Cherokee Indian history: War with the southern colonists

The year of the taking of Quebec by General Wolfe was signalized by a war in the South, of much less importance than that just described, but of no less fury and determination in the combatants. This was the war with the Cherokee Indians, one of the most vigorously contested of the Indian wars of the United States, but which ended, like all the others, in rapid subjection of the savages. As has been so frequently the case with Indian wars, this conflict originated in an act of cruel injustice on the part of the whites, a murderous outrage which drove the indignant aborigines into deeds of terrible reprisal and kindled the flames of war along the whole southern boundary of the colonies. The story of this conflict we select from Trumbull's "General History of the United States of America," in which valuable old work it is given in full detail.

DURING several of the first years of the war this numerous and powerful nation, the Cherokees, had appeared cordially to espouse the interests of the English. At their desire a fortress had been built in their country, called Fort Loudon, in honor to the Earl of Loudon, at that time commander-in-chief in America. Parties of them had assisted in the late expedition against Fort Duquesne. But it seems that while they were on that enterprise they were treated with such general coolness and neglect, and received such insults, as made deep impressions on the minds of that vindictive people. These were kindled into flame and outrage by the treatment which they received from some of the Virginians on their return from that expedition. Many of the warriors had lost their horses in that service; and, as they were returning home, through the back parts of Virginia, they caught such as they found running loose in the woods, not knowing that they belonged to any individual in the province. The Virginians, instead of legally asserting their rights, fell on the unsuspicious warriors, killed twelve or fourteen of them, and took several prisoners. The Cherokees were highly exasperated at such ungrateful treatment from allies whose frontiers, by their assistance, had so lately been turned from a field of blood into peaceful habitations. No sooner had they returned, than they reported to the nation the bloody treatment which they had received. The flame spread instantly through their towns. The relatives of the slain were implacable, and breathed nothing but vengeance against such ungrateful and perfidious allies. The French emissaries added fuel to the flames. In vain did the chieftains interpose their authority. Nothing could restrain the fury of the young warriors. They rushed down on the frontier settlements, and perpetrated many cruel ravages and murders on the defenseless inhabitants.

About two hundred soldiers, under the command of Captains Dewere and Stewart, were stationed at Fort Loudon. These, on every excursion from the fort, were attacked by them: some were killed, and the rest soon confined within the limits of the fort. All communication between them and the distant settlements was cut off, and, as their supplies were scanty, the only prospects before them were famine and death. It was feared, at the same time, that the arts of the enemy would influence the powerful neighboring nation of the Creeks to the same hostile measures.

In this alarming situation, Governor Littleton gave orders to the commanders of the militia immediately to assemble their men and act on the defensive. The governor determined, with such independent companies and militia as could be raised, immediately to march into the enemy's country, and to prosecute such measures as should bring them to reasonable terms of accommodation.

Despite what had been done by their young warriors, the leaders of the Cherokees had no desire for war. They sent thirty-two of their chief men to Charleston, with the hope of making a peace. These were haughtily received by the governor, who spoke to them with great severity and would not listen to a word of reply. He also held them virtually prisoners, requiring them to accompany his expedition.

Soon after the conference, the governor marched for the Congarees. This was about a hundred and forty miles from Charleston, and the place of general rendezvous for the militia. Hither the sachems marched with the army, putting on the appearance of content, while inwardly they were burning with fury and resentment. The governor, having mustered about fourteen hundred men, of whom about three hundred were regulars, marched for Fort Prince George. When the army marched, the chieftains were all made prisoners; and, to prevent their escape, a captain's guard was mounted over them. To complete their indignity and ill treatment, when the army arrived at Fort Prince George the thirty-two chieftains were shut up in a hut scarcely fit for the accommodation of half a dozen soldiers. They were not allowed to speak with their friends, nor even to see the light of day.

When the governor had advanced as far as this post, he found his army so ill armed and disciplined, and so discontented and mutinous, that he judged it unsafe to proceed farther against the enemy. Here, therefore, he opened a congress with the Indians. For this purpose he had previously sent for Attakullakulla, otherwise Little Carpenter, who was not only esteemed the wisest man in the nation, but the most firmly attached to the English. This old warrior, though just returned from an excursion against the French, in which he had taken a number of prisoners, hastened to the governor's camp, and presented him with one of the captives.

The sachem, after a conference with the governor, requested that some of the head-men might be released, in order to assist him in brining his people to terms of peace. In compliance with his request, the governor released the great warrior Ouconnostota, and two more of the head-men. The next day they delivered up two Indians. The governor putting them immediately in irons, so alarmed the Cherokees that they fled out of the way and no more could be obtained.

As Attakullakulla now left the camp, despairing of making any accommodation, he was sent for to return by the governor, who concluded a treaty with him, holding twenty-two of the chieftains as hostages until as many of the warriors who had committed murder should be delivered up.

