James Pickett: HISTORY
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)
THE FRENCH BATTLES UPON THE TOMBIGBY.
When we suspended our review of the operations of the French upon the territory of Alabama and Mississippi, for the purpose of bringing to the notice of the reader the early colonization of Georgia by Oglethorpe, it will be borne in mind that the horrible maascre at Natchez had occurred. The tribe of that name had crossed the Mississippi, and fortified on Black river, near the Washita. Governor Perrier, attacking them at that point, had captured many of the men, women and children, whom he conveyed to New Orleans, and from thence shipped to the Island of St. Domingo, where they were sold to work upon the plantations. Some of those who escaped the hands of the French at Black river, retreated to the vicinity of the fort at Natchitoches, upon which they presently made a furious assault. The brave St. Denys, the commandant, successfully repulsed them. A remnant of this warlike but unfortunate tribe had fled to the Chickasaw nation, while another small band sought a home among the Creeks, upon the Coosa.
Governor Perrier was guilty of excessive cruelty to many of these poor fugitives who fell into his hands. In the streets of New Orleans he publicly, and without any hesitation, caused four of the men and two of the women to be burned to death. He also cheerfully permitted the Tonicas, who brought down a Natchez woman whom they had discovered in the woods, to put an end to her existence in the same manner. A platform was erected near the levee. The unfortunate woman was led forth, placed upon it, and, surrounded by the whole population of New Orleans, was slowly consumed by the flames! What a stigma upon the character of the early inhabitants of the Crescent City! Gayarre says:--"The victim supported, with the most stoical fortitude, all the tortures which were inflicted upon her, and did not shed a tear. On the contrary, she upbraided her torturers with their want of skill, flinging at them every opprobrious epithet she could think of." *
* Louisiana, its Colonial History and Romance, by Charles Gayarre. New York: 1851.
As a nation, the Natchez were thus entirely destroyed. Great sympathy was felt for them by all the tribes in Mississippi and Alabama; even the Choctaws, who were so wedded to the French, being sad on account of their fate, and annoyed at the unparalleled cruelties they experienced at the hands of their vindictive conquerors. The noble Creeks, upon the Coosa, received some of the refugees with open arms, while still nobler Chickasaws not only welcomed others to their doors, but swore to shed blood of their pursuers, in a protracted war. These things made the condition of the French colony a very critical one. The English of Carolina did not fail to fan the fire which, they imagined, would soon consume their ancient enemies. An expedition was fitted out in Charleston, composed of many traders and adventurers, with seventy pack-horses laden chiefly with munitions of war. Whether it was at the instance of the British government, or not, it is unknown. They took the well-beaten path for the Chickasaw nation, and passing by the town of Coosa, then situated in the territory of the present county of Talladega, they prevailed upon some of the refugee Natchez to accompany them, and to assist in repelling the French invasion, which, it was known, was then contemplated. Arriving in the Chickasaw nation, they dispersed over the country, and not a few of them found their way to the towns of the Choctaws. Soon the whole Indian sky was crimsoned with flashing meteors, and then made dark with angry clouds.
France, apprised of the precarious situation of her distant children, once more resolved to send the veteran Bienville to take care of them. The King began to see that his services could not be dispensed with, and after he had passed eight years in Paris, he sailed for the colony. March 1733: His arrival at Mobile was hailed with joy and acclaimations by the inhabitants. Diron D'Artguette, a man of nerve and much ability, who had been longer absent from the colony than Bienville, accompanied him. He was presently stationed at Mobile as the King's commissary. Bienville, at first, occupied much of his time visiting Mobile and New Orleans, for the purpose of giving quiet to the inhabitants and preparing them for a war of invasion. On one occasion, while he was in New Orleans, Diron D'Artaguette aroused all the French settlers towards the east by despatches which he sent among them in relation to the arrival of the English expedition, to which allusion has just been made, and of the determination of the Choctaws to act in future against the French. He warned everybody to be upon their guard, for it was probable they might be butchered at any hour. 1735: The people of Mobile were in a state of extreme terror; they never went to mass without carying their guns in their hands. Indeed, they at one time resolved to retire to New Orleans, but Bienville arriving commanded them to remain and fear nothing. He highly disapproved of the excitement which D'Artaguette had produced, and thought there was no occasion for such officious watchfulness on the part of the commissary. This produced unpleasant feelings bewteen them, and they indulged in recriminations of each other in official reports to the government. Bienville was mortified at the conduct of D'Artaguette in rebuking the Chictaw Chiefs, who had recently paid him a visit, for permitting the English to come among them. Further, he dismissed them without presents, upon which they returned home highly offended. Apr. 29 1735: These things were represented to the government by Bienville, while D'Artaguette, on the other hand, stated in one of his despatches that Bienville's opposition to him arose from the fact that he had reported the "misconduct of his proteges or favorites, Lesueur, and the Jesuit, Father Beaudoin, who, to the great scandal of the Choctaws, seduce their women."*
* Louisiana, its Colonial History and Romance, by Gayarre, p. 469.
