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The Fall of the Lesser Forts

While Fort Detroit was withstanding Pontiac's hordes, the smaller forts and block-houses scattered throughout the hinterland were faring badly. On the southern shore of Lake Erie, almost directly south of the Detroit River, stood Fort Sandusky--a rude blockhouse surrounded by a stockade. Here were about a dozen men, commanded by Ensign Christopher Paully. The blockhouse could easily have been taken by assault; but such was not the method of the band of Wyandot in the neighborhood. They preferred treachery, and, under the guise of friendship, determined to destroy the garrison with no risk to themselves.

On the morning of May 16, Paully was informed that seven Indians wished to confer with him. Four of these were members of the Wyandot tribe, and three belonged to Pontiac's band of Ottawa. The Wyandot were known to Paully, and as he had no news of the situation at Detroit, and no suspicion of danger to himself, he readily admitted them to his quarters. The Indians produced a calumet and handed it to Paully in token of friendship. As the pipe passed from lip to lip, a warrior appeared at the door of the room and raised his arm. It was the signal for attack. Immediately Paully was seized by the Indians, two of whom had placed themselves on either side of him. At the same moment a war-whoop rang out and firing began; and as Paully was rushed across the parade-ground he saw the bodies of several of his men, who had been treacherously slain. The sentry had been tomahawked as he stood at arms at the gate; and the sergeant of the little company was killed while working in the garden of the garrison outside the stockade.

When night fell, Paully and two or three others, all that remained of the garrison, were placed in canoes, and these were headed for Detroit. As the prisoners looked back over the calm waters of Sandusky Bay, they saw the blockhouse burst into flames. Paully and his men were landed at the Ottawa camp, where a horde of howling Indians, including women and children, beat them and compelled them to dance and sing for the entertainment of the rabble. Preparations were made to torture Paully to death at the stake; but an old squaw, who had recently lost her husband, was attracted by the handsome, dark-skinned young ensign, and adopted him in place of her deceased warrior. Paully's hair was cut close; he was dipped into the stream to wash the white blood from his veins; and finally he was dressed and painted and became an Ottawa brave.

News of the destruction of Fort Sandusky was brought to Gladwyn by a trader named La Brosse, a resident of Detroit, and a few days later a letter was received from Paully himself. For nearly two months Paully had to act the part of an Ottawa warrior. But early in July--Pontiac being in a state of great rage against the British--his squaw placed him in a farmhouse for safe keeping. In the confusion arising out of the attack on Fort Detroit on the 4th of the month, and the murder of Captain Campbell, he managed to escape, by the aid, it is said, of an Indian maiden. He was pursued to within musket-shot of the walls of Detroit. When he entered the fort, so much did he resemble an Indian that at first he was not recognized.

The next fort to fall into the hands of the Indians was St. Joseph, on the east shore of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. This was the most inaccessible of the posts on the Great Lakes. The garrison here lived lonely lives. Around them were thick forests and swamps, and in front the desolate waters of the sea-like lake. The Indians about St. Joseph had long been under the influence of the French. This place had been visited by La Salle; and here, in 1688, the Jesuit Allouez had established a mission. In 1763, the post was held by Ensign Francis Schlosser and fourteen men. For months the little garrison had been without news from the east, when, on May 25, a party of Potawatomi from about Detroit arrived on a pretended visit to their relations living in the village at St. Joseph, and asked permission to call on Schlosser. But before a meeting could be arranged, a French trader entered the fort and warned the commandant that the Potawatomi intended to destroy the garrison.

Schlosser at once ordered his sergeant to arm his men, and went among the French settlers seeking their aid. Even while he was addressing them, a shrill death-cry rang out--the sentry at the gate had fallen a victim to the tomahawk of a savage. In an instant, a howling mob of Potawatomi under their chief Washee were within the stockade. Eleven of the garrison were straightway put to death, and the fort was plundered. Schlosser and the three remaining members of his little band were taken to Detroit by some Foxes who were present with the Potawatomi. On June 10, Schlosser had the good fortune to be exchanged for two chiefs who were prisoners in Fort Detroit.

The Indians did not destroy Fort St. Joseph, but left it in charge of the French under Louis Chevalier. Chevalier saved the lives of several British traders, and in every way behaved so admirably that at the close of the Indian war he was given a position of importance under the British, which position he held until the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

