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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 9: Fort Mims
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|INTRODUCTORY NOTE.--For the statements in this chapter different authorities have been consulted, as the writer has had access to the Chicago City Library, the Illinois State Historical Library, the Newberry Library of Chicago, and the State Library of Indiana, all containing a large number of valuable historic reference books in regard to the American Indians; the last containing a large and choice collection of works pertaining to these Indians.
Among many others there has been consulted--"Tuttle's Border Wars of Two Centuries," 608 pages, by Charles R. Tuttle, Chicago, 1874.
In the preface the author says, "There is not a single person interested in the history of the United States who has not felt the want of a reliable history of the Wars between his country and the Indians." Of his own work he says: "It has been compiled and written from the most reliable sources, and, it is confidently believed, will be found complete, authentic, and interesting." He expresses the opinion that it will be found to be the most accurate "and satisfactory history of the wars with the Indians ...that has yet been written."
He gives to the Creek War the last three pages and nine lines of his large work, and relies for authority largely on Brownell.--I have examined the work of Charles De Wolf Brownell, pages 638, published 1856, called "The Indian Races of North and South America," and find that he refers to Samuel G. Drake, to Henry R. Schoolcraft, to William V. Moore, James Adair, and to many other writers.--Tuttle assigns to Fort Mims from Brownell one hundred and sixty officers and soldiers, and says, "The rest of its occupants, to the number of one hundred and fifteen, consisted of old men, women, and children." He mentions no other attacks made by the Indians upon the whites, but says something of Jackson's battles. So brief an account of the Creek War as Charles R. Tuttle gives however "authentic" it may be, can hardly be considered "satisfactory" by any one interested in the history of the Southern Indians.
Samuel G. Drake, the father of Francis S. Drake, who gives in two large volumes the results of the life long researches of Henry R. Schoolcraft, gives two hundred and seventy-five as the number in Fort Mims, of which number, he says, one hundred and sixty were soldiers, and "the rest old men, women and children." Numbers and statements corresponding so exactly as these do, show a common origin for the statements of both Tuttle and Drake.
F. S. Drake, in his large work, "Indian tribes of the United States," follows Pickett in regard to the number in the fort and the number of Indians making the attack, and says, on what was then good authority, "Not a white woman or child escaped."
Trumbull in his "History of the Indian Wars," pages 320, published in 1846, gives an account of the massacre at Fort Mims as detailed in a letter written by Judge Toulmin and dated September 7, 1813.
This letter puts the number of Indians making the attack as not over four hundred, and states that in the fort were about twenty-four families, nearly all of whom perished, not more than twenty-five or thirty white men and "half-breeds" escaping. The letter also says there were in the fort "about one hundred negroes." Judge Harry Toulmin, a good scholar, well versed in law, a native of England, for eight years Secretary of State of Kentucky, would be for many things good authority; but the date of this letter is against it as being reliable information in regard to Fort Mims. The letter is dated September 7th. and it was not until September 9th that troops from Mount Vernon reached Fort Mims to see what could be done for burying the dead. So early as the seventh the rumors that reached Judge Toulmin could not be expected to be accurate in regard to the Indians or the whites.
Samuel G. Drake, who has just been mentioned, goes to the other extreme, and assigns to Weatherford about fifteen hundred Indian warriors when attacking Fort Mims.
The full text is, pages 120, 121, "In the spring of 1813, several months before the successes of Perry and Harrisson, the Southern Indians were visited by Tecumseh, and induced to take up arms against the whites. On the last day of August, fifteen hundred of their warriors surprised Fort Mims, and massacred nearly three hundred men, women, and children.
"This unprovoked attack"--all of our histories seem to omit any mention of Burnt Corn--"aroused the whole South, and volunteers assembled to avenge the deed of horror. Several battles were fought in quick succession, in every one of which the Indians were defeated. At length a thousand warriors made a final stand at Tohopeka, where they were defeated by General Jackson, on the 27th of March, 1814, with great slaughter. Their subjugation was complete."
Chateaubriand of France, speaking of ancient writers once said, "The historians are greater liars than the poets." The old historians had not the facilities we now have for securing a large degree of accuracy in their narrations; but surely some of the moderns do not avail themselves of the resources at hand.
From S. Putnam Waldo's "Memoirs of Andrew Jackson," published in 1818, the following extracts are taken: Speaking of Fort Mims, "Major Beasly commanded, and with a band that reminds the reader of the Spartan band of Leonidas at Thermopylae, maintained a conflict with more than four times their force until they slew more than their own numbers."
Waldo himself quotes this: "Under the double influence of British gold and furious fanaticism, the savages fought in a manner scarcely to be credited." He calls the Creeks "The most warlike tribe of barbarians in the universe," and calls the Creek war "The most sanguinary war which savage vengeance, aided by British gold and Spanish perfidy ever prosecuted."
He too, it seems, believes in the gold. We are left to conjecture whether Tecumseh brought that gold down from Detroit on his thirty horses, or whether it reached the Creeks through the Spanish traders at Pensacola, or whether the gold really went no further than to Tecumseh, as Claiborne asserts that when in 1811 Tecumseh visited the Southern tribes, "with a party of thirty warriors," He was "in British pay."
In Philo A. Goodwin's "Life of Jackson," 1832 are the following statements, and where he could leave found authority for any one of them is singular. The first is, after mentioning the battle of Tippecanoe, "Tecumseh fled to the Southern tribes upon the Alabama, early in 1812, to inspire the savages there to act in concert with their red brethren of the north."
The second is, "A complete concert was established between all the Southern tribes, and a general concert between them and the Northern ones."
And the third is, which has a bearing upon this and succeeding chapters, after saying that at Fort Mims about two hundred and sixty persons perished, "The panic caused at the other outposts or stations by this dreadful catastrophe can scarcely be described; the wretched inhabitants, fearing a similar fate, abandoned their retreats of fancied security in the middle of the night, and effected their escape to Mobile after the endurance of every species of suffering." Surely, if we can get no more truth than this from our border war historians, we may as well leave them and turn to the poets.
