Cass at Sault Ste Marie 1820

Lewis Cass

Skirting the storm-battered shores and long-winding beaches of Lake Huron, the expedition, after a journey of more than three hundred miles, came to Mackinaw on June 6. A few days later they reached the Sault de Ste. Marie, where it was Cass's intent to obtain possession of a piece of ground formerly conveyed to the French, our right to which the Indians had acknowledged in various treaties.

The braves, evidently restless and out of humor, assembled to meet the Americans. Arrayed in their best attire, and many of them adorned with British medals, they seated themselves with even more than their wonted solemnity and dignity, and prepared to hear what Governor Cass desired. At first pretending not to know of any French grants, they finally intimated that our government might be permitted to occupy the place if we did not use it as a military station. The governor, preceiving that their independence and boldness verged on impudence and menace, answered decisively that as surely as the "rising sun would set, so surely would there be an American garrision sent to that point, whether they received the grant or not."

The excitement which had been ready to break forth now displayed itself. The chiefs disputed among themselves, some evidently counseling moderation, others favoring hostilities. A tall and stately-looking chieftain, dressed in a British uniform with epaulets, lost patience with moderation and delay. Striking his spear into the ground, he drew it forth again, and, kicking away the presents that lay scattered about, strode in high dudgeon out of the assembly. The Indian camp was on a small hill a few hundred yards from that of the Americans. The dissatisfied chiefs went directly to their lodges, and in a moment a British flag was flying in the very faces of the little company of white men. The soldiers were at once ordered under arms. Every one expected an immediate attack, for the Indians, greatly outnumbering the Americans, had not disguised their insolence and contempt.

In an instant Governor Cass took his resolution. Rejecting the offers of those who volunteered to accompany him, with no weapon in his hands and only his interpreter beside him, he walked straight to the middle of the Indian camp, tore down the British flag, and trampled it under his feet. Then addressing the astonished and even panic-stricken braves, he warned them that two flags of different nations could not fly over the same territory, and should they raise any but the American flag, the United States would put its strong foot upon them and crush them. He then turned upon his heel and walked back to his own tent, carrying the British ensign with him.

An hour of indecision among the Indians ensued. Their camp was quickly cleared of women and children, an indication that a battle was in immediate prospect. The Americans, looking to their guns, listened for the war-whoop and awaited attack. But the intrepidity of Governor Cass had struck the Indians with amazement. It showed a rare knowledge of Indian character, of which his own companions had not dreamed. Subdued by the boldness and decision of this action, the hostile chiefs forgot their swaggering confidence, and in a few hours signed the treaty which had been offered them.


Lewis Cass by Andrew C. McLaughlin, pages 118-120
Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1899