His Name Is Everywhere,
His Memory Is Not
Let’s look at a man who stood out in a town of historic lions.
After reading the first two parts of this series on Logstown, you know it was not an ideal Indian village. It was a company town. You also know young George Washington was a land speculator who spent time there on business.
You don’t know a man sometimes called Montour.
The name is everywhere: Montour High School, Montour Creek, Montour Trail, Montour County, Montoursville, Montour Falls, NY.
With so many places named after him, he must have been a distinguished gentleman, a proper model citizen.
In fact, if they were to do a movie of him, perhaps only actor Johnny Depp could do him justice.
Andrew Montour was very much like the fictional rum-soaked ruffian Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribbean.
Yet, Montour was the only man trusted by both sides as European settlers savagely surged west, and indigenous peoples savagely pushed back. Savages all. Montour in the middle.
His grandparents had been Oneida, Seneca and French. He was fluent in English, French, and six Indian languages.
More importantly, when he was sober, he had the ability and the burden to communicate not what chiefs and governors said to each other, but what they meant. That’s not easy. That’s the difference between a translator and an interpreter. He was an interpreter.
Montour started his career working for European missionaries. Keep in mind that people in the 1700s and earlier didn’t prejudge people based on their race as readily as we do. They prejudged people based on their religion. Europeans saw pagan and Christian.
Traditionally, the people Europeans called Indians tried to stay attuned to countless spirits evident in the world around them. It never hurt to hear of another.
Eager to tell them of God and Jesus were missionaries from Moravia, the borderland of what is now Germany and the Czech Republic.
Missionary Journals Revealing
Diaries of Moravian missionaries indicate Montour may have developed his coping skills in a god-forsaken Susquehanna River town that was as wild as any pirate seaport.
Drinking, dancing, whoring and whooping went on day and night at Shamokin. Killing did, too.
It was a cosmopolitan village populated by refugees of many tribes, most speaking different language and dialects, during a time of particularly violent warring and raiding.
There is a city called Shamokin today, but this place was 15 miles to the west, where Sunbury sits today.
What did Montour look like? We get a description from the man in charge of the missionaries, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf.
“Andrew’s cast of countenance is decidedly European, and had not his face been encircled with a broad band of paint, applied with bear’s fat, I would have certainly taken him for one.
“He wore a broadcloth coat, a scarlet damasque lapel-waistcoat, breeches, over which his shirt hung, a black Cordovan neckerchief, decked with silver bangles, shoes and stockings, and a hat.
“His ears were hung with pendants of brass and other wires plaited together like the handle of a basket. He was very cordial, but on my addressing him in French, he, to my surprise, replied in English.”
The count hoped to get help preaching among tribes, so he went to the village of Madam Montour, as she called herself, the well-known interpreter.
It just so happened that her son stopped by at the same time. Andrew Montour was in his early 20s. His flashy appearance was not unusual. Male birds often are more about display than female birds. Traditionally, indigenous cultures follow nature. It was Montour’s merging of Old World and New World dress that surprised the count.
Ostonwakin, the town run by Madam Montour, was 35 miles from Shamokin. It was a haven for the Heaven-bound. Alcohol was banned.
Madam Montour was half Algonquin. Her father was born in France.
Working among frontiersmen, and being half French, she was known for style and beauty. Through a series of tribulations, she and her family became decidedly pro British and anti French. They had moved to Pennsylvania from French Canada.
Count Zinzendorf wanted to hire her. She recommended her confident young son.
The count and Montour then crisscrossed Pennsylvania, walking, walking, walking its paths. They operated out of Bethlehem, PA., the idyllic Christian community founded by Moravians.
Government Needed Him
Conrad Weiser, the main man dealing with Indians for the Pennsylvania and Virginia governments, eventually enlisted Montour’s help, as well.
It wasn’t just Montour’s language abilities. He was highly respected and trusted by tribes. They saw him as a courageous warrior. They saw his understanding of settlers and their languages as powerful medicine.
They didn’t call him by any of his many European names: such as Montour, or Andrew, or Andre or Henri. They called him Sattelihu, (Sah TELL a yoo), or sometimes Eghnisara (Eg nee sah RAH). Both were esteemed tribal names.
Sattelihu apparently had proven many times he was a calm, fearless warrior. That was very important.
But, he had a problem. Rum.
Swimming in Rum
Montour/Sattelihu was the walking embodiment of blended cultures. He tried for 25 years to bring that blend to the world around him. Ultimately, he failed. Miserably.
The Pennsylvania frontier may have been the most dangerous place on Earth. Rum made it worse,
Waves of rum engulfed and swept away his indigenous friends. Not that settlers were any more sober. But, they survived better.
Weiser spoke highly of Montour, but his drinking problems are noted in reports to the lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania.