We have seen that when Major Robert Rogers visited Detroit in 1760, one of the French forts first occupied was Miami, situated on the Maumee River, at the commencement of the portage to the Wabash, near the spot where Fort Wayne was afterwards built. At the time of the outbreak of the Pontiac War this fort was held by Ensign Robert Holmes and twelve men. Holmes knew that his position was critical. In 1762, he had reported that the Seneca, Shawnee, and Delaware were plotting to exterminate the British in the Indian country, and he was not surprised when, towards the end of May 1763, he was told by a French trader that Detroit was besieged by the Ottawa Confederacy. But though Holmes was on the alert, and kept his men under arms, he was nevertheless to meet death and his fort was to be captured by treachery. In his desolate wilderness home the young ensign seems to have lost his heart to a handsome young squaw living in the vicinity of the fort. On May 27, she visited him and begged him to accompany her on a mission of mercy--to help to save the life of a sick Indian woman. Having acted as physician to the Indians on former occasions, Holmes thought the request a natural one. The young squaw led him to the Indian village, pointed out the wigwam where the woman was supposed to be, and then left him. As he was about to enter the wigwam two musket-shots rang out, and he fell dead. Three soldiers, who were outside the fort, rushed for the gate, but they were tomahawked before they could reach it. The gate was immediately closed, and the nine soldiers within the fort made ready for resistance. With the Indians were two Frenchmen, Jacques Godfroy, whom we have met before as the ambassador to Pontiac in the opening days of the siege of Detroit, and one Miny Chesne;1 and they had an English prisoner, a trader named John Welsh, who had been captured and plundered at the mouth of the Maumee while on his way to Detroit. The Frenchmen called on the garrison to surrender, pointing out how useless it would be to resist and how dreadful would be their fate if they were to slay any Indians. Without a leader, and surrounded as they were by a large band of savages, the men of the garrison saw that resistance would be of no avail. The gates were thrown open; the soldiers marched forth, and were immediately seized and bound; and the fort was looted. With Welsh the captives were taken to the Ottawa village at Detroit, where they arrived on June 4, and where Welsh and several of the soldiers were tortured to death.

A few miles south of the present city of Lafayette, on the southeast side of the Wabash, at the mouth of Wea Creek, stood the little wooden fort of Ouiatanon. It was connected with Fort Miami by a footpath through the forest. It was the most westerly of the British forts in the Ohio country, and might be said to be on the borderland of the territory along the Mississippi, which was still under the government of Louisiana. There was a considerable French settlement, and nearby was the principal village of the Wea, a sub-tribe of the Miami nation. The fort was guarded by the usual dozen of men, under the command of Lieutenant Edward Jenkins. In March, Jenkins had been warned that an Indian rising was imminent and that soon all the British in the hinterland would be prisoners. The French and Indians in this region were under the influence of the Mississippi officers and traders, who were, in Jenkins's words, 'eternally telling lies to the Indians,' leading them to believe that a great army would soon arrive to recover the forts. Towards the end of May ambassadors arrived at Ouiatanon, either from the Delaware or from Pontiac, bringing war-belts and instructions to the Wea to seize the fort. This, as usual, was achieved by treachery. Jenkins was invited to one of their cabins for a conference. Totally unaware of the Pontiac conspiracy, or of the fall of St. Joseph, Sandusky, or Miami, he accepted the invitation. While passing out of the fort, he was seized and bound, and, when taken to the cabin, he saw there several of his soldiers, prisoners like himself. The remaining members of the garrison surrendered, knowing how useless it would be to resist, and under the threat that if one Indian were killed all the British would be put to death. It had been the original intention of the Indians to seize the fort and slaughter the garrison, but, less blood-thirsty than Pontiac's immediate followers, they were won to mercy by two traders, Maisonville and Lorain, who gave them presents on the condition that the garrison should be made prisoners instead of being slain. Jenkins and his men were to have been sent to the Mississippi, but their removal was delayed, and they were quartered on the French inhabitants, and kindly treated by both French and Indians until restored to freedom.

The capture of Forts Miami and Ouiatanon gave the Indians complete control of the route between the western end of Lake Erie and the rivers Ohio and Mississippi. The French traders, who had undoubtedly been instrumental in goading the Indians to hostilities, had now the trade of the Wabash and lower Ohio, and of the tributaries of both, in their own hands. No British trader could venture into the region with impunity; the few who attempted it were plundered and murdered.

The scene of hostilities now shifts to the north. Next to Detroit, the most important fort on the Great Lakes west of Niagara was Michilimackinac, situated on the southern shore of the strait connecting lakes Huron and Michigan. The officer there had supervision of the lesser forts at Sault Ste Marie, Green Bay, and St Joseph. At this time Sault Ste Marie was not occupied by troops. In the preceding winter Lieutenant Jamette had arrived to take command; but fire had broken out in his quarters and destroyed the post, and he and his men had gone back to Michilimackinac, where they still were when the Pontiac War broke out. There were two important Indian tribes in the vicinity of Michilimackinac, the Chippewa and the Ottawa. The Chippewa had populous villages on the island of Mackinaw and at Thunder Bay on Lake Huron. They had as their hunting-grounds the eastern half of the peninsula which is now the state of Michigan. The Ottawa claimed as their territory the western half of the peninsula, and their chief village was L'Arbre Croche, where the venerable Jesuit priest, Father du Jaunay, had long conducted his mission.

