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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 3: Tecumseh Among the Chickasaws and Choctaws
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|In the summer of 1811, the celebrated Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, at the head of twenty armed and mounted warriors, visited the Southern Indians. His object was to induce these tribes to join the Indian Confederacy which he was forming to act in concert with the British troops in the war then impending with the United States. In company with Tecumseh was his kinsman, Seekaboo, who was to act the role of prophet and interpreter in the Southern councils.
Seekaboo was, probably, born in the Creek nation, had certainly once lived there, and in early life had emigrated north with some Shawnees. He was, at the time of Tecumseh's visit to the South, about forty years of age, a brave warrior, an eloquent orator, and gifted linguist, speaking English, Shawnee, Choctaw, and Muscogee, by which attainments he exercised great influence in the Indian councils Seekaboo was related to Tecumseh in this manner: His mother's mother was a sister of the mother of Tecumseh. His father was a half-breed, the offspring of a white man with a Creek woman.
Save one meager incident, both history and tradition are silent as to the details of Tecumseh's visit to the Chickasaws, what places he visited and how long be tarried among them, only that his mission was in vain. The tradition that has been handed down is that in the upper part of the Chickasaw nation, Tecumseh and his warriors came to the house of George Colbert. He made known to Colbert the object of his visit, and that he wished the Chickasaws to join the confederacy, and that at the proper time all the tribes were to go to war against the Americans, and he wished Colbert to use his influence with his people in effecting this object. Colbert, in reply, told Tecumseh that the Chickasaws were at peace with the whites and wished to remain so: and that he certainly would not use his influence towards involving them in any war. Tecumseh, seeing that Colbert would give no countenance to his designs, took his departure.
On leaving the Chickasaw nation, as a tradition runs, Tecumseh crossed the Oktibbeha Creek, the Choctaw and Chickasaw boundary, some three miles southwest of the present site of West Point, Mississippi, near Dick's old ferry, and there taking the Six Towns' trail, which led southerly, he camped, his first night in the Choctaw nation, in a grove on a hill, in the southwestern part of Lowndes County, about two miles from the Noxubee County line and about two hundred yards from that of Oktibbeha. This place is now occupied by the residence of the late Allen Brooks. The next morning, Tecumseh continued his southward march in the Six Towns' trail, which crossed Noxubee River, about six hundred yards above Bugg's ferry, and about seven miles beyond, he arrived at the residence of Mingo Moshulitubbee, the present Mashulaville, in Noxubee County.
Tecumseh remained at Moshulitubbee's house for several days, and a number of Choctaw mingoes and warriors came to see him. It seems that no regular council was held here, and Tecumseh made known the object of his visit, but it was received with no favor by the Choctaws present.
Tecumseh and his Shawnees then went to the village of a noted warrior, named Hoentubbee, Moshulitubbee sending a warrior with him as a guide. The village of Hoentubbee was situated near the present residence of Elias Roundtree, in the northwestern part of Kemper County, some six hundred yards north of Ben Dick Creek and about two miles from the Neshoba County line. Hoentubbee, in after years, in speaking of Tecumseh and his warriors, stated that all were armed, dressed, and painted alike. Their arms were rifles, with tomahawks and scalping knives in their belts. Their dress was a buckskin hunting shirt, a cloth flap, with buckskin leggins and moccasins profusely fringed and beaded. All wore garters below the knees. Their hair was plaited in a long cue of three plaits hanging down between the shoulders, while each temple was closely shaven. The heads of all, except Tecumseh, were adorned with plumes of hawk and eagle feathers. Tecumseh wore, depending from the crown of his head, two long crane feathers, one white, the other dyed a brilliant red. According to Indian symbolism, the white feather was an emblem of peace,--peace among the various Indian tribes. The red feather was a war emblem,--war to their enemies, the Americans. They wore silver bands on each arm, one around the wrist, one above and one below the elbow, and a few wore silver gorgets suspended from their necks. Around the forehead of each, encircling the head, was a red flannel band about three inches wide, and over this a silver band. Semicircular streaks of red war-paint were drawn under each eye, extending outward on the cheek bone. A small red spot was painted on each temple, and a large round red spot on the centre of the breast.
