THE BLOODY BELT OF PONTIAC (1763–1769}
HOW AN INDIAN GIRL SAVED FORT DETROIT
 OLD Fort Detroit was a stockade twenty feet high, in the form of a square about two-thirds of a mile
around. It enclosed a church and eighty or one hundred houses, mainly of French settlers with a
sprinkling of English traders.
In the block-houses at the corners and protecting the gates, light cannon were mounted. The garrison
consisted of only one hundred and twenty men of the Eightieth Foot. In the village there were
perhaps forty other men.
On both sides of the river lay the fertile farms of the French settlers. Back of the farms on the
east or Canadian side, and about five miles from Detroit, was the teeming village of Pontiac's
Ottawas. Potawatomis and Wyandots also lived near. At Pontiac's call there waited more than a
The set time approached. On May 1 Pontiac and forty chiefs and warriors entered the fort, and danced
the calumet, a peace dance, for the pleasure of the officers. Pontiac said to Major Gladwyn that he
would return, at the change of the moon, May 7, or in one week, to hold a council with him, and
"brighten the chain of peace with the English."
 The major agreed. He was a very foolish man, for a chief. Having returned to his village, Pontiac
called a different kind of a council, there—a war council of one hundred chiefs. They were to
have their people cut off the ends of muskets that should be carried concealed under the blankets.
Sixty chiefs and warriors should go with him into the council chamber at the fort; the others should
linger in the streets of the town and at the fort gates.
He would speak to the major with a belt, white on the one side, green on the other. When he turned
the belt and presented it wrong end first, let every warrior kill an English soldier, beginning with
the officers. At the sound let every warrior outside the council use gun and hatchet.
On May 5 a French settler's wife crossed the river to buy maple-sugar and deer-meat at the Ottawa
village. She saw the warriors busy filing at their gun-barrels—shortening the guns to scarce a
yard of length. This was a curious thing to do. When she went back to the post she spoke about it.
"That," said the blacksmith, "explains why those fellows have been borrowing all my files and
hack-saws. They wouldn't tell me what for. Something's brewing."
When Major Gladwyn was informed, still he would not believe. But the fur-traders at the post
insisted that when an Indian shortened his gun, he meant mischief. The opinion of fur-traders
carried no weight with Major Gladwyn, the British officer.
The next evening Catharine, a pretty Ojibwa girl
 who lived with the Potawatomis, came to see him in his quarters. She was his favorite. She had
agreed to make him a pair of handsome moccasins, from an elk hide. Now she brought the moccasins,
and the rest of the hide.
Usually she had been much pleased to look upon and talk with the handsome young major in the red
clothes. This time her face was clouded, she hung her head, and spoke hardly at all. Her eager
girlishness had vanished. The major's delight with the moccasins failed to cheer her up.
Trying to win her smiles, he told her the moccasins were so beautiful that he wished to give them to
a friend. Would she take the elk-hide away with her, and make another pair of moccasins for himself?
She finally left, with strangely slow step, and backward glances. At sunset, when the gates of the
fort were to be closed, the guard found her still inside. As she would not go, the sergeant took
word to the major.
"She won't talk with me, sir," he reported.
"Send her in and I will talk with her," ordered the major.
Catharine came, downcast, silent, and timid.
"Why have you not gone before the gates are shut, Catharine?"
"I did not wish to take away the skin that is yours."
"But you did take it away, as far as the gate."
She hesitated more.
"Yes, that is so. But if I take it outside I can never return it."
 "Why not?"
"I cannot tell. I am afraid."
"You can talk freely. Nothing that you say shall go to other ears. If you bring me news of value you
will be well rewarded, and no one shall know."
