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20180209 Autumn of the Black Snake



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The main idea of this book is to narrate history of the little known American war against Indians in Middle West that prompted creation of American Regular army soon after the end of the Revolutionary War. It was the time when Indian Confederation initially defeated American troops and seemingly created probability of setting up border between Indian nations and American intruders along Ohio River. This probability, however, was short-lived because American Army commander Antony Wayne was able to create an effective military force, which despite of multitude of difficulties, succeeded in defeating Indians and opening the West to American expansion. Author also strives to show complexity of politics on Indian side, with various leaders were both competing and cooperating with each other, Americans, British, and French. These people: Indians as well as Europeans were complex human beings and they all deserve respect and most of all understanding not for their sake, because they are all dead for centuries, but for our sake because people with cartoonish attitude to them are our contemporaries who can cause lots of problems because of their ignorance of history and complexity of history’s people.


Prologue: The Ruins of an Old French Fort

It starts with reference to the French actions in America that started in Quebec and expanded all the way to Mississippi and down to New Orleans. Author points out the difference between this French expansion, which was mainly trade oriented and created a chain of forts to support it, with English expansion, which was mainly land oriented and, while trading with Indians as well as French, continuously added settlements that pushed Indians out.

Part I: Sinclair’s Retreat

  1. The Death of General Butler

This part starts with description of battle between Indians and Americans in1791 near upper Wabash River in Illinois. In this battle Indian coalition completely defeated American troops that moved North of Ohio River. Indian leaders Little Turtle and Blue Jacket managed to defeat American troops under general St. Clair veteran of the American war of independence so profoundly that it could stop American expansion into Indian Territory. Moreover, author points out that it could be a beginning of denial to Americans the Western expansion, which was one of the main causes of revolution because British aristocracy did not really wanted this expansion and was willing to leave lands beyond Apalachees to Indians.

  1. The Turnip Field

This chapter starts with Washington’s learning of defeat and his strong reaction to this news. Then author describes situation with territories North of Ohio river and American – Indian relations that were going in pretty much consistent way: American settlers moved West and North, Indians reacted often violently by killing settlers, American raised militia and killed Indians and destroyed their villages. At some point sides would come together and sign treaty, which typically was violated by American settlers moving to the new territory and Indians by attacking and killing settler families. After describing the process overall, author moves to specifics of Washington’s live and participation in this process, especially his role in seven years war between British and French. At the end of chapter authors refer to the testimony of general Thomas Gage in England Parliament when he stated that it was all about American western expansion and that Britain was duped by the colonies into support of this expansion, even if it did not need and did not want it to happen.

  1. Drive Them Out

This chapter is about two Indian leaders Blue Jacket and Little Turtle who managed to create coalition that defeated American troops under St. Clair. Author describes formative years of Blue Jacket and influence on him of Delaware named Neolin who retold to Indians of Western tribes the stories of fight against settlers and cruelty with which it was conducted in the East. These stories resonated very well and were amplified by the changed circumstances of Indian tribes. Consequently, it led to Pontiac insurgency and war in which Blue Jacket participated in his youth. The Pontiac war ended in 1764 with Indian defeat. However, one of the results of this war was British attempt to restrict American western expansion and in 1768 British Superintendent of Indian affairs signed the treaty with Iroquois federation restricting white settlements by Appalachians, leaving lots of Americans such as George Washington, who extensively speculated in western lands, out of luck. Here is the map demonstrating this situation with boundary line along Ohio River:

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This chapter also describes events leading to revolutionary war and political developments related to western expansion, Lord Dunmore activities, and other circumstances that led to Quebec Act of 1774 allocated everything to the west of Appalachies to the new 14th colony without local representative powers. This outraged Americans and played an important role in leading to the war.