It is pleasant to us to be able to state that only a few of the missionaries, of the order of Jesuits, thus abused the holy offices with which they were entrusted. The great body of them led the most pious lives and suffered the greatest privations in their efforts to redeem the savages from heathenism.
In the meantime small parties of Natchez, with their generous allies, the Chickasaws, sought all occasions to annoy their enemy. From ambuscades on the hill tops and banks of the rivers, along the Indian paths in the interior, and from dark valleys in the mountains, they sprang upon the French trappers, hunters and traders with the impetuosity of lions and the agility of tigers, and drank their hot blood with the voraciousness of wolves.
But Bienville was straining every nerve to complete his preparations for the invasion of the Chickasaw nation. He visited Mobile once more, and having assebled at that point a large delegation of Choctaw Chiefs, he in a great measure accomplished his object in gaining them over to his side. It was important taht he should do so, for Red Shoes, a potent Chief of that tribe, had already declared in favor of the English. Bienville freely distributed merchandise, and promised a much larger amount if they would assist him in the war, to which they finally consented. Indeed, ever since his arrival from France, he saw the necessity of inspiring the Indian nations with awe and respect, by a bold and successful strike at the Chickasaws. Nor had he failed to demand the necessary men and military supplies from the mother country.
In the midst of these precarious times, a most unfortunate affir occured in the bay of Mobile. A smuggling vessel, from Jamaica, cast her anchor twelve miles from the town. Diron D'Artaguette ordered her commander to leave the French coast; he refused. The commissary then placed Lieutenant DeVelles in a boat, armed with thirty men, and ordered him to capture the smuggler. When he approached near her, the latter opened an effeective fire; seventeen Frenchmen were immediately killed. Before D'Artaguette could reinforce DeVelles, the smuggler had made her escape to sea. This affair again enraged Bienville, and the war of recrimination was fiercer than ever between him and the commissary. What a pity it was, that men of such worth and character did nt better appreciate each other. In older times they had been great friends.
1735: The commissary had a younger brother, who had behaved with distingusihed gallantry in expeditions against the Natchez. He had recently been promoted to the command of the French fort in the district of Illinois. With him Bienville corresponded, respecting the invasion; he was ordered to collect the disposable French forces, and all the Indians in that country who would join him, and with them to march in a southern direction to the Chickasaw towns, while Bienville would march from the south, and meet him in the country of the enemy, on the 31st March, 1736. Afterwards the governor informed young D'Artaguette that he had been unable to make his arrngements to join him at that time, but that he would meet him at another time, which was also appointed.
Bienville, nine months before this period, had despatched M. De Lusser, with a company of soldiers and artisans, to a place upon the Little Tombigby, which is now called Jones' Bluff, with orders to erect there a fort and cabins to be used as a depot for the army, and, afterwards, to serve as a permanent trading post. That fearless officer had reached these wilds in safety, and it was not long before the forest resounded with the noise of axes and the heavy falling of timber. He was assisted in his labors by many of the Choctaws.
