Winding up the War

In a country as vast as the United States, with no radio, telephone, telegraph, much less television, it took time after the treaty of peace for the British and the United States’ troops to agree upon where they should be, especially on the Western frontier.  The following is correspondence concerning the fort at Prairie du Chien, which was in the possession of British troops at the end of the War of 1812.  First comes an introduction by an unknown explaining how the letter from Captain Bulger at Prairie du Chien got to Governor Clark at St. Louis:

The following letters were received by governor Clark, on Wednesday last.  It appears that Messrs. Turcot and L_______ [indecipherable] (who were employed by the  U. S. commissioners to proceed to Rock river and announce to the Indians the object of the treaty to be held at Portage des Sioux) were fortunate in reaching Little Mascontille, some distance below their place of destination, without any accident.  At this place they met with a party of Fox Indians, bearing letters from the British commandant of Prairie du Chien to governor Clark, who informed them of the departure of captain Duncan Graham, deputy scalping master general, * from Rock river, after bestowing on his worthy comrades the Sacks, 10 barrels of gun powder and 20 fusees, as a reward for their services in butchering the helpless women and children on the frontiers.

As usual, the Sacks received the news of peace ‘with unbounded joy,’ and even sent a British flag to protect our messengers on their return.  They acknowledge they had 200 warriors on the frontiers, and that one of their parties had been defeated, but could not tell the number of their killed and wounded.  They said they would attend the treaty and bury the tomahawk.”


*I put this officer’s name and titles in full, in order that I may not be called to an account for a breach of etiquette or disrespect!!!

Here follows  the letter from A. Bulger, Captain, Royal N. F. regt. commanding a detachment of H. B. M. troops on the Mississippi, dated Fort M’Kay, Prairie du Chien, May 23, 1815, to Governor Clark:

“I have now to acknowledge the receipt of the two dispatches sent me some time ago, viz. one from his excellency governor Clark, the other from colonel Russell; answers to which it was not in my power to get conveyed to St. Louis, without imminent hazard to the person carrying the same.

The official intelligence of peace reached me only yesterday, upon which I adopted the most prudent and decided measures to stop further hostilities of the Indians.  I most ardently hope and strongly believe, that the steps I have taken will be attended with the good effects which the British government as well as that of the United States are so anxious for.

I propose evacuating this post to-morrow, taking with me the guns, &c. captured in the fort, in order that the same may be delivered up at Mackinaw, to such officer as the United States may appoint to receive that place.  My instructions were to send them down the Mississippi to St. Louis, if it could be done without hazard to the party conveying them.

My motive in immediately withdrawing from this post will be best explained by the enclosed extract from the instructions of lieut. col. M’Donald, commanding at Michilimackinac.  I have not the smallest hesitation in declaring my decided opinion that the presence of a detachment of British and United States troops at the same time, at fort M’Kay, would be the means of embroiling either one party or other in a fresh rupture with the Indians, which I presume it is the wish of both governments to avoid.

Should the measures which I have adopted prove in the smallest degree contrary to the spirit and intent of the treaty of peace, I beg that it may not be considered by the government of the United States as proceeding from any other motive than a desire of avoiding any further trouble or contention with the Indians, and of promoting the harmony and good understanding so recently restored between the two governments.

I have the honor to be your most obedient servant, A. BULGER, Captain”

Following this are two instructions of lieut. col. M’Donald, referred to by Captain Bulger, dated Mackinaw, May 5, 1815.  The second one is the most pertinent:

“2.  Should it appear to you distinctly and unequivocally evident that in attempting to put the American troops in possession of fort M’Kay, or retaining it for that purpose, that the safety of yourself and garrison is thereby hazarded, and that no doubt remains on your mind that it would be resisted on the part of the Indians, and also highly endanger the safety of the said detachment of U. States troops, and have a tendency to renew hostilities between them and the Indians, the unavoidable necessity of the case will compel you to destroy the fort and withdraw the garrison, &c. as before stated.”

The four paragraphs that follow were written by an unknown, possibly the same writer that composed the introductory paragraph.  They give further details of the British demolition of Fort M’Kay.

“Four Sioux Indians and a squaw arrived here on Thursday last from Prairie du Chien, among whom is the one eyed Sioux, who came down in the gun boat from the Prairie last year, and who distinguished himself so gallantly when that boat  was attacked by British artillery and a host of Indians.

This Sioux and another of his tribe left this place last autumn with Manuel Lisa, esq. and ascended the Missouri to the river Jacque, from whence he traveled across the country to Prairie du Chien.  On his arrival there, Dickson asked him where he came from and what his business was at that place, rudely pulling his bundle off his back and examining it for letters.  The Sioux told him he was from St. Louis, and had promised the white chiefs there he would go to Prairie du Chien, and that he had now performed his promise.  Dickson had this Indian taken to the fort for examination, threatening him with death, &c. but the faithful fellow would give him no information, and said he was ready for death if they chose to kill him.  He was then thrown into a dungeon and confined there a considerable time, but finding him obstinate, they liberated him, and sent him from that place.

This trusty Indian set out in the depth of winter on his mission, and visited the different tribes of the Sioux nations, and arrived again at Prairie du Chien, found Dickson had gone to Mackinaw at the opening of the navigation.  He says he remained there some time, witnessed the evacuation of the fort by the British, who left behind them the cannon, but returned a night or two afterwards and took the guns away and fired the fort.  This brave fellow went into the fort and brought off the American flag and a medal.

He says, all the people have left the Prairie except two families; that all the provisions were carried off by the British for the use of their men.  He called at the Sack village, at the mouth of Rock river, and was told they lost 6 Sacks and one Ioway killed, and 8 wounded, in the affair near fort Howard, with the late capt. Craig.  He says he is now content, having performed a pledge he made to governor Clark.”

The last pertinent letter is from Col. W. Russell, St. Louis,  June 15[?], 1815 to General Daniel Bissell, United States army, St. Louis.  In this letter, Col. Russell turns the command “of all the forces under my command within the territories of Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri.”  Following this letter,  appears a comment, possibly written, not by Russell, but by the unknown who composed  the introductory paragraph and the ones concerning the one-eyed Sioux:  “The troops bound to Prairie du Chien are expected here every day.  Gen. Bissell has already arrived and taken command.  All the officers who have commanded here are deranged!!!” [ I wish we knew who the unknown author was.]

–All the accounts above appeared in the July 19, 1815 issue of the Aurora

“Confirmation of the destruction of Fort M’Kay came from members of the United States army who took over the Fort at Michilimackinac on July 13.  They were informed by the British officers, “that the fort and public buildings at Prairie du Chien, had been evacuated some time since–that the British commanding officer, when two days march from the place, was met by an express; that he returned, and in obedience to his orders, burnt the buildings and entirely destroyed the works, although they had been fully informed of the terms of the treaty.”  –Aurora, August 21, 1815


About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden