Selected Papers From The 1991 And 1992 George Rogers Clark Trans-Appalachian Frontier History Conferences
NPS Logo

J. Martin West
Fort Ligonier Association

During the summer of 1780, Colonel George Rogers Clark of Virginia organized and led an expedition against the Shawnee towns north of the Ohio River. The ensuing engagement fought at the Pickaway settlements August 8 was, in terms of numbers involved, the largest such action to occur west of the Allegheny Mountains during the War of Independence. This operation was a culmination of the bitter cultural conflict that had developed between the invasive American settlers of Kentucky and the Shawnee people of what is today west-central Ohio. Historically, the Shawnee were an unusually splintered and migratory society, apparently never centralized into one community. By the mid-1770s many of them had moved to the secluded valleys of the Great and Little Miami rivers where they represented four divisions: Chalaakaatha, Mekoche, Kispoko, and Pekowi. Chillicothe (Chalaakaatha) was established on the Little Miami and was settled by the Chalaakaatha division. Twelve miles northwest along the Mad River were placed the Pickaway (Pekowi) settlements occupied by the Pekowi, Kispoko, and Mekoche groups. As the decade wore on, other villages were planted farther north. [1]

These settlements were located beyond the Ohio River, but the traditional Shawnee hunting grounds, which included most of modern Kentucky, were filling with colonial pioneers starting in 1774. That year also witnessed the defeat of the Shawnee by Virginians during Dunmore's War. At the onset of the American Revolution, the Shawnee bravely attempted to maintain neutrality through the efforts of Keigleighque (Cornstalk), the principal leader. Mounting acts of settler aggression climaxed with Keigleighque's assassination while he was on a peace mission. This outrage, along with British instigation and encouragement, destroyed any hopes of nonintervention and impelled the Shawnee to take up the hatchet in earnest by late 1777. [2]

Shawnee population during the second half of the eighteenth century was estimated to be several thousand of whom 300 to 500 were counted as potential combatants. No more than a few hundred ever were known to have been fielded at one time and virtually all of the armed clashes that occurred saw their strength at drastically lower levels. Wilderness tactics normally did not demand the participation of many native fighting men, because even when outnumbered they remained formidable and frustrating antagonists. In victory, the result could be the annihilation of an opponent and, even in an uncommon defeat, the enemy usually suffered greater losses while most of the warriors escaped to fight again. [3]

If the Shawnee could not be vanquished easily in major engagements, their marauding against trespassers, who encroached upon inviolable lands, was practically impossible to suppress. This manner of warfare was known as la petite guerre, the "war of posts," and was characterized by the employment of small parties, swiftness, mobility, and destruction, while having the effect of harrowing an opponent, both soldiers and civilians alike. By 1779 this problem induced John Bowman, Kentucky County militia colonel, to take aim at Chillicothe, 65 miles north of the Ohio. His troops rendezvoused May 27 at the mouth of the Licking River, blazed a path north along the Little Miami, and waylaid Chillicothe on the night of June 1. About 40 partially armed adults and boys repulsed Bowman's 296 men by taking refuge in the town council house. Lacking artillery, the Kentuckians were constrained to withdraw. While unsuccessful, this stroke did result in the partial burning of the settlement and in a warning that the Shawnee villages were no longer remote sanctuaries. [4]

When informed of Bowman's raid, the commander of Virginia state forces in the West, Colonel George Rogers Clark, was censorious of the incursion. A charismatic and sometimes ruthless leader, Clark had wrested the French settlements throughout the Illinois country and at Vincennes from the Crown during the summer of 1778. His recapture of Vincennes February 25, 1779, and his taking of Henry Hamilton, who was the lieutenant governor of Detroit as well as the superintendent of Indian affairs, were tremendous blows to the British cause. The "back door" finally was open to Detroit via the Wabash River and Lake Erie, a route that evaded the more belligerent tribes farther east such as the Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, and Mingo (Ohio Iroquois). With limited resources available, Clark was cognizant of the futility of confronting these Ohio peoples on their own ground. To counter them demanded a grueling anti-partisan mission in which triumphs were elusive and indecisive, but reverses were disastrous. Irruptions, such as Bowman's, mainly served to exacerbate and to intensify border hostilities. [5]

Detroit was both the economic focal point of the important fur trade and a storehouse for expeditions and forays south of the Great Lakes. Here the British Indian Department had a major base for dispensing trade goods and military aid to the Native Americans. From this embarkation point la petite guerre was declared against the backcountry of Kentucky, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Clark was unyielding in the opinion that a successful Detroit campaign could mean a cessation of the contest on the trans-Allegheny frontier. After retaking Vincennes he had expected Bowman and others to reinforce his troops at that post for a push up the Wabash, rather than having them expend manpower and supplies on independent sorties. The Detroit opportunity for 1779 was lost. [6]

During early 1780, the governor of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, offered Clark two alternate plans of action for the coming spring and summer. The governor was unsure about the first, a Detroit project, because he deemed the defenses there to be too strong for the small arms Clark might bring to bear against that inaccessible post. Then too, Jefferson speculated, would the fall of Detroit genuinely end the border war, since a surrogate channel of communication from Montreal to the Great Lakes/Ohio Valley by way of the Ottawa River in Canada still would be available. The second proposition, an expedition against the Shawnee and other Ohio country inhabitants, seemed a more realistic goal. The principal author of the Declaration of Independence desired the outright "extermination" of the Ohio tribes or, failing that, mandated their removal beyond the Great Lakes or the Illinois River. As Jefferson emphasized to Clark, "The same world will scarcely do for them and us." [7]

