The history of Indian removal has often followed a single narrative arc, one that begins with President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830 and follows the Cherokee Trail of Tears. In that conventional account, the Black Hawk War of 1832 encapsulates the experience of tribes in the territories north of the Ohio River. But Indian removal in the Old Northwest was much more complicated—involving many Indian peoples and more than just one policy, event, or politician. In Land Too Good for Indians, historian John P. Bowes takes a long-needed closer, more expansive look at northern Indian removal—and in so doing amplifies the history of Indian removal and of the United States.
Bowes focuses on four case studies that exemplify particular elements of removal in the Old Northwest. He traces the paths taken by Delaware Indians in response to Euro-American expansion and U.S. policies in the decades prior to the Indian Removal Act. He also considers the removal experience among the Seneca-Cayugas, Wyandots, and other Indian communities in the Sandusky River region of northwestern Ohio. Bowes uses the 1833 Treaty of Chicago as a lens through which to examine the forces that drove the divergent removals of various Potawatomi communities from northern Illinois and Indiana. And in exploring the experiences of the Odawas and Ojibwes in Michigan Territory, he analyzes the historical context and choices that enabled some Indian communities to avoid relocation west of the Mississippi River.
In expanding the context of removal to include the Old Northwest, and adding a portrait of Native communities there before, during, and after removal, Bowes paints a more accurate—and complicated—picture of American Indian history in the nineteenth century. Land Too Good for Indians reveals the deeper complexities of this crucial time in American history.
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Land Too Good for Indians
Northern Indian Removal
By John P. Bowes
UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESSCopyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press
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VIOLENCE AND REMOVAL FROM LITTLE TURTLE TO BLACK HAWK
On June 11, 1782, Colonel William C. Crawford was stripped naked, had his hands bound behind his back, and was further restrained by a rope connecting his bound wrists to a post secured in the ground. The Delawares who surrounded him had captured the officer only days earlier after the Battle of Sandusky. There, Crawford's force of five hundred American soldiers had suffered a substantial defeat at the hands of the warriors of the Northwestern Indian Confederacy. Now, with Crawford at the mercy of his enemies, it became apparent that they did not intend to kill him quickly. The torture began when Delaware warriors fired powder at Crawford's naked body from point-blank range. They may have then cut off his ears. Next, in small groups they took up burning pieces of wood from the fire, advanced on the prisoner, and applied the fiery ends to his flesh. More than two hours passed as Crawford suffered repeated torture at the hands of the Delawares. Then, they scalped him, and an old woman placed ashes and embers on his back and scalped head. By all accounts he died shortly thereafter.
Crawford's death scene was, and remains, iconic, as the first narrative account of the torture described above was published less than two months after the event. Dr. John Knight, a surgeon on the Crawford expedition who had also been captured, produced an account that Hugh Henry Brackenridge, through the auspices of publisher Francis Bailey, presented the American public in print. The published edition began, however, with a short letter from Bailey testifying to the purpose behind the publication. As the American Revolution was drawing to a close, Bailey and others were upset over what they viewed as the British-inspired Indian atrocities in the Great Lakes region. And while he had heard that Sir Guy Carleton, the commander of all British forces in North America, had informed General George Washington that the Indians had been told to cease their attacks, Bailey wrote, "[The Indians] still continue their murders on our frontier." Consequently, Bailey hoped that the published narrative of Crawford's torture might "be serviceable to induce [the] government to take some effectual steps to chastise and suppress them; as from hence they will see that the nature of an Indian is fierce and cruel, and that an extirpation of them would be useful to the world, and honorable to those who can effect it." This publication highlighted what many Americans viewed to be the immoral and unrestrained violence of the Indians who populated the frontiers of the American nation, which was on the verge of gaining its independence. Bailey clearly connected that violence to British instigators. The Indians were not simply savages, but savages acting at the behest of a British master.
Fifty years later, in 1832, American citizens and government officials drew similar conclusions from the actions of Sauk warrior Black Hawk and the Indians who traveled with him. Communications between American officials throughout the summer of 1832 did not hesitate to note that the Sauks who crossed into Illinois in April 1832 were members of the so-called British Band. In addition, many emphasized the fact that Black Hawk had visited British agents at Fort Malden several times in recent years. Even when the violence ended, the anxiety lingered. On August 13, eleven days after there had been bloodshed on the Bad Axe, American colonel Samuel Stambaugh turned over seven Sauk prisoners to the commanding officer at Prairie du Chien. One of the prisoners, an elderly woman, had in her possession a letter written by the former governor of Canada, Sir George Prevost, to the Sauk Indians. Stambaugh enclosed this incriminating document in a letter to his superiors but did not describe its contents. He did not need to; the implication was clear. Stambaugh even noted that he had explained to the Sauk woman "the injury these papers had done her people." From the colonel's viewpoint, two things made the letter dangerous. First, a powerful British official had written it. Second, and even more important, the letter bore the date of March 7, 1814, which meant it was composed during the War of 1812. Colonel Stambaugh's discovery and response make it evident that American perceptions of the relationship between the British and the Indians had not changed dramatically in the previous five decades.
Warfare marked the people and places of the western Great Lakes region from the 1750s to the 1830s as violence under the auspices of multiple imperial struggles shaped the physical landscape. It drew, erased, and imposed political borders in territories that were more naturally delineated by rivers, portages, and lakes. The passage of time witnessed the transformation of the area known as the Pays d'en Haut into the Old Northwest Territory, and finally into the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But perception shaped the landscape of American-Indian relations just as powerfully. Bailey's letter that introduces Knight's narrative makes clear the important image of Indians as savage agents of the British Empire. And Stambaugh, like other American officials before and after him, saw the letter held by the Sauk woman as a fulfillment of his expectations. The communication confirmed ongoing British intrigue and Indian duplicity.
In the long list of grievances comprising the Declaration of Independence, there appears the accusation that King George had "endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and condition." During the war over the Ohio country in the 1780s and 1790s, the hands of British agents appeared in every Indian attack and negotiation. Americans identified British interests in the works of Tecumseh and his brother, the Shawnee Prophet, in the years leading up to the War of 1812. And in the summer of 1832 American citizens in northern Illinois saw a familiar danger in every Indian face. They asserted that the local Potawatomis and Ho-Chunks had "about as much friendship" for the Americans now "as they had during the late war with Great Britain." Therefore the Black Hawk War proved to be only the most recent in a string of conflicts encompassing more than five decades, which had been sparked by British interference and Indian treachery.
More than anything else, however, Stambaugh's response to the Prevost letter illustrates the manner in which past actions, more than present realities, influenced American views of American Indians by the 1830s. Iconic images and events of a violent past had more power over American opinion than contemporary actions and truths. At the very moment that Americans declared their independence, they had classified Indians as either with the United States or against it. From 1776 to the 1830s, with few exceptions, that meant that the Indians in the Great Lakes region were either pro-American or pro-British. Indian interests and motivations outside of that colonial framework did not matter or did not exist. Wars had both immediate and long-range impacts, but most importantly, each conflict, regardless of size or participation, proved a point. Indians and whites, and more specifically Indians and frontier whites as well as Indians and British whites, needed to be separated. The Black Hawk War in 1832 sparked a widespread push for removal in the Old Northwest. Yet that conflict was not an exclusive catalyst for that push. Instead, the Black Hawk War served as only the latest confirmation of what American citizens had believed for more than five decades — American Indians were dangerous and had a suspiciously strong and enduring relationship with the British. In light of these factors, American Indians in the Old Northwest needed to be removed from the path of an expanding American nation.
Crawford's death at Sandusky occurred even as the American Revolution was drawing to a close. Lieutenant General Lord Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown nearly a year earlier, and the first discussions leading to the Treaty of Paris had already begun. Yet the end of the Revolution did not eliminate the British presence from the Great Lakes region. Nor did it sever the connections between the British and their Native allies in the Ohio Valley. Indeed, the conclusion of the hostilities between Great Britain and the United States did not end the violence for American Indians, for the American Revolution was only part of a much longer conflict in Indian country that continued well into the 1790s and beyond.
Though the end of the American Revolution did not end the warfare in the Ohio country, the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris definitively shaped the rhetoric surrounding that violence. At stake was the power to define the meaning of the American Revolution for the current and future residents of the Great Lakes region. Everyone from the farmers in Kentucky to the victorious general-turned-land-speculator George Washington hungered after the fertile lands north of the Ohio River. And Americans interpreted the Treaty of Paris to mean that they could now claim authority over the lands east of the Mississippi and south of the Canadian border. While disputes remained over that northern border and some other issues needed resolution, there could be no question that the British had ceded the bulk of the territory west of the Appalachians and that the United States had gained that territory through military victory. The immediate postwar claims of the United States and its citizens were based on an unfiltered principle of conquest.
Treaty commissioners of the United States made this position clear in the treaty councils held with Indians in the decade that followed. At the preliminary negotiations leading to the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784, three American treaty commissioners debated this philosophy with delegates of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy who claimed to speak for themselves and the Indians of the Ohio Valley. When Seneca chief Cornplanter asserted that the Indians were a free and independent people now that Great Britain had ended their covenant and abandoned them, the American commissioners contested his interpretation. They explained in no uncertain terms that Cornplanter and his people were mistaken. "You are a subdued people," they asserted. "You have been overcome in a war which you entered into with us." To avoid any misunderstanding, the commissioners became more emphatic. "The King of Great Britain ceded to the United States the whole," they declared, "by the right of conquest they might claim the whole." Even though in 1784 the United States chose to push for only a portion of the land in question, its representatives professed the authority to take as much as they desired and needed.
More than just this philosophical disagreement dogged the 1784 treaty. The very fact that there were negotiations illustrated the Americans' willingness to accept Iroquois territorial claims that had been supported by the British in the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix. Yet Miami and Shawnee headmen had protested Iroquois claims since that 1768 accord and resisted the attempt by the Six Nations to exclusively negotiate boundaries. As Richard White describes it, the Six Nations and the British "spoke for peoples — the Algonquians and the backcountry settlers — whom, in fact, they could not control." If that dispute between the Iroquois and the Ohio Indians had not been clear to American officials before, it soon became quite evident. In the treaty councils of January 1786 that led to the conclusion of the Treaty of Fort Finney, Shawnee chief Kekewepellethe responded to the demands of the American treaty commissioners. "Brother, you seem to grow proud, because you have thrown down the King of England," he observed, "and as we feel sorry for our past faults, you rise in your demands on us." By the late 1780s, however, distrust had developed into outright hostility, and that fact was not lost on Secretary of War Henry Knox. In a report of May 1788 Knox addressed the growing problem with the confederacy of Indians in the territories north of the Ohio River. "[Those Indians] have expressed the highest disgust, at the principle of conquest," he wrote, "which has been specified to them, as the basis of their treaties with the United States." If the United States refused to recognize that point of contention, it should be prepared for a protracted conflict. "The doctrine of conquest is so repugnant to their feelings," Knox continued, "that rather than submit thereto, they would prefer continual war."
