Native Village Youth and Education News
September 2009

 

Before there was a city, there was Chief Pontiac
By JERRY WOLFFE
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/chi-ap-mi-exchange-chiefpon,0,6571061.story

Condensed and edited by Native Village


PONTIAC, Mich -  In 1769, the namesake of Pontiac, Michigan was killed along the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois. He was only about 49 years old. 
His body is believed to be buried near today's Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis.

So ended the life of an Ottawa Chief who nearly changed the course of history.

Chief Pontiac was born in either NW Ohio or SE Michigan to an Ottawa father and a mother from the Potawatomi or Miami tribe. He grew up among the area's Ottawa, Ojibway and Potawatomi tribes who called themselves "The Three Fires" because of their close association.

As the British and French battled to control the area's land and fur trade, Indian villages and tribes were caught between the two. Pontiac grew to understand and resent the politics and lies behind the empty promises. He decided to side with the French because "the British were known as harsh and stingy," said historian Charlie Martinez.

The results? "Chief Pontiac nearly overthrew the British empire in North America," Martinez said.

Chief Pontiac was well-respected by the British, French, and other Native American tribes for his skill as a military strategist. He unified many tribes to fight against the British and won many battles in the east.   Besides attacking British posts in southeastern Michigan, Pontiac attacked major British forts in Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as other areas along the Great Lakes.  They swept down in coordinated attacks and seized no less than 10 forts in the Great Lakes, Ohio Valley, Illinois territory and Pennsylvania. They laid siege to Forts Detroit, Pitt and Niagara; all in the same summer

At the time, the French were fighting the British in the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  "The fighting involved Pontiac, especially around Fort Detroit," Martinez said.

From May through October, 1763, Pontiac besieged Fort Detroit, which was occupied by the British. The only reason he didn't win is because the British were still receiving supplies shipped down the Detroit River which ran beside the fort. In the fall of 1763, a relief column of British troops and Rogers Rangers arrived, ending any chance that Pontiac would defeat the British.

The war with the French ended when a peace document was signed in Paris in February 1763 but "word didn't get back to America," so hostilities continued for a while, Martinez said.

By 1764 the French no longer supported the Indian efforts and actually sided with the British. The British re-took many of the areas. Pontiac agreed to a peace treaty in July 1766 at Fort de Chartres, Illinois. He was murdered by a Peoria Indian three years later. To avenge Pontiac's death, the Ottawa Indians killed many Peoria Indians.

Other Sources:
http://www.enchantedlearning.com/explorers/page/p/pontiac.shtml
http://colonial-america.suite101.com/article.cfm/chief_pontiacs_war_1763
 

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