Original data: Indiana's first war. Indianapolis: W.B. Burford, printer, 1924.
The first war in which the white settlers of Indiana were called to take part was that between the French and the Chickasaw Indians, in 1736. It was not a great war; but, in its disastrous results, it cost Indiana a larger percentage of its population than any war that has followed it. The accounts of it in Indiana histories are rather fragmentary; and it is the object of this publication to make accessible to the public the more important of the original official reports concerning it, which have been preserved in the National Archives at Paris for nearly two centuries.
Readers who desire further information on the subject will find the most satisfactory general history of the war, its causes and results in Gayarre s History of Louisiana, in the sixth lecture of the first volume. He gives several interesting anecdotes of persons engaged in the war, notably of Grondel, of the Swiss company, who subsequently became a French General.
The Society is under obligations to the Department of Historical Research, Carnegie Institution, for obtaining copies of the documents herein presented, from the originals at Paris.
ACCOUNT MADE BY BIENVILLE OF HIS EXPEDITION AGAINST THE CHICKASAWS
Louisiana, June 28, 1736
The departure of the King's ship, which ought to
set sail from Balize within four days, leaves me too little time
to be able to give your Highness a fully detailed account of the
events of the campaign against the Chickasaws, in addition to
which my health is so undermined by the hardships and the fatigue
that I have experienced in this undertaking that I am not capable
of the attention that this detail demands
I shall content myself then, in order not to leave Monseigneur ignorant of the principal circumstances of my enterprise, by sending him an extract from a journal which I have kept since I undertook it. If success did not come in response to the measures that I had taken to assure it, I flatter myself that Monseigneur will not be at all surprised when he learns of misfortunes that I have had to endure misfortunes, of which it was impossible to escape the effect, since it had not been possible to foresee them, and since I lacked the means of remedying them even if I had perceived them.
The blow struck against M. Ducoder by the Chickasaws having deprived me of all the means of concluding the war by agreement, and the fear of seeing the Choctaws continually solicited by the English to act with them, determined me to return to arms, as the only way which remained to me of coming out of this affair honorably. In order to succeed in this I proposed my idea to the Choctaws when they came to see me at Mobile, and when they had given me a promise to support me in this expedition, I dispatched, in the month of December, a pirogue to M. D Artaguiette to carry him an order to assemble all the forces of the Illinois, and to lead them against the Chickasaws at the end of March, with large provisions of food. I expected then to arrive there myself at that time but the necessity I found of awaiting the arrival of the King s ship for the salt provisions, of which we were in want, and for the artillery that I had ordered, made me lose the entire month of February. The ship did not arrive until the end of this month, and did not bring any guns. I felt very much that the negligence that they had at Rochefort in this respect would be detrimental to the success of my enterprise, but I was no longer able to retract, without running the risk of losing the confidence of the Choctaws. Meanwhile I learned at Mobile that the preparations upon which I had agreed with M. DeSalmon before my departure from New Orleans were languishing and that the vehicles which I had ordered for the month of October had not been furnished by the backers of the enterprise by the fifteenth of January. I set out overland for the capital in spite of the severity of the weather. On arriving there I sent a second messenger to M. D Artaguiette to order him to retard his departure from the Illinois country until the end of April.
Meanwhile I had preparations made with more activity and when I saw they were at the point where I wished them, I took from the garrison of the Natchitoches and from Balise all the officers and soldiers that I could without stripping these posts too much. I formed a company of volunteers of young men and voyageurs who were then at New Orleans, and another company of militia of citizens who were not married. I had them set out for Mobile. I likewise made the troops leave as fast as the wagons were ready. I finally set out on the way the fourth of March after having sent by way of the lower branch of the river, large boats loaded with provisions and utensils and left after me only four companies of Frenchmen that I had commanded Monsieur De Noyan to lead to Mobile as soon as the rest of the wagons had gone. These troops opposed by the winds did not arrive until the twenty second and on the twenty eighth there arrived a large boat loaded with rice which had left New Orleans before me and which on account of bad weather had lost half of its cargo. These mishaps obliged me to have more biscuits made in order to replace this rice, but as this replacement would have greatly retarded my departure, from Mobile, I sent some bakers to our new establishment of Tombekbé (Tombigbee) through the Choctaw country, and I wrote to M. De Lusser to command them to make ovens and use for biscuits all the flour which remained to them. At last, having left Mobile the first of April we arrived at Tombekbe on the twenty third.. Monseigneur will have seen in the letter that I had the honor of writing to him from there on the second of May, how much I had been delayed by the cur-rent and by the rains, so frequent that I saved by provisions only by a miracle. I was also obliged on my arrival to attend carefully to the ovens, lest the very grassy land of the country should break out into flames. M. De Lusser after many attempts had only one which was in a good condition. We made three others by mixing the earth with clay and sand, but all this could only furnish fresh bread during our sojourn and give some for three days of our departure.