Also appealing for a Shawnee expedition were the people of Kentucky. On March 10, 1780, the residents of Boonesborough petitioned Clark: "We are fully persuaded that nothing less than a Vigorous expedition against the Shawanee Towns will Put an end to their Depradations, or secure the Peace and safety of these Settlements." They implored him to sanction a call to arms by the militia and, remembering Bowman's difficulties, explained the necessity of taking along cannon. On March 13 the citizens of Bryan's Station and of Lexington wrote in a similar vein. The colonel was disturbed by and was sympathetic to these entreaties, but remained convinced Detroit was the only worthwhile objective. His response April 4 explained that he was "...hartily sorry for the great loss of Blood and property Sustained by the Kentuckians," but at the same time argued that their proposal "...would be so far from giving us Peace that it would only Agravate the war by destroying an Expedition already planed [against Detroit]...which will give them an Amediate and Permanient Peace with the Savages." Clark considered such retaliatory schemes not only damaging to his Detroit plans, but also as fundamental wastes of time. However, the pressures on him from Jefferson, from the Kentuckians, and from others were intense. If events did upset a Detroit campaign, then some action by Clark against the Shawnee might be unavoidable. [6]

During the spring, rumors reached Kentucky that the British at Detroit were in the process of massing a large body of Native Americans, to be aided by regulars and militia. Accompanied by artillery, this force was presumed ready to enter Kentucky by June. Major Arent Schuyler De Peyster, commandant at Detroit, had ordered this inroad south. He believed that the Kentuckians soon would pose a threat to the Ohio peoples and to both the posts of Detroit and even that of remote Michilimackinac. De Peyster recognized the indigenous population never would relinquish Kentucky peaceably and ".. .in fact, it is our interest not to let the Virginians, Marylanders & Pensylvanians get possession there, lest in a short time they become formidable to this Post [Detroit]." [9]

The British had drafted a sweeping plan anticipating a succession of wide-ranging offensive movements, extending throughout the vast expanse that lay between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River. Their audacious strategy involved the seizures of Fort Pitt and of Fort Cumberland, as well as of the Vincennes and Illinois posts. It proposed taking Clark's headquarters at the Falls of the Ohio (Louisville) and emptying Kentucky of the unwanted immigrants. Also contemplated was the capture of Spanish settlements on the Mississippi (Spain had entered the war as a cobelligerent against Britain in 1779), thereby preventing needed resources from reaching the rebellious colonies by way of St. Louis and New Orleans. But a combination of inadequate supply and transport facilities, primitive commissariat, and enormous distances prevented the implementation of such an ambitious proposal and it collapsed in nearly every phase. [10]

The one partial accomplishment, the Kentucky project, was undertaken by Captain Henry Bird. He was ably assisted by a captain in the Indian Department, Loyalist Alexander McKee, who had strong cultural and kindred ties with the Shawnee. A skilled regular officer and partisan leader, Bird had supervised the construction of Fort Lernoult at Detroit. By June 1, an army of 850, primarily warriors from the Great Lakes and the Ohio country along with regulars and Loyalist militia, was descending upon Kentucky. Bird sought a coup de main before Clark could return from a fort-building assignment on the Mississippi River. The Virginian's presence, explained Bird to De Peyster, "...will add considerably to their [the Kentuckians'] numbers, and to their confidence. Therefore the Rebels should be attacked before his arrival...." Bird cautioned, "...if this plan is not followed, it will be owing to the Indians who may adopt others." [11]

Equipped with two fieldpieces to batter down log stockades, Bird was anxious to assail Louisville. Even so, his allies did not relish storming an armed garrison and, by wheeling toward the Falls of the Ohio, they feared imperiling their own towns to counterattacks by the Kentuckians. The warriors demanded an ascent up the Licking River to beset the more vulnerable civilian settlements, beginning with Ruddle's and Martin's stations, where the hated interlopers might be expelled from their hunting grounds. With the probability of sizable defections, the Briton had no choice but to proceed against the two small posts. Facing a confrontation with cannon, the two stations had no protection and fell effortlessly. The inhabitants became prisoners of war and many were subjected to extreme cruelty by the Great Lakes tribesmen. At this point, Bird suddenly terminated the expedition. He was distressed with his failure to restrain part of his native force (many of whom now wanted to move on to Lexington). His command was exhausted and was low on provisions with so many captives to feed. He also fretted that the rivers might fall if he delayed too long, so with more than 350 prisoners, he floated back down the Licking and recrossed the Ohio. From there, he traveled up the Great Miami as far as it was navigable, hid the ordnance, and arrived at Detroit August 4. [12]

Clark, erecting Fort Jefferson on the Mississippi, was apprised of Bird's invasion. After helping to blunt the enemy offensive in that outlying region, he immediately summoned "...what men he could well spare..." to row up the Ohio to Louisville, while he and two companions proceeded cross-country through Kentucky to organize a defense. The trio arrived at Wilson's Station near Harrodsburg, just after the debacles at Ruddle's and Martin's forts. Events now forced Clark's reluctant hand. Bird was gone, but the Virginian realized that the settlers' faith in their ability to protect themselves was shaken badly and that something had to be done forthwith to restore their failed confidence. He also had received new instructions from Jefferson. The governor's letter of March 19 canceled the Detroit campaign and bade Clark to chastise the Shawnee before the end of summer. Another directive of April 19 from the Virginia executive office specified the raising of the militia to quell "Savage Insolence and Cruelties," to which Clark was to give all assistance possible. Bowing to the inevitable, he authorized the launching of a punitive expedition against Chillicothe and Pickaway. In response, an army began congregating at the mouth of the Licking River with July 31 as the date by which all of the companies were to be mustered. This force had been created through the enterprise of Clark, who dictated a massive mobilization of Kentucky militia. He prescribed a levy of four of every five men; closed, at bayonet point, the land office in Wilson's Station; and placed pickets at Crab Orchard on the Wilderness Road to block the eastern escape route for deserters. Many of the conscripts cast lots to see who would go or who would stay, and the remaining able-bodied males put together a skeleton cadre to serve as a home guard. [13]

