The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Pontiac's Conspiracy

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton

 

 PONTIAC'S CONSPIRACY.

The year of the treaty of Paris, 1763, was fixed upon by Pontiac for a supreme attempt to hurl back the tide of English conquest and settlement. "Pontiac," says Cooley, "was one of those rare characters among the Indians whose merits are so transcendent tht, without the aid of adventitious circumstances, they take by common consent the headship in peace and the leadership in war. In battle, he had shown his courage; in council, his eloquence and his wisdom; he was wary in planning and indefatigable in execution; his patriotism was ardent and his ambition boundless and he was at this time in all the region between the headwaters of the Ohio and the distant Mississippi, the most conspicuous figure among the savage tribes, and the predestined leader in any undertaking which should enlist the general interest. Of the Ottawas he was the principal chief, and he made his home at their village opposite and a little above Detroit, with a summer residence in Lake St. Clair. But he was also chief of a loose confederacy of the Ottawas, Ojibways and Pottawatomies, and his influence extended far beyond those tribes, and placed him above rivalry in all the lake region and where, nothing was needed but the breath of his bold and daring spirit to blow them into flames.

Pontiac carefully laid his plans. A "Prophet" rose, who, like Peter the Hermit, preached a crusade against the enemies of his people and wrought up the savages to the highest pitch of excitement and enthusiasm. By every means, Pontiac, worked upon the credulity of the Indians as to the weakness of the English and the power of the great French king, who, said Pontiac, had been asleep, but was not awaking for a terrible vengeance upon their common foes. With the savages banded together from the mouth of the Mississippi to the northern wilds of the Ottawas (for a war of extermination), Pontiac planned to strike at the same moment every English post from the Niagara of the straits of Mackinac.

Upon the unsuspecting garrison at Mackinac, the premeditated blow fell like a bolt of thunder from a clear sky. The capture of this indispensable post was entrusted by Pontiac to the Ojibway chieftain, Mih-neh-weh-na. The date set was June 4, the birthday of King George of England. The stratagem was worthy of Ulysses--a game of ball called by the Indians bagattiway, by means of which the Indians were enabled to assemble in the immediate vicinity of the fort to celebrate the King's birthday. According to the Ojibway historian, Warren, this game is played with a bat about four feet long, and a wooden ball. The bat terminates at one end in a circular curve, which is netted with leather strings, and forms a cavity where the ball is caught, carried and, if necessary, thrown with great force to treble the distance that it can be thrown by hand. Two posts are planted at the distance of about half a mile. Each party had its particular post, and the game consisted in carrying, or throwing, the ball in the bat to the post of the adversary. At the commencement of the game the two parties collected midway between the two posts. The ball was thrown up into the air and the competition for its possession began in earnest. It was the wildest game known among the Indians, played in full feathers and ornaments, and with the greatest excitement and vehemence. The great object was to get the ball. During the heat of the excitement no obstacle was allowed to stand in the way of getting at it. Should it fall over a high enclosure, the wall would immediately be surmounted, or town down if needful, and the ball recovered. The game was well adapted to carry out the scheme of the Indians. During its progress they managed to send the ball over the stockade and into the fort. The soldiers were mostly off duty, it being a holiday, and were watching the game, when suddenly the fort was filled with savages, the war-whoop resounded, and grasping from under the blanket of the Indian women the shortened funs, tomahawks, and knives which they had concealed, the massacre commenced. In an incredibly short time the garrison were butchered, nearly to a man, and the post was in possession of the Indians.

Had not an Ojibway maiden's love for major Gladwin, who commanded the fort at Detroit, led her to reveal to him Pontiac's secret plan, that post would probably have shared the fate that befell Mackinac. Pontiac's plan was to get all his warriors in readiness and have them distributed around the fort, while he, with sixty of his chiefs, should enter the fort all armed with sawed-off rifles which would be concealed under their blankets. They were to come upon pretense of holding a council with Major Gladwin and to smoke the pipe of peace with the English. Gladwin was ready. When the chiefs were at length seated on the mats, Pontiac rose, and holding in his hand the belt of wampum with which he was to have given the signal of massacre, commenced a speech cunningly devised and full of flattery. He professed the most profound friendship for the English and declared he had come in the express purpose of smoking the pipe of peace. Once he seemed about to give the signal, when Gladwin made a sign with his hand and instantly there was the clash of arms without, the drums rolled a charge and every man's hand was on his weapons. Pontiac was astounded. He caught the firm, unflinching look on Gladwin's face, and at length sat down in great perplexity.

