The British Period

The French and Indian War ended with the defeat of the French by the British. With the ratification of the Treaty of Paris in February, 1763, French colonial possessions in North America passed to England. In the minds of Native Americans, the land "owned" by the French in Indian country was merely the land on which the French posts stood. In other words, the French owned small parcels of lands which they had purchased or which were given to them by the Native Americans. The Indians did not believe for a moment that the French owned (in the European sense) most of the interior of the North American continent, including Canada. And at that point, what the French believed themselves became irrelevent. The British believed that the French had passsed them de jure title to the land. When the Indians became aware of this, they were not pleased.
The appointment of Sir Jeffrey Amherst to oversee Indian affairs was, to say the least, a mistake. An overweight patrician who had no concept of the cultures and folkways of native peoples, Amherst was the penultimate colonist: at once arrogant, rude, supercilious, and condescending. Fortunately for the British, two men who were quite knowledgeable about the Native peoples were on staff. Sir William Johnson whom the Iroquois called "Warregiwhey" was Indian agent and his deputy was George Croghan who was well-known to the Ohio Valley nations and respected. Unfortuanetly, Johnson and Croghan were saddled with the racist, colonialist policies of Amherst.
The Matter of Presents

Amherst ordered his agents in the field not to give the customary "presents" to the Indians. This gift-giving, Amherst explained, was simply buying "good behavior." It was also expensive. Not surprisingly, the Indians looked at matters differently. They didn't see the presentation of trade goods to them as gifts. Rather it was a combination of tribute and rent. This tribute was an expected part of doing business with sovereign people in their own nations. When Amherst cut out "presents," it was akin to the tenant informing the landlord that no more rent would be forthcoming.
Lead and Powder

Another of Amherst's brilliant ideas was that commanders in the field should not give or trade to the Indians guns, lead, or gun powder. This, according to Sir Jeffrey, was to reduce the ability of the native people to make war. However, since the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes tribes all relied to a greater or lesser degree on hunting, the impact on Indian families and communities was both immediate and disasterous. Native men who had grown up with firearms rather than traditional weapons had the greatest difficulty feeding their families. Starvation threatened many bands, which was just fine with Sir Jeffery. Some British commanders such as Henry Gladwin at Detroit gave the Indians such powder and lead as he could afford to give out of his own stock but this was far too little to meet the overwhelming need. The fuse had been lit by Amherst's repressive policies. The explosion was near at hand.
Enter Pontiac

Born in 1720 in what is now northern Ohio, Pontiac rose to a position of prominence among his people the Ottawa. He was a fearsome warrior who identified strongly with the French. At the conclusion of the French and Indian War, Pontiac was not ready to accept English rule over Indian lands. He considered the British to be both arrogant and presumptuous. He was, of course, correct.
In order to oust the British from the Great Lakes country, Pontiac formed an alliance of tribes from all over the region. These included his Ottawas, the Chippewa, the Miami, the Fox, the Wyandots, and others. If the Illini were present at the beginning, they were not present in great numbers. Each nation was to rise simultaneously against the British post in their own country. Pontiac himself would lead the attack on Fort Detroit. The Chippewa would rise against the British at Michillimacinac. Others would rise against the forts at Presque Isle, St. Joseph, Miami, and Edward Augustus. All would strike when Pontiac gave the word.
The uprising came off as planned. All of the smaller forts were captured or surrendered. Only Detroit held out. According to legend, Major Gladwin had been warned by someone of the coming attack. There has been much speculation about who warned the commander but most sources point to Catherine, a Native-American woman. Others suggest Jacques Duperon Baby, one of the Frenchmen in Pontiac's confidence. Whoever warned Gladwin, he had the good sense to heed it. Pontiac's surprise attack (with guns sawed off and hidden under squaw's clothes) was frustrated. The Indian coalition settled in for a siege.
As history records, the British outlasted the Indians. Although Pontiac sent messengers to Fort de Chartres in the Illinois Country and emplored the French to come to his aid, de Villiers, in recognition of the Treaty of Paris, refused to come. Perhaps a few Illini warriors joined in the siege but they did not have a meaningful military presence at Detroit. In time, groups of warriors drifted away until at last the siege was ended. In 1766, Pontiac made peace with the British. This caused a great deal of anger among the Illini, because of their attachment to the French, and the Kickapoo, because of their hatred of the British. The Illinois position was certainly questionable, given that they had not supported Pontiac at Detroit in any meaningful way. Later in council, Pontiac reputedly quarreled with Matachinga, a Peoria Chief whose name means "Black Dog" and stabbed him, although not fatally. Even some Ottawa openly defied Pontiac. Pontiac's star was at its nadir.
Pontiac In The Illinois Country

Pontiac's dream of an Indian confederation that would oust the British from Indian lands did not die at Detroit. Still considering himself loyal to the French, Pontiac went among the Illinois, themselves French allies of long-standing. Perhaps there he would find men with hearts similar to his own who would join him in his fight against the British. Perhaps the differences between the Ottawa and the Illini could be set aside to concentrate on the struggle against the common enemy, the British.
The Death of Pontiac

In 1769, Pontiac was in Cahokia, the busy village of the Cahokia tribe of the Illini Confederation. The village now had a British trading post rather than a French store. The Union Jack, rather than the Fleur de Lys, flew over that post. Under the noses of the British, Pontiac would meet with the Illinois and perhaps things this time would work out better.
The Death of Pontiac

An ambitious young Illinois warrior named Pini attached himself to Pontiac. He followed the great leader everywhere he went, attending to his every whim. At first suspicious, Pontiac's bodyguards soon grew accustomed to the fawning young man. They had doubtless seen many other such young warriors attracted to their leader. But they did not know that Pini was the nephew of Matachinga, the Peoria chief whom Pontiac had wounded. One day as Pontiac stepped down from the British trader's store, Pini struck him with a tomahawk in the back of the head. Pontiac sank to the ground. Pini then stabbed Pontiac to be sure that he was dead. Then Pini fled. Pontiac, him who had dreamed of Native Americans united and controlling their own lands and destiny, lay dead in a dirt street outside a British trading post. Overhead, the Union Jack snapped in the breeze.
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