The total campaign enrollment was 998. The expedition was a Virginia-financed project with its commander being Clark, a man who would reach only his twenty-eighth birthday in a few months. His immediate subordinate was militia Colonel Benjamin Logan, who would lead one wing of the force down the Licking. Additional Kentucky elements comprising the other wing which would accompany Clark from Louisville were James Harrod's Battalion and two small units under the commands of John Floyd and William Linn. Part of Clark's Illinois State Regiment, including 26 artillerists, also participated. Captain Benjamin Roberts was in charge of about 50 men detached from Major Thomas Slaughter's Corps of Virginia state regulars; disciplined and trained, they represented the most valuable component in Clark's command. Accompanying them was a brass six-pounder fieldpiece taken at Vincennes during 1779. This cannon was placed under the care of Lieutenant Richard Harrison, who had brought this ordnance in a keelboat. With this weapon Clark could breach wooden palisades without resorting to time-consuming siege operations or to the risky business of a direct assault or "storm." [14]

A clash already had occurred several days before the rendezvous. As Clark's segment advanced up from Louisville, a 30-man militia detail under the command of the brash Captain Hugh McGeary had opted to hunt brazenly along the north bank of the Ohio. Several miles above the mouth of the Kentucky River, McGeary stumbled into a large, recently vacated camp. Unnerved, he hurriedly looked for haven on the opposite shore, but suddenly was pounced upon by a band of 16 or 17 warriors. The detachment was mauled severely before its members reached safety. More than 500 guns were discharged as covering fire from the Kentucky side while McGeary escaped. His party had suffered 10 casualties including two dead and two of the most seriously injured had to be sent back to Louisville. No tribesmen were believed lost. As a result of this skirmish, all hunting, fowling, and foraging were curtailed north of the river, thereby obliging the soldiery to consume extra rations. The six remaining wounded men could accompany the main force only to the Licking where protective shelter had to be built for them. [15]

Because the army was under constant surveillance and because of the possibility that a deserter, John Clairy, might have defected to the British, Clark vitally was concerned about time. The ex-comrades of Clairy conjectured that he had fled to North Carolina, but upon reaching the Licking they found his horse and a fresh campsite. They knew he would alert the targeted enemy villages as he made his way to Detroit. The Kentuckians understood that they had to arrive at those towns and had to engage in battle before they were abandoned or, more ominously, the Shawnee, with British and other native reinforcements, might make an attempt to ambush Clark along the line of march. The one method known to defeat the Northern Woodland peoples was the destruction of their crops and villages, thus coercing them into a defensive stand, something at which they rarely excelled. Surprise was the warriors' primary offensive maneuver and if the Kentuckians were vigilant and were disciplined, they stood a chance for success against the tribesmen. [16]

At the mouth of the Licking early August 1, the newly marshalled army rowed across the Ohio. Clark had decided to raise a small stockade to house the invalids and the supplies as well as to provide a temporary base. The little fort (on the future site of Cincinnati) was ready for use by nightfall. About two dozen men (garrison and invalids) and a portion of the provisions, excess baggage, and all the boats were left in the care of Thomas Vickroy, temporary army commissary. He had orders to maintain the post for a fortnight. [17]

The militiamen had furnished their own victuals until the gathering at the Ohio. From there they expected Clark to issue foodstuffs at state expense for the duration of the campaign, but upon setting out from Louisville, the entire store was only 300 bushels of corn and 1,500 pounds of flour. While the stockade was under construction, a corn-laden boat, destined for Louisville, passed the site. Clark impressed the vessel and cargo, but even with this supplement the share averaged just six quarts of maize, two pounds of flour, and a gill (one quarter pint) of salt per individual. Logan's division had brought a number of horses. Every six-man mess was allotted one animal to carry rations, blankets, an axe, and a quart kettle, but there was an insufficient number of horses for the entire armed body. [18]

On August 2, the command was ready to move north. As had been feared, the Shawnee had aided Clairy in reaching Detroit where he had reported to the British. The turncoat revealed the invasion route — Bowman's path along the Little Miami River — as well as precise data about Clark's numbers, supplies, and artillery. With what personnel had been left at the fort, the Long Knives (the sobriquet bestowed upon the Virginians by the Shawnee) aggregated 970 men arrayed in two divisions. The front division was under Clark's command; in the center came the cannon, packhorses, and a sturdy baggage wagon; and Logan's division brought up the rear. Clark deployed the rank and file into four lines about 40 yards apart with flankers placed approximately the same distance on each side from the right and from the left lines, just in sight of each other. A vanguard and rearguard were detached and were enjoined to remain in view of the main body. This marching formation was concocted for ready shifting into the best evolution against surprise attack — a hollow square. [19]

