Menawa, Cree Warrior

Creek Warrior
Formerly tilled Hothlepoya, or The crazy war hunter

This chief is a half-blooded Creek, of the Oakfuskee towns, which lie on the Tallapoosa River, in Alabama. He was formerly tilled Hothlepoya, or The crazy war hunter, in consequence of his daring feats as a marauder upon the frontiers of Tennessee, at an early period in the settlement of that state. He was in the habit of passing over annually to the Cumberland river, for the purpose of stealing horses, or, as the fierce clansmen of Scotland would have phrased it, driving cattle. The great modern novelist has designated treason as a gentlemanly crime, and border warriors, of whatever race, have, in like manner, considered the occupation of transferring each others horses, either by stealth or violence, as a reputable martial employment. Hothlepoya was widely known and feared by the new settlers along the border, as a bold and successful adept in this species of warfare, which he practiced with the least possible breach of the public peace seldom shedding blood if unresisted, but fighting with desperation when opposed. Various are the adventures attributed to him while thus engaged in some of which he is represented as pursuing his object with daring audacity, and in others obtaining it by ingenious trickery. On one occasion,

“As bursts the levin in its wrath,
He shot him down the winding path.
Rock, wood and stream rung wildly out,
To his loud step and savage shout;”

while again the honest farmer, bereaved of his noblest steed, suspected not the felonious deed until the crazy war hunter was far beyond the reach of pursuit.

The stories told of this individual are so numerous as to warrant. t’i3 inference that his celebrity in the peculiar species of horse-jockey ship to which he devoted his attention, induced those who suffered injury at his hand to give him credit, not only for his own exploits, but those of his various contemporaries, as the Greeks attributed to their deified Hercules the deeds of numerous heroes who bore that name. Some of these adventures are too marvelous to be readily believed; many, that seem plausible enough, want confirmation, and but few have reached us, in detail, in such an unquestionable shape as to be worthy of repetition. We pass them over, therefore, with the single remark, that while enough is known to establish the character of Hothlepoya as an adroit and bold taker of the horses of his civilized neighbors, we are unable to give so minute a detail of these enterprises as would be edifying to the public, or instructive to the youthful aspirant after similar honors.

One incident is well vouched for, which shows that our marauder could emulate the liberality of the famous Robin Hood. Returning once from a successful excursion, he fell in with a tired pedestrian, trudging along the trail that in those days led from Augusta to the Tombigbee. The latter was a white man, who had lost his good nag; whether, like Fitz James,

“touched with pity and remorse,
He sorrowed o’er the expiring horse,”

we are not told, but we learn that he was on foot, in a cheerless wilderness, with no other companion than a hound, who, “With drooping tail and humble crest,”

followed the fallen fortunes of his master. Had Hothlepoya encountered this traveler mounted upon a good horse, the probability is that he would, either by stratagem or force, have despoiled him of the animal. As it was he gave him a fine steed, worth two hundred dollars, which he had just stolen at the hazard of his life, and received in exchange the stranger’s hound not as an equivalent, for the dog was of little value, but as a something to stand in place of the horse, and to be shown as a trophy on his return home. The acquisitive propensity of so heroic a person is not excited by the value of the thing stolen, but by the glory of the capture.

