Indian Heroes And Sages by William Dean Howells, 1897.
Indian Heroes And Sages
The Ohio Indians were of almost as mixed origin as the white people of Ohio, and if they had qualities beyond those of any other group of American savages, it was from much the same causes which have given the Ohioans of our day distinction as citizens. They made the Ohio country their home by a series of chances, and they defended it against the French, the English, and Americans in turn, because it had bounds which seemed to form the natural frontier between them and the Europeans.
It is now believed that before the coming of our race there was a balance of power between those two great North American nations, the Iroquois and the Algonquins, and that our wars and intrigues destroyed this balance, which was never restored, and put an end to all hope of advance in the native race. Whether this is true or not, it is certain that the hostilities between the tribes raged down to our day, and that these seem to have continued if not begun through one family, the Algonquins, siding with the French, and the other family, the Iroquois, siding with the English. The Algonquins were most powerful in New England and Canada, and the Iroquois in New York. Their struggle ended in the overthrow of the Algonquins in the regions bordering on the English colonies, where, as has been told, a great branch of that people who called themselves the Lenni-lenape, and whom we called the Delawares, dwelt in a sort of vassalage to the Iroquois.
In Ohio, however, these families, so long broken elsewhere by their feuds, united in a common fear and hate of the white men. Many of the Ohio Indians were Delawares, but the Miamis were Iroquois, while the Wyandots again were Hurons, one of the finest and ablest of the Iroquois nation. They ceased to make war upon each other, and in their union the strongest traits of both were blended. Their character appears at its best, I think, in Tecaughretanego, the adoptive brother of James Smith, and in the great Mingo chief, Logan.
Of Tecaughretanego, his unselfishness, his piety, his common sense, his wisdom, we already know something from Smith’s narrative, which I wish every boy and girl might read; and of Logan’s noble spirit we have had a glimpse in the story of Kenton’s captivity. He was the son of Shikellimy, a Cayuga chief who lived at Shamokin, Pennsylvania, and who named him after James Logan, the Secretary of the Province. Shikellimy was a convert of the Moravian preachers, and it is thought that Logan himself was baptized in the Christian faith. He spent the greater portion of his early life in Pennsylvania, and he took no part in the war between the French and English, except to do what he could for peace. When he came to Ohio, he dwelt for a time at Mingo Bottom in Jefferson County, the rendezvous of the assassins who marched against Gnadenhiitten under Williamson, and of the assassins who were beaten back from Sandusky under Crawford. Here, as before, Logan was the friend of the white man, and it was not till the murder of his father, brother, and sister, cried to him for vengeance, that he made war upon them.
His kindred were of a small party of Indians whom some Virginians lured across the Ohio near the mouth of Yellow Creek in 1774. On the Virginia side the murderers made three of the Indians drunk and tomahawked them, and when they had tricked the others into discharging their guns at a mark, and so had them defenseless, they ruthlessly shot them down. Logan’s sister, who was the only woman in the party, tried to escape, but a bullet cut short her flight, and she died praying her murderers to have mercy on the babe she held in her arms. They spared it, and he who tells the cruel tale saw it the next day in his own mother’s arms smiling up into her face, while she fed and fondled it.
The news came to Logan while he was speaking at a council of the Indians, and urging them to make peace with the whites. He instantly changed his plea; he lifted up his hatchet, and yowed never to lay it down till he had avenged himself tenfold. He kept his word, and that summer thirty scalps and prisoners bore witness to his fury.
But it was a short-lived impulse of a nature essentially so good that it could not long keep the memory of even such an injury. In this very war, or this out-Durst of the long Indian war, Logan showed himself as before the friend of the white men. He had pity on many of the captives he made, and when he could he tried to move other captors to pity. Major William Robinson, who was one of Logan’s prisoners, tells how he was surprised, together with two friends, by a party of Indians who fired on them. Robinson ran with a savage in hot chase behind him, who called to him in English, “Stop; I won’t hurt you.” “Yes, you will,” Robinson retorted. “No, I won’t,” the Indian insisted; “but if you don’t stop, I’ll shoot you.” Robinson fell over a log, and the Indian seized him. It was Logan, who told him not to be frightened for he should be adopted into his own tribe when they reached his village. There he was made to run the gantlet, but Logan instructed him how to manage so that he got through without harm. Robinson was then tied to the stake and the Indians prepared to burn him. It was the summer after the murder of Logan’s kindred, and they had already whipped one Virginian to death merely because his brother was present at the massacre. They could not forgive, but Logan rose before the council and pleaded with all his eloquence for Robinson’s life. Three times the captive was untied from the stake, and three times tied to it again before Logan’s words prevailed. At last the great chief was allowed to lay the belt of wampum on the prisoner for a sign that he was adopted. Then he gave him in charge to a young Indian, saying, “This is your cousin; you are to go home with him, and he will take care of you.”
