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David Crockett - Indian Warfare

The army, upon its return to Fort Strother, found itself still in a starving condition. Though the expedition had been eminently successful in the destruction of Indian warriors, it had consumed their provisions, without affording them any additional supply. The weather had become intensely cold. The clothing of the soldiers, from hard usage, had become nearly worn out. The horses were also emaciate and feeble. There was danger that many of the soldiers must perish from destitution and hunger.

The regiment to which Crockett belonged had enlisted for sixty days. Their time had long since expired. The officers proposed to Jackson that they and their soldiers might be permitted to return to their homes, promising that they would immediately re-enlist after having obtained fresh horses and fresh clothing. Andrew Jackson was by nature one of the most unyielding of men. His will was law, and must be obeyed, right or wrong. He was at that time one of the most profane of men. He swore by all that was sacred that they should not go; that the departure of so many of the men would endanger the possession of the fort and the lives of the remaining soldiers. There were many of the soldiers in the same condition, whose term of service had expired. They felt that they were free and enlightened Americans, and resented the idea of being thus enslaved and driven, like cattle, at the will of a single man. Mutinous feelings were excited. The camp was filled with clamor. The soldiers generally were in sympathy with those who demanded their discharge, having faithfully served out the term of their enlistment. Others felt that their own turn might come when they too might be thus enslaved.

There was a bridge which it was necessary for the soldiers to cross on the homeward route. The inflexible General, supposing that the regulars would be obedient to military discipline, and that it would be for their interest to retain in the camp those whose departure would endanger all their lives placed them upon the bridge, with cannon loaded to the muzzle with grape-shot. They were ordered mercilessly to shoot down any who should attempt to cross without his permission. In Crockett's ludicrous account of this adventure, he writes:

"The General refused to let us go. We were, however, determined to go. With this, the General issued his orders against it. We began to fix for a start. The General went and placed his cannon on a bridge we had to cross, and ordered out his regulars and drafted men to prevent our crossing. But when the militia started to guard the bridge, they would holler back to us to bring their knapsacks along when we came; for they wanted to go as bad as we did. We got ready, and moved on till we came near the bridge, where the General's men were all strung along on both sides. But we all had our flints ready picked and our guns ready primed, that, if we were fired on, we might fight our way through, or all die together.

"When we came still nearer the bridge we heard the guards cocking their guns, and we did the same. But we marched boldly on, and not a gun was fired, nor a life lost. When we had passed, no further attempt was made to stop us. We went on, and near Huntsville we met a reinforcement who were going on to join the army. It consisted of a regiment of sixty-day volunteers. We got home pretty safely, and in a short time we had procured fresh horses, and a supply of clothing better suited for the season."

The officers and soldiers ere long rendezvoused again at Fort Deposit. Personally interested as every one was in subduing the Creeks, whose hostility menaced every hamlet with flames and the inmates of those hamlets with massacre, still the officers were so annoyed by the arrogance of General Jackson that they were exceedingly unwilling to serve again under his command.

Just as they came together, a message came from General Jackson, demanding that, on their return, they should engage to serve for six months. He regarded enlistment merely for sixty days as absurd. With such soldiers, he justly argued that no comprehensive campaign could be entered upon. The officers held a meeting to decide upon this question. In the morning, at drum-beat, they informed the soldiers of the conclusion they had formed. Quite unanimously they decided that they would not go back on a six-months term of service, but that each soldier might do as he pleased. Crockett writes:

"I know'd if I went back home I wouldn't rest for I felt it my duty to be out. And when out, I was somehow or other always delighted to be in the thickest of the danger. A few of us, therefore, determined to push on and join the army. The number I do not recollect, but it was very small."

When Crockett reached Fort Strother he was placed in a company of scouts under Major Russel. Just before they reached the fort, General Jackson had set out on an expedition in a southeasterly direction, to what was called Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa River. The party of scouts soon overtook him and led the way. As they approached the spot through the silent trails which threaded the wide solitudes, they came upon many signs of Indians being around. The scouts gave the alarm, and the main body of the army came up. The troops under Jackson amounted to about one thousand men. It was the evening of January 23d, 1814.