Clark gambled that by moving his army rapidly the Shawnee would be caught unawares, but the presence of cannon and rolling stock meant a deliberate pace since a road had to be cut and had to be bridged for 70 miles. Though the troops were marched strenuously, their gait remained slow while the roadway was being opened. Four horses were required to pull the fieldpiece and the teams had to be changed twice a day. Nothing noteworthy occurred until the fifth, when the troops were within five miles of rebuilt Chillicothe. Clark's spies returned from reconnaissance and recounted that the community was in the process of abandonment. The soldiers immediately broke into a run, reaching Chillicothe at noon and finding "...the Indians had all gone & burnt their own town. Some pots were found over the fires, boiling green corn & snaps. The troops found a great relief in green roasting ears & string (snap) beans. That afternoon was spent in feasting...." The council house and a fort had been ignited by the Shawnee. Clark decreed that everything else still standing in the vacated town, as well as several hundred well-tended acres of green corn and great amounts of other vegetables, be reduced to ashes. [20]

Twelve miles away stood the Pickaway settlements where the Shawnee had determined to make a stand. Clark took up the advance at about 4 p.m. on the seventh, but the army progressed barely a mile before it was halted by a violent thunderstorm which lasted all night. At dawn the men were formed into a hollow square and were instructed to test their dampened flintlocks by alternate company firing. The rolling rumble of musketry caused many of the horses to bolt, but soon they were collected in the nearby cornfields, five or six acres of which had been reserved for future use. The advance north was recommenced. [21]

"The general conduct of the Indians on our march, and many other corroborating circumstances," Clark reported two weeks later to Jefferson, "proved their design of leading us on to their own ground and time of action." At 2:30 during the afternoon of August 8 the Americans arrived in sight of the village complex. A spy, James Guthrie, had reconnoitered Pickaway during the storm and had returned at daybreak with intelligence of enemy preparations. [22]

The soldiers waded knee- and waist-deep through the waters of the Mad River one-half mile below these strongly fortified settlements which incorporated three villages that extended upstream intermittently for approximately three miles. A half-mile wide prairie, which was located before a low line of ridges, intervened between the heart of the community and Clark's fording point. On the Virginian's left (west) the ground was thickly timbered, broken only by cornfields, fences, coverts, and light fortifications. To his front, behind the prairie, Clark faced the same conditions. To the east, a loop in the Mad brought it adjacent to virtually impenetrable limestone cliffs. Clark had the opportunity for a tactical evaluation while "...viewing the situation and motion of the enemy, near their works." As devised, his classic battle plan called for envelopment of the community and its population from the front, flanks, and rear. If such a disposition was successful it could be an unconditional blow to the normally elusive foe. [23]

Waiting for the Kentuckians were the Shawnee, along with reinforcements from the Mingo, Wyandot, and Delaware. That morning a potent force of 300 men under arms had been assembled. As always, they felt the necessity for undergoing purification rites, including fasting to ready themselves psychologically for combat. A Shawnee scouting party was making a report just at the moment the intruders entered the edge of the settlements. Because of this surprise event, many of the startled, unprepared warriors broke off and did not come at once into the engagement. The remaining elements appear to have been led into battle by Silverheels, brother of the late Keigleighque, and also by two Indian Department interpreters, the Loyalists James and George Girty. [24]

Just as Clark's vanguard forded, the defenders, hastily concealed in the high prairie growth, let erupt a fusillade of gunfire. The colonel promptly riposted by bidding Logan to pivot his 300-man division east up the Mad for the purpose of securing a position to the rear of the settlements and to pinch off a retreat. Simon Kenton, a captive there during 1778, was assigned as pilot. The other sections of troops under the commands of Linn, Floyd, and Harrod splashed over the shallows and veered west while Clark, overseeing the regulars and artillery, crossed and pressed the attack directly against the center to complete the encirclement. [25]

The action, having been opened by the Native Americans on their right, soon ranged all along the line "...with a savage fierceness on both sides." Exchanging fire at long-range, both attacker and defender attempted to outflank one another. The superiority of American numbers and of group formation tactics, in combination with Shawnee overconfidence and/or inept generalship (according to Clark), resulted in the villagers being outflanked two or three different times. Pushed from hill to hill in a circuitous manner for a mile-and-a-half, the tribesmen were compelled to withdraw to their strongholds which were dominated by a newly built triangular stockade and blockhouse. [26]

Hostilities ceased for approximately 30 minutes as the brass six-pounder was brought up and was prepared for a cannonade. This weapon, shielded by a hollow square, was discharged 12 to 15 times at the stockade, each roundshot shattering the timbers wherever it struck. As their bulwarks literally collapsed around them, the Shawnee sallied from the fort and from nearby cabins and were joined by others who had lingered in the woods. Observing this unexpected movement, Clark called for a cease-fire and for two white flags to be hoisted for a parley. Driven by desperation, the warriors had exposed themselves in the European fashion by rushing forth in conventional line of battle against the six-pounder. They frightened the panicky gunners away from the cannon into the square, but the assailants were too few (possibly just 70) actually to seize it. At 40 paces the white flags were dropped and Clark's infantry delivered a mass volley which broke the enemy line. A second general discharge dispersed the remnants and the survivors escaped through the cornfields. The fieldpiece then was turned against the cabins which quickly were demolished. By nightfall, Clark boasted, "...the enemy were totally routed." [27]

This encounter was not the conclusive victory Clark coveted after all, since most of the villagers eluded capture. The right wing of his army never came into the action. He asserted in his battle narrative that the confrontation would have been "decisive" if Logan's contingent "...had not been rendered useless for some time by an uncommon chain of rocks [the limestone cliffs], that they could not pass, by which means part of the enemy escaped through the ground they were ordered to occupy." [28]

