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Indiana Historical Bureau

George Rogers Clark > Letter from George Rogers Clark to his Friend George Mason > Letter - Part Three Letter - Part Three

What they here alluded to was part of the speech that I had sent to them, explaining to them the nature of the war in the following manner.

That a great many years ago, our forefathers lived in England, but the king oppressed them in such a manner that they were obliged to cross the great waters to get out of his way. But he, not being satisfied to lose so many subjects, sent governors and soldiers among them to make them obey his laws, but told his governors to treat them well and to take but little from them until they grew populous, that then they would be able to pay a great deal. By the good treatment we got we grew to be a great people and flourished fast. The king then wrote to his governor and officers that we had got rich and numerous enough; that it was time to make us pay tribute; that he did not care how much they took, so as they left us enough to eat, and that he had sent them a great many soldiers to make the Americans pay, if they refused; that when they had made the Americans do as they pleased, they would then make the Indians pay likewise; but for fear the Indians should find out by the big knives that the English intended to make them also pay, and should get mad with the English for their treatment of their neighbors---the big knives---that they, his governors, should make us quarrel, etc. We bore their taxes many years. At last they were so hard that if we killed a deer they would take the skin away and leave us the meat, and made us buy blankets with corn, to feed their soldiers with. By such usage, we got poor and was obliged to go naked, and at last we complained. The king got mad and made his soldiers kill some of our people, and burn some of our villages. The old men then held a great council and made the tomahawk very sharp and put it into the hands of the young men, told them to be strong and strike the English as long as they could find one on this island. They immediately struck and killed a great many of the English. The French king, hearing of it, sent to the Americans and told them to be strong and fight the English like men; that if they wanted help or tomahawks, he would furnish them, etc., etc.

This speech had a greater effect than I could have imagined, and did more service than a regiment of men could have done. It was with astonishment that (we) viewed the amazing number of savages that soon flocked into the town of Cohos to treat for peace and to hear what the big knives had to say, many of them 500 miles distant, Chipoways, Ottoways, Petawatomies, Missesogies, Puans, Sacks, Foxes, Sayges, Tauways, Maumies, and a number of other nations, all living east of the Mississippi, and many of them at war against us. I must confess that I was under some apprehension among such a number of devils, and it proved to be just, for the second or third night a party of Puans and others endeavored to force by the guards into my lodgings to bear me off, but was happily detected and made prisoners by the alacrity of the sergeant. The town took the alarm and was immediately under arms, which convinced the savages that the French were in our interest.

I was determined to follow the principle that I had set out upon, let the consequences be what it would. I immediately ordered the chiefs to be put In irons by the French militia. They insisted that it was only to see whether the French would take part with the Americans or not; that they had no ill design. This treatment of some of the greatest chiefs among them occasioned great confusion among the rest of the savages. The prisoners, with great submission, solicited to speak to me, but was refused. They then made all the interest they possibly could among the other Indians, who (were) much at a loss what to do as there was strong guards through every quarter of the town, to get to speak to me, but I told the whole that I believed they were a set of villains; that they had joined the English, and they were welcome to continue in the cause they had espoused; that I was a man and a warrior; that I did not care who (were) my friends or foes, and had no more to say to them. Such conduct alarmed the whole town, but I was sensible that it would gain us no more enemies than we had already, and, if they after solicited for terms, that it would be more sincere and probably have a lasting good effect on the Indian nations. Distrust was visible in the countenance of almost every person during the latter part of the day. To show the Indians that I disregarded them, I remained in my lodgings in the town, about one hundred yards from the fort, seemingly without a guard, but I kept about fifty men concealed in a parlor adjoining, and the garrison under arms. There was great counseling among the savages during the night. But to make them have the greater idea of my indifference about them, I assembled a number of gentlemen and ladies and danced nearly the whole night. In the morning I summoned the different nations to a grand council, and the chiefs, under guard, (were) released and invited to council that I might speak to them in the presence of the whole.

