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Events of 1792, Indian Ravages

Early in this year, despite all previous efforts to bring about peace, the ravages of the Indians broke forth anew. Historians very properly attribute this turn in the tide of affairs to the credulity of Governor Blount and General Knox, the latter then Secretary of War in President Washington's Cabinet. These officials allowed themselves to be imposed upon by protests of friendship from such treacherous deceivers as Hanging Maw, Little Turkey, Bloody Fellow, Breath of Nickajack, John Watts and a host of lesser lights from among the Cherokees, Creeks and Chickamaugas. In return for honeyed words and strings of beads the chiefs above mentioned demanded and received from the officials powder and lead. With the latter supplies they were secretly equipping expeditions against the various settlements. At the same time Generals Sevier and Robertson were forbidden to pursue these marauding bands beyond the boundaries of their own land.

Indeed, the public records of this period clearly indicate that General Knox was not in sympathy with the Western settlers. He publicly expressed the belief that "the whites were almost invariably the aggressors, and the Indians the injured parties."

Governor Blount knew where to place the responsibility. He was also well aware of the trials through which the colonies were passing. He believed, however, that the shortest route to peace was by the path of kindness and a meek compliance with the numerous demands of the enemy.

Such a policy was doubtless well founded in theory, but, as the later annals of American history show, was very poor from the standpoint of the practical. Too, the Governor's better judgment and natural inclinations were probably hedged about by reason of his official positions, both of which demanded a minute compliance with the orders of the Secretary of War.

On January 2 of this year the Governor wrote a letter to General Robertson during the course of which he said: "I have heard that the Little Turkey Chief has sent you a very friendly letter and begs a supply of powder and lead. These things are trifles and had better be spared, if they can, than refused." A few days later he wrote, "Watts has sent me a peace talk and a string of beads. I believe he is in earnest."

Had General Sevier been Secretary of War and General Robertson, or even young Andrew Jackson, Governor of the territory during this eventful period the white wings of peace would doubtless have hovered over Watauga and the Cumberland before the expiration of twelve months from the organization of the Territorial Government. Instead, the war was lengthened out over a period of five eventful years, during the course of which many lives were sacrificed and much valuable property destroyed.

In the forbearance and long suffering of Sevier and Robertson and the brave pioneers who composed their respective colonies, there is for all succeeding generations a great lesson of patience.

The star of Alexander McGillivray, the once powerful Creek chief, was now on the wane. The fact of his having received a hundred thousand dollars by a private clause in the Treaty of New York had become known, and the head men of his nation were bent on revenge. There arose in his stead an individual who was much traveled. He had recently visited England and other countries beyond the seas and now boldly proclaimed himself ''General Bowles, Director of the affairs of the Creek Nation." He denounced McGillivray, asserting that the latter had been both bribed and cheated at the making of the Treaty of New York.

He also coolly announced that while abroad he had been empowered by the British Government to declare void all treaties of his nation with the whites and to himself conclude a treaty with the Creeks. By the terms of the latter all lands previously claimed by them should be restored. Though his statements were never taken seriously by the whites, he was the source of much of the cruelty which fell to their lot later on.

In the early spring Bowles sent one of his head men Cot-ea-toy, on a visit to General Robertson at Nashville. He bore with him from Bowles professions of lasting friendship for the settlers. He was kindly received and entertained, but General Robertson was careful to send his son, Jonathan Robertson, around with the visitor wherever he went, believing him to be, as in reality he was a spy.

Soon after this visit John Watts and several other Cherokee chiefs arrived on a like pilgrimage at the home of General Robertson. When about to depart the polite request was made that on the return journey they might be allowed to kill some game as they ''passed over the white man's land."

All these visits were made with sinister motives, and afforded the savages the privilege of spying out the strength and position of the settlements.