Tecumseh remained a number of days at the village of Hoentubbee, and at his request, many of the noted Choctaws came there to meet him in council and listen to his talk. Among those present, were Pushmataha and Moshulitubbee, mingoes, respectively, of the southeastern and northeastern districts. The Shawnees first danced their national dance, and after this the council convened near Hoentubbee's house. Tecumseh arose and through Seekaboo made a long talk. He spoke much of the bad conduct of the white people, how they were seizing the Indians' lands and reducing them to poverty, and he urged the Choctaws to join him in a general war against the oppressors. He urged, too, upon the Choctaws the duty of living at peace with the other Indian tribes; and that all the tribes ought to quit their inter-tribal wars and unite in a general confederacy; that by this means they could keep their lands and preserve their nationalities. Tecumseh also spoke of the impending war with Great Britain, and that the Choctaws must unite with the other tribes and all declare themselves allies of Great Britain. If we are to credit one of our Choctaw informants, Tecumseh also, in this talk, as well as in subsequent talks, spoke very earnestly against the Indian custom of killing women and children in war. This custom they should renounce, and henceforth, in all wars, the lives of women and children should be spared.
Such are some of the traditions of Tecumseh's talk, and among these, his reprobation of a barbarous war custom of his race is creditable to his humanity. Some of this talk was, by no means, displeasing to the Choctaws. They approved of the idea of the different tribes renouncing their intertribal wars and living at peace with each other. And they by no means objected to his advice that all Indians should renounce the custom of killing women and children in war; but they were suspicious and wary of his proposal to declare themselves allies of Great Britain. Their relations with the Americans had ever been harmonious, and they disliked any proposal that would sever those ties of peace.
Pushmataha replied to Tecumseh, and in his talk told his people not to think of going to war; that the Choctaws had never shed the blood of white men in war;* [* It is true that the Choctaws fought against the Spaniards at Mauvila and Cabusto. But it must not be supposed that Pushmataha knew anything about these, to him, prehistoric matters. H. S. H.] that they had ever been at peace with them and must continue so; that there was no cause of war with the white people, and that a war with them would end in the ruin of their nation; that the white people were the friends of the Choctaws, and they must not make enemies of them by taking the talk of Tecumseh.
The council dissolved and Tecumseh's talk was all in vain. Not one Choctaw was disposed to take his talk. During his stay at this village, which was several days, Tecumseh seems to have conceived a warm regard for Hoentubbee. Before his departure, he presented the latter a silver ornament or gorget, which Hoentubbee kept for a long time until it was destroyed by the burning of his house many years afterwards. An aged son of Hoentubbee, still living, states that Tecumseh also gave his father a written or printed paper or parchment, to which a red seal or stamp was affixed. The nature of this document must be left entirely to conjecture. As Tecumseh was connected with the British authorities, could this have been a paper authorizing the holder, in case he should join the hostiles, to draw military supplies from the Spaniards at Pensacola?
Tecumseh and his warriors, after leaving Hoentubbee's village, next went to Yazoo, situated in Neshoba County, about eleven miles south of east of Philadelphia, now known as Yazoo Old Town. The mingo of this place was named Tanampo Eshubbee. The Shawnees remained here three or four days, in which they danced their national dance, and another council was held and another talk was made by Tecumseh with reply by Pushmataha,--both of the same nature and with the same result as at the village of Hoentubbee.
Tecumseh and his warriors then went to Mokalusha. This was one of the most noted and populous towns of the Choctaws. It was situated upon a plateau on the headwaters of Talasha Creek, about twelve miles southeast of Philadelphia. The houses of the town, with the small fields interspersed, covered an area three miles long, north and south, and a mile and a half wide, east and west. During the farming season, the boys of the town kept the horses and cattle herded out on the range beyond the suburbs, to prevent their depredating on the crops, which were mostly cultivated by the women, while the men generally spent their time in hunting. Such was the division of labor in Mokalusha. Mokalusha is a corruption of Imoklasha, which signifies "Their people are there." About 1824 this ancient town was, in a great measure abandoned on account of the ravages of the small pox.