While awaiting for the arrival of the Choctaw Chiefs, who should have come to join me there, I reviewed the troops. I took from them, the garrison for the post and the company of grenadiers who ought to have been under the command of Sieur D Autrive the oldest of the captains. I also formed a company of forty five armed negroes to whom I gave, as officers, free negroes. On the twenty sixth of April, in the evening, the first Choctaw chiefs arrived and among this number was Alibamon Mingo. The next morning I received them. They began all their speeches by great protestations of their affection for the French, and finished them all by asking me for ammunition, vermilion and provisions. 1 replied to them, concerning this last article, that at the time when I warned them that I was going to war, I had had them told also, that those who wished to follow me must bring prOvisions for themselves because I could carry only those for the French; but I told them that I would bring them powder, bullets and vermilion, at which they seemed content.
I learned the same day through Sieur DeLéry, who arrived from country of the Choctaws, that some villages which had set out on the way had returned to their homes, because of a rumor which went out among their nation, that the French were making peace with the Chickasaws, and that our plan was to strike, at the same time, all the Choctaws who would have followed us. I made Sieur DeLéry set out across country to undeceive them and he was followed by some of those who had already arrived.
On the twenty eighth, the great chief of the nation appeared with several others, among whom was Soulier Rouge (Red Shoe) who spoke in the same terms of affection as those who had already spoken. I knew however, by the letters from the Natchez that since my departure from New Orleans he had burned, under the cannon of the fort, the cabins of the Offogoulas who were refugees there, and that Sieur de Sainte Therese, remaining commandeer at this post, had been obliged to fire the cannon which had made him retire; but as he said nothing of this, I preferred to ignore it also, not judging the time appropriate for reproaching him. The great chief spoke at the end of his speech of the rumor which had been circulated in the nation, of our pretended plot against it, and added that one of their men departing, had seen from the direction of the North, a great French path, and that it was the people from above who were going against the Chickasaws. I told him the orders that M. D Artaguiette had had to descend with the nations of the North in order to join me and to attack our enemies together, that it was he who had made this great path, and that he had apparently not received a messenger that I had sent to him to make him hold back, but in case that he arrived first we would have news of it.
The great chief seemed reassured, and I gave him as I did all those who spoke with me on that day asking for provisions, the reply that I had made on the preceding day. I finished the session by saying to them that when the rest of the chiefs should have arrived, we would all confer together concerning the route that we would take and on the place for a rendezvous for all the warriors.
On the same day I laid out the fort of the post and although it rained almost continually, I worked to unload some large boats loaded with provisions in order to send them back to Mobile, fearing that I would not find enough water for them in descending. The river was high at this time, but I knew that at the place of portage it would take only a few days of good weather to make it nearly dry.
On the twenty ninth the chief of the Chickasaws (Choctaws) arrived with the rest of the chiefs except two or three who were ill and sent warriors in their places, they spoke in the same terms as the others and I referred them also to the general conference. I made distribution to them, while waiting, of powder, bullets and vermilion.
On the thirtieth, I assembled the Council of War, and we condemned to death a sergeant and a soldier of Lusser s company who were guilty of conspiring against the lives of the officers of the post, and a plot for desertion. Their trial which had been carried on during the preceding days by Ch. De Noyan Major, will be sent to Monseigneur on the first occasion. The Swiss Company also held a council and condemned two of their soldiers, accomplices of the sergeant.
On the first of May I conferred with the assembled chiefs and they agreed to meet with their warriors in fourteen days at Oetibia, a little river at the frontier of the Choctaws and the Chickasaws, forty leagues above Tombekbé, and when we should be there, they would go with a party of Frenchman over land in order to conceal our movement down the river of the Chickasaws. Besides this, I had two warriors remain to embark with me and to dispatch them when I should be near Oetibia if I arrived there sooner than they. On the same night nearly all the chiefs again took the way to their villages.
