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Chickamauga Timeline
BATTLE OF HOLY GROUND


from Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.

CHAPTER XL.

REMARKABLE CANOE FIGHT--BATTLE OF HOLY GROUND--

MARCH TO CAHABA OLD TOWNS.

Returning again to the seat of war, in the fork of the Tombigby and Alabama, it will be seen that Colonel William McGrew advanced in pursuit of a party of the enemy, with twenty-five mounted militia. Oct. 4 1813: Coming upon them at Tallahatta, or Barshi Creek, a spirited action ensued. Colonel McGrew was killed, together with three of his company--the two Griffins and Edmund Miles--which put the remainder of the Americans to flight.

Oct. 12: General Flournoy, who had restricted the operations of Claiborne to those of a defensive character, now ordered the latter to advance with his army, for the purpose of defending the citizens while employed in gathering their crops; to drive the enemy from the frontiers, to follow them up to their contiguous towns, and to "kill, burn and destroy all their negroes, horses, cattle, and other property that cannot conveniently be brought to the depots." General Flournoy, admitted, in the same order, that such usage was contrary to that of civilized nations, but stated that the conduct of Great Britain and the acts of her Indian allies fully justified it. On the same day that these instructions were received, Claiborne, at the head of Major Hind's Mississippi dragoons, a part of the twelve month's volunteers, and some companies of militia, marched from St. Stephens, crossed the Tombigby, and proceeded, by an indirect route, to the northern boundary, where Colonel McGrew had fallen. Oct. 16 1813: He found the body of that officer, and those of the privates, and interred them with military honors. On the march small bodies of the enemy hovered around, but could not be brought into action. A picket of infantry was attacked from an ambuscade, and three of them wounded; but before Major Hinds, who was a little in the rear, could come up the assailants leaped down a precipice, and escaped the pursuit of Captain Foster's detachment. Remaining two days at Fort Easley, upon Baker's Bluff, Claiborne scoured the whole country with detachments. In these expeditions he had five of his men severely wounded, among whom was Capt. William Bradberry, who had acted so bravely at Burnt Corn. He was carried back to St. Stephens, and there died in great agony. Failing to bring the Indians to action, being convinced that they were in very inconsiderable force, and becoming destitute of subsistence, Claiborne marched to "Pine Levels," in the neighborhood of some good farms, a mile east of the Tombigby. Oct 20: From this point he sent spies to the Alabama. He also sent a despatch to Flournoy, requesting him to suffer all the disposable force to march immediately to the Creek country.*

* Claiborne's MS. papers.

The Indians were everywhere committing depredations, in small parties, and occasionally some of the settlers were killed. Tandy Walker, Benjamin Foster and Evans, a colored man, had been despatched by the citizens of Fort Madison across the Alabama, in an eastern direction, as spies. Approaching the late battle ground at Burnt Corn they came upon a small camp of the enemy, upon whom they fired from a concealed position. The Indians fled with great precipitancy, while the spies seized some horses, plundered the camp, and retreated to Sisemore's Ferry. Nov. 5 1813: Here, late at night, while reposing in the cane, guns were fired upon them, and Evans was instantly killed. Walker escaped with a wound in the side and a broken arm, but the next day crossed the Alabama upon a cane raft and reached Fort Madison, where Foster, having already arrived, had reported his death.*

* Conversations with old settlers.

Captain Samuel Dale, having now sufficiently recovered from his wounds, obtained the consent of Colonel Carson, who had returned to Fort Madison, to drive these small parties of the enemy from the frontiers. Dale was joined by a detachment of thirty of Captain Jones ' Mississippi volunteers, under Lieutenant Montgomery, and forty Clarke county militia. Girard W. Creagh, the same who was attached to his company at Burnt Corn, was his lieutenant upon this occasion. This expedition marched in a northern direction, visiting the abandoned plantations, and frequently discovering old traces of Indians. Nov. 11: Dale returned to the fort, and the next day marched southeastwardly towards Brazier's Landing, now French's, where an Indian negro, named Cesar, who was in company, had two canoes concealed in the cane. In these they crossed the Alabama at the close of the day, and bivouacked on the eastern bank. They were thinly clad, and the frost was severe. Nov. 12: When the sun first made its appearance over the tall canes, Captain Dale put his command in motion and marched up the eastern bank, after having placed the canoes in charge of Jeremiah Austill, with six men, with orders to keep the boats parallel with those who marched on foot. Arriving opposite the farm of the late Dixon Bailey, who had heroically fallen at Fort Mims, as we have seen, Dale entered the boats, went over to the place, and discovered fresh signs of the mysterious foe, with whose habits he was so well acquainted. No sooner had he returned to his command on the eastern side than Austill discovered a canoe, occupied by Indians, descending the river, whom he immediately approached. They tacked about, paddled up the river, and disappeared in the thick cane, near the mouth of Randon's Creek. A few minutes only elapsed before a heavy firing ensued, up the creek, where the expedition had encountered some savages on horseback-- Captain Dale's rifle, which unhorsed one of these Indians, having given the alarm. The yell was raised, and they made an attempt to charge; but the hot fire of the Americans compelled them to make a precipitate retreat, with one of their number killed and several severely wounded.

