FAR to the south, within sound of the restless roar of the Gulf of Mexico, in country of remarkable fertility, threaded by numberless creeks and rivers, the white man found a great Indian confederacy. The moist region was called, for want of a better name, the Creek Country. In the process of time, the Indians who inhabited it came to be called the Creeks. This nation, thus so unceremoniously christened by the whites, was, in fact, composed of many tribes of Indians. Long before La Salle paddled his weary way down the Mississippi, the Muscogees, whose original home, according to their traditions, had been in the country of Mexico, had, after long wanderings as far north as the Ohio, finally settled in the region which we know by the names of Alabama and Mississippi. The Muscogees were warriors. They at once began a series of conquests, and, like Rome, adopted the policy of incorporating the conquered tribes with themselves.
When the first bold explorers threaded their way through the tropical forests and the network of lagoons to the towns of this confederacy, they found a people who, in the darkness of their native barbarism were in a crude way working out for themselves the problem of civilization. They had fixed rules governing marriage and divorce. They lived in houses. Each town had a separate local government. It had public buildings and pleasure houses. They had fixed maxims and methods of government. They had, moreover, a system of social caste. There were certain families who constituted a hereditary nobility. Of these, the family of the Wind ranked first. To it belonged the right of chieftaincy. It was, so to speak, the royal family. Inferior to the family of the Wind was the family of the Bear; and next in rank was that of the Deer. These three castes manages to absorb all the positions of rank and profit.
At the time of the war of which we are about to write, they had, in addition to their unaided achievements, derived great benefit from intercourse with the white men. Many of them had intermarried. The upper classed had learned to red and write. Many half-breed children had been sent to northern schools for education. The system of a community of property, which is the very core of barbarism, was giving way to the system of individual property. They owned in their own right, horses, houses, looms, farms, and farming implements. They had learned, not merely to trade, but even to manufacture cloth and other articles. All this, too, they had achieved in spite of their fertile soil and the genial climate. History shows that nature prodigal of her gifts, enervates, while a sterile country and vigorous climate stimulate and sharpen the intellect and energies of men.
The Creeks were treated by the United States Government with justice and fairness. There was no reasonable cause for complaint on either side.
About 1780 there was born in the Creek nation a child destined to be known among his own people as Red Eagle. To the whites he was known as William Weatherford. His mother was a princess; that is, she belonged to the family of the Wind. He was the nephew of Alexander McGillivray, a man of mixed blood, whose genius, shrewdness, and abilities won for him the leading place in the Creek nation. He styled himself Emperor Alexander. One author speaks of him "as a man of towering intellect and vast information, who ruled the Creek country for a quarter of a century." Another writer says: "He was a man of the highest intellectual abilities, and of wonderful talents for intrigue and diplomacy. A more wily Talleyrand never trod the red war-paths of the frontiers, or quaffed the deceptive black drinks at sham councils."
When Charles Weatherford, a shrewd and wily Scotch trader, married the sister of the Emperor Alexander McGillivray, he attained at once a rank and influence among the Creeks which few men of the purest Muscogee blood possessed. The Scotchman, while serving the nation, managed to accumulate almost boundless wealth. He lived like a king in his splendid mansion on the banks of the Alabama. Here he had every luxury which money could procure. Troops of negro slaves ministered to himself and to his guests. His table abounded in the rarest tropical fruits, choice game from distant forests, and sparkling liquors, cobweby with age.
From the spacious verandas which surrounded his palatial home, one looked out over a tropical landscape of surpassing loveliness. The grounds immediately surrounding the house were filled with noble forest trees, from whose branches hung graceful festoons of southern vines and mosses. Magnolia blossoms showered the fragrance upon the summer air. Wild orange-trees, bearing the emblems of every season of the year, were scattered here and there. Roses and honeysuckles, in wild and negligent profusion, wound their clinging arms in fond embrace about the nearest object of support. Near the house Weatherford kept the finest race-track in America. To indulge his favorite sport, he imported blooded stock from the most famous stables of Europe.
Amid these surroundings was born Red Eagle. The son of the wealthiest man in the nation, and by inheritance a chief of the ruling family, he had the best of tutors, and no pains nor expense were spared in his education. He grew up a spoiled child of fortune. He cared nothing for books. His tastes were the offspring of the wild ancestry of his Indian mother. He was fond of every athletic sport. He was a splendid swimmer, and an unequaled hunter with the bow and the rifle. He was a natural master. From no meeting for athletic sports among the Creek towns was Red Eagle ever absent. No young man in all the nation could approach him in a foot-race. In games of ball, a sport conducted with such violence that broken limbs and even death were not infrequent, he was the acknowledged king.
While but a child, he displayed the rarest graces of horsemanship. No colt was too unruly, no stallion too high-mettled for this adventurous youth to mount and dash in mad career across the country. Such was his perfection as a rider that he seemed almost a part of the animal he rode. An old Indian woman, who knew the young chief in his boyhood, telling of his daring, his skill, his grace as a horseman, said: "The squaws would quit hoeing corn and smile and gaze upon him as he rode by the corn-patch."
