A Celebration of Women Writers

"Part V, Chapter 50." by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-)
From: This country of ours; the story of the United States by Henrietta Elizabeth Marshall (1876-) New York, George H. Doran company, 1917.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom


CHAPTER 50
THE REBELLION OF PONTIAC

"DO you not know the difference between the King of France and the King of Britain?" a Frenchman once asked an Indian. "Go, look at the forts which our King has built, you will see that you can still hunt under their very walls. They have been built for your good in the places where you go. The British on the other hand are no sooner in possession of a place than they drive the game away, the trees fall before them, the earth is laid bare, so that you can scarcely find a few branches with which to make a shelter for the night."

 

The Frenchman spoke truth. The British settlers were, for the most part, grave and earnest men who had come to seek new homes. They felled trees and built their houses, and ploughed the land, turning wilderness into cornfields and meadow.

British settlers

The Frenchmen came for the sake of religion or for adventure, they set up crosses and claimed the land for God and the King. They scattered churches and hamlets far in the wilderness, but left the wilderness and the forest still the Redman's hunting ground. The Frenchmen treated the Indians with an easy, careless sort of friendliness, while most of the British looked down upon them as savages.

French settlers

So very soon after the British took possession of Canada the Indians became very discontented. For now they got no more presents, they were no longer treated as brothers, and they were hurt both in their pockets and their pride. "The English mean to make slaves of us," they said, in haughty indignation, and soon a plot to murder all the British was formed.

Discontent of Indians

The French who still lived in Canada encouraged the Indians in their discontent, telling them that the English meant thoroughly to root them out. Then a great Medicine Man arose among them who preached war.

A Medicine Man

"The Great Spirit himself appeared unto me," he said. "Thus he spake. 'I am the Lord of Life. It is I who made all men. I work for their safety, therefore I give you warning. Suffer not the English to dwell in your midst, lest their poisons and their sickness destroy you utterly.'"

 

When they heard the Medicine Man speak thus, the Indians were greatly stirred. "The Lord of Life himself," they said, "moves our hearts to war." They became ever more and more eager to fight. They only wanted a leader, and found one in Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas.

Pontiac

He was subtle and fierce, haughty and ambitious, and by far the most clever and powerful chief who ever took up arms against the white man.

 

Now he sent messengers to all the Indian villages both far and near. With them these messengers carried a hatchet, stained with blood, and a war belt of scarlet wampum. When they came to a village they called the braves together. Then in their midst their spokesman flung down the blood stained hatchet, and holding the belt in his hand he made a passionate speech, reminding the Redmen of their wrongs, and calling upon them to be avenged upon their foes. And wherever the messengers went the blood stained hatchet was seized, and the war dance danced.

 

At length all was arranged and upon a certain day in May the Indians were to rise in a body, and slay the British to a man. Only the French were to be spared.

Indians plot against the British

Pontiac himself was to attack Fort Detroit, and so quietly and secretly were the preparations made that no one had the slightest suspicion of what was going forward. But the day before the attack a farmer's wife rowed across the river, and went to the Indian village to buy some maple sugar. While she was there she was much astonished to see some of the Indian braves filing off the barrels of their guns. The sight made her uneasy. "I wonder what they are up to?" she said.

 

When she got home she told her friends what she had seen.

 

"I believe they are up to some mischief," she repeated.

 

"I think so too," said a blacksmith, "they have been asking me to lend them files and saws."

 

As the settlers talked the matter over they became at length so uneasy that they sent to tell Major Gladwin, the commander of the fort, of what they had seen. He, however, thought nothing of it.

 

But later in the day a young Indian girl came to see him, to bring him a pair of moccasins which he had asked her to make. She seemed very sad and downcast, and after she had given the Major the moccasins she still loitered about.

 

"What's the matter?" asked a young officer.

 

The Indian girl did not answer, she only looked at him gravely with sorrowful brown eyes.

 

Still she lingered about, it was nearly dark, time almost to close the gates. At last the young officer watching her, became certain that something was the matter, and he urged his commander to see the girl again.

 

Major Gladwin at once called the girl to him. "What is the matter?" he asked. "Why are you so sad?"

 

Still she would not speak. Then the Major talked to her kindly, promising that whatever her secret was, it would be safe with him, and that he would never betray her. So at length the Indian girl spoke.

 

"The Indians mean to kill you all," she whispered; "the braves have filed off the ends of their gun barrels so that the guns can be hidden beneath their blankets. To-morrow Pontiac will come with many warriors, and will ask to hold a Council within the fort. He will make a speech, and offer you a peace belt of wampum. At the end of the speech he will turn the belt round–that will be the signal. The chiefs will then spring up, draw the guns from their hiding places, and kill you all. Indians outside will kill all your soldiers. Not one of you will escape."

her story

So saying the girl went sadly away.

