Sketch of His Campaign in the Illinois in 1778-9

With an Introduction by HON. HENRY PIRTLE, of Louisville, and an Appendix containing the Public and Private Instructions to Col. Clark, and Major Bowman’s Journal of the Taking of Post St. Vincents. Cincinnati : Robert Clark & Co.
THE publishers of the Ohio Valiey Historical Series here follow the narrative of Colonel Bouquet’s Expedition against the Ohio Indians (already noticed in these pages), with another volume possessing the same curious interest for the student of history, and the same fascination for the lover of exquisitely printed books ; for the series, so far, is luxurious in paper and binding, and in typographical execution is surpassed by few productions of the American press.
Colonel Clark’s campaign was a very brief one, and in fighting not particularly arduous, as would appear from his own showing; but it was full of daring, and heroic endurance; it resulted immediately in the reduction of the British military posts between the Ohio and Mississippi, thus giving tranquillity to all the frontier settlements, and it finally secured to us all that vast territory. But for this conquest, planned by a young Virginian of twenty-five, and promptly and secretly effected with the aid of a few hundred Kentucky backwoodsmen, the Paris treaty of 1782 would probably have fixed the western boundary of the United States at the Alleghanies instead of the Mississippi River; for England, France, and Spain, all laid claim to the domain which was decided ours in virtue of Clark’s reduction of the British forts and establishment of American posts in the wilderness.
A little of the romance which belongs to all French colonial history hangs about Colonel Clark’s unconscious page, and his sketch affords here and there a glimpse of the life of the habitans in the old seventeenth-century settlements of the French at Kaskaskias, Cohokia, and St. Vincents; but for the most part it is a plain and summary account of the military operations, and depends for its chief interest upon the view it affords of the character of as brave and shrewd a soldier and as bad a speller as ever lived. Some of his strokes in orthography are unrivalled by the studied grotesqueness of Artemus Ward or Mr. Yellowplush ; he declares with perfect good faith that on a certain occasion he was very much “adjutated” ; and it is quite indifferent to him whether he write privilidge, happiniss, comeing, attacled, adjutation, suckcess, leathergy, intiligence, silicit, acoutriments, refutial, and auntions, or the more accepted forms of the same words, as, like a bona fide bad speller, he is quite as apt to do. The account of his campaign is in the form of a letter to the Hon. George Mason, of Gunston Hall, Virginia, and it is given with the most familiar frankness and with the greatest spirit. You perceive that he understands all the importance of his achievements, and is profoundly glad and proud of his success, — or suckcess, as he prefers to call it,—yet there is nothing that is the least offensive in his pride and self-satisfaction. He reproduces in full all the harangues be made to the Indians; and no man, be thinks, know how to manage your savage better.
“ I sent letters and speaches by Capt. Helms to the chief of the Kickebues and Peankeshaws residing at Post St. Vincents desireing them to lay down their Tomahawk, and if they did not chuse it, to behave like Men and fight for the English as they had done, but they would see their great father as they called him given to the Dogs to eat.
(gave Harsh language to supply the want of Men ; well knowing that it was a mistaken nation in many that soft speeches was best for Indians.)”
During the siege of St. Vincents, a party of warriors returning from a raid upon the white settlements fell into Clark’s hands.
“ I had now a fair opportunity of making an impression on the Indians that I could have wished for; that of convincing them that Governour Hamilton could not give them that protection that he had made them to believe he could, and in some measure to insence the Indians against him for not Exerting himself to save that Friends: Ordered the Prisoners to be Tomahawked in the face of the Garrisson. It had the effect that I expected : insted of making their friends inviterate against us, they upbraided the English Parties in not trying to save their friends and gave them to understand that they believed them to be liers and no Warriors.”
But our soldier could show mercy when it was advisable to do so, and he tells how upon an occasion, after he had “ given harsh language” to certain offending Indians until he had driven them to despair, and after “they had tried their Elloquence to no purpose, they pitched on two Young Men for to be put to death as an attonement for the rest hoping that would passify me ; It would have surprised You to have seen how submissively those two Young Men presented themselves for Death, advancing into the middle of the floor, setting down by each other and covering their heads with their Blankets to receive the Tomahawk (Peace was what I wanted with them, if I got it on my own terms.) but this stroke Prejudiced me in their favour, and for a few moments (I) was so adjutated that I don't doubt but that I should without reflection {have) killed the first man that would have offered to have offered to have hurt them.”