Catharine loved the major. Presently she told him of the mind of Pontiac, and the deed planned for
A cold fear clutched the heart of Major Gladwyn. He recalled the shortened guns, he recalled the
Bloody Belt, he recalled the date made with him for a big council on the morrow. At last he rather
So he sent away the trembling Catharine, that she might go to her village. He held a council with
Here they were, with only one hundred and twenty soldiers, and less than three weeks' provisions,
cut off by one thousand, two thousand, three thousand merciless Indian warriors, and by the French
settlers and traders who probably would be glad to have the English killed.
"The English are to be struck down, but no Frenchman is to be harmed," had said Catharine.
That looked bad indeed.
This night guards were doubled along the parapets, and in the block-houses. The major himself walked
guard most of the night. From the distant villages of the Ottawas, the Wyandots, and the Potawatomis
drifted the clamor of dances—an ugly sound, full of meaning, now.
Precisely at ten o'clock in the morning a host of
 bark canoes from the Ottawa side of the Detroit River slanted across the current, and made landing.
Pontiac approached at the head of a long file of thirty chiefs and as many warriors. They walked
with measured, stately tread. Every man was closely wrapped in a gay blanket.
They were admitted through the gate of the fort, but it was closed against the mass of warriors,
women and children who pressed after.
As Pontiac, with his escort, stalked for the council room, his quick glances saw that the soldiers
were formed, under arms, and moving from spot to spot, and that a double rank had been stationed
around the headquarters.
In the council chamber he noted, too, that each officer wore his sword, and two pistols!
"Why," asked Pontiac, of Major Gladwyn, "do I see so many of my father's young men standing in the
street with their guns?"
"It is best that my young men be exercised as soldiers, or they will grow lazy and forget," answered
Ha! Pontiac knew. Somehow his plans had been betrayed; his game was up, unless he chose an open
His chiefs and warriors sat uneasily. They all feared death. By Indian law they ought to be killed
for having intended to shed blood in a calumet council.
Pontiac started his talk. He acted confused, as though he was not certain what course to pursue.
 Once he did seem about to offer the belt wrong end first, as the signal—and Major Gladwyn,
still sitting, slightly raised his hand. Instantly from outside the door sounded the clash of arms
and the quick roll of a drum, to show that the garrison was on the alert. The officers half drew
Pontiac flushed yet darker. He stammered, and offering the belt right end first, closed his talk,
and sat down again.
Major Gladwyn made a short reply. He said that the English were glad to be friends, as long as their
red brothers deserved it; but any act of war would be severely punished.
That was all. The major let the Indians file out again. Pontiac knew.
He was too great a leader, in the Indian way, to be balked by one defeat. He actually proposed
another council; he actually persuaded the foolish major to send out to him two officers, for a
peace talk. One of the officers barely escaped from captivity, the other never came back.
Then Pontiac boldly besieged Detroit, in white race fashion—the closest, longest siege ever
laid by Indians against any fort on American soil.
His two thousand Indians swarmed in the forest, held the fences and walls and buildings of the
fields, peppered the palisade with bullets and arrows, shot fire into the town; captured a supply
fleet in the river, ambushed sallying parties, cut to pieces a column of reinforcements.
The siege lasted six months. The orders to attack
 went out. On May 16 Fort Sandusky, at Lake Erie in northern Ohio, was seized by the Wyandots and
Ottawas, during a council.
On May 25, Fort St. Joseph of St. Joseph, Michigan, on Lake Michigan across the state from Detroit,
was seized in like manner by the Potawatomis. On May 27, Fort Miami, near present Fort Wayne of
Indiana, commanded by Ensign Holmes who had discovered the Bloody Belt, was forced to surrender to
the Wyandots. Ensign Holmes himself was decoyed into the open, and killed.
On June 4, populous Michilimackinac of northern Michigan was pillaged. The Chippewas and Sacs
celebrated the King's Birthday, in honor of the English, with a great game of lacrosse in front of
the post. Michilimackinac did not know that Detroit was being besieged! The gates were
left open, the officers gathered to witness the game. The ball was knocked inside the palisades, the
players rushed after—and that was the end of Michilimackinac.
