Chapter 35: Tecumseh -- Civil War Among The Creeks

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



The United States and Great Britain were upon the verge of war. British agents, in Canada and Florida, sought to procure the co-operation of the whole southwestern Indian force. The Creeks, more powerful in numbers than the others, were particularly urged to join the English. 1811: Colonel Hawkins had managed them, with much wisdom and policy, for several years, but they always remained dissatisfied, and were particularly so now, in consequence of a portion of their Chiefs having granted a public road through the heart of their country, which had been cut out by Lieutenant Luckett and a party of soldiers. This thoroughfare, called the "Federal Road," and which run from Mims' Ferry, upon the Alabama, to the Chattahoochie, was filled, from one end to the other, with emigrants for the western part of the territory. The Creeks, with their usual sagacity, foresaw that they should soon be hemmed in by the Georgians on one side, and the Tombigby people on the other, and many of them contemplated the expulsion of the latter, at some day not very distant. The Spaniards also hated the emigrants, who had continued to drive them, inch by inch, from the soil which they claimed. With both them and the Indians the British agents began to operate, to make secret allies of the one and open ones of the other. But the most powerful British incendiary was Tecumseh. His father and mother, of the Shawnee family, were born and bred at Souvanogee,* upon the Tallapoosa, in Alabama. With several children, they removed to the forest of Ohio, where Tecumseh was born, in 1768. He had five brothers, who were all celebrated for the human blood which they spilt and for their indomitable courage. His only sister, Tecumapease, a woman of great sense and strong character, he devotedly loved, and was much influenced by her. In 1787 he visited the Cherokees and Creeks, with whom he remained two years, engaging in their hunts, festivals and frontier wars. Returning to the Ohio, he fought a battle with a party of whites, near Big Rock, and another, with the Kentuckians, on the Little Miami, and still another, at Paint Rock, in 1793. He then engaged in the attack upon Fort Recovery, in 1794, and participated in the battle of Maumee Rapids in the same year. From that period until that in which we propose to connect him with Alabama history, Tecumseh was engaged in British intrigues, in hunts and in skirmishes. Wherever he appeared, devastation and havoc ensued. He possessed a fine form, a commanding appearance, and had the endurance common to all Indians, together with a high degree of sagacity. He entertained the most relentless hatred of the Americans.

* Old Augusta, now the property of Henry Lucas, on the railroad, where there are some mounds.

Spring 1812: After many conferences with the British, at Detroit, Tecumseh left that country with a party of thirty warriors mounted upon horses, and shaped his course to the south. Passing through the Chickasaw and Choctaw of country, he was unsuccessful in arraying these tribes against the Americans. He went down to Florida, and met with complete success with the Seminoles. In the month of October he came up to the Alabama, crossed that river at Autauga, where he, for the first time, appealed to the Creeks, in a long speech. Continuing to Coosawda, he had by this time, collected many followers, who went with him to the Hickory Ground. Having from their boyhood heard of his feats in the buffalo chase, the bloody wars which he had conducted, and of his fierce and transcendent eloquence, the warriors flocked to see him. He went to Tookabatcha, where Colonel Hawkins was then holding his grand council with the Indians. This ancient capital never looked so gay and populous. An autumnal sun glittered upon the yellow faces of five thousand natives, besides whites and negroes, who mingled with them. At the conclusion of the agent's first day's address, Tecumseh, at the head of his Ohio party, marched into the square. They were entirely naked, except their flaps and ornaments. Their faces were painted black, and their heads adorned with eagle plumes, while buffalo tails dragged from behind, suspended by bands which went around their waists. Buffalo tails were also attached to their arms, and made to stand out, by means of bands. Their appearance was hideous, and their bearing pompous and ceremonious. They marched round and round in the square; then, approaching the Chiefs, they cordially shook them with the whole length of the arm, and exchanged tobacco, a common ceremony with the Indians, denoting friendship, as we have already seen. Captain Isaacs, Chief of Coosawda, was the only one who refused to exchange tobacco. His head, adorned with its usual costume--a pair of buffalo horns--was shaken in contempt of Tecumseh, who, he said, was a bad man, and no greater than he was.