The Shawnees remained about a week at Mokalusha, and the same Choctaw mingoes came hither who had attended the former councils. After the Shawnees had danced their national dance, a council convened on a hill situated about the centre of the eastern edge of the town This hill is now occupied by the residence of the late Colonel James Wilson. Tecumseh here through Seekaboo made his talk, to which Pushmataha again replied. The Shawnee chief a third time failed to make any impression on the Choctaws.
After this council, the Shawnees, travelling down the east side of Talasha Creek, went to Chunky Town, which was situated on the west side of Chunky Creek, half a mile below the confluence of Talasha and Chunky creeks, and about five Tecumsehmiles above Hickory Station. It is stated that Pushmataha and the other mingoes, from some cause, did not follow Tecumseh to Chunky. In Tecumseh's day, and down to the treaty of Dancing Rabbit, in 1830, the long peninsular strip of country, into which Tecumseh entered after leaving Mokalusha, and which lies between Talasha and Tallihatta creeks and thence continuing southward to the confluence of Tallihatta and Chunky creeks, was under the jurisdiction of a mingo named Iskifa Chito, Big Axe. His residence was on the west bank of Tallihatta, near which spot is now Day's mill. This peninsula is still known by the old Choctaws as Iskifa Chito in Yakni, Big Axe's Country.
Pierre Juzan, a noted French Indian countryman, at this time was living at Chunky Town. He had settled among the Choctaws in early life, and had married a Choctaw woman, a niece of Pushmataha, and raised an Indian family. He spoke English, French, and Choctaw with equal fluency. Juzan had several trading houses among the Choctaws, one being at Coosha Town, situated three or four miles southeast of old Daleville, on the right bank of Issuba In Kannia bok (Lost Horse Creek), and another at Chunky. His dwelling house at Chunky was on the west side of the creek and about two hundred yards from it. He had here an apple orchard,--a rare thing in an Indian country--the trees or scions for which he had brought from France. He also had another residence at Coosha. Juzan died about 1840, at Tuscahoma, on the Tombigbee. Some time after his death, his family, with the exception of a daughter, emigrated west.
On the day of their arrival at Chunky, Tecumseh and Seekaboo called upon Juzan and had a long interview with him, in the course of which they endeavored to persuade him to use his influence with the Choctaws to induce them to join the Indian Confederacy. Juzan became greatly indignant and spurned the Shawnees' proposition. He turned away and would hold no further conversation with them. It so happened that same day that Oklahoma, a noted mingo from Coosha, a nephew of Pushmataha and brother of Juzan's wife, was in Chunky with a number of his warriors. He was soon informed by Juzan of the object of Tecumseh's visit, whereupon he became greatly enraged and forthwith ordered his warriors to mould bullets and prepare to make battle against the Shawnees. He also sent a messenger to Iskifa-Chito, to inform him of the situation and to urge him to prepare for war against the Shawnee intruders. Tecumseh, whose object was to harmonize all Indians, saw the drift of affairs, and wishing to avoid any hostile collision, he summoned his warriors and quietly withdrew from the place. The Choctaw traditions here vary. According to one tradition, Tecumseh with all his warriors then returned to Moshulitubbee's. But according to another, the Shawnees after withdrawing from Chunky, divided into two parties, one party, under Tecumseh, returning to Moshulitubbee's, whilst the other party, under Seekaboo, went down south into the present Jasper County among the Six Towns Indians, who were considered the fiercest and most warlike of all the Choctaws. Here some talks were made. Thence, making a detour to the northeast, Seekaboo's party went to Coosha. Whether at this place they again encountered the hostility of Oklahoma, we have no information. From Coosha, Seekabo went to Yahnubbee Town, situated on Yahnubbee Creek, eight miles southwest of DeKalb. The present DeKalb and Decatur road traverses the site of the old town. Making but a short stay at Yahnubbee, Seekaboo thence returned to Moshulitubbee's, where the two Shawnee parties again re-united.
