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David Crockett - The Soldier Life

The awful massacre at Fort Mimms, by the Creek Indians, summoned, as with a trumpet peal, the whole region to war. David Crockett had listened eagerly to stories of Indian warfare in former years, and as he listened to the tales of midnight conflagration and slaughter, his naturally peaceful spirit had no yearnings for the renewal of such sanguinary scenes. Crockett was not a quarrelsome man. He was not fond of brawls and fighting. Nothing in his life had thus far occurred to test his courage. Though there was great excitement to be found in hunting, there was but little if any danger. The deer and all smaller game were harmless. And even the grizzly bear had but few terrors for a marksman who, with unerring aim, could strike him with the deadly bullet at the distance of many rods.

But the massacre at Fort Mimms roused a new spirit in David Crockett. He perceived at once, that unless the savages were speedily quelled, they would ravage the whole region; and that his family as well as that of every other pioneer must inevitably perish. It was manifest to him that every man was bound immediately to take arms for the general defence. In a few days a summons was issued for every able-bodied man in all that region to repair to Winchester, which, as we have said, was a small cluster of houses about ten miles from Crockett's cabin.

When he informed his wife of his intention, her womanly heart was appalled at the thought of being left alone and unprotected in the vast wilderness. She was at a distance of hundreds of miles from all her connections. She had no neighbors near. Her children were too young to be of any service to her. If the dreadful Indians should attack them, she had no one to look to for protection. If anything should happen to him in battle so that he should not return, they must all perish of starvation. These obvious considerations she urged with many tears.

"It was mighty hard," writes Crockett, "to go against such arguments as these. But my countrymen had been murdered, and I knew that the next thing would be that the Indians would be scalping the women and children all about there, if we didn't put a stop to it. I reasoned the case with her as well as I could, and told her that if every man would wait till his wife got willing for him to go to war, there would be no fighting done until we all should be killed in our own houses; that as I was as able to go as any man in the world, and that I believed it was a duty I owed to my country. Whether she was satisfied with this reasoning or not she did not tell me, but seeing I was bent on it, all she did was to cry a little, and turn about to her work."

David Crockett hastened to Winchester. There was a large gathering there from all the hamlets and cabins for many miles around. The excitement was intense. The nation of Creek Indians was a very powerful one, and in intelligence and military skill far in advance of most of the Indian tribes. Mr. Crockett was one of the first to volunteer to form a company to serve for sixty days, under Captain Jones, who subsequently was a member of Congress from Tennessee. In a week the whole company was organized, and commenced its march to join others for the invasion of the Creek country. It was thought that by carrying the war directly into the Indian towns, their warriors might be detained at home to protect their wives and children, and could thus be prevented from carrying desolation into the settlements of the whites.

In the mean time David Crockett revisited his humble home, where his good but anxious and afflicted wife fitted him out as well as she could for the campaign. David was not a man of sentiment and was never disposed to contemplate the possibility of failure in any of his plans. With a light heart he bade adieu to his wife and his children, and mounting his horse, set out for his two months' absence to hunt up and shoot the Indians. He took only the amount of clothing he wore, as he wished to be entirely unencumbered when he should meet the sinewy and athletic foe on the battle-field.

This company, of about one hundred mounted men, commenced its march for an appointed rendezvous called Beatty's Spring. Here they encamped for several days, waiting the arrival of other companies from distant quarters. Ere long there was collected quite an imposing army of thirteen hundred men, all on horseback, and all hardy backwoodsmen, armed with the deadly rifle. A more determined set of men was perhaps never assembled. While they were thus gathering from far and near, and making all preparations to burst upon the foe in one of war's most terrific tempests, Major Gibson came, and wanted a few men, of tried sagacity and hardihood, to accompany him on a reconnoitring tour across the Tennessee River, down through the wilderness, into the country of the Creek Indians. It was a very hazardous enterprise. The region swarmed with savages. They were very vigilant. They were greatly and justly exasperated. If the reconnoitring party were captured, the certain doom of its members would be death by the most dreadful tortures.

