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Rivers of War: Snippet Seven

       Last updated: Saturday, February 12, 2005 09:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 7:

    Slowly, The Ridge moved a branch, just enough to afford him a good view of the opposite bank of the Tallapoosa. Behind him and spread out on both sides, hidden in the forest, hundreds of Cherokee warriors crouched. General Coffee and his cavalry were somewhere farther back, having agreed to follow The Ridge’s advice and stay well out of sight of whatever Red Sticks might be watching the river.

    In theory, Jackson’s Cherokee allies were led by their chief, Gideon Morgan, to whom the Americans had given the rank of colonel. But that was mainly due to Morgan’s fluency with the English language. In practice, as the campaign against the Red Sticks had unfolded, it was The Ridge who’d come to be the central war leader, and the one whom General Coffee relied upon. The Ridge had started the campaign with the lowly American rank of lieutenant, but now he was a major.

    Observing nothing on the other side except a line of beached Creek canoes, The Ridge examined the river itself for a moment. The muddy waters of the Tallapoosa were moving fairly quickly, but he didn’t think it would be impossible to swim across. Not even difficult, really, since the distance wasn’t that great.

    He went back to studying the opposite bank, with the patience of a hunter.

    Nothing. There might well be some warriors in the vicinity, but it was becoming obvious the Red Sticks hadn’t thought to place a guard on the river.

    He wasn’t surprised. He could hear the sounds of fighting off in the distance, and had been hearing them for quite some time. By now, the Red Stick warriors would be concentrated at or near the fortifications that stretched across the neck of the peninsula, hundreds of yards away from the river’s curve. The terrain directly opposite The Ridge’s location was flat, once the riverbank itself was surmounted, and it wasn’t as heavily forested as most of the region.

    Somewhere in the distance he thought he could see the high ground that was reported to form the center of the peninsula, and he was pretty sure the Creek village itself would be located at the foot of it. That area would be guarded, but the river itself wasn’t being watched. Not closely, at least.

    Moving slowly again, The Ridge let the branch slide back into position, no more abruptly than if it had been moved by the wind. Then, he turned his head and considered the Cherokees who were clustered nearby.

    He dismissed John Ross without even a thought. The youngster seemed stalwart enough, but had no real experience in this sort of fighting. The Americans had made him an adjutant, and had given him the rank of a second lieutenant. But, again, that had been mostly due to his familiarity with English. For something like this, The Ridge wanted a more experienced man. Besides, it would take a good swimmer, and The Ridge had no idea how well Ross could handle himself in the water.

    His eyes fell on The Whale. The man’s name wasn’t simply due to his size. The Ridge made a subtle summoning gesture with his head, and The Whale eased his way forward.

    “Right across the river,” The Ridge murmured. He slid aside a little so The Whale could take his own peek.

    After carefully parting the branches and examining the canoes on the other side, The Whale grunted softly. “I’ll take two men with me. Won’t take long, so have everyone ready.”

    He turned away and softly called out two names. As the men rose from their crouch, The Whale led them a short distance upstream. They’d start their crossing far enough above the beached canoes that the current wouldn’t sweep them right on past.

    Then The Ridge glanced at John Ross again. If the youngster harbored any resentment because he hadn’t been chosen for the task, there was no sign of it on his expression or in his posture. The Ridge was pleased, but not surprised. He’d already come to the conclusion that Ross was exceptionally level-headed, and as such not subject to public bravado that infected most men his age.

    There remained, of course, the question of Ross’s courage. The American ensign wasn’t the only young man in the group for whom this would be the first real test in battle. But there, too, The Ridge expected the young Cherokee to acquit himself well enough.

    Well enough was all The Ridge asked for this day. The Cherokees already had enough warriors who had proven their fighting abilities. The Ridge himself was one of them. What they lacked were leaders who could negotiate their way through the tangled thicket of politics that confronted their nation in a world being swept over by a tide of white settlers.

    He had high hopes for John Ross. Because of his background, Ross had a far greater familiarity with the subtleties of American customs than did most Cherokees. Certainly far more than The Ridge himself. The Ridge had never visited the home of the Ross family, near Lookout Mountain, but he had heard tales about it. The two-story log house was said to be full of books and maps and newspapers—even newspapers from England. John had been brought up in Cherokee country, in a Cherokee family, but as a boy he’d been tutored by a white man; and, as a youth, he had attended a white man’s academy in Tennessee.

    The value of such an education was unquestionable, in these difficult days. The proof of it was an even greater marvel than a two-story house full of books. John Ross had formed a business partnership with Timothy Meigs, the son of the well-known Indian agent Colonel Meigs. They had taken good advantage of the lucrative government contracts produced by the Americans’ wars against the British and the Creeks. In the short few months before Ross had joined the Cherokee force that now fought alongside Jackson, he’d become a prosperous man, even as white men measured such things.

    A Cherokee—not more than twenty-three years old—becoming wealthy from trading with white men! That was what the American missionaries called a “miracle.”


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