 

Gladwin at once called his officers and told them what he had heard. They were convinced now that evil was afoot, and all night they kept watch lest the Indians should change their minds, and make their attack during the night.

 

But the night passed peacefully. When morning came a great many Indians were seen to be gathered about the fort, and at ten o'clock Pontiac, followed by his chiefs, entered the gateway.

Pontiac enters the Fort;

They stalked in proudly, garbed in all the glory of savage splendours. They were cloaked in bright coloured blankets, and hung about with beads and hawk-bells. Their heads were decorated with eagle feathers, and their faces hideously painted.

 

Pontiac came first, and as he passed beneath the gateway, he started, and drew a sharp, deep breath. For both sides of the narrow street were lined with soldiers gun in hand. He had been betrayed! Yet the haughty chiefs made no sign. In silence they stalked on, not a muscle of their faces moving. Here and there as they passed on they saw traders standing about in groups, every man fully armed. Not a woman or child was to be seen.

he finds it guarded

At length the Indians reached the Council Hall. Here they found the commander seated awaiting them, surrounded by his officers. They, too, were armed, for every man of them wore a sword by his side and a brace of pistols in his belt.

 

Ill at ease now, the Indians gazed at each other in doubt what to do.

 

Then Pontiac spoke, "why," he asked, "do I see so many of my father's braves standing in the street with their guns?"

 

"Because I exercise my soldiers," replied Gladwin calmly, "for the good of their health, and also to keep discipline."

The Council begins

This answer made the Indians still more uneasy, but after some hesitation they all sat down on the floor. Then with due ceremony Pontiac rose, and holding the belt of peace in his hand began to speak. His words were fair. They had come, he said, to tell of their love for the English, "to smoke the pipe of peace, and make the bonds of friendship closer."

 

As he spoke his false and cunning words, the officers kept a watchful eye upon him. Would he give the signal or not, they asked themselves.

 

He raised the belt. At that moment Gladwin made a quick, slight signal. Immediately from the passage with out came the sound of grounding arms, and the rat-tat of a drum. Pontiac stood rigid, as one turned to stone. Then after a moment's deathly silence he sat down.

 

In the silence Gladwin sat looking steadily and fearlessly at the Indians. Then he replied shortly to Pontiac's fine speech, "The friendship of the British should be theirs," he said, "so long as they deserved it."

 

The Council was at an end. The gates of the fort which had been closed were now thrown open again, and the savages, balked in their treachery, stalked back to their wigwams.

The Indians leave the Fort;

But Pontiac was not yet beaten, and again he tried to master the fort by treachery. And when he found the gates of the fort shut against him, his rage was terrible. Then seeing they could not win Fort Detroit by treachery, the Indians attacked it in force. But in spite of all his horde of warriors, in spite of all his wiles, Pontiac could not take the fort although he besieged it for a whole year.

1763;

Meanwhile the savages over-ran the whole country, and every other fort, save Fort Pitt and Fort Niagara, fell into their hands. More often than not, they won their way into the forts by treachery, and having entered they slew, without mercy, men, women and children.

 

At Michilimackinac the Redskins invited the officers and soldiers to watch a game of ball. The invitation was accepted, and nearly all the soldiers stood about watching while the Indians with piercing yells dashed madly hither and thither after the ball. Crowds of Indians also looked on, among them many squaws wrapped in coloured blankets. The game was played just outside the fort, the gates stood open, and most of the soldiers had strolled out without their weapons to watch.

a game of ball;

Suddenly the ball flew through the air and landed close to the gate of the fort. There was a mad rush after it. As they ran the Indians snatched the hatchets and knives which till now the squaws had hidden beneath their blankets. Screams of delight were changed to war cries. The two officers who stood by the gate were seized and carried away prisoner, while the rabble stormed into the fort slaying and robbing at will. Every one of the British was either killed or taken prisoner, but the French were left alone.

it ends in slaughter;

Thus all the land was filled with bloodshed and horror. There was no safety anywhere. In every bush an Indian might lurk, and night was made terrible with bloodcurdling war cries.

 

For nearly three years the war lasted. But by degrees Pontiac saw that his cause was lost. The French did not help him as he had expected they would. Some of his followers deserted, and other tribes refused to join him, and at last he saw himself forced to make peace. So there were flowery speeches, and the exchange of wampum belts, and peace was made.

 

Then Pontiac's army melted away like snow in summer, and the great Chief himself retired to the forest to live among his children and his squaws. A few years later he was traitorously slain by one of his own people.

peace is made, 1766

[Next]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom

This book has been put on-line as part of the BUILD-A-BOOK Initiative at the
Celebration of Women Writers.
Initial text entry and proof-reading of this book were the work of volunteers at
Ambleside Online.

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom