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An Averted Peril


Source: Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land

In 1786 a little building stood at North Bend, Ohio, near the junction of
the Miami and Ohio Rivers, from which building the stars and stripes were
flying. It was one of a series of blockhouses built for the protecting of
cleared land while the settlers were coming in, yet it was a trading
station rather than a fort, for the attitude of government toward the red
men was pacific. The French of the Mississippi Valley were not
reconciled, however, to the extension of power by a Saxon people, and the
English in Canada were equally jealous of the prosperity of those
provinces they had so lately lost. Both French and English had emissaries
among the Shawnees when it had become known that the United States
intended to negotiate a treaty with them.

It was the mild weather that comes for a time in October, when
Cantantowit blesses the land from his home in the southwest with rich
colors, plaintive perfumes of decay, soft airs, and tender lights a time
for peace; but the garrison at the fort realized that the situation was
precarious. The Shawnees had camped about them, and the air was filled
with the neighing of their ponies and the barking of their dogs. To let
them into the fort was to invite massacre; to keep them out after they
had been summoned was to declare war.

Colonel George Rogers Clarke, of Virginia, who was in command, scoffed at
the fears of his men, and would not give ear to their appeals for an
adjournment of the meeting or a change of the place of it. At the
appointed hour the doors were opened and the Indians came in. The pipe of
peace was smoked in the usual form, but the red men were sullen and
insolent, and seemed to be seeking a cause of quarrel. Clarke explained
that the whites desired only peace, and he asked the wise men to speak
for their tribe. A stalwart chief arose, glanced contemptuously at the
officer and his little guard, and, striding to the table where Clarke was
seated, threw upon it two girdles of wampum--the peace-belt and the
war-belt. We offer you these belts, he said. You know what they mean.
Take which you like.

It was a deliberate insult and defiance. Both sides knew it, and many of
the men held their breath. Clarke carelessly picked up the war-belt on
the point of his cane and flung it among the assembled chiefs. Every man
in the room sprang to his feet and clutched his weapon. Then, with a
sternness that was almost ferocious, Clarke pointed to the door with an
imperative action, and cried, Dogs, you may go!

The Indians were foiled in their ill intent by his self-possession and
seeming confidence, which made them believe that he had forces in the
vicinity that they were not prepared to meet. They had already had a
bitter experience of his strength and craft, and in the fear that a trap
had been set for them they fled tumultuously. The treaty was ratified
soon after.

Next: The Obstinacy Of Saint Clair

Previous: The Under Land

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