Major Gladwin made a brief and pointed reply., he assured the chief that he should be treated as a friend so long as he deserved it, but the first attempt at treachery would be paid for in blood. The council broke up. The gates were opened, and the baffled and disconcerted savage and his followers were suffered to depart. Pontiac plainly saw that his treachery was anticipated, and bore himself with most consummate tact. Withdrawing to his village, he took counsel with his chiefs.

Once more Pontiac tried diplomacy. On the morning of May 9, the common about the fort was thronged with a great concourse of Ojibways, Ottawas, Pottawatomies, and Hurons. Soon the stately form of Pontiac was seen approaching the gate. The gate was closed. He demanded entrance. Gladwin replied that he could enter, but his followers must remain without. In a rage, Pontiac withdrew to where his swarming followers were lying flat on the ground just beyond gunshot range. Instantly the whole plain became dark with savages, running, whooping, screeching, and soon the scalp halloo told the bloody fate of the settlers outside the fort whom their fury could reach. Pontiac took no part personally in these outrages, but rapidly completed plans for a protracted siege of the fort.

A direct attack on the fort, made shortly afterwards, was repulsed, and Gladwin seems to have felt that this would be the end. He was in need of provisions and thought tht he could at least safely try negotiations. Pontiac instantly saw his opportunity; he assumed such an honest countenance and played the game with such tact that, while planning the deepest treachery, he succeeded in getting to his camp the person of Major Campbell, who, before major Gladwin, had held command at the fort since the country had passed into the hands of the British. His life was to made an equivalent for the surrender of the fort; from that lion's den major Campbell never returned. In spite of Pontiac's efforts to protect him, he was a few days later treacherously murdered.

For weeks the siege continued. Both sides were in sore straits for provisions and both were looking for reinforcements. A force sent from Niagara to relieve the fort was cut to pieces on the way by the Indians, and the supplies captured. News was received of the massacre at Sandusky. A schooner sent out by major Gladwin for supplies made a successful return, and heartened the little garrison with a welcome supply of men, arms, and munitions, and with news of the treaty of peace between France and England, by which the Canadian possessions, including Detroit, were ceded to the latter. Pontiac refused to believe the news of the peace and persuaded his followers that it was a mere invention of the English in the fort to defeat them. He renewed the siege with vigor. But passage of time without achievement began to tell on the spirit of the savages. A portion of them began to grow weary. The siege began to drag.

In the meantime a strong reinforcement under command of Captain Dalzell, was on the way from Niagara to aid the fort, and with him a detachment of rangers under the famous major Robert Rogers. On his arrival, Captain Dalzell and major Gladwin held a conference, in which the Major was reluctantly persuaded by the impetuous Dalzell to try to surprise the Indians by a night sally. Pontiac was a past-master, however, in stratagems. At a small stream, called then patent's Creek, but since that fatal night named "Bloody Run," the two hundred and fifty men of the fort's detachment were ambushed by Pontiac with a band of five hundred chosen warriors, and all but annihilated. Among the slain was Captain Dalzell. The immediate result was to inspirit the Indians, who were joined by large reinforcements. Elsewhere on the frontier a greater degree of success had attended the plans of Pontiac. Fort St. Joseph, on the St. Joseph river, had been taken in May. Mackinac had fallen an easy prey to the northern Ojibways in June. The forts at Green Bay, on the Maumee river, on the Wabash, and at Presque Isle, had been captured. The Indians, under the genius of Pontiac, had concerted their actions in a well-nigh universal crusade against the English, which bade fair to be successful. They yet lacked complete success at Forts Pitt, Niagara, and Detroit.

A gleam of hope shot through the darkness when the gallant Col. Henry Bouquet, defeating the Indians in a desperate and bloody battle, relieved Fort Pitt. The Indians about Detroit heard of great preparations to send a strong force against them; notwithstanding their successes, they now began to waver, and to despair of taking the fort. The Indians were glad for a truce, and under its cover Major Gladwin laid ina supply of provisions for the winter. Only the Ottawas continued to prosecute the siege, with petty skirmishing. The final blow to the hopes of Pontiac was the receipt of advice from M. Neyon, the French commander at Fort Chartres, in the Illinois country, that the Indians had better abandon the war and go home. Pontiac had cherished the forlorn hope that the French would yet recover the country from the English. In great rage he now withdrew to the Maumee, determined on a renewal of hostilities in the spring. Bit in the spring a great council was held by Sir William Johnson at Niagara, attended by an immense concourse of Indians from all the western country. A treaty was concluded, and the war virtually ended. On July 23, 1766, Pontiac met Sir William Johnson at Oswego and signed a definite treaty of peace, along with deputies from most of the western nations then living east of the Mississippi. A few years later, in 1769, the great Ottawa chieftain was treacherously assassinated by a member of one of the tribes of the Illinois Indians.

 

History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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