At length the army left New Orleans, and passing through the lakes reached Mobile. The vessels containing the supplies having entered the Gulf by way of the Balize, werre retarded by winds, and did not arrive until six days afterwards; and then it was discovered that a cargo of rice was destroyed by the salt water. To replace this loss, Bienville set his bakers to work, who made a large supply of biscuits for the army. He sent a depatch to De Lusser at Fort "Tombechbe," ordering him to build ovens, and to have made an abundant supply of biscuits by the time of his arrival at that place. When all things were ready, Bienville embarked his troops at Mobile, and turned his boats up the river of that name. Never before had such a large and imposing fleet of the kind disturbed the deep and smooth waters which now flow by our beautiful commercial emporium. Every kind of up-country craft was employed, and they bore men nearly of all kinds and colors. The crews were composed of genteel merchants, gentlemen of leisure and fortune, loafers and convicts, rough but bold mariners, veteran soldiers, sturdy and invincible Canadians, monks and priests, Choctaws and Mobilians, and a company of negroes commanded by Simon, a free mulatto. The fleet comprised more than sixty of the largest pirogues and bateaux. Entering the main Tombigby, Bienville made his way up that stream to the confluence of the Warrior, and there, passing into the Little Tombigby, he at length arrived at the fort. * Heavy rains and much high water had retarded his passage.
* Now Jones' Bluff.
The governor found that the fort was unfinished, and only some cabins, surrounded by stockades and covered with leaves, could be occupied. The bakers had prepared but few biscuits, for a fire cracked the prarie soil of which the ovens were made. After various unsuccessful efforts to make suitable ovens, they succeeded by mixing sand with the earth. Bienville was surprised to see, at the fort, four persons in irons -- one Frenchman, two Swiss, and Montfort, a sergeant. They had formed the design of assasinating the commandant of the fort, M. De Lusser, and also the keeper of the store house, and of carrying off Tisnet and Rosalie, who had recently been rescued from the Chickasaws, among whom they had been held in slavery. They had intended to convey these unfortunate men back to their masters, to order to gain favor with the tribe, who would therefore be induced, after a time, to faciliatate their escape to the Bristish provinces. But these assassins were defeated in their plans; for Lieutenant Grondel, with the rapidity of action and the bravery which had ever distinguished him, arrested Montfort with his own hands. The prisoners were tried by a court martial, and being sentenced to be shot, were "presently passed by the arms at the head of all the troops." *
* Dumont's Memoires Historiques sur la Louisiane, p. 216.
When all the allied Choctaws had arrived, Bienville reviewed his troops upon the plain in the rear of the fort. He found that his army was composed of five hundred and fifty men, exclusive of officers, together with six hundred Indians. He now assumed the line of march for the country of the enemy. The larger number of the French troops embarked in the boats. Some of the Indians proceeded to their own canoes, while many hardy Canadians, called couriers de bois, marched with other Indians, sometimes along the banks, where the swanps did not intervene; and then again a mile or two from the river. It was truly an imposing scene to be exhibited in these indomitable wilds. May 22: After encountering many difficulties, the redoubtable Bienville at length reached the spot where now stands the city of Columbus, in Mississippi; and pursuing his tedious voyage, finally moored his boats at or near the place now known as Cotton Gin Port. Here disembarkiing, he immdeiately began to fell the trees in the forest, and soon stockaded a place ample enough to secure his baggage and provisions, together with the sick; while the side fronting the river was arranged with loopholes for muskets, to protect his boats, which were all unladen and drawn up close together. He was twenty-seven miles from the towns of the enemy, which lay in a western direction. He left twenty men here under Vanderick, besides the keeper of the magazine, the patroons of the boats, and some of the soldiers who were sick. With some difficulty he hired a sufficinet number of Choctaws to transport the sacks of powder and balls, for the negroes were already laden with other things. Taking provisions with him to last twelve days, the governor began the march in the evening, and that night encamped six miles from the depot. The rains which incommoded him in his voyage up the river, did not forsake him on his march upon the present occasion; for, scarcely had he formed his camp, when a violent storm arose. The next day he passed three deep ravines -- the soldiers wading up to their waists -- and after gaining the opposite banks, slipping and falling constantly upon the slimy soil. Great difficulties were surmounted in transporting the effects of the army over these angry torrents. The banks on either side were covered with large canes, but Bienville took the precaution always to send spies in advance, to prevent surprise from ambuscades. Soon, however, the French were relieved by the appearance of the most beautiful country in the world. The prairies were stretched out wide before them, covered with green grass, flowers and strawberries, while forests of magnificent trees were to be seen in the distance. A breeze gently played over the surface of the lovely plains, and a May day's sun warmed all nature of life. The sleek cattle were everywhere grazing upon these sweet meadows of nature. The nimble deer bounded along, and droves of wild horses, of every variety of color, with lofty tails and spreading manes, made the earth resound with their rapid tread. Alas! alas! to think that the inhabitants, whom the Great Spirit had placed in a country so lovely and so enchanting, were soon to be assailed by an army of foreigners, assisted by their own neighbors.
Drawing nearer and nearer to the enemy, Bienville finally encamped within six miles of their towns. His camp was formed upon the border of a delightful prairie, the view across which was not interrupted by trees, until it reached far beyond the Indian houses. He had previously sent spies in all directions, to look for D'Artaguette and his troops, who were to have joined him there. The bands, chiefly composed of Indians, returned without having heard anything of that unfortunate officer. The governor was sorely disappointed, and could no longer hope for aid from that source, and he resolved to rely on his own forces. May 24 1736: His intention, at first, waa to march to a circuitous direction, around the Chickasaw villages, in order to attack the Natchez town which lay behind them, and which had recntly been erected. But the Choctaws had become very impatient to assail an advanced village of the Chickasaws, which, they insisted, could be easily taken, and which, they stated, contained a large amount of provisions. Their impotunities were disregarded until strengthened by the entreaties of the Chevalier Noyan, the nephew of the governor, and many other French officers, whose impetuous disposition made them eager for an immediate attack. The house of the enemy stood upon a hill, in the prarie, and spread out in the shape of a triangle. After some consideration, Bienville resolved to give the French an opportunity of gratifying a long sought revenge, especially when it was made known to him that his camp was then pitched near the last water which his men could procure for miles in a western direction., At two o 'clock in the afternoon, Chevalier Noyan was placed at the head of a column consisting of a detachment of fifteen men drawn from each of the eight French companies, a company of grenadiers, forty-five volunteers and sixty-five Swiss.
The Chickasaws had fortified themselves with much skill, and were assisted by Englishmen, who caused them to hoist a flag of ther country over one of their defenses. The French trroops, as they advanced, were not a little surprised to see the British Lion, against which many of them had often fought in Europe, now floating over the rude huts of American Indians, and bidding them defiance. The Chickasaws had fortified their houses in a most defensive manner, by driving large stakes into the ground around them. Many loop-holes were cut through the latter, very near the ground. Within the palisades, entrenchments were cut, deep enough to protect the persons of the Indians as high as their breasts. In these ditches they stood, and when the battle began, shot through the loop=holes at the French. The tops of these fortified houses were covered in timbers, upon which was placed a thick coat of mud plaster, so that neirther ignited arrows nor bomb shells could set the houses on fire. What added still more to the security of the Chickasaws, was the position of some of their houses, which stood in nearly opposite directions, so as to admit of destructive cross-firing. Bienville having previously learned that there were several of the British in the village, had, with much humanity, as it may at that time have seemed, directed the Chevalier Noyan to give them time to retire before he brought on the attack. The division then marched briskly on. It was protected by movable breastworks, called mantelets, which were now carried by the company of negroes. As their lives appear not to have been esteemed of as much value as those of the French, these negroes were used in the same manner as shields are in battle. When the troops advanced within carbine shot of the village of Ackia, where waved a British flag, one of the negroes was killed, and another wounded. They now threw down their mantalets and precipitately fled. The French, with their usual impetuosity, rapidly advanced. They entered the village. The grenadiers led. And now, no longer protected by the mantalets, they received a severe fire from the Chickasaws, which killed and wounded many. Among the former was the gallant and accomplished Chevalier de Contre Coeur; and when he fell dead it produced an unpleasant feeling among those around him, by whom he was greatly esteemed. Upon his right and left soldiers lay dead, discoloring the green grass with their hot blood. But the troops carried three fortified cabins, and reached several larger smaller ones, which they presently wrapped in flames. The chief fort and other fortified houses lay some distance in the rear of those they had in possession. The Chevalier Noyan was eager to advance upon them, but turning around to take a rapid survey of his forces he was mortified to perceive that only the officers, a dozen of the volunteers and some grenadiers remained with him. Dismayed by the fall of Captian de Lusser, * who was now killed, and seeing a popular sergeant of grendiers and several soldiers also fall, the troops retreated to the cabins which