Kishkalwa, Head Chief Shawnee

Head Chief Shawanoe

Kishkalwa is nominally and legally the head chief of the Shawanoe nation, but is too far advanced in life to take any active part in its affairs. He is believed to be between eighty-six and ninety years of age, and is living with a daughter upon the Kansas river, although his band have settled in the neighborhood of the Sabine. The family of this chief is numerous and very distinguished; he is one of seven brothers, all renowned warriors, one “of whom was the celebrated Black Hoof, who died in 1831, at the advanced age of from ninety-five to one hundred years.

This chief was about seventeen years of age when he engaged, for the first time, in a war-party; and on that occasion he made himself conspicuous for his bravery. The expedition was of a character which strikingly illustrates the history of savage life. The Shawanoes were a warlike tribe, that roved through the whole of the territory north-west of the Ohio, and were continually engaged in hostilities, at first with the English, and subsequently with their descendants, while they maintained friendly relations with the French. The latter occupied Fort Massac, a military station, on the northern shore of the Ohio, not far above its junction with the Mississippi; and were at variance with the Chickasaws, who lost no opportunity to do them an injury. Among other stratagems which were practiced by these Indians, was one that was frequently adopted by all the tribes, and in which the savages were very successful. A party of warriors, disguised in the skins of deer, or of bears, would appear creeping upon the shore of the river opposite the fort* The width of the stream was so great as to render it quite possible to practice the deception with good effect, even if the imitation of the animals had been less perfect than it really was. But the Indians, accustomed to notice the habits of the brute creation, and versed in all the strategy of sylvan sport, and border war, played their parts with admirable fidelity to nature. Sometimes the French saw a number of bears issuing from the forest which clothed the bank, and walking sluggishly over the narrow margin of sand that fringed the river; and sometimes a herd of deer was seen, half disclosed among the bushes, as if reclining in the shade, and gazing upon the placid stream. The ardent Frenchmen, un-suspicious of danger, would cross the river hastily in pursuit of the . supposed game, and fall into an ambuscade prepared by the Chickasaws. The Shawanoes heard of several massacres which occurred in this manner, and determined to avenge their friends. A war-party proceeded secretly to the neighborhood of the fort, and waited for the appearance of the counterfeit game, which they knew could not impose upon them, however it had deceived the Europeans. It was not long before the trick, which had often proved successful, was again attempted; the mimic animals appeared upon the shore; the French soldiers, apprised of the plan of their allies, busied themselves in preparing a boat as if to cross the river, while the Shawanoes having made a circuit through the woods, and passed the river at a distant point, threw themselves into the rear of the enemy. The Chickasaws were surprised and defeated with great loss. On such expeditions, the medicine bag, supposed to possess supernatural virtues, is carried, during the march from home, by the leader of the enterprise, whose station is in the van of the party; but on the return, this mysterious bag is borne by the warrior who has acquired the greatest distinction during that expedition, or, in some cases, by him who killed the first enemy, and the person thus honored marches foremost. The young Kishkalwa, on this occasion, returned in the proud station of bearer of the medicine bag.

Another adventure occurred a year or two afterwards, the recital of which will serve to throw some light, as well on the character of Kishkalwa as on the peculiarities of the Indian. The beautiful and fertile country, which now forms the State of Kentucky, was not, previous to its occupation by the whites, inhabited by any tribe of Indians, but was a common hunting-ground and battle-field for the various surrounding tribes, whose fierce conflicts gave to this lovely region the name of “the dark and bloody ground.” The Indian who ventured among those forests, was prepared alike for the chase and for war. The daring spirit of the young Kishkalwa led him into Kentucky, to hunt the buffalo, then abundant on the southern shore of the Ohio; but before he had succeeded in getting any game, he was discovered and pursued by a party of hostile Indians. Being alone, resistance would have been unavailing, and his only hope of escape was in flight. While running with great speed through the woods, a vestment, which constituted his only article of clothing, became entangled in the bushes, and was torn off : but as the pursuit was very hot, he had not time to recover it. Having reached the river opposite Fort Massac, he tied his gun to his head with his long hair and swam across. Among the Shawanoes it is highly disreputable in a warrior to throw away his arms or clothing, when in flight from an enemy, as the act indicates cowardice, and supplies a trophy to the pursuer. “None,” they say, “but an Osage, will thus disencumber himself, that he may run the faster from his foes.” When Kishkalwa, therefore, arrived in safety among his friends, who had seen his pursuers following him to the water’s edge, they no sooner noticed the absence of the garment, than a number of jokes were passed at his expense. He explained the manner of the loss, and the urgency of the case, but his companions, perceiving that he was annoyed, affected not to be satisfied, and deplored with mock gravity, that so fine a young man should be so destitute of activity as to be obliged to throw away his clothes in order to outrun his enemies.