These things made Red Eagle the idol of his people. In the wars with the Choctaws and Chickasaws, even before he reached manhood, he displayed the most tireless activity and reckless courage. His name was greeted with enthusiasm as that of the coming chief in every house in the nation. Besides this , he possessed great personal beauty. His figure was symmetrical and imposing, and his countenance that of a born king. He possessed intellectual ability of the highest order. His mind, ignoring trifles, grappled with the most important subjects which agitated his country.
To all these gifts was added that of eloquence. Red Eagle was the greatest orator that ever lived among the Creeks. It was his ambition from boyhood to become distinguished in council. Lazy and indifferent about his general education, he gave the most persistent attention to the study of declamation and oratory. As he reached maturity, his eloquent voice soon reigned without a rival in the council-hall. His imagination was rich, bold, and vivid; his manner impressive in the highest degree. When unimportant questions were being discussed, Red Eagle looked on with indifference. His lips were sealed. But when great themes agitated the council, Red Eagle, with his unapproachable power of statement, his wealth of imagery, his burning zeal, took the lead in the debate, and bore down all opposition. His very voice endeared him to the popular heart. Reared in wealth and idleness, the young chief was, it is said, given to many excesses.
Such was the man, longing for some great popular cause in which to employ his wealth of talents and influence, whom Tecumseh found when, in 1811, he had arrived, from the far north, in the Creek country, accompanied by thirty warriors. The great chief who dwelt by the waters of the Miami had journeyed all the way to the mighty confederacy of the south for two purposes. As an agent of the British, he was to incite the southern tribes to join in the approaching war with the Americans. For himself, he came to form a great offensive and defensive alliance of all the Indians of America against the white man.
On the day when, with great pomp, he entered the council-hall of the Creeks, he called on the red men to abandon the plows and looms and arms of the whites, to burn the garments they had been induced to wear, to trample under foot and forget the lessons and customs which they had been taught by their white foes. He told them that the white men, by teaching them to till the ground, were seeking to weaken and degrade their martial spirit, so that the conquest of their country might be more easy. Then, with impressive gesture and accent, he warned them that, as the whites already held the negroes in bondage, their purpose was, as soon they became strong enough, to reduce the Indians to slavery.
A prophet accompanied Tecumseh, whose business it was to practice upon the superstition of the people. He told them that the Great Spirit commanded the red man to make war upon the white man. To prove that this message was from the Great Spirit, the prophet promised them a miracle. Whoever fought in the war should come out of it unharmed, while the Americans would be destroyed in impassable morasses with which the Great Spirit would surround them. Besides these methods, Tecumseh employed another. He went among the people, and electioneered with the warriors in person.
In this way a large part, perhaps a majority, of the Creeks became ready and impatient for a war with the whites. A strong and influential minority, however, refused to yield to Tecumseh's arguments. Among these was Big Warrior. Although Tecumseh was his honored guest, he obstinately refused to forsake his allegiance. It is said that Tecumseh at last grew so angry with Big Warrior, that he threatened, when he reached Detroit, to stamp his foot on the ground and shake down all the houses in Tookabatcha, and that a few months afterwards an earthquake made the Creeks believe that his threat had been carried out. The wealthier Creeks, who were, of course, a minority, having accumulated property, which is the greatest of all conservative forces in society, were strongly opposed to the war. They saw nothing to gain, and every thing to lose.
Among his converts, Tecumseh readily discovered that of all men in the nation Red Eagle was the man for his purpose. His great talents seemed to be lying idle, waiting for some employment worthy of their owner. He was wealthy, and had nothing to gain by commerce with the whites. He was born to fortune, and consequently held his possessions in light esteem. Of wild and undisciplined passions, and full of a lofty patriotism and love of state affairs, he had nursed in his heart for many years a bitter jealousy and overmastering hostility towards the whites. He hated the restraint of law and civilization. He loved the license and wild liberty of savage life. As his tastes led him to the sports of the forest, he looked with concern on the encroachments of the white men. Moreover, he seemed to fear that an attempt would be made to reduce his people to slavery like that of the negroes.
So, after listening to the wily Tecumseh, Red Eagle, who saw in his plans a gratification for his own fierce love for war and a new field for fame, threw himself heart and soul into the enterprise of the northern chieftain. Re-enforced by Red Eagle, Tecumseh found new methods of working upon the Creeks. He directed his prophet to "inspire" some Creeks with prophetic powers.
A shrewd and unscrupulous half-breed named Francis, was shut up alone in a cabin for ten days, during which time the prophet howled and danced around the building in the most fantastic manner. When the ten days were accomplished, he brought Francis forth, telling the people that he was how blind, but would soon receive his sight back so improved that he could see what was to happen in the future. Francis allowed himself to be led around, pretending to stumble over obstacles like a blind man. Suddenly he affirmed that he had received his sight, with the improved quality of prophecy. He, with others inspired in a similar, worked night and day, practicing all sorts of conjurations in behalf of the war-party. Public feeling among the Creeks was roused to the highest pitch of excitement. The strife of factions became very bitter. The two parties indulged in crimination and recrimination. The Creeks were ready for civil war.
A spark soon fell in the tender box. Some Creeks, returning with Tecumseh to Canada, assaulted a settlement and murdered seven families. Under the treaty between the Creeks and the United States, the murderers were required to be punished. The chiefs of the peace party at once organized bands of warriors for this purpose. The murderers were pursued to their retreats among the most distant tribes, hounded down by the relentless avengers, shot, stabbed, or tomahawked in open fight or by secret stealth wherever found, until the last criminal paid for his fault with the penalty of death.