“I must say something to you about Andrew M., not to ridicule him, but to inform you how to act with him.
“In the first place, when we met at John Harris’ (for whom Harrisburg would be named), he called for so much punch that himself, the Half King (Tanacharison, a Logstown chief) and other Indians got drunk; the same occurred at Tobias Hendricks’ (a Cumberland County settler). . .
Following a conference with Indian chiefs at Aughwick in Huntingdon County, Weiser said he tried in vain to get Montour to get up and get dressed so they could move on to their next diplomatic destination.
“I left him drunk at Aughwick. On one leg, he had a stocking and no shoe. On the other, a shoe and no stocking.”
Montour, as he often did, raced after Weiser after he sobered up. Presumably, he had gotten his shoes and socks onproperly. He begged for Weiser’s forgiveness.
Weiser, likewise, begged his bosses in Philadelphia to appreciate that Montour was invaluable — when sober.
Jack Sparrow’s struggle with rum and sobriety is evident in the following clip. Coincidentally, Sparrow’s mother was an Indian maiden.
Sometimes, a Great Hero
Montour, or perhaps his Sattelihu ego, could play the hero, though.
The following comes from a diary of Martin Mack, who with his wife, Anna, were in Shamokin stepping over and around drunks to talk about Jesus.
The missionaries had been staying in Montour’s tiny bark hut for seven weeks. Most of that time, Montour was away in Philadelphia, trying to reverse his impoverished state. Sound like Jack Sparrow?
Fortunately for the Macks, he was home the evening of Nov. 2, 1745. Oh, by the way, he had yet another name. The Moravians called him Anderius.
. . . In the evening, 12 Indians arrived here by water who are coming from Canada. They are going to war with the Cherokees. Anderius knows them, there was a friend of his among them. Anderius said these Indians had come from very far away. They came from over 400 miles further away than Onondago (Syracuse, N.Y.)
They looked very bloodthirsty. They camped near Anderius’ hut. They soon prepared the place to dance. They got an empty barrel of rum. Knocked the bottom out of it and made a drum out of it.
They began, according to their custom, to celebrate. They shouted and danced for nearly two hours, during which time the enemy [Satan], to whom we are a thorn in his eye, was very occupied and would have loved to get rid of us.
They soon got rum to drink and became so full of it that they behaved like wild animals. They were close to pulling down our hut.
Just after midnight, four of them came in here who looked terrifying and bloodthirsty.
Anderius was afraid that they wanted to do harm to us. He took them out of the hut, but an hour later another one came and acted like a madman, picked up a large brand from the fire and said he wanted to burn the white people.
Anderius quickly stood up and grabbed the brand out of his hands. He [the Indian] went for his flintlock. Anderius, however, also took that away from him.
He grabbed a piece of wood and came towards us. Anderius took that and said he should leave.
He said he did not want to. So, he (Anderius) said he should sit down by the fire.
He sat down, but soon left. [He was later murdered by another of the visitors.]
Anderius was very worried that the drunken Indians would do us harm. We said to him that, if he thought we should, then we would spend this night in the bush. But he did not think this was advisable because it is so cold. (Anna had already gotten quite ill sleeping in the woods to avoid crazy drunks while Anderius was in Philadelphia).
So we stayed, commended ourselves to the watchfulness of the Lamb and wished that it would become day soon. Soon, they beat to death the one who wanted to kill us.
The next day Montour told the Macks he was leaving town, perhaps for good. He took them to old chief Shikellamy, who offered his large hut.
Seemingly Everywhere at Once
Where did Montour go? The better question would be, Where did Montour not go? He was constantly on the move.
He was the interpreter at dozens of conferences all aimed at either keeping the peace with tribes, or stirring them up to do battle with the French. The ultimate goal, of course, was getting land for British developers. Montour wanted to be one of them.
He also organized many of those conferences. That was no easy task. Some could have as many as 50 chiefs from a single tribe, each of whom had to be feted and honored.
Indigenous cultures held that a friend that does not give you gifts, is your enemy.
Government Quakers in Philadelphia usually thought Montour was being too lavish. They didn’t want to be buying favors from anyone. Nor did they want to pay blackmail.
Often, he would use his own money or credit. That led to drawn-out bureaucratic struggles for repayment. And resentment. Resentment that would spill out when he was drunk.
He went with Weiser to Logstown in 1748, bearing considerable gifts extracted from the Pennsylvania government.
It was to counter French efforts to re-establish their trading monopoly in the region.
I won’t bore you with the speechmaking and negotiations he interpreted at a dozen or more conferences that followed at Logstown, all of which ended in greater Indian attachment to the British, and less to the French.
The Spy Amongst Us
Colonial leaders on the civilized East Coast didn’t know from one week to the next what the people in the wilderness were thinking or doing. That’s where Montour was most valuable. He was a top notch spy.