That evening the Long Knives camped in and around the wrecked fort. Nearly half of the soldiers were on duty and no countersign was given. Standing orders were to shoot at every noise. Next morning a French captive related that the townspeople had been preparing for Clark's advance for 10 days. They had been fortifying their structures, moving families and possessions, and spying on the advance of the invaders. The Frenchman divulged where "plunder" was cached which, when found, was to be taken back along with 40 horses to the Licking where these spoils were to be divided equally among the men. [29]

An accurate assessment of casualties is difficult to ascertain. The Shawnee admitted to only six slain, three wounded, and two taken prisoner (and subsequently murdered). They alleged to find 48 enemy dead including two colonels. Clark enumerated losses of 14 dispatched and 13 seriously injured. He estimated the total killed and total wounded of his adversaries to be three times his, but only 12 to 14 bodies were located, the others he surmised having been carried off during the night. The American deceased were buried under the cabins, which then were put to the torch to camouflage this hasty interment. [30]

August 9 saw the unflinching application of a scorched earth policy. As at Chillicothe, the soldiers were amazed and were impressed by the vast planted fields of maize, beans, squash, pumpkins, and "Irish" potatoes which were so vital to this thriving community. The Shawnee had produced a level of cooperative agriculture manifestly superior to that in Kentucky. The cultivation spread more than five miles away and a full day was taken to destroy it. The devastation on this expedition was prodigious; 800 acres of corn (minimum 24,000 bushels), immense quantities of vegetables, and two entire communities (four villages) were laid waste. The Chillicothe and Pickaway settlements were irreplaceable granaries where the residents planted crops that would sustain them through the winter months and would empower them to carry la petite guerre into Kentucky. Even some Loyalists and British troops had taken part in the tillage in order to support war parties from Detroit. [31]

Both sides committed atrocities. Several elderly Pickaway dwellers, including a father tending his mortally wounded son, were found in the cornfields August 9 and casually were executed. A woman prisoner was dealt a death blow " ripping up her Belly & otherwise mangling her." In order to obtain scalps and to loot, the Kentuckians ransacked sacred burial grounds. On the other hand, during the fighting the Shawnee had seized militia Captain Lewis Hickman and several others who (along with all the male prisoners who had deserted from Bird's column and had been recaptured) were burned at the stake specifically at the razed settlements. The Shawnee also found the fresh graves, exhumed the remains and scalped them. [32]

With one enemy defeated, the question arises as to why Clark then did not risk a bold stroke against Detroit to meet the other opponent. The answer simply is that this makeshift army of militiamen never was intended for such operations and was utterly incapable of anything except a limited punishing strike against the indigenous inhabitants. Detroit lay more than 200 miles to the north and the only passage was overland, straight through a roadless forest occupied by the most alienated of the Ohio tribes. Aware that Clark possessed only light ordnance, De Peyster had no trepidation for his post, although he had a false report that Clark might winter at the decimated towns. A British officer noted that Fort Lernoult had a garrison of 390 men-at-arms and that 100 troops could ". . .defend it against any number in Mr. Clark's power to shew [De Peyster]". Royal officials respected the Virginian's penchant for daring and prowess, but they concluded that Fort Lernoult was of such strength that it only could be reduced by a regular and formal investment with heavy artillery. Clark did weigh the potentialities of mounting a drive east in order to desolate part of the Delaware country and then to return by way of Fort Pitt, "...but the excessive heat and weak diet..." convinced him to give up even this plan. Although acres of roasting ears stood nearby, the green corn was too cumbersome to pack by horse or to carry on foot. The wounded were a further hindrance, so the invaders began to retrace the route back to the Ohio, leaving the night of August 9. [33]

The return march basically was uneventful. The injured who were able to ride did so; the rest were carried on individual litters between two horses. After halting one day at Chillicothe to finish its devastation and to cut the remaining corn, the troops continued on the road south. Ironically, with all the ravaging of crops, there was a great shortage of provisions. Also, another Kentuckian became numbered among the dead when he accidentally was shot by a sentinel. The Long Knives reached the Ohio on August 14, the fourteenth and last day Vickroy remained at Clark's small stockade. The fort was abandoned and the soldiery was dispersed with the militia companies making their own way home; some of them all but starving in the process. Clark and the regulars boated back to Louisville, having covered a total of 480 miles during 31 days. [34]

Shawnee casualties resulting from the expedition were not great, but the ruin of their cornfields and of the other vegetables was a grim matter. Captain McKee anguished that without support from Detroit a famished Shawnee literally could "perish." On August 22 they indicated their plight to De Peyster, ". . .our women & children. . .are left now destitute of shelter in the woods or Food to subsist upon — Our warriors have not now even Ammunition to hunt for, or defend them." Several days later De Peyster observed that "The wretched Women and Children are beginning to come in for Provisions, as at Niagara." [35]

The Shawnee were incensed that even though on several occasions they had begged for help, most recently when they turned in the deserter Clairy to the British, De Peyster still had transferred no troops to them. They were incapable of comprehending why the Detroit garrison had not hastened to their assistance. The policy of fomenting the tribes against the nascent United States ultimately was more dolorous to and exploitive of the former than to anyone else. When the ineluctable retaliation occurred, Crown forces seldom were to be seen, leaving the original people to face their worse enemy alone. Still, the chosen anti-partisan strategy of the new nation — the despoliation of villages and of crops — worked only in the long run to intensify the Native Americans' enmity toward the settlers and to increase their reliance upon Great Britain. An exorbitant price would be exacted from the Kentuckians in reply to their late incursion. From mid-August to mid-October the number of raids did decline radically, since many of the tribesmen were obliged to spend their time hunting. Yet barely a month after the battle, the Shawnee already were laying plans for revenge, while they also were spurning the warnings of a Rebel emissary from Fort Pitt. They defiantly reproved, ". . .our hearts are firm & we can never be conquered. . ." By late October the warriors, stirred with the opportunity for vengeance and emboldened with the customary gifts, again fell upon Kentucky. Jefferson was informed that a large number of British and native allies was at the recently pillaged towns, preparing new onslaughts south. Every week small parties annoyed the settlements and, instead of slackening with the onset of winter, the forays actually intensified during December. [36]