The camp-fires were built, supper prepared, and sentinels being carefully stationed all around to prevent surprise, the soldiers, protected from the wintry wind only by the gigantic forest, wrapped themselves in their blankets and threw themselves down on the withered leaves for sleep. The Indians crept noiselessly along from tree to tree, each man searching for a sentinel, until about too hours before day, when they opened a well-aimed fire from the impenetrable darkness in which they stood. The sentinels retreated back to the encampment, and the whole army was roused.

The troops were encamped in the form of a hollow square, and thus were necessarily between the Indians and the light of their own camp-fires. Not a warrior was to be seen. The only guide the Americans had in shooting, was to notice the flash of the enemy's guns. They fired at the flash. But as every Indian stood behind a tree, it is not probable that many, if any, were harmed. The Indians were very wary not to expose themselves. They kept at a great distance, and were not very successful in their fire. Though they wounded quite a number, only four men were killed. With the dawn of the morning they all vanished.

General Jackson did not wish to leave the corpses of the slain to be dug up and scalped by the savages. He therefore erected a large funeral pyre, placed the bodies upon it, and they were soon consumed to ashes. Some litters were made of long and flexible poles, attached to two horses, one at each end, and upon these the wounded were conveyed over the rough and narrow way. The Indians, thus far, had manifestly been the victors They had inflicted serious injury upon the Americans; and there is no evidence that a single one of their warriors had received the slightest harm. This was the great object of Indian strategy. In the wars of civilization, a great general has ever been willing to sacrifice the lives of ten thousand of his own troops if, by so doing, he could kill twenty thousand of the enemy. But it was never so with the Indians. They prized the lives of their warriors too highly.

On their march the troops came to a wide creek, which it was necessary to cross. Here the Indians again prepared for battle. They concealed themselves so effectually as to elude all the vigilance of the scouts. When about half the troops had crossed the stream, the almost invisible Indians commenced their assault, opening a very rapid but scattering fire. Occasionally a warrior was seen darting from one point to another, to obtain better vantage-ground.

Major Russel was in command of a small rear-guard. His soldiers soon appeared running almost breathless to join the main body, pursued by a large number of Indians. The savages had chosen the very best moment for their attack. The artillery-men were in an open field surrounded by the forest. The Indians, from behind stumps, logs, and trees, took deliberate aim, and almost every bullet laid a soldier prostrate. Quite a panic ensued. Two of the colonels, abandoning their regiments, rushed across the creek to escape the deadly fire. There is no evidence that the Indians were superior in numbers to the Americans. But it cannot be denied that the Americans, though under the leadership of Andrew Jackson, were again outgeneralled. General Jackson lost, in this short conflict, in killed and wounded, nearly one hundred men. His disorganized troops at length effected the passage of the creek, beyond which the Indians did not pursue them. Crockett writes:

"I will not say exactly that the old General was whipped. But I think he would say himself that he was nearer whipped this time than any other; for I know that all the world couldn't make him acknowledge that he was pointedly whipped. I know I was mighty glad when it was over, and the savages quit us, for I began to think there was one behind every tree in the woods."

Crockett, having served out his term, returned home. But he was restless there. Having once experienced the excitements of the camp, his wild, untrained nature could not repose in the quietude of domestic life. The conflict between the United States and a small band of Indians was very unequal. The loss of a single warrior was to the Creeks irreparable. General Jackson was not a man to yield to difficulties. On the 27th of March, 1814, he drove twelve hundred Creek warriors into their fort at Tohopeka. They were then surrounded, so that escape was impossible, and the fort was set on fire. The carnage was awful. Almost every warrior perished by the bullet or in the flames. The military power of the tribe was at an end. The remnant, utterly dispirited, sued for peace.

Quite a number of the Creek warriors fled to Florida, and joined the hostile Indian tribes there. We were at this time involved in our second war with Great Britain. The Government of our mother country was doing everything in its power to rouse the savages against us. The armies in Canada rallied most of the Northern tribes beneath their banners. Florida, at that time, belonged to Spain. The Spanish Government was nominally neutral in the conflict between England and the United States. But the Spanish governor in Florida was in cordial sympathy with the British officers. He lent them all the aid and comfort in his power, carefully avoiding any positive violation of the laws of neutrality. He extended very liberal hospitality to the refugee Creek warriors, and in many ways facilitated their cooperation with the English.

