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forced the commander of the fort to surrender, hauled down the British flag and raised the stars and stripes, and Vincennes became an American fort. Colonel Clark went back to Kentucky, leaving only two men in charge of the fort, and thinking that he had won the Northwest for the Americans very easily.
He might have known what he soon found out, that the British would not let themselves be driven out of the country in this easy fashion. When Colonel Hamilton, the English commander at Detroit, heard of what Clark had done, he led his men down to Vincennes and easily took back the fort with its garrison of two. He proposed the next spring to recapture Kaskaskia and then march south and drive the American settlers out of Kentucky. Such was the disturbing news that reached Colonel Clark that winter.
The tidings gave him great concern. He was in danger of losing all he had won. And this Colonel Hamilton was said to be the man who hired the Indians to murder the American settlers, so if he were left alone the dreadful work of the savages would go on worse than before. Something must be done quickly or it might be too late to do anything at all.
But the task before the bold Colonel Clark was far worse than before. The winter was nearly over when the news reached him, and with it came the tidings that the Wabash River had risen and overflowed its banks and the country for hundreds of square miles was under water. Vincennes lay in the centre of a great shallow lake of chilly water and could only be reached by miles of wading. But Clark had to act quickly if he was to act at all. Hamilton had only eighty men with him and it was easy to raise twice that many against him. Now was the time to strike, before he could be reinforced from Canada.
Clark had no money to pay his men, but a merchant of St. Louis offered to lend him all he needed, so he got together his company of hardy Kentuckians and set out on his long and difficult journey. As the sturdy fellows, dressed in hunting garb and carrying their trusty rifles, trudged onward through wet woods and over soaking prairies, the heavens poured down rain day after day, and they had to dry and warm themselves every night by blazing bivouac fires.
When they reached the “ drowned lands" of the Wabash it was still worse. Water spread everywhere and only by wading through this great lake could the fort be reached. There were miles of it to cross, now ankle-deep, now knee-deep, and in places waistdeep. And shivering water it was, for the freezing chill of winter had barely passed. No doubt there were faint hearts among them, but Colonel Clark led the way and his men followed, for they had confidence in his courage and ability. For nearly a week they trudged dismally onward, finding here and there islands of dry land to rest their limbs on by day or to build fires upon at night. Game was very scarce and their food ran short, so that for two days they had to go hungry.
At the mouth of White River, where it enters the Wabash, they met Captain Rogers, who had been sent with forty men and two small cannon up stream to that point. Here they joined company, dragging or rowing the boat through the overflow. They had still the worst of their journey to make, for around the fort lay a lake of water four miles wide and deeper
than any they had passed. Some of the men hesitated, but Colonel Clark sternly bade them to go on.
“Yonder lies the fort,” he said. “We have come too far to turn back. Follow me.” He plunged into the cold water, telling one of his officers to shoot any man who refused to follow. His example and threat were enough; they all plunged in.
The tramp before them was a frightful one. Much of the water reached to their waists. Some of it came to their necks. Yet they trudged resolutely on, holding their guns and powder above their heads to keep them dry. When dry land at length was reached some of the men were so worn out that they fell to the ground, and had to be raised and made to run up and down on the land till animation was restored.
A night's rest was here taken and the next morning, February 19, 1779, they set out for the fort, crossing the river in a boat they found and soon coming near. Meeting a Frenchman, who stared at them as at men dropped from the skies, they sent him with a letter ta Colonel Hamilton, telling him that they had come to take the fort and that he had better surrender and save trouble.
The colonel was utterly astounded. Where had these men come from? That they had crossed those miles of icy water seemed impossible. But whoever they were, he had no notion of surrendering and sent back a defiance. Soon the fort was surrounded, Clark's two cannon were thundering at it, and the Kentucky sharpshooters were making havoc with their rifle balls. All day long and far into the night this work was kept up, the wooden stronghold being much the worse for the bombardment, and early the next morning Hamilton surrendered. He asked permission
to march back to Detroit, but this Clark refused, saying:
" I will not again leave it in your power to spirit up the Indian nations to scalp men, women and children.”
Such was the outcome of this wonderful adventure, one of the strangest in American annals. Colonel Hamilton's papers showed that Clark was right and that he had been stirring up the Indians to their dreadful work. Even while the fight was going on some of these red demons came up with the scalps of white men and women to receive their pay. They received it in the form of bullets from the furious Kentuckians. Hamilton and his officers were sent as prisoners to Virginia, where they were confined in fetters for their work of murder.
At the end of the war, which came a few years later, it was decided that all the land which each country then held should be theirs still. The English held Canada, and they would have held the great Northwest Territory if it had not been for George Rogers Clark. To him this country owes that splendid region, out of which several large States have since been made.
This was not the end of Colonel Clark's work. A strong force of Canadians and Indians afterwards invaded Kentucky, and Clark retaliated by leading a thousand men into the Ohio country and destroying one of the Indian towns. In December, 1780, he made plans for the capture of Detroit, but the invasion of Virginia by the British prevented him from carrying them out. He was however made a brigadier-general, and in 1782, after a battle with the Indians at the Blue
icks, Kentucky, he marched against the Indians of the Miami and the Scioto, destroying five of their towns.
In 1782 he took part in an expedition against the Indians on the Wabash and about 1794 he accepted from Genet, the French minister to the United States, a commission as major-general in the French army, to conduct an expedition against the Spanish settlements on the Mississippi. Nothing came of this, and in later years infirm health put an end to General Clark's activity. He continued to live in feebleness and poverty, dying in his sixty-sixth year near Louisville, Kentucky, February 13, 1818.