Scarcely had the governor finished the treaty, when the small-pox broke out in his camp. Few of the army had been infected with the disease, and the physicians were wholly unprovided for such an event. The men were struck with a general terror, and with the utmost haste returned to their respective settlements. Such was the fear which each had of his fellow, that all intercourse, on the return, was cautiously avoided. By this means the men suffered exceedingly with hunger and fatigue. The governor soon followed them, and arrived safely at Charleston. Here, though a drop of blood had not been spilt, nor scarcely anything achieved but what was highly perfidious and inglorious, he was received as a conqueror. From different societies and professions he received the most flattering addresses. By illuminations and bonfires the citizens expressed the high sense which they entertained of his services and of the happy consequences of his expedition.

Their congratulations proved somewhat too hasty. The Indians were so incensed by the perfidy with which their messengers had been treated that they ignored the treaty of peace.

Attakullakulla, by reason of his known attachment to the English, had little influence with his countrymen. Ouconnostota, whose influence was great, was now become an implacable and vindictive enemy. He determined to follow the example of the governor, and to repay meanness and perfidy in their own kind. No attention was paid to the treaty, but Ouconnostota, collecting a strong party, killed fourteen men in the neighborhood of Fort Prince George, surrounded the fort, and confined the garrison to their works. Finding that he could make no impression upon the fort, he contrived a stratagem for its surprisal, and the relief of his countrymen who were there in confinement.

As the country was covered with woods and dark thickets, it was favorable to his purposes. Having concerted his measures, two Indian women, who were known to be always welcome at the fort, made their appearance on the other side of the river, to decoy the garrison. Lieutenant Dogharty went out to them, to inquire what news. While he was conversing with the women, Ouconnostota joined them, and desired Dogharty to call the commanding officer, saying that he had matters of importance to communicate to him. Accordingly, Captain Cotymore, Ensign Bell, Dogharty, and Foster, their interpreter, went out to him. He said that he was going to Charleston to procure the release of the prisoners, and wished for a white man for a safeguard. The captain told him he should have a safeguard. No sooner had he received the answer than, turning and giving a signal, nearly thirty guns were fired from different ambuscades. The captain was killed, and Bell and Foster were wounded. In consequence of this, orders were given that the hostages should be put in irons. In attempting this, one of the soldiers was killed, and another wounded. These circumstances so exasperated the garrison that, without hesitation, they fell on the unfortunate hostages, and butchered them in a manner too shocking to relate.

In the evening the Indians approached the fort, and, after firing signal-guns and crying aloud, in the Cherokee language, "Fight manfully and you shall be assisted," they commenced a furious attack on the garrison, and kept up their fire the whole night. But they were so warmly received that they were obliged to give over the attack.

Disappointed in their design on the fort, and finding that their chieftains were slain, they wreaked their vengeance on the English traders in their country. These they butchered, to a man, without mercy or distinction. In the massacre of the hostages the Cherokees had not only lost a great number of their head-men, but most of them had lost a friend or relation. Nothing, therefore, could exceed the resentment and rage of the nation. The leaders of every town seized the hatchet, proclaiming to their fellows that the spirits of murdered brothers were flying around them and calling for vengeance on their enemies. With one voice the nation declared for war. Large parties of warriors, from different towns, rushed down on defenseless families on the frontiers of Carolina, where men, women, and children, without distinction, fell a sacrifice to their merciless rage. At Long Canes, and about the forks of Broad River, they made terrible carnage among the inhabitants, who, trusting to the late peace, were reposed in perfect security.

About two hundred of the enemy made a furious attack on the fort at Ninety-Six; but they were obliged to retire with considerable loss. This they revenged on the open country, ravaging the English houses in that quarter and all along the frontiers of Virginia. They were not satisfied barely with pillaging and destroying the inhabitants, but they wantoned in the most horrible acts of barbarity. Many who fled into the woods and escaped the scalping-knife perished with hunger. Those who were made prisoners were carried into the wilderness, where they suffered inexpressible hardships. So secret and sudden were the motions of the enemy that it was impossible to tell where the storm would fall, or to take the precautions necessary to prevent the mischief. Every day brought to the capital fresh accounts of their murders and desolations.

It had become necessary to take energetic measures for defense and reprisal, and Colonel Montgomery was sent from General Amherst's army to Charleston, with a force of twelve hundred men. The province was now under a new governor, who took judicious measures for defense, while the army advanced rapidly into the enemy's country. Several Indian towns were burned, the magazines of provisions destroyed, and a considerable number of the savages killed and captured. The others escaped to the mountains. Fort Prince George was relieved, and overtures of peace were made to the enemy.

Messages of peace producing no good effect, the colonel determined to make an attack on their middle settlements. He immediately began his march; but his success in this enterprise was no ways equal to that in his former. The enemy watched all his motions, and took every advantage and opportunity to distress him on his march. On the third day, as the army was advancing through a dangerous ground, the enemy attacked him in the most furious and obstinate manner. They commenced the action with their usual horrible screams and outcries, maintaining a severe fire from under cover. The troops were ranged in the most judicious manner, and firmly stood the enemy's charge. The fight was long, obstinate, and well maintained on both sides. At length, the colonel making a movement which brought the Royal Scots upon their right, the enemy gave way and fled. The captain of the rangers, and about twenty men, were killed, and nearly eighty wounded. It was supposed that the enemy lost about forty men. The army pushed forward about five miles, the succeeding evening, to Etchowee, one of the most considerable towns in the middle settlements. But the Indians had removed their most valuable effects, and forsaken the town. The colonel was able to do them no other injury than to destroy a defenseless town. Here they attacked his picketguard with such fury that they were repulsed with difficulty. They also gave him repeated annoyance by their volleys from the surrounding hills. Though he had gained the field, and been able to advance after the action, yet it had the effect of a defeat. So many of his men had been wounded, and so many of his horses killed, that he found a retreat absolutely necessary to save the wounded men from the massacre of the enemy. In the beginning of July he returned to Fort Prince George. The expedition had cost him five officers and about a hundred men, killed and wounded.

