Chapter 38: Daring of Heaton-- Bloody Scenes -- Gaines and The Choctaws

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



Sept.1 1813: While the larger body of Creeks were destroying the people at Fort Mims, Francis, the prophet, at the head of a hundred warriors, was spreading his depredations in the fork of the Alabama and Tombigby. Abner James and Ransom Kemball, with their large families, being inmates of Fort Sinquefield, and becoming dissatisfied at remaining among so many people, repaired to the house of Kemball, situated two miles from the fort. Here they were living when Francis suddenly surrounded the house, about three o'clock in the evening. Abner James, his son Thomas, then fourteen years of age, and his daughter Mary escaped, and fled to the fort. Isam Kemball, then sixteen years of age, also safely reached Sinquefield, and is now the clerk of the Circuit Court of Clarke county. All the others were despatched with war-clubs and scalped. After killing the stock and robbing the house the Indians retired to the swamps. In the early part of the night a slight rain commenced, which, it is believed, revived Sarah Merrill, the married daughter of James, whom the Indians had supposed to be dead. She felt among the bodies, which lay thick around her, and found her little boy, twelve months old, who also fortunately was alive. Some warm milk from her breast revived him more and more. Taking him in her arms, she with difficulty got upon her feet, and slowly walked towards the fort. Arriving within a half mile of that place, her bleeding wounds, weakening her at every step, forced her to place the babe by the side of a log, while she went on and communicated his hiding place to the anxious garrison. Some generous men boldly sallied out, found the boy, and brought him to the fort. They are both now alive. The young woman was severely beaten with large clubs, and the scalp of the entire top of her head was taken off. The savages slung the little fellow against the side of the house, and cut around his head, but his hair being too short they did not pull off his scalp.

Hearing of the murders, Colonel Carson despatched from Fort Montgomery Lieutenant Bailey with seven dragoons, and three men employed as spies, to bury the dead and ascertain if the Indians were numerous. Twelve bodies were conveyed to Fort Sinquefield in an ox-cart, and thrown into a pit dug fifty yards from the gate. About the time that the funeral ceremonies were closing, and while nearly the whole garrison were engaged therein, Francis suddenly rushed with a hundred warriors down a hill towards them. The men snatched up the children, and every one of them reached the gate in time, except about ten women at the spring, who were engaged in washing. The Indians, failing to cut off the retreat of the main party, perceived with delight the helpless condition of these females, and rushed in that direction to secure them. Just at that moment Isaac Heaton, who had been out cow-hunting, riding up, with his long whip and large pack of dogs, gave a tremendous crack, and, encouraging his canine army, charged upon the Indians. Sept. 3 1813: Such was the fury of the dogs, that the Creeks were forced to halt and fight them, which enabled Heaton to cover the retreat of the women until they arrived safely in the fort. His horse fell under him from the wound of an Indian gun, but rose again, and followed into the fort his heroic master, who had received no other injury than the riddling of his coat with rifleballs. Only one poor woman--a Mrs. Philips, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy--was overtaken and scalped.

Sept. 4: Heaton deserves to be remembered for this achievement-- an eminent exemplification of bravery and presence of mind. The Indians now attacked the little stockade, but a brave resistance repelled them, with the loss of eleven warriors. Then, securing the dragoon horses, which had been tethered outside the walls, the savages rapidly retired. The Americans, having lost only one of their number, besides the unfortunate Mrs. Phillips, the next day evacuated Sinquefield's fort, and marched to Fort Madison for better security, where the inmates of Forts Glass and Lavier had also flocked, swelling the population to over one thousand souls, including the command of Colonel Carson of two hundred and twenty men.

Sept. 6: Occasionally the farmers were accustomed to leave Fort Madison for a few hours to procure from their fields provisions for immediate use. A man named Fisher, with three of his sons, set out for that purpose, and, arriving at the farm, one of the boys was shot in the back while shelling some peas in the yard. Instantly rising up, he made his escape to the woods. His father, then in the cane, running out to learn the cause of the firing, was also severely wounded in the back, but likewise made his way to the forest. The other two sons, being in a different part of the field, fled to the fort, and reported the death of their brother and father. The next day, however, they came in, bleeding from their wounds, and happily recovered.*

* Conversations with the late Colonel Girurd W. Creagh, of Clarke county; Colonel Jere Austill, of Mobile, and others See also Claiborne's MS. papers.

These things, following so closely upon the fall of Fort Mims, filled the whole population of the eastern section of the Mississippi Territory with the greatest panic imaginable, and every soul went into some kind of defensive work. Fort Hawn, at Gullett's Bluff, contained a mixed population of three hundred and ninety-one souls, including sixty men under Captain James Powell of the eighth regiment of Mississippi militia. At Mount Vernon were two forts literally packed with people. Rankin's fort contained five hundred and thirty persons--of whom only eighty-seven were capable of bearing arms, in consequence of the sickness which everywhere prevailed in these filthy stockades. Fort Charlotte, of Mobile, was also daily receiving families. To this place Judge Toulmin and a number of his neighbors had repaired. Perhaps greater inquietude existed at St. Stephens than at any other point, if, indeed, any line of distinction can be drawn. Claiborne all the time was harassed by distressing messages, which hourly reached him, and his generous heart was racked day and night in revolving plans to assist them all; but he was unable to do more than he had already accomplished, on account of the smallness of his army and the restrictions put upon him by the commander-in-chief.