  1. An Inquiry into the Causes of the Late Unfortunate Defeat

In this chapter author moves to events of 1783 and describes how that led to defeat: congress of 30 Indian nations in southern Erie, British incitement and promises of support to Indians against Americans, low intensity war with high level of atrocities on both sides. Author also uses it to describe the story of another Indian leader – Little Turtle who was leader of Miami and how the coalition of Indians was formed. This was followed by narrative of events on American side during the period when Paris peace was negotiated with defined boundaries to the North between USA and Canada. Nothing like that was established to the West, which Britain left wide open to American expansion. The Western boundary was loosely defined by complete mishmash of Indian treaties, land speculation, and such. Author describes how St. Clair and Harmar started establishing the chain of forts on Ohio River, while Indians were in internal conflict between moderates and hard liners on how to respond to this new stage of American encroachment on their lands. Here is the map of this area with Forts:

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At the end of chapter author returns to St. Clair defeat and describes initial concequences of this.

Part II: War Dancing

  1. Standing Armies

This chapter is about the value of actual standing army vs. militia troops. Traditionally Americans prefer militia, but military leaders with actual experience like Washington knew quite well that militia lacks discipline and straying power to be effective in real combat. Author discusses how Washington worked on creating professional military capable to fight and win revolutionary war only to be practically dissolved afterword. The problem with reestablishment of Army was not only Jefferson and his supporters who rejected the idea, but also Hamilton who probably wanted army to control population more than anything else. Another challenge for the army were the states, which clearly did not want federal government to have potent military power that it could use against them. Author summarizes challenge for Washington this way: without western expansion, there is no nation and without standing army there would be no western expansion. St. Clair’s defeat made it completely clear. Author also discusses European opponents of American expansion, specifically Alexander McKee former British officer and trader who worked diligently on supplying and supporting Indians in order to make them into effective force capable to stop this expansion. He also continuously assured Indians in strong British support. However, he was not able to deliver what Indians really needed – artillery, which was a necessary condition for success for Little Turtle who was quite sophisticated military leader.

  1. Metropotamia

St. Clair’s defeat caused near panic in all frontier states and here author discusses complex interplay between states’ governors like Pennsylvania’s Mifflin on one hand and Washington and Knox on another, that resulted in Congress deciding to create a small standing army of 5168 people. This chapter also narrates actions on the other side: both British and Indians.

  1. Mad Anthony

This is the story of Antony Wayne as pretty successful general and hero of revolutionary war who after the war demonstrated extremely poor judgement in business that led him to nearly complete ruin. The same qualities that made him daring and successful commander: strict discipline, risk taking, decisiveness and strictness in dealing with people turned out to be less asset and more liability in business where a lot depends on ability to find compromise and interact with people in flexible way. Similarly, the failure was his fate as politician when he managed to be expelled from his position as congressman for election manipulation, when it was quite acceptable practice for everybody else. It was at this point when Washington and Knox put him in charge of creating the regular army from nothing.

  1. The Peaceful Intentions of the United States

This chapter starts with the story of John Simcoe who was a governor of Upper Canada and was seeking for Britain the role of mediator between USA and Indians. The obvious objective was to prevent American expansion. The leverage for this was a chain of British forts that were supposed to be eliminated per Paris treaty, but stayed in place, providing support for Indians, albeit limited by the secondary objective to avoid war with USA. On their part Americans were looking for peace, but for such peace that would not stop expansion, which was obviously unrealistic and this chapter provides a detailed narrative of how these efforts failed. It also describes formation of the army under Wayne’s command and measures that made this army into pretty formidable force. The end of chapter discusses competition between two different strategic approaches with Wayne’s winning the approval.