Captain Jones pointed out David Crockett as one of the most suitable men for this enterprise. Crockett unhesitatingly consented to go, and, by permission, chose a companion by the name of George Russel, a young man whose courage and sagacity were far in advance of his years.

"I called him up," writes Crockett, "but Major Gibson said he thought he hadn't beard enough to please him; he wanted men, not boys. I must confess I was a little nettled at this; for I know'd George Russel, and I know'd there was no mistake in him; and I didn't think that courage ought to be measured by the beard, for fear a goat would have the preference over a man. I told the Major he was on the wrong scent; that Russel could go as far as he could, and I must have him along. He saw I was a little wrathy, and said I had the best chance of knowing, and agreed that it should be as I wanted it."

The heroic little band, thirteen in number, well armed and well mounted, set out early in the morning on their perilous enterprise. They crossed the Tennessee River, and directing their steps south, through a region almost entirely uninhabited by white men, journeyed cautiously along, keeping themselves concealed as much as possible in the fastnesses of the forest. They crossed the river, at what was called Ditto's Landing, and advancing about seven miles beyond, found a very secluded spot, one of nature's hiding-places, where they took up their encampment for the night.

Here they chanced to come across a man by the name of John Haynes, who for several years had been a trader among the Indians. He was thoroughly acquainted with the whole region about to be traversed, and consented to act as a guide. For the next day's march, instructed by their guide, the party divided into two bands, following along two obscure trails, which came together again after winding through the wilderness a distance of about twenty miles. Major Gibson led a party of seven, and David Crockett the other party of six.

The Cherokee Indians, a neighboring nation, powerful and warlike, were not in alliance with the Creeks in this war. They were, at that time, in general friendly to the whites. Many of their warriors were even induced to join the whites and march under their banners. On each of the trails that day to be passed over, there was the lodge of a Cherokee Indian. Both of them were friendly. Each of the parties was to collect all the information possible from these Indians, and then to meet where the trails came together again.

When Crockett arrived at the wigwam of the Indian he met with a very friendly reception. He also found there a half-breed Cherokee, by the name of Jack Thompson. This man, of savage birth and training, but with the white man's blood in his veins, offered to join the reconnoitring party. He however was not ready just then to set out, but in a few hours would follow and overtake the band at its night's encampment.

It was not safe to encamp directly upon the trail, lest some Creek war-party should be passing along, and should discover them. It was necessary to seek concealment where even the prying eyes of the savage would with difficulty search them out. The cry of the shriek-owl is exceedingly shrill, and can be heard at a great distance. A particular spot on the trail was designated, near which Crockett would seek his secret encampment. When Jack Thompson reached that spot, he was to imitate the cry of the owl. Crockett would respond, and thus guide the Indian to his retreat. As night approached, Crockett, with his party, found a deep and dark ravine, where, encircled by almost impenetrable thickets, he hid his men and the horses. No campfires could be built. It was ten o'clock in the night when, in the distance, he heard the signal shriek of the owl, a cry too common to arrest the attention of any Indian bands who might be in the vicinity. Jack, guided by a responsive cry, soon found the place of concealment, and there the party remained through the night.

The next morning after breakfast they set out to join Major Gibson and his band; but, in some way, they had lost track of him, and he could not be found. Some were alarmed, as, in so small a band, they were entering the domains of their powerful foe. Crockett taunted them with their fears; and indeed fear kept them together. The party consisted now of seven, including the Indian guide. Most of them determined to press on. The two or three who were in favor of going back dared not separate from the rest.

At the distance of about twenty miles, Jack Thompson told them that there was a village of friendly Cherokee Indians. As he was leading them through obscure trails toward that place, they came across the hut of a white man, by the name of Radcliff, who had married a Creek woman, and had been adopted into their tribe. The man had two nearly grown-up boys, stout, burly fellows, half-breeds by birth, and more than half savage in character and training. The old man's cabin was slightly above the usual style of Indian wigwams. It was in a region of utter solitude.