This vengeance widened the schism in the Creek nation. The war party retaliated by committing a number of outrages upon the white men. Big Warrior was aroused. He asked for a council with the chiefs of the war party. The request was haughtily refused. Next he sent word to them, saying, that if the miracles which they talked about should also be wrought before the chiefs of the peace party, then the latter would also believe. To this the war Creeks responded by murdering a party of emigrants, by sacking a plantation, and by destroying the property of some of the peaceful Creeks themselves.
About this time a friendly half-breed named McNac was attacked in his home and had his cattle stolen. He saved himself for awhile by hiding in the swamp, but was unluckily captured by High Head Jim. McNac lied. He said he belonged to the war-party. He found out that a plot was laid to kill Big Warrior, Captain Isaacs, Mad Dragon's son, and all the chiefs of the peace party. This done, High Head Jim said war was at once to be waged upon the whites. McNac escaped and warned the intended victims, meanwhile marauding parties of increasing size roamed over the country, plundering plantations of whites and peace Indians alike. The settlers resolved on self-defense. An army of two hundred volunteers went out to whip a marauding party of the Creeks. The battle fought in known as the battle of Burnt Corn. The white men were ingloriously whipped.
At this point in the war Red Eagle wavered. He discovered that he had failed to carry with him the entire Creek nation. Among the minority who sternly opposed hem were many of his friends and relatives. He had met them face to face in the bloody battle of Burnt Corn. His ambition had led him to seek a war with the whites. In fact, it had involved him in a civil war.
There was yet another motive. He was rich, young, handsome, and a widower. He had a sweetheart, Lucy Cornells, a young girl of mixed blood, the rarest beauty of the Creek nation. Upon her Red Eagle had lavished all the wealth of his passionate affections. In his nature there was much of romance and sentiment. In debate he was the sternest of the stern. In love he was the tenderest of the tender. He now found that among the Creeks against whom he was about to wage cruel and bloody war was the family of his sweetheart.
On the discovery by McNac of the plot for the assassination, the peace Indians and half-breeds were struck with consternation. Among throngs of others, Lucy Cornell's father fled with his family to take refuge in Fort Mims. Against this very fort Red Eagle was already plotting a campaign. What were all the affairs of state, the triumphs in debate, the glory of the battle-field to Red Eagle, who was as chivalrous as he was brave, if thereby he must lose the affection of the girl he loved? More than this, how could he imperil her life, which was dearer to him than his own, by a siege and probably massacre, where she had sought refuge from his own arms.
These things perplexed Red Eagle. He kept his own counsel, and resolved to seek the advice of his relatives, who belonged to the peace party. He secretly made his way to their homes. He told them that he was in love. A man in love has no reason, no judgement. He is like a diver at the bottom of the ocean. All around him is strange, mysterious, and unreal. All his past is forgotten. All his plans and hopes for the future are driven from his mind. He even forgets his own identity. Those who are most nearly and dearly related to him seem to him but phantoms. With them he has no real, tangible connection. All thought, all memory, all consciousness are absorbed and concentrated into a single notion, one overmastering feeling. It is the fact that he is countless fathoms deep beneath the surface where others float. If any emergency befalls, if for any reason he needs help, all he can do is to make the signal of distress to friends above him. This was what Red Eagle did. From the depths of the ocean he pulled the signal rope.
His friends, like all friends, were ready with advice. They told him to go back, to remove as secretly as possible his family, his negroes, and as much live stock as he could, to their plantations, which were in the district of the peace party; that he should follow them there, and remain quietly at home until the troubles of the nation were over. Red Eagle accepted this advice. He was like one who is mesmerized. All that is necessary to make the subject do any particular thing is simply to crook his finger. No matter how ridiculous it may be he will not refuse to obey. He went back to his home.
But it was now too late for him to retreat. His infidelity had been suspected. In his absence his children and negroes had been seized, and were held as hostages for his fidelity. He was told that if he deserted the cause of the war-party, his children should at once be put to death.
Red Eagle was now overwhelmed by the very storm which he had stirred. He had evoked the Genii from their prison, and the spirits would not down at his bidding. For him there remained but one thing. It was to lead his men to battle. So there was preparation for war. The Creek braves painted themselves in gaudy colors, and concentrated in large numbers. The white men, on their part, hastily constructed small forts, or repaired fortifications which were already in existence. Of these, of which there were more than twenty among the settlements, Fort Mims was the largest and strongest. It was located near the Alabama River, and a few miles above its junction with the Tombigbee. Samuel Mims and his neighbors had constructed the fortification, and to that place the people of the surrounding country -- men, women, and children, white, black, red, and yellow -- fled for safety.
General Claiborne, with a small force of volunteers and regulars, was the military commander of the whites. To Fort Mims he dispatched Major Beasley, with one hundred and seventy-five men. These, with the militia already there, gave the post a garrison of two hundred and forty-five men. Beasley was ordered to construct a second stockade around the first, and two additional block-houses, an order which was but partially carried out.