The Shawnee and other Ohio country residents could not be subdued because the Americans were incapable of making the commitment of manpower, materiel, and supplies required for a major decisive campaign while concurrently sustaining the burden of the Revolutionary War. This expedition, except for a brief time, clearly had not diminished la petite guerre. While the Shawnee still were ". ..sick with the blow we received from the Enemy..." during April, 1781, and also were suffering a food deficit as late as July (as confirmed by McKee), the strife during that year was as unrelenting as ever. Just nine months after his Pickaway victory, Clark spoke volumes when he explained to General George Washington, "The Indian war is now more general than Ever, any attempts to appease them Except by the sword would be fruitless." [37]

To the Kentuckians the 1780 expedition did serve minor objectives. Morale was uplifted for a short time and the precedent of swift retribution was established. The brief comparative peace that lasted for about two months after the battle probably allowed the rate of immigration into Kentucky to accelerate. In addition, Clark's raiders had beheld a heretofore little-known region (to them) of great fertility which spurred settlement there following the signing of the Treaty of Greene Ville in 1795. As for the Shawnee, their resolute and sanguinary resistance to aggression notwithstanding, during the next 15 years they unwillingly migrated north up the Miami Valley into the Maumee River basin toward Detroit, a contested withdrawal which ultimately led to their dispossession.


1. Charles Callender, "Shawnee" in Bruce G. Trigger (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians: Northeast (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1978), XV, 622-624. A fifth Shawnee division, Thawikila, apparently did not dwell in Ohio during this period, but instead resided in Alabama with the Muskogee people. See William Albert Galloway, Old Chillicothe: Shawnee and Pioneer History: Conflicts and Romances in the Northwest Territory (Xenia, Ohio: The Buckeye Press, 1934), 40-41.

2. Jerry E. Clark, The Shawnee (Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1977), 85-86; Jambes H. Howard, Shawnee! The Ceremonialism of a Native American Tribe and Its Cultural Background (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981), 14-15.

3. The following estimates of Shawnee warrior strength were made between 1763-1778:

1763300Sir William Johnson
1764500Captain Thomas Hutchins
1778300A Detroit Indian Trader
1778400Colonel George Morgan

See Henry R. Schoolcraft (comp.), Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States (Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, 1851-1857), III, 559, 561, also VI, 271. Following Dunmore's War, probably about 1779-1780, Shawnee numbers were depleted further by the voluntary relocation of a large peace faction, mainly drawn from the Pekowi and Kispoko divisions. A new settlement was established in trans-Mississippi Spanish territory (modern Cape Girardeau, Mo.). Galloway, Old Chillicothe: Shawnee and Pioneer History: Conflicts and Romances in the Northwest Territory, 61-62; Callender, "Shawnee," 631.

4. John Bowman to George Rogers Clark, June 13, 1779, Lyman C. Draper Collection of Manuscripts (Draper MSS.), State Historical Society of Wisconsin (Madison), 49J52; Galloway, Old Chillicothe: Shawnee and Pioneer History: Conflicts and Romances in the Northwest Territory, 59-66. There was an additional mournful consequence for the Shawnee. During the skirmishing at the village council house the Chillicothe headman, Mkahdaywahmayquah (Blackfish), was mortally wounded.

5. Clark to Jonathan Clark, January 16, 1780. James Alton James (ed.), George Rogers Clark Papers, 1771-1784 (Clark Papers), 2 vols. (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1912, 1926), I, 382-383; George M. Waller, "Target Detroit: Overview of the American Revolution West of the Appalachians" in Thomas Krasean (ed.), The French, The Indians, and George Rogers Clark in the Illinois Country: Proceedings of an Indiana American Revolution Bicentennial Symposium (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society), 53-54.

6. Philip P. Mason, Detroit, Fort Lernoult, and the American Revolution (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1964), 1-2, 5-6; Daniel B. Reibel, "A Kind of Citadel: 1764-1806," Michigan History, XLVII, 1(1963), 59-61; Wailer, "Target Detroit: Overview of the American Revolution West of the Appalachians," 54, 59.

7. Thomas Jefferson to Clark, January 1, 1780, Julian P. Boyd (ed.), The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (Jefferson Papers), III (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1951), 258-259; Jefferson to Clark, April 19, 1780, ibid., 356.

8. Petition from Inhabitants of Boonesborough to Clark, March 10, 1780, Draper MSS., 50J19; Petition from Bryan's Station to Clark, March 13, 1780, ibid., 50120; Clark to William Fleming, April 4, 1780, ibid., 46154.

9. Bowman to Daniel Brodhead, May 27, 1780, ibid., 16S5-8; Arent De Peyster to Frederick Haldimand, May 8, 1780, Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections (MPHC). X, 396; De Peyster to Mason Bolton, May 16, 1780, ibid., XIX, 519.

