The War of 1812 Magazine
Issue 2: February 2006
Documents, Artefacts and Imagery
In Their Own Words -- Aboriginal Leaders and the War of 1812
Compiled by D.E. Graves
"We will defend ourselves like men:": Tecumseh Speaks, June 1812
In January 1812, when the great aboriginal leader, Tecumseh, returned to his village at Tippecanoe (near present-day Lafayette, Indiana) from a visit to the Creek nation, he found it destroyed and his followers dispersed after William Henry Harrison's attack of the previous November. Throughout the spring and early summer he set out to rebuild his confederacy and took steps to placate American authorities in the area. At the same time, however, he sought the assistance of British officials, who were glad to secure his aid because of the worsening relations with the United States Concerned that messages sent to Tecumseh might be intercepted by the Americans, they adopted the stratagem of sending a message through Wyandot emissaries, who were supposedly carrying a message of peace but who also took one which warned aboriginal nations resident on American territory to prepare for war.
In the middle of May the Wyandot delegation met Tecumseh and most of the nations in his confederacy in a large council on the Mississnewa River in north-central Indiana. After much discussion and many secret meetings with the British messengers, Tecumseh made a public plea for peace in the northwest but stated clearly that is if his followers were attacked by American troops, they would defend themselves.
This speech will be found in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Record Group 8 I, vol. 676, 147
Donald E. Graves
Speech of the Shawanee, Kikapoos & Winnebagos, delivered by Tecumseh at Machekethie, on the Wabash, in May 1812
Father, & Brothers Hurons!
You say you were employed by our Father and Your own Chiefs to come and have some conversations with us, and we are happy to see You and to hear Your and our Father's Speech. We heartily thank You both for having taken the condition of our poor Women and children to Your consideration. We plainly see that You pity us by the concern You shew [show] for our welfare, and we should deem ourselves much to blame if we did not listen to the Counsel of Our Father and our Brothers the Hurons.
Father and Brothers!
We have not brought these misfortunes on ourselves; We have done nothing wrong, but we will now point out to You those who have occasioned all the mischief.
Our Younger Brothers the Potawatomis (pointing to them) in spite of our repeated counsel to them to remain quiet and live in peace with the Big Knives, would not listen to us. When I left home last Year to go to the Creek Nation, I passed at Post Vincennes and was stopped by the Big Knives, and did not immediately know the reason, but I was soon informed that the Potawatomis had killed some of their people. I told the Big Knives to remain quiet until my return, when I should make peace and quietness prevail. On my return I found my Village reduced to ashes by the Big Knives. You cannot blame Your Younger Brothers the Shawanee for what has happened, the Potawatomis occasioned the misfortune. Had I been at home and heard of the advance of the American Troops towards our Village, I should have gone to meet them and shaking them by the hand, have asked them the reason of their appearance in such hostile guise.
Father & Brothers!
You tell us to retreat or turn to one side should the Big Knives come against us. Had I been at home in the late unfortunate affair I should have done, but those I left at home were (I cannot call them men) a poor set of people, and their scuffle with the Big Knives I compare to a struggle between little children who only scratch each others faces. The Kikapoos and Winnebagos have since been at Post Vincennes and settled that matter amicably.
Father & Brothers.
The Potawatomis, hearing that our Father and You were on the way here for peaceable purposes, grew very angry all at once and killed Twenty-seven of the Big Knives.
We Shawanee, Kikapoos and Winnebagos, hope You will not find fault with us for having detained You so long here. We were happy to see You and to hear Your and Our Father's words, and it would surely be strange if we did not listen to our Father and our eldest Brother [the Wyandot].
Father & Brothers!
We will now in a few words declare to You our whole hearts. If we hear of the Big Knives coming towards our villages to speak peace, we will receive them, but if We hear of any of our people being hurt by them, or if they unprovokedly advance against us in a hostile manner, be assured we will defend ourselves like men. And if we hear of any of our people having been killed, We will immediately send to all the Nations on or towards the Mississippi, and all this Island will rise as one man. Then Father and Brothers it will be impossible for You or either of You to restore peace between us.