But still the sense of his wrong, and the hunger for revenge, gnawed at Logan’s heart, and one day he came to Robinson with a piece of paper and bade him write a letter for him. He said he meant to leave it in the cabin of a white man which he was going, to attack, and it was afterwards found there tied to a war club. He made Robinson write it several times before he thought the words strong enough. It was addressed to the man whom Logan thought guilty of the death of his kindred, but who was afterwards known to have been not even present at their murder.
“Captain Cresap: What did you kill my people on
Yellow Creek for? The white people killed my kin at
Conestoga, a great while ago, and I thought nothing
of that. But you killed my kin again on Yellow Creek,
and took my cousin prisoner. Then I thought I must
kill, too. I have been three times to war since then;
but the Indians are not angry; only myself.
July 21, 1774.
Captain John Logan.”
Both the matter and the language of this letter are so like those of Logan’s famous speech, that it is clear he must often have thought his wrongs over in the same terms, brooding upon them with an aching heart, but not with hate so much as grief. The speech was made at the Chillicothe town where Lord Dunmore treated with the Ohio tribes for peace in the August after Logan had written his letter, but it was not spoken in the council. Logan held aloof from the council, and Dunmore sent to his cabin for him. It is said by some that his messenger was the great renegade Simon Girty, who had not yet turned against his own people, and was then, with his friend Simon Kenton, a scout in Dunmore’s service. Others say that the messenger was a young man named Gibson, but whoever he was, Logan met him at the door, and coming out into the woods sat down under a tree which was long known as Logan’s Elm. Here, with a burst of tears, he told the story of his wrongs in language which cannot be forgotten as long as men have hearts to thrill for others’ sorrows.
“I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan’s cabin and I gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked and I gave him not clothing. During the course of the last long and bloody war Logan remained in his tent an advocate of peace. Nay, such was my love for the whites that those of my own country pointed at me as they passed, and said, ‘Logan is the friend of the white man.’ I had even thought to live with you but for the injuries of one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood and unprovoked, cut off all the relatives of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any human creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it. I have killed many. I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country I rejoice at the beams of peace. Yet do not harbor the thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”
This speech, or rather this message, which Logan sent to Lord Dunmore, has come down to us in two forms, one which Dunmore’s officers wrote out from the report of the message, and one which Thomas Jefferson framed upon it. They do not differ greatly, and I have given Jefferson’s version here, because it best expresses the noble mind of a noble man, a savage, indeed, but far less savage than many of the white men of that day or any day. A pioneer of Western Pennsylvania, William Brown, who afterwards became a judge of the Mifflin County courts, calls him “the best specimen of humanity he ever met with, _white_ or _red_,” He first saw him in the woods, while stooping to drink at a spring. The figure of a tall Indian showed itself to him in the water, and he sprang for his rifle, but the Indian knocked the priming out of his own gun, and offered his hand. It was Logan, and he guided Brown to the hunting camp of another white man, with whom he afterwards visited Logan’s camp. There they all shot at a mark for a dollar each round, and Logan lost. A deerskin was worth a dollar, and Logan offered five skins for his five failures. Brown’s friend refused them, saying they were his guests and had shot with him merely for a trial of skill. Logan answered with dignity, “Me try to make you shoot your best; me gentlemen, and me take your dollar if me beat,” and he would not allow the victor even to give him a horn of powder in return.
A lovely story was told by the daughter of Judge Brown concerning Logan, who was one day at her father’s camp when her mother happened to regret that she had no shoes for her little one then just beginning to walk. Logan said nothing, but shortly after he came and asked the mother to let the child spend the day with him at his camp. The mother trembled, but she knew the delicacy of Logan, and she would not wound him by showing fear of him. He took the child away, and the long hours passed till nightfall. Then she saw the great chief coming with his tiny guest through the woods, and the next moment the child bounded into the mother’s arms, proud and glad to show her feet in the moccasins which Logan had made for her.