Altogether there were about five hundred and fifty people in the fort whose lives were committed to the care of Major Beasley. He, however, neglected the precautions. He forgot the great responsibility resting on his shoulders. His raw troops, instead of being disciplined by daily drills and military routine, passed their time in playing cards and drinking. The new line of picketing was left unfinished, as were also the new block-houses. He was even deaf to the plainest warnings of danger. A negro, who had been captured the Red Eagle, escaped, and making his way to Fort Mims with infinite peril, told the commandant that an overwhelming force of Indians were on their way to attack. Beasley sent out some scouts. But they, as they discovered no Indians in the immediate neighborhood, returned and told the negro he was a liar. On another day, two negroes, who had been out guarding some cattle, came running to the fort in the greatest terror. They declared that they had seen a large body of Indians. A party of horsemen at once sallied forth to the spot where the negroes averred they had seen the savages. They found the forest silent, and apparently unoccupied. Red Eagle's men had disappeared like phantoms. So the brave horsemen rode back to the fort and denounced the negroes as liars. One of them was at once tied to a whipping-post and flogged, for giving a false alarm. The other was saved for a while by the interference of his master. It is a historical fact that when the attack, which we are about to describe, was made upon the fort, this negro was standing tied, waiting for his whipping.
When the negro who had been whipped went forth to attend his cattle, he again saw the Indians, but fearing to return to the fort, lest he should be whipped, he ran away. Such was the work of the commander's folly.
Red Eagle was a soldier -- a strategist. Of him, Andrew Jackson afterwards said: "This man is fit to command great armies." The negroes had told the truth. The Indians were hovering near the fort. They had been there for several days, watching their opportunity. Of all this the defenders of the fort were sweetly oblivious. The gates stood open day and night. The wind had blown a heap of sand against the bottom of the gates. This fact, trifling to a careless observer, was really important. The gates could not be closed until the accumulating sand should be shoveled away. This would take time. Red Eagle observed the pile of sand, although the commander of the fort did not. The Indian strategist said: "We will wait until the sand is heaped a little higher." The wind was busy while the soldiers slept. The sand heap grew.
On the morning when the runaway negro had a second time seen the Indians Red Eagle lay within a few hundred yards of the fort at the head of a thousand warriors. He was like a wild animal watching for its prey, only waiting the proper moment to spring forth. The morning hours passed as usual at the fort. No guards were posted. The men occupied themselves with games and disorderly fun. All seemed opportune. Why did not the tiger spring forth from the forest? The dinner-bell rang in the fort. There was a confused uproar of men, women, and children crowding their way with noisy fun toward the tables of the barracks. There was time for all to be quietly seated at the meal.
At that moment Red Eagle rose and gave the signal to advance. A line of Indians started forward with the speed of the wind, yet as silent as cats, toward the open gates. They were within ninety feet of them before any one in the fort discovered the enemy. A few men who happened to be near the gates started to close them. They gave the heavy, wooden portals a sudden pull, but they remained fixed in their place. The sand heaps blown up by the supportive wind were to cost hundreds of lives. In their fright and despair the men tugged furiously and frantically at the gates. It was no use. They could not budge the gates. The Indians rushed in with resistless momentum, hurling the little groups of white men back from their pathway with the force of an express train.
The alarm-cry was now heard in every quarter of the fort. Women screamed. Men upset the dinner tables in their frantic haste. Every one seized the nearest weapon, gun, tomahawk, or club, and rushed forth to expel the foe. Luckily there was a second line of picketing, partly completed, back of the gate, which prevented the Indians from making their way at once into the body of the fort. The garrison, in wild confusion, at once commenced a hand-to-hand conflict. Among the first to fall, mortally wounded, was Major Beasley, the careless commandant. He refused to be carried to the interior of the fort, preferring to remain where he was, to animate and direct his troops, and by courage to atone for his negligence. He remained in command of his troops until death overtook him.
The battle was terrible. the men fought like demons. Upon their success in driving the Indians from the fort depended, as they knew, not only their own lives, but those of the women and children who had been placed in their care. It was a fight in which the antagonists sought to club, and hack each other to death. They siezed one another's throat with a vise-like gripe, of which the invincible tenacity relaxed only with death itself. For two hours the conflict raged with stubborn violence. The very women of the fort, armed themselves with such weapons as they could procure, and with wild screams and nervous fury, mingled in the bloody fray.
In spite of the utmost endeavors of the white men; in spite of the barricade of corpses and flowing blood, the savages gained ground. Outnumbering the garrison three to one, they beat back their foes, overpowering them at point after point. As the Indians advanced into the interior of the fort they fired the buildings. The whites, driven back farther and farther, were forced for their last refuge to a small enclosure called the bastion. Above the din of the conflict arose in every quarter the warning cry of "To the bastion!" in a moment the enclosure was so full of people that no one could move, much less fight. The wails of women mingled with the roar of the flames and the hoarse shouts of the blackened soldiery grew feebler and feebler.