Expecting a series of attacks, General Robertson now ordered an organization of the militia in the three counties of Davidson, Sumner and Tennessee. The companies thereof were to be stationed at the various forts. A force of five hundred volunteers was called for, these to be held in reserve, but subject to the call of duty at a moment's notice. Capt. John Rains had under him a band of rangers with headquarters at his station in Waverly Place. He kept two of these always on guard, and by a blast of his horn could call into action his entire force.

Major Sharp, of Sumner County, was in command of a troop of cavalry. This though a Government force, could at all times be depended upon to act in concert with the local militia for purposes of a common defense. All of the above were held in readiness for an outbreak, which was confidently expected.

One of the most picturesque characters of the Cumberland settlement was Col. Valentine Sevier. Some years previous to this period he had removed from East Tennessee and established a station at the mouth of Red River, in Montgomery County, on the present site of New Providence. He brought with him his family, consisting of his wife and five sons. There were also in the party his sons-in-law and the families of Messrs. Price and Snyder, two relatives by marriage. All of these took up residence at the New Providence station. Col. Valentine Sevier was a brother of Gen. John Sevier. From early youth he had been a hunter and warrior. Despite his now advancing years he was as erect as an Indian, spare of flesh, had a clear skin and a bright eye, which was ever on the alert for danger.

He had served with distinction throughout the war of the Revolution as well as in all the Indian wars of his time, having obtained his rank at the battle of Pleasant Point in 1774. He is reputed to have been remarkably fond of his horse, his wife and children, his gun and hounds, glorying yet in the thrill of the chase.

Hearing of the call for volunteers issued by General Robertson, his friend of former days, Colonel Sevier gave permission to his sons, Robert, William and Valentine, Jr., to go at once to Nashville and there enlist under the banner of the common weal.

It was decided that they should make the trip thither by canoes. Accordingly, on January 18, 1792, they began the ascent of the Cumberland in company with John Price and two ethers whose names tradition has not preserved. Reaching a sharp bend in the river they were discovered by a skulking band of Indians, who crept across the narrow strip of land intervening and hid themselves in the bushes at the water's edge on the other side. As the boats drew near the savages fired upon the occupants, killing the three Seviers and the two unknown men. While the enemy reloaded their guns Price hastily turned his canoe about and started downstream. Seeing, however, that he would be intercepted, he rowed to the opposite shore, and leaving his canoe, made his escape into the woods. After several days of wandering he reached the river bank opposite Clarksville. He was brought over by the settlers and from thence conveyed to Colonel and Mrs. Sevier news of the terrible disaster which had befallen his companions.

After the escape of Price the Indians boarded the canoe, scalped the dead and threw their bodies into the river. They then went their way, carrying with them all the guns, provisions and supplies found in the captured boats.

The smaller forts in the neighborhood of Clarksville were now for a time abandoned, the occupants going for refuge to Sevier's Station.

Several forts had at this time been established near the present location of Springfield, Robertson County. In February or March an attack was made .upon these by a party of Creeks. John Titsworth, Thomas Reason and wife and Mrs. Roberts were slain. Also the entire family of Col. Isaac Titsworth accept himself and an older daughter. Colonel Titsworth was absent from home and his daughter was carried away captive. The house in which the family resided was burned. Miss Titsworth and other captives were kept in the Creek camp near the mouth of the Tennessee until the first of June. They were then carried south into the Creek nation, where Miss Titsworth remained for three years. For a long time she was supposed to be dead but in the summer of 1795 Colonel Titsworth, hearing that she was probably yet alive, journeyed through the Creek nation in search of her. Finally locating the rendezvous of her captors, he opened negotiations with them and arranged for her release by an exchange of prisoners. In retiring from the attack on the Springfield station the Indians discovering that they were being pursued, tomahawked and scalped three children they were carrying also into captivity.

Among those prominent in affairs among the early settlers of Tennessee County were Thomas Johnson, father of Hon. Cave Johnson; Francis and William Price, the Forts, and others, all having in later times a long line of descendants in Montgomery and Robertson Counties. Small parties of the enemy were now prowling about all parts of the settlement.

