Early History of the South-West.
INDIAN BATTLES AND MURDERS — NARRATIVE OF GENERAL HALL.
[FROM NOTES OF CONVERSATIONS WITH THE EDITOR.] [CONCLUDED.]
In the winter and spring of 1793, the small pox was brought around to the settlements in Tennessee from Cincinnati, and the fear of it induced nearly all the persons in the country to get inoculated. Greenfield was an old stockade fort, about two and a half miles from the fort at Bledsoe's Lick in a direct line North, and whilst I was recovering from the effects of the operation, I concluded to go over there and stay, as it was not very well manned. I had been engaged by the government of the territory under Governor Blount at the time, in company with Wm. Neely, to serve three months as a spy; and taking our knapsacks and arms, we would depart every Monday morning, and come back to the settlements no more until Saturday night, spending the time meanwhile in the forest in search of Indian signs. At the time I was inoculated, my time was nearly out, and I was lounging around the fort, almost well, when one evening I said to Mrs. Parker, that I would go out to where three negro men were ploughing, watched by an Irishman named Jarvis who was sentry to
12see that no harm came to them. The fort stood on a high eminence, with an abundance of cleared ground around it; and where the men were at work, the field adjoined a very dense canebrake, the green cane being about fifteen feet in height. Not far off was a patch of fruit trees, a small nursery of about half an acre, which had grown up very closely, and it being the 27th of April, the leaves were all out, making it a very dense thicket. When I went down to where the men were at work, the sun was about two hours high, the evening pleasant. Jarvis was leaning against the fence surrounded by several dogs, and as the negro men went backwards and forwards, I walked along with them talking with one of them, whose name was Abraham, a very intelligent fellow, a servant of Col. Anthony Bledsoe's. Jarvis, a brave but hot headed little fellow was stationed pretty near the edge of the field, next to the cane-brake. Suddenly, the dogs ran off towards the fence, leaped it, and appearing much excited, soon came back barking and growling, and with their hair erect. I at once ordered the ploughman to stop, and called to Jarvis to come to me. I told them all, that I was sure the Indians were lurking near, and that if they did not attack us at once, they were evidently reconnoitering the place, and that all must go at once to the fort. Accordingly, they did so. Nothing more occurred of note that night, but in the morning, whilst the women were milking the cows near the fort, a large number of half wild cattle that usually lay pretty well distant from the stockade, came charging up to the fort, nearly running over the women who were milking near by, and just about that time, Jarvis went along with the ploughman, on his way back to the locality from which he had gone the night before. Mrs. Clendenning called to him to come back, telling him that she knew the cattle were alarmed at the Indians; but he, scoffing at her fears, told her that I had induced them to quit work the night before, two hours before sundown ; and that he was going on, "come what might." Much alarmed, Mrs. Clendenning ran into the fort, and told her mother, Mrs. Parker, (the former Mrs. Anthony Bledsoe,) that Jarvis and the negroes were going out to be killed; and that the men in the fort ought to be awakened to protect them, if necessary. Mrs. Parker came accordingly to my door in great haste, and awakening me, requested me to go out and see what was best to be done ! I therefore jumped up and whilst getting ready to go out, I heard a heavy firing, and stopping only to put on a pair of pantaloons I seized my gun and shot-pouch, ran out, and met William Wilson, a tried soldier, and two others. We all went outside, and saw Jarvis and the negroes riding across the field, pursued by a large body of Indians. It appeared, they had just got to their ploughs, and were turning their horses to hitch up, when Abraham, the mulatto fellow, mentioned, happening to cast his eyes around, saw the fence not far off lined with the Indian's heads, just in the act of rising up. Giving the alarm to the rest, the whole of them sprang to their horses, and dashed across the field, as they had to ride around in order to get to a lane leading towards the fort. Meanwhile, a large body of Indians fired upon the fugitives a tremendous volley; but fortunately, without hitting any of them. Looking down to where they were, I told Wilson (the other two men having ran off from us, one into the fort, the other away altogether,) that our best plan was to run down and try to drive back a party of twenty Indians, who were attempting to cut off Jarvis and the others from the fort. We accordingly started, and endeavored to reach a fence between the party and ourselves, our red foes meanwhile straining as hard to reach another fence about as far in advance of them, as ours was in front of us. The space across the little meadow between the two fences was about eighty yards, We dashed into the corners of out shelter, just as the Indians reached theirs; and we had scarcely stooped to our position when their entire volley whistled past over our heads, scattering the splinters in all directions