Amherstburg 8th June 1812
[transcribed] 16th June 1812
(signed) W[illiam]. Claus D[eputy]. S[uperintendent]. G[eneral]. [Indian Department]
"Those chiefs would do to paddle a canoe, but not to steer it:" Makataimeshekiakiak, or Black Hawk of the Sauks recalls His Wartime Experiences
In the summer of 1812, Black Hawk, a war chief of the Sauk people prepared to campaign on the side of Britain during the war. Years later he remembered his experiences and his dismay at the white man's way of warfare.
From Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak or Black Hawk ... Dictated by Himself (Boston, 1834), 74-76.
I soon concluded my arrangements, and started with my party to Green Bay. On our arrival there, we found a large encampment, and was well received by Dixon and the war chiefs that were with him. He gave us plenty of provisions, tobacco and pipes, and said he would hold a council with us next day.
In the encampment, I found a large number of Potowatomis, Kickapoos, Ottawa and Winnebagos. I visited all their camps, and found them in high spirits. They had all received new guns, ammunition, and a variety of clothing. In the evening a messenger came to me to visit Col. Dixon. I went to his tent, in which were two other war chiefs, and an interpreter. He received me with a hearty shake of the hand, and presented me to the other chiefs, who shook my hand cordially, and seemed much pleased to see me. After I was seated, Col. Dixon said: "Gen[eral]. Black Hawk, I sent for you to explain to you what we are going to do, and the reasons that have brought us here. Our friend, La Gutrie, informs us in the letter you have brought him, what has lately taken place. You will now have to hold us fast by the hand. Your English father has found out that the Americans want to take your country from you -- and has sent me and his braves to drive them back to their own country. He has, likewise, send a large quantity of arms and ammunition -- and we want all your warriors to join us."
He then placed a medal round my neck and gave me a paper, (which I lost in the late war) and a silk flag, saying -- "You are to command all the braves that will leave here the day after tomorrow, to join our braves near Detroit...."
The next day, arms and ammunition, tomahawks, knives, and clothing, were given to my band. We had a great feast in the evening; and the morning following, I started with about five hundred braves, to join the British army. The British war chief accompanied us.
We passed Chicago. The fort had been evacuated by the American soldiers, who had marched for Fort Wayne. The were attacked a short distance from that fort, and defeated! They had a considerable quantity of powder in the fort at Chicago, which they had promised to the Indians; but the night before they marched, they destroyed it. I think it was thrown into the well; if they had fulfilled their word to the Indians, I think they would have gone safe. On our arrival, I found that the Indians had several prisoners. I advised them to treat them well.
We continued our march, and joined the British army below Detroit; and soon after had a fight! The Americans fought well, and drove us with considerable loss! I was surprised at this, as I had been told that the Americans would not fight!
Our next movement was against a fortified place. I was stationed with my braves, to prevent any person going to, or coming from the fort. I found two men taking care of cattle, and made them our prisoners. I would not kill them, but delivered them to the British war chief.
Soon after, several boats came down the river, full of American soldiers. They landed on the opposite side, took the British batteries and pursued the soldiers that had left them. They went too far, without knowing the forces of the British, and were defeated! I hurried across the river, anxious for an opportunity to show the courage of my braves; but before we reached the ground, all was over. The British had taken many prisoners, and the Indians were killing them! I immediately put a stop to it, as I never thought it brave, but cowardly, to kill unarmed and helpless enemy!