At this point, Red Eagle rose to the height of heroism. He called upon his warriors to desist. Dismounting from his splendid horse, he placed himself in front of the howling murderers, and sought by imperious commands and earnest appeals to stop the carnage. But for the second time in his life he found that he had let loose a storm which he could not control. As he now labored to save the lives of the remaining whites, his followers, with fierce suspicion, told him that not long before he had attempted to desert from the cause, and if he made further efforts in behalf of their enemies that he himself was the first man who should be put to death. Foiled in his best intentions, Red Eagle mounted and rode away from the scene of the massacre to calm the raging torrent of his thought in solitude,
The persons remaining in the fort were put to death, making more than five hundred people who perished in the massacre. About twenty of the occupants of the fort succeeded in chopping a hole through the outer picketing. Their adventures were various. Dr. Thomas G. Holmes wandered five days in swamps and cane-breaks. At last he fired his gun for help. Some white men who were near were so frightened that they themselves took to the swamp and remained for two days. Holmes was finally saved. Lieutenant Chamblies was twice wounded in his flight, but succeeded in concealing himself in a pile of logs. Toward night the lieutenant was horrified to discover a band of Indians surrounding the log-pile and setting fire to it. He remained in his position till he was terribly burned, but was rejoiced to see the Indians leave just as he was forced to crawl from his hiding-place.
Zachariah McGirth had left Fort Mims on the morning of the massacre, leaving behind him his wife and children. Having gone but a few miles he heard the roar of battle at the fort, and started back, filled with anxiety concerning his family. Late at night he made his way into the fort, and began an agonizing search among the bodies of the slain for the corpses of his wife and children. By the help of a torch and the glow from the embers of the block-houses, he sought everywhere, turning over and examining the bloody and mangled remains.
After several hours spent in the sickening task, he was forced to conclude that his family were among those who had been consumed in the buildings. As a matter of fact, a young Indian, recognizing in McGirth's wife a former friend, had rescued her and her children. He told his fellow-warriors that he wished to make them slaves. McGirth, ignorant of all this, caring no longer for life, became the most reckless scout and Indian fighter in the American army. Several months afterward his family were restored to him; it was as if they had arisen from the dead.
Two days after the massacre of Fort Mims, the prophet Francis, at the head of a band of warriors, assaulted a house and killed twelve persons. A Mrs. Merrill, in the house with an infant in her arms, had been scalped and left for dead. Hours afterward she revived, and attempted to crawl to Fort Sinquefield, two miles away, which she succeeded in doing. At the time, her husband was serving as a volunteer in the army. He heard of the butchery, receiving information of his wife's supposed death. Before the wife had recovered sufficiently to communicate with her husband, he too, was reported as killed in battle. In fact, he was sent by mistake with the wounded volunteers from Tennessee to that State.
Years passed by. Mrs. Merrill married again. Late one evening, an emigrant family on their way to Texas asked for a night's lodging at her house. Scarcely had the guests been comfortably seated, when the husband of the emigrant family and the hostess recognized each other. Each had married supposing the other dead. In this complication what was to be done? They talked far into the night. Both were happy in their present relations. They at last resolved, not, perhaps, without a shade of regret, to forget the past and live for the future as they were.
Misfortunes come not as single spies, but in battalions. The dead at Fort Mims were brought to Fort Sinquefield for burial. The people in the fort, unarmed and absorbed in their sorrow, went outside the stockade to a little valley fifty yards away to bury the bodies of their friends. At this moment, Francis, who was shadowing the place, attempted to throw his party of warriors between the white people and the gates. The men succeeded in reaching the fort, but the women and children were unfortunately cut off.
Their condition seemed hopeless. A thrill of horror shot through the hearts of the men at the fort. But life is full of strange coincidences. A young man named Isaac Haden, a hunter, who kept a large pack of hounds trained to chase and seize any living object upon which their master might set them, appeared at this critical moment returning from a hunt. His quick eye caught the situation. With a cry to his hounds he dashed forward on his horse against the host of Indians. The watchers at the fort and the helpless women without paused in breathless anxiety to witness the strange maneuver. In a moment every one of the sixty ferocious hounds had in his fangs fastened in the throat of a savage. In the few precious moments the imperiled ones were rescued. Young Haden had his noble horse shot from under him, and had five bullet-holes through his clothes. A Mrs. Phillips was the only one who lost her life.
The news of the massacre of Fort Mims spread like wildfire through the south. The entire white population on the Creek frontiers was in danger of instant destruction. To obtain help from the government at Washington, was impossible. It would take a month to send the news, and another one for the soldiers to reach the field of action. In this crises the warm-hearted southern States impulsively called for volunteers to save their friends and neighbors. General Andrew Jackson, lying sick and enfeebled on his bed of pain, announced that he would start to the front as soon as he could be helped into a saddle. He was yet a sick man, pale and emaciated, when, under the inspiration of his lofty will, he started to meet the army of volunteers which had been raised for him. Arrived there, he found one thousand raw troops, completely without provision for the expedition into the Indian country. Nevertheless, with or without food, he determined to march. In a single day the army constructed a supply post, called Fort Deposit, on Thompson's creek. During the march southward the men seemed to have subsisted almost entirely upon the zeal and enthusiasm of Jackson's eloquent addresses, which were issued to the men several times a day.
