At this period, some exciting scenes occurred in the region now known as North Alabama. We have already followed a party of emigrants to the Cumberland. Many others flocked to that country, and it soon became well settled, for a wild country. The Upper Creeks and Cherokees continually made war upon these Cumberland people. The French, upon the Wabash, had, for a long time, carried on a commerce, near the sites of the present towns of Tuscumbia and Florence. So long as M. Viez was at the head of this trade, the Cumberland people were not harassed; but, recently, he had been succeeded by others, who supplied the Indians with arms, and encouraged them to attack the American settlements. The latter had only acted upon the defensive, but it was now determined to advance upon the frontier towns of the Indians.
June 1 1787: One hundred and thirty men assembled, from different parts of the Cumberland region, and marched, under Colonel James Robertson, to the Tennessee river, piloted by two Chickasaws. David Hays was dispatched from Nashville with boats, laden with provisions, destined for the Muscle Shoals. Descending the Cumberland, he was furiously attacked by the Indians, at the mouth of Duck River, and, after some of his men had been killed and others wounded, he returned to Nashville with his boats. Owing to this the horsemen were without food during the greater part of the expedition.
June 1787: Striking the Tennessee at a point very near the present town of Florence, Colonel Robertson concealed his men. A well-beaten path was discovered, leading down the banks, and on the south side of the river stood some cabins, in view. Seven men were placed in the canes, to observe the movements of the Indians. A canoe was seen to move to an island, filled with natives, who there plunged into the river and engaged in bathing. They then returned to the south bank, evidently watching for the Americans, of whose approach they had gained some vague intelligence. Captain Rains had set out up the river, with fifteen men, with orders to capture an Indian alive; but, after marching to the mouth of Blue Water, he returned, without having made any discovery. When the shadows of twilight began to darken the wilderness, the troops assembled, in the most noiseless manner, upon the low grounds. The seven men, who had watched all day, plunged into the mighty river early in the night, and swam to the opposite shore, where they discovered that the cabins were unoccupied. Finding a tremendous canoe, with a hole in the bottom of it, they brought it over to the north bank. Stopping the leak with their shirts, Colonel Robertson placed in it all the firearms, and forty men; but they soon paddled back, in a sinking condition. The party made no further attempt to cross, until daylight; then fifty men, with the arms and ammunition, went over in the boat, which had now been, rendered sea worthy by a piece of linn bark. The rest of the party swam their horses over. A heavy rain coming on, as soon as they reached the southern shore, they took shelter in the cabins. When the clouds had dispensed they came forth and began the march upon the plain path, leading westward. At about the distance of five miles, they reached cornfields and further on they came to Cold Water Creek, the same which runs by the modern Tuscumbia. The larger portion of the command immediately crossed over and entered upon the low grounds, among a number of cabins, distant from the river about three hundred yards. The people of the town ran down to their boats. Some, in endeavoring to escape, crossed over the creek, to the east side where they were shot down by Captain Rains and a few men stationed there to intercept them. Colonel Robertson charged to the river, and his troops committed havoc on all sides. Colonel Robertson charged to the river, and his troops committed havoc on all sides. They killed many of the Indians, who got into the boats, and other who had plunged into the stream. Three French traders and a white woman, who would not surrender, fled to a boat and entered it along with twenty-six Indians. The Americans, with one volley killed them all. The chief French trader and six others were captured. In this town were stores of taffai, and all kinds of Indian merchandize, arms and ammunition. Colonel Robertson bought all the boats up the creek, had a strong guard placed over them, and then burned the town, killing the fowls and hogs. Next morning, giving to Toka, the Chickasaw guide and his companion, who presently set out for their nation, a liberal supply of merchandise and arms, Colonel Robertson buried the whites, loaded several of the boats with goods and placed them in charge of three men, who departed down the river with the French prisoners. Robertson marched by land and near Colbert’s Ferry, overtook the boats and they all encamped there together. To their great joy, they found that not a soul had received a wound. In the morning, the French prisoners, with a squaw, were permitted to depart in a boat. They were liberally supplied with provisions, and their trunks of clothing were given up to them. The sugar and coffee taken at the town were articles of great luxury in those days, and were now equally divided among the troops. Robertson marched across the country to the Cumberland, and thus terminated a fatiguing expedition of nineteen days. The boats with the merchandise proceeded down the Tennessee River in charge of Denton and others. On their way they met a party of French traders destined for the town which they had destroyed, who, in their enthusiasm, fired off their guns in a fit of joy, supposing the voyagers were also traders of their people. The Americans took advantage of the discharge, and before they could re-load, captured the whole party with all their goods. Arriving in the Cumberland settlements the merchandise was sold at Eaton’s Station, and the proceeds divided among the troops.