We remained here some time. I cannot detail what took place, as I was stationed, with my braves, in the woods. It appeared, however, that the British could not take this fort -- for we were marched to another some distance off. When we approached it, I found it a small stockade, and concluded that there were not many men in it. The British war chief sent out a flag -- Colonel Dixon carried it, and returned. He said a young war chief commanded, and would not give up without fighting! Dixon came to me and said, "You will see tomorrow, how easily we will take that fort." I was of opinion that they would take it but when the morning came, I was disappointed. The British advanced -- commenced an attack and fought like braves; but by braves in the fort, were defeated, and a great number killed!
The British army were making preparations to retreat. I was now tired of being with them -- our success being bad, and having got no plunder. I determined on leaving them and returning to Rock river, to see what had become of my wife and children, as I had not heard from them since I started. That night, I took about twenty of my braves, and left the British army for home....
On my arrival at the village, I was met by the chiefs and braves, and conducted to a lodge that had been prepared to receive me. After eating, I gave an account of what I had seen and done. I explained to them the manner the British and Americans fought. Instead of stealing upon each other, and taking every advantage to kill the enemy and save their own people, as we do, (which, with us, is considered good policy in a war chief) they march out, in open daylight, and fight, regardless of the number of warriors they may lose! After the battle is over, they retire to feast, and drink wine, as if nothing had happened; after which, they make a statement in writing, of what they have done --- each party claiming the victory! and neither give an account of half the number that have been killed on their own side. They all fought like braves, but would not do to lead a war party with us. Our maxim is, "to kill the enemy and save our own men." Those chiefs would do to paddle a canoe, but not to steer it. The Americans shoot better than the British, but their soldiers are not so well clothed, or provided for.
"The Americans have not yet defeated us:" Tecumseh Talks Straight to the British
After a year of campaigning with the British army in the old Northwest, the aboriginal leader, Tecumseh, had folled the British army when it withdrew, after a failed siege of Fort Meigs on American soild to its base on the Canadian side of the Detroit River. He was angered when he saw Major-General Henry Procter, the British commander, preparing to withdraw to the east following rumours of the defeat and capture of the British naval squadron on Lake Erie on 10 September.
News of the defeat reached Procter a few days later, and he decided to retreat toward Burlington Bay (now Hamilton Harbour). He neglected, however, to inform Tecumseh or the thousands of warriors and their families camped in and around Amherstburg. Tecumseh's suspicions became aroused when they saw the British dismantle the fortifications of the post and load supplies and ammunition into wagons for a retreat. At a council between Procter and his officers and the native leaders, apparentlyy held on 18 September 1813, Tecumseh rebuked his British ally.
A copy of this speech will be found in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Manuscript Group 13, War Office 71, vol 243, Court martial of Major-General Henry Procter, 381-382, appendix 7.
Speech of Tecumseh. In the name of the Indian Chiefs and Warriors, to General Procter, as representative of their great Father the King
Listen to your children; you see them now all before you. The war before this [the Revolutionary War] our British Father gave the hatchet to his red children, when our old chiefs were alive. They are now all dead. In that war our Father was thrown on 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. Summer before last, when I came forward with my red children, and was ready to take up the hatchet in favour of our British Father, we were told not to be in a hurry -- that he had not yet determined to fight the Americans.
When war was declared, our Father stood up and gave us the tomahawk, and told us he was now ready to strike the Americans, that he wanted our assistance; and that he certainly would get us our lands back which the Americans had taken from us.
You told us at that time to bring forward our families to this place. We did so, and you promised to take care of them, and that they should want for nothing, while the men would go to fight the enemy -- that we were not to trouble ourselves with the enemy's garrisons -- that we knew nothing about them, and that our Father would attend to that part of the business. You also told your red children that you would take care of your garrison here which made our hearts glad.
When we last went to the Rapids [Fort Meigs], it is true that we gave you little assistance. It is hard to fight people who live like ground hogs.
