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Rivers of War: Snippet Twenty One

       Last updated: Friday, March 4, 2005 10:00 EST



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 21:

    CHAPTER 10

    Jackson’s eyes flicked to his own sword, still in its scabbard and leaning against a tent post. Then, seeing that Houston already had his pistol out, the general turned his attention to Weatherford.

    “How did you get into the fort?” he demanded.

    For the first time since he’d entered the tent, there was an expression on Weatherford’s face. Not much of one, just a slight smile.

    “You called upon all Creek chiefs to come in and surrender, didn’t you? I was one of them. I came in and surrendered. The soldiers didn’t seem to know what to do, so I just rode in past them.”

    “You were supposed to be brought here in manacles and chains!” Jackson snapped.

    Weatherford’s smile widened a bit. “And who was supposed to chain me?”

    The smile went away. Weatherford spread his hands. “If you need the chains, Sharp Knife, send for them. I came unarmed. And I simply came to surrender.”

    It was the first time since Houston had met Jackson that the general seemed genuinely taken aback by anything. Confused, even, as if he didn’t know what to do. It was an odd experience; unsettling, in its own way.

    Jackson’s angry eyes moved away from Weatherford and fell on Houston. Seeing the pistol in Sam’s hand—half raised if not yet cocked—he made a sudden, abrupt, impatient gesture with his hand.

    “Oh, put that away.”

    “Yes, sir.” Houston slid the pistol back into his waistband—but only far enough to hold it there. He’d still be able to get it out quickly. “Do you want me to send for soldiers, sir? And manacles?”

    Jackson glared at him. Sam just returned the glare with a mild gaze, saying nothing.

    Jackson looked back at Weatherford; then, suddenly, slapped the table with his open hand. “Tarnation, sir! If you’d been brought to me as I commanded, I’d have known what to do.”

    “Why should your life be any simpler than mine?” Weatherford demanded. The Red Stick war leader shrugged. “I am in your power, Sharp Knife. Do with me as you please. I am a soldier. I have done your people all the harm that I could. I fought them, and I fought them bravely. If I still had an army to command, I would be fighting you still.”

    He seemed to shudder a little. “But I have none. My people are all gone. I can do nothing more than to weep over the misfortunes of my nation.”

    By the time he was done, the expression on Jackson’s face had undergone a sea change. There was still anger there, yes, but . . .

    Jackson rallied. “You massacred hundreds at Fort Mims! Women and children!”

    “And you massacred women and children at Tallushatchee.”

    Even Jackson’s innate self-righteousness couldn’t prevent him from wincing. Sam hadn’t been at that battle, since the Thirty-ninth Infantry hadn’t yet joined up with Jackson’s Tennessee militia. But he’d heard tales of it.

    The Creeks at Tallushatchee, unlike those at the Horseshoe Bend, had been caught by surprise by Jackson’s advance. Hundreds of women and children had been trapped in the village. Whether or not any of them had been deliberately massacred—and, given the temper of militiamen after Fort Mims, Sam was quite sure that some of them had—many had died as the village caught fire and burned. Sam had heard one Tennessee militiaman who’d been present describe to him, in a weird sort of half-horrified glee, how he’d watched a Creek child burn to death after crawling halfway out of a flaming cabin.

    You could see the grease coming out of him, I swear!

    Jackson’s jaws were tight. “I gave no orders—”

    “Neither did I,” Weatherford said sharply. “I tried to stop the massacre. But my warriors were out of control by then—don’t tell me you’ve never had that happen to you as well, General Jackson.” His face grew stony. “They even threatened to kill me, at one point, if I persisted in trying to stop them. Tempers were very high.”

    Jackson’s hand came up, and he stroked his jaw, as if trying to knead out the tension. Then, he grunted.

    The wordless sound was one of grudging recognition. The story that Weatherford had tried to stop the massacre was by now well known. Enough survivors had reported it that even many white settlers were inclined to accept the story. There was even a rumor that Weatherford had agreed to accept command over the Red Sticks only because the fanatics had taken his family hostage. Whether that was true or not, Sam had no idea.

    And, clearly enough, Weatherford wasn’t going to say anything more about it. This wasn’t a man who was trying to beg for mercy, not even by pleading extenuating circumstances. Even his rejoinder concerning the massacre had been that of an accuser, not a criminal seeing leniency.

    Jackson removed his hat and placed it on the table. The motion was precise, almost delicate, as if he were using the moment to marshal his thoughts.

    “All right,” he said quietly. “War’s a nasty business at the best of times, as I well know. I won’t hold the massacre at Fort Mims against you.”

    Sam could tell that the general was doing his best to appear solemn and grave. But he couldn’t quite keep the admiration he so obviously felt for Weath-erford’s courage from showing, not so much in his face, but in his posture. More than anything else, Andy Jackson despised cowardice. And whatever else you might say about William Weatherford, he whom the Creeks called Chief Red Eagle, he was no coward.

    “All right,” Jackson repeated, uttering the words sharply this time. A command, now, not a judgment. “I’ll give orders that you are not to be detained or molested in any way. But understand this, William Weatherford. The war is over, we won, and you have no choice but to surrender. If your surrender is an honest one, that’ll be the end of it. But if—”

    Weatherford made an abrupt gesture with his hand. “Please, General. We are both warriors. My nation is beaten, and I must now look to salvaging what I can. If I had a choice . . .”

    He took a deep breath. “But I have no choice. Not any longer. Once I could lead my warriors into battle, but I have no warriors left. Their bones are at Talladega, Tallushatchee, Emuckfaw and Tohopeka.”

    Tohopeka was the Creek name for their encampment at the horseshoe bend. Even though Weatherford hadn’t been at that battle himself, he’d clearly heard the tales. He hadn’t been able even to pronounce the name without hesitating a moment, in order to swallow.

    The Creek war leader looked away, sighing for the first time since he’d entered Jackson’s tent. “If I’d been left to fight only the Georgians, I’d still be fighting. I could have raised our corn on one side of the river and fought them on the other. But you came, and destroyed us. So it was. I will accept your terms, General Jackson, and urge others to do the same. I will fight you no longer. Such is my word.”

    Jackson nodded, and stepped to the tent entrance. Pulling aside the flap, he called for Major Reid.


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