The Indians about Michilimackinac had never taken kindly to the new occupants of the forts in their territory. When the trader Alexander Henry arrived there in 1761, he had found them decidedly hostile. On his journey up the Ottawa he had been warned of the reception in store for him. At Michilimackinac he was waited on by a party of Chippewa headed by their chief, Minavavna, a remarkably sagacious Indian, known to the French as "Le Grand Sauteur", whose village was situated at Thunder Bay. This chief addressed Henry in most eloquent words, declaring that the Chippewa were the children of the French king, who was asleep, but who would shortly awaken and destroy his enemies. The king of England, he said, had entered into no treaty with the Chippewa and had sent them no presents: they were therefore still at war with him, and until he made such concessions they must look upon the French king as their chief. 'But,' he continued, 'you come unarmed: sleep peacefully!' The pipe of peace was then passed to Henry. After smoking it, he bestowed on the Indians some gifts, and they filed out of his presence. Almost immediately on the departure of the Chippewa came some two hundred Ottawa demanding of Henry, and of several other British traders who were also there, ammunition, clothing, and other necessaries for their winter hunt, on credit until spring. The traders refused, and, when threatened by the Indians, they and their employees, some thirty in all, barricaded themselves in a house, and prepared to resist the demands by force of arms. Fortunately, at this critical moment word arrived of a strong British contingent that was approaching from Detroit to take over the fort, and the Ottawa hurriedly left for their villages.

For nearly two years the garrison at Michilimackinac lived in peace. In the spring of 1763, they were resting in a false security. Captain George Etherington, who was in command, heard that the Indians were on the war-path and that the fort was threatened; but he treated the report lightly. It is noteworthy, too, that Henry, who was in daily contact with the French settlers and Indians, and had his agents scattered throughout the Indian country, saw no cause for alarm. But it happened that towards the end of May news reached the Indians at Michilimackinac of the situation at Detroit, and with the news came a war-belt signifying that they were to destroy the British garrison. A crowd of Indians, chiefly Chippewa and Sacs, presently assembled at the post. This was a usual thing in spring, and would cause no suspicion. The savages, however, had planned to attack the fort on June 4, the birthday of George III. The British were to celebrate the day by sports and feasting, and the Chippewa and Sacs asked to be allowed to entertain the officers with a game of lacrosse. Etherington expressed pleasure at the suggestion, and told the chiefs who waited on him that he would back his friends the Chippewa against their Sac opponents. On the morning of the 4th, posts were set up on the wide plain behind the fort, and tribe was soon opposed to tribe. The warriors appeared on the field with moccasin feet, and were otherwise naked save for breech-cloths. Hither and thither the ball was batted, thrown, and carried. Player pursued player, tripping, slashing, shouldering each other, and shouting in their excitement as command of the ball passed with the fortunes of the game from Chippewa to Sac and from Sac to Chippewa. Etherington and Lieutenant Leslie were standing near the gate, interested spectators of the game; and all about, and scattered throughout the fort, were squaws with stoical faces, each holding tight about her a gaudily colored blanket. The game was at its height, when a player threw the ball to a spot near the gate of the fort. There was a wild rush for it; and, as the gate was reached, lacrosse sticks were cast aside, the squaws threw open their blankets, and the players seized the tomahawks and knives held out in readiness to them. The shouts of play were changed to war-whoops. Instantly Etherington and Leslie were seized and hurried to a nearby wood. Into the fort the horde dashed. Here stood more squaws with weapons; and before the garrison had time to seize their arms, Lieutenant Jamette and fifteen soldiers were slain and scalped, and the rest made prisoners, while the French inhabitants stood by, viewing the tragedy with apparent indifference.

Etherington, Leslie, and the soldiers were held close prisoners. A day or two after the capture of the fort, a Chippewa chief, "Le Grand Sable", who had not been present at the massacre, returned from his wintering-ground. He entered a hut where a number of British soldiers were bound hand and foot, and brutally murdered five of them. The Ottawa, it will be noted, had taken no part in the capture of Michilimackinac. In fact, owing to the good offices of their priest, they acted towards the British as friends in need. A party of them from L'Arbre Croche presently arrived on the scene and prevented further massacre. Etherington and Leslie were taken from the hands of the Chippewas and removed to L'Arbre Croche. From this place Etherington sent a message to Green Bay, ordering the commandant to abandon the fort there. He then wrote to Gladwyn at Detroit, giving an account of what had happened and asking aid. This message was carried to Detroit by Father du Jaunay, who made the journey in company with seven Ottawa and eight Chippewa commanded by Kinonchanek, a son of Minavavna. But, as we know, Gladwyn was himself in need of assistance, and could give none. The prisoners at L'Arbre Croche, however, were well treated, and finally taken to Montreal by way of the Ottawa River, under an escort of friendly Indians.