As the accusation implied a want of courage, Kishkalwa said that he would show that he was no coward. Accordingly he set off, a few days afterwards, alone, in search of some enemy on whom he could prove his prowess. In the forest of Kentucky, late in the night, he discovered a fire, by which slept two Indians, who were easily distinguished as belonging to a hostile tribe. He approached near to them with a stealthy tread, then, crouching like the panther, waited, according to the custom of the Indian, until the first indications of the approaching dawn of day, when, taking a deliberate aim, he shot one of his foemen, and rushing upon the other, dispatched him instantly with the tomahawk. This exploit gained him great credit : although it would seem characterized only by the lowest species of cunning, and to be destitute of all the higher attributes of warfare, it was, according to the notions of the savage, not only in exceedingly good taste, but a fine specimen of courage and military talent; for the Indian awards the highest honor to the success which is gained at the least expense, and considers every stratagem meritorious which leads to the desired result. Still his companions continued to jeer him upon the loss of a garment in the former adventure. Nettled by these jokes, and determined to retrieve his reputation, he secretly raised a party of four or five young men, whom he led on another expedition. They were successful, and returned with seventeen scalps.

Those who imagine that the apparent apathy of the Indian character indicates the entire absence of a propensity for mirth, will be surprised to learn that the remarkable success which attended the arms of Kishkalwa, failed to blunt the point of that unhappy jest, which had become a source of serious inconvenience to this great warrior. The pertinacity with which his companions continued to allude to this subject, evinces, on their part, a strong perception of the ludicrous, and a relish for coarse raillery, which balanced even their decided admiration of warlike qualities, while the extreme sensitiveness of Kishkalwa shows how highly the Indian prizes his honor. Successful as lie had been, he conceived it necessary that the blood of his enemies should continue to flow, to blot out a stain affixed upon him in the mere wantonness of boisterous humor. He now took the field in a more imposing manner; and having raised a party of twenty-five warriors, went forth in pursuit of the enemies of his tribe, traveling only in the night, and lying in ambush during the day. They proceeded down the southern shore of the Ohio and Mississippi, until they reached the Iron Banks, near which they came upon an encampment of hostile Indians, consisting of one hundred and fifty men, women, and children. Kishkalwa halted his party, and having reconnoitered the enemy, directed the mode of attack. His men were so stationed as to surround the camp, and remained concealed until the dawn of day, when, at a signal given, the dreadful war-whoop was uttered by the whole in concert, and the assailants rushed in. The astonished enemy believing themselves hemmed in by superior numbers, fled in every direction; thirty-three men were killed, and seventeen women and children taken prisoners. Kishkalwa returned in triumph with his captives and the scalps of the slain. On his arrival, many of the tribe who had lost their relatives in battle, clamorously demanded vengeance upon the prisoners; but Kishkalwa declared that not a drop of their blood should be spilt. He consented to the adoption of the captives into the families of those who had been killed in battle, and successfully protected these unfortunates from injury. Among them was a beautiful young woman, whom Kishkalwa presented to the chief, to be his wife, on condition that orders should be given, prohibiting the repetition of the jest which had so long galled his pride. The proclamation was accordingly made, in the manner in which all public acts are announced in the Indian villages, by a crier, who passed about, declaring, in a loud voice, that Kishkalwa having proved that he could not have thrown away his clothes out of fear, no one was permitted thereafter to repeat or allude to that event. The reader will decide, whether this warrior’s success, or his judicious present to the chief, contributed most to relieve him from so annoying a dilemma.

Whatever might have been the effect upon his private character, or social intercourse, these successful expeditions, in which not a single life had been lost, established the reputation of Kishkalwa as a brave, skilful, and fortunate warrior, and he was soon after raised to the dignity of principal brave, or war chief. It may be proper to remark here, that, in his old age, nothing so vexed the old chief as an allusion to the story which distressed him so much in his youth, and that, although more than half a century has passed since the occurrence, it would not be safe in any but an intimate-friend to mention it in his presence.

This chief took part in the great battle at Point Pleasant, between the Virginians under General Lewis, and a large Indian force, consisting of Shawanoes, Delawares, Mingo, and other tribes; but, unwilling to be again embroiled with the Americans, towards whom he was well disposed, or to take any part in the contest which was about to be commenced between Great Britain and her colonies, he removed with a part of the tribe, called the Sawekela band, to the south, in 1774, and settled among the Creeks. This band returned again to the shores of the Ohio, in 1790, but took no part in the war of 1794, nor in that of 1812, nor has this portion of the tribe ever been engaged against the Americans, since the decisive battle of Point Pleasant.