There Radcliff had taught his barbarian boys some of the arts of industry. He had cleared quite a space of ground around his hut, and was raising a supply of corn and potatoes ample for his family wants. With these vegetable productions, and with the game which the rifle supplied them, they lived in abundance, and free from most of those cares which agitate a higher civilization.

But the old man was quite agitated in receiving and entertaining his unwelcome guests. He was an adopted Creek, and ought to be in sympathy with his nation. He was bound to regard the white men as his enemies, to withhold from them all important information, and to deliver them up to the Creeks if possible. Should he be suspected of sympathy with the white men, the tomahawk of the savage would soon cleave his brain. He entreated Crockett immediately to leave him.

"Only an hour ago," said he, "there were ten Creek warriors here, all on horseback, and painted and armed. Should they come back and discover you here, they would certainly kill you all, and put me and my family to death also."

But Crockett, instead of being alarmed by this intelligence, was only animated by it. He assured Radcliff that he could desire no better luck than to meet a dozen Indians on the war-path. He considered his party quite strong enough to meet, at any time, three times their number. Evening was approaching, and the full moon, in cloudless brilliance, was rising over the forest, flooding the whole landscape with extraordinary splendor. After feeding their horses abundantly and feasting themselves from the fat larder of their host, they saddled their steeds and resumed their journey by moonlight.

The trail still led through the silent forest. It was, as usual, very narrow, so that the horses walked along in single file. As there was danger of falling into an ambush, not a word was spoken, and, as noiselessly as possible, they moved onward, every eye on the eager lookout. They had been thus riding along when Crockett, in the advance, heard the noise of some animals or persons apparently approaching. At a given signal, instantly the whole party stopped. Every man grasped his rifle, ready in case of need, to leap from his horse, and select the largest tree near him as a rampart for the battle.

All solicitude was, however, soon dispelled by seeing simply two persons advancing along the trail on Indian ponies. They proved to be two negro slaves who had been captured by the Indians, and who, having escaped, were endeavoring to make their way back to their former master. They were brothers, and being both very stout men, and able to speak the Indian as well as the English language, were esteemed quite a powerful reinforcement to the Crockett party.

They rode quietly along another hour and a half, when toward midnight they saw in the distance the gleam of camp-fires, and heard shouts of merriment and revelry. They knew that these must come from the camp of the friendly Cherokees, to which their Indian guide, Jack Thompson, was leading them. Soon a spectacle of wonderful picturesque beauty was opened to their view.

Upon the banks of a beautiful mountain stream there was a wide plateau, carpeted with the renowned blue-grass, as verdant and soft as could be found in any gentleman's park. There was no underbrush. The trees were two or three yards from each other, composing a luxuriant overhanging canopy of green leaves, more beautiful than art could possibly create. Beneath this charming grove, and illumined by the moonshine which, in golden tracery, pierced the foliage, there were six or eight Indian lodges scattered about.

An immense bonfire was crackling and blazing, throwing its rays far and wide through the forest. Moving around, in various engagements and sports, were about forty men, women, and children, in the fringed, plumed, and brilliantly colored attire of which the Indians were so fond. Quite a number of them, with bows and arrows, were shooting at a mark, which was made perfectly distinct by the blaze of pitch-pine knots, a light which no flame of candle or gas could outvie. It was a scene of sublimity and beauty, of peace and loveliness, which no artist could adequately transfer to canvas.

The Cherokees received very cordially the newcomers, took care of their horses, and introduced them to their sports. Many of the Indians had guns, but powder and bullets were too precious to be expended in mere amusements. Indeed, the Indians were so careful of their ammunition, that they rarely put more than half as much powder into a charge as a white man used. They endeavored to make up for the deficiency by creeping nearer to their prey.