Our fleet has gone out, we know they have fought; we have heard the great guns; but know nothing of what has happened to our Father with one Arm [Captain Robert Barclay]. Our ships have gone one way, and we are much astonished to see our Father tying up every thing and preparing to run the other way, without letting his red children know what his intentions are. You always told us to remain here and take care of our lands; it made our hearts glad to hear that was your wish. Our Great Father, the King, is the head and you represent him. You always told us that you would never draw your foot off British ground; but now, Father, we see you are drawing back, and we are sorry to see our Father doing so, without seeing the enemy. We must compare our Father's conduct to a fat animal that carries its tail upon its back; but when affrighted, it drops it between its legs and runs off.
The Americans have not yet defeated us by land; neither are we sure that they have done so by water; we therefore wish to remain here, and fight our enemy should they make their appearance. If they defeat us, we will then retreat with our Father. At the battle of the Rapids last war the American certainly defeated us; and when we retreated to our Father's fort at that place the gates were shut against us. We were afraid that it would now be the case; but instead of that we now see our British Father preparing to march out of his garrison.
You have got the arms and ammunition which our Great Father [the King] sent for his red children. If you have an idea of going away, give them to us, and you may go and welcome for us. Our lives are in the hands of the Great Spirit. We are determined to defend our lands, and if it is his will, we wish to leave our bones upon them.
A true copy
Andrew W. Cochran
Asst. D[eputy]. Judge Advocate
"One half of our Nation have died of hunger with shreds of skin in their mouths": Speech of Chetanwakanmani or Little Crow, Chief of the Mdewkanton Sioux, June 1814
Little Crow, a chief of the Mdewkanton Sioux, who resided in southeast Minnesota, had allied his people with Britain during the war. They had suffered grievous losses at a council with British Indian Department officers held in June 1814, the descirbed their plight.
A copy of this document can be found in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Colonial Office 42, vol 157, folio 12, as an enclosure in Sir George Prevost to Lord Bathurst, 18 July 1814.
I present myself before you to talk which gives me great pleasure. I speak of War for I have already began. I have sent the Americans from La Prairie du Chien, and then I came here to drive them away. Since then I find this Island more solid than when they were here. I believe that I am now under a clear Sky. Last Year I undertook to crush an embarrassment that was in the Way, but I could not do it, because I found the Americans like the Beaver, burrowed under ground. My thoughts are often turned towards our own side, because I fear the Americans who have so fine a Road to come to us, which causes me to dread for our Women and Children.
It would be a great charity on Your part, my Father, to send some of your big Guns and brave Warriors to our support -- I requested it last Year and I this day repeat my wish. I have always obeyed your Orders which makes me speak with Boldness, for I speak according to my Works.
You ordered all your Indian Children to be upon a good Understanding with each Other and live in Union, till now I have done so. To assure you more forcibly, My Father, of my deeds, Know that I and my Young Warriors have devoted our bodies to our Father the Red Head.
We are sorry to learn that we have no Trader this Year. Although you give Assistance to all Your Children, Yet you have too many to care of, before it can reach us. We have of late not had much assistance through you, My Father, for one half of our Nation have died of hunger with shreds of skin in their mouths for want of other Nourishment. I have always thought and do so still, that it arises from no other cause but the troubles you have with the Americans.
"Let us all rise as one man": Speech of Naiwash, Chief of the Ottawa, 6 October 1814
In the autumn of 1814, Naiwash, an Ottawa chief, addressed the remnant of Tecumseh's confederacy at a council held by the British Indian Department at Dundas, Upper Canada. The nations of the confederacy have become disheartened by the death of their leader, the occupation of their lands by American troops and their losses in the war. Naiwash does his best to rally them behind the British cause.
The original is in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Record Group 10, vol 10, pp. 17250-17252
You Chiefs, Warriors & young men,
We thank the great spirit that we have all again [met] together at this time.
Chiefs and Warriors,
The great Spirit who made us, made us to listen to one another, and bind ourselves as one man.
Chiefs and Warriors,
Our great father gave us to live, let us listen and obey one another that our father may allow us to live and tread upon his ground well.