During the morning of May 24 General Robertson and his son Jonathan were sitting on their horses at the spring near his house. They were fired upon from behind a clump of bushes and thick cane, the General receiving a shot in the arm which caused him to drop his gun. In attempting to recover it he fell from his horse, which became frightened and ran off toward the house. Two of the savages were rushing toward him with raised tomahawks when Jonathan, though himself severely wounded in the hip, fired a well-directed shot, which pierced them both and thus covered the retreat of himself and his father. The ball which struck General Robertson passed the length of his arm from the wrist to the elbow, shattering one of the bones. I le was, on this account, disabled for several months.

Failing in the above attack the Indians continued about the neighborhood for several days, during which they killed a boy within sight of the Robertson residence and a little girl near the Bluff fort.

On the night of June 26, a force of several hundred Creeks, Cherokees and Chickamaugas made an assault on Ziglers' fort, in Sumner County.

During the morning preceding some of their advance guard had killed Michael Shaffer while he was hoeing in a field adjoining the station. When the neighbors who had collected went out to bring the body into the fort, the Indians fired upon them from ambush, wounding Joel Eccles and Gabriel Black. The latter was a brother-in-law of Gen. James Winchester.

The men were thus forced to leave the body of Shaffer and flee for safety into the fort. The enemy kept up the fire for some time, but finally dispersed. About sundown the occupants of the fort again ventured out and brought the dead body into the enclosure.

The alarm having been given, people for several miles around, including the occupants of the Walnutfield station, came into the fort to spend the night. These numbered in all probably thirty persons.

For some unknown reason they all retired at an early hour, leaving no sentinels on guard.

About 10 o'clock the attacking party stole out from the neighboring thickets, surrounded the fort, broke down the doors of the cabins, and fell in merciless assault upon the sleeping settlers. The latter thus awakened, fought as best they could, but were able to make but poor defense against such overwhelming numbers. At length the savages fired the fort, thus forcing the inmates to face the tomahawk in an effort to escape the flames.

Jacob Zigler, founder of the fort, ran up into the loft of his cabin and was burned to death.

Archie Wilson, a fine young fellow, who had volunteered his services to defend the fort that night, fought bravely, but finally, when wounded and retreating, was brought to bay and clubbed to death. His body was found next morning about a hundred yards from the station. Beside these, three other persons were killed, one of them a Negro girl. Four were wounded, among them being Capt. Joseph Wilson. The wife and six children of Capt. Wilson, two children of Jacob Zigler, and nine other persons were taken prisoners and spirited away into captivity.

Mrs. Zigler escaped with one child by thrusting her handkerchief into its mouth, thus preventing the noise of its crying as she fled through the darkness. The destruction of the station was complete.

General White, of East Tennessee, hearing that his sister, Mrs. Wilson, and five of her children, had been carried into the Cherokee nation, sent a messenger to the chief and had them released by purchase. One of the Wilson children, a daughter, was captured by the Creeks and for many years remained among them a slave. After returning from captivity she long retained the manners and customs of her captors. On the morning after the destruction of the fort a party under command of General Winchester and Col. Edward Douglass went in pursuit of the Indians. Capt. John Carr, John Harpool and Peter Loony were sent forward as spies. They took the trail of the retreating party and followed them across Cumberland River. From thence they proceeded up Barton's Creek to within about three miles of where Lebanon now stands. Here they came upon twenty-one packs of the plunder from the station, all of which had been nicely tied up and hung on trees. The packs were carefully protected from the weather by strips of peeled bark which had been placed over each. Having but few horses, the Indians had thus disposed of a part of their luggage until a part of them could go back and steal horses enough to bring it forward. In the meantime the main body was hurrying on with the prisoners.

