Caught

Been reading history lately, a long lingering interest.

Specifically, the history of the encounters of Europeans, and then Americans following 1783, with the various native tribes of North America, a vast, complex, and highly interesting (and important) topic. I’ve dipped into this from time to time, mostly with respect to the far western states, especially California and Nevada, but the crucial time period for the United States generally, i.e. when national attitudes and policies were first being formed, occurred in the few decades following the Treaty of Paris. All the major issues came to the front immediately, when the Northwest Territory was officially declared part of the United States, in 1787, via the Northwest Ordinance. This area was “northwest”, relative to the defining western boundary of a fair chunk of the country at the time–the Ohio River—and encompassed the large area between the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, including the all the Great Lakes other than Lake Ontario.

There’s a vast literature on European–Native relations, and some tremendous reading therein, but I’ve yet to see any concise statement as pointed and indicting as this one. It is the (reported) official response to a group of American Commissioners, by a group of tribes formally at war with the United States–the first American war after the Revolution, declared by President Washington just about a year into his first term, in 1790. Lasting until 1794, it produced some highly noteworthy events and people. The events including what was, by far, the most severe defeat ever suffered by the American military at the hands of native peoples (including the infamous Little Bighorn), which occurred two years previous, at a remote wilderness site on what is now the Indiana-Ohio border about half way between Cincinnati and Fort Wayne. Along with a prolonged series of attacks on settlers, this drove the vast majority of the settlers from the area, and left the natives in undisputed control of the Territory. The people produced included two of the most powerful Native American leaders ever known–Little Turtle and Tecumseh, as well as a future president, William Henry Harrison.

The context of their response (below) is as follows. The American Commissioners had argued that, via the Treaty of Paris, all lands formerly claimed by the British (and by the French before 1763), north of the Ohio River and south of the Canadian boundary, had formally been transferred to US control. Upshot: the native tribes were expected/requested to cede control of the area, to the United States, for a stipulated sum of money. Having just defeated two American armies, including completely destroying one, and having formed a confederacy of affiliated tribes exceeding the power of even the infamous Iroquois confederacy, we can imagine what their response to this was. The exchange occurred “at the foot of the rapids” of the Maumee River, in what is now Maumee Ohio, a suburb of Toledo. Maumee is a derivation of Miami, a leading tribe in the confederation that included several large and significant tribes, including Pottawattamies, Ottawas, Chippewas, Shawnees, Wyandots, Delawares, Kickapoos and some others. The Commissioners had also argued there were now numerous settlers in the NW Territory, such that Indian control was just not feasible.

Money to us is of no value, and to most of us, unknown. And, as no consideration whatever can induce us to sell the lands on which we get sustenance for our women and children, we hope we may be allowed to point out a mode by which your settlers may be very easily removed, and peace thereby obtained. We know [as the Commissioners had stated] that these settlers are poor, or they would never have ventured to live in a country which has been in continual trouble ever since they crossed the Ohio. Divide, therefore, this large sum of money which you have offered us, among these people. Give to each, also, a portion of what you say you would give to us annually, over and above this very large sum of money; and, as we are persuaded, they would most readily accept it in lieu of the land you sold them. If you add, also, the great sum of money you must expend in raising and paying armies, with a view to force us to yield to you our country, you will certainly have more than sufficient for the purpose of repaying these settlers for all their labor and their improvements.

You have talked to us about concessions. It appears strange that you should expect any from us, who have only been defending our rights against your invasions. We want peace. Restore to us our country, and we shall be enemies no longer. You make one concession to us by offering us your money, and another, by having agreed to do us justice, after having long and injuriously withheld it; we mean, in the acknowledgment you now make, that the King of England never did, and never had a right to give you our country, by the treaty of peace. And you want to make this act of justice a part of your concessions; and you seem to expect that because you have at last acknowledged our independence, we should for such favor surrender to you our country. You have talked, also, a great deal about pre-emption, and your exclusive right to purchase Indian lands, as ceded to you by the King at the treaty of peace. We never made any agreement with this King, nor with any other nation, that we would give to either the exclusive right of purchasing our lands; and we declare to you that we consider ourselves free to make any bargain or cession of lands whenever, or to whomsoever, we please. If the White people, as you say, made a treaty that none of them but the King should purchase of us, and that he had given that right to the United States, it is an affair that concerns you and him, and not us. We have never parted with such power.

We desire you to consider that our only demand is the peaceable possession of a small part of our once great country. Look back and review the lands from whence we have been driven to this spot. We can retreat no further, because the country behind hardly affords food for its inhabitants; and we have, therefore, to leave our bones in this small place to which we are now confined. We shall be persuaded that you mean to do us justice when you agree that the Ohio [river] shall remain the boundary line between us. If you will not consent thereto, our meeting would be altogether unnecessary. This is the great point which we hoped would have been explained before you left your homes, as our message, last fall, was principally directed to obtain that information.

Done at the Foot of the Maumee Rapids, the 10th day of August, 1793.

Zing!

Source, (p. 38)

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