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Rivers of War: Snippet Twenty Two

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



THE RIVERS OF WAR – snippet 22:

    The next few minutes were rather amusing, Sam thought, although he was careful not to let any of that humor show on his face. He wasn’t sure which part of it he found the funniest—Reid’s astonishment, Jackson’s increasingly exasperated attempts not to explain himself, or Weatherford’s none-too-successful struggle to hide his own amusement.

    But, eventually, it was done. Reid escorted Weatherford out of the tent. He did so with an odd combination of diffidence, wariness, and uncertainty. Much the way an angel might have ushered a devil out of heaven, after God had pronounced him not really such a bad fellow, after all.


    After they were gone, Jackson continued to stare at the now-closed flap of the tent. “They are a brave people,” Sam heard him murmur, as if he were talking to himself. “That, whatever else.”

    Abruptly, he turned to Houston.

    “All right, Sam. You have my word. If the time comes when you can work out a satisfactory solution, I’ll back you. To the hilt.”

    The general grinned, and rather savagely. “Mind you, I may well be cursing you at the same time, and damning you for a fool. But I’ll do it in private. Or perhaps to your face. I might prefer it that way.”

    Sam smiled. “Well, sure. I wouldn’t expect anything else.”

    Jackson went back to the table and sat down. “Where do you plan to start?”

    Seeing the look of confusion that appeared on Sam’s face, Jackson barked a laugh. Cawed a laugh, rather.

    “Thought so! Fine and sentimental speeches are easy, young man. The trick is in the doing.”

    Sam’s mind was still a blank. The general pointed to the other chair. “Sit down. Let an old warhorse get you started.”

    After Sam took his seat, Jackson rearranged the large map so that it again covered most of the table. Then, he pointed to the junction of Tennessee, Georgia, and the Territory of Mississippi.

    “Start there, Sam. The Ridge lives somewhere here in north Georgia, and most of the other major chiefs aren’t far away. Take Lieutenant Ross with you. See if you can talk The Ridge—and any other chiefs, for that matter—into going to Washington. You’ll serve as their guide and official liaison with the government.”

    That was the last thing Sam had expected to hear.

“Washington? You mean the capital ?”

    Jackson snorted.

    “Where else? You want to guide an official Cherokee delegation to any other town named Washington?”

    Sam’s mind was still a blank. The general smiled smugly.

    “Let them see Washington, Sam. Let them see for themselves that there’s more to America—more strength, too—than the white settlers they usually encounter.”

    Sam winced. “I don’t know if that’ll do much good, General. The Ridge has already been to Washington.”

    Jackson frowned. “He has?”

    “Several years ago. There was a dispute among the Cherokees—sharp one, too—when Tahlonteskee and Black Fox tried to get the tribe to agree to the first proposal for a big land swap. It was tied to relocation across the Mississippi. The Ridge was opposed to it, so the Cherokees elected him to be part of the delegation that went to Washington for further negotiations. I don’t think he met with the president, but I know he met with Secretary of War Dearborn. John Jolly told me about it.”

    “Dearborn! That worthless old coot.” Jackson scowled, looking at the map. “I didn’t know that. Still... That was back when? 1808? Madison’s administration is now in office, and Secretary of War Armstrong is a different creature altogether. He might actually do something.”

    Sam hesitated. True enough, John Armstrong was a very different man from the tired old general who had served Thomas Jefferson as secretary of war. But the country had been at peace in 1808, too, whereas today . . .

    Doing something, whatever that might come to mean, would inevitably entail spending money—and plenty of it—or those were just two meaningless words. No Indian tribe was wealthy, at least not in terms of movable property. Asking them to relocate beyond the Mississippi without providing them with massive assistance before, during, and after the relocation was just a pipe dream. And given the demands of the current war with Britain, Sam doubted the government had much money to throw at anything else. Especially not the Department of War, which was legally charged with handling all Indian affairs.

    Jackson seemed to read his thoughts easily enough.

    “Patience, youngster,” he said, still smiling. “You know as well as I do that no Indian tribe—certainly not those cantankerous Cherokees—will be making any big decision quickly. And they’ve got a few years, anyway, before the rope starts to tighten.”

    Sam looked at him skeptically. Jackson cawed another little laugh. “I said I’d break them if they tried to resist me for too long. I didn’t say I was Attila the Hun. Besides—”

    The general began tracing lines on the map. “The Cherokees—Choctaws and Chickasaws, too—are down the road. Quite a ways, unless I miss my guess. Our main enemies are the British and Spanish, don’t ever forget that. So the first thing I intend to do, at the upcoming negotiations with the Creeks, is strip the Creeks of half their land. This half.”

    His finger quickly traced the area he proposed to seize from the Creeks. “That’ll create a buffer zone between the Creeks and the Spanish territories. They won’t be able to get war supplies from our enemies, any longer.”

    Sam grimaced. “. . . General, most of that land belongs to friendly Creeks. The Lower Towns. The same ones who were allied with us in the recent battles.”

    Jackson glared at him. “Allies! That’s just because the Red Sticks had them by the throat. They sent us a few hundred warriors, here and there, never more than that and never all at one time. And you know as well as I do that if the British had landed soon enough on the coast, and waved guns under his nose, that Big Warrior would have switched sides in a heartbeat.”

    That was true enough, so Sam couldn’t argue the point. Despite occasional clashes—the last major one had been the battle at Etowah in 1793—the Cherokees had usually been allied with the United States since its creation, and before that with the colonists against the British. The same was true for the Choctaws.

    The Creeks, on the other hand, had maintained close ties with the British and the Spanish for many decades.

    Sam didn’t trust their change of allegiance any more than Jackson did. Traditionally, the Lower Town Creeks and the Seminoles had been the southern Indian tribes most closely tied to the British and Spanish. The only reason the Lower Town Creeks had allied with the United States was because the civil war launched by the Red Sticks had been an immediate danger to them, and Britain and Spain had been too preoccupied with their war with Napoleon to provide much in the way of assistance.

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