In some way that cannot now be ascertained, it seems that by mutual agreement, there was to be a final council of the Choctaws with Tecumseh, and another residence of Moshulitubbee, situated in Noxubee County, about five miles northeast of Brooksville, was selected as the council ground. In going to this council, Tecumseh with his warriors travelled back the same route that he came until he crossed Noxubee River. There he left the Six Towns trail and took another, which led northeast and terminated at this second home of Moshulisubbee. Here the Shawnees remained full two weeks, and all the great mingoes and principal men of the Choctaws came hither to hear the talk of the great Tecumseh. Of these, tradition has preserved the names of Pushmataha, Moshulitubbee, Puckshenubbee, Mingo of the western district, Hoentubbee, David Folsom, and John Pitchlyn.
A few words as to this locality, which is now embraced in the Chester plantation of the late Colonel Thomas G. Blewett. The house of Moshulitubbee stood upon the crest of a hill, about a quarter of a mile westerly of the dwelling house of the plantation. About one hundred and twenty-five yards west of the dwelling house, stood a large red oak, with broad spreading leafy branches. Under this tree the council took place. It was the intention of Colonel Blewett to have this tree preserved on account of its historic associations. But in 1855, without the Colonel's knowledge, and to his great regret, the overseer had it destroyed.
When the appointed time came and the Shawnees had finished their dance, the council convened under the oak, and Tecumseh, through Seekaboo, made his talk. From the best information now attainable, the ideas of Tecumseh's talk at this council were much the same as in the harangue at Hoentubbee's; in fact, his harangues everywhere among the Choctaws were substantially the same. As a patriot, though it may be, a misguided one, Tecumseh saw the necessity of the tribes uniting in a confederation, so as to preserve their lands and their nationalities. To effect this purpose, he urged that it was necessary for them, under the circumstances, to take the side of the British in the inevitable conflict. A born savage, though he was, the great Shawnee had an innate humanity that caused him to reprobate all unnecessary barbarity in war, and in every council, he told his wild Indian fellow countrymen to renounce the custom of slaying women and children in war. The expression in Tecumseh's speech at Tuckabatchee, recorded in Claiborne's Sam Dale--"Slay their women and children"--is an error, a mistake. At no period in life, in none of his war speeches, did Tecumseh ever give vent to such a sentiment.
This was Tecumseh's last talk to the Choctaws. The next day, Pushmataha made his reply. He spoke of the long existing friendship of the white people and the Choctaws, between whom no wars had ever occurred, and the Choctaws could truly say that they had never shed the blood of white men in war. There was no war, or cause of war with white people, and the Choctaws must not be led into any war by Tecumseh. In closing his speech he turned to the mingoes present and said that if any Choctaw warrior should take the talk of Tecumseh and join the hostiles, and should he not be killed in battle, he must be put to death on his return home.
The other mingoes also made talks after Pushmataha, and all concurred in his opinion that if any warrior should take the talk of Tecumseh, he must be put to death. All the mingoes seemed willing to follow the lead of Pushmataha, who from the very beginning, had taken a stand against Tecumseh. John Pitchlyn and David Folsom also used an active influence against the Shawnees. The statement in Claiborne's Mississippi that some of the Choctaw mingoes were hostile or inclined to take Tecumseh's talk is altogether erroneous. As to the hostility of Hopaii Iskitini, Little Leader, it is sufficient to say that he was a mere boy at that time, probably about twelve years of age.