On the second, they succeeded in unloading the large boats, the work of which, the rain had interrupted, and I had them distribute provisions to every body in order to leave the next day.
On the third we left Tombekbé and finding the current less strong than formerly, I put on land on the ninth one of the Indians that I had in my boat, in order that he should tell the Choctaws that I intended to reach Oetibia in five days, where in fact I arrived on the fourteenth. I passed two days there drying my provisions without having news of the Choctaws although I sent each morning, the second Indian from my boat to find out about it.
On the seventeenth my first messenger arrived with two Choctaws and a letter from Sieur De Léry from which I learned that he was on his way with a large party of chiefs and warriors, but that the rain which they had had for nine days in succession, had retarded them and that they had been on the point of giving up. The Sieur De Léry himself arrived however on the next day with the chief of the Epitougoulas who told me that he had left the first who had set out on the banks of the Oetibia where the last joined them on the day after. I took my departure to continue on my way on the next morning leaving an interpreter with two boats to cross the Oetibia to the Choctaws and besides this I gave orders to the company of volunteers commanded by Monsieur Le Sueur to remain in order to march by land with those as far as the place where we should disembark, so that we would meet there. On that same evening we arrived at the old portage where the volunteers arrived as soon as we did, bringing with them the greater part of the chiefs and warriors, and on the twenty second we found all at the new portage where we disembarked about nine leagues from the Chickasaw villages.
On the twenty third at the break of day I cut a number of posts and laid out a little fort which was built also as a defense for our boats. I took a garrison of twenty men from the companies to remain there under the command of Sieur Vanderek, with the guard of the store house, the captains of the boats, and some who were sick. I had the opportunity to notice, while seeing all the Choctaws reassemble that they had not come in such a large number as they had said, and that they had only six hundred warriors. I had a great deal of difficulty in finding a certain number who were willing, on paying them, to carry sacks of powder and bullets which the negroes could not take, being already loaded with other things.
On the twenty fourth after having provisions for twelve days taken, I set out from the portage in the afternoon and made camp in the evening at two leagues from there. The rains by which I had been so inconvenienced on the river did not leave me on land, scarcely had we camped when we underwent a violent thunder storm which recurred several times during the night and which made me apprehensive for our ammunition and our provisions. We managed however so that they were not wet.
On the twenty fifth we had to pass, in the distance of five short leagues, three deep ravines where there was water up to our waists, as the edges of these were thickly covered with canes. I had sent ahead a scout, but we saw only one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and we camped on the edge of a prairie at two leagues from the villages. An hour before Soulier Rouge had come to me to say that he would go to reconnoiter with four of his people, and as I feared lest he should give me a false report, I made him consent to take with him Sieur De Léry and Sieur De Montbrun who were there. The Choctaws, not seeing them return at night, and having heard several pistol shots, became suspicious again. They said among themselves that I had sent De Léry with Soulier Rouge only to break his head, and to make the other carry some letters to the Chickasaws in order to give them word of my arrival and to make them come against them. These murmurs, unfounded as they were, circulated to the extent of making them ready to give up everything. When the scouts appeared at break of day, they told me that they had been attacked by a party of 15 men who had fired on them from some distance and that thus we ourselves were discovered. The Choctaws calmed by the return of Soulier Rouge set out again on the march with us. At the first halt the great chief came to ask me what village I wished to attack first. I replied to him that I had orders from the king to first go against the Natchez Indians as they were the authors of the war. He told me furthermore that he had been very desirous that I attack Chukafalaya first, that this vil­lage which was the first on our route and the nearest to the Choctaws, made more trouble than all the others; that it was there that he had lost his son and his uncle, and finally, that it was there also, that we would find a larger supply of provisions, without which, they would no longer be able to follow us, having consumed all that which they had brought. In spite of the eagerness of the other chiefs to support that proposal, I persisted in about 4 miles long and 1 mile wide, in either Pontotoc or Dallas County, Mississippi, wishing to go against the Natchez, not doubting but that the Choctaws would not return when I had taken that village, their custom being to flee as soon as they had struck a blow. On the word that I gave them that, the Natchez once defeated, I would return to Chukafalaya, they seemed content but I soon knew their plan. Their guides after having made us turn and turn again in the forest as if in order to lead us to the great prairie where the largest of the Chickasaw and Natchez villages was, finally led us to a prairie which might be a league around, in the midst of which we saw three small villages situated in the shape of a triangle on the crest of a hill, at the foot of which ran a stream almost dry. This small prairie was distant from the great one only by a league and is separated from it by a wood. The Choctaws came and told me that we would find water farther away, and I made them march the length of the little wood which bounded the prairie, in order to reach a little hill on which I made them halt to eat. It was then after noon. However the Choctaws who wanted, at any price, an attack that would engage them in action with these first villages, were skirmishing there since we had entered the prairie, in order to draw on us the fire of the enemy, which was so successful that the greater part of the officers joined the Choctaw chiefs in order to ask that they attack these villages in which they did not think that we would find great resistance. Pressed from all sides, to not leave these forts behind us, and not being able to order it done without displeasing the Choctaws, I made the chiefs assemble whom I made promise again that they would follow me against the Natchez after the taking of these three villages, which they did with great protestations, reiterating that they no longer had provisions, that they would be forced to abandon us if we commenced with the Natchez, who were very poor, instead of these villages which had, ordinarily, more than all the other ones of the nation together. I yielded then to their arguments or rather to the necessity of going by the way which they wished, and I gave the command at two o'clock in the afternoon to the company of grenadiers, a picket of fifteen men from each of the eight French companies, sixty Swiss and forty five men of the volunteers and militia, under the command of Chevalier De Noyan.