As in regard to Tecumseh's visit to the Creeks, so in regard to the massacre at Fort Mims, the original authorities are few, very few; and the main reliance for the statements of this chapter will be upon Alabama's own historian, Albert J. Pickett, including additional evidence which we have, individually, been able to gather. T. H. B.
After the battle of Burnt Corn, which did not terminate as the whites had hoped, as the settlers of this exposed and isolated River Region gathered more fully into their various stockades, the inhabitants on the Tensaw and along Little River, many of them being of mixed and of Creek blood, yet dreading the fury of the war party of the Creek nation, gathered around the residence of a settler named Samuel Mims, an old Indian countryman, one mile from the Alabama River, two miles below the Cut Off, and one-fourth of a mile from the Tensaw boat-yard. Here, where before the Burnt Corn action many families had gathered, they had erected a stockade, nearly square, enclosing about an acre, built very much as was Fort Madison and the other stockades, entered through a large eastern and a western gate. In this enclosure were several buildings, the home of the Mims family being near the center. One of these buildings was known as Patrick's loom-house, and having some extra picketing attached to this, the inmates called it the bastion.
According to Pickett's researches, and no authority has been found of sufficient weight to set aside his statements, there were in this stockade in August, 1818, five hundred and fifty-three human beings, white settlers, some Spaniards, colored people, and those of mixed Indian blood. Two hundred and sixty-five of this number were soldiers, and, in round numbers, one hundred were children. Of the soldiers there were seventy home militia, all probably being what General Woodward calls "halfbreeds," under the command of Captain Dixon Bailey; sixteen men had been sent from Mount Vernon or Fort Stoddart under Lieutenant Osborn to help defend this exposed stockade; and soon after one hundred and seventy-five Mississippi volunteers were sent under the command of Major Daniel Beasley. He of course took the command of the fort. General Claiborne, commanding at Mount Vernon, came himself to Fort Mims August 7th to inspect this stockade. He instructed Major Beasley "to strengthen the pickets and to build one or two additional blockhouses." To this Lieutenant William R. Chambliss testified, and added, "And I further certify that Major Beasley received a letter, one or two days before the attack on Fort Mims, from General Claiborne (who was on his way to Fort Easley) advising him of the reported movements of the enemy."
And who were these called in military language, "the enemy"? After that unfortunate action at Burnt Corn, members of that war party returned to Pensacola, obtained more military supplies, and came again, more cautiously, back to their own towns and hunting grounds. A large war force was soon collected from the towns, says Pickett, of Hoithlewale, Fooshatche, Cooloome, Ecunhutke, Souvanoga, Mooklousa, Alabama, Oakchoicoochie, Pockuschatche, Ochebofa, Puckuntallahasse, Wewococ, and Wocescoie, and went south from the Tallapoosa River towards the Tensaw settlement.* [* Five of these towns were on the Tallapoosa six on the Coosa and two on the Alabama. The last six of these towns were situated on the Coosa Sawanogee-- Picketts Souvanoga--was a Shawnee town. Alabama and Muklosa on the Alabama River were Alibamo towns. The remainder were genuine Muscogee towns] The leaders of this band of warriors gathered from so many hostile towns were, a Tuskegee chief, Far Off Warrior, Peter McQueen, High Head Jim, and with them as an influential leader but not a real chief, the noted William Weatherford, of truly mixed blood, the renowned Red Eagle. He was acquainted with the Tensaw settlers, had met with the young people in their dancing parties, but had for some reasons joined the war party, and was now one of the recognized leaders of the savage warriors. The Indian army halted for a time at a plantation not many miles from Fort Mims. Some negroes were taken prisoners and permitted by Weatherford to escape; he had learned that a military officer was in command at the fort; and if the testimony of Weatherford's friends is reliable, he expected the fort to be prepared to resist the assault.
There was truly an officer of the Mississippi Volunteers in command, as has been stated, Major Daniel Beasley, but that he was unfit to command at such a post in time of danger is evident. Claiborne himself says of him that "although often warned he turned a deaf ear to all idea of danger." Judge Meek speaks of him as "unflinchingly brave," but also as being "vain, rash, inexperienced, and overconfident." He adds: "In vain did several of the most experienced and cautious of the backwoodsmen give warning of the impending danger; in vain even did a hostile warrior the very evening before, apprise some of his relatives in the fortress of the intended attack; in vain did two negroes declare that they had seen twenty warriors painted for battle, in the vicinity of the fort. Major Beasley would listen to no remonstrance, but steadily refused to keep the gate of the fortress shut, and permitted the inmates to wander unrestrained along the banks of the lake. "It might be added, in vain did his superior officer, General Claiborne, send to him urging him to be prepared for an attack from the Indians. Of the two negroes mentioned above by Meek, Pickett says that one of them "belonging to John Randon, was tied up and severely flogged for alarming the garrison with what Major Beasley deemed a sheer fabrication. Fletcher, the owner of the other, refused to permit him to be punished, because he believed his statement, which so incensed the major that he ordered Fletcher with his large family to depart from the fort by ten o'clock the next day."
It is to be hoped that a man so unfit to command will seldom have five hundred lives committed to his care. The Indians were now near. They remembered the dinner hour at Burnt Corn, and they arranged to make the attack at noon, August 30, 1813. On that day "the sun rose, beautiful and with a dewy coolness, over the forests of needle-leaved pines that extended off to the east, and concealed beneath their high and shafted arcades the grimly painted and fast approaching warriors of Weatherford and McQueen. In the fort all was confidence and hilarity."
In the words of Pickett, "The inmates had become inactive, free from alarm, and abandoned themselves to fun and frolic."
