« PreviousContinue »
ward became a judge in the north-western territory. At the same table sat the secretaries, while the interpreters, several officers, and a few soldiers, stood around.
An Indian council is usually one of the most imposing spectacles in savage life. It is one of the few occasions in which the warrior exercises his right of suffrage, his influence, and his talents, in a civil capacity, and the meeting is conducted with all the gravity, and all the ceremonious ostentation, with which it is possible to invest it. The matter to be considered, as well as all the details, are well digested before hand, so that the utmost decorum shall prevail, and the decision be unanimous. The chiefs and sages the leaders and orators occupy the most conspicuous seats : behind them are arranged the younger braves, and still farther in the rear appear the women and youth, as spectators. All are equally attentive. A dead silence reigns throughout the assemblage. The great pipe, gaudily adorned with paint and feathers, is lighted, and passed from mouth to mouth, commencing with the chief highest in rank, and proceeding by regular gradation to the inferior order of braves. If two or more nations be represented, the pipe is passed from one party to the other, and salutations are courteously exchanged, before the business of the council is opened by the respective speakers. Whatever jealousy or party spirit may exist in the tribe, it is carefully excluded from this dignified assemblage, whose orderly conduct, and close attention to the proper subject before them, might be imitated with profit by some of the most enlightened bodies in christendom.
It was an alarming evidence of the temper now prevailing among them, and of the brooding storm that filled their minds, that no propriety of demeanor marked the entrance of the savages into the council-room. The usual formalities were forgotten, or purposely dispensed with, and an insulting levity substituted in their place. The chiefs and braves stalked in, with an appearance of light regard, and seated themselves promiscuously on the floor, in front of the commissioners. An air of insolence marked all their movements, and showed an intention to dictate terms, or to fix a quarrel upon the Americans.
A dread silence rested over the group: it was the silence of dread, distrust, and watchfulness — not that of respect. The eyes of the savage band gloated upon the banquet of blood that seemed already spread out before them; the pillage of the fort, and the bleeding scalps of the Americans, were almost within their grasp; while that gallant little band saw the portentous nature of the crisis, and stood ready to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
The commissioners, without noticing the disorderly conduct of the other party, or appearing to have discovered their meditated treachery, opened the council in due form. They lighted the peace-pipe, and after drawing a few whiffs, passed it to the chiefs, who received it. Colonel Clarke then arose, to explain the purpose for which the treaty was ordered. With an unembarrassed air, with the tone of one accustomed to command, and the easy assurance of perfect security and self-possession, he stated that the commissioners had been sent to offer peace to the Shawanoes; that the President had no wish to continue the war; he had no resentment to gratify; and,
that if the red men desired peace, they could have it, on liberal terms. If such be the will of the Shawanoes,' he concluded, “let some of their wise men speak.'
A chief arose, drew up his tall person to its full height, and assuming a haughty attitude, threw his eye contemptuously over the commissioners and their small retinue, as if to measure their insignificance in comparison with his own numerous train, and then stalk ing up to the table, threw upon it two belts of wampum, of different colors — the war and the peace belt.
• We come here,' he exclaimed, “to offer you two pieces of wampum: they are of different colors; you know what they mean: you can take which you like!' And turning upon his heel, he resumed his seat.
The chiefs drew themselves up, in the consciousness of having hurled defiance in the teeth of the white men. They had offered an insult to the renowned leader of the Long Knives, to which they knew it would be hard for him to submit, while they did not suppose he would dare to resent it. The council-pipe was laid aside, and those fierce wild men gazed intently on Clarke. The Americans saw that the crisis bad arrived: they could no longer doubt that the Indians understood the advantage they possessed, and were disposed to use it; and a common sense of danger caused each eye to be turned on the leading commissioner. He sat undisturbed, and apparently careless, until the chief who had thrown the belts on the table had taken bis seat: then, with a small cane which he held in his hand, he reached, as if playfully, toward the war-belt, entangled the end of the stick in it, drew it toward hiin, and then with a twitch of the cane, threw the belt into the midst of the chiefs. The effect was electric. Every man in council, of each party, sprang to his feet; the savages, with a loud exclamation of astonishment, Hugh!' the Americans in expectation of a hopeless conflict, against overwhelming numbers. Every hand grasped a weapon.