The pursuing party having now come up with their advance guard, some of them were sent back home with the captured plunder, and also that they might warn the settlers to be on the lookout for the horse thieves. The rest hastened on after the retreating enemy. At the big spring now on the public square at Lebanon they stopped to rest and drink. There Captain Carr and others cut their names on a cedar tree which stood by the spring for many years thereafter. Again on the chase the party came to a small stream of water which ran across the trail. On the banks of this they saw barefoot tracks of the children who had been captured. A little further on they found the smoldering embers of a fire from which the Indians had lighted their pipes and around this were scattered scraps of dressed skins, from which it was supposed they had made moccasins for the children, the feet of the latter having become sore from hard traveling. This was confirmed when later on they saw in the mud the little moccasin footprints. This is at least one instance of savage kindness to those who were so unfortunate as to fall into their hands.

The whites camped that night at Martin's spring near the subsequent home of Esquire Doak. Next morning they came to the place where the Indians had camped the first night out. As the latter were already a day and a half ahead. General Winchester advised that the pursuit be abandoned, thinking it probable that the captives would be killed if the savages should be overtaken.

On the journey homeward it was found that the horse stealing party had returned in the meantime to the camp on Barton's Creek and there discovering the loss of their plunder had followed on to the big spring. Here they had cut on the surrounding trees signs of various characters in mock imitation of the names previously carved by Carr and his companions.

On her return from captivity Mrs. Wilson related that when the advance party of Indians having in charge the captives, came to Duck River on the journey south, they halted in waiting for the rest of their number, upon whom they relied to bring up the captured plunder. When the latter arrived empty handed, there was almost a pitched battle. In the fray knives and tomahawks were drawn by members of each party against those of the other. Mrs. Wilson said she was much alarmed lest in their rage they should kill herself and the rest of the captives.

Lieutenant Snoddy and Party

Late in the summer Lieutenant Snoddy went out with a scouting party, about thirty in number, on Caney Fork. During the afternoon he came upon the rendezvous of a large company of Indians. The latter were absent, and the camp was immediately plundered. While thus engaged Snoddy observed an Indian with a gun on his shoulder slowly sauntering down the hill. Discovering them the latter took flight, and soon disappeared in a canebrake nearby.

Snoddy well knew that he would have to fight before he left the neighborhood. Accordingly, he crossed the river with his men and selected as a place for defense a high eminence on the south shore. In the center of this he placed the horses and around them posted his troops, thus forming a hollow square. Throughout the night they lay in this position, listening to the savages, who made the surrounding forest resound with their horrible imitations, hooting like owls, barking like dogs and foxes, and screaming like wild cats.

The frequent neighing of a restless horse betrayed the position of the settlers, and at daylight the attack was begun, and continued for an hour. Though the attacking force was double that of Lieutenant Snoddy he had with him a Spartan band, and the enemy were put to route. David Scoby and Nathan Latimer were killed. Among the wounded were Andrew Steel and Captain William Reid, late of Sumner County. Two or three of Snoddy's party in a cowardly manner deserted their comrades on the eve of battle.

The loss to the Indians in killed and wounded was great.

The capture of Zigler's Station had awakened the settlers anew to a sense of danger, and guards were now picketed around every fort.

Governor Blount still gave little encouragement in matters of defense. His letters from his home in Knoxville advised patience and leniency with the Indians, who from messages received from Watts, Bloody Fellow and others, he believed to be on the eve of accepting terms of peace. On September 14, he sent General Robertson an order to disband the minute men. In a letter attached he said: 'I heartily congratulate you and the District of Mero upon the happy change of affairs."

A few days later, however, having received information of an alarming nature from the Chickamauga towns, he sent a courier post-haste to Nashville with the following message: "The danger is imminent, delay not an hour." About this time a half-breed by the name of Findleston arrived at the Bluff and told General Robertson that John Watts was assembling a large force in the region of Nickajack for the purpose of breaking up the settlement. He said, furthermore, that if his statements were not true, the whites might put him in jail and hang him.