In his old age Logan wandered from place to place, broken by the misfortunes of his people, and homeless in his own land. He fell a prey to drink, the enemy of all his race, and he was at last murdered near Detroit, where, as the story goes, he was sitting by his camp fire, with his blanket over his head, and lost in gloomy thought, when an Indian whom he had offended stole upon him and sank his tomahawk in Logan’s skull.
Of all the Indians he seems to me the grandest because he was the kindest. Tecaughretanego was wise and good. He had a thoughtful mind and a serene spirit; he could be just and loving to the white man whom he had taken for his brother, but he had not so noble an ideal of conduct as Logan. This chief grasped the notion of friendship with all the whites; he was more than a tribesman; he imagined what it was to be a citizen. Among the Ohio men of the past there is no nature more beautiful, no memory worthier than his. He was a savage, and his thirst for vengeance, or rather the smoldering thought of his wrongs, lowered him for a time to the level of the white and red men about him. Yet he was framed for gentleness, and he surpassed another great Ohio Indian as much in breadth of character, as he surpassed Tecaughretanego in an ideal of conduct.
Tecumseh, the famous war chief of the Shawnees, was born at the ancient town of Piqua on Mad River, not far from the present city of Springfield, in Clark County. His name means Shooting Star, and he was indeed the meteoric light of his people while he lived. He was of a high Indian, family of the Turtle Tribe, and his father had come with his clan to Ohio from their home in Florida, about the middle of the last century. Tecumseh was born, as nearly as can be reckoned, in the year 1768, and from his earliest childhood he showed the passion for war which ruled him through life. He led his playmates in their mimic fights, and at seventeen he went on his first war party against the Kentuckians. The Indians attacked some boats on the Ohio River, and killed all the boatmen but one, whom they brought back and burned at the stake. Tecumseh was present, and though he said nothing, the sight of the torture filled him with such horror, that he used his power with the Indians to put a stop forever to the burning of prisoners. He was such a hater of our race that, as he once confessed, the mere presence of a white man made the flesh of his face creep; but he hated cruelty more, and in the bloody events which he spent all his power in bringing about, he could always be trusted to keep the captives from torture, and to save the lives of women and children.
In spite of his hatred of white men, it is said that he was once in love with a white woman, the daughter of a settler in Greene County. He offered her fifty silver brooches if she would marry him; but she refused, saying that she did not wish to be a wild woman and drudge like a squaw; and she would not be tempted even when he promised her that she should not work, but should be a great squaw.
He was not always terrible, even with white men, and it is told of him that once meeting in a settler’s cabin a stranger who showed alarm at sight of him, Tecumseh went up and amiably shook him, saying, “Big baby, Big baby.” But he could be fierce and arrogant when he chose, and he delighted to make the Americans bend to him. At one of their parleys, General Harrison asked him to sit on his veranda with him. Tecumseh haughtily refused, and forced the general to come out and meet him under the trees, on the breast of the earth, who was, he said, the Indian’s mother.
He was in every fight with the Americans before Wayne’s victory, but he was not made a chief until the year following that battle. Then, though he seemed resigned to the fate of his people, he became the leader in their discontent, and in the parts of Ohio and Indiana where he lived he kept it alive. In this he had the help of his brother Elkskuatawa, the Prophet, who pretended to have dreams and revelations favorable to Tecumseh’s designs. In 1806, while they were at Greenville, the Prophet somehow learned that there was to be an eclipse of the sun; he foretold the coming miracle, and excited the savages through their superstitions so dangerously that Governor Harrison urged them to banish the Prophet. They made evasive answers, and kept the Prophet with them, while Tecumseh amused the governor with meetings and parleys, and went and came upon his errands among the Southern tribes stirring them up to join the Northern nations in a revolt against the Americans. He used all his eloquence and reason in trying to form this union of the red men, and when these would not avail, he did not scruple to employ the arts of his brother. In exhorting one of the Southern tribes he rebuked their coldness, and told them that when he reached Detroit, he would stamp his foot, and they should feel the earth tremble as a sign of his divine authority for his work. About the time it would have taken him to reach Detroit, the great earthquake of 1810 shook the Seminoles with terror of the man whose arguments they had rejected.
In fact, Tecumseh and the Prophet constantly played into each other’s hands, but in one of Tecumseh’s absences the Prophet made the mistake of attacking General Harrison at Tippecanoe, and the savages were severely beaten. The Prophet had also made the mistake of promising them a victory, and after the defeat he lost his power over them.