In the meantime, Austill had reached Randon's plantation, with the canoes, a quarter of an hour in advance of the main party.* When they came up Dale ordered them to cross to the western side, as it was found impracticable to continue the route on the eastern, on account of the cane and thick vines. While the company of Captain Jones or Lieutenant Montgomery was being ferried over, Captain Dale, Jere Austill, Lieutenant Creagh, James Smith, John Elliott, a half-breed, Brady and six others occupied a position in a small field, between a sand bluff and the river, where, kindling a fire, they began to boil some beef and roast a few potatoes for their morning repast. When all the command had passed the river except these men, and immediately after the negro, Cesar, had returned, with the smaller canoe, the men from the western side gave the alarm that the Indians were rapidly descending upon those who occupied the little field. They sprang up from their hasty meal, retreated to the river side, and were partially screened from the enemy's fire by a small bank. While in this perilous situation, hemmed in by the Indians and the river, their attention was directed to a large flat-bottomed canoe, containing eleven warriors. Naked, and painted in a variety of fantastic colors, while a panther-skin encircled the head of the Chief, and extended down his back, these Indians presented a picturesque and imposing appearance. Nov. 12 1813: For some reason, those in the rear now retired, leaving Dale and his little party free to attack those in the canoe. The red voyagers, apparently unapprised of their danger, glided gently down the river, sitting erect, with their guns before them. Dale and his party immediately opened a fire upon them, which they promptly returned. Several rounds were afterwards exchanged, resulting, however, in but little injury, as the Indians now lay flat in the canoe, exposing nothing but their heads. At length, two of the latter, cautiously getting into the water, swam for the shore, above the field, holding their guns dry above their heads. They swam near the land, above the mouth of a stream, over whose muddy bottom Austill and Smith crossed with difficulty to pursue them. When near the Indians, the buckskin leggins of Austill, suspended by a band around his waist, fell about his feet from the weight of water in them, causing him to slip and be precipitated down the bluff. At that moment, a ball from Smith's unerring rifle perforated the head of one of the Indians, who immediately turned over upon his back and then sunk. The other gained the bank and ascended it, keeping Smith off with his gun, which he pretended was charged. Austill, who had now gained the top of the bluff, pursued the Indian up the stream, when a gun was fired, the contents of which passed just over his head. Imagining himself among the enemy, and hesitating for a moment, the savage escaped. The fire proved to be from Lieutenant Creagh's gun, who, in the thick cane, supposed Austill to be the warrior, in whose pursuit he was likewise engaged. While these things were rapidly transpiring, Dale ordered the large canoe to be manned on the opposite shore, and to be brought over to capture the Indians who were still in their canoe. Eight men sprang into it, but having approached near enough to see the number of fierce warriors still alive and ready to defend themselves to desperation, this cautious party rapidly paddled back to the western side. The exasperated Dale now proposed that some of his men should follow him in the small canoe, which was immediately acquiesced in. Dale leaped down the bank into the boat, and was followed by Smith and Austill. All the others were anxious to go, but it afforded room for no more. The noble Cesar paddled towards the Indians' canoe, and, when within twenty yards of it, the three resolute Americans rose to give them a broadside; but only the gun of Smith fired, for the other two had unfortunately wet their priming. Caesar was ordered to paddle up, and to place his boat side by side with that of the warriors. Approaching within ten feet, the Chief, recognizing Dale, exclaimed, "Now for it Big Sam!" ** At the same instant, he presented his gun at Austill's breast. That brave youth struck at him with an oar, which he dodged, and in return he brought down his rifle upon Austill's head, just as the canoes came together. At that moment, the powerful arms of Smith and Dale raised their long rifles, which came down with deadly force, and felled the Chief to the bottom of the canoe--his blood and brains bespattering its sides. Such was the force of the blow inflicted by Dale, that his gun was broken near the lock. Seizing the heavy barrel, still left, he did great execution with it to the end of the combat. Austill, in a moment, engaged with the second warrior, and then with a third, both of whom he despatched with his clubbed rifle. Smith, too, was equally active, having knocked down two Indians. Cesar had by this time got the canoes close together, and held them with a mighty grasp, which enabled Dale, who was in the advance, and the others to maintain a firm footing by keeping their feet in both canoes. These brave men now mowed down the savages, amid the encouraging shouts of the men on both sides of the river, who had a full view of the deadly conflict. In the midst of this unparalleled strife, a lusty Indian struck Austill with a war-club, which felled him across the sides of the two boats, and, while prostrate, another had raised his club to dash out his brains, when Dale, by a timely blow, buried his heavy rifle barrel deep in the warrior's skull. In the meantime, Austill recovered his feet, and, in a desperate scuffle with another savage, knocked him into the river with the club which he had wrested from him. The only word spoken during the fight was the exclamation of the Chief upon recognizing Dale, and the request of Caesar for Dale to make use of his bayonet and musket, which he handed to him. Having laid all the warriors low, these undaunted Americans began to cast them into the bright waters of the Alabama, their native stream, now to be their grave. Every time a savage was raised up from the bottom of the canoe by the head and heels and slung into the water, the Americans upon the banks sent up shouts, loud and long, as some slight revenge for the tragedy of Fort Mims. Just as the last body found its watery grave, a ball, shot by the Indians from the eastern side, struck one of the canoes, and was followed by other discharges, but without effect. After the fight had ended, eight athletic Indians were thrown out of the canoe. It will be recollected that there were eleven in the boat when first seen, and that two of them had swum ashore, and the other one Austill had knocked out before the conflict ended.him into the river with the club which he had wrested from him. The only word spoken during the fight was the exclamation of the Chief upon recognizing Dale, and the request of Caesar for Dale to make use of his bayonet and musket, which he handed to him. Having laid all the warriors low, these undaunted Americans began to cast them into the bright waters of the Alabama, their native stream, now to be their grave. Every time a savage was raised up from the bottom of the canoe by the head and heels and slung into the water, the Americans upon the banks sent up shouts, loud and long, as some slight revenge for the tragedy of Fort Mims. Just as the last body found its watery grave, a ball, shot by the Indians from the eastern side, struck one of the canoes, and was followed by other discharges, but without effect. After the fight had ended, eight athletic Indians were thrown out of the canoe. It will be recollected that there were eleven in the boat when first seen, and that two of them had swum ashore, and the other one Austill had knocked out before the conflict ended.