After all the speeches were made, the mingoes held a private conference in regard to Tecumseh, after which they informed him of their decision, which was that if he did not leave the* country they would put him to death. They also commissioned David Folsom to take a band of warriors and see Tecumseh safe across the Tombigbee. It is not known how soon after Tecumseh obeyed this injunction. But both parties, Tecumseh and his Shawnees, and Folsom with his Choctaws, all mounted and equipped, in due time, marched towards the southeast and arrived at the Tombigbee, near the present little village of Memphis, in Pickens County, Alabama, where they camped. Hoentubbee was with Folsom's party, and also two or three white men. The next morning all went to work to make rafts to cross the river. The rafts were made by tying logs together with grape vines. The warriors seated themselves on the rafts, and while some would paddle, others would hold the horses by the bridle and make them swim in the rear. By sunset, a part of the Shawnees had launched their rafts and crossed over, Tecumseh among the number. Folsom remained with the other party on the western bank.
The ensuing night, it happened that a large party of marauding Creek warriors crossed the river below, came into Folsom's camp and stole several Choctaw and Shawnee horses. They took them several miles below, tied them in a swamp, then taking the back trail, they hid themselves in the cane, about two miles below Folsom's camp. The next morning, finding several of their horses missing, some of the Choctaws and Shawnees, part mounted and part afoot, went in search of them. They soon discovered the marauders' trail and were eagerly following it up when they came near the Muscogee ambuscade. Here, all at once, they received a galling fire from the wily foe, by which some were killed and some wounded. The remainder returned the fire, then fled, hotly pursued, back to the camp. In the retreat, a horse was shot in the shoulder. His rider, a Shawnee, then leaped to the ground and continued his flight afoot. Without further casualty, the party arrived at the camp. The Muscogees took possession of a hill which stood to the south of the camp, and now from hill-top to valley the fight began to rage, the Choctaw and the Shawnee pitted against the martial Muscogee. The camp on the other side of the river heard the firing, and Tecumseh's warrior spirit was aroused. All crossed over to the relief of the beleaguered camp, and the fight raged with greater fury. The smoke of battle soon darkened the field, enveloping the Muscogees on the hill and settling down on the cane-brake which sheltered the Choctaws and the Shawnees. The Creeks made several efforts to drive their enemies from their cover. At one time two daring warriors, making a flank movement, had even penetrated to the Choctaws' rear, but were there discovered and slain. All day, with rival bravery, the warriors of Tecumseh and Folsom fought the common foe. About sunset, encouraged by Tecumseh, an assault was made up the hill, the Muscogees were dislodged and put to fight, and the shouts of the victors resounded over the field. Both sides had a considerable number killed and wounded, Folsom, whilst standing behind a tree, in the art of shooting at a warrior in his front, received a rifle ball through the right shoulder from another hostile warrior, who had taken a position in front of the Choctaw right flank. Hoentubbee also received a wound, though a slight one, being struck by a spent ball. While fighting bravely against the enemy, a rifle ball struck a large cane in his front and glancing struck the warrior with considerable force on the breast. For a moment supposing himself smitten with a mortal wound, Hoentubbee cried out with a loud voice, "Sallishke!" "I am dead!" But he soon realized that he was not so dead after all. This little incident afforded much amusement to the Choctaw warriors. The Creeks, according to their national custom, bore off from the field all their wounded, and as many of their slain warriors as they could with safety to themselves. But they were compelled to abandon a few, whom the Choctaws plundered and scalped without compunction. The Shawnees took no part in this act, perhaps, by the command of Tecumseh, since the fight was a necessity forced upon them. The next morning, the victors buried their dead, then all able to do so crossed the river, Folsom, notwithstanding his wound, crossing over with his people. Folsom's mission was now accomplished. He had seen the Shawnees across the Tombigbee, and they now separated, the Shawnees continuing their course towards the domains of the Muscogees and the Seminoles.
The Choctaw warriors now resolved not to re-cross the Tombigbee until they had retaliated upon the Muscogees for the loss of their horses and the death of their warriors. Folsom returning to Moshulitubbee's on account of his wound, the fierce braves selected another leader, went over to the Black Warrior, and there wreaked their vengeance to the full. They burned a number of the houses of the Muscogees, slew their warriors, and seized their horses. By a strange freak of fortune, they recovered, in a cane brake on the Black Warrior, the very same Choctaw and Shawnee horses that had been captured on the Tombigbee. At last, enriched with booty and scalps, they recrossed the Tombigbee in triumph, thence went to the house of Mingo Achillitubbee, (in Neshoba County, half a mile northeast of the Bogue Chitto bridge), where they underwent those ceremonies of purification customary, in ancient times, among the Choctaws on their return home from the war path.