During the last war, a part of the Sauk and Fox nations, who had been in the habit of trading with the British, were removed from Illinois to the interior of Missouri, at their own request, that they might not be within the reach of British influence. But rest less by nature, unable to remain neutral in time of war, and receiving no encouragement to join the Americans, who from principle declined employing the savages, they took up the hatchet against us, and after committing some depredations, fled to Canada. The alarm created by these hostilities, in which the Wea and Piankeshaw were believed to participate, induced the Governor of Missouri Territory to call out the militia, and to request the assistance of the Shawanoe and Delaware Indians. A party of sixty-six warriors was accordingly raised by Kishkalwa, and the other chiefs, and placed under the command of General Dodge.

The Sauk and Foxes having fled before the arrival of the militia, a small fort was surrounded in which it was supposed that the Wea and Piankeshaw were concealed; but in the morning it was found that they too had retreated. They were pursued, overtaken, and made prisoners. The object of General Dodge, in their capture, was to protect and riot to injure them. The inhabitants of the frontier are at all times quick to take umbrage at any supposed hostility on the part of the Indians, against whom they have long been accustomed to entertain a mingled feeling of fear and hatred; and believing that the party now in their power, had been equally as guilty as the Sauk and Foxes, the militia were excited to such a state of indignation, that they could with difficulty be restrained from the perpetration of what they supposed to be a just revenge. General Dodge, with a decision that did him honor as a man and a soldier, immediately placed the captives under the protection of a disciplined volunteer company from St. Louis, and of the Indians under Kishkalwa. This resolute conduct had the desired effect; and no further molestation was offered to the unfortunate prisoners, who were trembling with dread. We have the testimony of a gentleman who was himself a volunteer in this expedition, that a finer set of men was seldom seen than the band of Shawanoes and Delaware, to which this anecdote has reference, and that their whole conduct during this campaign was most orderly, decorous, and proper.

Disappointed in the desired objects of their vengeance, the militia set fire to the fort, which had been abandoned by the Wea and Piankeshaw, and gave vent to the wantonness of their excited feelings, by shooting a few dogs of the Indians, that lingered about the premises. One of these faithful creatures was caught by a soldier, who so far forgot himself in the fury of the moment, as to throw the animal into the fire from which he escaped, howling with pain. Some of the bystanders laughed; but Kishkalwa, perceiving that an Indian boy joined in the merriment, instantly checked him, and explained in a few words the impropriety of making sport of the miseries of a helpless brute.

The last military adventure in which Kishkalwa engaged, was in a war undertaken by the Cherokees, Delawares, and Shawanoes, against the Osages, in 1818. In a battle which was fought, and which resulted in the defeat of the Osages, this chief is represented as having displayed his usual bravery and prudence, although he must then have been burdened by the weight of upwards of eighty years. In attacking their enemies, it is customary with the Osages to rush to the onset with great impetuosity, uttering the savage yell with deafening concert and endeavoring to win the battle by the terrors attending the first blow; but failing in this object, they usually abandon the contest. All the Indian tribes, indeed, act upon this system, to a greater or less extent, seeking victory by cunning rather than force, and avoiding the hazard of a battle which must be contested upon equal terms. Kishkalwa, aware of this trait in the character of his race, and knowing that the Osages pursued this mode of warfare more invariably than his own followers, exhorted them to stand firmly, and resist the first attack: “Do not heed their shouts,” said he; “they are but the yells of cowardly wolves, who, as soon as they come near enough to look you in the eye, will flee; while if you turn your backs on them, they will devour you.” This counsel evinced the sagacity of one who had observed human nature, and could adapt his own measures to the circumstances in which he was placed. The result verified his prediction. The Osages, twice as numerous as the party of Kishkalwa, rushed to the attack with their usual impetuosity, and with loud shouts; but failing in making an impression in the first onset, recoiled before the steady firmness of their opponents, and fled in confusion, suffering great loss in killed and prisoners.

Kishkalwa visited Washington in 1825, as one of a delegation of chiefs, accompanied by Colonel Menard, a highly respectable agent of the Indian Department, to whom we are indebted for the details included in the foregoing biographical sketch.

We have said that this chief was the brother of Black Hoof; but we are not certain that they might not have been cousins-german, as the term brother is applied among the Indians to this degree of relationship.

Biography, Shawnee,

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872.

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