* Randon was a wealthy Indian countryman, who was massacred at Fort Mims.

** Dale had long been a trader among the Indians, and, on account of his prowess and large frame, was familiarly called by them "Big Sam."

The Indian canoe presented a sight unusually revolting-- several inches deep in savage blood, thickened with clods of brains and bunches of hair. In this sanguinary bark, and the one paddled by Caesar, the nine Americans who had been left on the eastern side were now conveyed across to the opposite bank, where the heroes received the warm congratulations of their companions, who exultingly surrounded them.

The expedition then marched up to Curnell's Ferry, two miles distant, and, seeing no more of the enemy, and being out of provisions, returned that night to Fort Madison. It is remarkable that no one received the least injury, except Austill, whose head and arms were severely bruised.*

* Conversations with Colonel Girard W. Creagh, who witnessed the canoe fight, while standing in full view upon the eastern bank of the Alabama, and Colonel Jeremiah Austill, of Mobile, one of the heroes. Among the MS. papers of General Claiborne I also found the report of Captain R. Jones of the first regiment of Mississippi Volunteers, "canoe fight," which fixes the date of that affair.

A short biographical sketch of these heroes may not be uninteresting, after a recital of their unsurpassed "hand-to-hand" fight, in the unsteady canoes, on the deep Alabama.

Jeremiah Austill was born near the Oconee Station, in Pendleton District, South Carolina, on the 10th August, 1794. His father, Captain Evan Austill, has already been mentioned, as one of those who boldly remained to defend Fort Madison, after it had been evacuated by Colonel Carson. His mother was the only sister of Colonel David Files, who died in this State in 1820. At the time of the canoe expedition Jere Austill was nineteen years of age, and weighed one hundred and seventy-five pounds, without any surplus flesh. He was bold, active and strong, and had been raised upon the Indian frontiers, having lived some time at the Agency, in the Cherokee nation. He is still a resident of Mobile, and is regarded as a respectable gentleman. Since the canoe fight, he has filled several important offices, and represented the people of Mobile in the legislature. His countenance is open and manly, his eyes keen and piercing, of a dark brown color, his form is erect, and his step elastic. Even now, at the age of fifty-six Colonel Austill is capable of being a very troublesome adversary in a desperate encounter, although one of the most peaceable and amiable men in the country, in the ordinary pursuits of life.

James Smith was a native of Georgia, of low stature, well set, weighed one hundred and sixty-five pounds, and was twentyfive years of age at the period of the canoe fight. He was a brave, daring, frontier man, and died in East Mississippi several years ago. He was a man of great prowess, and had killed several Indians in frontier expeditions. He was admired by every one for his courage, honesty, and willingness to defend his country, at all times and under all circumstances.

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