THE CHIEF, PONTIAC
When he was old enough to go to battle with the tried warriors, Chief Pontiac took many scalps and distinguished himself for courage. He was, therefore, amid great feasting and rejoicing, made a war chief of the Ottawas.
His influence increased rapidly. The young men of his tribe felt sure of success when they followed Pontiac to battle. His very name made his foes tremble.
In the council, too, his power grew. His words seemed wise to the gray heads, and the young warriors were ready to take up the hatchet or lay it down at his bidding. Because of his eloquence and wisdom, Pontiac was made sachem, so that he not only led his people to battle, but also ruled them in time of peace. He was called[Pg 67] the greatest councilor and warrior of the Ottawas; yet he was not content.
In Michigan, where the Ottawa Indians lived, there were other tribes of the Algonquin Indians. Chief among these were the Ojibwas and the Pottawottomies. These tribes, though related by marriage and on friendly terms, had separate chiefs. But gradually they came to recognize the great Pontiac as their principal ruler.
Among the Indians of his own tribe Chief Pontiac's word was law. Among kindred tribes his friendship was sought and his displeasure feared. Through all the Algonquin territory, from the Lakes to the Gulf, from the mountains to the river, the great chief's name was known and respected.
Pontiac was no doubt proud and ambitious. But if he was glad to gain glory for himself he considered the good of his people also. To unite them and overpower the palefaces was the end toward which he planned.
By this time he had learned that all palefaces were not alike. There were two great nations of them, the French and the English, and the Indians had found a great difference between them. The English had treated them with contempt and helped themselves to their lands. The French had come among them as missionaries and traders, with kind words and gifts. To be sure, they had built forts in the land, but they told the Indians they did this for their sake that they might protect them from the English, who wished to take their lands. The French seemed to hate the English no less than the Indians did.[Pg 68]
It is said that Chief Pontiac planned to use the French to help him conquer the English, and then intended to turn upon them and drive them away. No doubt if the French had openly claimed the territory of the Indians, or in any way had shown that their professions of friendship were false, Pontiac would have been their enemy. But he evidently took them at their word and looked upon them as friends who wished to help his people.
In all his dealings with the French, Chief Pontiac was true and honorable. He joined them in their wars against the English. He and his Ottawas helped to defeat the British regulars under General Braddock at Fort Duquesne. He saved the French garrison at Detroit from an attack by hostile Indians. He trusted them when all appearances were against them. His acceptance of the peace offered by Major Rogers on the shore of Lake Erie was not a betrayal of the French. Pontiac did not forsake their cause until they had given it up themselves. He took a step which seemed for the best interests of his own people, and, at the same time, not hurtful to the French. We have seen that he was disappointed in the reward he expected.
The English, having subdued the French, felt able to manage the Indians without difficulty. They were, therefore, more careless than ever about pleasing them. They refused to give the supplies which the French had been accustomed to distribute among the Indians. The Indians were obliged to provide for themselves, as in the days of Pontiac's childhood. They had no powder or[Pg 69] bullets and the young men had lost their skill with the bow. There was suffering and death for want of food.
Even Pontiac had been willing to profit by the generosity of the French. He had not only cheered himself with their firewater, but, like other Indians, he had been glad to give up his bow and arrow for a gun; he had been ready to accept corn and smoked meats in winter when game was scarce, and to protect himself from the cold with the Frenchmen's blankets.
He realized now that in adopting the white men's customs, in using their food and blankets and arms, his people had become dependent upon them. He remembered the stories he had heard in his childhood about the might of the Ottawas in the days when they depended on the chase for their food, and fought their battles with bows and arrows and stone hatchets. He wished his people would return to the old customs. In that way only could they regain their native hardihood and independence.
While Pontiac's hatred of the English grew more bitter daily, other Indians were not indifferent. Through all the Algonquin tribes spread this hatred for the English. The insolence of the garrisons at the forts provoked it; the cheating, the bad faith, and the brutality of the English trappers and traders increased it; the refusal of supplies, the secret influence of the French, the encroachments of English settlers, fanned it into fury. And when at last, in 1762, word came that the English claimed the land of the Algonquins their rage could no longer be restrained.