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