Lieut. Colonel-commandant Wilkinson's Report, August 24, 1791

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Lieut. Colonel-commandant Wilkinson's Report, August 24, 1791  (1791) 
James Wilkinson
In 1791, United States forces composed of Kentucky militia under the command of Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson raided Native American settlements along the Wabash and Eel rivers in what is now northern Indiana. The raids were in reprisal for the defeats suffered the previous year by General Josiah Harmar at the hands of the Miami chief Michikinikwa, also known as Little Turtle. The most notable of Wilkinson's actions was a raid on the Miami town of Kenapacomaqua on the Eel River about seven miles upsteam from present-day Logansport, Indiana. This is Wilkinson's report of the expedition, sent to Major General Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, at his headquarters at Cincinnati (called Fort Washington in the report). Wilkinson's report was transmitted to Congress later in the year by President George Washington
Lieut. Colonel-commandant Wilkinson's Report.[1]


FRANKFORT ON KENTUCKY, August 24, 1791.


SIR:

Having carried into complete effect the enterprise which you were pleased to direct against á l'Anguille,[2] and having done the savages every other damage on the Wabash, to which I conceived my force adequate, I embrace the first moment's recess from active duty, to detail to your Excellency the operations of the expedition entrusted to my conduct.

I left the neighborhood of fort Washington, on the 1st instant, at one o'clock, and agreeably to my original plan, feinted boldly at the Miami villages, by the most direct course the nature of the ground, over which I had to march, would permit; I persevered in this plan, until the morning of the 4th inst. and thereby avoided the hunting ground of the enemy, and the paths which lead direct from White river to the Wabash, leaving the head waters of the first to my left; I then being about 70 miles advanced of Fort Washington, turned northwest; I made no discovery until the 5th, about nine o'clock A. M. when I crossed three much frequented paths, within two miles of [3]

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each other, and all bearing east of north; my guides were urgent for me to follow these paths, which betrayed their ignorance of the country, and convinced me I had to depend on my own judgment only. In the afternoon of that day I was obliged to cross a deep bog, which injured several of my horses exceedingly, and a few miles beyond, I struck a path bearing north by west, marked by the recent footsteps of five or six savages. My guides renewed their application to me to follow this path, but I pursued my course, which had been north 60 west, since 2 o'clock. I had not got clear of my encampment next morning, before my advance reported an impassable bog in my front, extending several miles on either hand, and the guides asserted that the whole country, to the Wabash, was cut by such bogs, and that it would be impossible for me to proceed, unless I followed the Indian paths, which avoided these bogs, or led through them at places where they were least difficult. Although I paid little regard to this information, as delay was dangerous, and every thing depended on the preservation of my horses, I determined to turn to the right, and fall into the path I had passed the evening before, which varied in its course from north by west to northeast. The country had now become pondy in every direction; I therefore resolved to pursue this path until noon, in the hope that it would conduct me to better ground, or to some devious trace, which might lead to the object sought. At seven o'clock I crossed an east branch of Calumet river, about 40 yards wide, and about noon my advanced guard fired on a small party of warriors, and took a prisoner; the rest ran off to the eastward. I halted about a mile beyond the spot where this affair happened, and on examining the prisoner, found him to be a Delaware, living near the site of the late Miami village, which he informed me was about 30 miles distant; I immediately retrograded four miles, and filed off by the right over some rising ground, which I had observed between the east branch of Calumet river, and a creek four or five miles advance of it, taking my course north 60 west. This measure fortunately extricated me from the bogs and ponds, and soon placed me on firm ground; later in the afternoon, I crossed one path running from north to south, and shortly after fell into another, varying from northwest to north by west; I pursued this about two miles, when I encamped; but finding it still inclined northward, I determined to abandon it in the morning. I resumed my march on the 6th, at 4 o'clock, the Calumet being to the westward of me; I was fearful I should strike the Wabash too high up, and perhaps fall in with the small town which you mentioned to me, at the mouth of the former river; I therefore steered a due west course, and at 6 o'clock A. M. crossed a road much used, both by horse and foot, bearing due north. I now knew that I was near a Shawanese village, generally supposed to be on the waters of White river, but actually on those of the Calumet, and was sensible that every thing depended on the celerity and silence of my movements, as my real object had become manifest. I therefore pushed my march vigorously, leaving an officer and 20 men in ambush, to watch the road, in order to intercept or beat off any party of the enemy which might be casually passing that way, and thereby prevent, as long as possible, the discovery of my real intentions. At eight o'clock I recrossed Calumet river, now eighty yards wide, and running down N. N. W. and pursuing my course, I crossed one path near the western bank of the river, taking the same course, and at six miles distance another, bearing to the northeast. I was now sensible, from my reckoning, compared with my own observations during the late expedition under General Scott, and the information received from your Excellency and others, that I could not be very distant from à l'Anguille. The party left at the road soon fell in with four warriors encamped half a mile from the right of my line of march; killed one, and drove the others to the northward. My situation had now become extremely critical, the whole country to the north being in alarm, which made me greatly anxious to continue my march during the night; but I had no path to direct me, and it was impossible to keep my course, or for horsemen to march through a thick swampy country in utter darkness. I quitted my camp on the 7th, as soon as I could see my way, crossed one path at three miles distance, bearing northeast, and at seven miles I fell into another, very much used, bearing northwest by north, which I at once adopted, as the direct route to my object, and pushed forward with the utmost despatch; I halted at twelve o'clock to refresh the horses, and examine the men's arms and ammunition, marched again at half after one, and at fifteen minutes before five I struck the Wabash, about one and a half leagues above the mouth of the Eel river, being the very spot for which I had aimed from the commencement of my march. I crossed the river, and following the path a north by east course, at the distance of two and a half miles, my reconnoitering party announced Eel river in front, and the town on the opposite bank. I dismounted, ran forward, and examined the situation of the town as far as was practicable, without exposing myself; but the whole face of the country, from the Wabash to the margin of the Eel river, being a continued thicket of brambles, black jacks, weeds and shrubs of different kinds, it was imposible for me to get a satisfactory view, without endangering a discovery. I immediately determined to post two companies on the bank of the river, opposite to the town,[4] and above the ground I then occupied, to make a detour with Major Caldwell and the second battalion, until I fell into the Miami trace, and by that route to cross the river above, and gain the rear of the town, and to leave directions with major McDowell, who commanded the first battalion, to lie perdue until I commenced the attack, then to dash through the river with his corps and the advanced guard, and assault the houses in front, and upon the left. In the moment I was about to put this arrangement into execution, word was brought me that the enemy had taken the alarm, and were flying; I instantly ordered a general charge, which was obeyed with alacrity; the men, forcing their way over every obstacle, plunged through the river with vast intrepidity. The enemy was unable to make the smallest resistance. Six warriors, (and in the hurry and confusion of the charge) two squaws, and a child, were killed, thirty-four prisoners were taken, and an unfortunate captive released, with the loss of two men killed and one wounded. I found this town scattered along Eel river for full three miles, on an uneven, scrubby oak barren, intersected alternately by bogs almost impassable, and impervious thickets of plum, hazle, and black jacks; notwithstanding these difficulties, if I may credit the report of the prisoners, very few who were in town escaped. Expecting a second expedition, their goods were generally packed up and buried. Sixty warriors had crossed the Wabash, to watch the paths leading from the Ohio. The head chief, with all the prisoners and a number of families, was out digging a root which they substitute in the place of the potato; and about one hour before my arrival, all the warriors, except eight, had mounted their horses, and rode up the river, to a French store, to purchase ammunition; this ammunition had arrived from the Miami village that very day, and the squaws informed me was stored about two miles from the town. I detached Major Caldwell in quest of it, but he failed that night, and the next morning I cut up the corn, scarcely in the milk, burnt the cabins, mounted my young warriors, squaw, and children, in the best manner in my power, and leaving two infirm squaws and a child, with a short talk (a copy of which I have the honor to enclose you) I commenced my march for the Kickapoo town in the prairie. I felt my prisoners a vast incumbrance, but I was not in force to justify a detachment, having barely 523 rank and file, and being then in the bosom of the Ouiatanon country, one hundred and eighty miles removed from succor, and not more than one and a half day's march from the Pattawatamies, Shawanese, and Delawares.