  1. Legion Ville

This starts with the story of big Indian conference that started in fall 1792 and differences between leaders. At the same time Wayne was believed that his army is ready to move, but was contained by Washington in hope that diplomacy with Indians would deliver if not peace, then at least split between different Indian groups. The Indian conference closed with the victory of hardliners and initiation of war preparation. It also describes competing strategies: Blue Jacket’s pitched battle similar to one that brought in victory over St. Clair and Little Turtle’s idea of attacking supply chain. The several encounters with new army created by Wayne demonstrated that both strategies were insufficient against well-trained and disciplined troops of Antony Wayne. The chapter also discusses political problems in Congress that put the whole military buildup under the question. Eventually war was inevitable because the minimum acceptable compromise for Indians was a border along Ohio River and elimination of American forts on its Northern side. It was clearly not acceptable for Americans. Actually, it is hard to imagine that any border would be acceptable for Americans, whose numbers where growing with more and more new immigrants who become settlers and wanted more and more land.

Part III: The Black Snake March

  1. Recovery

This chapter starts with return to the place of St. Clair’s defeat, recovery of remains of fallen, and construction of Fort Recovery. Then it discusses complexities of maintaining the force and the beginning of the march in the fall of 1793. Lots of attention is paid to Wayne’s maintaining vigilance so his troops could never be caught unprepared for battle. By the New Year 1794 army was better supplied and pretty much prepared for its mission. After that author discusses Wayne’s second in command James Wilkinson who was prone to undermining Wayne and worked hard to get rich by all means necessary, especially with the use of political intrigues. He even became a Spanish spy, trying to arrange succession of Kentucky. This failed as well as his attempts to unseat Wayne, but even if he was under suspicion, his spaying was definitely proved only a hundred years later. The next part of this chapter is about divisions between Blue Jacket and Little Turtle. The former was aggressive and big believer in various unreal thins including strong British support, while the former was more realistic and, after it become clear that no artillery will be provided, he pretty much understood that Indian cause hopeless as soon as Wayne army demonstrated its professionalism and capability. Author describes the next significant encounter when Indians successfully attacked supply train near Fort Recovery and then unsuccessfully attacked fort itself, leading to their defeat. Little Turtle put condition for British, asking to provide artillery, at least as few as two big guns so he could attack the fort. He also warned British that without this help Indians would not be able to stop Wayne. British refused.

  1. Fallen Timbers

This chapter describes the final battle when in July 1794 Indians set up an ambush for Wayne army in the area of fallen after hurricane trees. The battle turned out to be complete disaster for Indians, for all practical purposes ending their resistance in this area.

  1. Black Granite

This chapter starts with overview current state of Ohio where the event described in the book occurred and describes what happened next. Everything was pretty much settled by 1795 and Indians submitted to inevitable and after being deprived of self-sufficiency, started developing dependency, leading to misery and despair that comes with it. Author describes an interesting meeting between Wayne and Indian leaders and how these leaders behavior changed. Blue Jacket become submissive and pushed Indians to accept everything, while Little Turtle who was much less aggressive before, refused participate in imitation of voluntary ceding of Indian land, albeit his objections did not matter and Indian leader eventually signed the new treaty. At least Little Turtle was the last to sign. At the end of chapter author describes what happened with main personae of the story and somewhat complains that it is all now mainly forgotten.


It is a great history book and it provides a very interesting representation of long gone reality of American expansion with all sweat, blood, and tears that were spent on all sides of this struggle. Far from being intentionally genocidal as sometimes presented by contemporary American haters, it was a tragic struggle on both sides, when two incompatible civilizations came into contact with each other and neither one could survive without pushing out and eventually eliminating another. I think that the complexity of this struggle, its inevitability, and impossibility of compromise should be understood if one wants to avoid more of the same. I believe that current situation, when American government maintains the travesty of reservations and illusion of existence of some separate Indian culture / independence, is detrimental to wellbeing of people who consider themselves Indians. I think that best solution would be to move these people to contemporary world by privatization among Indians of all land, obviously on purely voluntary character and let them merge into general American population if they want to, by eliminating government handouts and special privileges. These handouts serve like miserable, but warm prison cell with rations provided physiological live of a prisoner, but deprives this prisoner of freedom and meaningful live.


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