On the southern shore of Lake Erie, where the city of Erie now stands, was the fortified post of Presqu'isle, a stockaded fort with several substantial houses. It was considered a strong position, and its commandant, Ensign John Christie, had confidence that he could hold out against any number of Indians that might beset him. The news brought by Cuyler when he visited Presqu'isle, after the disaster at Point Pelee, put Christie on his guard. Presqu'isle had a blockhouse of unusual strength, but it was of wood, and inflammable. To guard against fire, there was left at the top of the building an opening through which water could be poured in any direction. The blockhouse stood on a tongue of land--on the one side a creek, on the other the lake. The most serious weakness of the position was that the banks of the creek and the lake rose in ridges to a considerable height, commanding the blockhouse and affording a convenient shelter for an attacking party within musket range.

Christie had twenty-four men, and believed that he had nothing to fear, when, on June 15, some two hundred Wyandot arrived in the vicinity. These Indians were soon on the ridges, assailing the blockhouse. Arrows tipped with burning tow and balls of blazing pitch rained upon the roof, and the utmost exertions of the garrison were needed to extinguish the fires. Soon the supply of water began to fail. There was a well nearby on the parade-ground, but this open space was subject to such a hot fire that no man would venture to cross it. A well was dug in the blockhouse, and the resistance continued. All day the attack was kept up, and during the night there was intermittent firing from the ridges. Another day passed, and at night came a lull in the siege. A demand was made to surrender. An English soldier who had been adopted by the savages, and was aiding them in the attack, cried out that the destruction of the fort was inevitable, that in the morning it would be fired at the top and bottom, and that unless the garrison yielded they would all be burnt to death. Christie asked till morning to consider; and, when morning came, he agreed to yield up the fort on condition that the garrison should be allowed to march to the next post. But as his men filed out, they were seized and bound, then cast into canoes and taken to Detroit. Their lives, however, were spared; and early in July, when the Wyandot made with Gladwyn the peace which they afterwards broke, Christie and a number of his men were the first prisoners given up.

A few miles inland, south of Presqu'isle, on the trade-route leading to Fort Pitt, was a rude blockhouse known as Le Boeuf. This post was at the end of the portage from Lake Erie, on Alleghany Creek, where the canoe navigation of the Ohio Valley began. Here were stationed Ensign George Price and thirteen men. On June 18, a band of Indians arrived before Le Boeuf and attacked it with muskets and fire-arrows. The building was soon in flames. As the walls smoked and crackled the savages danced in wild glee before the gate, intending to shoot down the defenders as they came out. But there was a window at the rear of the blockhouse, through which the garrison escaped to the neighboring forest. When night fell, the party became separated. Some of them reached Fort Venango two days later, only to find it in ruins. Price and seven men laboriously toiled through the forest to Fort Pitt, where they arrived on June 26. Ultimately, all save two of the garrison of Fort Le Boeuf reached safety.

The circumstances attending the destruction of Fort Venango on June 20 are but vaguely known. This fort, situated near the site of the present city of Franklin, had long been a centre of Indian trade. In the days of the French occupation it was known as Fort Machault. After the French abandoned the place in the summer of 1760, a new fort had been erected and named Venango. In 1763, there was a small garrison here under Lieutenant Gordon. For a time all that was known of its fate was reported by the fugitives from Le Boeuf and a soldier named Gray, who had escaped from Presqu'isle. These fugitives had found Venango completely destroyed, and, in the ruins, the blackened bones of the garrison. It was afterwards learned that the attacking Indians were Seneca, and that they had tortured the commandant to death over a slow fire, after compelling him to write down the reason for the attack. It was threefold: (1) the British charged exorbitant prices for powder, shot, and clothing; (2) when Indians were ill-treated by British soldiers they could obtain no redress; (3) contrary to the wishes of the Indians, forts were being built in their country, and these could mean but one thing--the determination of the invaders to deprive them of their hunting-grounds.

With the fall of Presqu'isle, Le Boeuf, and Venango, the trade-route between Lake Erie and Fort Pitt was closed. Save for Detroit, Niagara, and Pitt, not a British fort remained in the great hinterland; and the soldiers at these three strong positions could leave the shelter of the palisades only at the risk of their lives. Meanwhile, the frontiers of the British settlements, as well as the forts, were being raided. Homes were burnt and the inmates massacred. Traders were plundered and slain. From the eastern slopes of the Alleghanies to the Mississippi no British life was safe.

1 This is the only recorded instance, except at Detroit, in which any French took part with the Indians in the capture of a fort. And both Godfroy and Miny Chesne had married Indian women.

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Chronicles of Canada, The War Chief of The Ottawa, A Chronicle of the Pontiac War, 1915


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