The minute men were thereupon again called out, and sent into camp at Rain's Spring in Waverly Place, while the Castlemans and other scouts of good repute were sent out as spies. The latter went down as far as Murfreesboro where at that time an Indian called Black Fox and several associate hunters had located a camp. They returned with the information that there was not an Indian on the course, even the Black Fox camp being deserted.

Reassured by this report, the force at Rain's Spring was marched back to the Bluff and there disbanded. However, another party of scouts consisting of John Rains, Abraham Kennedy, and two men by the names of Clayton and Gee were sent over the region covered by the Castlemans. It was believed that Watts and his band would pass by the Black Fox camp in order that they might confer with Black Fox, with whom Watts was thought to be secretly in league.

Rains and Kennedy took one route, while Clayton and Gee went by another. When near the present site of Lavergne Clayton and his companion encountered an approaching force of about seven hundred Cherokees, Creeks, Chickamaugas and Shawnees, all under command of Watts.

The scouts were killed. It is said that on the march thither Watts kept ahead of his army Indian spies dressed as white men. In this way the unfortunate scouts were decoyed within his lines where they were surrounded and slain.

Rains and Kennedy not having discovered the fate of Clayton and Gee returned on the third day and reported no signs of danger. This information created great satisfaction among most of the settlers. Some of these now complained loudly because of the alarm which had, as they now declared, been uselessly occasioned.

Doubtless Findleston, the half-breed, who furnished the information, now trembled for his head.

However, despite the failure of the scouts to discover signs of danger, the more experienced of the settlers viewed the situation with alarm. That veteran woodsman and Indian fighter, Abraham Castleman, molded a new supply of bullets, filled afresh his powder horn, cleaned and re-polished his faithful rifle, "Betsey," picked his flint and ambled off down the trail. When questioned as to his destination he replied that he was "going over to Buchanan's to see the enemy." It was supposed that Buchanan's Station would be the first point of attack.

After killing the scouts, Clayton and Gee, the main body of the Indian force lay concealed in the woods for several days, while spies were sent forward to reconnoiter.

On the morning of September 30, the march was resumed to a point about a mile below Buchanan's fort. Here the horses were left in charge of some of the men. At dusk the main body moved noiselessly up to within site of the station. George Fields, a half-breed Cherokee, and a member of the party, afterwards related that they saw the lights in the hands of the settlers as they moved about the stockade, and could hear the neighing of the horses and the lowing of the cows.

While the invaders were thus halted, a dispute arose between Watts and Tom Tunbridge, who was in command of one wing of the army. The latter wanted to attack the fort at once. Watts insisted on going first to the Bluff and there make an assault on that station. He argued that if Buchanan's be attacked now the occupants of the Bluff would thus be put on their guard, whereas, with the latter out of the way, the smaller fort could be easily taken on the return journey.

It is evident that their success in capturing Zigler's Station had made the Indians bold to the belief that on this expedition they would be able to destroy the entire settlement.

The controversy between the chiefs lasted for several hours.

Finally it was ended by Watts, who told Tunbridge to go ahead and take the fort himself, and that he, Watts, would stand aside and look on. However, it is a matter of history that the whole force was in action before the engagement which followed was well under way.

Within the last few days, in anticipation of trouble, Major Buchanan had repaired the stockade and otherwise greatly strengthened his fortifications. On the night of the attack he had within the enclosure twenty of as brave men as any of whom record is made in the annals of early history. Their names are as follows:

   
James Bryant Thomas Wilcox
James Mulherrin James O'Connor
Thomas McCrory Morris Shane
George Findleston Samuel Blair
Charles Herd Sampson Williams
Samuel McMurry Robin Turnbull
Robin Hood Thomas Latimer
Robin Thompson Joe DuRat
Jacob and Abraham Castleman
William and Robin Kennedy

The last named was a half-breed but a friend of the whites.