The enemy continued to spread their depredations, distributing themselves in all directions, burning the abandoned houses, driving off the cattle, and herding the hogs in the corn-fields to fatten, that their flesh might be in good order for their feastings. Colonel Carson's condition was unknown to Claiborne, and from the continued reports which he received, that a combined attack was soon to be made upon Fort Madison, the general transmitted him an order to abandon his post and march to St. Stephens, which was deemed a more important point to defend. The order was discretionary, however, but Carson and his officers viewed it as rather peremptory. Sept. 8 1813: He started with all his force to St. Stephens, accompanied by five hundred settlers, of all ages and sexes. This created great consternation in the Fork, and Claiborne was unjustly denounced for having abandoned the whole population of Clarke county. But if Carson had chosen to remain it would have fully accorded with the views of the general. The movement was unnecessary, and served to embolden the savages. When the evacuation took place, eighty citizens enrolled themselves under Captain Evan Austill and Captain Sam Dale (the latter still suffering from the desperate wound which he received at Burnt Corn), all of whom determined to stay within Fort Madison to protect a number of citizens who preferred to remain. A despatch from Claiborne, dated the 8th of September, urging Carson "not to abandon the fort, unless it was clear that he could not maintain it," arrived too late, as that officer was already in the neighborhood of St. Stephens.*

* Claiborne's MS. papers.

Sept. 29 1813: The British were hovering along the coast to give their red friends countenance and aid. A British war schooner had anchored at Pensacola with a large supply of munitions of war. Afterwards, Mexco Gonzales Manique, the Governor of Pensacola, addressed a letter to Weatherford and the Chiefs, congratulating them on their late victory at Fort Mims, assuring them of his constant aid, but dissuading them from setting fire to Mobile, as that place properly belonged to the King of Spain, which his majesty would shortly re-occupy.*

* This letter was found in Weatherford's house, at the Holy Ground, several month afterwards, and is yet among the MS. papers of General Claiborne. All these papers furnish the most indubitable evidence of the coalition between the Spaniards and English to exterminate the population of the Mississippi Territory.

While all was doubt and uncertainty as to the position which the Choctaws would assume at this critical juncture, Pushmatahaw, the most enlightened and influential Chief of that nation, rode to St. Stephens and proposed to Mr. George S. Gaines to enlist several companies of his warriors in the American cause. Gratified at the proposition, the latter hastened with the Chief to Mobile, and had an interview with General Flournoy in Fort Charlotte, who strangely declined to receive the Choctaws as United States soldiers. With deep mortification Gaines and the Chief returned to St. Stephens, and while the citizens, who had surrounded them when they rode up, were cursing Flournoy for his folly, a horse was seen at a distance, bearing a rider with great speed. Flournoy had reconsidered the matter, and had sent a messenger authorizing Gaines to go into the Choctaw nation to raise troops. The people gave a shout, and all hearts were made glad. Every one had feared that the Choctaws would join the Creeks, and now, through the influence of Pushmatahaw, it was believed they would actually assist the Americans. In company with Col. Flood McGrew and the Chief, Gaines departed immediately for the Choctaw country, with no other provisions than some jerked beef. Colonel John McKee, agent of the Chickasaws, met them at Peachland's, where they held a consultation, while Pushmatahaw went home to assemble his people in council. They were living under three distinct governments; the eastern district was governed by Pushmatahaw, the western by Puckshenubbee, and the northwestern by Mushelatubba. In a few days Gaines reached the council-ground, where over five thousand Choctaws were encamped. Pushmatahaw harangued them in a long speech, full of eloquence and ingenuity, in which he said, among many other things: "You know Tecumseh. He is a bad man. He came through our nation, but did not turn our heads. He went among the Muscogees and got many of them to join him. You know the Tensaw people. They were our friends. They played ball with us. They sheltered and fed us, whenever we went to Pensacola. Where are they now? Their bodies rot at Sam Mims' place. The people at St. Stephens are our friends. The Muscogees intend to kill them too. They want soldiers to defend them." (He here drew out his sword, and flourishing it, added:) "You can all do as you please. You are all freemen. I dictate to none of you. But I shall join the St. Stephens people. If you have a mind to follow me, I will lead you to glory and to victory!" A warrior rose up, slapped his hand upon his breast, and said: "I am a man! I am a man! I will follow you!" All of them now slapped their breasts, a general shout went up, and Gaines was filled with joy at the result.

In the meantime Colonel McKee was equally successful with the Chickasaws, being greatly aided in his efforts by the influence of John Peachland. McKee, at the head of a large force of Chickasaws, marched to the Tuskaloosa Falls, to attack the Creek town at that place, but found it reduced to ashes. The inhabitants had fled. Oct. 1813: Returning to Peachland's, at the mouth of the Octibaha, the force separated, one party going to their homes and the other to St. Stephens, to join General Claiborne, who had laudably exerted himself to procure the aid of these powerful tribes.*

* Conversations with Mr. George S. Gaines. See Claiborne's MS. papers.

to next chapter
to Contents