13Reserving our fire, we at once leaped the fence and charged right up to the troop, who with their guns empty, turned and fled as hard as they could dash up the hill in front. An angle of their fence reaching around, we ran on, without getting over into the field — a wheat field, — and as we approached the nursery, mentioned, up rose about twenty-five more who were in ambush there, and delivered their volley. At their first appearance, Wilson called out to me to know what we should do? I replied, — that we must dash right up to them, for I knew that that was our only chance; and I hoped, that disconcerted by our audacity, they might miss us. I knew we were lost if they took deliberate aim at us at so close a distance, when we were running from them. We accordingly ran right up to them, the bullets whistling past our ears, in great numbers; but having delivered their fire, they also turned in the most cowardly manner and fled. Had we known, however, of their proximity, we would not have approached their position, for any consideration on earth. Meanwhile, Wm. Neely and James Hays came out from the fort, and ran down to our assistance; and three more Indians, not having seen us, we being hidden from view by the uneven ground came right up to us in another direction, their whole attention absorbed by the sight of Hays and Neely. We met right at the fence; and seeing us, the Indians threw themselves flat upon the ground, we being one side of the fence, they the other. I brought my gun to bear upon one who lay in the wheat, then about knee high, and as he rolled his eyes around towards me, he saw he was lost if he remained there, so rolling over, he jumped to his feet and fled. At about ten steps distance, I fired upon him as he was running, and I saw the bottoms of his moccasons fly up in the air as he went over on his face, shot through the body. Wilson shot another, and the third ran off to join the rest.
All this time, large bodies of the Indians were doing their best to cut off Jarvis and the negroes; and we, having driven back those mentioned, started and got into the lane referred to. Here a large body of them fired upon and killed poor Jarvis, and one of them, a large Indian, ran Abraham, who had killed an Indian, pretty close to the fort, firing at last upon him but without any effect. As he stopped deliberately to load his gun, I told Neely who with Hays had joined us, to take a chance at him. He accordingly snapped his gun at him two or three times, when he discovered that the flint was turned; preventing its going off. Meanwhile, the parties we had first encountered had re-loaded their guns, and ran down to the aid of the rest, and the big Indian who had chased Abraham came running back. He mounted the fence and deliberately looking about him, Hays, who was ready for him, took cool aim, and shooting him through the arm-pits, he fell over backwards upon a hill of corn, quite dead, the blood spouting out a foot on each side of him. I should have mentioned before, that Jarvis and the negroes abandoned the horses at the fence near the mouth of the lane, and Jarvis, stopping with Abraham to take a shot at them, was killed, after getting over the fence and advancing some sixty yards from it out into the field.
The rest of us being at the fence, I proposed that we should fire a regular plattoon upon the crowd, some fifty or sixty in number, who had surrounded the body of poor Jarvis, and were scalping and hacking at it. I was to give the word, so that we should fire together. As we were fixing our guns at a rest, a volley was fired upon us from the rear, the bullets flying past both sides of my face, one of them tearing the bark loose from the rail against my cheek. Calling on the rest to stop, I looked around, and another volley of some twenty guns followed. I wore my hair very long at the time, and a bullet cut a large lock of it from the side of my head, throwing it up into the air a foot high, as Neely said, who saw it. He called to me to know if I was killed? and I Telling him — no ! — we all broke past
14this party who were trying to head us off. As I ran on down the lane, I passed the body of "Prince," one of the negroes, who had been shot whilst some forty yards ahead of the rest of us. In my haste I ran several steps past him; but determined to see which of them it was, as he was lying upon his face in a gully, I went back, and hastily seizing him by the collar, turned him over. He gave a gasp or two, his last; and I again turned and fled. Neely and the others were by this time a long way in advance, and more of the Indians having stationed themselves at the Spring Branch, again fired on me. Being below them, their bullets splashed the water on my legs as I leaped the branch, and we all reached the fort in safety. We had killed four of the Indians, whilst we lost Jarvis and the negro man, Prince. The Indians secured the horses, which had been abandoned in the lane. To keep us engaged, and prevent our attacking them, they kept firing at the fort until they collected the horses, when they marched off. It was estimated by us that the Indian force on this occasion was the largest ever mustered in Middle Tennessee, except at the attack on Buchanan's Station; it being supposed that the party numbered at least 260. It seemed almost miraculous that we were able with such slim numbers to keep them at bay. The fort was poorly calculated to stand a regular siege, and, if they had had any bravery equivalent to their numbers, they might have taken it at the first assault.