When Tecumthe visited the southern Indians, about the year 1811, for the purpose of endeavoring to unite them with the northern tribes in a general conspiracy against the whites, the subject of this notice was second chief of the Oakfuskee towns, and had acquired the name of Menawa, which means, The Great Warrior; and the politic Shawanoe leader distinguished him as one of those whose co-operation would be necessary to the accomplishment of his purpose. He made a special visit to Menawa, and formally communicated his plan, in a set speech, artfully framed to foment the latent hatred of the Creek chief towards the whites, and to awaken the ambition which he well knew must form a prominent feature in a character so daring and restless. Menawa heard his illustrious visitor with deep attention, for he loved war, and was not unwilling to strike the pale faced enemy of his race. War is always a popular measure among the Indians, and the chiefs readily indulge their followers in a propensity that diverts their attention from domestic affairs, and keeps up the habit of subordination in these wild and factious bands, who are at all times ruled with difficulty, but more especially when peace brings its season of idleness, intemperance, and license. Another reason which, doubtless, had a powerful though secret influence upon the mind of the Oakfuskee chief, was his jealousy of the growing power of McIntosh, whom he disliked, and who was known to favor the whites. A murder had recently been committed upon some white men, in the direction of the Oakfubkee towns, in revenge for which the people of Georgia, charging the crime upon Menawa’s band, had burned one of his villages. It was secretly rumored, and believed by Menawa, that McIntosh, who feared to attack him openly, and perhaps had no plausible pretence for a public rupture with his rival, had instigated the murder, and had then caused it to be charged to the Oakfuskee band, for the express purpose of exposing the latter to the vengeance of the Georgians; and he was soured alike at the whites who had chastised his people without a cause, and at McIntosh, who was the supposed author of the injury. The proposed war had, therefore, the additional recommendation, that as McIntosh would most probably join the whites, he would be converted from a secret enemy, protected by rank and position, into an open foe, leagued with the oppressors of his race.

We have already spoken of the Creek war, and we now recur to it to detail the part acted by Menawa, who engaged in it with great alacrity. Although he was the second chief of his band, his reputation for valor and military skill placed him foremost on occasions when danger threatened, or when enterprise was required. The principal chief was a medicine man, who relied more on his incantations than upon the rifle or tomahawk a peaceable person, who probably inherited his station, and owed his elevation to good blood rather than a meritorious character. He wore around his body a number of gourds, containing the herbs and other articles which constituted his medicine, and which he believed had power to repel the bullets of the enemy, to preserve his own life, and give success to his party. Menawa, though a man of vigorous intellect, was slightly infected with the superstition of his people, and from habit venerated the character of his chief; but the miracles which were said to have followed the visit of Tecumthe, and which we alluded to elsewhere, so far outshone the gourds of the Oakfuskee juggler, as to create some little contempt, and perhaps distrust towards the spells of the latter. But the faith of the principal chief only waxed stronger and stronger, and he continued to juggle without intermission, and to prophesy with confidence, while the Indians, partaking of his fanaticism, generally believed in him, and relied upon his power.

Thus incited by the blind zeal of fanaticism, added to the many existing causes of hatred against the whites, and to the belief that a general war to be waged under supernatural guidance was about to afford the opportunity for ample revenge, the Creeks proceeded in earnest to actual hostilities. We pass over a number of engagements that occurred in this war, in several of which Menawa acted a leading part, sparing our readers from the mere details of blood shed, which could afford them but little interest, and passing on to the great battle of the Horseshoe, wherein it was the fate of this chief to act and suffer as became the military head of a gallant people. The scene of this disastrous conflict has already been described in another part of our work; and we shall only repeat here, that the Indians were posted on a small tongue of land, surrounded by the river Tallapoosa on all sides but one, where it was joined to the main land by a narrow isthmus, across which they had thrown a strong breastwork of logs. The Oakfuskee prophet, after performing certain incantations, informed his followers that the impending assault would be made in the rear of their position, which was swept by the river; and by presumptuously assuming to predict the plan which would be adopted by his enemy, unintentionally misled the Indians, who, instead of trusting to their own natural sagacity, arranged their defenses in reference to an imaginary plan of assault. General Jackson, who, to an inflexible firmness of purpose, united a vigorous judgment, perceived the impregnable nature of the points the Indians had prepared to defend, and conceived the bold as well as judicious step of assailing the breastwork that extended across the isthmus. The movement of the American General was so rapid, that its object was not discovered until his cannon were planted in front of the entrenchment. But when the battery was opened upon this point, when the Tennesseeans were seen rushing forward with impetuous valor, and it was discovered that the main force of the American army was about to be precipitated upon the breastwork, Menawa, enraged at his chief, whose juggling had betrayed the Indians into a fatal error, flew at the unfortunate prophet, and, aided by others alike incensed, slew him upon the spot. He then placed himself at the head of the Oakfuskee braves, and those of the neighboring towns, and uttering, with a voice of unusual compass, a tremendous war-whoop, leaped the breastwork and threw himself in the midst of the assailants. A Greek or Roman leader, who had thus slain his chief, assumed the command, and abandoning the shelter of his fortifications, ‘plunged into the thickest ranks of the enemy, to conquer or die for his people, would have been immortalized in classic story; while in the American savage such conduct will only be remembered as among the evidences of the extraordinary ferocity of his race.