Every day Tecumseh appeared in the square to deliver his "talk," and all ears were anxious to hear it, but late in the evening he would rise and say, "The sun has gone too far to-day--I will make my talk to-morrow." At length Hawkins terminated his business and departed for the Agency upon the Flint. That night a grand council was held in the great round-house. Tecumseh, presenting his graceful and majestic form above the heads of hundreds, made known his mission in a long speech, full of fire and vengeance. He exhorted them to return to their primitive customs; to throw aside the plough and the loom, and to abandon an agricultural life, which was unbecoming Indian warriors. He told them that after the whites had possessed the greater part of their country, turned its beautiful forests into large fields and stained their clear rivers with the washings of the soil, they would then subject them to African servitude. He exhorted them to assimilate in no way with the grasping, unprincipled race; to use none of their arms and wear none of their clothes, but dress in the skins of beasts, which the Great Spirit had given his red children for food and raiment, and to use the war-club, the scalping-knife and the bow. He concluded by announcing that the British, their former friends, had sent him from the Big Lakes to procure their services in expelling the Americans from all Indian soil; that the King of England was ready handsomely to reward all who would fight for his cause.

Oct.1812: A prophet, who composed one of the party of Tecumseh, next spoke. He said that he frequently communed with the Great Spirit, who had sent Tecumseh to their country upon this mission, the character of which that great Chief had described. He declared that those who would join the war party should be shielded from all harm--none would be killed in battle; that the Great Spirit would surround them with quagmires, which would swallow up the Americans as they approached; that they would finally expel every Georgian from the soil as far as the Savannah; that they would see the arms of Tecumseh stretched out in the heavens at a certain time, and then they would know when to begin the war. *

* The British officers in Canada had told him when a comet would appear, and that he might use that as a sign to delude the Southern Indians.

A short time before daylight the council adjourned, and more than half the audience had already resolved to go to war against the Americans. Tecumseh visited all the important Creek towns, enlisting all whom he could on the side of England. He had much to overcome, in the obstinacy of many of the prominent Chiefs, who had become attached to the Federal Government, which had lavished upon them munificent presents. Yet he was, in a great measure, successful. He made use of gifted and cunning Indians, to carry out his plans, after he should have left the country. one of these was Josiah Francis, the son of a Creek woman, by a trader of Scotch and Irish descent, named David Francis.* The Shawnee prophet, it was said, inspired him. He placed him in a cabin by himself, around which he danced and howled for ten days. He said that Francis was then blind, but that he would again see, and would then know all things which were to happen in future. When the ten days expired the prophet led him forth, and attended him all day, for Francis stepped high and irregular, like a blind man. Towards night the vision of Francis suddenly came to him, and after that he was the greatest prophet in the whole Creek nation, and was empowered to make many subordinate prophets. Tecumseh having made numerous proselytes, once more visited the Big Warrior at Tookabatcha, whom he was particularly desirous to enlist in his schemes, but whom he had hitherto entreated to no effect, although his house was his headquarters. The Big Warrior still remained true to the United States, more from fear of the consequences of a war than any love he entertained for the Americans. Tecumseh, after talking with him for some time to no purpose pointed his finger in his face and emphatically said: "Tustinuggee Thlucco, your blood is white. You have taken my red sticks and my talk, but you do not mean to fight. I know the reason. You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me. You shall believe it. I will leave directly, and go straight to Detroit. When I get there I will stamp my foot upon the ground and shake down every house in Tookabatcha." The Big Warrior said nothing, but puffed his pipe and enveloped himself in clouds of smoke. Afterwards he thought much upon this remarkable speech.

* This David Francis lived for many years in the Autauga town, where he had a trading establishment. He was also a silversmith and made buckles, ornaments and spurs of silver for the Indians. Josiah, his son, also learned the trade. David Francis was a great uncle to Dr. Francis, an intelligent and highly respectable gentleman of Benton county, Alabama.

Dec. 1812: The common Indians believed every word of Tecumseh 's last speech, which was intended solely to intimidate the Big Warrior, and they began to count up the time it would take the Shawnee Chief to reach Detroit, when he would stamp his foot, as he had declared. One day a mighty rumbling was heard in the earth; the houses of Tookabatcha reeled and tottered, and reeled again. * The people ran out, vociferating, "Tecumseh has got to Detroit! We feel the shake of his foot!"

* This was an earthquake well known to the old settlers. In relation to the visit of Tecumseh to Alabama, I have consulted General Ferdinand L. Claiborne's MS. Papers and Drake's Life of Tecumseh; I have also conversed with Lachlan Durant, Mrs. Sophia McComb, Peter Randon James Moore and others who were at Tookabatcha when Tecumseh arrived there.