During the night of the 2d of November Jackson prepared to assault the Indian town of Tallushatchee. The two wings of the army encircled the town on either side. At sunrise two companies were thrown forward into the circle. This at once brought on the battle. It raged with great fury. That victory belonged to the Americans was very soon evident. But the Indians refused to fly or accept quarter. Again and again, parties of braves, and even single warriors were urged to throw down their arms and submit. But with a heroism which rivaled that of Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans, every offer of mercy was rejected. Every warrior fought the overwhelming hosts which surrounded him as long as he could stand or sit. Even in the agonies of death the Creek braves would shoot malignant and unforgiving glances at their conquering for, and feebly attempt to hurl a tomahawk at the nearest white man. They forced the Americans to turn the battle into a butchery. Every brave in the village was killed, the total falling not short of two hundred. History presents no more complete destruction of any fighting force.
Still no provisions reached the army. With unflinching boldness Jackson continued his march to the south. He built another post, Fort Strother, for the reception of provisions. It was literally an empty mockery. There were no provisions. Here word reach Jackson that some friendly Indians were besieged at Talladega. The ingenuity of the messenger who brought the news, in effecting his escape from the beleaguered town, has been equaled among all the marvelous exploits heretofore recited in these pages. He was a boy. He had covered himself with the skin of a large hog, and had wandered about on all fours, as if hunting for roots. At times, when he came near to hostile Indians, he would lie down comfortably in a mud puddle. In this way he had escaped detection.
Once more Jackson marched his army into the presence of an enemy, without supplies. The battle of Talladega was similar in plan to its predecessor, and about as successful. Two hundred and ninety-nine Indian warriors were counted dead upon the ground.
More extensive operations were absolutely impossible until food could be procured by Jackson for his starving men. While his army lay idle at Fort Strother, Red Eagle's superb genius for war was active in other parts of the field. There was danger of famine among the white settlers, unless the crops could be gathered from the fields. To do this it was necessary, temporarily at least, to rid the country of hostile prowlers. In this way came about the celebrated "Canoe Fight." A force of seventy-two men, under Captain Sam Dale, undertook to rid a particular section of the country of Indians. Dale was marching his command along the south-east bank of the Alabama River, when, dissatisfied at finding no traces if Indians, he determined to cross the river. The job was by no means a small one. Only two little canoes were to be had. The river was a quarter of a mile wide.
At last, however, only twelve men, together with Dale, remained on the east bank of the river. While waiting their turn for transportation, the little company was startled by a volley of bullets from a large force of Indians. Dale's men concealed themselves in the dense undergrowth of the river bank, and behind trees. The situation was dangerous. Should the savages suspect, from the infrequency of the fire, the smallness of their numbers, they would quickly rush down and overpower them.
Escape to the other side was the one thing to be desired. For this purpose, however, they had only one canoe, the other being across the river. This boat would hold but six men, and the movement would involve a separation of the company. The Indians on shore, seeing the canoe crossing the river, would at once suspect the smallness of the force opposed to them, and would quickly overpower those who were left behind.
Dale signaled to his men on the other side for assistance. Eight of them started to cross the river, but discovering the immense strength of the Indian force, hastily put back to shore. A new danger now assailed the little band. A large canoe, containing eleven warriors, was discovered putting out from the bank and making its way down to the point opposite Dale's position. In a few moments they attempted to land.
Dale's party, attacked from front and rear, fought in both directions. Two of the warriors in the canoe attempted to swim ashore. One was shot through the top of the head. The other reached the shore and was met by Austill. At the moment of the encounter Austill slipped and fell into the water. The savage cast one keen glance at the little force, and then made his way to escape. Dale at once saw that it was but a matter of a few minutes before the whole Indian force, informed of the weakness of his company, would be upon them.
In this emergency Dale announced a desperate resolution. He called f or volunteers to man the little canoe which they had, and attack the Indian canoe party. For this perilous attempt three men, James Smith, Jeremiah Austill, and a large negro named Caesar, offered their services. With them Dale sprang into the canoe. The negro acted as steersman, while the white men plied the paddles. When half-way toward the hostile canoe with its nine occupants, Dale's men found to their dismay that their powder was wet and their guns useless.
By strange fortune the Indians in the canoe had exhausted their ammunition. There remained nothing but a hand-to-hand fight between four men on the one hand and nine on the other. The negro threw the little canoe alongside of the larger, and held it firmly there. The Indians sprang to their feet, prepared with knives and clubs to resist the assault. At the moment of contact Dale leaped into the larger canoe. While Austill and Smith beat the Indians with clubs, Dale, with inconceivable quickness, gave the one nearest him a powerful shove, throwing him backwards against his neighbor, he in turn falling upon the third Indian, and so on, until every savage in the boat had lost his balance, and all were floundering together in the bottom. Dale seized the advantage, clubbing out the brains of savage after savage, and throwing their corpses into the river.
The last Indian was an old friend of Dale. The latter hesitated, and was about to lower his weapon, when the savage attempted to grapple with him. Dale was too quick. Stepping back, with a single blow he killed his antagonist. In less than two minutes from the time the boats came alongside of each other every one of the nine Indians was a corpse, floating down with the current toward the vast and lonely gulf. Of the white men, Austill alone was wounded.
With swift strokes of the paddles the two canoes were brought back to the shore, the remaining men taken on board, and an escape made to the opposite side of the river amid a heavy fire from the Indians.