A small British fleet entered the mouth of the Apalachicola River and landed three hundred soldiers. Here they engaged vigorously in constructing a fort, and in summoning all the surrounding Indian tribes to join them in the invasion of the Southern States. General Jackson, with a force of between one and two thousand men, was in Northern Alabama, but a few days' march north of the Florida line. He wrote to the Secretary of War, in substance, as follows:

"The hostile Creeks have taken refuge in Florida. They are there fed, clothed, and protected. The British have armed a large force with munitions of war, and are fortifying and stirring up the savages. If you will permit me to raise a few hundred militia, which can easily be done, I will unite them with such a force of regulars as can easily be collected, and will make a descent on Pensacola, and will reduce it. I promise you I will bring the war in the South to a speedy termination; and English influence with the savages, in this quarter, shall be forever destroyed."

The President was not prepared thus to provoke war with Spain, by the invasion of Florida. Andrew Jackson assumed the responsibility. The British had recently made an attack upon Mobile, and being repulsed, had retired with their squadron to the harbor of Pensacola. Jackson called for volunteers to march upon Pensacola. Crockett roused himself at the summons, like the war-horse who snuffs the battle from afar. "I wanted," he wrote, "a small taste of British fighting, and I supposed they would be there."

His wife again entered her tearful remonstrance. She pointed to her little children, in their lonely hut far away in the wilderness, remote from all neighborhood, and entreated the husband and the father not again to abandon them. Rather unfeelingly he writes, "The entreaties of my wife were thrown in the way of my going, but all in vain; for I always had a way of just going ahead at whatever I had a mind to."

Many who have perused this sketch thus far, may inquire, with some surprise, "What is it which has given this man such fame as is even national? He certainly does not develop a very attractive character; and there is but little of the romance of chivalry thrown around his exploits. The secret is probably to be found in the following considerations, the truth of which the continuation of this narrative will be continually unfolding."

Without education, without refinement, without wealth or social position, or any special claims to personal beauty, he was entirely self-possessed and at home under all circumstances. He never manifested the slightest embarrassment. The idea seemed never to have entered his mind that there could be any person superior to David Crockett, or any one so humble that Crockett was entitled to look down upon him with condescension. He was a genuine democrat. All were in his view equal. And this was not the result of thought, of any political or moral principle. It was a part of his nature, which belonged to him without any volition, like his stature or complexion. This is one of the rarest qualities to be found in any man. We do not here condemn it, or applaud it. We simply state the fact.

In the army he acquired boundless popularity from his fun-making qualities. In these days he was always merry. Bursts of laughter generally greeted Crockett's approach and followed his departure. He was blessed with a memory which seemed absolutely never to have forgotten anything. His mind was an inexhaustable store-house of anecdote. These he had ever at command. Though they were not always, indeed were seldom, of the most refined nature, they were none the less adapted to raise shouts of merriment in cabin and camp. What Sydney Smith was at the banqueting board in the palatial saloon, such was David Crockett at the campfire and in the log hut. If ever in want of an illustrative anecdote he found no difficulty in manufacturing one.

His thoughtless kindness of heart and good nature were inexhaustible. Those in want never appealed to him in vain. He would even go hungry himself that he might feed others who were more hungry. He would, without a moment's consideration, spend his last dollar to buy a blanket for a shivering soldier, and, without taking any merit for the deed, would never think of it again. He did it without reflection, as he breathed.

Such was the David Crockett who, from the mere love of adventure, left wife and children, in the awful solitude of the wilderness, to follow General Jackson in a march to Pensacola. He seems fully to have understood the character of the General, his merits and his defects. The main body of the army, consisting of a little more than two thousand men, had already commenced its march, when Crockett repaired to a rendezvous, in the northern frontiers of Alabama, where another company was being formed, under Major Russel, soon to follow. The company numbered one hundred and thirty men, and commenced its march.

They forded the Tennessee River at Muscle Shoals, and marched south unmolested, through the heart of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, and pressed rapidly forward two or three hundred miles, until they reached the junction of the Tombeckbee and Alabama rivers, in the southern section of the State. The main army was now but two days' march before them. The troops, thus far, had been mounted, finding sufficient grazing for their horses by the way. But learning that there was no forage to be found between there and Pensacola, they left their animals behind them, under a sufficient guard, at a place called Cut-off, and set out for the rest of the march, a distance of about eighty miles, on foot. The slight protective works they threw up here, they called Fort Stoddart.