The comrades of Menawa followed him into the battle, and fought at his side with desperate valor, until nearly all were slain, and he fell wounded by seven balls. The whole fight was of the most desperate diameter. The waters of the Tallapoosa river were red with blood. The ferocity with which the Indians fought may be attributed in part to their custom of not suffering themselves to be taken as prisoners, while their position cut them off from retreat, and still more perhaps to the fact that the ground of the Horseshoe was a consecrated spot, where they considered themselves protected by friendly spirits, and were nerved to desperation by a faith like that which excites the frantic valor of the Mahometan. Of nine hundred warriors led into that sanguinary fight by Menawa, only seventy survived, and one only, who fled at the first discharge of cannon, escaped unwounded.

When the storm of the battle subsided, Menawa remained on the field, lying in a heap of the slain, devoid of consciousness. Recovering his senses, he found himself weltering in blood, with his gun firmly grasped in his hand. The battle had ceased, or swept by, but straggling shots announced that the work of death was not over. Raising himself slowly to a sitting posture, he perceived a soldier passing near him, whom, with a deliberate aim, he shot, but at the same moment received a severe wound from a bullet, which, entering his cheek near the ear, and carrying away several of his teeth, passed out on the opposite side of the face. Again he fell among the dead, retaining, however, so much of life as to feel the victors treading upon his body as they passed over it, supposing him to be slain. When night came he felt revived, and the love of life grew strong in him. He crawled cautiously to the bank of the river, and descending to its margin, found a canoe, which he entered, and, by shaking it from side to side, loosed it from the shore. The canoe floated down the river until it reached the neighborhood of a swamp at Elkahatchee, where the Indian women and children had been secreted previous to the battle. Some of these wretched beings, who were anxiously looking out for intelligence from the scene of action, espied the canoe, and upon going to it, discovered the mangled chief lying nearly insensible in its bottom.

Menawa was removed to a place of rendezvous which had been appointed on the Elkahatchee creek, where he was joined by the unhappy survivors of that dreadful battle. For the purpose of brooding over their grief, mourning for the dead, and deciding upon the measures necessary to be adopted in consequence of the recent disaster, a silent council was held, that lasted three days, during which time these moody warriors neither ate nor drank, nor permitted their wounds to be dressed. At the expiration of the third day it was determined that the Indians should return to their respective homes, submit to the victors, and each man make his own peace as best he might. Their wounds were then dressed by the women, who usually officiate as surgeons, as did the ladies of Europe in the days of chivalry. The Indians are said to display, under such circumstances, a remarkable tenacity of life, and to recover rapidly from the effects of the most serious wounds, in consequence probably of their active and abstemious habits, rather than of the absence of physicians. They soon dispersed, and all of them surrendered formally to the American authorities, except Menawa, whose wounds prevented him from leaving his retreat until after the close of the war. As soon as he was able to travel he sought his home, at the Oakfuskee towns, but found neither shelter nor property. The desolating hand of war had swept all away. Before the break ing out of hostilities, Menawa was among the richest of the Indians of the upper towns. Like many of his nation, of the mixed blood, he had partially adopted the habits of the white man, keeping large herds of cattle, which he exchanged for merchandise, and bartering the latter with his own people for the products of the chase. He had entirely abandoned the predatory habits of his early life, was the owner of a store, and of more than a thousand head of cattle, an equal number of hogs, and several hundred horses. He carried on a brisk trade with Pensacola, and was known to load, at one time, a hundred horses with furs and peltries. Like the famous Rob Roy, he was by turns a chieftain, a drover, and a marauder, a high mettled warrior, and a crafty trader; and like him, his propensity for war was unfortunately stronger than his prudence. All his earnings were now destroyed. He found his village burned; not a vestige remained of all his property horses, cattle, and merchandise, had alike disappeared. The Oakfuskee chief was as poor as the most abject individual of his band, and has lived in poverty ever since that fatal campaign. He could never be prevailed upon afterwards to revisit the battle-ground at the Horseshoe. It is believed that he entertained a superstitious dread of the spot, at which he supposed a malign influence existed, fatally hostile to his people and himself. This is not improbable, and is entirely consistent with the Indian character. But this aversion may be attributed to a more natural cause. Men of high spirit are liable to strong prejudices and obstinate antipathies, and Menawa may have felt an unconquerable reluctance to revisit a spot so replete with humiliating recollections the scene of signal defeat and mortification to himself, as a man and as a chieftain. Napoleon, bereft of imperial power, would have taken no pleasure in retracing the road to Moscow.