It is well attested that the day before, which was Sunday, a fresh supply of whiskey had been brought into the stockade, of which more than one had made too free use. The noon hour of Monday was drawing near. Meek says that "Major Beasley with a party of his officers was engaged in a game of cards." Pickett says that "the soldiers were reposing on the ground, some of the settlers were playing cards, the girls and young men were dancing, while a hundred thoughtless and happy children sported from door to door and from tent to tent." Major Beasley had been instructed by General Claiborne to send out scouts frequently, to be prepared for an attack, and this was his preparation, with the fort gate open and, as was afterwards discovered, blocked open with sand. On the 29th of August, the very day before, an express message arrived from General Claiborne, sent out from Fort Madison, warning Major Beasley of danger and "enjoining the utmost circumspection." And on the morning of August 30th Major Beasley wrote to General Claiborne.
MIMS BLOCK HOUSE, August 30, 1813.
SIR: I send enclosed the morning reports of my command. "I have improved the fort at this place and made it much stronger than when you were here. * * * There was a false alarm yesterday." He mentions the report brought in by the two negroes and says, "But the alarm has proved to be false."
False, it is evident, simply because he chose to call it so. Two hours later, as the bearer of the letter had not left the stockade, Major Beasley wrote a second note assuring General Claiborne of his "ability to maintain the fort against any number of Indians." And now a solitary horseman from the north is rapidly approaching. General Woodward says that Jim Cornells left Fort Mims in the morning of August 30th and rode some miles up the river. Before noon he returned on a fast trot, halted at the fort gate, and shouted to Major Beasley that the Indians were coming. He replied to Cornells that he had seen only a gang of red cattle, to which Cornells answered that the gang of red cattle would give him a terrible kick before night. Woodward does not hesitate to say, in plain words, on the authority of eye witnesses whom he knew well, "Major Beasley was drunk." Others at the gate then took sides with Major Beasley, and said Cornells, a man whose testimony that commanding officer was in duty and honor bound to respect, was no better than Fletcher's negro who was then tied up to be whipped. Major Beasley now ordered Cornells to be arrested, but the intrepid scout wheeled his horse and started for Fort Pierce, telling the people at the gate once more that the Indians were coming, and that if they would prepare to defend themselves he would stay and help fight, but if not, then he would take care of himself. Receiving no encouragement from them he rode rapidly away. It would seem that on that day more than one man was no better than drunk.
Surely no where else in American history can an example be found where a fort was so poorly guarded, where a massacre was so needless.
"The hour of twelve o'clock arrived, and the drum beat the officers and soldiers of the garrison to dinner." The Indians had waited for this signal, and now "one thousand Creek warriors" rushed for the open gate, reached it, struck down Major Beasley (who at last, when it was too late, believed there was danger and tried to shut the sand-barred gate), and commenced at once their work of carnage. One of their leaders was William Weatherford, already mentioned, in whose veins Scotch, French, and Indian blood was mingled, and who rushed in on foot at the head of his Indians, for the time apparently as savage as they. A prophet decked with his feathers was among the leaders, who was immediately killed by Captain Dixon Bailey.
The carnage that followed was dreadful. Among the Mississippi volunteers that came to defend Fort Mims were two captains and their companies---Captain Middleton and Captain Jack. These, with most of their men, must have fallen in the early part of the assault.* [* Rev. J. G. Jones of Hazelhurst Mississippi wrote June 16, 1886, "I knew the brave and noble Captain Jack. He was quite a young man. He had just taken an additional course in our county school to complete his primary education when the news of the Creek uprising reached us."]
The following sentences are taken from "Clarke and Its Surroundings ":
"The officers bravely endeavored to drive the Indians from the gateway, but bravery was now of no avail. Officers and soldiers fell in vain attempts to counteract the results of a want of vigilance in the past. Help or hope there was none, and soldiers, women, children, Spaniards, friendly Indians, fell together in heaps of mangled bodies, the dying and the dead, scalped, mutilated, bloody, to be consumed ere long by fire, or to become food for hungry dogs and buzzards. In vain the young men, no longer dancing with the girls, and also the aged men and boys, fought the unrelenting savages with desperate fury. In vain did the brave Captain Bailey, left as the commanding officer, and who lived through all the carnage, animate the inmates to a resolute resistance. In vain did the women load the guns, bring water from the well, and do all that it was possible to do in sustaining the courage of the men."
To contend with foes within is not like contending with foes without, whether in physical or in moral conflicts. The Spaniards referred to above were some deserters, so called, from Pensacola, who, while kneeling around the well and making the sign of the cross, fell beneath the Indian tomahawks.
The first destructive onset, resisted as bravely and as well as the dreadful circumstances permitted, lasted not more than two or three hours. Weatherford himself did not long remain for in the middle of that afternoon, twelve miles from Fort Mims, he met his half brother, David Tate, told him of the massacre, and expressed his regret. On very good authority it is asserted that before he left the stock and he implored the savage warriors to spare the women and children, but those now infuriated Creeks refused to listen, and even threatened his own life if he tried to save any of the whites. That after the lull in the first storm of battle, when many inmates of the fort were living, there was a renewal of the work of destruction, is certain, but the authorities here are conflicting and how it was brought about is quite uncertain. Charles Weatherford explicitly denies that his grandfather, the Red Eagle, led the Indians to a second attack.* [* See the letter of Charles Weatherford, Junior, at the close of this chapter.]
Some assert that a new band of Indians arrived to complete the work of slaughter, and others that a reserve force of six hundred now came in from their concealment; but the probability is that after some slight rest, or respite for the doomed inmates of the fort, the thoroughly infuriated savages needed no leader to urge them to complete their bloody work. They succeeded by means of arrows in setting fire to the buildings within the inner enclosure. This is attributed by Woodward to the Shawnee Seekaboo, who was with them, and some of the McGillivray Negroes. Now, again, amid the fearful shrieks of women and children put to death in ways as horrible as Indian barbarity could invent, the work of death was resumed.
Those left alive now crowded into what they called the bastion. Says Pickett, "Soon it was full to overflowing. The weak, wounded, and feeble were pressed to death and trodden under foot. The spot presented the appearance of one immense mass of human beings, herded together too close to defend themselves, and, like beeves in the slaughter pen of the butcher, a prey to those who fired upon them. The large building had fallen, carrying with it the scorched bodies of the Baileys and others on the roof and the large number of women and children in the lower story."
Soon the flames swept over all, and while a few escaped, those, if there were any, not yet butchered by the Indians, perished in these flames.
As near as can be known the Indians retired from the burning mass of buildings and human bodies at about five o'clock, and that sad tragedy, known as the massacre at Fort Mims, was ended. The commanding officer had by his conduct invited it upon himself and upon the five hundred whose lives he was there to protect, and swiftly and terribly as a thunderbolt of war, the destruction at noon-day came upon them.
Although Pickett gives very definitely the number in the fort, and assigns to Weatherford one thousand warriors, yet in the nature of the case there must remain some uncertainty in regard to these numbers. Ramsay, the next best authority, gives six hundred as the number of the Indians, but he agrees very well with Pickett in regard to the number in the stockade. And from the territory represented by this fort, the Tensaw and Little River settlements, the number given cannot be too large.
Of the five hundred and fifty in the fort how many escaped is not quite certain; but at these and the authorities in regard to them we may now briefly look. Of the Mims family there escaped Mrs. Mims, and three sons, David Mims, Alexander Mims, and Joseph Mims.* [* See the letter of Mrs. Peebles who was Jane E. Mims] There also escaped death by delivering themselves up as prisoners, Mrs. Susan Hatterway, Elizabeth Randon a white child, and a colored girl named Lizzie.* [* See Weatherford's Letter.] Dr. Clanton of Leaf, Greene County, Mississippi, states that one of the inmates of Fort Mims, Samuel Smith, of mixed blood, informed him that fourteen at one time, near the close of the massacre, Smith, Steadham, Stubblefield, and eleven other men, having cut some of the pickets with an axe, broke through the enclosure and the Indians, reached the swamp, and escaped, Smith saving the life of Stubblefield in their flight by shooting an Indian who was just in the act of striking Stubblefield to the earth.* [ Dr. A. B. Clanton gave in 1890 for publication in a Mississippi journal recollections of what in boyhood he heard from the survivors of that massacre especially naming as an informant Samuel Smith. He gives these to use his own words, "as truthfully and graphically as my broken and somewhat confused recollection from so long a period will permit." He freely admits that much which he heard has faded from his memory through the long lapse of time." Dr. Clanton relates on the authority of Smith, that "a large and powerful negro man" wielding an axe "killed more Indians than any other man in the fort" but he fell at last covered with wounds from "knife and club and tomahawk." Slave as he was he fought bravely in behalf of the whites and deserves to be remembered along with Captain Dixon Bailey and his brothers James and Daniel Bailey and the other brave defenders of the women and children although that bravery availed so little in saving life at the last.]
Dr. Clanton gives not quite an hour as the length of the interval between the two attacks and he says that during that time those in the fort drank too much whiskey. At this time it seems that some escaped who are not mentioned in Pickett's list.
A colored woman, named Hester, manifested not, a little resolution, for, although wounded, she made her way through the Indian warriors, reached a canoe in Lake Tensaw, paddled to Fort Stoddard that night, and gave to General Claiborne the first information concerning the massacre.
In the escape Of Mrs. Vicey McGirth, a half Creek woman, wife of Zachariah McGirth, a gleam of human gratitude lights up the darkness of Indian barbarity. She was in Fort Mims with her eight children, while her husband happened to be on that day without.
The incident is so beautiful as a relief to the bloody deeds of that day that we may patiently listen to Pickett's full narrative: "Many years before the dreadful massacre at Fort Mims, a little, hungry Indian boy, named Sanota--an orphan, homeless and friendless--stopped at the house of Vicey McGirth. She fed and clothed him, and he grew to athletic manhood. He joined the war party, and formed one of the expedition against Fort Mims. Like the other warriors he was engaged in hewing and hacking the females to pieces, towards the close of the massacre, when he suddenly came upon Mrs McGirth and his foster sisters. Pity and gratitude taking possession of his heart, he thrust them in a corner, and nobly made his broad savage breast a rampart for their protection. The next day he carried them off upon horses, toward the Coosa, under pretence that he had preserved them from death for his slaves. Arriving at his home, he sheltered them, hunted for them, and protected them from Indian brutality. One day he told his adopted mother that he was going to fight Jackson, at the Horse-Shoe, and that if he should be killed, she must endeavor to reach her friends below." He went and fought and fell, and she and her daughters did finally reach her husband at Mobile.
General Woodward and also Dr. Clanton attribute the protection of McGirth's family to the noted chief Jim Boy or High Head Jim, one of the leaders of the war party. That he was a friend to McGirth is evident from Woodward's statement that when the Indians were at Pensacola in the summer, and there met Zachariah McGirth, and some of the war party proposed to kill him, High Head Jim threatened with death any Indian who harmed McGirth * [* How to reconcile these accounts I do not see unless the little Indian boy known as Sanota had become the chief Jim Boy which does not seem to be possible. I accept Pickett's as the true account because he received the facts from McGirth himself in 1834.--T. H. B.]
General Woodward states that Jim Boy tried to save the lives of others at Fort Mims, and thus incurred the ill-will of the enraged warriors.