These light troops, hardy men of iron nerves, accomplished the distance in about two days. On the evening of the second day, they reached an eminence but a short distance out from Pensacola, where they found the army encamped. Not a little to Crockett's disappointment, he learned that Pensacola was already captured. Thus he lost his chance of having "a small taste of British fighting."

The British and Spaniards had obtained intelligence of Jackson's approach, and had made every preparation to drive him back. The forts were strongly garrisoned, and all the principal streets of the little Spanish city were barricaded. Several British war-vessels were anchored in the bay, and so placed as to command with their guns the principal entrance to the town. Jackson, who had invaded the Spanish province unsanctioned by the Government, was anxious to impress upon the Spanish authorities that the measure had been reluctantly adopted, on his own authority, as a military necessity; that he had no disposition to violate their neutral rights; but that it was indispensable that the British should be dislodged and driven away.

The pride of the Spaniard was roused, and there was no friendly response to this appeal. But the Spanish garrison was small, and, united with the English fleet, could present no effectual opposition to the three thousand men under such a lion-hearted leader as General Jackson. On the 7th of January the General opened fire upon the foe. The conflict was short. The Spaniards were compelled to surrender their works. The British fled to the ships. The guns were turned upon them. They spread sail and disappeared. Jackson was severely censured, at the time, for invading the territory of a neutral power. The final verdict of his countrymen has been decidedly in his favor.

It was supposed that the British would move for the attack of Mobile. This place then consisted of a settlement of but about one hundred and fifty houses. General Jackson, with about two thousand men, marched rapidly for its defence. A few small, broken bands of hostile, yet despairing Creeks, fled back from Florida into the wilds of Alabama. A detachment of nearly a thousand men, under Major Russell, were sent in pursuit of these fleas among the mountains. Crockett made part of this expedition. The pursuing soldiers directed their steps northwest about a hundred miles to Fort Montgomery, on the Alabama, just above its confluence with the Tornbeckbee, about twelve miles above Fort Stoddart. Not far from there was Fort Mimms, where the awful massacre had taken place which opened the Creek war.

There were many cattle grazing in the vicinity of the fort at the time of the massacre, which belonged to the garrison. These animals were now running wild. A thousand hungry men gave them chase. The fatal bullet soon laid them all low, and there was great feasting and hilarity in the camp. The carouse was much promoted by the arrival that evening of a large barge, which had sailed up the Alabama River from Mobile, with sugar, coffee, and,--best of all, as the soldiers said--worst of all, as humanity cries,--with a large amount of intoxicating liquors.

The scene presented that night was wild and picturesque in the extreme. The horses of the army were scattered about over the plain grazing upon the rich herbage. There was wood in abundance near, and the camp-fires for a thousand men threw up their forked flames, illumining the whole region with almost the light of day. The white tents of the officers, the varied groups of the soldiers, running here and there, in all possible attitudes, the cooking and feasting, often whole quarters of beef roasting on enormous spits before the vast fires, afforded a spectacle such as is rarely seen.

One picture instantly arrested the eye of every beholder. There were one hundred and eighty-six friendly Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians, who had enlisted in the army. They formed a band by themselves under their own chiefs. They were all nearly naked, gorgeously painted, and decorated with the very brilliant attire of the warrior, with crimson-colored plumes, and moccasins and leggins richly fringed, and dyed in bright and strongly contrasting hues. These savages were in the enjoyment of their greatest delight, drinking to frenzy, and performing their most convulsive dances, around the flaming fires.

In addition to this spectacle which met the eye, there were sounds of revelry which fell almost appallingly upon the ear. The wide expanse reverberated with bacchanal songs, and drunken shouts, and frenzied war-whoops. These were all blended in an inextricable clamor. With the unrefined eminently, and in a considerable degree with the most refined, noise is one of the essential elements of festivity. A thousand men were making all the noise they could in this midnight revel. Probably never before, since the dawn of creation, had the banks of the Alabama echoed with such a clamor as in this great carouse, which had so suddenly burst forth from the silence of the almost uninhabited wilderness.

This is the poetry of war. This it is which lures so many from the tameness of ordinary life to the ranks of the army. In such scenes, Crockett, bursting with fun, the incarnation of wit and good nature, was in his element. Here he was chief. All did him homage. His pride was gratified by his distinction. Life in his lonely hut, with wife and children, seemed, in comparison, too spiritless to be endured.