During our halt the Choctaws warned me that aid from the villages of the great prairie had appeared and that there were many warriors. I made them take their arms in order to receive them but the Choctaws having attacked the first and having killed two chiefs whose scalps and feather head dresses they brought to me, the rest withdrew from the place where we had stopped, at a riffles shot from the villages. We distinguished there some English who were very active in preparing the Chickasaws to withstand our attack. In spite of the irregularity of this conduct, as at our arrival they had in one of the three villages put up an English flag in order to make themselves known, I recommended Chevalier De Noyan to avoid insulting them if they wished to retire, and, in order to leave them leisure time, I ordered him to first attack the village opposite that with the flag.
Meanwhile the detachment commanded set out on the march, and reached the hill by means of some mantlets which indeed were not used very long, because the Negroes who should have carried them up to a certain place, having had one from their number killed and another wounded, threw down. the mantlets there and fled. On entering the village called Ackia the head of the column and the grenadiers who were exposed were treated very badly, Chevalier De Contrecour was killed, and a number of soldiers killed or wounded. They took it however and burned the three first large cabins and some small ones which protected them. But when it was a question of crossing from that to the others, the Chevalier De Noyan perceived that there was with him only the officers at the head, some grenadiers and a dozen volunteers. The death of Monsieur De Lusser who was killed while crossing as well as that of the sergeant of the grenadiers and a small part of his men, had already terrified the troops. The soldiers crowded behind the captured cabins without the officers the last in line being able to draw them away, in such a way that the officers at the head were almost all disabled in an instant. The Chevalier De Noyan, Monsieur D Autrive, captain of the grenadiers, the Sieurs De Velle, De Grondel and De Montbrun were wounded. It was in vain that Chevalier De Noyan wishing to maintain his ground sent Sieur de St. Juzan his chief aid to endeavor to recall the soldiers. This officer, having been killed near them only succeeded by his death in increasing their terror. Finally the wound of Noyan obliged him to retire behind a cabin. He dispatched to me my secretary, who had accompanied him, ordering him to tell me of the grievous state in which he found himself and to warn me that if I did not sound a retreat or send aid, the rest of the officers would soon experience the fate of the first; that for himself he did not still wish to cross, being afraid that the few men who remained -would seize the opportunity to leave the ranks; that as for the rest, there were indeed 60 or 70 men wounded or killed.
On this report and on what I myself saw from where I was, of the troops as many French as Swiss giving in, and because we had just had a new alarm from the direction of the great prairie and as we were all under arms I sent Monsieur De Beauchamps with eighty men in order to have a retreat made and to carry away our dead and wounded, which was not done without further loss of some men. Lieut. Faverot arrived at the place of the attack. He found there scarcely any more soldiers, the officers gathered together and abandoned, held their terrainthat is to say that they were at the cabin nearest the fort. Monsieur De Beauchamp made them retire and returned to camp in good order, the enemy not having ventured to come out to attack him. It is true that the Choctaws who up till this time had remained under cover on the slope of the hill waiting for the emergency, arose then and fired some shots. They had on this occasion twenty two men killed or wounded, which, in consequence, contributed not a little to dissatisfy them.