PICKETT'S LIST OF THOSE WHO ESCAPED FROM FORT MIMS
Mrs. McGirth and her daughters, a friendly Indian named Socca, Hester, a negro woman, Samuel Smith of mixed blood, Lieutenant W. R. Chambliss, Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, Lieutenant Peter Randon, Sergeant Matthews, Josiah Fletcher, Martin Rigdon, Joseph Perry, Jesse Steadham, Edward Steadham, John Hoven,--Jones, and Maurice. This last name can now be corrected from a newspaper record. A. J. Morris, died at Heflin, Alabama, April 5, 1891, nearly one hundred years of age. He is supposed to have been the last survivor of the inmates of Fort Mims. Five are mentioned in the "Birmingham Age Herald" by a special correspondent, L. E. M., as escaping through the pickets together. These were Martin Rigdon, Samuel Smith, Joseph Perry, Jesse Steadham, and A. J. Morris. And all these, it is said, went to Mount Vernon after several days' wandering. These names are all in Pickett's list. To these may be added, according to Dr. Clanton, Stubblefield, Cook, Montjoy, Aaron Bradley, and Elemuel Bradford. Dr. Clanton's authority was Samuel Smith. Pickett's informers were Dr. T. G. Holmes, Jesse Steadham, and Peter Randon. On the authority of Judge Meek may be added the name of James Bealle, and on the authority of the Rev. J. G. Jones of Hazelhurst, Mississippi, the name of private Daniels, of Jefferson county, Mississippi. There have already been given on good authority, the additional names of Mrs. Mims, David Mims, Alexander Mims, and Joseph Mims; also of Mrs. Susan Hatterway, Elizabeth Randon, and Lizzie, the colored girl. So that, in addition to the fifteen of Pickett, without counting the McGirth family of seven or eight, we have the names of fourteen others, making in all some thirty-six survivors out of five hundred and fifty-three. There were probably a few others whose names are yet unknown, and some of the hundred colored people were probably taken away by the Indians, of whom there would remain no trace.* [* Jack Cato a colored resident of Clarke county, in 1880 says he was a drummer in the war of 1812, was a drummer at New Orleans in 1815. He claims to have been at Fort Mims and gives a graphic account of scenes there. According to his statements he was in 1880 between eighty and ninety years of age. He was then living on a small farm and appeared to be a very old man.] About fifty seems to be a fair estimate of those who survived the horrors of that day and night.
The escape of Lieutenant Chambliss, as given by Pickett, was remarkable. After passing out from the stockade and the Indians around it, he at length took refuge in a log heap. To this in the night some Indians set fire, and when it seemed that he could no longer endure the smoke and the heat something called the Indians away and he escaped.
Captain Dixon Bailey, although severely wounded, left the fort with others taking with him his little child, but he never reached a human habitation. Judge Meek states, that some time after, there was found in the swamp a gun having the name, Dixon Bailey, cut in the stock, and by it were the bones of a man and a child. Pickett states that a negro carried a child of Dixon Bailey's in the effort to escape, and that, becoming bewildered, in his excitement he ran back among the Indians, who immediately killed the trembling boy as he was calling on his father to save his life.
We come now to the last scene connected with this dreadful tragedy, THE BURIAL OF THE DEAD.
On the 9th of September, as has been incidentally mentioned, a company of men under the command of Major Kennedy, detailed for the purpose, reached the place of the massacre to do what might be possible in burying the dead. They found, as the result of Indian barbarity, of the fire, of famishing dogs, of buzzards, and of other wild animals, what had some ten days before been human forms, in a condition too horrible to be described with any minuteness. It will certainly be the dictate of sympathy for the feelings of the readers to spare them a review of the details of what these men there found as showing the Indian treatment of the women and children. Surely not often, it is to be hoped never, not even in the Sepoy rebellion in India, have human eyes looked upon a more revolting spectacle. Some six or seven hundred human bodies--what there was left of them, whites, Indians, "half-breeds," negroes, nearly all in a condition that no friend could recognize or identify, were on and around that once palisaded acre. Trenches were dug, and so long as the men could endure the horrible task, the mutilated, charred, decomposing remains of human forms were piled within the trenches and covered with earth. No very thorough burial of all that had a few days before been a part of living humanity could be completed, for the task was too much for human endurance, but doing the best they could, the company of resolute men left that dark and gloomy spot to be finally cleansed by the sunshine and the rain of heaven.
The Indians no doubt carried off the body of their noted chief Far Off Warrior, Hopiee Tustenuggee, who fell at Fort Mims, and also the bodies of their fallen prophets, probably of many others; but they left bodies enough there of their dead, grim warriors, to add no little to the task of the white men in committing to the earth the bodies of the slain.* [* One white man, Zachariah McGirth, had gone to Fort Mims on the night of August 30th. He searched there long, but of course in vain among those mangled bodies in the smoking ruins of the fort to find some remains of his wife and daughters. He gave them up as having been surely among the many even then unrecognizable dead, and when months afterwards on the wharf at Mobile where from their desolate home on the Alabama they had been conveyed by an American officer they were finally presented to McGirth as though they had returned to life from the dead it is said that a "torrent of joy and profound astonishment overwhelmed him. He trembled like a leaf and was for some minutes speechless."--Pickett.]
Among the five hundred dead of the inmates of that stockade, there were nearly every white woman, all but one of the hundred white children that were playing in the morning, and all those dancing girls.
The whites had good cause to remember the battle of Burnt Corn, while most of the Indian warriors lived not long to remember Fort Mims. Exterminating wars--perhaps sometimes needful--are ever to be dreaded; and surely no one can review this Creek War and not feel that the butchery of five hundred people, commencing at midday of August 30, 1813, by infuriated savages, was perfectly needless. By needless, here, is meant that the commanding officer could, and therefore should, have prevented it.
Upon Fort Pierce, near by as it was, the Indians made no attack, and the few inmates retired unharmed. They reached the Alabama River, but could not cross until Peggy Bailey, a sister of Captain Dixon Bailey, swam to the west side and procured a flat boat, on which they ferried themselves over and safely reached the arsenal at Mount Vernon. In acknowledgment of that daring act, swimming the Alabama in August, when alligators were quite abundant, the United States Government bestowed a tract of land upon this heroine.* [*Says Judge Anstill of Mobile: "I have often heard my father speak of 'Peggy Bailey' and her swimming the river. He knew her well. Her grant of land comprised what is now called Choctaw Bluff on the Alabama River, opposite Carney's Bluff on the 'Bigbee. For a long time it was known as Peggy Bailey's Bluff."--Extract from a letter written March 5, 1894.]
