The Literary Garland, January 1849: A Trip to Walpole Island and Port Sarnia
A Trip to Walpole Island and Port Sarnia
On Monday, the 9th of October, (as Byron has it, I like to be particular in dates,) the small steamer Hastings, commanded by Captain Eberts, the enterprising proprietor of "The Brothers" of Chatham, arrived at Windsor from Amherstburg, freighted with presents for the Indians, on Walpole Island, and at Port Sarnia. As I had never witnessed any thing like a distribution of these annual gifts, to the interesting people it was proposed to visit, and as Captain Eberts had very strongly urged me to be of the party, I determined to avail myself of this opportunity; having first, as the boat had been chartered by the Government, obtained the sanction of the senior officer in charge; for I had no ambition to be put on shore, as an intruder, like Lord Durham's Scotch minister, after having once fairly set in for the trip. Had I known, however, that Mr. Wilson of the Commissariat, was the officer in command of the little expedition, I should not have entertained much apprehension of unnecessary difficulty being thrown in my way, for the urbanity and gentlemanly manners of the latter had previously come under my notice, and under circumstances to satisfy me, that the excursion would prove one of amusement.
In immediate charge of the presents, was a small detachment of the Canadian Rifle Regiment, under a very young officer; while immediately connected with Mr, Wilson, was a Mr. West, of the Commissariat also, who had been instructed to pay such pensioners as he should find in the neighborhood of Port Sarnia. Captain Rooke of the 19th Regiment, who was on leave, and on a shooting excursion in the West, completed the party.
The day of our departure from Windsor—one of the most lovely of the autumnal season—was rendered doubly exhilarating to all, from the almost continuous dull and rainy weather, which had prevailed for more than a fortnight previously. But I had almost forgotten another of our party, and this was no other than the celebrated Cadot, who so greatly assisted, first as a dependant, and subsequently as a partner, Mr. Arthur Rankin, while exhibiting to the English public, some years since, the Indians they induced to accompany them from Canada.
Cadot is a half-breed, and a tall, and well proportioned fellow, capable, like a second Maximilian, if one may judge from appearances, of knocking down an ox, with a single blow from his fist; yet, like many strong men, he is of mild, and unassuming manners, and altogether such a one as may well account for the passion entertained for him, by the accomplished English lady, who, it will be recollected, eventually became his wife. As is the case with many of those who have Indian blood in their veins, Cadot has much of the polished manner of the courtier, and is imbued with high and honorable sentiments,—sentiments which may serve, both as a lesson and a reproach, to those who make great hypocritical display of morality, and seem the very incarnation of virtue. Cadot related to me some anecdotes, as having occurred in England, which bear strongly on this point, but as he requested I would not give them publicity, I cannot do better than follow in his honorable course of the suppressio veri. To return.
Our trip up the St. Clair was as pleasant, in regard to weather, as could possibly have been desired. The air had all the softness of mellowed autumn, although the rays of the sun did not penetrate, and impart a golden hue to that peculiar mist, which is so characteristic of the brief season, called Indian summer. Towards evening we entered the channel, which divides Walpole from Herson's Island, and at a somewhat late hour, arrived at an excellent wharf, built by one of the principal Indians on the Island, George Rapp—too anglicized a name to be interesting. He however is an enterprizing person, and inhabits a very good log house, to which are attached an orchard, and corn fields. The wharf, from which the house is not more than two hundred yards distant, does him infinite credit, and handsomely remunerates him for the expense of building, in the sale of fire wood, of which he disposes of a large quantity to passing steamers, at the very moderate rate of one dollar per cord.
But, among those who greeted our arrival, here the more interesting and truly Indian in manner and mien, was a middle aged chief, Shah-wa-wan-noo, who had formerly acted as aide-de-camp to the celebrated Tecumseh, and who has given the only authentic account of the great warrior's death, in the manner detailed in the following letter, addressed to me by him, about a fortnight afterwards, and "faithfully translated" in spirit, by Mr. George Whitefield, an interpreter on the Island.