This expedition proved eventually more disadvantageous to the English than to their enemies. Colonel Montgomery now felt it necessary, under the orders he had received, to return north with his troops, and left but about four hundred men to assist in defending the frontiers. As a result, the Southern colonies were again raided by the foe, whom Montgomery had but exasperated. Fort Loudon fell into their hands, and the garrison, in their march northward, were partly killed and the remainder made captive. Under these circumstances application was again made to General Amherst for assistance. It was now the year 1761, Canada was captured, and a force could easily be diverted south. It was determined to give the Indians a lesson that would force them to make peace.

In May, the army, consisting of two thousand and six hundred men, advanced to Fort Prince George. Here Attakullakulla, having got intelligence of the force advancing against his nation, met Colonel Grant, and repeatedly entreated him, by his friendship and many good services to the English, to proceed no farther till he had once more used his influence with his nation to bring them to an accommodation. But Colonel Grant would not listen to his solicitations. He immediately began his march for the middle settlements. A party of ninety Indians and thirty woodmen painted like Indians marched in front of the army and scoured the wood. After them followed the light infantry and about fifty rangers, consisting of about two hundred men. By the vigilance and activity of these the colonel designed to secure the main body from annoyance and surprise. During three days he made forced marches that he might pass several dangerous defiles which might cost him dear should the enemy first get the possession and warmly dispute the passage. These he passed without annoyance. But the next day, finding suspicious grounds on all sides, orders were given that the army should prepare for action, and that the guards should advance slowly, doubling their circumspection.

As the army advanced in this cautious manner, about eight o'clock in the morning the enemy were discovered, by the advanced guard, nearly in the same ground where they attacked Colonel Montgomery the preceding year. Rushing down from the high grounds, they furiously attacked the advanced guard. These were supported, and the action became general. A party of the enemy driven from the low grounds immediately ascended the hills under which the whole line was obliged to pass. On the left was a river, from the opposite banks of which they received a heavy fire as they advanced. While the line faced and gave their whole charge to the Indians on the bank of the river, a party was ordered to ascend the hills and drive the enemy from the heights. No sooner were they dislodged from the heights than they returned with redoubled ardor to the charge in the low grounds. These it appeared their determination obstinately to dispute. The situation of the troops soon became critical and distressing. They had been greatly fatigued by forced marched in rainy weather. They were galled by the fire of the enemy, so compassed with woods that they could neither discern nor approach them but with the greatest difficulty and danger. When they were pressed they always kept at a distance, but, rallying, returned again with the same fierceness and resolution to the charge. No sooner were they driven from one place than they sprang up like furies in another. While the attention of the colonel was drawn to the enemy on the banks of the river, and employed in driving them from their lurking-places on that side, so furious an attack was made on his rear-guard that he was obliged to order a detachment back to its relief, to save his cattle, provision, and baggage. From nine to eleven o'clock did the enemy maintain the action. Everywhere the woods resounded with the roar of arms and the hideous shouts and yells of savages. At length the Cherokees gave way, but as they were pursued they kept up a scattering shot till two o'clock. They then wholly disappeared.

What loss the enemy sustained is not known, but that of Colonel Grant was about sixty men in killed and wounded. The army advanced as soon as possible, and about midnight arrived at Etchoe, a large Indian town. The next day it was reduced to ashes. There were fourteen other towns in the middle settlements, all which shared the same fate. The enemy's magazines, and their cornfields, amounting to not less than fourteen hundred acres, were utterly destroyed. The miserable inhabitants stood the silent spectators of the general destruction, and were obliged to retire, to starve in the thickets and mountains. Nearly the same barbarities were practiced towards them, by a civilized and Christian people, of which we so loudly complain when, in their manner of warfare, they are practiced against us. .

After nearly thirty days had been spent in works of destruction, the army returned to Fort Prince George. The various hardships it had endured in the wilderness, from watching, heat, thirst, danger, and fatigue, hardly admit of description. The feet and legs of many of the soldiers were so mangled, and their spirits so exhausted, that they were utterly incapacitated to proceed on their march. Colonel Grant determined, therefore, to encamp awhile at this post, both for the refreshment of his men and to get intelligence with respect to resolutions of the enemy.

Soon after his arrival, Attakullakulla and several other chieftains of his nation came to the camp and expressed their wishes for peace.

Articles were drawn and signed by both parties.

Peace was established, and both parties expressed their wishes that it might continue as long as the rivers should run, or the sun shine. The whole North American continent appeared now to be quieted.

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