Clarke alone was unawed. The expression of his countenance changed to a ferocious sternness, and his eye flashed, but otherwise he was unmoved. A bitter sinile was slightly perceptible upon his compressed lips, as he gazed upon that savage band, whose hundred eyes were bent fiercely and in horrid exultation upon him, as they stood like a pack of wolves at bay, thirsting for blood, and ready to rush upon him, whenever one bolder than the rest should commence the attack. It was one of those moments of indecision, when the slightest weight thrown into either scale will make it preponderate; a moment in which a bold man, conversant with the secret springs of human action, may seize upon the minds of all around him, and sway them at his will. Such a man was the intrepid Virginian. He spoke, and there was no man bold enough to gainsay him none that could return the fierce glance of his eye. Raising his arm, and waving his hand toward the door, he exclaimed : ‘Dogs ! you may go.'' The Indians hesitated for a moment, and then rushed tumultuously out of the council-room.
The decision of Clarke, on that occasion, saved himself and his companions from massacre. The plan of the savages had been artfully laid : he had read it in their features and conduct, as plainly as
if it had been written upon a scroll before him. He met it in a manner which was unexpected; the crisis was brought on sooner than was intended; and upon a principle similar to that by which, when a line of battle is broken, the dismayed troops fly, before order can be restored, the new and sudden turn given to these proceedings by the energy of Clarke, confounded the Indians, and before the broken thread of their scheme of treachery could be réunited, they were panic-struck. They had come prepared to brow-beat, to humble, and then to destroy: they looked for remonstrance, and altercation; for the luxury of drawing the toils gradually around their victims; of beholding their agony and degradation, and of bringing on the final catastrophe by an appointed signal, when the scheme should be ripe. They expected to see on our part great caution, a skilful playing off, and an unwillingness to take offence, which were to be gradually goaded into alarm, irritation, and submission. The cool contempt with which their first insult was thrown back in their teeth surprised them, and they were foiled by the self-possession of one man. They had no Tecumthe among them, no master-spirit, to change the plan, so as to adapt it to a new
exigency; and those braves, who in many a battle had shown themselves to be men of true valor, quailed before the moral superiority which assumed the vantage ground of a position they could not comprehend, and therefore feared to assail.
The Indians met immediately around their own council-fire, and engaged in an animated discussion. Accustomed to a cautious warfare, they did not suppose a man of Colonel Clarke's known sagacity would venture upon a display of mere gasconade, or assume any ground that he was not able to maintain ; and they therefore attributed his conduct to a consciousness of strength. They knew him to be a consummate warrior; gave him the credit of having judiciously measured his own power with that of his adversary; and suspected that a powerful rëinforcement was at hand. Perhaps at that moment, when intent upon their own scheme, and thrown off their guard by imagined security, they had neglected the ordinary precautions that form a prominent feature in their system of tactics : they might be surrounded by a concealed force, ready to rush upon them at a signal from the fort. In their eagerness to entrap a foe, they might have blindly become entangled in a snare set for themselves. So fully were they convinced that such was the relative position of the two parties, and so urgent did they consider the necessity for immediate conciliation, that they appointed a delegation to wait on Clarke, and express their willingness to accept peace on his own terms. The council reassembled, and a treaty was signed, under the dictation of the American commissioners. Such was the remarkable result of the intrepidity and presence of mind of GEORGE ROGERS Clarke.
RIPE persecution, like the plant
Whose nascence Mocha boasted,
Was never known, till XOASTED.
The following lines were suggested by an incident narrated in the ms. journal of a friend, to whom the story, as here described, was related, while the journalist was detained by an accident to his post-chaise, some years since, upon that thoroughfure of Parisian fashion, the avenue to the Bois de Boulogne,' within half a league of the gates of Paris, and in sigbe of the · Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile. If the writer's memory serves him, the naine of the assassin, as well as the fact of the vietim's surviving the death-blow loog enough to bave revealed its object, bad it not paralyzed his utterance, are both authentic.
It was a day of joy, that day when first
Boulogne's dark woods lay stretch'd before my eyes,
In secret, would become realities.
On the lone house threw a quick glance of fear;
And his shrugged shoulder mounted to his ear :
And could its walls of dusky red but speak,
One eve the brothers met, as wont to do,
Each brow was smooth- unwrinkled, to the view,
Prompt to reveal the tale of mutual guilt :
This revelation in the blood be spilt.