Grand Sachem   2 comments

What historical event would you have liked to witness?

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Wow, that’s a great question. As a history geek, it might be easier to ask what historical event I would NOT want to witness – which would be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I’ll stick with the movie version, thank you. That said, if they ever invent a time travel device, I’d take a grand tour of history and probably not come back.

Image result for image of tarheBut … honestly … I guess I have to narrow it to ONE event ….

I’m going to assume I’m a fly on the wall …. Following the prime directive of time travel, I don’t get to interfere in the event because space-time continuum pollution is a BAD thing.

Rather than a single event, I would like to follow a person and a series of events in his life. Sachem Tarhe is probably the most famous Wyandot Indian in history — a war-leader with a gift for diplomacy – variously known as  Tarhee, Tarkee, Takee, the Crane or – by the French – as Le Grue, Le Chef Grue, or Monsieur Grue.

Born near Detroit to a woman of the Porcupine Clan, Tarhe’s name might mean “tree”, which makes sense since he was 6 ft 4 in a day and age when six foot was considered tall. The name is now pronounced Tar-hee, but the earlier writers indicated that the accent was on the second syllable (so Tar-Hay). Tarhe was a warrior who served in most if not all of his nation’s battles, possibly even the Braddock fight when he would have been 13 or 14 years old. It’s known he was at Dunmore’s War and conspicuous at the Battle of Point Pleasant. He was a contemporary with Tecumseh, but they often disagreed sharply, especially on the need for peace with the white settlers and the value of negotiation.

The Wyandots were prominent in the defeat of Braddock in 1755. A Huron/Wendat from Lorette, Quebec, commanded all of the Indians in the battle. Although there was French support, it was truly an Indian victory. A contingent of Ottawa warriors led by Chief Pontiac were at Braddock’s defeat. Tarhe supported Pontiac at Detroit eight years later, so it would be interesting to know if the older man noticed the young Wyandot at that early age.

Pontiac depended heavily on the Wyandots in 1763. The chieftain whom Parkman refers to as “Takee” was almost certainly Tarhe. Another Wyandot, Teata, went along (with some reluctance), but his group of Wyandots never exhibited the enthusiasm of Tarhe’s followers.

Historians identify the Wyandots (also known as Wyndake) as the premier warriors of the Midwest and victories at the Battle of Bloody Bridge, Fort Sandusky, Presque Isle and elsewhere could hardly have been won without the Wyandots’ contribution. By 1763, when barely 20 years of age, Tarhe was regarded as a leading warrior.

Tarhe became Sachem – a war leader, but he never became chief, which carried the title of Ron-Tun-Dee, or Warpole. Although regarded as a very brave man, Tarhe was not considered a truly great warrior by his own tribe. The Wyandots loved and respected him but they believed Round Head, Zhaus-Sho-Toh, Khun, Splitlog and others to be superior warriors. In a nation of warriors excellence was commonplace.

The Grand Sachem was the titular head of the warriors of the Wyandot nation (women were the chiefs of non-war matters … including land distribution, which is why when whites negotiated with the sachems, the agreements were not wholly binding under Indian tradition). Truly great war chiefs (Grand Sachem) held the title of Sastaretsi. Wyandots didn’t have royalty, but the title of Sastaretsi was in actual practice often inherited. developing a hereditary line of chiefs. If Sastaretsi died without a suitable heir, the tribal council (controlled by the women) selected a successor.

Such an occasion arose in 1788 when Too-Dah-Reh-Zhooh died. he was better known by his many other names, such as Half-King, Pomoacan, Dunquad, Daunghuat and Petawontakas.

Tarhe was chosen to be the successor of Too-Doh-Reh-Zhooh. There is no record of any other member of the Porcupine Clan having become Sastaretsi up until that time. Sachems had always come from the Deer, Bear and Turtle clans. Tarhe, a Porcupine, had exhibited unique abilities as war leader and was selected by general consensus to guide the Wyandots in the desperate days as the new American military sought to gain control of the old Northwest Territory that included Ohio and parts of Michigan. Although he assumed the duties and powers of Grand Sachem, it is not believed that Tarhe ever assumed the title Sastaretsi.

And, I’d like to know why. Tribal legend says he was a fairly humble  man, so perhaps it was a personal choice. Some folks assume it was clan bigotry, but he was given all the power of Sastaretsi which puts the lie to bigotry. So why didn’t he assume the title?

Tarhe had already gained the respect of the various tribes and of the French, British and Americans long before this time. In 1786, Tarhe and his son-in-law, Isaac Zane, were listed among the witnesses to a United States treaty-signing with the Shawnee. Zane was a captive white raised in Wendat culture. He was later reunited with his white family, but chose to return to the Wyandots. He later married Tarhe’s daughter and served as Tarhe’s primary interpreter.

Tarhe became Grand Sachem in 1788, a critical time when the American government sent Arthur St. Clair into the Ohio Territory to reestablish peace (and pave the way for the founding of Marietta, Ohio, which was being built as Adelphia (brotherhood) at that time). St. Clair had been instructed to offer back to the tribes some lands north of the Ohio River and east of the Muskingum River in exchange for disputed territory where settlers already were. St. Clair defied orders and instead threatened the tribes with attack and then bribed several pliable chiefs into a one-sided agreement called the Treaty of Fort Harmar on January 9, 1789.