His loyalty to Britain, however, often was questioned. He could at times look supremely savage. That unsettled settlers.
In 1755, he was again in Central Pennsylvania trying to learn which tribes and clans were heeding the French call for all-out war on British settlers.
Fourteen Delaware Indians from Kittanning raided a settlement below Shamokin. They killed or carried off 25 people, burning all the houses.
Harris, the namesake of Harrisburg, raised a company of 46 men to go upriver and bury them. They found them already buried, so they continued on to wild and wooly Shamokin.
Weiser filed a report with the governor:
“They were seemingly well received, but found a great number of strange Indians … all painted black, which gave suspicion.”
“Thomas McKee . . the next morning . . . got up early, in order to go back, but they did not see any of the strangers. They were gone before them. Andrew Montour was there, painted as the rest.
Of course he was. Montour was everywhere. Painted in war paint and playing spy, he tried to warn the settlers that they would be ambushed. They didn’t trust him.
“He advised our people not to go the same road they came, but to keep this side of the Susquehanna and go the old road; but when they came to the parting of the roads, a majority was for going the highest and best road, and so crossed the Susquehanna, contrary to Andrew Montour’s counsel . . .
“When they came to John Penn’s Creek . . . they were fired upon by Indians that had waylaid them. Some dropped down dead; the rest fled and made towards the Susquehanna, and came to this side and so (traveled) home as well as they could. Twenty-six of them were missing and not heard of as yet.”
Colonel John Armstrong wrote from Carlisle that no settlers were left in the region. Montour was there, though.
“Montour and Monaghatootha (chief Scararoudy) are going to the Governor (to give the intelligence they gathered). The former (Montour) is greatly suspected of being an enemy in his heart. ‘Tis hard to tell.”
The Warrior Washington Wanted
He didn’t put on war paint just to spy. He sometimes gathered warriors and led them in battle. At least once, he commanded a company comprised of European woodsmen and traders. It should be noted, though, that city dwellers back east thought Indians more trustworthy than settlers.
Montour was with George Washington as he surrendered to the French at Fort Necessity. The future president tried several times after that to get Montour’s help, even as he confessed little patience or understanding with Indians.
Montour was among the few Indians who stayed with Major General Edward Braddock (and Washington) during the ill-fated attempt to take Fort Duquesne from the French in July 1755.
In fact, a month later, we hear Montour’s voice at a conference in Philadelphia blaming Braddock for the disaster.
Speaking for Scarouady, the Oneida war chief based at Logstown, Montour said:
We Six Nations must let you know that it was the pride and ignorance of that great general that came from England. [that caused the defeat]
He is now dead; but he was bad when he was alive. He looked upon us as dogs, and would never hear anything that was said to him.
We often endeavored to advise him and to tell him of the danger he was in with his soldiers, but he never appeared pleased with us, and that was the reason that a great many of our warriors left him and would not be under his command.
He goes on to say the colonists and Indians could defeat the French without any “help” of soldiers from the other side of the great ocean.
Montour Assures Forbes Success
Those soldiers came any way — in great numbers. They succeeded largely without a fight because Montour was working behind the scenes.
Meeting with tribal leaders in Easton, he got them to end their alliance with French forces as Fort Duquesene. In exchange, the British would provide better trading posts, and keep settlers away. Of course, instead, the British built mammoth Fort Pitt and settlers came in far greater numbers.
Like Jack Sparrow, there was a price on Montour’s head.
The French posted promises to pay anyone who killed him. The Iroquois countered that with a promise to go to war with the tribe of anyone responsible for Montour’s death.
Lacking Indian help, and with 6,000 British troops headed their way, the French blew up Fort Duquesne and said, “Au revoir.”
Montour did become a land developer, or at least a land owner.
He got a choice five-mile long island in the Ohio River. It came to be called Montour’s Island. Pittsburghers today know it as Neville’s Island.
For services to Pennsylvania and Virginia, he was awarded several thousand additional acres.
The End of the Path
As he reached 50 years of age, his interpreting skills were not much needed any more. People were still talking, but no one was listening.
He wasn’t inclined to deliver the massage anyway. Mostly, it was “Leave now! Get out! Go west!”
His reflexes may have left him, but his friend, rum, stayed loyal.
That’s evident in a report from the commander at Fort Pitt on Jan. 22, 1772.
“The interpreter Montour was killed at his own house the day before yesterday by a Seneca Indian, who had been entertained by him at his house for some days.
“He was buried this day near the fort.”
Did his drinking buddies learn a lesson as they watched Sattelihu and his braided brass earrings lowered into the ground?
“The Indians who came to the funeral,” the commander noted, “begged a few gallons of rum to drown their sorrows for the life of their friend.”
He gave it to them.