Not being able to discover any path in the direct course to the Kickapoo town, I marched by the road leading to Tippecanoe, in the hope of finding some diverging trace which might favor my design. I encamped, that evening, about six miles from Kenapacomaqua, the Indian name of the town I had destroyed, and marched next morning at 4 o'clock; my course continued west, till nine o'clock, when I turned to the northwest, on a small hunting path, and, at a short distance, I launched into the boundless prairies of the West, with the intention to pursue that course until I could strike a road, which leads from the Pattawatamies of lake Michigan, immediately to the town I sought; with this view I pushed forward, through bog after bog, to the saddle skirts, in mud and water; and after persevering, for eight hours, I found myself environed, on all sides, with morasses, which forbade my advancing, and, at the same time, rendered it difficult for me to extricate my little army. The way by which we had entered was so much beat and softened by the horses, that it was almost impossible to return by that route, and my guides pronounced the morass, in front, impassable. A chain of thin groves, extending in the direction of the Wabash, at this time presented itself to my left; it was necessary I should gain these groves, and for this purpose, I dismounted, went forward, and leading my horse through a bog, to the arm-pits in mud and water, with great difficulty and fatigue I accomplished my object; and, changing my course to south by west, I regained the Tippecanoe road at 5 o'clock, and encamped on it at 7 o'clock, after a march of 30 miles, which broke down several of my horses. I am the more minute, in detailing the occurrences of this day, because they produced the most unfavorable effects. I was in motion at 4 o'clock next morning, and at 8 o'clock my advanced guard made some