The Alabama here runs nearly west. The army was on the south side of the river. The next day the Indians asked permission to cross to the northern bank on an exploring expedition. Consent was given; but Major Russel decided to go with them, taking a company of sixteen men, of whom Crockett was one. They crossed the river and encamped upon the other side, seeing no foe and encountering no alarm. They soon came to a spot where the winding river, overflowing its banks, spread over a wide extent of the flat country. It was about a mile and a half across this inundated meadow. To journey around it would require a march of many miles. They waded the meadow. The water was very cold, often up to their armpits, and they stumbled over the rough ground. This was not the poetry of war. But still there is a certain degree of civilization in which the monotony of life is relieved by such adventures.

When they reached the other side they built large fires, and warmed and dried themselves. They were in search of a few fugitive Indian warriors, who, fleeing from Pensacola, had scattered themselves over a wilderness many hundred square miles in extent. This pursuit of them, by a thousand soldiers, seems now very foolish. But it is hardly safe for us, seated by our quiet firesides, and with but a limited knowledge of the circumstances, to pass judgment upon the measure.

The exploring party consisted, as we have mentioned, of nearly two hundred Indians, and sixteen white men. They advanced very cautiously. Two scouts were kept some distance in the advance, two on the side nearest the river, and five on their right. In this way they had moved along about six miles, when the two spies in front came rushing breathlessly back, with the tidings that they had discovered a camp of Creek Indians. They halted for a few moments while all examined their guns and their priming and prepared for battle.

The Indians went through certain religious ceremonies, and getting out their war-paint, colored their bodies anew. They then came to Major Russell, and told him that, as he was to lead them in the battle, he must be painted too. He humored them, and was painted in the most approved style of an Indian warrior. The plan of battle was arranged to strike the Indian camp by surprise, when they were utterly unprepared for any resistance. The white men were cautiously to proceed in the advance, and pour in a deadly fire to kill as many as possible. The Indians were then, taking advantage of the panic, to rush in with tomahawk and scalping-knife, and finish the scene according to their style of battle, which spared neither women nor children. It is not pleasant to record such a measure. They crept along, concealed by the forest, and guided by the sound of pounding, till they caught sight of the camp. A little to their chagrin they found that it consisted of two peaceful wigwams, where there was a man, a woman, and several children. The wigwams were also on an island of the river, which could not be approached without boats. There could not be much glory won by an army of two hundred men routing such a party and destroying their home. There was also nothing to indicate that these Indians had even any unfriendly feelings. The man and woman were employed in bruising what was called brier root, which they had dug from the forest, for food. It seems that this was the principal subsistence used by the Indians in that vicinity.

While the soldiers were deliberating what next to do, they heard a gun fired in the direction of the scouts, at some distance on the right, followed by a single shrill war-whoop. This satisfied them that if the scouts had met with a foe, it was indeed war on a small scale. There seemed no need for any special caution. They all broke and ran toward the spot from which the sounds came. They soon met two of the spies, who told the following not very creditable story, but one highly characteristic of the times.

As they were creeping along through the forest, they found two Indians, who they said were Creeks, out hunting. As they were approaching each other, it so happened that there was a dense cluster of bushes between them, so that they were within a few feet of meeting before either party was discovered. The two spies were Choctaws. They advanced directly to the Indians, and addressed them in the most friendly manner; stating that they had belonged to General Jackson's army, but had escaped, and were on their way home. They shook hands, kindled a fire, and sat down and smoked in apparent perfect cordiality.

One of the Creeks had a gun. The other had only a bow and arrows. After this friendly interview, they rose and took leave of each other, each going in opposite directions. As soon as their backs were turned, and they were but a few feet from each other, one of the Choctaws turned around and shot the unsuspecting Creek who had the gun. He fell dead, without a groan. The other Creek attempted to escape, while the other Choctaw snapped his gun at him repeatedly, but it missed fire. They then pursued him, overtook him, knocked him down with the butt of their guns, and battered his head until he also was motionless in death. One of the Choctaws, in his frenzied blows, broke the stock of his rifle. They then fired off the gun of the Creek who was killed, and one of them uttered the war-whoop which was heard by the rest of the party.

