ARMY AND NAVY CHRONICLE, Vol. IX, No. 18, October 31, 1839 (Whole Number 263)
Fort Leavenworth, Oct. 3, 1839.
Mr. Editor: During that portion of the year in which the prairie grass will sustain horses, it has been customary at this post to detach squadrons or troops, monthly, on a march of reconnaissance along the frontier, to the vicinity of those Indian tribes whose known propensities would lead to the supposition of their committing depredations upon the property of the whites, or of whom complaints had already been made of outrages actually committed. A short account of a March of this kind, of more than usual interest, made during the past month, to the Otoes and Missourias, may not be uninteresting to some of your readers.
In consequence of complaints made of the evil disposition manifested by the Otoes towards the whites, particularly in their conduct to the employés of the Government living among them. Col. Kearny, in immediate command of two squadrons of his regiment, left Fort Leavenworth on the 5th September, to visit them at their villages on the Great Platte river. The officers of the expedition were Col. Kearny, commanding; Major Wharton, Adjutant Thompson, Surgeon Macomb; Capt. Boone, commanding 1st squadron; Capt. Allen commanding 2d squadron; and Lieutenants Steen, Davidson, Chilton and Bowman.
Following, generally, the old ‘Council Bluffs” road, on the south side of the Missouri river, the troops moved leisurely onward, over a country luxuriant, picturesque, and at some points beautiful; the monotony of the march being varied by, at one time, the necessity of cutting down the abrupt banks of some prairie stream, to allow the passage of the wagons, and, at another, of turning from a direct course to head some hollow whose marshy bottom would bear neither man nor horse. In this manner, by easy marches, Wolfe river, the Great and Little Nemahaw, Table Creek, L’eau qui pleut, and many streams of lesser note being crossed, and the site (a most eligible one) for the new post on Table Creek having been visited, we finally stood upon the batiks of the Great Platte. This river, being low, was fordable by horses, but its bed abounding in quicksands rendered the crossing entirely impracticable to loaded wagons. An opportunity was thus offered of testing the utility of Capt. Lane’s admirable application of India rubber to purposes of military economy. A small box, of little weight, containing a boat capable of transporting about 1500 pounds weight across a rapid stream, having been brought with us, the cylinders were inflated and the boat launched. It is almost superfluous, after the many testimonials in its favor, to say that the boat answered all the purposes of its invention, uniting with an ease of management and a readiness of transportation, which must give it entire precedence over every other kind of ponton yet offered to the consideration of the military public. On the sandy beach of this river we found the bones of one of three dragoons who had been drowned a few months previous, while conducting to their tribe some Omahas taken prisoners by the Sacs. The now useless sword and belt and cartridge-box, lying with their owner’s remains, and marked with the letter of his company, and his number, identified the individual. The skeleton, having been placed in a box, was conveyed to our camp, and that evening buried with the honors of war.
The point of our destination having been reached, the Otoes were invited through their agent, Mr. Hamilton, to a council on the 16th. After a delay of unusual length, though at no time remarkable for punctuality, a long string of warriors, boys and women, gave notice of the approach of the nation. The whole assembly having halted a few hundred yards beyond our chain of sentinels, some twenty of the chief men, having dismounted, approached the encampment, and being led to the commanding officer, took their seats in council; on being told, however, that the whole nation were invited to hear what was, to be said to them, the greater portion of the people came forward, taking their stations in concentric circles around the council fire. Observing that, contrary to custom, the Indians had come into council armed, the commanding officer refused to have any thing to say to them while thus equipped, and directed them to lay aside weapons which he neither feared nor had come to contend against. This being done, Col. Kearnv addressed the council.
