other misdemeanors. This was the first and most severe punishment we had inflicted on any of the inhabitants. It was necessary at this time to show the people that we were capable of extremes either way, and that the good treatment we had shown them was from the principles of the government. No information from St. Vincent for some time past. As once a fortnight was the fixed time of the post, we began to suspect something was wrong. We sent spies that did not return, and we remained in a state of suspense. I had prepared to set out from Kaskaskia to Kohokia, but weather proved too bad for several days. At length set out, while it was snowing, but likely to clear up, which it did in about half hour. We observed that six or seven men had passed some distance on the road since the snow had ceased, which we supposed were persons from town, but wondered what they could be after. Having several chairs along (and) approaching near the river, one of the carriages sank into a rut. The gentleman who rode in it was some time getting it out, as the others would not suffer any assistance to be given until their laughter was out. We went cheerfully to Prairie de Rocher, twelve miles from Kaskaskia, where I intended to spend the evening at Captain Barber's. After supper a dance was proposed, in the height of which an express arrived, informing me that late that evening some negroes, being up the Kaskaskia river cutting of wood, that a party of white men and Indians came to them, and, after asking them a number of questions, told them that there were eight hundred of them Iying within a few miles and they intended to attack the fort that night, but if they gave information they would be put to death, and went off. Some of the negroes gave the information, and the express dispatched after me. This sounded to us much like the truth.
We had had various suspicions for some time past; no information from the post, the various reports of the Indians, and our spies not returning, and the tracks we had seen in the road occurred to us. The village we were in was much alarmed. I was persuaded to cross the river to the Spanish side as a security of protection, as the fort must be invested before that time. I laughed at the idea, and, much to their amazement, resolved (to make) the attempt to get into the fort. I ordered our horses, borrowed clothes, and every man dressed like a hunter, and set out - politically making very merry on the subject. The snow was on the ground, and the moon shone very bright, taking the express with me in order to have time to think. In about a quarter of an hour I wrote a card to Major Bowman, at Kohokia, ordering him down with his company and all the volunteers he could raise; to be cautious, and if he found that he could not render service, to make St. Genevieve his retreat, and to act [a word here doubtful]. The express was mounted on the best horse we had. Being an expert woodman, he had orders to run the horse as long as he could go faster than he could himself on foot, then to quit him and make the best of his way.
We proceeded, leaving the road where there was any woods for a covert for an enemy. The design of our dressing as woodmen, in leggins, cassocks, handkerchiefs tied on our heads, was, in case the enemy had actually invested the fort, to quit our horses, fall into their lines, and fight with the Indians, as probably they would not be apt to discover us from their friends, the English, until we could make our way good with them to a certain gut (gully), near one of the angles of the fort, where there was a small sally-port, where we could easily make ourselves known, and probably draw some of them into it. This was our plan. In seeming desperate situation, getting near the town, all was silent. We approached cautiously, discovered that no body of men had passed, as could be easily discovered in the snow. By our taking a circuitous route we were (let) in, much to the joy of the whole. I found every preparation I could have wished for, and, from every circumstance, we must expect the enemy in the neighborhood, particularly from the manner of the conversation with the negroes. The night passed off without any further alarm, and generally supposed that the snow had prevented the attack. I spent the night in various plans. I knew that it was impossible that we could defend the town or hold out long in the fort, but was in hopes of baffling the attempt, and fight them away. By a very plausible report (that they must have taken St. Vincent to get to us), we had received full information of their whole proceedings, and had sent an express to Kentucky for an army to march across and intercept their retreat, etc., etc.
As, by the report of the negroes, the most of the inhabitants of the town were much threatened, I was afraid that they would propose the defense of it, but, that nothing should appear wanting in us, I sent for the principal of them and put the question to them, and desired them to speak their sentiments freely. After some deliberation they told me that they thought it prudent to remain neutral. It was certainly a more judicious resolution and what I wished, but I made my advantage of it. I pretended to be in a passion, desired them to go to their homes, that I should do no further business with them, that I expected they would see their town in flames. They went off, and some of the young men came in volunteers. Some of them privately advised that all the wood in town be brought into the garrison, but received but a slight answer, and (were) told that we had plenty of provisions. Several buildings being near the walls of the fort, the inhabitants were told to move out, that they would be immediately burned. A large barn that stood not far off, full of grain, was immediately set on fire, without anything being taken out of it, and some other small buildings torn down and carried into the fort for fuel and preparations made to set other buildings on fire, for all was now confusion-the town on fire, the women and children screaming, moving, etc. I sensibly felt for them. Some of them begged to know how much of the town I intended to burn, that they might move their goods off. They were informed that it was far from us to destroy more than was absolutely necessary; that they must be sensible that, at a time like this, it was our duty to do anything necessary to promote our safety; that, although I knew the enemy would soon be intercepted by an army from Kentucky, yet they might do us much damage if we did not take necessary precautions; that we only meant to destroy the provisions, that it should not fall into the hands of the enemy; that they must confess that it was right; but the wind was unfavorable; no more buildings should be fired until it shifted.