Menawa regained his health, re-assumed his authority over the remnant of the Oakfuskee band, and became an influential person in the Creek nation. In the conflict of opinion which for many years distracted this unfortunate people he acted with those who resisted the encroachments of the whites, refused to sanction further cessions of territory, and opposed every measure which would lead to the compulsory emigration of his people. McIntosh, as we have seen, espoused the opposite side, and when that chief was sentenced to death for having signed a treaty of cession in violation of the known wishes of the majority, Menawa was selected to execute the fatal decree. Between these leaders there had never existed any friendly feeling, nor is it supposed that Menawa would have been seduced into the imprudent measure of taking up arms against the American government, but for the spirit of rivalry mutually entertained, and the belief of the one that he had been deeply injured by the other. The knowledge of these facts, as well as their confidence in the firmness and bravery of Menawa, may have led the Creeks to select him as the executioner of their sentence. He at first declined the office, and requested the council to entrust it to a more impartial hand; but that body adhering to their choice, he accepted the trust, and discharged it in the manner we shall relate in our sketch of McIntosh.

The subject of this notice was one of the delegation sent by the Creeks to Washington, in 1826, to remonstrate against the treaty of the Indian Springs, and to effect some compromise which should quiet the troubles that preceded and ensued the death of McIntosh. His conduct on that occasion was calm and dignified, and the for^ of his character was felt in all the negotiations which took place at the seat of government. He was decidedly opposed to the emigration of the entire Creek people, but was willing to sell the country, reserving certain lands to be parceled out to such individuals as might choose to remain, to be held by them severally in fee simple. By this plan the entire sovereignty and jurisdiction of the country would have been yielded, the Creeks as a nation would have retained nothing but any individual choosing to continue within the ceded territory, would have had a tract of land granted to him in perpetuity, which he would hold under the state government. None would have accepted these conditions but such as proposed to subsist by agriculture, or some of the kindred arts, and were willing to submit to the restraints of law. The untamed Indian who preferred his own savage mode of life, would have sought a home more con genial to his taste in the forests and prairies of the West. This plan is more consonant with justice than any other that has been suggested; whether it would have satisfied the people of Georgia, or have ultimately promoted the happiness of the Indians, we do not pretend to decide. Failing in this proposition, he succeeded in getting a provision inserted in the treaty, by which it was agreed that patents should be issued after five years to such Indians as might choose to occupy land. As it turned out, eventually, this provision afforded no benefit to himself, for, by an arbitrary mode adopted of making the allotment, the tract on which he had resided his home was given to another, and the land offered to himself not being acceptable, he sold it and purchased other land in Alabama.

Menawa was not only brave and skilful, but was a gentleman in appearance and manners. Although he was a savage in the field, or in the revel, he could at any moment assume the dignity and courtesy proper to his high station. Not long after his return from Washington, a gentleman, to whom we are indebted for some of the incidents related in this memoir, called upon this chief. He found him surrounded by his braves, engaged in a deep carouse; but Menawa had too much tact to receive his visitor under such circumstances. As the gentleman approached the house in which the Indians were carousing, he was met by an aid of the chief, who directed him to another house, where he was requested to remain until the next morning. The hint was taken. In the morning early Menawa was seen approaching well mounted, and in the full uniform of a general officer, from chapeau to spurs being the dress presented to him at Washington at the conclusion of the treaty. At the door of the house at which his visitor was lodged he reined up his steed, and gracefully dismounted. Advancing with his chapeau under his arm, and bowing to the stranger, he desired to know the business of the latter which had induced his call. Being informed, he said promptly, ” I am now engaged with my people in a frolic. I must return to them, but will see you to-morrow, and attend to your business.”Whereupon he remounted, bowed, and galloped off. Punctual to his promise, he returned on the following morning, and adjusted the matter of business.