The firing having been heard at the forts around, for several miles, a number of parties came to the fort, in the course of the day, to afford aid if it should be necessary. The whole number that came during the day, amounted to about fifty men, under command of Major Geo. Winchester. We held a council to see whether we should follow the Indians, but Major Winchester overruled our wishes, and very wisely, too, as it afterwards proved, ordering us back to the fort. A few of us, the late Governor Desha of Kentucky amongst the number, determined to go at all events; but gave it up, finally, and went back with the rest. In the evening, however, we made up a scouting party of eight men, and taking a circuit whilst we left the rest to guard the fort in case of another attack, we came upon the trail of the Indians about three miles off from the fort, on the East fork of Bledsoe's Creek. The Indians had just passed, the water being still muddy from their footsteps, and we then taking the back track, came to where the Indians had laid in ambush for the whiles, upon their own trail. They had passed through a dead cane-brake, containing five or six acres, and tying their horses beyond it, they had squatted in the green cane around, ready to fire upon us had we followed them up as they expected we would do. We saw the places where they had thus, nearly through the day, been seated. The precaution of Major Winchester was well justified. We found the Indian I had killed. They had placed him behind a log and covered him over with chunks and bark.
Sometime in June, I think, the same summer that Greenfield was attacked, Mr. James Steele and his brother Robert, together with the daughter and son of the former were passing from Greenfield to Morgan's Station. In company with seven other of the Light Horse, I was at dinner when they started, and did my best to persuade them to wait until we could get something to eat, when, as we told them, we would serve as an escort. The old gentleman insisted upon there being no danger, especially, as we had been through the day escorting goods to the fort for Mr. Parker. We were at dinner when we heard guns fired, and seizing our arms, we at once rushed along the road to the fatal spot. We found old Mr. Steele shot through the heart and quite dead, and scalped; whilst Betsey, the daughter, a beautiful girl of about seventeen years of age, was lying on the ground, terribly, mortally wounded, scalped and bleeding. She was faintly moaning when I came up, and was lying on her face. She had fine long black hair, and the wretches had borne it away, together, with a large portion
15of her dress, which they had cut off in haste. I was there first, and turning her over, I at once saw that her case was hopeless. Taking off my hunting shirt, I wrapped it around her, but she died in a few moments, and we carried the bodies of herself and her father back to the fort, the brother and uncle having escaped, the former with a wound in his shoulder. It appears that the young lady was riding behind her father and on the same horse, and when he fell dead, she fell to the ground also, and the savages rushing up, plunged their knives into her bosom. The week before, I had escorted her over to the fort, and intended to have guarded her back again, in company with the rest of the troop, but for the fatal obstinacy of her father.
Soon after this, Abraham, the mulatto mentioned as belonging to Col. Anthony Bledsoe, and one who was really a very brave, intelligent and active fellow, who was indeed a good soldier and marksman, was passing one evening from the Lick fort up to Greenfield; when right in the thick cane-brake, he met two Cherokee Chiefs of note, "Mad Dog" and "John Taylor," the latter, a half breed, well known in Nashville before the war broke out, and who could talk good English. They had been on a visit to the Shawnees; and having sent on their warriors, were on their way by themselves, to steal horses, and murder any settlers who might fall in their way. Abraham met them at about ten paces off, and instantly drawing up his gun, shot the "Mad Dog" dead in his tracks, turning himself at once, and fleeing, after his exploit. The other Chief carried off his slain comrade and buried him, taking his gun and equipments to the other Indians who had gone ahead; and, for the time, cured of all disposition to plunder or murder. It appeared afterwards, that the rest of the Indians suspected him of having quarrelled with the "Mad Dog," and then murdering him, and he had some difficulty in convincing them of the contrary, he offering at last to go back and prove the truth, of the statement he had made. They, however, finally let him off from the charge.