Crockett and his men joined these barbarians, merry in their pleasant sports. Such are the joys of peace, so different from the miseries of demoniac war. At length the festivities were closed, and all began to prepare to retire to sleep.

The Cherokees were neutral in the war between the whites and the Creek Indians. It was very important for them to maintain this neutrality strictly, that they might not draw down upon themselves the vengeance of either party. Some of the Cherokees now began to feel anxious lest a war-party of the Creeks should come along and find them entertaining a war-party of whites, who were entering their country as spies. They therefore held an interview with one of the negroes, and requested him to inform Mr. Crockett that should a war-party come and find his men in the Cherokee village, not only would they put all the white men to death, but there would be also the indiscriminate massacre of all the men, women, and children in the Cherokee lodges.

Crockett, wrapped in his blanket, was half asleep when this message was brought to him. Raising his head, he said to the negro, in terms rather savoring of the spirit of the braggadocio than that of a high-minded and sympathetic man:

"Tell the Cherokees that I will keep a sharp lookout, and if a single Creek comes near the camp to-night, I will carry the skin of his head home to make me a moccasin."

When this answer was reported to the Indians they laughed aloud and dispersed. It was not at all improbable that there might be an alarm before morning. The horses were therefore, after being well fed, tied up with their saddles upon them, that they might be instantly mounted in case of emergence. They all slept, also, with their arms in their hands.

Just as Crockett was again falling into a doze, a very shrill Indian yell was heard in the forest, the yell of alarm. Every man, white and red, was instantly upon his feet. An Indian runner soon made his appearance, with the tidings that more than a thousand Creek warriors had, that day, crossed the Coosa River, but a few leagues south of them, at what was called the Ten Islands, and were on the march to attack an American force, which, under General Jackson, was assembling on another portion of the Coosa River.

The friendly Indians were so greatly alarmed that they immediately fled. Crockett felt bound to carry back this intelligence as speedily as possible to the headquarters from which he had come. He had traversed a distance of about sixty miles in a southerly direction. They returned, by the same route over which they had passed. But they found that a general alarm had pervaded the country, Radcliff and his family, abandoning everything, had fled, they knew not where. When they reached the Cherokee town of which we have before spoken, not a single Indian was to be seen. Their fires were still burning, which showed the precipitancy with which they had taken flight. This rather alarmed the party of the whites. They feared that the Indian warriors were assembling from all quarters, at some secret rendezvous, and would soon fall upon them in overwhelming numbers. They therefore did not venture to replenish the Indian fires and lie down by the warmth of them, but pushed rapidly on their way.

It chanced to be a serene, moonlight night. The trail through the forest, which the Indian's foot for countless generations had trodden smooth, illumined by the soft rays of the moon, was exceedingly beautiful. They travelled in single file, every nerve at its extreme tension in anticipation of falling into some ambush. Before morning they had accomplished about thirty miles. In the grey dawn they again reached Mr. Brown's. Here they found grazing for their horses, and corn and game for them selves.

Horses and riders were equally fatigued. The weary adventurers were in no mood for talking. After dozing for an hour or two, they again set out, and about noon reached the general rendezvous, from which they had departed but a few days before. Here Crockett was not a little disappointed in the reception he encountered. He was a young, raw backwoodsman, nearly on a level with the ordinary savage. He was exceedingly illiterate, and ignorant. And yet he had the most amazing self-confidence, with not a particle of reverence for any man, whatever his rank or culture. He thought no one his superior. Colonel Coffee paid very little respect to his vainglorious report. In the following characteristic strain Crockett comments on the event:

"He didn't seem to mind my report a bit. This raised my dander higher than ever. But I know'd that I had to be on my best behavior, and so I kept it all to myself; though I was so mad that I was burning inside like a tar-kiln, and I wonder that the smoke had not been pouring out of me at all points. The next day, Major Gibson got in. He brought a worse tale than I had, though he stated the same facts as far as I went. This seemed to put our Colonel all in a fidget; and it convinced me clearly of one of the hateful ways of the world. When I made my report I was not believed, because I was no officer. I was no great man, but just a poor soldier. But when the same thing was reported by Major Gibson, why then it was all true as preaching, and the Colonel believed it every word."

There was indeed cause for alarm. Many of the Indian chiefs displayed military ability of a very high order. Our officers were frequently outgeneralled by their savage antagonists. This was so signally the case that the Indians frequently amused themselves in laughing to scorn the folly of the white men. Every able-bodied man was called to work in throwing up breastworks. A line of ramparts was speedily constructed, nearly a quarter of a mile in circuit. An express was sent to Fayetteville, where General Jackson was assembling an army, to summon him to the rescue. With characteristic energy he rushed forward, by forced marches day and night, until his troops stood, with blistered feet, behind the newly erected ramparts.

They felt now safe from attack by the Indians. An expedition of eight hundred volunteers, of which Crockett was one, was fitted out to recross the Tennessee River, and marching by the way of Huntsville, to attack the Indians from an unexpected quarter. This movement involved a double crossing of the Tennessee. They pressed rapidly along the northern bank of this majestic stream, about forty or fifty miles, due west, until they came to a point where the stream expands into a width of nearly two miles. This place was called Muscle Shoals. The river could here be forded, though the bottom was exceedingly rough. The men were all mounted. Several horses got their feet so entangled in the crevices of the rocks that they could not be disengaged, and they perished there. The men, thus dismounted, were compelled to perform the rest of the campaign on foot.

A hundred miles south of this point, in the State of Alabama, the Indians had a large village, called Black Warrior. The lodges of the Indians were spread over the ground where the city of Tuscaloosa now stands. The wary Indians kept their scouts out in all directions. The runners conveyed to the warriors prompt warning of the approach of their foes. These Indians were quite in advance of the northern tribes. Their lodges were full as comfortable as the log huts of the pioneers, and in their interior arrangements more tasteful. The buildings were quite numerous. Upon many of them much labor had been expended. Luxuriant corn-fields spread widely around, and in well-cultivated gardens they raised beans and other vegetables in considerable abundance.

The hungry army found a good supply of dried beans for themselves, and carefully housed corn for their horses. They feasted themselves, loaded their pack-horses with corn and beans, applied the torch to every lodge, laying the whole town in ashes, and then commenced their backward march. Fresh Indian tracks indicated that many of them had remained until the last moment of safety.

The next day the army marched back about fifteen miles to the spot where it had held its last encampment. Eight hundred men, on a campaign, consume a vast amount of food. Their meat was all devoured. They had now only corn and beans. The soldiers were living mostly on parched corn. Crockett went to Colonel Coffee, then in command, and stating, very truthfully, that he was an experienced hunter, asked permission to draw aside from the ranks, and hunt as they marched along. The Colonel gave his consent, but warned him to be watchful in the extreme, lest he should fall into an Indian ambush.

Crockett was brave, but not reckless. He plunged into the forest, with vigilant gaze piercing the solitary space in all directions. He was alone, on horseback. He had not gone far when he found a deer just killed by a noiseless arrow. The animal was but partially skinned, and still warm and smoking. The deer had certainly been killed by an Indian; and it was equally certain that the savage, seeing his approach, had fled. The first thought of Crockett was one of alarm. The Indian might be hidden behind some one of the gigantic trees, and the next moment a bullet, from the Indian's rifle, might pierce his heart.

But a second thought reassured him. The deer had been killed by an arrow. Had the Indian been armed with a rifle, nothing would have been easier, as he saw the approach of Crockett in the distance than for him to have concealed himself, and then to have taken such deliberate aim at his victim as to be sure of his death. Mounting the horse which Crockett rode, the savage might have disappeared in the wilderness beyond all possibility of pursuit. But this adventure taught Crockett that he might not enjoy such good luck the next time. Another Indian might be armed with a rifle, and Crockett, self-confident as he was, could not pretend to be wiser in woodcraft than were the savages.

