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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 14: Choctaws and Chickasaws Join the American Army
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|In 1813. the nation of the Choctaws occupied that portion of the present State of Mississippi extending from the old counties of Wayne and Hancock on the south to Line Creek and Tallahatchie River, on the north and from the Tombigbee River on the east to the Mississippi River and Bayou Pierre on the west. The traditional policy of this tribe, from time immemorial, had been that of steadfast friendship towards the whites. In the exciting crisis of 1813, tampered with by British and Spanish emissaries, some slight temporary disaffection, may, possibly, have arisen among the more ignorant classes; but the bulk of the nation, influenced, as they were, by their great Mingoes, and by the noted Indian countrymen in their midst, Pitchlyn, Leflore, Juzan, and others, did not swerve from their fidelity to the whites, and remained firm in their adhesion to the Federal Government. It is true, that on one or two occasions, during the troubled times of the fall of 1813, many persons believed that the Choctaws would join the Creeks, and, in consequence, one or more great panics occurred; but subsequent events proved that these panics and apprehensions of the frontier people were altogether groundless and unnecessary.
The Choctaw people, at this time, as subsequently, were living in three districts or fires, (ulhti), each district governed by its own Mingo. The southeastern district was governed by Pushmataha, the western by Puckshenubbee, and the northeastern by Moshulitubbee. These Mingoes were independent of each other and sovereign in their respective districts, and only acted in concert in national affairs, when the whole nation assembled in council to decide on questions of peace and war. In each district there were thirty subordinate Mingoes or captains, who managed and directed the local affairs of their respective towns or beats.
In the early part of August, with a view of ascertaining the precise attitude of the Choctaws with regard to the war, General Claiborne despatched Major Ballenger to the Choctaw nation. Ballenger had an interview with Pushmataha, on the fifteenth, at Pierre Juzan's either at Coosha or Chunky, but unfortunately died there three days afterwards. What effect or influence this visit had on the mind of the Choctaw Mingo, we have no information. But it is certain that Pushmataha, who was the most enlightened and influential of all the Choctaw Mingoes, was desirous that the Choctaw people should take an open and active stand on the side of the Federal Government. With this object in view, early in September, he rode to St. Stephens and proposed to Captain George S. Gaines to raise several companies of Choctaws fort he American army. Gaines was greatly pleased with the proposition, and accompanied by the chief, he hastened to Mobile and laid the matter before General Flournoy; but the General, from some cause, declined to receive the Choctaws as United States troops. Deeply mortified at the result, Gaines and Pushmataha returned to St. Stephens. Just as they arrived into the town, and were surrounded by the citizens, who were giving vent to their indignation against Flournoy for his folly, a courier was seen in the distance riding rapidly towards them. The rider bore a message from General Flournoy, who had reconsidered the matter, and now authorized Gaines to go into the nation and raise troops. The people forthwith shouted and rejoiced greatly. All apprehensions of Choctaw hostility were now removed, and it was believed that through the influence of Pushmataha, the Choctaws would actually assist the Americans in the war against the Creeks.
Pickett writes: "In company with Colonel Flood Mrs. Grew and the Chief, Gaines departed immediately for the Choctaw country, with no other provisions than some jerked beef. Colonel John McKee, agent of the Chickasaws, met them at Pitchlyn's house, situated at the confluence of Oktibbeha and Tombigbee, where they held a consultation, while Pushmataha went home to assemble his people in council. Having transacted his business, Gaines left Pitchlyn's and in a few days reached the council ground, where over five thousand Choctaws were encamped. Pushmataha harangued them in a long speech, full of eloquence and ingenuity, in which, [as interpreted], he said among other things: 'You know Tecumseh He is a bad man. He came through our nation, but he did not turn our heads. He went among the Muscogees, and got many of them to join him. You know the Tensaw people. They were our friends. They played ball with us. They sheltered and fed us, whenever we went to Pensacola. Where are they now? Their bodies rot at Sam Mims' place. The people at St. Stephens are also our friends. The Muscogees intend to kill them too. They want soldiers to defend them. (He here drew out his sword and flourishing it, added:) 'You can all do as you please. You are all free men. I dictate to none of you. But I shall join the St. Stephens people. If you have a mind to follow me, I will lead you to glory and to victory.' A warrior rose up, slapped his hand upon his breast, and said: 'I am a man! I am a man! I will follow you.' All of them now slapped their breasts, a general shout went up, and Gaines was filled with joy at the result."
We supplement the above narrative of Pickett's with a few facts gleaned from Choctaw tradition. The tradition of the old Choctaws is that this council took place in Neshoba County, at Kooncheto village, situated about a mile and a half west of Yazoo Old Town. This place was selected as being the most central point of rendezvous for the warriors of the nation. Puckshenubbee and Pushmataha were present, but Moshulitubbee, from some cause, failed to attend. Pushmataha, Puckshemebbee, and a subchief, named Tapenahoma, all made speeches favoring a military alliance with the Americans against the Creeks. At the close of Pushmataha's speech, a number of warriors arose, slapped their breasts, and exclaimed: "Nakni sia hokat! Chi iakaiyat ia lashkel" "I am a man! I will go and follow you!"