On the 23d of December, 1813, Red Eagle, with a large force of Indians, awaited at Holy Ground an assault from General Claiborne. The spot was admirably chosen for defense. It was a high bluff, surrounded on the land side by marshes and ravines, on the eastern side of the Alabama River, just below what is now Powell's Ferry, in Lowndes county, Alabama. To the natural strength of the place was added that of heavy log fortifications.
The assault by the Americans was a comparative failure, as the Indians escaped by hundreds. Red Eagle, the last to leave the place, was almost on the point of being captured. Mounted on a gray horse of magnificent speed and endurance, he galloped rapidly to a point where the bluff was but fifteen feet high. Over this perpendicular precipice wildly dashed the gallant rider and his noble steed. They both disappeared beneath the waves of the river, but in a few moments Red Eagle was seen, still on his horse which bravely bore him to the opposite shore.
During the time of the incidents which we have been relating, General Jackson had a series of troubles with his army, which developed the incomparable metal of man, and have been admired and laughed at by several generations of men. While detained at Fort Strother, a mutinous spirit developed itself among the men, who, on account of the lack of provisions, threatened to disband. One morning Jackson was informed that the militia intended to march home in a body. Jackson at once placed himself at the head of the volunteers and confronted the militia, telling them that they could march home only by cutting through his lines. This was more than the militia-men counted on. They yielded.
But the volunteers were scarcely less discontented than the militia. That night they themselves resolved to go home. In the morning Jackson reversed the plan of the previous day. He place the militia in front of the volunteers, and told then that their way home lay through the ranks. The joke was so rich that, for the time being, the trouble blew over.
Great was the distress from want of food. A soldier passed General Jackson and saw that he was eating something. He mutinously demanded that he should have a share of it. "Willingly," replied Jackson, and thrusting his hand into his pocket, offered the man some acorns. For some days they had been his only food.
At last, however, Jackson was left without any supporters. The entire army resolved that, if provisions did not come within two days, they would go home. They, however, promised that if the provision train was met they would return. On the appointed day the men marched away. Jackson went after them, and begged for volunteers to remain. To this appeal one hundred and nine men responded.
Twelve miles from the fort the army met the provision train. The men were furnished ample supplies of food. But with mouths and stomachs full of meat they determined, in spite of their promise, to return home. Jackson's rage was terrible. His left arm was still in a sling. He was more emaciated than when he had left his sick-bed. Snatching a musket from a man, he planted himself in front of the column of mutineers and broke forth into a wild storm of vituperation. He told them that they could march home only over his dead body, and that the man who first advanced toward him should be shot dead. Raising his gun to his shoulder, he waited. The troops who would have fought an army were conquered by the will of a single man. The mutineers returned to their camp.
But the troops shortly devised another expedient. Through a pretended flaw in their contract of enlistment, they claimed that their term had expired. On the afternoon of December 9th, they commenced strapping on their knapsacks. Jackson at once called on all good soldiers to assist him. The militia were drawn up behind a line of cannon confronting the mutineers. The artillery-men held lighted matches in their hands. Jackson then addressed his rebellious soldiery, and demanded from them an explicit answer, whether they would remain peaceably with the army, then, and there. He took out his watch o count the seconds which still remained for the men to answer. If they refused, at a signal the cannon and musketry of the militia-line would leap into flame, and hurl leaden storms of death and destruction into the ranks of the mutineers. The latter made their choice. They decided to remain. A fourth time Jackson had won a battle against his own troops.
At last Jackson received four thousand fresh recruits from Tennessee. Red Eagle and his army were concentrate in a sort of peninsula, called the Horseshoe, formed by a bend of the Tallapoosa River. The bend inclosed a hundred acres of ground, and at its narrowest part was about three hundred yards wide. Across this narrow place Red Eagle had constructed a strong fortification which was designed to resist even artillery-fire. Within the inclosure the houses were further protected by embankments of earth. At the bank of the river floated one hundred canoes, as a possible means of retreat. The perfection of these preparations have caused certain writers to imagine that some white engineer had planned them. In fact, they were the conceptions of Red Eagle's brain.
On the 27th of March, 1814, Jackson found himself in front of this remarkable redoubt with two thousand soldiers. General Coffee, with seven hundred cavalry and a force of friendly Indians, were thrown across the river to occupy the opposite side of the bend in the rear of the fortification, and cut off retreat. By ten o'clock Coffee occupied this position. Jackson commenced a heavy attack with artillery and musketry upon the front of the breastworks, making but little impression. Coffee, without especial direction from his commander, resolved to throw a part of his men across the river in canoes, and by attacking the Indians in the rear, effect a diversion in favor of Jackson.
After an hour or so of ineffectual fighting, Jackson resolved to storm the works. The men were formed in solid column. This column was a projectile which was expected to force a breach where the cannon had failed. At the given word the long line of men started forward to hurl themselves against the fortification. In spite of the heavy fire from the enemy, which mowed down their ranks, the Tennesseeans hurried forward, reached the breastworks, thrust their rifles into the port-holes, and fired at the yelling savages within, or swarmed up and over the barricade. On the top of the breastworks there was many a fierce hand-to-hand encounter -- the whites fighting to force their way into the fort, the savages struggling to hurl them back.