Monseigneur will see better by the plan, which accompanies this the situation of the three villages and the plan of our attack. To this may be added the manner of the fortifications of these Indians. It is, that after having surrounded their cabins with several rows of large posts, they dig out the earth within in order to sink down up to their shoulders, and they fire through the loop-holes which they have made almost on a level with the ground. But they have still greater advantage from the natural situation of their cabins which were separated from each other, and the fire from which crosses; and with all that the skill that the English could suggest to them to make them strong.
The covering of these cabins is a mortar of earth and wood, proof against fire-arrows and grenades, of such construction that only a bomb could injure them. Now we had neither cannon nor mortars, in addition to which I no longer doubted, seeing the great number of our wounded, that I should be obliged to abandon the undertaking on account of the difficulty of transporting them; and in fact there was no other course to take. I feared lest the hungry Choctaws should quit us, in which case we should have been harassed in the woods, and attacked on crossing the ravines, when we would have lost many men. My fear was justified, for despite all I could say to them it was necessary to divide our provisions with them to induce them to promise to go with us.
The next morning, May 27, I had small litters made to carry our wounded, and an hour before noon we marched away in two columns, as we had come. Our soldiers, fatigued and burdened with their baggage, had great difficulty in carrying the wounded; and we marched until night to camp at a league and a half in the forest. This slow march dissatisfied the Choctaws. The Soulier Rouge and others did all in their power to induce their people to abandon us. I neglected nothing to break up this plot. I talked on arriving, to the head chief, the chief of the Choctaws, and to a number of others, urging on them that it was to please them and avenge them that I had attacked the Chickasaws, my intention being to go against the Natchez; that therefore they ought not to abandon the people who had worked for them. They agreed to this readily, but urged that our wounded retarded our march too much. Thereupon I bethought myself to propose that they be carried by their warriors. After much objection they agreed to carry one to the village. Alabamon Mingo gave the example by having my nephew De Noyan carried by his people, and as by this means we had an abundance of men for relays to carry those whom the Choctaws did not take, we reached the portage on the 29th, having lost on the road two men who died from their wounds.
We re-embarked the same day and we found the river so low that, though we had been away only five days, we were obliged to cut some logs and to work in several places in order to make way for the boats. It was then that I realized still more that the course which I had taken was the only one to take, for if indeed, we had still been four days absent, we would have been obliged perhaps to go away by land and to burn our boats.
At three leagues above Tombekbé, where I arrived on June 2, I noticed a trail of the English newly made and I found there a pirogue that I set adrift. Sieur De Léry whom I sent from there to the Choctaws in order to learn the news, reported to me that they had come there with twelve horses loaded with Limbourg and that they had their treaty there after which they had returned. I sent the wounded with the surgeons from Tombekbé and on leaving on the third, I left there Monsieur De Lusser with a garrison of thirty Frenchmen and twenty Swiss. I left him provisions for this whole year and some merchandise for a trading post. I left him also the plans made for the construction of the fort with the order to work incessantly on the terrain that I had had laid out.
On the seventh I arrived at Tomes where I learned from an Indian the first news of the misfortune of Mon­sieur Dartaguiette which Monsieur Diron confirmed for me at Mobile the next day on my arrival. In another letter I will have the honor of reporting the sad circumstances to Monseigneur.
I set out from Mobile on the fifteenth and arrived there on the twenty second where I did not find the King s ship which had already left for Balise where I sent my letters to it.
Monseigneur will have seen by this recital of a campaign the most difficult in the world that in the plan, in the execution and the retreat, I used all means imaginable, and he will have also noticed that after having suffered delay in the preparation that I should not have expected, I could still less foresee the cowardice of the troops that I have under my command. It is true that in considering the pitiful recruits of blackguards which they send here, one should never flatter himself that he can make soldiers of them. What there is of disagreeableness is to be obliged, with such troops, to compromise the glory of the nation and to expose the officers to the necessity of having themselves killed or of dishonoring themselves. The troops who came by the Gironde are worse than the ones preceding them. There has been found only one or two men over five feet tall, the rest are under four feet, ten inches. As to their ideals we can add that there are fifty two (more than half) who have already passed through the courts for theft. In brief they are useless mouths, encumbrances to the provisions for the colony, which will not render it any service.
The retreat that I made without any loss is the only thing with which I am content since I again brought back a good number of honest men who are to be saved for another occasion. After that I consider myself happy if Monseigneur will be willing to do justice to my care and my zeal for service.
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