Feb. 1813: Josiah Francis made many prophets, and, among others, High-Head Jim, of Auttose. The Indians began to dance "the war-dance of the lakes," which Tecumseh had taught them. In the meantime, that Chief had reached Canada, having carried with him the Little Warrior, of the Creek nation, with thirty of his warriors. The British agents sent back by them letters to their agents in Florida, with orders to allow the Creeks extensive supplies of arms and ammunition. The Little Warrior, in returning, by way of the mouth of the Ohio, attacked seven families, living near each other, and murdered them in the most cruel manner. They dragged Mrs. Crawley from the bodies of her bleeding children, and brought her, a prisoner, to the Tuscaloosa Falls. Being made acquainted with these outrages by General Robertson, the Chickasaw agent, Hawkins, demanded the punishment of the guilty warriors. Apr. 16: A council, at Tookabatcha, secretly despatched a party of warriors, headed by McIntosh, of Coweta, who marched to the Hickory Ground, where they separated into smaller parties. One of these went to the Red Warrior's Bluff, upon the Tallapoosa, now Grey's Ferry, and there surrounded a house, and began to shoot at five of the Little Warrior's party. They defended themselves with bravery, all the time dancing the dance of the lakes. Finally, they were all killed and burnt up. A party, headed by Captain Isaacs, pursued the Little Warrior into a swamp, above Wetumpka, and killed him. Others were killed at Hoithlewaule. Although the Chiefs, friendly to the United States, acted with so much justice upon this occasion, it did not prevent the commission of other murders, more immediately at home. An old Chief, named Mormouth, killed Thomas Merideth, an emigrant, at Catoma Creek, and wounded others.*

* Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 843-845.

Apr. 13: Having engaged in a war with England, the Federal Government, fearing to leave the port of Mobile longer in the hands of the Spaniards, who were the secret allies of Great Britain, resolved to occupy the whole of the district lying between Pearl and the Perdido rivers, and below the line of 31°, which we had claimed since the treaty with Bonaparte, who ceded to us Louisiana, of which this was a part, as was contended. Accordingly, General Wilkinson, with six hundred men, of the third and seventh regiments, sailing from New Orleans in transport vessels, commanded by Commodore Shaw, provided with scaling ladders, and every necessary equipment, landed opposite the Pavilion, on the bay of Mobile. He marched up to the town, and took a position in the rear of Fort Charlotte. After some correspondence, the Spanish commandant, Captain Cayetano Perez, capitulated, surrendered the fort, and all the cannon and military stores, the latter of which Wilkinson agreed the United States should pay for. The Spanish garrison retired to Pensacola, and the stars and stripes were hoisted upon the ramparts of Fort Charlotte, which was built of brick, with casements for five hundred men and with four bastions. It was quite an acquisition to the United States at the present time. General Wilkinson sent nine pieces of artillery to Mobile Point, which were there placed in battery. He then marched to the Perdido, and on its western bank, on the main road to Pensacola, began the construction of a strong stockade under the superintendence of Colonel John Bowyer, which was afterwards abandoned. Marching back to Mobile, he despatched Captain Chamberlain with soldiers to Mobile Point, who began and in two years completed Fort Bowyer.* Thus the long period had arrived when no Spanish government was found to exist upon a foot of the soil of Alabama or Mississippi.

* Memoirs of Wilkinson, vol. 1, pp. 507-520. Conversations with Major Reuben Chamberlain.

The effects of Tecumseh's visit began to be realized in every corner of the Creek confederacy. Even at the Falls of Tuscaloosa, where a Creek town had for several years been established, the inhabitants were extremely belligerent. The Chief, Ocheoce Emarthla, with a few warriors, dropped down the Warrior river in canoes, paid Mr. Gaines a visit, and were insulting in their bearing and importunate in their demands for goods upon a credit. They disclosed to Tandy Walker, an honest white man, formerly a government blacksmith, their intentions shortly to attack the settlers and seize upon the factory. In an eastward direction the Alabamas were furious advocates of American extermination. The Indian executions, to which allusion has just been made, connected with the occasional shocks of the earthquake, filled the Indian world with excitement and fanaticism.