1. Captain Dixon Bailey was of mixed, or part Indian blood. He was a native of Auttose, and was educated in Philadelphia. His wife, say some, was a white woman from South Carolina.* [* But other and quite as reliable authority gives as the wife of Dixon Bailey a daughter of Mrs. Sophia Durant, thus making a connection with the McGillivray family. These families seem all to be able to trace a line back by various marriages to the Princess Sehoy: McGillivray, Tate or Tait, Cornells, Bailey, Moniac or McNac, Weatherford, Durant, Tunstall, all wealthy and influential in whose veins was variously mingled Indian, French, British, and American blood. Other families of mixed blood, those of Peter McQueen, of Smith, of the Fishers and of McGirth, more or less noted all, do not seem to go back to the Princess Sehoy.] He is represented as a man "of fine personal appearance unimpeachable integrity, and a strong mind. His courage and energy were not surpassed by those of any other man." It seems that he had at least two brothers, James and Daniel, and two sisters, Peggy and Polly. Peggy Bailey has been mentioned as aiding those who retreated from Fort Pierce. She is represented as having been a stout, heavy built woman, who could ride a horse and shoot equal to a man. Polly Bailey became the wife of Sizemore, who kept a ferry at what is now called Gainestown. She was an expert in swimming, and sometimes acted as ferryman. Sizemore lived on the west side of the Alabama and did not take refuge in Fort Mims. Peggy Bailey lived with her mother, an Indian woman, on the east side. Mrs. Sizemore lived to a great age in Baldwin county, and died in 1862. Her daughter, who became Mrs. Podgett, born on the Alabama River, was living in 1890, then one hundred years old.
2. It is difficult to reach certainty in regard to the various white men who married Indian women and became heads of families noted in the Creek history. It seems, that some time in the eighteenth century, Joseph Cornells, a white man, married an Indian woman, but her name has not been found. On the authority of Brewer, the Cornells family is placed among those claiming descent from the noted Sehoy. Three sons of this Joseph are named, George, Alexander, and James, the latter having been usually called Jim Cornells. And the name is often found written Curnells, as it was probably thus pronounced; but Colonel Hawkins and Charles Weatherford write Cornells. Besides these sons, Joseph Cornells had some daughters, one of them, named Anna, married a son of Big Warrior; one of them, Pickett says, was one of the wives of General McGillivray; and one of them was named Lucy. Alexander Cornells, the interpreter, is called by Brewer, Weatherford's brother-in-law. He is recognized as an Indian chief as well as an interpreter, and his son, known by his Indian name of Opothele Yoholo, became "a distinguished chief," removed with his people to the Indian Territory, has always been a friend of the whites, and in the war of 1861 he declared himself on the side of the United States. James, known in this history as Jim Cornells, some years after the Creek war, died at the home of his sister, Mrs. Oliver, near the present town of Claiborne.
3. THE ESCAPE OF PAGE. BY H. S. HALBERT.
Published in Alabama Historical Reporter 1884.
Nehemiah Page was a hostler in the garrison at Fort Mims. He was a some what dissipated young man, and the night before the attack on the fort was passed by him in a drunken frolic. The next morning he went outside of the pickets into a stable, situated some eighty yards southeasterly of the eastern gate, and threw himself down on some fodder in the stable loft to sleep off the effects of his carousal. About midday he was awakened out of a deep sleep by the tramp of a body of men in rapid motion. Looking out through a crack, he saw the Indians in hundreds rushing past him towards the fort. Page knew that the place was doomed. For a few moments he was in mortal terror lest some of the Indians might enter the stable. As soon as their backs were fairly turned upon him, he sprang out of the stable and fled for dear life southwesterly, towards the Alabama River. A little dog, which was following the Indians, saw the white man, and instantly leaving its red owners, ran after him. It seems that none of the Indians pursued Page, doubtless thinking the fort before them a greater prize than a solitary fugitive. Still fear lent redoubled speed to Page's limbs, and he at last reached the river, with the dog close at his heels. He leaped into the river, and the little dog, whose actions were entirely friendly, plunged in after him. In swimming across the river, the dog, most of the time, kept close in his wake. But sometimes it would crawl upon his shoulders, and once or twice is even got upon his head. Page stated that several times it was with the greatest difficulty that he could keep himself from being drowned by the little animal's thus crawling upon him. During all this time he heard the terrible firing going on at the fort. At last, both the man and the dog reached the other shore, and for the first time Page felt safe. Followed by the dog, he then made his way to the white settlements. Page conceived a strong affection for the little Indian dog. which had so strangely followed him from Fort Mims. He would never part with it, but kept it as long as it lived.
Page was one of the first settlers of Neshoba County, Mississippi. About 1850 he emigrated to Texas, where he soon afterwards died. The above incident in his life was related to the writer by Mr. James W. Welch, of Neshoba County, who often heard it from Page's own lips. Page was considered a truthful man by all who knew him.
4. The last Sabbath at Fort Mims, from the accounts given by the survivors, must have been anything but a true Sabbath day for the crowded inmates of that stockade. They were not of a class accustomed to religious observances. In 1803 Lorenzo Dow had passed through there like a bright meteor, and had preached at the Tensaw Boat Yards. It is doubtful whether, in the ten years that followed, any effort had been made to evangelize the Tensaw people. They had in their stockade no camp meeting as did the inmates of Fort Easley. Pickett puts it mildly when he says, abandoned to "fun and frolic." Prayers in that stockade were very few.
5. One might almost suppose that J.F.H. Claiborne thought that bravery, or what he chooses to call bravery, would atone for all other neglects, for he says, "Major Beasley, with the courage of despair, ran to the outer gate to close it, and received half a dozen bullets in his breast the moment he reached it." Page 324. Again "Major Beasley was brave to desperation." 324. He speaks of him as "the brave man who commanded there." Page 325. He says, "Never did an officer more bravely seek to redeem his fatal over confidence. He fell at the gate in the blaze of a thousand rifles." 325. And as though all this were not enough, he says once more, "The courage of Major Beasley amounted to desperation. Although often warned, he turned a deaf ear to all idea of danger. At the onset of the enemy, in the blaze of three hundred rifles, he rushed to close the front gate * * * Here he fell." Page 836. (These extracts are from Claiborne's "Mississippi," a work to which I am indebted for some valuable letters and official documents; a work which contains very evidently some rhetorical embellishments.)