The above sketch of Tecumseh's visit to the Chickasaws and Choctaws has been worked out from original and authentic sources. The greater part of the information was received from Charley Hoentubbee, of Kemper County, a son of the warrior, Hoentubbee. In 1880, the writer had repeated conversations with Charley Hoentubbee, who related to him all the facts that he had ever heard from his father in regard to Tecumseh's visit to the Choctaws. He stated that he had often heard his father talk about this visit. Hoentubbee, the warrior, died in Kemper County, in 1860. In 1885, the writer also interviewed the aged Hemonubbee, of Neshoba County, in regard to Tecumseh. Hemonubbee stated that he was a boy about twelve years of age, when Tecumseh passed through the Choctaw Nation; that his father, Fillamotubbee, attended several of the councils; and in after years, he had often heard his father and other Choctaws converse about Tecumseh's visit. Hemonubbee's statements were substantially the same as Hoentubbee's, though not so much in detail. Neither Hoentubbee nor Hemopubbee, however, was very familiar with the incidents of Tecumseh's visit to Chunky. For these incidents, the writer is indebted to the late Mr. James Cassels of Newton County and Jack Amos, a Choctaw, of the same county. Both related the same identical facts, Mr. Cassels receiving the information from Pierre Juzan, and Amos, from Oklahoma. Amos is a nephew of Oklahoma and grand nephew of Pushmataha, being a grandson of Nahotima, a sister of Pushmataha. In 1877, Mr. G. W. Campbell, of Noxubee County, related to the writer some facts about Tecumseh's visit, he receiving the information. in early life, from Stonie Hadjo, one of Moshulitubbee's captains, who died in Noxubee County, about 1838. Stonie Hadjo's statements, as far as they went, agreed with those of Hoentubbee and Hemonubbee. Mr. Campbell and Hoentubbee, however, could not recollect the name of Tecumseh's interpreter, Seekaboo, Mr. Campbell simply remembering Stonie Hadjo's statement that he was a relative of Tecumseh's mother. But Mr. Cassels, Jack Amos, and Hemonubbee remembered the name distinctly, Amos stating besides that the Choctaws were astonished at Seekaboo's familiarity with their language. Hemonubbee gave the precise relationship of Seekaboo to Tecumseh, which fact, Seekaboo must have related to the Choctaws. The Choctaws' informants all agree in stating that Tecumseh and his warriors were mounted.
From a short biographical sketch of David Folsom, in the bibliography of the Muskhogean languages, the inference might possibly be drawn that Folsom was too young to be a man of affairs in Tecumseh's day. In reply to this possible objection the writer will state that he has been informed by an old citizen of Mississippi, who knew David Folsom well, that Folsom had grown children at the time of the treaty of Dancing Rabbit, in 1830. This would surely make Folsom old enough to be a man of some influence among the Choctaws in 1811, nineteen years before the treaty. The writer besides closely questioned Charley Hoentubbee on this special point, and he stoutly contended that David Folsom was the man that conducted the Shawnees across the Tombigbee.
The meager incident of Tecumseh's Chickasaw visit was received from the late Mr. W. G. Harris, of Winston County. Mr. Harris stated that m 1833 he spent a night at the house of George Colbert, on Shookatonche Creek, and that in their conversation Colbert related to him this incident.
The best documentary evidence has been followed in giving twenty as the number of Tecumseh's warriors, but Hoentubbee's tradition makes them much more numerous.
After sifting and comparing all the information given by the above parties in regard to Tecumseh's Southern visit, the writer is satisfied that all the statements which he has recorded in the above chapter are substantially correct.
The topographical matter is the result of personal observations. E. S. H.