On June 15 the little fort of Presq' Isle, near the modern city of Erie on the Lake Erie shore of
northern Pennsylvania, was attacked. It was captured in two days, by the Ottawas and Potawatomis
On June 18, Fort Le Boeuf, twelve miles south of it, was burned. Just when Fort Venango, farther
south, fell to the Senecas, no word says, for not a man of it remained alive. June 1, Fort Ouatanon,
below Lafayette on the Wabash River in west central Indiana, had surrendered.
 Niagara in the east was threatened; Fort Legonier, forty miles southeast of Pittsburg in
Pennsylvania, was attacked by the Delawares and Shawnees, but held out; the strong Fort Pitt (now
Pittsburg), with garrison of over three hundred soldiers and woodsmen, was besieged by the united
Delawares, Shawnees, Wyandots and Mingo Iroquois.
A second Bloody Belt had been dispatched by Pontiac from Detroit; as fast as it arrived, the allies
struck hard. Of twelve fortified English posts, eight fell. Not only that, but the fiery spirit of
Pontiac had aroused twenty-two tribes extending from Canada to Virginia, and from New York to the
Illinois. A hundred English traders were murdered in camp, and on the trail. A thousand English are
supposed to have been killed. Five hundred families of northern Virginia and of western Maryland
fled for their lives.
While this work was going on, and the frontier settlements shuddered, and feared the morrow, Pontiac
was sternly sticking to his siege of Fort Detroit.
The French around there complained to him that his men were robbing them of provisions, and injuring
"You must stand that," rebuked Pontiac. "I am fighting your battles against the English."
He gave out receipts, for the supplies as taken. These receipts were pieces of bark, pictured with
the kind of supplies taken, and signed with the figure of an otter—the totem of the Ottawas.
After the war every receipt was honored, by payment.
Only his Ottawas were still fighting Detroit, when
 on October 30, this 1763, there arrived, from the French commander on the lower Mississippi, a peace
belt and a messenger for Pontiac.
He had been told that peace had been declared between the French and the English, but he had not
believed. Now he was told again, by word direct, that the king of France and the king of England had
signed peace papers; the country was English, his father the king of France could not help him. He
must stop his war, and "take the English by the hand."
Weeks before this, the Indians to the south had withdrawn; his other allies were fading into the
forest. So, sullen and disappointed, he, too, withdrew. His sun had set, but he tried to follow it
Before he gave his hand to the English he did attempt another war. The tribes of the Illinois
hesitated, in council.
"If you do not join my people," thundered Pontiac, "I will consume you as the fire eats the dry
grass of the prairies!"
The plot failed, but the Illinois did not forget his insulting words. In April, 1769, while leaving
a council with the Illinois beside the Mississippi River, and wearing a blue-and-silver uniform coat
given to him years before by the brave General Montcalm of the French, he was murdered by a
Kaskaskia of the Illinois nation, in the forest which became East St. Louis.
The Kaskaskia had been bribed by an English trader, with a barrel of whiskey, to do the deed. There
died Pontiac. He was buried, it is said, on the site of the present Southern Hotel in St. Louis
 The Illinois suffered from this foul crime. All of Pontiac's loyal people—the Ottawas, the
Potawatomis, the Sacs, the Foxes, the Chippewas—rose against them and swept them from the face
of the earth.
Now what of Catharine, who saved Detroit from Pontiac? She saved Detroit, but Fort Detroit did not
save her. Pontiac was no fool; he very quickly had suspected her. He well knew that Major Gladwyn
was her friend, and that she had taken the moccasins in to him.
She was seized by the chief, beaten almost lifeless with a lacrosse racquet, and condemned to the
meanest of labor. After the siege, Major Gladwyn made no effort to rescue her or reward her. At
last, when an old and miserable woman, she fell into a kettle of boiling maple sap, and died.
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