Col. Isaac Bledsoe discovered the Lick, or Sulphur Spring which, much to the dislike of the old settlers, has had its name since changed ; and at the time he first saw it, the locality was so covered with buffalo, that he stated to me — that "he was afraid to get off his horse lest they should trample him to death." Thomas Spencer afterwards came to the same place, in company with a friend from Virginia; but after they had been there some time, the two quarrelled, Spencer's friend determining to go back to Virginia. Accordingly, he started; but having gone a short distance, he remembered that he had no knife, the two having but one between them; and so he called back to Spencer to know "what he should do all the way to Virginia without any knife?" Spencer generously offered to break his in halves, telling him that, he "could stick the broken portion into a piece of wood, and thus provide himself!" He went back, therefore, each took half, and the malcontent proceeded on his journey. Spencer remained alone at the Lick for about six months, living in a hollow sycamore of enormous size, all that time. It was called after him "Spencer's House." It has perished, however, long ago. Spencer was a most remarkable man, a perfect Hercules, in form, — indeed, the most powerful man I ever saw. He was a very peaceable man, withal, and on one occasion I saw him perform a feat, which will hardly bear relating, it is so incredible. Being at the house of Elmore Douglas, at a muster, two of the boys commenced fighting ; and old "Bob Shaw," also a very stout man, ran up and insisted on having them "fight it out !" Spencer, however, was of a different opinion; and parting the crowd right and left as if they were children, he seized one of the belligerents in each hand, and pulling them apart with scarcely an effort, told them to "clear themselves." Old Bob, hereupon, struck him with all his force upon the forehead right over the eye ; but Spencer wheeling about suddenly seized him by
16the collar, and the waistband of his trousers, and running a few steps to the fence which was ten rails high, tossed him over it! The poor fellow tumbled upon his head, nearly killing himself by the fall, quite cured of his fighting propensities for the time. Spencer told me — that "knowing his own strength, he was really afraid to strike a man in anger, for fear he should kill him!" "Spencer's Hill," in this State, on the road to Knoxville, was named after him, he having unfortunately been killed there, in the summer of 1794. He had been to Virginia, after some money, and was returning. He generally rode in advance of the rest, and at the gap near the top of the hill, the Indians laid in wait and shot him dead. He had one thousand dollars in his saddle-bags, and these falling off, the Indians got the money. The horse, a very fine one, fled to the party, and was secured. The stories are very numerous which are told of him.
Spencer told me that on one occasion, he, in company with a friend, was out on Duck river, hunting; and night approaching, they having killed a deer, concluded to go to a secluded spot and build a fire to cook their supper. They did so; but just as they had put up their meat to cooking, a party of Indians who had begun to build a fire, in the bottom below them, put out theirs, and approaching, lay in wait around the fire of the two white men. After awhile, the Indians getting impatient, as is supposed, fired upon them. Spencer was lying on his blanket by the fire, and his friend was standing near. The latter was shot dead, falling after a convulsive spring or two, to the ground. Spencer immediately caught up the two guns, and placing the arm of his dead friend around and over his shoulders, he started off at a hard run through the cane, and the Indians seeing this evidence of his powers, and knowing also that he had the two loaded guns, followed at a respectful distance, enabling him finally to get clear off unmolested. He buried his friend, and brought the two guns into Nashville.
Upon another occasion, he saved the life of Mrs. Parker. A man named Robt. Jones was shot dead from his horse, about two miles from Gallatin, Mrs. P. and Spencer being just behind and also on horseback. Turning to Mrs. P. he bade her wheel her horse and flee, telling her he "would keep the Indians off." As the latter would rush upon her with their tomahawks, he would dash his horse between them and their intended victim, presenting his gun at the same time, until she got beyond their reach, when he followed, both getting off unharmed.
He appeared to have no fear of Indians such as other men had. He would hardly ever allow any one to go into the woods with him, not being sure that others would not "talk;" but by himself during the worst periods of Indian warfare, he would go all through the forest, often for two weeks at a time, coming back safely. He used to build a fire to cook with, and then go off from it and lay down in the cane-brake to sleep. He seemed to delight in solitude, and with all his extraordinary strength and courage, there was no bluster about him, but he was one of the most kindly disposed men I ever knew. He had a fine face as well as a gigantic form, and the broadest shoulders I ever saw.
I have suffered as it seems to me, as much as any one could have suffered in the early settlement of this country, having lost my father, two brothers, two brothers-in-law, a sister and her child, by the Indians, besides having one brother in law, twice severely wounded; but withal, it is some satisfaction to me that I have not been driven from my heritage, but that I have been able with the assistance of the brave men of the period gone by, to defend it through all attacks. I am living at the same place, now, which was settled by my father, having been here sixty-six years in all, since I first came to the country.