Even as the Ohio Indians saw the conquest doctrine as repugnant, American officials in the late 1780s began to recognize it as a dream that "foundered on the weakness of the new republic." Financial, political, and military weaknesses were only a few of the problems that had manifested by the end of the Revolutionary War and the creation of the Articles of Confederation. The strength of the Indians' military resistance also sparked the Americans' change of heart. Even before the defeat of expeditions led by General Josiah Harmar and Major General Arthur St. Clair in the early 1790s, Secretary of War Knox affirmed in June 1789 that the United States had abandoned its assertion of the conquest doctrine in its dealings with the northwestern Indians. In an often-quoted phrase, Knox stated, "The Indians being the prior occupants, possess the right to the soil." In short, the Treaty of Paris in 1783 had not transferred ownership of the land from the British to the Americans. This apparent submission to Native rights to the soil did not shut the door on territorial acquisitions, however. Although Knox added that land could not "be taken from them unless by their free consent, or by the right of conquest in case of a just war," economic conditions, more than respect for property rights, held the most influence. The reality was that in the current circumstances, even if the authorities deemed the use of military force against the northwestern Indians as just, "the finances of the United States would not at present admit of the operation."
Land rested at the heart of the violence in the Old Northwest during the late eighteenth century. Knox claimed that this concession of the Indians' right to the soil and the American determination to negotiate peaceful land transfers was based on a principle of justice. But military force remained viable and likely if Indians rejected American attempts to treat, a situation that made further conflict inevitable. The Northwestern Indian Confederacy, whose council fire burned bright at Brownstown, just south of Detroit, made it clear in 1786 that Americans should remain south of the Ohio River. At a December council at Brownstown, representatives from the Iroquois, Cherokee, Wyandot, Shawnee, Delaware, and five other nations crafted an address to the Continental Congress of the United States that provided the terms to ensure peace. "We beg that you will prevent your surveyors and other people from coming upon our side [of] the Ohio River," they pled, and they would do their best to prevent their warriors from raiding south of the river. If the surveyors and settlers continued to encroach, and "fresh ruptures" ensued, the confederacy would stand united, they said, in defense of "those rights and privileges, which have been transmitted to us by our ancestors."
Knox's warnings, Indian petitions, treaty councils, and written agreements did not, or could not, defuse the situation. Throughout the late 1780s the Ohio Valley witnessed a rise in violence and bloodshed. Judge Harry Innes in Danville, Kentucky, assured Knox, "The Indians have always been the aggressors," and he stated that nearly 1,500 lives had been lost and as much as fifteen thousand pounds worth of property had "been carried off and destroyed by these barbarians." Yet where the records attest to the rising bloodshed caused by Indian raiding parties in the Ohio Valley, the violence was not as one sided as Innes and others made it appear. Instead it was a continuation of the war that had raged in the Ohio River Valley for more than two decades before. The Shawnee, Wyandot, and Delaware raiders of the late 1780s saw their actions as retaliation for those taken by the Virginians who greedily eyed southern Ohio. It was a cycle of violence that dismayed those federal officials who were obligated to enforce the authority of the new nation but unable to control the passions of the western frontiersmen. One of the most notorious attacks occurred in August 1788 when a force of approximately sixty men under the leadership of Patrick Brown crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky into Indiana with the sole purpose of finding and killing Indians. They killed nine friendly Piankeshaws who were members of Pacan and La Demoisel's band living near Vincennes. Brown then disobeyed direct orders from his superior officer, Jean-François Hamtramck, to desist in his efforts and led his men across the Wabash River. One year later another unauthorized expedition of Kentuckians entered the Wabash region under the leadership of Major John Hardin. Hamtramck expressed his displeasure, telling General Harmar, "It is very mortifying to see the authority of the United States so much insulted" by the actions of such expeditions.
Excerpted from Land Too Good for Indians by John P. Bowes. Copyright © 2016 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
1. Violence and Removal from Little Turtle to Black Hawk,
2. The Rhetoric of Removal and the Evolution of Federal Government Policy,
3. The Delaware Diaspora in and out of the Early American Republic,
4. Sandusky River Removals,
5. The 1833 Treaty of Chicago and Potawatomi Removal,
6. Michigan Anishinabek in the Removal Age,
7. The American Era Is a Removal Era,