Page images

fended for them by the officers and troops of the regular army.

Civil government was speedily organized. St. Clair and the judges formed the first legislature; in theory they were only permitted to adopt laws already in existence in the old States, but as a matter of fact they tried any legislative experiments they saw fit. St. Clair was an autocrat both by military training and by political principles. He was a man of rigid honor, and he guarded the interests of the territory with jealous integrity, but he exercised such a rigorous supervision over the acts of his subordinate colleagues, the judges, that he became involved in wrangles at the very beginning of his administration. To prevent the incoming of unauthorized intruders, he issued a proclamation summoning all newly arrived persons to report at once to the local commandants, and, with a view of keeping the game for the use of the actual settlers, and also to prevent as far as possible fresh irritation being given the Indians, he forbade all hunting in the territory for hides or flesh save by the inhabitants proper.19 Only an imperfect obedience was rendered either proclamation.

Thus the settlement of the Northwest was fairly begun, on a system hitherto untried. The fates and the careers of all the mighty States which yet lay formless in the forest were in great measure determined by what was at this time done. The nation

19 Draper MSS. Wm. Clark Papers. Proclamation, Vincennes, June 28, 1790.

had decreed that they should have equal rights with the older States and with one another, and yet that they should remain forever inseparable from the Union; and above all, it had been settled that the bondman should be unknown within their borders. Their founding represented the triumph of the principle of collective national action over the spirit of intense individualism displayed so commonly on the frontier. The uncontrolled initiative of the individual, which was the chief force in the settlement of the Southwest, was given comparatively little play in the settlement of the Northwest. The Northwest owed its existence to the action of the nation as a whole.




HE Federal troops were camped in the Federal

territory north of the Ohio. They garrisoned the fort and patrolled between the little log-towns. They were commanded by the Federal General Harmar, and the territory was ruled by the Federal Governor St. Clair. Thenceforth the national authorities and the regular troops played the chief parts in the struggle for the Northwest. The frontier militia became a mere adjunct-often necessary, but always untrustworthy-of the regular forces.

For some time the regulars fared ill in the warfare with the savages; and a succession of mortifying failures closed with a defeat more ruinous than any which had been experienced since the days of the “iron-tempered general with the pipe-clay brain,”—for the disaster which befell St. Clair was as overwhelming as that wherein Braddock met his death. The continued checks excited the anger of the Eastern people, and the dismay and derision of the Westerners. They were keenly felt by the officers of the army; and they furnished an excuse for those who wished to jeer at regular troops, and exalt the militia. Jefferson, who never understood anything about warfare, being a timid man, and

who belonged to the visionary school which always denounced the army and navy, was given a legitimate excuse to criticise the tactics of the regulars ;1 and of course he never sought occasion to comment on the even worse failings of the militia.

The truth was that the American military authorities fell into much the same series of errors as their predecessors, the British, untaught by the dreary and mortifying experience of the latter in fighting these forest foes. The War Department at Washington, and the Federal generals who first came to the Northwest, did not seem able to realize the formidable character of the Indian armies, and were certainly unable to teach their own troops how to fight them. Harmar and St. Clair were both fair officers, and in open country were able to acquit themselves respectably in the face of civilized foes. But they did not have the peculiar genius necessary to the successful Indian fighter, and they never learned how to carry on a campaign in the woods.

They had the justifiable distrust of the militia felt by all the officers of the Continental Army. In the long campaigns waged against Howe, Clinton, and Cornwallis they had learned the immense superiority of the Continental troops to the local militia. They knew that the Revolution would have failed had it not been for the Continental troops. They knew also, by the bitter experience common to all officers who had been through the war, that,

1 Draper MSS., G. R. Clark Papers. Jefferson to Innes, March 7, 1791.

though the militia might on occasion do well, yet they could never be trusted; they were certain to desert or grow sulky and mutinous if exposed to the fatigue and hardship of a long campaign, while in a pitched battle in the open they never fought as stubbornly as the regulars, and often would not fight at all.

All this was true; yet the officers of the regular army failed to understand that it did not imply the capacity of the regular troops to fight savages on their own ground. They showed little real comprehension of the extraordinary difficulty of such warfare against such foes, and of the reasons which made it so hazardous. They could not help assigning other causes than the real ones for every defeat and failure. They attributed each in turn to the effects of ambuscade or surprise, instead of realizing that in each the prime factor was the formidable fighting power of the individual Indian warrior, when in the thick forest which was to him a home, and when acting under that species of wilderness discipline which was so effective for a single crisis in his peculiar warfare. The Indian has rarely shown any marked excellence as a fighter in mass in the open; though of course there have been one or two brilliant exceptions. At times in our wars we have tried the experiment of drilling bodies of Indians as if they were whites, and using them in the ordinary way in battle. Under such conditions, as a rule, they have shown themselves inferior to the white troops against whom they were pitted. In

« PreviousContinue »