May 1813: Peter McQueen, a half-breed of Tallase, the venerable Hobothle Micco, and other prominent men, who had inclined to the talks of Tecumseh, now assumed decided attitudes. The hostile spirit increased fearfully, and the whole nation was soon agitated with quarrels, fights, murders and robberies, and everything foreboded a direful civil war. The prophets practised their incantations in towns, fields, and in the woods, wherever they found Indians to influence. Alarmed at this unusual state of things, the Chiefs friendly to the United States frequently despatched runners to Hawkins, who urged them in return to adhere to the cause of the Federal Government, and to take all means to avert a civil war. The agent seems to have been strangely benighted, slowly allowing his mind to be brought to the conviction that anything serious would grow out of these difficulties. The Big Warrior, on the contrary, was much alarmed. He endeavored to assemble the Chiefs of the neighboring towns, but a majority refused to appear, and continued to give countenance to the prophets. He despatched a runner to the Alabamas with this talk: "You are but a few Alabama people. You say that the Great Spirit visits you frequently; that he comes in the sun, and speaks to you; that the sun comes down just above your heads. Now we want to see and hear what you have seen and heard. Let us have the same proof, then we will believe. You have nothing to fear--the people who did the killing upon the Ohio are put to death, and the law is satisfied." The messenger was seized, killed and scalped at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, where a portion of the war party were engaged in "the dance of the lakes." They then paddled down to Coosawda, pursued Captain Isaacs into the cane, across the river, and, being unable to find him, returned, burnt up his houses, destroyed his stock and murdered two of his chief warriors.* The Indians also commenced hostilities upon the Americans. June 1813: Between Burnt Corn and the Escambia, Greggs, an American mailrider, was seized, most severely beaten, and left upon the Federal Road, after being robbed of his mail bags and horse. Without anything to eat, save the berries in the woods, the lacerated youth, after wandering ten days through the forests, reached Montgomery Hill. The mail was carried to Pensacola and rifled of its contents in a Spanish trading house.** June 25: Gen. Wilkinson, with his lady, had reached Sam McNac's, near the Catoma, with an escort, which had attended him from Mims' Ferry. He wrote back to Judge Toulmin, informing him of the dangers attendant upon a trip through the Creek nation, but that he was resolved to go on to Georgia. In a short time McNac, who for some time lived upon the Federal Road, for the purpose of accommodating travellers, was driven off, some of his negroes stolen, while his cattle were driven to Pensacola for sale. Other half-breeds, suspected of friendship for the Americans, were treated in the same manner. Remaining concealed for some time upon his island in the Alabama, McNac ventured to visit his place upon the road. Here he suddenly encountered High-Head Jim, one of the prophets of Auttose, who, after shaking him by the hands, began to tremble all over, and to jerk in every part of his frame, convulsing the calves of the legs, and, from the severe agitation, getting entirely out of breath. This practice had been introduced by the prophet Josiah Francis, the brother-in-law of McNac, who said he was so instructed by the Great Spirit. Wishing to make terms for the moment, McNac pretended that he was sorry for his former friendship for the whites, and avowed his determination to join the hostiles. High-Head Jim, led away by his artifice, disclosed to him all their plans; that they were soon to kill the Big Warrior, Captain Isaacs, William McIntosh, the Mad Dragon's Son, the Little Prince, Spoke Kange, and Tallase Fixico, all prominent Chiefs of the nation; that, after the death of these traitors, the Creeks were to unite, in a common cause, against the Americans; those upon the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Black Warrior were to attack the settlements upon the Tensaw and Tombigby; those near the Cherokees, with the assistance of the latter, were to attack the Tennesseans; the Georgians were to fall by the fierce sallies of the Lower Creeks and Seminoles; while the Choctaws were to exterminate the Mississippi population.

* Indian Affairs, vol. 1, p. 846.
Conversations with Mr. George S. Gaines, of Mobile, and Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, of Baldwin county.

The most extravagant delusions prevailed upon the Coosa, at this period. Nearly all these people moved out of their towns, into the woods, dancing and preparing for war. Letecau, a prophet of eighteen years of age, a native of the town of Abaucooche, went with eighteen subordinate prophets, to the old Coosa town, from whence they sent out runners, inviting all the unbelievers to come and witness their magical powers. A large assembly of both sexes congregated upon the banks of the river, and surrounded the prophets. Letecau, with his wand, drew a circle in front, and he and his subordinates began "the dance of the lakes." After powerful exertions for some time, the warwhoop was given by Letacau, who fell, with his men, upon three Chiefs, whom they killed. The other friendly Chiefs sprang into the river, made their escape to their towns, and assembling their warriors returned and killed Letecau and his prophets. They proceeded to Little Ocfuske, where Tecumseh's talk had been taken, and there put a number of his deluded followers to death.

June 1813: The hostiles destroyed the stock of the friendly Indians, at the Hillabee towns, several of whom they killed. They carried off seventy negroes belonging to Robert Graison, and committed many other depredations. The town of Kialigee was burned down, and several of the inhabitants shot. These things overwhelmed the Big Warrior with fear, and he entreated Hawkins to relieve him with the federal troops. He had collected a large supply of corn at Tookabatcha, where he built a fort. Hawkins prevailed upon two hundred warriors of Coweta and Cussetta, to march to Tookabatcha, where they soon arrived, and, after some annoyance from the attacks of a few of the war party, succeeded in carrying off the Big Warrior, and those who adhered to him, in safety over to the Chattahoochie.*

* Upon the civil war among the Creeks, see Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 849-851.

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