This was in 1811, but the next year the war between the United States and Great Britain broke out, and then Tecumseh seized his chance for renewing the war against the Americans. He served so faithfully against them that the king made him brigadier general, and Tecumseh tried to fight according to the laws of civilized warfare. At the attack on Fort Meigs in Wood County, he stopped, at the risk of his own life, the massacre of the American prisoners, and he bade the British commandant, who declared that the Indians could not be controlled, go and put on petticoats. An American who saw him at this time says, “This celebrated chief was a noble, dignified personage. His face was finely proportioned, his nose inclined to be aquiline, and his eye displayed none of that savage and ferocious triumph common to the other Indians on that occasion.”
Tecumseh with his Indians witnessed the battle of Lake Erie at Put-in-Bay, where Perry defeated the English fleet, and he was not deceived by the pretense of General Proctor that the Americans were beaten and the English ships were merely putting in there for repairs. Proctor was then preparing to retreat into Canada from Detroit, and Tecumseh demanded to be heard in the name of the Indians. He had some very bitter words to say: “The war before this our British father gave the hatchet to his red children…. In that war our father was thrown upon his back by the Americans, and our father took them by the hand without our knowledge, and we are afraid our father will do so again at this time…. Our ships have gone away, and we are much astonished to see our father tying up everything and preparing to run away…. We are sorry to see our father doing so without seeing the enemy. We must compare our father’s conduct to a fat dog that carries his tail on his back, and when affrighted drops it between his legs and runs off.
“Father, you have got the arms and ammunition which our great father sent for his children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us, and you may go and welcome. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it be his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.”
But the British retreated, and the Indians had to follow them into Canada. There in the battle of the Thames the Americans defeated them and their savage allies with great slaughter, and Tecumseh, whose war-cry had been heard above the tumult of the onset, was among the slain. He is supposed to have been killed by a pistol shot fired by Colonel Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky, and it is said that the body of this generous enemy did not escape barbarous usage at the hands of Johnson’s men, who literally flayed it and bore portions of their ghastly trophy home with them in triumph.
Tecumseh played at a later day the part which Pontiac attempted at the end of the old French War. He tried to unite the Indians in a general uprising against the Americans as Pontiac had united them against the English. He used the same arts, and he showed himself shrewd and skillful in paltering with our leaders till he was ready to strike his blow against them, for he managed to remain in the Ohio country unmolested while he was getting ready to drive the Americans out of it. When the war with Great Britain began, he might very well have believed that his hopes were about to be fulfilled; but he seems, though a brave warrior, never to have shown such generalship as that of Little Turtle at St. Clair’s defeat. He was a great orator, of such a fiery eloquence that the interpreters often declared it impossible for them to give the full sense of his words; but none of his many recorded speeches have the pathos of Logan’s. He was, on the savage lines, a statesman and a patriot, but unlike the wiser and gentler Logan he never could rise to the wisdom of living in peace with the whites. He was always an Indian; even at his best he was a savage, just as the backwoodsman was a savage at his worst. Yet his memory remains honored in tradition beyond that of any other Ohio Indian, and his name was given to one of the most heroic Ohio Americans, William Tecumseh Sherman. Such as he was, and such as Logan was, it must be owned that they seem now of a far nobler mold than any white men in early Ohio history.
The Prophet outlived his brother many years, and died dishonored, and stripped of all the great power he had once wielded. At one time he wrought so strongly upon the Indians through their superstition of witchcraft, that they put many to death at his accusal. One of the victims was the Wyandot chief Leatherlips, whom six Wyandot warriors came from Tippecanoe to try where he lived near the site of Columbus. They found him guilty and sentenced him to death, of course upon no evidence. A white man who wished to save him asked what he had done, and was answered, “Very bad Indian; make good Indian sick; make horse sick; make die; very bad chief.” When he heard his sentence, Leatherlips ate a hearty dinner, dressed himself in his finest clothes, painted his face, and at the hour fixed for his death walked from his lodge to his grave, chanting his death song while he went. Then as he knelt in prayer beside the shallow pit, one of the six Wyandots tomahawked him.
The persecutions for witchcraft under the Prophet continued until at last a young warrior, whose sister was accused in the council, had the courage to rise and lead her out of the house. He came back and said to the council, pointing at the Prophet, “The Devil has come amongst us, and we are killing each other.” This bold good sense brought the Indians to a pause in a frenzy which has raged among every people in times past.