The Collapse of Indian Resistance in the Northwest
IN NOVEMBER 1791, THE NORTHWEST INDIANS WERE TRIUMPHANT. They had humiliated the U.S. government by defeating its army and shown the power of a united Indian force. The defeat of St. Clair's army was a crushing blow to the national government's credibility and led to lengthy debates in Congress on its cause and remedy. The central government's inability to defend its citizens also gave further justification for the discontent that threatened open rebellion on the western frontier. Three years later, however, the Republic had routed those triumphant Indians, gained possession of the territory denied it for twelve years, and secured British withdrawal from the western posts. The victorious confederation of Native Americans was transformed into a collection of submissive, dispirited tribes that ceded virtually all their territory to their enemy, the Americans. Their defeat can be traced both to forces within their own culture and to the consequences of manipulation by their European neighbors. Our investigation therefore must take us to the turbulent political scene of Europe as well as to the Native American councils in the forests of the northwest.
News of the scale of the U.S. army's defeat at the hands of the Indians was greeted in Philadelphia with outrage. Public clamor for an explanation of the virtual annihilation of its army led Washington to direct Knox to publish a statement in January 1792 of the circumstances that led to the Indian war. He did so, outlining the background to the conflict, focusing particularly on the U.S. efforts to establish peace through treaty and the unprovoked outrages committed by western tribes in spite of attempts by both American and Indian peace emissaries to conciliate them. The general government, Knox claimed, had been compelled to resort to coercion to prevent this lawless violence under its obligation to protect its citizens. He warned that this policy would be pursued until the Indians could be