Notwithstanding the hostility of Menawa towards the whites, and the injuries he had received, he remained inviolably faithful to the treaty he had made, and the pacific policy to which he was pledged. He said that, when at Washington, he had smoked the pipe of peace with his Great Father, and had buried the tomahawk so deep that he never again could dig it up. When, therefore, in 1836, the temporary successes of the Seminoles kindled a contagious spirit of insurrection among the Creeks, Menawa was among the first to tender his services to the authorities of Alabama; and his offer being accepted, he collected his braves and led them to the field, in combination with those of Opothle Yoholo. On this occasion he was dressed in a full suit of American uniform, and affected the conduct of a civilized leader, whose sole object was to prevent the effusion of blood. In addition to his own services, he sent his oldest son to Florida to aid in the defense of the country against the Seminoles. Under these circumstances he had reason to expert that he should be gratified in his ardent wish to spend the remnant of his days in his native land, and lay his bones with those of his forefathers. He paid a visit to the Catawba Indians, in North Carolina, to see how they prospered under the laws of that state; and having satisfied himself that there was no insurmountable objection to such a mode of life, used every exertion to be excluded from the emigrating party. He was at last, in consideration of his recent services, gratified with the promise of being permitted to remain. But this act of justice had scarcely been conceded to him when, by some strange inadvertence, or want of faith, he was ordered to join the emigrating camp. We hope and believe that this, with many other wanton acts of injustice towards the Indians, are not chargeable to our government. The complicated relations with the tribes are necessarily entrusted to numerous agents, acting far from the seat of government, and vested with discretionary powers, which are not always discharged in good faith; nor is it easy for the executive to arrive at the truth in reference to such transactions, where some of the parties are interested, some unprincipled, and the majority both lawless and illiterate.

On the eve of his departure, this veteran chief said to a highly reputable gentleman, who is our informant, presenting him at the same time with his portrait a copy of the one which accompanies this sketch “I am going away. I have brought you this picture I wish you to take it and hang it up in your house, that when your children look at it, you can tell them what I have been. I have always found you true to me, but great as my regard for you is, I never wish to see you in that new country to which I am going for when I cross the great river, my desire is that I may never again see the face of a white man!”

When it was suggested to him that many supposed his repugnance against emigrating arose from the apprehension that he would meet in Arkansas the hostility of the MoIntosh party, who had preceded him, he shook his head and said, ” They do not know me who suppose I can be influenced by fear. I desire peace, but would not turn my back on danger. I know there will be blood shed, but I am not afraid. I have been a man of blood all my life; now I am old and wish for peace.”

Before he took a final leave of the land of his fathers, he requested permission to revisit the Oakfuskee town, which had been his favorite residence. He remained there one night. The next morning he commenced the long dreaded journey towards the place of exile. After crossing the Tallapoosa he seemed for some time abstracted and uneasy. His conduct was that of one who had for gotten something, and under this supposition it was proposed to him to return for the purpose of correcting the omission. But he said, “No! Last evening I saw the sun set for the last time, and its light shine upon the tree tops, and the land, and the water, that I am never to look upon again. No other evening will come, bringing to Menawa’s eyes the rays of the setting sun upon the home he has left for ever!”

The portrait of this distinguished chief, in the gallery of the War Department, which we copy, was taken in 1826, when he was sup posed to be about sixty years of age. It is one of the most spirited of the works of that gifted artist, King, and has been often recognized by Menawa’s countrymen, who, on seeing it, have exclaimed, “Menawa!” and then, fired by the remembrance of the deeds which gained him the name of the Great Warrior, they have gone on to recount them. If this extraordinary person be yet living, he is far from his native land and all the scenes of a long and most eventful career, and is forming new associations at a period of life beyond the three score and ten allotted to man.

Biography, Creek,

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872.

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