Use the smaller-sized text Use the larger-sized text Use the very large text

Historic Diaries: James Doty, 1820

June 16, 1820: Dramatic Confrontation at the Sault

Editor's Note:

This incident shows that tensions were still running high between the British-allied Indians and the new U.S. authorities. The Ojibwe at the Sault had traded and been militarily allied with the British for 60 years, and had no immediate sympathy with the American newcomers.

Schoolcraft estimated that the Ojibwe numbered between 60 and 70 warriors. The exploring party had only about a dozen soldiers and a handful of Indian hunters and guides.

According to another contemporary source, Cass had convened the local chiefs to explain that, under the treaty, the site now belonged to the U.S. rather than the British and that a fort would soon be built on it. As customary, he offered gifts and a ceremonial pipe to the Ojibwe leaders who rejected the presents and refused to smoke with the Americans. One of their leaders, Sas-Sa-Ba, had lost a brother to the Americans during the war; he returned to his own lodge and raised the British flag in defiance.

As Doty describes, Gov. Cass followed him alone and tore down the flag. The Ojibwe warriors vowed that night to destroy the Americans; the expedition's Indian guides and hunters refused to shoot at their brothers, and said they would stand aside. But during the night, Mrs. Johnston, daughter of a famous Ojibwe chief, went to the offended warriors and persuaded them it would not be in their interests to attack the U.S. officials. Without her diplomacy, it is likely that Cass, Doty, and Schoolcraft would have all been killed before dawn.

Location: Sault St. Marie, Mich.

View Doty's handwritten manuscript of this page

View page in the 1895 printed edition

a council was held by Gov. Cass with the chiefs who claim the land around the Sault. They are of the Chippeway Nation. By virtue of a grant made to the French Govt, when this country was owned by France, which grant, among many others, was confirmed by the Treaty of Grenville, does our Govt, claim the fee of a tract of land situated at the Sault. Though this claim was of a doubtful nature, yet for some few presents a Treaty of cession was concluded between the United States and these Indians for 16 square miles situate on the River commencing at the white rock above Sault and extending two miles below the village at the foot of the rapids. This Treaty is of great importance to the U.S.; it will probably be ratified, and a post established here next season.

During the Council a British flag was hoisted by one of the chiefs' at his lodge. As soon as it was discovered the Gov. went up to the lodge alone, and at some distance from our camp, jerked down the flag and treading it on the ground told him the United States could crush him and his nation in the same way. He and the Indians were much frightened, and I think it in a great measure conduced to the Treaty. For previous to this, when the chiefs were retiring to reflect of the Gov's proposals, as the presents offered lay on the ground in the tent, some of the Indians as they passed kicked them one side very contemptuously. That night some trouble was apprehended from the offended chief, or count as he was called. Every one lay with his fire arms beside him, but no disturbance was made.

  • Questions about this page? Email us
  • Email this page to a friend
select text size Use the smaller-sized textUse the larger-sized textUse the very large text