He told the Otoes that he was glad to see them ; he said he was the representative of their Great Father, the President, who had placed him in their vicinity to observe their conduct; that many reports of their
misconduct towards their white brethren had reached his ears, that as it would be hard to make a whole nation suffer for the acts of a few individuals, he should only punish the most prominent of those against whom complaints had been made; he called upon Kanzas Tunga (Big Kaw) to deliver to him some young men whom he named. (Three young men having been delivered to him, the commanding officer proceeded,) that as these young men had acted badly towards the whites, he intended to punish them before the nation, that it might be a lesson to them would all for the future not to molest the white man—that should the punishment then inflicted fail in producing the intended effect, and he should again hear com- plaints of their bad conduct, it would be as easy for him to visit them again as it had been them; in con elusion he advised them, in their difficulties, to seek counsel from their agent, who would always hear their complaints and assist them.
Kanzas Tunga, Waronisa, Le Voleur, and most of the leading men replied, generally admitting that
their young men had acted badly, but that they were not able to restrain them,” and two of the old chiefs, Waronisa and Le Voleur, offered themselves for punishment in place of the prisoners. One fine looking young chief came forward, and under great excitement said, “My Father, I place myself among these prisoners, whatever punishment you inflict on them, let me undergo first.”” Cha-ra-to-rishe, or Chef Malade, the head chief of the Pawnees, who with a few of his chiefs, was present, reproached the
Otoes for their conduct, for their turbulence and internal discord; and for the murder of the only man
among them, Jotan [in April 1837]—told them he could manage his young men, and if the Otoe Chiefs could not do the same, they were unworthy the title.
The agent, Mr. Hamilton, now rose, and requested Col. Kearny to give to him the prisoners, and not to
punish them: that he would be answerable for their future good conduct, and that he thought the nation
would be as much benefited by what had already passed, as if the punishment had actually been inflicted. To this request, after some consideration, the Colonel yielded, and addressed the Otoes again, saying, that as their peace-father had interceded for their young men, he had given them to him—that his intention had been to whip, not to kill, but to whip them there, publicly, before the whole nation, that all might know that they had been punished, and that should he ever have cause again to visit them for their misconduct, his ears would be closed to all solicitations from their agent.
Mr. Hamilton having then explained to the Otoes the pledges he had made in-their behalf, and restored the prisoners, advised them to conduct themselves in good faith towards the white people sent among them by their Great Father for their benefit, and to remember all that had been said to them. The council then dissolved. The Otoes had been much alarmed, and had probably expected that some of their people were – to be killed, or that some treachery was intended, and had accordingly come to the council prepared for the
worst, to fight if necessary, but with no intention of doing so unless forced by an attack by the troops. They were evidently much relieved by the result, and the lesson they have received in the firmness displayed by Col. Kearnv, together with the contempt for their prowess, and confidence in his own resources which he evinced in the council, will doubtless restrain them within proper limits for at least some years.
On the 17th the Missouri river was passed, the horses swimming it, and the camp for the night was formed at one of the Pottawattamie villages. These Indians having been invited to council on the following day, some dozen of their head chiefs appeared, and the commanding officer spoke to them of the invitation of the Government to enter into a new treaty with them or an exchange of their present lands for others lying on the south side of the Missouri. He advised them to accompany the agent of the Government, Capt. Gantt, to examine these lands, and explained to them the difference between living in a territory under the laws of the United States, and within the limits of a State enacting its own laws, and which would certainly extend its jurisdiction over such Indian tribes as might be embraced in its geographical boundaries: that in a few ???rs such would be their situation in their present residence ; he therefore would advise them, as their friend, to accede to the wishes of their Great Father, at least so far as to examine the country which he wished to give them in exchange for theirs. He concluded by saying he spoke to them as a friend, not as the authorized agent of the Government. The orator of the nation replied, simply, that heretofore their ears had been deaf to all words upon the subject of their removal, but that they had now heard the advice of their Father, they thanked him for it, they were glad to see him, and would always be glad to see him at their towns.
These Indians complain that a treaty has been made with them, which has only been partially fulfilled, and that therefore they are unwilling to enter into any new engagements with the Government. There is truth and justice in the remark; and if it is really the wish to remove the Pottawattamies to the other side of the Missouri river, the stipulations of the late treaty should, at once, be complied with, or any attempt to institute a satisfactory negotiation for an exchange of lands may be considered futile. The command returned to Fort Leavenworth on the 25th September.