We ought, sometimes, surely to call things by their right names. If what all the accounts and reports show of the conduct of the commanding officer at Fort Mims are the marks of a brave soldier, rather would I have to help me defend a log hut against Indians, a timid woman, for she would at least shut the door and pull the latch string in.
I feel almost out of patience with Claiborne's persistency when I once more find him saying, pages 340 and 341: "The fall of Fort Mims the butchery of so many women and children, and the defenseless condition of the settlements, aroused everywhere the sympathies and martial spirit of the people." This is well enough, but he goes on: "It was not the capture of Fort Mims--a strongly garrisoned post--well calculated to alarm the country, but the dreadful massacre of the captives that roused our people."
"Strongly garrisoned" truly! No doubt there were men there in sufficient number, and with arms and ammunition; but to call Fort Mims "strongly garrisoned" seems like a burlesque on words. How could the Indians have failed to take it? Weatherford had supposed it was garrisoned. He had heard that an officer was there with soldiers, and there is evidence that he did not expect to capture it until he saw its condition on that August morning.
Claiborne himself says, in another connection, when some of the facts he is almost obliged to tell, that Major Beasley "held the Indians in contempt, was angry at what he considered false alarms, and as a taunt and derision to the timid had the main gate thrown open." Page 324. And that main entrance was kept open. And yet Claiborne coolly tells us that the capture of this stockade, with the circumstances existing, which he well knew, was "well calculated to alarm the country." "Alarm" indeed! Had all the facts been known they would have aroused rather the indignation of the country.
This fearful massacre, one of the bloodiest in our land, has been placed as the beginning of the Creek War, and its responsibility laid almost entirely upon Weatherford, quite long enough. It is time that the real responsibility should be placed where it belongs. Had Captain Dixon Bailey, one of the true heroes at Fort Mims, been in command of that stockade, there is no probability that it would have been captured. With a closed gateway, with the men at their posts, with sentinels on the watch, it would have been "strongly garrisoned." Had there been in the commanding officer true courage, had there been at Fort Mims no bravado and less whiskey, its capture and massacre would not have been a part of American history. And Claiborne virtually acknowledges all this, for he says: " Never men fought better; but such was the advantage given to the enemy, by neglecting the most obvious precautions, all their bravery was thrown away." And who gave them that advantage? Who "had the main gate thrown open"? Claiborne himself gives testimony. He says once more. "Had the gates been kept closed, and the men properly posted***.all experience shows that such a force might have kept at bay a thousand Indians."
Let us deal fairly with the well attested facts, and not lay all the blame upon Weatherford and the Creeks.
LETTER OF MRS. PEEBLES.
"Lower Peach Tree.
[Wilcox Co., Alabama, June 13, 1890.]
"Having received your letter and reading its contents I will give you all the information I can. I was the granddaughter of Samuel Mims that was killed at Fort Mims, and my father was Joseph Mims, his son. My mother's name was Jane Oniel. My age is seventy-one. I had two uncles, David and Alexander Mims, that escaped, and Grandma Mims, and also my father, Joseph Mims, but they are all dead, and I am the only heir in Alabama. * * * * *
"I have a half-brother, Leonard Mims, in Texas. I have some nephews and nieces in Texas, but I can't tell anything about them. * * *
"Mrs. Jane E. Peebles."
SECOND LETTER FROM MRS. PEBBLES.
"Lower Peach Tree, July 22, 1894.
"Mr. T. H. Ball--Dear Sir: I received your letter several weeks ago, and would have written before now, but I have been thinking over Fort Mims and the massacre, and as I am old and forgetful, I will try and do the best I can for your history. Grandma Mims was a white woman without any Indian blood. She was not in the fort at the time of the massacre. They all escaped together after the battle, and went to Mobile in a flat boat.
"My grandfather, Samuel Mims, was married when he settled Lake Tensaw, 1797. When the battle was fought my grandma could hear the Indians yell. I am so forgetful, I can't remember, as I have been told by my father all about it. Be sure to send me a book when it is complete. My health is not very good, and has not been for a long time. " Your friend,
"Jane E. Peebles.
"P. S.--Peggy Bailey escaped from Fort Mims, and swam the Alabama River."
Besides writing to Mrs. Peebles, I sent the following letter to Mount Pleasant, Alabama:
"Crown Point, Indiana, October 2, 1890.
"Mr. Charles Weatherford, Jr.--DEAR SIR: I am gathering material for an account of the massacre at Fort Mims in 1813. I wish to do no injustice to the memory of that Weatherford, your grandfather I suppose, who is said to have led the Indians to Fort Mims. I have Pickett's account of the attack, and also the writings of others.
"Will you have the kindness to give me what you may have learned in regard to some particulars.
"1. Did Weatherford, along in the middle of that fatal afternoon, encourage the Indians to a renewed assault?
2. Was he 'mounted upon a splendid black charger'?
3. "Did he take away from the fort, as has been said by some, 'an extremely beautiful' and spirited maiden of about seventeen or eighteen summers, named Lucy, daughter of Joseph Cornells? Or is this story a fiction ?
4. "Should that name be written Cornells or Curnells ?
"How many times was Weatherford married? Who were his wives ? And when did they die?
"I have noticed that Claiborne, Meek, and Pickett do not agree exactly in their estimate of William Weatherford, the Red Eagle. I have no prejudice; no partiality. If any facts are in your possession that would enable you to answer any of these question you would do me a favor to write on the back of these slips.
"As what I expect to prepare on Fort Mims is designed for publication, I should like to make it as accurate and reliable as possible. You can probably help me to do this. "Your friend,
"T. H. Ball."