were first taken. In vain did the officers who belonged to the rear endeavor to drive them on to the scene of action. A panic had seized them, and no exhilaration, threats, promises of promotion or hopes of miliatry glory could induce them to make the slightest advance from their cowardly position. But the officers resolved more than ever to do their duty, and placing themselves at the head of a few brave soliers essayed to storm the fort. But just at the moment of their contemplated charge the brave Chevalier Noyan, Grondel, an invincible lieutenant of the Swiss, D'Hauterive, a captain of the grenadiers, Monthrun, De Velles, and many other officers and soldiers received severe wounds. The balls of the Chickasaws came thick and whizzed over the prarie. The bleeding De Noyan stood his ground, and despatched his aid to assist in bringing up the soldiers, who still screened themselves behind the cabins, but as he left to perform the order a Chickasaw ball put an end to his existence. The death of this officer, whose name was De Juzan, increased the panic which had unfortunately seized upon the larger number of the troops. A party of Indians at this moment rushed up to scalp Grondel, the Swiss officer, who had fallen near the walls of the fort. The brave sergenat with four fearless soldiers rushed to the rescue. Driving off the savages, they were about to bear him off in their arms when a fire from the foort killed every one of these noble fellows! But the bleeding Grondel still survived, although those who came to protect his head from the blows of the hatchet lay dead by his side. Another act of heroism is worthy of record. Regnisse now rushed out alone, and making his way to the unfortunate Grondel, who still lay bleeding from five wounds, dragged him out from among the bodies of those who had fallen in his defence, placed him on his back and returned to the French lines, without receiving a solitary wound from the showers of Chickasaw balls. The almost lifeless Grondel received, however, another severe wound as he was borne off by the noble Regnisse. **
* It will be recollected that De Lusser,
who was now killed, was the officer whom Bienville sent to construct
Fort "Tombecbe," upon the site of the present Jones'
** This Grondel was an officer of indomitable courage. His life was full of romantic events. He had fought several duels at Mobile. He recovered from the wounds which he received in this battle, and was promoted to high military stations.
But where were the six hundred Choctaws, while the French were thus expiring in agony upon the prairie? Painted, plumed and dressed in a manner the most fantastic and horrible, they kept the plain, on either side of the French lines, at a distance where the balls of the enemy could not reach them, sending forth yells and shouts, and occasionally dancing and shooting their guns in the air. The brave Chickasaws maintained their positions in the fortified houses, and, from loop holes, riddled the French with their unerring rifles. They, too, yelled most awfully. May 26 1736: The scene was one calculated to excite deep interest, for, added to all this, the looker-on might have viewed the flames rising up from the burning cabins, and sending above them volumes of black smoke, which a May breeze wafted to the far off forests.
The Chevalier De Noyan now ordered a retreat to the advanced cabins, and when he had arrived there, he depatched an officer to Bienville, bearing an account of their critical condition. Noyan sent him word that, although severely wounded himself, he was determined to keep the position which he had just taken. He requested that a detachment should be sent to his assistance, to bear off the dead and wounded, and assist those who were alive to make a retreat, as, now, no further hope remained of storming the fortifications of the Chickasaws. Bienville hastened in his determination to send aid, by observing that a Chickasaw force on the flank, which had not yet participated in the battle, was about to sally from their houses and immolate the French officers and the few soldiers who had remained with them. He then immediately despatched Beauchamp, with eighty men, to the scene of action. Arriving there he found the French officers huddled together, keeping their ground at the imminent peril of their lives. Beauchamp, in advancing, had already lost several men. The Chickasaws now redoubled their exertions, and made the plains resound with their exulting shouts. Beauchamp began the retreat, carrying off many of the wounded and the dead, but unfortunately was forced to leave some behind, who fell into the tiger clutches of the Chickasaws. When the French had retreated some distance towards Bienville's headquarters, the Choctaws, by way of bravado, rushed up to the Chickasaw fortifications, as if they intended to carry them by storm, but receiving a general volley from the enemy, they fled in great terror over the prarie.
