Cahokia: Peace or War with the Indians

George Rogers Clark speaks with Indians at Cahokia
Clark Memorial mural #2

The British did not have the manpower to fight a war simultaneously on the east coast and in the Ohio River Valley. So they recruited Indians in the area to fight on their side. British troops in the western frontier were based out of Fort Detroit and under the control of Lieutenant Governor Henry Hamilton. Hamilton cultivated these Indian alliances, and over time was given the nickname of the "hairbuyer general," although it is not known if he ever actually traded money for American scalps.

As a western settler himself, Clark had seen firsthand the hardships the British-funded Indian raids had caused for Americans in the area. Clark decided to combat these raids by mounting a defense. Clark's defensive strategy quickly turned into an offensive one. During the winter of 1777-1778, Clark traveled east to ask Virginia Governor Patrick Henry for permission to recruit militia volunteers in order to strike at the British who instigated the Indian attacks (this scene is depicted in the Bas-relief sculpture located above the entrance doors). After being granted permission, Clark returned west, recruited and trained his volunteers, and began his struggle for control in the region.

Clark began his campaign of attempting to weaken the British position by influencing the French settlers in the area to support the American cause. Through these efforts, Clark was able to capture the Illinois Country posts of Kaskaskia, Prairie du Rocher, and Cahokia. Soon after, this French influence was extended over 150 miles to the settlers in Vincennes, and they also declared themselves allies to the Americans.

This mural depicts George Rogers Clark in the late summer of 1778 in Cahokia, at a council he called with local Indian tribes in an effort to negotiate peace. By convincing Hamilton's Indian allies to switch sides, Clark could further diminish the resources available to the British. Although Clark's forces at this council were far outnumbered by the Indians in attendance, he impressed the warriors with his bold manner. Many of the leaders of these tribes were convinced to accept the white belt of peace rather than the red belt of war. While this council certainly strengthened Clark's efforts, there were still many tribes who chose to continue their alliances with the British.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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