In a short time the number of Indians upon the parapet was seen to grow fewer and fewer. Every time an Indian fell his place was taken by two white men. Presently Jackson's troops began to leap down the inclosure. The works were taken. But the defenders of the place were not conquered. To do that there was only one way. That way was BUTCHERY. It was a repetition of Tallushatchee. No savage would surrender. Again and again Jackson offered quarter, but the brave Creeks only riddled the messengers with bullets. At last, Red Eagle's men, beaten at every point, fled to the fleet of canoes to escape by water. Some did escape, but the majority fell beneath the unerring fire from Coffee's command. One old Indian, terribly wounded, jumped into the river, caught hold of a root in the bottom to keep himself down, and by breathing through the long joint of a cane, one end of which was in his mouth and the other above the water, remained hidden until nightfall, when he rose from his watery bed and made his way into the forest.
In the morning sixteen warriors were found concealed in a brush heap. They were surrounded by two hundred men, and called upon to surrender. They not only refused, but made insulting and defiant gestures. Of them, it might be said, that they were killed, but not conquered.
Five hundred and fifty-seven dead warriors were found in the fort. Besides this uncounted numbers had been killed in the river. The power of the Creek nation was crushed.
It was but a little while the Creek leaders sent their messengers to Jackson, humbly begging for peace. To these overtures there was one reply: "Bring Red Eagle here, bound hand and foot; then we will talk of peace." It was Jackson's purpose to hang the Indian commander as a punishment for the massacre of Fort Mims.
Sad-faced messengers bore the dreadful news to Red Eagle. Peace there could be only on condition of the sacrifice of his life. His friends urged him to leave the country. To all such suggestions Red Eagle made no reply, but simply flashed one look of indignation from his proud and scornful eye. Many hours he sat alone in his wigwam, lost in thought. Sometimes he would walk to the door and look out upon the landscape with a sigh. Then he would return and resume his reverie. He counseled with no one. What was passing in his mind his broken-spirited followers did not suspect. He neither slept nor ate.
At last Red Eagle seemed to have come to some conclusion. Long before dawn one morning, without vouchsafing a single explanation, he mounted his splendid gray horse, and rode away through the forest in solitude and silence. An observer might have seen his lips tightly compressed. From his shone a strange light. He alone knew his destination.
He took his course toward the camp of Andrew Jackson. When within a few miles of the camp, a noble deer bounded across his path. Quick as thought Red Eagle fired, bringing down the game. He then reloaded his rifle. That load was for the heart of Big Warrior, in case he should offer any insult to Red Eagle in the American camp. Laying the deer behind him on his horse, he rode on. He came within sight of an American sentinel, and calmly inquired for General Jackson's head-quarters. He rode up to the door of the tent pointed out to him. Andrew Jackson came forward, and in a spasm of rage demanded of him how he dared to approach him when such a penalty hung over him. To this Red Eagle replied:
"General Jackson, I am afraid of no man. I am a Creek warrior. For myself I ask no favor. I come to beg for mercy for the women and children of my people, who are now starving in the woods without an ear of corn. You may kill me if you wish. I am done fighting. Of me warriors but a few live. The rest have been killed. If I could fight you longer I would, but save the women and children. They have never harmed you. As for me, do with me as you please."
These words were delivered with a pathos and eloquence which can not be described. A crowd had gathered around to witness the strange scene. As once before in history, here was a man found willing to die for his people. And as on that other occasion, from which over the centuries there comes floating to our ears the cries of the mob, "Crucify him, crucify him.," so here the crowd broke out into loud cries of , "Kill him, kill him."
The hero recognizes the hero. There is an affinity between high-born souls. Andrew Jackson rebuked the crowd. He invited his distinguished prisoner into his quarters. After a conversation, Jackson repeated the terms of peace which had been offered, and then said, "You are at liberty to leave if you wish. No opposition shall be made. But if I capture you hereafter, you will be hung." To this Red Eagle replied with burning words. He said that he accepted the terms of peace. That no matter what fate awaited himself, his people would at least be made happier by it.
The war was ended, but Red Eagle was not hung. Andrew Jackson, instead of offering him punishment afforded him protection. His life was saved from the conspiracies of the friendly Indians in Jackson's camp by the very guards with which his captors had surrounded him. In time he was left free to return to his old home and plantation. But there he found himself surrounded by hosts of implacable enemies, who sought his life. He went to Fort Claiborne, and placed himself under the protection of the commanding officer. But here, too, were men in whose beasts rankled the poisoned stings of civil war. He was obliged to leave the fort at night and in secret. He made his way to Jackson's camp, and in time was taken by the American general to his home in Tennessee, where he remained as a guest for nearly a year.
As time rolled on the hostilities of war died away. Red Eagle returned to his plantation. Again he accumulated property, again he was waited on by troops of slaves, and dispensed magnificent hospitality to his friends. His spirit was unbroken by misfortune, and his commanding genius again asserted itself in the councils of the Creeks. He died at his home on the 9th of March, 1824. Through the intermarriage of his children with the whites Red Eagles descendants show few traces of their Indian blood. The dark eye, the erect form, and perhaps a slight tinge in the cheek are all that remain as badges of their noble lineage.
Retyped and reformatted by Ray and Kathy Leigh