 

I’d love to be a fly on the wall in 1788 to see what transpired … to actually know rather than just surmise why Tarhe agreed to this devil’s deal. Was it because he was brand-new as Grand Sachem? Some historians believe the women tribal leaders might have instructed their freshly selected Grand Sachem to sue for peace at any cost. Did his interpreter not explain the negotiations properly? I kind of doubt that because Isaac Zane was a tribal member whose sympathies lie with the Wyandot and by all accounts he spoke English and Wendat fluently.

In later years, Tarhe helped negotiate many treaties as Grand Sachem, attempting to hold his tribe together, serve the other tribes in the area and relinquish each parcel of land only after the pressures had become unbearable. It makes no sense that he’d agreed to the Treaty of Muskogum as a successful and intelligent war chief only two years before, but then he’d agree to accept the Treaty of Harmar which completely contradicted that earlier treaty. After the Harmar treaty broke down, he personally led the fights against Clark, Bouquet, Harmar, St. Clair and Wayne. Although Tarhe was eventually defeated, both his enemies and his friends knew he was dedicated first and last to the welfare of his people.

So what happened in 1788 that he didn’t defend his people’s’s interests? There are legends that claim Tarhe chose not to accept the “gifts” St. Clair offered.  There’s the theories about the women and his interpreter. I never heard one in which people accused Tahre of being greedy, though it is said of other war leaders who signed the treaty. I’m not sure which of these I believe and I’d rather know for certain. This man is a hero of my tribe. Did he deserve that honor? I wish I knew.

The last battle Tarhe fought in personally was Fallen Timbers in 1794. The Indian alliance in the Ohio region was tattered by that time and Fallen Timbers was a devastating defeat for them. The only tribe to fight with distinction was the Wyandots. Pinned down near the river, they suffered heavy casualties — of the 13 chiefs who entered the battle, only Tarhe survived and he was severely wounded.

Most Indians realized their cause was lost after Fallen Timbers. The British had promised to support them if they attacked the American settlers and then failed to do so and the tribes could no longer assemble a force capable of opposing Wayne. Almost all of the Indian leaders in the Midwest responded and pledged peace at Greenville in July 1795. A notable exception was Tecumseh. At this great assemblage of Indians who met with Wayne, the acknowledged leader of the Indians was Tarhe, and a principal interpreter was Isaac Zane, his son-in-law.

During the lengthy negotiations Tarhe made several speeches. The following example of his eloquence gives some measure of his intellect:

“Elder brother! Now listen to us. The Great Spirit above has appointed this day for us to meet together. I shall now deliver my sentiments to you, the fifteen fires. I view you, lying in a gore of blood. It is me, an Indian who caused it. Our tomahawk yet remains in your head- the English gave it to me to place there.

Elder brother! I now take the tomahawk out of your head; but with so much care you shall not feel pain or injury. I will now tear a big tree up by the roots and throw the hatchet into the cavity which they occupy; where the waters will wash it away to where it can never be found. Now, I have buried the hatchet, and I expect that none of my color will ever again find it out. I now tell you that none in particular can justly claim this ground- it belongs in common to all. No earthly being has an exclusive right to it.

Brothers, the fifteen fires, listen! You now see that we have buried the hatchet. We still see blood around, and in order to clear away all grief, we now wipe away the blood from around you, which together with the dirt that comes away from it, we bury with the hatchet in the hole we have made for them, and replace the great tree, as it stood before, so that neither our children, nor our children’s children can ever again discover it.

 

Brother! We speak not from our lips, but from our hearts, when we are resolved upon good works. I always told you that I never intended to deceive you, when we entered upon this business. It was never the intention of us Indians to do so. I speak from my heart what I now say to you. The Great Spirit is now viewing us, and did he discover any baseness or treachery, it would excite his just anger against us.”

 

Echoes of Liberty (The Clarion Call Book 2) by [Walsh, Richard, Andersen, Diane, Brumley, Bokerah, Knowles, Joseph, Markham, Lela, Chiavari, Lyssa, Biedermann, Heather, Schulz, Cara, Johnson, Mark, Mickel, Calvin]Chief Tarhe died in November 1816, at Cranetown near Upper Sandusky Ohio. The funeral for this 76 year old man was the largest ever known for an Indian Chief. Among the Indians coming from great distances was Red Jacket, the noted leader and orator from Buffalo, New York. The mourners wore no paint or decorations of any kind and their countenance showed the deepest sorrow.

By the way, I have been so fascinated by this question that when asked to write an alternative historical fiction short story with libertarian influences, I chose to focus on what the Treaty of Harmar could have been if only someone had had the vision … and the US Constitution had not been ratified. “A Bridge at Adelphia” can be found in Echoes of Liberty, a project of the Agorist Writers Workshop, which comes out with an new anthology this fall … and, yes, I have another story in it, a modern Alaskan take on the fable “The Mouse and the Lion”.

And now that I think about it, it is really sad that the prime directive of time travel is don’t interfere because I would love to see what America would have become if Europeans had assimilated to American Indian culture rather than just flooded in and took over. I suspect we’d be different and, hopefully, better, retaining both elements of our combined culture.

2 responses to “Grand Sachem

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  1. How interesting – I’ve learned all about Tarhe from reading your blog. Thanks Lela!

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    • Yeah, he sounds like a really cool guy – didn’t drink alcohol. Another name for the tribe back in those days was Petun (for tobacco), but he didn’t smoke … he’d waft the smoke from the peace pipe without imbibing. Both his wives (and he didn’t have two at a time) were captive white women … but not captive by him. He was a legendary warrior, but even white men considered him a diplomat. So, I think he’d be a really interesting character to follow in history just because he seems so multi-layered. He’d be a great character to write too.

      Liked by 1 person

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