Crockett dismounted, took up the body of the deer, laid it upon the mane of his horse, in front of the saddle, and remounting, with increasing vigilance made his way, as rapidly as he could, to the trail along which the army was advancing. He confesses to some qualms of conscience as to the right of one hunter thus to steal away the game killed by another.

It was late in the afternoon when he reached the rear. He pressed along to overtake his own company. The soldiers looked wistfully at the venison. They offered him almost any price for it. Crockett was by nature a generous man. There was not a mean hair in his head. This generosity was one of the virtues which gave him so many friends. Rather boastfully, and yet it must be admitted truthfully, he writes, in reference to this adventure:

"I could have sold it for almost any price I would have asked. But this wasn't my rule, neither in peace nor war. Whenever I had anything and saw a fellow-being suffering, I was more anxious to relieve him than to benefit myself. And this is one of the true secrets of my being a poor man to the present day. But it is my way. And while it has often left me with an empty purse, yet it has never left my heart empty of consolations which money couldn't buy; the consolation of having sometimes fed the hungry and covered the naked. I gave all my deer away except a small part, which I kept for myself, and just sufficient to make a good supper for my mess."

The next day. in their march, they came upon a drove of swine, which belonged to a Cherokee farmer. The whites were as little disposed as were the Indians, in this war, to pay any respect to private property. Hundreds of rifles were aimed at the poor pigs, and their squealing indicated that they had a very hard time of it. The army, in its encampment that night, feasted very joyously upon fresh pork. This thrifty Cherokee was also the possessor of a milch cow. The animal was speedily slaughtered and devoured.

They soon came upon another detachment of the army, and uniting, marched to Ten Islands, on the Coosa River, where they established a fort, which they called Fort Strother, as a depot for provisions and ammunition. They were here not far from the centre of the country inhabited by the hostile Indians. This fort stood on the left bank of the river, in what is now St. Clair County, Alabama. It was a region but little explored, and the whites had but little acquaintance with the nature of the country around them, or with the places occupied by the Indians. Some scouts, from the friendly Creeks, brought the intelligence that, at the distance of about eight miles from the fort, there was an Indian town, where a large party of warriors was assembled in preparation for some secret expedition. A large and select band was immediately dispatched, on horseback, to attack them by surprise. Two friendly Creeks led them with Indian sagacity through circuitous trails. Stealthily they approached the town, and dividing their force, marched on each side so as to encircle it completely. Aided by their Creek guides, this important movement was accomplished without the warriors discovering their approach. The number of the whites was so great that they were enabled to surround the town with so continuous a line that escape was impossible for any enclosed within that fearful barrier of loaded rifles wielded by unerring marksmen. Closer and more compactly the fatal line was drawn. These movements were accomplished in the dim morning twilight.

All being ready, Captain Hammond, and a few rangers, were sent forward to show themselves, and to bring on the fight. The moment the warriors caught sight of them, one general war-whoop rose from every throat. Grasping their rifles, they rushed headlong upon the rangers, who retired before them. They soon reached one portion of the compact line, and were received with a terrible fire, which struck many of them down in instant death. The troops then closed rapidly upon the doomed Indians, and from the north, the south, the east, and the west, they were assailed by a deadly storm of bullets.

Almost immediately the Indians saw that they were lost. There was no possibility of escape. This was alike manifest to every one, to warrior, squaw, and pappoose. All surrendered themselves to despair. The warriors threw down their weapons, in sign of surrender. Some rushed into the lodges. Some rushed toward the soldiers, stretching out their unarmed hands in supplication for life. The women in particular, panic-stricken, ran to the soldiers, clasped them about the knees, and looked up into their faces with piteous supplications for life. Crockett writes:

"I saw seven squaws have hold of one man. So I hollered out the Scriptures was fulfilling; that there was seven women holding to one man's coat-tail. But I believe it was a hunting-shirt all the time. We took them all prisoners that came out to us in this way."