They went off, and we waited to see the issue of this. In a very little time we observed the carts began to play, and in two hours we had upwards of six months' provisions in store. This policy was to make ourselves appear as daring as possible, as well as to get provisions. The people were desired to stop, as perhaps the report was false; that the spies would soon return, when we should know better how to proceed. They did, in a short time, and informed (us) that they had discovered the trail of seventy or eighty men, who appeared to direct their course towards the Opost, but no appearance of a formidable force in the neighborhood. Things got more quiet. The day following Major Bowman arrived with a considerable number of men. We now began to feel ourselves of more importance. It was now conjectured that St. Vincent was certainly in the hands of the enemy, and that the party (who) had been in the neighborhood had been sent from that place on some errand or other, and, the snow falling, found it impossible to remain undiscovered, as they must hunt; had given the alarm in order to have time to escape. This was nearly the case, as we hereafter learned. They were a party composed chiefly of Indians, sent by Governor Hamilton, then in possession of St. Vincent, with very polite instructions to lay in the neighborhood of the Illinois until they could get an opportunity of making a prisoner of me, but by no means to kill me; that, in case of success, they were to treat me with every politeness, on their return to furnish me with a horse, and to prevent me from taking a little amusement I should want on the way, but that I should be always attended by persons on better horses than I had myself. Thus I was to be a prisoner of state in the hands of the savages.
This party, by some means or other,-I never could be perfectly (sure) from whom (they) got information (that) a visit to the garrison of Kohokia (was) intended (by me). They fixed themselves back of a hill near the road, about three miles above Kaskaskia, always keeping a few as a lookout on the road. These fellows had advanced nearer to the town, the day I set out, than usual. The snow coming on, they had set out to return to their camp, and walked some distance in the road, which was the tracks we saw. The country in these parts being very open, and we riding very fast, they found it impossible to make their way good, so as to alarm their camp without being discovered, and secreted themselves behind some rocks and bushes, within seven or eight yards of the little gully, where the carriage swamped, and we tarried. They reported that they could have surprised and taken the most of us, but that not being able to distinguish me from the rest, as we were all muffled up with cloaks, they were afraid to fire for fear of killing me; but I imagine the truth was they were afraid to discover themselves, as (we) were near double their number, and even the servants completely armed. The bad weather certainly (helped?), as they did not expect us out, and the body of them had returned to their camp, and only seven, who had advanced further on the road, were out.
Finding that their hopes were now blasted and that they could not remain without being discovered, they fell in with the negroes, with a design to raise such an alarm as should give them time to get off, which they completely effected. The instruction to this party was one principal cause of the respect shown to Governor Hamilton by our officers when he fell into our hands, but his treatment when he was in Virginia was very different and unsatisfactory to them, as they thought it in some measure affected themselves. But, to return, it was concluded to send other spies to St. Vincent, and in the meantime to prepare ourselves to act occasionally, being fully confident that a revolution would shortly take place; either for or against us. We wished to strengthen ourselves as much as possible. The volunteers who accompanied Major Bowman from Kohokia (were) dismissed, and an elegant set of colors presented to them. Those (who were) but badly armed were completed out of the stores, and presents made to the others, etc.
As an acknowledgment for the willingness they had shown on the present occasion, they paraded about town with their new flag and equipments, and viewed themselves as superior to the young fellow-Kaskaskians, which caused so much animosity between the two parties that it did not subside until I interfered some time after by a little piece of policy that reconciled them, while it suited my own convenience. After making every arrangement that we thought more conclusive to our safety, Major Bowman returned to his quarters, and we remained in suspense, waiting for the return of the spies. We had thought that if we found there was no probability of keeping possession of our posts to abandon them, just on the approach of the enemy, return to Kentucky, as that had considerably increased, raise a force sufficient to intercept and prevent the English from returning again to Detroit, as we knew the Indians were not fond of long campaigns and would leave them.
On the 29th of January, 1779, Mr. Francis Vigo, a Spanish merchant, who had been at St. Vincennes, arrived and gave the following information:
That Governor Hamilton, with thirty regulars, fifty French volunteers, Indian agents, interpreters, boatmen, etc., that amounted to a considerable number, and about four hundred Indians, had, in December last, taken that post, and as the season was so far advanced, it was thought impossible to reach the Illinois. He sent some of the Indians to Kentucky to watch the Ohio, disbanding of others, etc., the whole to meet again in spring, drive us out of the Illinois and attack the Kentucky settlements, in a body, joined by their southern friends; that all the goods were taken from the merchants of St. Vincent for the king's use; that the troops under Hamilton were repairing the fort, and expected a reinforcement from Detroit in the spring; that they appeared to have plenty of all kinds of stores; that they were strict in their discipline, but that he didn't believe they were under much apprehension of a visit, and believed that, if we could get there undiscovered, we might take the place. In short, we got every information from this gentleman that we could wish for, as he had had good opportunities, and had taken great pains to inform himself, with a design to give intelligence.
We now viewed ourselves in a very critical situation-in a manner cut off from any intercourse between us and the United States. We knew that Governor Hamilton, in the spring, by a junction of his northern and southern Indians, which he had prepared for, would be at the head of such a force that nothing in this quarter could withstand his arms; that Kentucky must immediately fall, and well if the desolation would end there. If we could immediately make our way good to Kentucky, we were convinced that before we could raise a force even sufficient to save that country it would be too late; as all the men in it, joined by the troops we had, would not be sufficient, and to get timely succor from the interior frontiers was out of the question. We saw but one alternative, which was to attack the enemy in their quarters. If we were fortunate, it would save the whole; if otherwise it would be nothing more than what would certainly be the consequence if we should not make the attempt.