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discoveries, which induced me to believe we were near an Indian village. I immediately pushed that body forward in a trot, and followed with Major Caldwell and the 2d battalion, leaving Major McDowell to take the charge of the prisoners. I reached Tippecanoe at 12 o'clock, which had been occupied by the enemy, who watched my motions and abandoned the place that morning. After the destruction of this town, in June last, the enemy had returned, and cultivated their corn and pulse, which I found in high perfection, and in much greater quantity than at l'Anguille. To refresh my horses, and give time to cut down the corn, I determined to halt till the next morning, and then to resume my march to the Kickapoo town, on the prairie, by the road which leads from Ouiatanon to that place. In the course of the day, I had discovered some murmurings and discontent amongst the men, which I found, on inquiry, to proceed from their reluctance to advance farther into the enemy's country; this induced me to call for a state of the horses and provisions, when, to my great mortification, 270 horses were returned lame and tired, with barely five days' provisions for the men. Under these circumstances, I was compelled to abandon my designs upon the Kickapoos of the prairies, and, with a degree of anguish not to be comprehended but by those who have experienced similar disappointment, I marched forward to a town of the same nation, situate about three leagues west of Ouiatanon; as I advanced to that town, the enemy made some show of fighting me, but vanished at my approach. I destroyed this town, consisting of thirty houses, with a considerable quantity of corn in the milk, and the same day I moved on to Ouiatanon, where I forded the Wabash, and proceeded to the site of the villages, on the margin of the prairie, where I encamped, at 7 o'clock. At this town, and the villages destroyed by General Scott, in June, we found the corn had been replanted, and was now in high cultivation, several field being well ploughed, all which was destroyed. On the 12th I resumed my march, and, falling, into General Scott's return trace, I arrived, without any material incident, at the rapids of the Ohio, on the 21st instant, after a march, by accurate computation, of 451 miles from fort Washington.

The volunteers of Kentucky have on this occasion acquitted themselves with their usual good conduct; but, as no opportunity offered for individual distinction, it would be unjust to give to one the plaudits to which all have an equal title. I cannot, however, in propriety, forebear to express my warm approbation of the good conduct of my Majors, McDowell and Caldwell; and of Colonel Russel, who, in the character of a volunteer, without commission, led my advance; and I feel myself under obligations to Major Adair and Captain Parker, who acted immediately about my person, for the services they rendered me, by the most prompt, active, and energetic exertions.

The services which I have been able to render, fall short of my wishes, my intention, and my expectation; but, sir, when you reflect on the causes which checked my career and blasted my designs, I flatter myself you will believe every thing has been done which could be done in my circumstances. I have destroyed the chief town of the Ouiatanon nation, and made prisoners of the sons and sisters of the king. I have burnt a respectable Kickapoo village, and cut down at least 430 acres of corn, chiefly in the milk. The Ouiatanons, left without houses, home, or provision, must cease to war, and will find active employ to subsist their squaws and children during the impending winter. Should these services secure to the country which I immediately represented, and the corps which I had the honor to command, the favorable consideration of Government, I shall infer the approbation of my own conduct, which, added to a consciousness of having done my duty, will constitute the richest reward I can enjoy.

Mr. Charles Vancouver will have the honor to deliver this letter to your Excellency, who attended me as quartermaster to the expedition, and rendered me important services. He is able to give you a satisfactory idea of the situation of the country over which I passed, and can ascertain with precision the course and distance to any point of my route. I recommend him to you as a gentleman of worth.

With the warmest and most perfect respect, I have the honor to be, your Excellency's obliged, obedient, and most faithful servant,

JAS. WILKINSON.


His Exc'y Maj. Gen. ST. CLAIR, Fort Washington.

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To the Indian nations living on the river Wabash, and its waters:

The arms of the United States are again exerted against you, and again your towns are in flames, and your wives and children made captives; again you are cautioned to listen to the voice of reason, to sue for peace, and submit to the protection of the United States, who are willing to become your friends and fathers, but, at the same time, are determined to punish you for every injury you may offer to their children. Regard not those evil counsellors who, to secure to themselves the benefits of your trade, advise you to measures which involve you, your women and children, in trouble and distress. The United States wish to give you peace, because it is good in the eyes of the Great Spirit that all his children should unite and live like brothers; but, if you foolishly prefer war, their warriors are ready to meet you in battle, and will not be the first to lay down the hatchet. You may find your squaws and your children under the protection of our great chief and warrior General St. Clair, at fort Washington. To him you will make all applications for an exchange of prisoners or for peace.

Given under my hand and seal, at Kenapacomaqua, the 9th day of August, 1791.

JAS. WILKINSON, Lt. Col. Com'dt

Notes[edit]

  1. American State Papers, 2nd Congress, 1st Session, Indian Affairs: Volume 1, pp. 133-135. This is a portion of Paper No. 20, sent to Congress by President Washington, October 27, 1791, containing the reports of Brigadier General Charles Scott and Lieutenant Colonel-commandant James Wilkinson of their "expeditions against the Wabash Indians." The published original of Wilkinson's report may be viewed at [1] Formatting of the text presented here follows that of the published text.
  2. L'Anguille was the French name for both the Eel River and the Miami town of Kenapacomaqua.
  3. The number "18" and an asterisk that follows it have been omitted from the text. These symbols are probably printer's artifacts.
  4. The town was on the north bank of the river.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).
This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.