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Rivers of War: Snippet Seventeen

       Last updated: Friday, February 25, 2005 16:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 17:

    Jackson snorted. “Are they still claiming their magic will turn our bullets into water?”

    “Yes, sir. They aren’t calling out for all the cats to be killed, though. Of course, I doubt me there’s a cat in the world dumb enough to be within a hundred miles of this place.”

    Jackson chuckled harshly. One of the Cherokee prophets following Tecumseh had been a half-blood by the name of Charley. His white ancestry notwithstanding, Charley had become famous for demanding that the Cherokees abandon all the cursed ways of the white man. All of them, not just the books and mills and orchards and clothes and featherbeds and tables. He’d been especially incensed by the new habit of keeping domestic cats. All cats were to be killed!

    He might have even swayed the Cherokee, for he was eloquent enough, whatever you thought of his notions. But The Ridge had put a stop to it. He’d stood up at the council meeting after Charley had predicted the immediate demise of anyone who opposed him and challenged him to make good his claim. A small mob of Charley’s followers had attacked The Ridge then, but he’d battled them off long enough for his friend Jesse Vann and other allies to rally to his aid.

    The brawl that followed had been inconclusive, since one of the old influential chiefs had managed to stop the fray. But the fact remained that The Ridge had defied one of Tecumseh’s prophets and lived. That had been enough to produce a rapid decline in the prestige of Tecumseh’s adherents, at least among the Cherokee.

    “But regardless of whether or not they’ve decided to spare the cats, sir, I can tell you that they aren’t relenting about anything else.” The ensign shrugged. “I’ll take them the offer, if you want, sir. But I’d just as soon lead a charge on them right now and be done with it. I’d a lot rather get shot carrying a sword than a white flag. Stupid, that.”

    Then, more quietly: “They aren’t going to surrender, General. There’s not a chance in creation.”

    Jackson rubbed his jaw, pondering the matter. “You say you’ll volunteer to lead the charge?”

    “Yes, sir,” replied Houston, calmly and firmly. “I will.”

    Jackson thought about it some more. His decision teetered on a sharp edge.

    In the end, it was the ensign himself who decided the matter for him. The ensign . . . and his two Cherokee companions.

    To blazes with the Red Sticks. Jackson didn’t want to risk losing such a promising young man, certainly not in something as quixotic as a doomed parlay attempt. All the more so because this war with the Creeks was just the opening skirmish in the coming battle with the British. He wanted Houston around for that.

    As for the charge . . .

    Jackson’s eyes moved to the two Cherokees who accompanied Houston, but had stayed back when he came up to speak to the general.

    “Never mind. As you say, the offer’s probably pointless. And now that I think about it, a straight-up charge is probably just as pointless.

    “Can you find The Ridge?”

    “Yes, sir.” Houston jerked his head again. “He and his people are staying down by the river, to help General Coffee kill any Red Sticks who might still be trying to cross.”

    There was a slight twist in the set of the ensign’s lips. A trace of bitter irony, Jackson thought. The general was pretty sure that the real reason The Ridge had taken his Cherokees away from the high ground was to avoid any clashes they might get into with the Tennessee militiamen.

    So Jackson came to his decision. “Go find him, if you would. Ask him to bring a number of his men with him. Provide them with an escort. Use your own platoon. Just bring them up here. They’ve got bows, yes?”

    Houston nodded. “Quite a few, although most of them are armed with guns.”

    “Quite a few will be enough.” Jackson pointed toward the ravine. “From every description I’ve gotten, those breastworks can be set aflame. Let’s see if Cherokee fire arrows will do the trick.”

    They did. By nightfall, the ravine was a blazing inferno. Every Red Stick who tried to escape was shot down.

    The next morning, the killing continued, here and there, as occasional bands of Red Sticks were uncovered elsewhere on the peninsula. No quarter was offered; no quarter was asked for; no quarter was given.

    Halfway through the morning, Jackson ordered a body count. To make sure that no dead hostile was counted twice, he ordered their noses cut off once the count was made. Scalping was pointless, since most of the dead Red Sticks had already been scalped the day before. Sometimes by white soldiers, sometimes by Cherokees—often enough, by other Creeks. The Red Sticks had waged a savage civil war against any Creeks who opposed them, and now the favor was being returned by their own tribesmen.

    The nose count came to some five hundred fifty. When Coffee crossed the river and reported on the action that had taken place there, he told the general that he estimated he and his men had left another three hundred and fifty or so dead in the water. He didn’t think more than a hundred, at most, had managed to escape.

    Jackson thought that estimate was too optimistic. Creeks, like all the southern tribes, were as adept in the water as they were in the woods. He was pretty sure the number who had escaped across the river was higher.

    Nonetheless, out of approximately one thousand Red Sticks who had forted up on the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa, at least eight hundred were dead. It was as complete and as bloody a victory as he could have hoped for.

    There were only two dark spots on the victory for Andrew Jackson. The first was the death of his friend Lemuel Montgomery, who had died heroically leading the charge on the barricade.

    The second was that both Chief Menawa and—even worse—William Weatherford had been among those Red Sticks who had escaped the trap.

    Weatherford, as it turned out, had never been caught in the trap in the first place. Jackson discovered from interrogations of the surviving Creeks that Weatherford had left the horseshoe bend several days before the battle started, in an attempt to recruit more followers for his cause.

    Weatherford had led the massacre at Fort Mims, the act that had triggered the Creek War. Jackson wanted him badly. But he’d catch him, sooner or later.

    And then he’d hang him.


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