This expedition produced a short respite from Indian attacks. The savages, however, rallied, and began a warfare fiercer than ever. At length, in the fall, Captain Shannon with a mounted party pursued some Creeks from the Cumberland to the northern bank of the Tennessee, in the present county of Lauderdale, and engaged in a severe fight with Black Foot and his clan. Victory at length declared for the daring Cumberlanders. The Chief was killed with a number of his warriors. During this fall the settlers engaged in numerous military excursions, upon Duck and Elk rivers, in pursuit of Indians who were retreating from fresh scenes of pillage and blood. The magnificent forests of North Alabama were scoured in all directions by these intrepid Americans. 1
At the same time the Creeks were active upon the Georgia frontier. Enraged at the settlement of the Oconee lands, they reduced to ashes the new town of Greensboro, together with the court house, killed many inhabitants on various portions of the frontier, and carried to the nation white captives, Negroes, and all sorts of plunder. 2 Georgia urged the Congress to punish these depredators by sending against them an army, but the national agents were reluctant to enter into another war. However, Secretary Knox did plan upon paper a Southern army, which was not raised, while the Georgians were left to defend themselves to the best of their ability.
Congress, again seeking to interpose by a treaty, appointed Richard Winn, Indian Superintendent, with whom was associated George Mathews, on the part of Georgia, and Andrew Pickens, on the part of South Carolina. They opened a negotiation with Colonel McGillivray, but he refused to meet them, unless they first removed the Georgians from the Oconee lands, within the bounds of the old British government.
1788: Hostilities, of course, continued, for it was now impossible to comply with the bold demands of McGillivray, who stood upon an enviable and independent footing. Caressed by Panton, with whom he was a co-partner in an extensive commerce, paid by the Spanish government, obeyed by his own people, and many of the Cherokees and Choctaws, and supplicated by the American Congress, the Chieftain could well afford to dictate arbitrary terms, and continue to advance against the Georgians with hundreds of his prowling warriors.
At length, Governor Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, entered into a correspondence with McGillivray, to endeavor to bring about a peace and the settlement of the boundary, and elicited from him several letters. A portion of one of them runs as follows:
“The third invitation which was sent to us to treat, was from the Georgians only, through their commissioners, at the head of whom was Mr. Habersham, President of the Executive Council, and he proposed the Oconee as the place of meeting. They pledged their sacred honors for the safety and welfare of every Indian that should attend; but I, being so often threatened, and having the worst opinion of the back people, as they are called, did not go, but sent a few Coweta warriors, to report to me on their return. During the conferences of the Oconee, an additional cession was demanded, which was strongly opposed by the Cowetas and others, for which they were violently insulted by a Colonel Clarke, which the commissioners could not prevent. Though their sacred honors were pledged for maintaining good order, several warriors, of different towns, were forcibly seized upon by armed men and conveyed to Augusta, more as prisoners than hostages, to be kept as a pledge that my life, and six more of the leading men, should be taken. Such conduct convinced the whole nation that it was full time to adopt measures for the general safety.” 3
About this time, a bloody transaction occurred in the territory of the present county of Conecuh. During the revolutionary war, Colonel McGillivray formed an acquaintance with many conspicuous royalists, and, among others, with Colonel Kirkland, of South Carolina. That person was at McGillivray’s house, upon the Coosa, in 1788, with his son, his nephew, and several other gentlemen. They were on their way to Pensacola, where they intended to procure passports, and settle in the Spanish province of Louisiana. When they determined to leave his hospitable abode, McGillivray sent his servant to guide them to Pensacola. The presence of this servant would assure the Indians that they were friends, for it was dangerous to travel without the Chieftain ‘s protection. Colonel Kirkland and his party had much silver in their saddle-bags. Arriving within a mile of a large creek, which flows into the Conecuh, they met a packhorse party, about sunset, going up to the nation. They had been to Pensacola, on a trading expedition. This party consisted of a Hillabee Indian, who had murdered so many men, that he was called Istillicha, the Man-slayer – a desperate white man, who had fled from the States for the crime of murder, and whom, on account of his activity and ferocity, the Indians called the Cat – and a blood-thirsty Negro, named Bob, the property of Sullivan, a Creek trader of the Hillabees. As soon as Colonel Kirkland and his party were out of sight, these scoundrels formed an encampment. The former went on, crossed the creek, and encamped a short distance from the ford, by the side of the trading path. Placing their saddlebags under their heads, and reclining their guns against a tree, Kirkland and his party fell asleep. At midnight, the bloody wretches from the other side, cautiously came over, and, seizing the guns of Kirkland and his men, killed every one of them, except three Negroes, one of whom was the servant of the great Chieftain, as before stated. Dividing the booty, the murderers proceeded to the Creek nation, and, when the horrid affair became known, Colonel McGillivray sent persons in pursuit of them. Cat was arrested; but the others escaped. Milfort was directed to convey the scoundrel to the spot where he had shed the blood of these men, and there to hang him, until he was dead. Upon the journey to that point, Milfort kept him well pinioned, and, every night, secured his legs in temporary stocks, made by cutting notches in pine logs, and clamping them together. Reaching the creek where poor Kirkland and his men were murdered, Cat was suspended to the limb of a tree, the roots of which were still stained with the blood of the unfortunate colonel and his companions. While he was dangling in the air, and kicking in the last agonies, the Frenchman stopped his motions with a pistol ball. Such is the origin of the name “Murder Creek.” 4
- Haywood’s History of Tennessee, pp. 217-225.
- Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 23-24.
- Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 19-20.
- Conversations with Lachlan Durant, and two old traders, named Abram Mordecai and James Moore.