Warriors, young men & chiefs,
We do not listen to what our father says, we are [illegible] we are no one know [possibly "now"], we do not listen to our Father, if we did & were as one, we would not be so poor, we should have more luck, we Indians who are from the Westward, perhaps the master of life would give us luck if we would stick together as we formerly did to the Westward and we probably might go back there again upon our lands.
Chiefs and warriors,
Since our great chief Tecumseh has been killed, we do not listen to one another, we do not rise together, we hurt ourselves by it. It is our own fault, it is not our father's fault.
When our father gives us good encouragement, we hurt ourselves, we do not, when we go to war, rise together, but we go one or two and the rest say they will go tomorrow. Let us have pity on our wives & children and when we go, let us rise as one together.
When the war chief rises, let us see you rise with him as one man, let us take courage and follow the war chief. We expect every day [that] our father will call on us.
Warriors & Chiefs,
When we go to the lines, some of us say we will go home and say we will return in a few days but we tell lies, we do not return. Now if we stuck together and would listen to our head men, and listen to our father, we perhaps would have luck to go back where we have been driven from.
Chiefs & Warriors,
Here [are] our brothers the Wyandots who have been at the lines all the time. They have not yet been home, they want to go home for a short time, when they hear from our Father. Let us all get ready and let us all rise as one man to accompany them.
Dundas 6 October 1814
"I am one of those very few Indians, who speak my sentiments openly": Black Hawk Addresses the King's Representatives at the End of the War
In June 1815, months after the war ended, officers of the British Indian Department convened a council of the various aboriginal nations who had been allied with Britain during the war. Their purpose was to tell them that the fighting had ended and they were not to attack American troops or settlements. Black Hawk of the Sauks was not happy with the British and told them so although he ultimately agreed to abide by their direction. His major source of concern was that his people, resident on U.S. soil, would lose their land. He was right.
The original document is in the National Library and Archives of Canada, Record Group 8 I, vol 258, 285-287.
I thank you for your words today, which instruct us how to live happy. I am also sincerely thankful for the trouble you have taken to save the lives of our Women and Children for this ensuing winter by the bounty you have bestowed upon us.
You must before have heard that I am one of those very few Indians, who speak my sentiments openly and without reserve -- do not therefore be angry at what I am going to say, I shall repeat your own words.
You know that at the Commencement of the War we were loath to take up the Tomahawk and did not until you absolutely threatened us seriously with your displeasure, recollect, my Father, Your Words were these:
These My Father you must recollect were your words conveyed to us by the Red Head (Mr. Dickson). You at the same time told us that if we followed your advice we should want for nothing and so soon as we should beat the Americans and they would ask to smoke the Pipe of Peace with our Great Father the King then we would see some of your Chiefs settled in our Lands to make us happy.
You also sent us word to take courage and fear nothing, that when you would smoke the Pipe that all your Red Children would be included in that peace but this was not to take place until those bad spirits the Americans were entirely driven off our Lands and those of our Ancestors. I believe my Father that you gave us hopes that the Ohio would be the future boundary of the Americans.
You have today recalled to our minds these promises by sending us a supply of goods which save our Families from perishing in the Winter. The Americans according to their stories are Masters of us and our Lands but this is no[t] your Story. We shall therefore listen to your words and remain quiet as our Great Chief told you just now, and next Canoeing season I will go and see my great Father at Michilimackinac and perhaps farther.
In the continued hopes I may not be obliged to dig up my Hatchet I know these Big Knives have Sweet Tongues and fear they have cheated us all.
It is a long way to go every Year for our Supplies but you say everything is arranged for our Good & next hot season ahead One Hundred of my Warriors will go and see you.
I now take you by the hand and my heart is in it and you may relay on its being the Heart and Hand of a Child that has sense -- but when I look down this River some bad blood that remains in my heart jumps up to my throat and were it not for your councils, I would free myself of it.
[28 June 1815]