The troops raised by Pushmataha, who was commissioned as Lieutenant Colonel, consisted of four companies, the entire force, inclusive of the chief and the other commissioned officers, being one hundred and thirty-five men. The commissioned officers of the first company were Mingo Hopaii, (Prophet Chief), Captain, and Tapena ishtaya (Rod-carrier), First Lieutenant, with fifty-one non-commissioned officers and privates. The second company, commanded by Slim King, First Lieutenant, with Nukpallichabi (the one who entices and kills) as Second Lieutenant, had twenty-two non-commissioned officers and privates. The third company, Edmond Folsom, Captain, Red Fort, First Lieutenant, Chukkaba (House above), Second Lieutenant, Okchaya homma (Red Life), Third Lieutenant, had forty noncommissioned officers and privates. The fourth company, commanded by Captain Thluko, who bore the rank of First Lieutenant, was composed of twelve non-commissioned officers and privates.* [* The Continental sound must be given to the vowels in the above Choctaw names including that of Pushmataha and the accent must be placed on the penult. H. S. H.]
With this force, Pushmataha reported to General Claiborne, at St. Stephens, perhaps, early in October. He was treated with great distinction by the general and his officers, and soon became a favorite with all. During his entire connection with the army, a social grade corresponding to his rank was accorded to the Choctaw chief on all public, social, or official occasions. Whenever an officer gave a dining, Pushmataha was always an invited guest. The Mingo, on the other hand, was very careful not to compromise his dignity as a great man and a warrior. He would only associate with officers of higher grade, from captain upward. If a private, a non-commissioned officer, or even a commissioned officer of lower grade should accost him and attempt to enter into conversation with him, he would wave him aside with great dignity, saying in his imperfect English: "I no talk with little Mingo; I talk with big Mingo."
A story is related that a short time after the fall of Fort Mims--perhaps the time when he was tendering the services of his warriors to General Flournoy--Pushmataha visited General Claiborne's camp. When he approached the general's tent, he was received by the lieutenant on guard, who invited him to drink with him. Pushmataha answered only by a look of scorn. He recognized no officer with one epaulette. When the general came in, the red warrior shook him by the hand, and said, proudly, as to an equal, "Chief, I will drink with you."
Some of the officers at St. Stephens were married men, and had their families with them. During pleasant weather, these officers were in the habit of taking an evening promenade with their wives. Pushmataha noticed this custom of his brother white officers, and not to be outdone he sent for his own wife from the nation. Upon her arrival, every evening when the officers and their wives engaged in their usual walk, Pushmataha and his homely spouse--she was not considered a handsome woman--arm in arm, would imitate their example. This act afforded much merriment to the officers, and especially to the ladies; but they were very careful to suppress their mirth when within earshot of the chief.
Although these little incidents seemed amusing to General Claiborne's officers, they had, nevertheless, a high regard for Pushmataha, and considered his warriors good allies. The Choctaw Mingo was a rigid disciplinarian. he seemed to realize that to make his warriors efficient troops, they must, to a great extent, conform to the requirements of the military service of the white man, and the wild independence of the Indian warrior must be restrained. He accordingly exacted from his men implicit obedience to his orders.
The agent of the Chickasaws, Colonel John McKee, mentioned above, was in Nashville, when a messenger arrived from Captain Gaines bearing letters to Governor Blount and General Jackson, giving an account of the massacre of Fort Mims. This must have been about the twelfth of September. General Jackson at once directed Colonel McKee to return immediately to the Indian country and "get out" as many Choctaw and Chicasaw warriors as practicable, and then march against the Creek to town, situated at the Falls of the Black Warrior, under the rule of the chieftain, Oseeochee Emathla. Colonel McKee reached Pitchlyn's the very same day that Gaines and his party arrived there. The Colonel had no difficulty with the aid of Major Pitchlyn, in raising as many warriors as he desired for the expedition, and began his march a few days after his arrival. When he reached the Falls he found that Oseeochee Emathla and his people had made their escape and there was nothing left for the Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors to do but to burn the deserted cabins and return home. According to Pickett, when the returning warriors reached Pitchlyn's, they separated, one party going to their homes and the other party going to St. Stephens to join Claiborne's army.
The union of the Choctaws and the Chickasaws with the whites was now secured and thus was gained a great point for the protection of the Mississippi Territory. And to Captain Gaines and Colonel McKee must be accorded the chief honor of bringing the warriors of these tribes into the military service of the United States during the Creek War of 1813.
The materials for the above chapter are drawn from Pickett's History of Alabama, the Alabama Historical Reporter of May, 1884, Claiborne's life of Sam Dale, the records of the Department of the Interior, Choctaw traditions, and conversations, in 1877, with the venerable Captain S. P. Doss, of Pickensville, Alabama, who, in early life, was an intimate friend of Pushmataha. H. S. H.