Colonel Clark was no less severe and mighty in language with the English than with the Indians, and to Hamilton, Governor of St. Vincents, a man execrated throughout the border as the inciter of Indian raids and massacres, he sent as soon as he appeared before the fort, “ a flag with a hand Bill ; Commanded Mr. Hamilton to surrender his Garrison, & severe threats if he destroyed any Letters, &c.” “ I at first,” he adds, concerning certain terms asked, “ had no notion of listning to anything he had to say as I could only consider himself & Officers as Murderers, And intended to treat them as such; but, after some deliberation I sent Mr. Hamilton my Compliments, and beged leave to inform him that I should agree to no other terms than his surrendering himself and Garrisson Prisoners at discretion ; but if he was desirous of a conferrence with me I would meet him at the Church. We accordingly met, he Offered to surrender but we could not agree upon terms. He received such treatment on this Conferrence as a Man of his known Barbarity deserv’d. I would not come upon terms with him, and recommend'd to him to defend himself with spirit and Bravery, that it was the only thing that would induce me to treat him and his Garrisson with Lenity in case I stormed it which he might expect.”
Among the French habitans and “ Spanyards,” Clark had only agreeable experiences. The French were everywhere glad to change their allegiance from the King to the Congress, when they found the Americans were not the murderous savages they had been taught to believe them. At Kaskaskias, the friendly priest asked if Clark would “give him liberty to perform his duty in his Church. I told him,”says the young colonel, “ I had nothing to do with Churches more than to defend them from Insult. That by the laws of the State his Religion had as great Previledges as any other: This seem’d to compleat their happiness. They returned to their families, and in a few minutes the sceaun of mourning and distress, was turned to an excess of Joy, nothing else seen nor heard. Addorning the streets with flowers & Pavilians of different colours,compleating their happiness by singing, &c.”
W hen he left Kaskaskias to attack St. Vincents, he says: “ We were Conducted out of the Town by the Inhabitants and Mr. Jaboth the Priest, who after a very suitable Discourse to the purpose, gave ns all Absolution,”— a favor which many of that backwoods crew must have been at a loss to appreciate. We must indulge ourselves in one more quotation from this quaint and racy piece of history ; it is the postscript of the letter; —
“As for the description of the Illinois Country which you seem so anctious for you may expect to have by the ensuing foll as I expect by that Period to be able to give you a more Gen’I Idea of it. this You may take for granted that its more Beautiful than any Idea I could have formed of a Country almost in a state of Nature, every thing you behold is an Additional Beauty; O11 the River You’ll find the finest Lands the Sun ever shone on ; In the high Country You will find a Variety of Poor & Rich Lands with large Meadows extending beyond the reach of Your Eyes Validated with groves of Trees appearing like Islands in the Seas, covered with Buffioes and other Game; in many Places with a good Glass You may see all those that is on their feet in half a Million of Acres ; so level is the Country, which some future day will excell in Cattle. The Settlements of the Illinois commenced about one hundred Years ago by a few Traders from Canada, my Reflections on that head its cituation the probability of a flourishing Trade the state of the Country at Present what its capable of Producing, My oppinion Respecting the cause of those extensive Plains &c, the Advantages arising by strong fortifications and Settlements at the mouth of Ohio. The different Nations of Indians, their Traditions, Numbers, &c., you may expect in my next.”
This seems to us less pleasant as it concerns a region now so utterly changed by civilization, than it is delicious in its literary character. The brave colonel has here heaped all his most amusing peculiarities, and it is a resume of his own educational defects as well as of the Illinois country’s natural advantages.
The letter is now printed for the first time. We heartily commend it to all who love to taste history at its sources, or who enjoy character. It is a curious contrast to the polite narrative of Colonel Bouquet; hut it is quite as interesting, and the deeds it records have turned out of vastly greater consequence than those which the brave Swiss performed.