These two savages drew their scalping-knives and cut off the heads of both their victims. As the whole body came rushing up, they found the gory corpses of the slain, with their dissevered heads near by. Each Indian had a war-club. With these massive weapons each savage, in his turn, gave the mutilated heads a severe blow. When they had all performed this barbaric deed, Crockett, whose peculiar type of good nature led him not only to desire to please the savages, but also to know what would please them, seized a war-club, and, in his turn, smote with all his strength the mangled, blood-stained heads. The Indians were quite delighted. They gathered around him with very expressive grunts of satisfaction, and patting him upon the back, exclaimed, "Good warrior! Good warrior!"

The Indians then scalped the heads, and, leaving the bodies unburied, the whole party entered a trail which led to the river, near the point where the two wigwams were standing. As they followed the narrow path they came upon the vestiges of a cruel and bloody tragedy. The mouldering corpses of a Spaniard, his wife, and four children lay scattered around, all scalped. Our hero Crockett, who had so valiantly smitten the dissevered heads of the two Creeks who had been so treacherously murdered, confesses that the revolting spectacle of the whites, scalped and half devoured, caused him to shudder. He writes:

"I began to feel mighty ticklish along about this time; for I knowed if there was no danger then, there had been, and I felt exactly like there still was."

The white soldiers, leading the Indians, continued their course until they reached the river. Following it down, they came opposite the point where the wigwams stood upon the island. The two Indian hunters who had been killed had gone out from this peaceful little encampment. Several Indian children were playing around, and the man and woman whom they had before seen were still beating their roots. Another Indian woman was also there seen. These peaceful families had no conception of the disaster which had befallen their companions who were hunting in the woods. Even if they had heard the report of the rifles, they could only have supposed that it was from the guns of the hunters firing at game.

The evening twilight was fading away. The whole party was concealed in a dense canebrake which fringed the stream. Two of the Indians were sent forward as a decoy--a shameful decoy--to lure into the hands of two hundred warriors an unarmed man, two women, and eight or ten children. The Indians picked out some of their best marksmen and hid them behind trees and logs near the river. They were to shoot down the Indians whom others should lure to cross the stream.

The creek which separated the island from the mainland was deep, but not so wide but that persons without much difficulty could make themselves heard across it. Two of the Indians went down to the river-side, and hailed those at the wigwams, asking them to send a canoe across to take them over. An Indian woman came down to the bank and informed them that the canoe was on their side, that two hunters had crossed the creek that morning, and had not yet returned. These were the two men who had been so inhumanly murdered. Immediate search was made for the canoe, and it was found a little above the spot where the men were hiding. It was a very large buoyant birch canoe, constructed for the transportation of a numerous household, with all their goods, and such game as they might take.

This they loaded with warriors to the water's edge, and they began vigorously to paddle over to the island. When the one solitary Indian man there saw this formidable array approaching he fled into the woods. The warriors landed, and captured the two women and the little children, ten in number, and conveyed their prisoners, with the plunder of the wigwams, back across the creek to their own encampment. This was not a very brilliant achievement to be accomplished by an army of two hundred warriors aided by a detachment of sixteen white men under Major Russel. What finally became of these captives we know not. It is gratifying to be informed by David Crockett that they did not kill either the squaws or the pappooses.

The company then marched through the silent wilderness, a distance of about thirty miles east, to the Conecuh River. This stream, in its picturesque windings through a region where even the Indian seldom roved, flowed into the Scambia, the principal river which pours its floods, swollen by many tributaries, into Pensacola Bay. It was several miles above the point where the detachment struck the river that the Indian encampment, to which the two murdered men had alluded, was located. But the provisions of the party were exhausted. There was scarcely any game to be found. Major Russel did not deem it prudent to march to the attack of the encampment, until he had obtained a fresh supply of provisions. The main body of the army, which had remained in Florida, moving slowly about, without any very definite object, waiting for something to turn up was then upon the banks of the Scambia. Colonel Blue was in command.

David Crockett was ordered to take a light birch canoe, and two men, one a friendly Creek Indian, and paddle down the stream about twenty miles to the main camp. Here he was to inform Colonel Blue of Major Russel's intention to ascend the Conecuh to attack the Creeks, and to request the Colonel immediately to dispatch some boats up the river with the needful supplies.