The battle of Ackia had lasted three hours, and resulted in glory to the Chickasaws, and disgrace to the French. When the French troops arrived at the camp, proper attention was paid to the wounded and the dying. It was not long before this brilliant and exciting scene was made to give place to one which presented an aspect at once quiet, calm and beautiful. The sun, in his retirement for the night, had just sunk to the tops of the trees in the far off distance. A cool and deliciuos breeze was made sweet with the odor of wild flowers. The Chickasaws were as quiet as the boa-constrictor after he has gorged upon his prey. The cattle and horses, much disturbed during the fight, now began to move up and feed upon their accustomed meadows. What a contrast had been produced by the lapse of only two hours!
During this quiet scene, a collection of French officers were on one side of the camp, summing up the misfortunes of the day. Among them stood Simon, the commander of the negroes who fled from the field. Simon was a favorite with the officers, and had resolutely maintained his ground during the engagement. Some of them rallied him upon the flight of his company, which annoyed him excessively. At that moment, a drove of horses came down to the stream to slake their thirst, not far from the fortified houses of the Chickasaws. The desperate Simon, in reply to those who made sport of his company, seized a rope and ran off towards the horses saying, "I will show you that a negro is as brave as any one." He passed around the horses in full range of the Chickasaw rifles, from which balls were showered upon him, and making his way up to a beautiful white mare, threw a rope over her head, and thus securing her, passed it around her nose, mounted upon her back with the agility of a Comanche Indian, and pressed her with rapid speed into the French lines. He did not receive a wound, and he was welcomed with shouts by the soldiers, and was no more jeered on account of the cowardice of his company.*
* Dumont's Memoires Historique sur la Louisiane.
Bienville, pleased with the gallantry which Regnisse had displayed in bearing off the wounded Grondel, immediately from under the guns of the Chickasaws, had him brought to the marquee, complimented him upon the generous and heroic act which he had performed, and proposed to promote him to the rank of an officer. The brave Regnisse modestly replied that he had done nothing more than what could have been accomplished by any of his brother grenadiers, and stated that as he could not write, he was unfitted for an officer; therefore he declined the intended honor.
Night now shrouded the scene with its sable mantle, and the French troops reposed behind some trees which had been felled for their protection. The Chickasaws remained quiet within their entrenchments. At length day dawned, and exhibited to Bienville a painful sight. On the ramparts of the Chickasaws were suspended the French soldiers and officers, whom Beauchamp was forced to leave upon the field. Their limbs had been separated from their bodies, and thus were they made to dangle in the air, for the purpose of insulting the defeated invaders. Many of the officers wished to rush again upon the viages, but Bienville was determined to retreat, as the Choctaws were of no assistance to him, and he was without cannon to batter down the fortifications. In the afternoon, at two o'clock, he began the retrograde march. The soldiers, worn down with fatigue produced by the battle and the mortifications arising from its disgraceful termintation, were unable to, in addition to their heavy loads of baggage, to carry the wounded, who were placed in litters. Consequently night set in by the time Bienville had march only four miles; here the camp was again made. The Choctaws were highly exasperated on account of this slow movement, and Red Shoes, who had long endeavored to wean his people from French interest, now vociferously threatened to take with him the greater portion of the Choctaws, and thus leave the French to the mercy of the Chickasaws in this wild and distant region. Bienville was startled when he was informed of this determination. He sent for the main Chief of the Choctaws, and by his eloquence and the force of that mysterious influence which he possessed, he succeeded not only in getting the Choctaws to remain with the army, but made them consent to assist in the transportation of the wounded. May 28 1736: Red Shoes rebuked the head Chief, for consenting to such terms, in a manner so insulting, that the latter drew his pistol from his belt, and was in the act of shooting him, when Bienville seized his arm, saved the life of Red Shoes, and, for a while put an end to an affair which threatened the most serious sonsequences. The next morning Bienville put his troops upon his march, and he arrived at the depot, upon the Tombigby, on the 29th May, after he had buried two of his men, on the way, who had died of their wounds.