After the common ceremonies (were) over, I produced a bloody belt of wampum and spoke to them in the following manner:

I told the chiefs (who were) guilty, that I was sensible their nation was engaged in favor of the English, and, if they thought it right, I did not blame them for it, and exhorted them to behave like men and support the cause they had undertaken; that I was sensible that the English was weak and wanted help; that I scorned to take any advantage of them by persuading their friends to desert them; that there was no people but Americans but would put them to death for their late behavior; that it convinced me of their being my enemies, but it was beneath the character of Americans to take such revenge; that they were at their liberty to do as they pleased, but to behave like men, and not to do any mischief until three days after they left the town; that I should have them escorted safe out of the village, and, after that expiration of time, if they did not choose to return and fight me, they might find Americans enough by going further. That if they did not want their own women and children massacred, they must leave off killing ours and only fight men under arms, which was commendable; that there was the war belt, we should soon see which of us would make it the most bloody, etc. Then told them that it was customary among all brave men to treat their enemies well when assembled as we were; that I should give them provisions and rum while they staid, but by their behavior I could not conceive that they deserved that appellation, and I did not care how soon they left me after that day.

I observed that their countenances and attitude favored my real design---the whole looked like a parcel of criminals. The other nations rose and made many submissive speeches, excusing themselves for their conduct in a very pretty manner, and (there was) something noble in their sentiments (their talk, I enclose). They alleged that they were persuaded to war by the English and made to harbor a wrong opinion of the Americans, but they now believed them to be men and warriors and could wish to take them by the hand as brothers; that they did not speak from their lips only, but that I should hereafter find that they spoke from their hearts, and that they hoped I would pity their blindness and their women and children, and also solicited for their friends that had been guilty of the late crime.

I told them that I had instructions from the great man of the big knives not to ask peace from any people, but to offer peace and war and let them take their choice, except a few of the worst nations to whom I was to grant no peace, for, as the English could fight us no longer, he was afraid our young warriors would get rusty without they could get somebody to fight, etc. I presented them with a peace and war belt and told them to take their choice, excepting those who had been imprisoned. They, with a great deal of seeming joy, took the belt of peace. I told them I would defer smoking the peace pipe until I heard that they had called in all their warriors, and then we would conclude the treaty with all the ceremony necessary for so important (an) occasion. They immediately solicited for some persons to go with them to be witness of their conduct, and hoped that I would favor their guilty friends, which I refused; and was pleased to see them set trembling as persons frightened at the apprehension of the worst fate.

Their speaker then rose and made a most lamentable speech, such as I could have wished for---begging mercy for their women and children---for the French gentlemen, whom they put the greatest confidence in, had given them lessons that favored my purpose. I recommended it to them to go to their father, the English; as he had told them that he was strong, perhaps he might help them as he had promised; that they could blame no person but themselves when their nation should be given with the English to the dogs to eat. When they had tried their eloquence to no purpose, they pitched on two young men for to be put to death as an atonement for the rest, hoping that would pacify me. It would have surprised you to have seen how submissively those two young men presented themselves for death, advancing into the middle of the floor, sitting down by each other and covering their heads with their blankets to receive the tomahawk. Peace was what I wanted with them, if I got it on my own terms, but this stroke prejudiced me in their favor, and, for a few moments, (I) was so agitated that I don't doubt but that I should, without reflection, (have) killed the first man that would have offered to have hurt them.

My wishes respecting this treaty were now complete, and I since find no room to blame myself for any omission in what followed in the treaty, which time has already proved the good effects of it throughout the Illinois country.

Our influence now began to spread among the nations, even to the border of the lakes. I sent agents into every quarter. I continued about five weeks in the town of Cohos, in which time I had settled a peace with ten or twelve different nations.

Being much fatigued, I returned to Kaskaskia, leaving Major Bowman to act, in which he did himself much honor. An intimacy had commenced between Don Leybrau, Lieutenant-Governor of Western Illinois,* [Don Francisco de Leyha, Spanish Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Louisiana] and myself. He omitted nothing in his power to prove his attachment to the Americans with such openness as left no room for a doubt. As I was never before in company with any Spanish gentlemen, I was much surprised in my expectations, for instead of finding that reserve thought peculiar to that nation, I here saw not the least symptoms of it; freedom, almost to excess, gave the greatest pleasure. As my return to Kaskaskia, I found everything as well as I could have expected.