It was a romantic adventure descending in the darkness that wild and lonely stream, winding through the dense forest of wonderful exuberance of vegetation. In the early evening he set out. The night proved very dark. The river, swollen by recent rains, overflowed its banks and spread far and wide over the low bottoms. The river was extremely crooked, and it was with great difficulty that they could keep the channel. But the instinct of the Indian guide led them safely along, through overhanging boughs and forest glooms, until, a little before midnight, they reached the camp. There was no time to be lost. Major Russel was anxious to have the supplies that very night dispatched to him, lest the Indians should hear of their danger and should escape.

But Colonel Blue did not approve of the expedition. There was no evidence that the Indian encampment consisted of anything more than half a dozen wigwams, where a few inoffensive savages, with their wives and children, were eking out a half-starved existence by hunting, fishing, and digging up roots from the forest. It did not seem wise to send an army of two hundred and sixteen men to carry desolation and woe to such humble homes. Crockett was ordered to return with this message to the Major. Military discipline, then and there, was not very rigid. He hired another man to carry back the unwelcome answer in his place. In the light canoe the three men rapidly ascended the sluggish stream. Just as the sun was rising over the forest, they reached the camp of Major Russell. The detachment then immediately commenced its march down the River Scambia, and joined the main body at a point called Miller's Landing. Here learning that some fugitive Indians were on the eastern side of the stream, a mounted party was sent across, swimming their horses, and several Indians were hunted down and shot.

Soon after this, the whole party, numbering nearly twelve hundred in all, commenced a toilsome march of about two or three hundred miles across the State to the Chattahoochee River, which constitutes the boundary-line between Southern Alabama and Georgia. Their route led through pathless wilds. No provisions, of any importance, could be found by the way. They therefore took with them rations for twenty-eight days. But their progress was far more slow and toilsome than they had anticipated. Dense forests were to be threaded, where it was necessary for them to cut their way through almost tropical entanglement of vegetation. Deep and broad marshes were to be waded, where the horses sank almost to their saddle-girths. There were rivers to be crossed, which could only be forded by ascending the banks through weary leagues of wilderness.

Thus, when twenty-eight days had passed, and their provisions were nearly expended, though they had for some time been put on short allowance, they found that they had accomplished but three-quarters of their journey. Actual starvation threatened them. But twice in nineteen days did Crockett Taste of any bread. Despondency spread its gloom over the half-famished army. Still they toiled along, almost hopeless, with tottering footsteps. War may have its excitements and its charms. But such a march as this, of woe-begone, emaciate, skeleton bands, is not to be counted as among war's pomps and glories.

One evening, in the deepening twilight, when they had been out thirty-four days, the Indian scouts, ever sent in advance, came into camp with the announcement, that at the distance of but a few hours' march before them, the Chattahoochee River was to be found, with a large Indian village upon its banks. We know not what reason there was to suppose that the Indians inhabiting this remote village were hostile. But as the American officers decided immediately upon attacking them, we ought to suppose that they, on the ground, had sufficient reason to justify this course.

The army was immediately put in motion. The rifles were loaded and primed, and the flints carefully examined, that they might not fall into ambush unprepared. The sun was just rising as they cautiously approached the doomed village. There was a smooth green meadow a few rods in width on the western bank of the river, skirted by the boundless forest. The Indian wigwams and lodges, of varied structure, were clustered together on this treeless, grassy plain, in much picturesque beauty. The Indians had apparently not been apprised of the approach of the terrible tempest of war about to descend upon them. Apparently, at that early hour, they were soundly asleep. Not a man, woman, or child was to be seen.

Silently, screened by thick woods, the army formed in line of battle. The two hundred Indian warriors, rifle in hand and tomahawk at belt, stealthily took their position. The white men took theirs. At a given signal, the war-whoop burst from the lips of the savages, and the wild halloo of the backwoodsmen reverberated through the forest, as both parties rushed forward in the impetuous charge. "We were all so furious," writes Crockett, "that even the certainty of a pretty hard fight could not have restrained us."

But to the intense mortification of these valiant men, not a single living being was to be found as food for bullet or tomahawk. The huts were all deserted, and despoiled of every article of any value. There was not a skin, or an unpicked bone, or a kernel of corn left behind. The Indians had watched the march of the foe, and, with their wives and little ones. had retired to regions where the famishing army could not follow them.

Back to: Biography of David Crockett

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

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