June 2 1736: Bienville was astonished to observe how much the river had fallen, and he hurried his effects into the boats, for fear that the delay of a day longer would leave him without a stream sufficient to convey him to Mobile. When the troops had embarked, the ropes which bound the boats to the banks were untied, and then the discomfited French party passed down the stream. The channel of the Little Tombigby was here so crooked and narrow, that the boats had frequently to stop until logs and projecting limbs were cut out of the way. If the Chickasaws had followed up the French, they could easily have destoyed Bienville's army at this time. At length the army reached Fort "Tombechbe," now Jones Bluff. Bienville, sending on a portion of the troops, and the sick and wounded to Mobile, disembarked at the fort. He remained there, however, but one day, which he consumed in planning upon paper, and tracing upon the ground additions which he directed to be made to the defenses. June 3 1736: Then, leaving Captain De Berthel in command of Fort "Tombecbe," with a garrison of thirty Frenchmen and twenty Swiss, provisions to last for the remainder of the year, and an abundance of merchandiseintended to be used in commerce with the Indians, the governor entered his boats, and continued the voyage until they were moored at the town of Mobile.
But where was the brave and unfortunate D'Artaguette? Why did not his army join Bienville at the Chickasaw town? The reader will presently see. That officer had assembled the tribes of the Illinois at Fort Chartres, and had made them acquainted with the plans of Governor Bienville. With these Indians, and others which De Vincennes had collected upon the Wabash, together with thirty soldiers and one hindred volunteers, D'Artaguette floated down the Mississippi river until he reached the last of the Chickasaw Bluffs. He had expected to have been joined by De Grandpre, who commanded at the Arkansas, and that officer had sent twenty-eight warriors of that tribe to ascertain whether D'Artaguette was at Ecores a Prudhomme. These scouts were instructed to return with the necessary information; but upon arriving at that place, and findint that D'Artaguette had set out upon his expedition, they hastened to follow him into the enemy's country. Disembarking at the Chickasaw Bluffs, D'Artaguette marched across the country, at a slow pace, hoping to be overtaken by De Grandpre, and also by Montcherval, who had been ordered to bring on his Cahokias and Michigamias. Pursuing the march in an eastward direction, D'Artaguette advanced among the sources of the Yalobusha and there encamped on the 9th May. He was but a few miles east of the site of the present town of Pontotoc, in Mississippi, near the place where he and Bienville were to have met each other, and not more than thirty miles from the spot where the latter, afterwards, moored his boats -- near the present Cotton Gin Port. D'Artaguette sought, in vain, for intelligence of the commader-in-chief. He was assisted by Lieutenant Vincennes, the young Voisin, and Senac, a holy father of the order of Jesuits, in arranging and conducting the spy companies, who roamed the forests in search of Bienville. But nothing could be heard of him until a courier brought to D'Artaguette a letter, in which he was informed that unexpected delays would prevent Bienville from reaching the Chickasaw towns before the last of April. The red allies had become impatient, for by this time. D'Artaguette had occupied his camp for eleven days. He now resolved to advance upon the Chickasaws, as his allies had threatened to abandon him of he did not soon bring on the attack. They represented to him that the advance town was inhabited by the refugee Natchez, and by taking it they could return to their encampment with an abundance of provisions, where they might remain entrenched until Bienville's arrival. This plausible proposition found advocates in the French officers. The allied forces consisted of one hundred and thirty Frenchmen, and three hundred and sixty Indians. The French advanced within a mile of the village, on Palm Sunday. Frontigny was here left at the camp, with thirty men, in charge of the baggage. D'Artaguette advanced rapidly to the attack, which he presently brought on with his accustomed gallantry. At that moment, thirty Englishmen and five hundred Indians, who were concealed behind an adjacent hill, rose up and fell upon the invaders with such impetuosity that the Miamis and the Illinois fled from the battle field. Indeed, all the Indians took to their heels, except a few Iroquois and Arkansas, who behaved in the bravest manner. The