Forty-six warriors, by count, threw down their arms in token of surrender, and ran into one of the large houses. A band of soldiers pursued them, with the apparent intent of shooting them down. It was considered rare sport to shoot an Indian. A woman came to the door, bow and arrow in hand. Fixing the arrow upon the string, she drew the bow with all the strength of her muscular arm, and let the arrow fly into the midst of the approaching foe. It nearly passed through the body of Lieutenant Moore, killing him instantly. The woman made no attempt to evade the penalty which she knew weald follow this act. In an instant twenty bullets pierced her body, and she fell dead at the door of the house.

The infuriate soldiers rushed in and shot the defenceless warriors mercilessly, until every one was fatally wounded or dead. They then set the house on fire and burned it up, with the forty-six warriors in it. It mattered not to them whether the flames consumed the flesh of the living or of the dead.

There was something very remarkable in the stoicism which the Indians ever manifested. There was a bright-looking little Indian boy, not more than twelve years of age, whose arm was shattered by one bullet and his thigh-bone by another. Thus terribly wounded, the poor child crept from the flames of the burning house. There was no pity in that awful hour to come to his relief. The heat was so intense that his almost naked body could be seen blistering and frying by the fire. The heroic boy, striving in vain to crawl along, was literally roasted alive; and yet he did not utter an audible groan.

The slaughter was awful. But five of the Americans were killed. One hundred and eighty-six of the Indians were either killed or taken prisoners. The party returned with their captives the same day to Fort Strother. The army had so far consumed its food that it was placed on half rations. The next day a party was sent back to the smouldering town to see if any food could be found. Even these hardy pioneers were shocked at the awful spectacle which was presented. The whole place was in ruins. The half-burned bodies of the dead, in awful mutilation, were scattered around. Demoniac war had performed one of its most fiend-like deeds.

On this bloody field an Indian babe was found clinging to the bosom of its dead mother. Jackson urged some of the Indian women who were captives to give it nourishment. They replied:

"All the child's friends are killed. There is no one to care for the helpless babe. It is much better that it should die."

Jackson took the child under his own care, ordered it to be conveyed to his tent, nursed it with sugar and water, took it eventually with him to the Hermitage, and brought it up as his son. He gave the boy the name of Lincoyer. He grew up a finely formed young man, and died of consumption at the age of seventeen.

Jackson was a very stern man. The appeals of pity could seldom move his heart. Still there were traits of heroism which marked his character. On the return march, a half-starved soldier came to Jackson with a piteous story of his famished condition. Jackson drew from his pocket a handful of acorns, and presenting a portion to the man, said:

"This is all the fare I have. I will share it with you."

Beneath one of the houses was found quite a large cellar, well stored with potatoes. These were eagerly seized. All the other stores of the Indians the insatiable flames had consumed. Starvation now began to threaten the army. The sparsely settled country afforded no scope for forage. There were no herds of cattle, no well-replenished magazines near at hand. Neither was there game enough in the spreading wilderness to supply so many hungry mouths. The troops were compelled to eat even the very hides of the cattle whom they had driven before them, and who were now all slaughtered.

While in this forlorn condition, awaiting the arrival of food, and keeping very vigilant guard against surprise, one night an Indian, cautiously approaching from the forest, shouted out that he wished to see General Jackson, for he had important information to communicate. He was conducted to the General's tent. The soldiers knew not the news which he brought. But immediately the beat of drums summoned all to arms. In less than an hour a strong party of cavalry and infantry, in the darkness, were on the march. General Andrew Jackson was one of the most energetic of men. The troops crossed the Coosa River to the eastern shore, and as rapidly as possible pressed forward in a southerly direction toward Talladega, which was distant about thirty miles. Gradually the rumor spread through the ranks that General Jackson had received the following intelligence: At Talladega there was a pretty strong fort, occupied by friendly Indians. They had resolutely refused to take part in the war against the Americans. Eleven hundred hostile warriors, of the Creek nation, marched upon the fort, encamped before it, and sent word to the friendly Indians within the palisades, that if they did not come out and join them in an expedition against the whites, they would utterly demolish the fort and take all their provisions and ammunition. The Creeks were in sufficient strength to accomplish their threat.