As on previous occasions of Indian attack a full moon shone that night from a clear sky. At the lonely hour of midnight two-faithful sentinels in the watch tower over the gate discovered the approach of the enemy. When they came within easy range two rifle shots rang out and two Indian warriors bit the dust. The occupants of the fort were now aroused and both sides opened fire. For an hour the battle raged more furiously than in any engagement yet known to the settlement. With whoops and yells and a fusillade of shots the savages stormed the stockade on every side, making repeated efforts to break down the gate and thus enter the enclosure. Through one port-hole alone they directed thirty shots to the inside, all of which lodged under the roof in a place the size of a hat brim.

A few yards from the fort a cellar had been dug over which an outhouse was soon to be built. In this some of the Indians took refuge, hoping to pick off the men in the fort as occasion should be presented. Some sought safety by crouching in the outside corners of the stockade, while others hurled burning brands onto the roofs of the cabins and into the enclosure, hoping there by to fire the fort. During all this time they were being met by volley after volley from twenty trusty rifles within. Whenever an Indian came within reach or raised his head he thus constituted himself a backstop for a bullet from a neighboring porthole. However, there were more portholes than gunners to man them, and the Major's wife, Mrs. Sallie Buchanan, together with other women of the fort, displayed in this emergency great bravery. Seizing each a man's hat they dodged about holding them from time to time in front of the vacant openings. This was called a "showing of hats." It was intended to fool the Indians as to the size of the garrison. At length, impatient at the seeming failure of the attack, Tom Tunbridge seized a firebrand and mounted the roof of a cabin. No sooner on top than he received a fatal shot that sent him tumbling to the ground. In his dying moments he crawled up to the wall and tried to set fire to the logs, blowing the flames with his last breath in a desperate effort to burn the stockade. His dead body, scorched by the fire he had kindled, was found next morning beside the fort.

The Indians were finally repulsed and withdrew in great confusion.

The body of Tunbridge, who is believed to have led the capture of Zigler's, and many of those of his followers were left on the field.

Watts, desperately wounded, was carried away on a litter. Trails of blood leading down the rocky declivity from the fort and along the paths through the woods made evident the fact that many of the dead and wounded were carried away.

Around the stockade by the light of the morning were found swords, tomahawks, rifles, pipes, kettles and numerous other articles of Indian usage. One of the swords was a handsome Spanish blade, richly ornamented after the Spanish custom. This had doubtless been presented by the Dons to some Indian brave in return for a specified number of hapless paleface scalps.

None of the occupants of the fort were killed or wounded.

Jimmie O'Connor, one of the defending party in the Buchanan fort, and a gallant son of the Emerald Isle, was somewhat addicted to the use of strong drink. It is related that he had returned from Nashville about an hour before the attack above mentioned in a state of rather hilarious jubilation. In the midst of the battle Jimmie came up to Major Buchanan and asked permission to use an old pistol, the property of the Major's mother. This particular implement of warfare, which was usually kept loaded and laid away under the old lady's pillow, was a funnel-shaped species of the blunderbuss family and was known about the fort as "My Grandmammy's Pocket Piece."

The request was granted and Jimmie, mounting a ladder to an upper porthole, pulled the trigger. Supposing that it had fired, he descended from his station and asked that the weapon be reloaded. This request was four times repeated and granted. All of this was quite a drain on the supply of ammunition, as it required several times as much powder as an ordinary rifle.

On the fifth ascent to the porthole the blunderbuss, which had only snapped before, went off in dead earnest, with a report which rivaled that of a six-pounder, and with a kick which hurled poor Jimmie to the ground. No sooner landed, however, than he was on his feet, and running over to Major Buchanan, exclaimed: 'Be jabbers, but they got one alright, didn't they?"

Next day a company of a hundred and fifty men, under command of General Robertson and Captain Rains, began a pursuit of the Indians, who, it was discovered, had retreated in two parties. When the whites reached Stewart's Creek they found that the fleeing savages were gaining ground, and therefore abandoned the chase. After this attack there was comparative peace in the settlement for a period of several months.

Early History of Middle Tennessee

Early History of Middle Tennessee, BY Edward Albright, Copyright, 1908, Brandon Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1909

 

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