According to my request the following answers were returned. The numbers correspond to the numbers of the questions:
1. "No! About the middle of the afternoon of that memorable day David Tate, Weatherford's half brother, met Weatherford twelve miles above Fort Mims. Weatherford told him of the massacre and expressed great regret. * * *
2. " No! At the time of the engagement he was on foot. * * *
3. " No! I presume that is the embellishment of the story. * * *
4. "Cornells I believe is correct."
In addition to these answers written on the slips and returned to me as requested, the following letter was also sent, a letter which I consider of so much interest that I give it entire. I have omitted parts of the answers given above because they are given so fully in the letter:
CHARLES WEATHERFORDS LETTER.
"MT. PLEASANT, ALA.,
"Oct. 17th 1890.
"MR. T. H. BALL,--Sir: Your letter of the 2d inst. came to hand yesterday. Sir, your subject has become stale. The name of Billy Weatherford is almost forgotten, superseded by the names of such men as Lee, Jackson, and Grant. With the death of my father, Charles Weatherford, Sr., who is about ninety-five years old, the name of Weatherford will become commonplace. My father is the oldest and only living child of the notorious and so called bloody handed, Billy Weatherford. And I, sir, am the only living child of Charles Weatherford, Sr. Now, sir, you know who and what I am.
"My grandfather, Billy Weatherford, died in 1826.
" I was born in 1834, therefore what I have to say will only be hearsay and from many lips, some prejudiced and some partial.
"According to the most authentic information Weatherford did not desire the massacre at Fort Mims. About the middle of the afternoon of that sadly memorable day Weatherford met his half brother, David Tate, about twelve miles above Fort Mims, and told him of the massacre and spoke of it with much regret. He told Tate that he tried to prevent it; but under the excitement his warriors threatened his life if he interfered. Tate did not belong to the hostile party.
"Now as to Weatherford's being mounted at the time the engagement began, circumstances prove that he was not. I had an aunt who was a refugee in Fort Mims. I have often heard her say that she saw Billy Weatherford as he came in the gate at full run, at the head of his warriors, jump a pile of logs almost as high as his head. (Weatherford stood six feet two inches). She said, as he sprang over the logs he saw Captain Dixon Bailey who was a bitter enemy, to whom he shouted, 'Dixon Bailey, to-day one or both of us must die.'* [* "One of us two, Herminius, shall never more go home;
I will lay on for Tusculum and lay thou on for Rome."
"Lays of Ancient Rome."] So I judge by this that he was not mounted at the time of the engagement. But in the evening [afternoon] of that day, when he met Tate, Weatherford was mounted on the veritable black horse. I believe it is a recognized fact that all warriors of note ride either a milk-white or raven black steed. Now, sir, I being a man of peace, and altogether unlike my grand sire, ride an old sorrel mare.* [* Those, at least, who have lived in the South can appreciate this touch of humor, as in imagination they see this old mare jogging along.]
"The aunt of whom I have spoken as being a refugee in Fort Mims at the time of the massacre was Mrs. Susan Hatterway (nee Stiggins) who hated Billy Weatherford with a thorough hatred. My aunt's husband was killed early in the fight. She had no children. And when she saw that the fort would be reduced to ashes she took hold of a little white girl, Elizabeth Randon, with one hand, and a negro girl named Lizzie, with the other, and said to them, 'Let us go out and be killed together.' But to her surprise she saw one of the busy and bloody warriors beckon her to him. On approaching she recognized him. It was Iffa Tustunnaga, meaning Dog Warrior. He took her prisoner with the two children. He took them to Pensacola, and gave them over to some of their friends, where they remained until the war closed. When they returned to their homes in Alabama. Soon after the close of the war my aunt married Absalom Sizemore. She died near Mount Pleasant in 1865.
"When Elizabeth Randon grew to womanhood she married Algier Newman, and lived many years on the Alabama river just below Fort Claiborne in Monroe county. Excuse me for the digression.
"I will get back to my subject by saying the Lucy Cornell's story must have been merely to embellish the story. But it would not have surprised me if he had done so. All great warriors do such things.
"I believe the name has always been spelled Cornells.
"Billy Weatherford was married three times twice under the Indian law. His first wife, my grandmother, was Mary Moniac, originally spelled McNac. She died in 1804 at Point Thloly, which is in Lowndes county. His second wife was Sapoth Thlanie. I never heard where or when she died. His third and last wife was Mary Stiggins. They were married under the white law in 1817. She died near Mount Pleasant, Monroe county, 1832.
"I had an anecdote told me once by the mother of the late Colonel William Boyles, of Mobile, which is the only one that I have never seen in print. Mrs. Boyles was a widow and lived near Billy Weatherford in Monroe County. She kept what was called at that time a wayside tavern. Weatherford, in going to and from his plantation, passed right by her door. They were warm friends, and she frequently invited him to eat a meal with her. On this particular day she invited him to eat dinner. Just before the meal was ready four strangers rode up and asked for dinner. All were soon seated at table, and discussion commenced, in the course of which the strangers wanted to know where that bloody-handed savage, Billy Weatherford, lived. Mrs. Boyles said Weatherford's eyes sparkled. She shook her head at him to say nothing. The talk went on. Three of the strangers expressed a wish to meet Weatherford, assuring Mrs. Boyles they would kill the red-skinned, bloody-handed savage on sight. (Weatherford was fair, with light brown hair and mild black eves.) Dinner being over, the gentlemen walked out on the gallery. To the surprise of the strangers, the man with whom they had sat at dinner stepped into the midst of the crowd and said: 'Some of you gentlemen expressed a wish while at dinner to meet Billy Weatherford. Gentlemen, I am Billy Weatherford, at your service!' But, Mrs. Boyles said, she never saw men more frightened than were the three belligerently disposed gentlemen. Not one of the trio was entitled to a raven black or milk white steed. They quailed under the glance of the Red Eagle's eye. The fourth gentleman, who had said but little, stepped forward and shook hands with Weatherford, and introduced himself as Colonel David Panthon.