10. J. Winston Coleman, Jr., The British Invasion of Kentucky (Lexington: Wilburn Press, 1951), 4.

11. Henry Bird to De Peyster, June 3, 1780, MPHC, XIX, 517-529.

12. Bird to De Peyster, July 1, 1780, ibid., 538-539; Alexander McKee to De Peyster, July 8, 1780, ibid., 541-543. Background material concerning Ruddle's and Martin's stations, as well as a listing of the prisoners and of their ultimate fate, can be found in Maude Ward Lafferty, "Destruction of Ruddle's and Martin's Forts in the Revolutionary War," The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, LIV (October, 1956). 1-44, and Milo M. Quaife, "When Detroit Invaded Kentucky," The Filson Club History Quarterly, I (January, 1927), 53-67.

13. John Dodge to Jefferson, August 1, 1780, James (ed.), Clark Papers, I, 436-437; Jefferson to Clark, March 19, 1780, Boyd (ed.), Jefferson Papers, XIX, 316-317; Jefferson to Clark, April 19, 1780, ibid., 356; John Bradford, Notes on Kentucky, J. Martin West (ed.), Clark's Shawnee Campaign of 1780 — Contemporary Accounts (CSC 1780) (Springfield, Ohio: The Clark County Historical Society, 1975), 14. Clark's companions were Major Josiah Harlan and Captain Herman Consola. See James Alton James, The Life of George Rogers Clark (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1928), note 2, 210.

14. Statement of James Patton, Draper MSS., 49J92, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 50; Charles G. Talbert, "Kentucky Invades Ohio - 1780," The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, XLII, CXCI (October, 1954), 295; Clark to Jefferson (Clark's Report), August 22, 1780, Williamsburg Virginia Gazette (October 4, 1780); Account of Henry Wilson, Draper MSS., 9J21-35, 89-90, 96, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 34-36; Notes of Bland W. Ballard, Draper MSS., 81153-158 (1), ibid., 47; Reminiscences of Cave Johnson, Draper MSS., 9J143-146 (1), ibid., 21.

15. Bradford, ibid., 15; Wilson, ibid., 32; John McCaddon to John Williams, May 16, 1842, American Pioneer, I (1842), ibid., 29; John MeCaddon to Lyman Draper, May 5, 1845, Draper MSS., 81142, ibid., 30; John Shane Interview with John Sandusky, The Filson Club and The University of Louisville Quarterly (FCULQ), IV (October, 1934), 225-226; Ballard, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 47-48. Hugh McGeary was heard from again. His recklessness was the prime factor behind the Blue Licks disaster August 19, 1782, and, in revenge, he tomahawked the unarmed, venerable Shawnee leader, Moluntha (who was under American protective custody at that time). This assassination occurred during Benjamin Logan's Shawnee expedition of 1786.

16. Intelligence from John Clairy, an American Deserter, August 5, 1780, Haldimand Collection, B100, 443, Public Archives of Canada; Bradford, west (ed.), CSC 1780, 15; Wilson, ibid., 33; John K. Mahon, "Anglo-American Methods of Indian Warfare, 1676-1794," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLV (1958-1959), 259-260, 264, 268, 271.

17. Clark's Report; Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 15; Account of Thomas Vickroy Draper MSS., 8J207, ibid., 51; McKee to De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, B122, 529.

18. Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 33; Clark's Report; John Shane Interview with William Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, II (April, 1928), 126-127; Robert B. McAfee, "The Life and Times of Robert B. McAfee and his family connections written by himself," The Register of the Kentucky State Historical Society, XXV, LXXIV (January, 1927), 31-33; Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 18.

19. Intelligence from John Clairy, Haldimand Collection, 443; Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 15-16. The designation, Long Knife, apparently first was used in 1684 by the Five Nations (Iroquois) to characterize Virginia Governor Lord Howard and then the term was assigned to the line of chief executives from that province which succeeded Howard. During 1722, at a conference in Albany, the derivation of the Long Knife appellation was made known. It originated with the Onondaga word, Assarigoa or Asharigoua. This cognomen applied to "...the Governor of Virginia, which signifies a simeter, or cutlas, which was given to the Lord Howard, Anno 1684, from the Dutch word, Hower, a cutlas." See Charles A. Hanna, The Wilderness Trail Or the Ventures and Adventures of the Pennsylvania Traders on the Allegheny Path, 2 vols. (New York and London: G. P. Putman's Sons, 1911), I, 318.

20. Clark's Report; Ballard, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 48-49; Narrative of William Whitley, Draper MSS., 9CC34-35, ibid., 52; Wilson, ibid., 33; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127.

21. Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 16; Wilson, ibid., 30; Notes of Israel Morrison, Draper MSS., 8J143-146, ibid., 42-43; Ballard, ibid., 48-49.

22. Clark's Report; Ballard, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 47, 49.

23. Wilson, ibid., 33; Notes of Peter B. F. Adams, Draper MSS., 8J148-149, ibid., 44; Account of Abraham Thomas, Troy [Ohio] Weekly Times (March 27 and April 3, 1839), West (ed.), CSC 1780, 22; Clark's Report; Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 16.

24. Clark's Report; McKee to De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 529; William Homan to Bird, August 15, 1780, ibid., 523. Mystical and religious features were involved intimately with war making. Fasts, emetics, sexual continence, visions, dreams, sacred bundles, and individual talismans all were part of the intricate pre-battle preparations. See Nathaniel Knowles, "The Torture of Captives by the Indians of Eastern North America," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, LXXXII (1940), 153, and Mary Henry Gibbs, The Shawnee Indians (M.A. thesis, Catholic University of America, 1932), 51-52. During 1774 Silverheels (1730?-1798?) almost had suffered the eventual fate of Keigleighque (1720?-1777) while escorting to safety a small band of Pennsylvania traders just before the outbreak of Dunmore's War. West of Fort Pitt, Silverheels was ambushed by Virginia borderers and was seriously wounded. See Richard Walker, Where is the Legendary Silverheels? (Privately printed, 1980), 26-29.

25. Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 16-17; Morrison, ibid., 42-43; Recollections of Simon Kenton, Draper MSS., 1BB74-75, 5BB122-123, ibid., 20.

26. Clark's Report; Sandusky, FCULQ, 225-226; Adams, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 44; Morrison, ibid., 42-43.

27. Clark's Report; McKee to De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 529; Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 34-35; Bradford, ibid., 17. During the final stages of fighting, Clark's cousin, Joseph Rogers, who had been a Shawnee captive since 1776, accidentally was killed. Dressed in native garb, Rogers inadvertently was shot by the Kentuckians while he attempted to escape to their lines. Clark had a chance to speak briefly with him before he expired. Some of the troops were convinced that Rogers was fighting for the enemy and perhaps their commander agreed. In a letter to his father, Clark did not dwell upon the incident, but merely related "...the fate of poor Joseph Rogers who lost his Life in the Moment it might of been in his power to Render his Country great service. His fate was fixed no possibility of saving him...." The British reported that the Shawnee had too favorable an opinion of Rogers for him to attempt an escape. See Clark to John Clark (his father), August 23, 1780, The Reuben T. Durrett Collection, The University of Chicago Library, ibid., 14; Ballard, ibid., 47; Morrison, ibid., 43; Wilson, ibid., 35; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127; Homan to Bird, August 15, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 523.

28. Clark's Report; Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 17; James Galloway to Benjamin Drake, January 22, 1840, Draper MSS., 8J263-267, ibid., 24; Wilson, ibid., 35; Morrison, ibid., 43; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127.

29. Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 35-36; Clark's Report; Ballard, ibid., 47-48; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127.

30. McKee to De Peyster, Haldimand Collection, 529; Clark's Report; Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 36; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127.

31. Clinkenbeard, ibid., 126-127; Kenton, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 20; Bradford, ibid., 17; Whitley, ibid., 52; Wilson, ibid., 33, 36; Clark's Report. One acre of ground produced a minimum of 30 bushels of "Indian corn." See [William Smith,] An Historical Account of the Expedition Against the Ohio Indians, in the Year 1764, Under the Command of Henry Bouquet, Esq. (Philadelphia: William Bradford, 1765), 51.

32. Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 36-37; MeCaddon to Draper, ibid., 31; Morrison, ibid., 42; Whitley, ibid., 52; Homan to Bird, August 15, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 523; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127. By the time of the Revolution, torture as part of the Eastern Woodland war complex had become infrequent. Specific acts of burning and mutilation did occur, however, after certain catastrophic events such as the American devastation of western Iroquoia during 1779 and the genocide of Moravian converts in 1782. The destructions of Chillicothe and of Pickaway fit into this pattern. See Jacob Spencer, "Shawnee Folk-Lore," Journal of American Folklore, XXII (1909), 332; Erminie Wheeler-Voegelin, "The Place of Agriculture in the Subsistence Economy of the Shawnee," Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters, XXVI (1941) 513-520; Gibbs, The Shawnee Indians, 52; Knowles, "The Torture of Captives by the Indians of Eastern North America," 153, 177-179, 194-195, 216; Arthur C. Parker, "The Indian Interpretation of the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign," The Rochester [New York] Historical Society, Publication Fund Series, VIII (1929), 47-49, 55-56.

33. De Peyster to Mason Bolton, September 3, 1780, MPHC, X, 566-567; Haldimand to Bolton, August 29, 1780, ibid., 565-566; Haldimand to H. Watson Powell, April 20, 1781, ibid., XIX, 622; Clark's Report; Wilson, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 25; Clinkenbeard, FCULQ, 126-127; Homan to Bird, August 15, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 523.

34. Bradford, West (ed.), CSC 1780, 18; Thomas, ibid., 23; Wilson, ibid., 36; McKee to De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 529; Clark's Report.

35. McKee to De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 529; Speech of the Delawares and Shawnese assembled at the Upper Shawnese Village, to their Father Major De Peyster Commandant at Detroit, August 22, 1780, ibid., B122, 533; De Peyster to Haldimand, August 31, 1780, ibid., B122, 537. De Peyster's comment about Fort Niagara referred to the debilitating effects of General John Sullivan's 1779 expedition against the Iroquois population of what is today upstate New York. While on a much larger scale than Clark's 1780 expedition, Sullivan's undertaking was no less a failure in curtailing the frontier conflict. See Donald R. McAdams, "The Sullivan Expedition: Success or Failure," New York Historical Society Quarterly, LIV (1970), 53-81.

36. Speech of the Delawares and Shawnese assembled at the Upper Shawnese Village, to their Father Major De Peyster, August 22, 1780, Haldimand Collection, 533; Reply to a Rebel speech by the Shawanese, Delawares, Mingoes, Hurons [Wyandots], & the nations in alliance with them, September 15, 1780, MPHC, X, 429; John Todd, Jr., to Jefferson, November 30, 1780, Clark Papers, I, 466-467; Richard Harrison to Clark, December 7, 1780, ibid., 468; George Slaughter to Jefferson, December 8, 1780, ibid., 472.

37. Indian Council with De Peyster at Detroit, April 5, 1781, MPHC, X, 463-464; McKee to De Peyster, July 15, 1781, ibid., XIX, 648; Clark to George Washington, May 20, 1781, Clark Papers, I, 552.

Theater of Operations: American Revolution in the West: 1780. (click on image for a PDF version)

Battle of Pickaway: August 8, 1780. (click on image for a PDF version)

<<< Previous <<< Contents>>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 23-Mar-2011