A Short Taste of Chapter 3

Here is a small snippet from chapter 3 of my thesis [rough draft].  This part deals with the “Winnebago War” of 1827.


Resisting the cries of frontiersmen for violent retribution, Atkinson showed incredible restraint and attempted to convince the Winnebago tribe to surrender the accused murderers through fear. The Winnebago, hopelessly outgunned and intimidated by the well dressed and numerically superior military, surrendered the murderers.[1] For his actions, Atkinson was celebrated in the press.

            We understand that Gen. Atkinson, after the Indians had refused to treat with Governor Cass, made a prompt movement up the Ouisconsin river, into the heart of the Winnebago country, and accomplished, without the effusion of blood, all the objects of the expedition. The Indians, filled with consternation at the sudden appearance of such a force, surrendered the principal aggressors in the late massacres, and agreed in written articles that the miners might continue their operations without molestation until a new boundary should be fixed under the authority of the United States. We understand further that the spirit of the Indians is entirely subdued and that permanent peace may be counted upon. The prompt appearance of such an imposing force has answered all the purposes of chastisement. Not only the Winnebagoes [sic], but other tribes on the Upper Mississippi which had shown symptoms of hostility, are awed into good behaviour; and in this happy and bloodless termination of the expedition we have a gratifying proof that the confidence which we expressed in the sound discretion of Gen. Atkinson has not been misplaced. To him, his officers and whole detachment, the thanks of the country are due, for the prompt suppression of a hostile spirit which might have led to general Indian war. No blood has been shed, and the guilt are in our hands, confined at Prairie du Chien, to await the operation of the laws. How much more consolatory this result than victory itself over these infatuated and deluded beings.[2]

The author of this article, which originally appeared in the Missouri Observer before being reprinted across the country, put considerable emphasis on the Atkinson’s restraint through intimidation. He/she celebrated the avoidance of war and held the military in high esteem, while presenting the Natives in an unflattering light. President John Quincy Adams shared some of the proclamations of Atkinson’s heroism, but placed predominant emphasis on the issues of law, stating that,

with a corps of seven hundred men of United States’ troops, under the command of General Atkinson, who, at the call of Governor Cass, immediately repaired to the scene of danger from their station at St. Louis. Their presence dispelled the alarms of our fellow-citizens on those borders, and overawed the hostile purposes of the Indians, The perpetrators of the murders were surrendered to the authority and operation of our laws; and every appearance of purposed hostility from those Indians has subsided.[3]

What the media and Presidential commentary demonstrates is the primary mission of the military on the frontier. Watson refers to this mission as upholding “the sovereign Pax Americana asserted by treaty and national law…to intimidate those on all sides who might break the peace, and to coerce them if they did.” In short, the military’s job was to maintain peace.[4] This job relied on an element of restraint, something that citizen-soldiers, or militia and volunteer forces, often lacked. Their successes relied on the unconventional “First Way of War,” in which an escalation of violence towards combatants and non-combatants achieved victory. In order to avoid long wars, the government wanted to avoid such violence. The regular army’s subordination to democratic control proved effective for that policy. The officer corps of the regular army rarely waged large scale war in the years between the two Seminole wars; instead they relied on intimidation and deterrence. Successes such as the wrongly named Winnebago “War,” helped vindicate that stance.[5]

[1] Wooster, 75-76.

[2] “St. Louis, Missouri,” N.Y. American, (New York, New York), October 29, 1827.

[3] Journal of the House of Representatives, Vol. 21, 19.

[4] Watson, Peacekeepers and Conquerors, 6.

[5] Ibid, 10.

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