guns of the enemy brought to the ground Lieutenant St. Ange, Ensigns De Coulanges, De La Graviere and De Courigny, with six of the militia officers. By this time the French were almost surrounded, but they still continued to keepo their position. Presently, Captian Des Essarts was seen to fall, and also Lieutenant Langlois and Ensign Levieux. So great was the loss of the French, in this short, but desparate conflict, that D'Artaguette determined to retreat to the camp, for the double purpose of saving his baggage, and of being reinforced by the men he had left there; but the retreat could not be conducted with the least order, for the Chickasaws were close upon their heels, and at length again surrounded. D'Artaguette now fell covered with wounds, and was taken prisoner, together with Father Senac, Vincennes, Du Tisne, an officer of the regulars, a captain of the militia, named Lalande, and some soldiers, making ninetten in all. Not one man would have escaped the clutches of the brave Chickasaws if a violent storm, which now arose, had not prevented further pursuit. May 20 1736: It was a great victory; all the provisions and baggage of D'Artaguette fell into the hands of the Chickasaws, besides eleven horses, four hundred and fifty pounds of powder and twelve hundred bullets. With this powder and these bullets they afterwards shot down the troops of Bienville, as we have already seen.
Voisin, a youth of only sixteen years of age, conducted the retreat for many miles, without food or water, while his men carried such of the wounded as they were able to bear. This noble youth, one of the bravest that ever lived, stood by the side of D'Artaguette in all this bloody engagement. At length, on the second day of his painful retreat, he halted his men at a place where Montcherval, who was following D 'Artaguette with one hundred and sixty Indians, had encamped. The latter, collecting the fragments of the army, fell back to the Mississippi river.
At first the unfortunate D'Artaguette and his equally unfortunate companions in captivity were treated with kindness and attention by the Chickasaws, who dressed their wounds. Hopes of a high ransom prompted this conduct, so unusual with Indians. They expected not only to receive money from Bienville, who was known to be approaching, but imagined that by holding these men as prisoners the governor would consent to leave their towns unattacked. But at length they received intelligence that Bienville had been defeated, and they now resolved to sacrifice the prisoners. They led them out to a neighboring field, and D'Artaguette, Father Senac, Vincennes, and fifteen others were pinioned to stakes and burned to death! One of the soldiers was spared to carry the news of the triumph of the Chickasaws and the death of these unhappy men to the mortified Bienville. *
* MS. letters obtained from Paris. I have also consulted Gayarre's Histoire de la Louisiane, vol. 1, pp. 311-331, which contains the despatches of Bienvile to the French Court in relation to these battles. Also, Dumont's Memoires Historiques sur la Louisisne--Bancroft's History of the United States, vol. 3--The Southwest, by Alexander B. Meek, of Mobile--Martin's Louisiana--Stodart's Louisiana--Monette's History of the Mississippi Valley, vol. 1, pp. 283-288--Louisiana, its Colonial History and Romance, by Charles Gayarre: New York, 1851; pp 475-495.
The Chickasaws have never been conquered. They could not be defeated by De Soto with his Spanish army in 1541; by Bienville, with his French army and Southern Indians, in 1736; by D'Artaguette, with his French army and Northern Indians; by the Marquis De Vaudreuil, with his French troops and Choctaws, in 1752; nor by the Creeks, Cherokees, Kickapoos, Shawnees and Choctaws, who continually waged war against them. No! they were "the bravest of the brave;" and even when they had emigrated to the territory of the Arkansas, not many years ago, they soon subdued some tribes who attacked them in that quarter.
Young Men of Northwestern Alabama and Northeastern Mississippi! Remember, that the bravest race that ever lived, once occupied the country which you now inhabit--once fished in your streams, and chased the elk over your vast plains. Remember, that whenever that soil, which you now tread, was pressed by the feet of foes, it was not only bravely defended, but drenched with the blood of the invaders. Will you ever disgrace that soil, and the memory of its first occupants, by submitting to injustice and oppression, and finally to invasion? We unhestitating give the answer for you -- "No-- no-- never!"
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