I promised to send you a few particulars concerning the death of the great Tecumseh. Shaw-an-abb, an old Indian resident on the Island, and an intimate friend of the lamented Hero, and who was with him in his last moments, told me the following, touching the manner and circumstances of his death. Tecumseh was riding on horseback, encouraging his Indians to engage the enemy, when a shot from the Yankees struck him under the fifth rib. Tecumseh, aware of the fatal character of the wound, and resolved not to die unavenged, advanced towards the enemy—threw himself off his horse, and being armed with three pistols, took one in each hand, and fired, and having discharged the third, he drew his sword, which he used efficiently, as long as strength remained. lacing soon exhausted with loss of blood, he fell to the ground, and an American despatched him with a stroke of an axe; and as proof that he had killed the renowned Tecumseh, cut a piece out of his (Tecumseh's) thigh, to show to his superiors.
It is not likely that the Americans would have allowed Tecumseh to have done so much mischief to them in his last hours, had they not been most anxious to take him prisoner, and in this way add to the greatness of their victory. Tecumseh was buried under a large tree—the tree having been previously cut down—the stump was six feet high. It was hewn on four sides, and there was written on these, in characters well understood by the Indians, the number of persons whom he had killed with his tomahawk.*
Some time before Tecumseh's last battle, a party of Americans had attacked his village, during his absence from home. His brother and another chief indeed were in the village at the time of the attack, but either from cowardice, or want of military skill, they made a poor defence, and the village, with all the provisions stored in it, was burned to the ground. Tecumseh, on hearing this, was very indignant—he upbraided his brother with cowardice, and at the same time, vowed vengeance against the Yankees. Some time afterwards the Americans appeared in his neighborhood in great force. He determined not to lose his opportunity, and therefore, ordering his warriors to retire into the wood, he awaited the approach of the enemy. The ambuscade was completely successful. The Americans fell into the snare, and a signal victory was the consequence.
This is all I have to say about Tecumseh. He was a brave and a great man. Hoping that this will reach you in safety, I shake hands with you in my heart,
Faithfully interpreted by me.
There can be little doubt, that this version of the affair is the correct one, and that, after all, the Indian whom the Americans considered to be Tecumseh, and of whose shin they divested him as a trophy of their victory, was another chief, distinguished by his martial mien and dress. Shah-wah-wan-noo is himself a very fine looking man, about the height of what Tecumseh was—has a most dignified carriage—a pleasing, though rather full face—has a soft, long, and intelligent eye, and moreover, bears that impress of character, which, at a glance, satisfies the beholder that what he says is true. He did not speak a word of English, but, through the interpreter, Mr. Elliott, I held a long conversation with him on the day following, many of the elder chiefs being present. I found him, intelligent in the highest degree, and thoroughly devoted to the memory of his great leader.
* Connected with this subject a rather interesting fact may be mentioned here. The ground where the battle was fought, and where the bones of Tecumseh have hitherto been supposed to lie, is shown to visitors by a person of the name of Smith, who keeps a sort of public house near it. He professes to know a good deal, but any information he may have acquired, must of course have been derived from men much older than himself. Be that as it may: while His Excellency the Commander of the Forces was on his tour of inspection last summer, he naturally manifested an interest in the events of which the whole of the Western Frontier had been the theatre; and on his return, had pointed out to him the ground where the action had been fought, in which Tecumseh had lost his life. It chanced that, only the day before Sir Benjamin reached his hut, Smith had been over the ground, and picked up, out of the mud in which it lay embedded, a bayonet belt of the 41st, to which was attached the breast-plate with the number of the regiment distinctly visible on it. This reminiscence of the past, which had, until that moment, continued undisturbed for nearly five and thirty years, he of course presented to His Excellency, with whom I believe it remains.