The friendly Indians asked for three days to consider the proposition. They stated that if, at the end of this time, they did not come out to join them in an expedition against the whites, they would surrender the fort. The request was granted. Instantly an Indian runner was dispatched to inform General Jackson, at Fort Strother, of their danger and to entreat him to come to their aid. Hence the sudden movement.

The Creek warriors had their scouts out, carefully watching, and were speedily apprised of the approach of General Jackson's band. Immediately they sent word into the fort, to the friendly Indians there, that the American soldiers were coming, with many fine horses, and richly stored with guns, blankets, powder, bullets, and almost everything else desirable. They promised that if the Indians would come out from the fort, and help them attack and conquer the whites, they would divide the rich plunder with them. They assured them that, by thus uniting, they could easily gain the victory over the whites, who were the deadly foes of their whole race. The appeal was not responded to.

A little south of the fort there was a stream, which, in its circuitous course, partially encircled it. The bank was high, leaving a slight level space or meadow between it and the stream. Here the hostile Indians were encamped, and concealed from any approaches from the north. It was at midnight, on the 7th of December, that Jackson set out on this expedition. He had with him, for the occasion, a very strong force, consisting of twelve hundred infantry and eight hundred cavalry.

When they reached the fort, the army divided, passing on each side, and again uniting beyond, as they approached the concealed encampment of the enemy. While passing the fort, the friendly Indians clambered the palisades, and shouted out joyously to the soldiers "How-de-do, brother--how-de-do, brother?"

The lines, meeting beyond the fort, formed for battle. No foe was visible. Nearly a thousand warriors, some armed with arrows, but many with rifles, were hidden, but a few rods before them, beneath the curving bank, which was fringed with bushes. Major Russel, with a small party, was sent cautiously forward to feel for the enemy, and to bring on the battle. He was moving directly into the curve, where a concentric fire would soon cut down every one of his men.

The Indians in the fort perceived his danger, and shouted warning to him. He did not understand their language. They made the most earnest gestures. He did not comprehend their meaning. Two Indians then leaped from the fort, and running toward him, seized his horse by the bridle. They made him understand that more than a thousand warriors, with rifle in hand and arrows on the string, were hidden, at but a short distance before him, ready to assail him with a deadly fire. The account which Crockett gives of the battle, though neither very graphic nor classic, is worthy of insertion here, as illustrative of the intellectual and moral traits of that singular man.

"This brought them to a halt; and about this moment the Indians fired upon them, and came rushing forth like a cloud of Egyptian locusts, and screaming like all the young devils had been turned loose with the old devil of all at their head. Russel's company quit their arses and took into the fort. Their horses ran up to our line, which was then in view. The warriors then came yelling on, meeting us, and continued till they were within shot of us, when we fired and killed a considerable number of them. They broke like a gang of steers, and ran across to the other line.

"And so we kept them running, from one line to the other, constantly under a heavy fire, till we had killed upwards of four hundred of them. They fought with guns and also with bow and arrows. But at length they made their escape through a part of our line, which was made up of drafted militia, which broke ranks, and they passed. We lost fifteen of our men, as brave fellows as ever lived or died. We buried them all in one grave, and started back to our fort. But before we got there, two more of our men died of wounds they had received, making our total loss seventeen good fellows in that battle."

Back to: Biography of David Crockett

Source: David Crockett: His Life and Adventures by John S. C. Abbott

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