Home    Historic Sumner    Paintings    SHOP

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

History of Old Sumner
Bledsoe’s Creek, Part Five - Attack and Counterattack, Chapter 1

download and print this installment as a PDF
(you will need Adobe Acrobat reader to open this file, you can get it here free)

Courage is the greatest virtue – unless a man has that, he has nothing to base any other on.
Samuel Johnson

The valley of Bledsoe’s creek is today the very image of rural peace. A fisherman plying its languid waters for smallmouth below the mouth of Dry Fork by the old Rogan place might be surprised to learn of the bloody fights which took place just up the hill at Morgan’s Fort or at nearby Greenfields.


Bledsoe At Rogana – Artist, Bill Puryear

Only three bridges cross the creek today as it meanders from the hills above Bethpage to the river at Cairo – at Hartsville Pike, Rogana, and Bransford. A fourth, near the old river town of Cairo, was closed by Old Hickory Lake, as was the rail trestle at Rogana, felled when tobacco withered as a cash crop and the lines to Kentucky and Hartsville were abandoned. Even the swinging bridge, which crossed to the bluff housing the old Indian cave, has fallen disused into the creek.

Despite this limited access, subdivisions march north from the pike almost to the creek and now fill this field, once a part of the old Greenfield grant to Anthony Bledsoe.


Windrows – Artist, Bill Puryear
(The same location today as shown on in The Repulse Of The Attack on Greenfields on 4th page following )

Today our cars take us wherever whim may lead us, our cellphones connect us with our loved ones and associates wherever they may be, our malls supply us with the goods and produce of the world, and our televisions and internet connections give us the news of everywhere in real time. Electricity fills our world with light, music and entertainment, our gas logs cheer the winter den with a glow from Texas, and police and firemen secure our sleep. The mail comes daily to our home and we may breakfast at home, play a round of golf in Arizona, and return to our own bed for a night’s sleep.
These conveniences unfit us to imagine the state of our ancestors’ lives in the valley of Bledsoe in the early years of its settlement.

He might well have been speaking of such a life when Thomas Hobbes described in his Leviathan the life of man in his natural state: No arts; no letters; no society; and what is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

While there was generally plenty of food and drink from field and stream, the necessary clothing, implements, crockery, medicines, all had to be made or brought across the mountains at great cost of time and in danger of life. Baths and sanitation were all but unknown. Large families of six, eight or ten people crowded into a single cabin together, often with their servants and dogs sleeping at their feet. Their cattle and precious horses were penned just outside.

Water was a daily need and the settlers’ homes were invariably located near a spring. But someone had to fetch it, sometimes at risk of their lives. The Indians knew the settlers’ needs and lay in wait for them along paths to springs, crops, or neighbors. They wanted the settlers’ horses and they wanted the settlers out.


Fetching Water From The Spring – Detail from Bledsoe’s Fort
Bill Puryear – Artist

Night brought total darkness punctuated only by the flickering firelight from the hearth, or, if there were a winter supper to be eaten, a letter to be written, or a document to be drawn, a candle. A lantern carried to illumine the trail to a neighbor’s made an easy marker for an ambush.

Transportation meant horses, which must be fed and protected. Communication was slow and labored via courier, sometimes a girl or small boy travelling alone from Bledsoes to Morgans, Hall’s or Zeigler’s to warn the neighbors to come into the fort for a season. Once there, life was even more crowded, with as many as 100 souls living together with their livestock in one enclosed acre.


Inside The Fort – detail from Bledsoe’s Fort, Bill Puryear, Artist

In April of 1793 the Indians mounted their largest-ever concerted attack in Sumner County upon Greenfield’s Fort. Eighteen-year-old William Hall, who had lost his father, two brothers, two brothers-in-law, a sister, and her child by the Indians was there. His story of how 4 men stood off an attack by 260 warriors breathes through his own words.

Greenfield was an old stockade fort, about two and a half miles from the fort at Bledsoe's Lick in a direct line North, and whilst I was recovering from the effects of the operation, (smallpox vaccination) I concluded to go over there and stay, as it was not very well manned. I had been engaged by the government of the territory under Governor Blount at the time, in company with Wm. Neely, to serve three months as a spy; and taking our knapsacks and arms, we would depart every Monday morning, and come back to the settlements no more until Saturday night, spending the time meanwhile in the forest in search of Indian signs. At the time I was inoculated, my time was nearly out, and I was lounging around the fort, almost well, when one evening I said to Mrs. Parker, that I would go out to where three negro men were ploughing, watched by an Irishman named Jarvis who was sentry to see that no harm came to them. The fort stood on a high eminence, with an abundance of cleared ground around it; and where the men were at work, the field adjoined a very dense cane-brake, the green cane being about fifteen feet in height. Not far off was a patch of fruit trees, a small nursery of about half an acre, which had grown up very closely, and it being the 27th of April, the leaves were all out, making it a very dense thicket. When I went down to where the men were at work, the sun was about two hours high, the evening pleasant. Jarvis was leaning against the fence surrounded by several dogs, and as the negro men went backwards and forwards, I walked along with them talking with one of them, whose name was Abraham, a very intelligent fellow, a servant of Col. Anthony Bledsoe's. Jarvis, a brave but hotheaded little fellow was stationed pretty near the edge of the field, next to the cane-brake. Suddenly, the dogs ran off towards the fence, leaped it, and appearing much excited, soon came back barking and growling, and with their hair erect. I at once ordered the ploughman to stop, and called to Jarvis to come to me. I told them all, that I was sure the Indians were lurking near, and that if they did not attack us at once, they were evidently reconnoitering the place, and that all must go at once to the fort. Accordingly, they did so.

Nothing more occurred of note that night, but in the morning, whilst the women were milking the cows near the fort, a large number of half wild cattle that usually lay pretty well distant from the stockade, came charging up to the fort, nearly running over the women who were milking near by, and just about that time, Jarvis went along with the ploughman, on his way back to the locality from which he had gone the night before. Mrs. Clendenning called to him to come back, telling him that she knew the cattle were alarmed at the Indians; but he, scoffing at her fears, told her that I had induced them to quit work the night before, two hours before sundown; and that he was going on, "come what might." Much alarmed, Mrs. Clendenning ran into the fort, and told her mother, Mrs. Parker, (the former Mrs. Anthony Bledsoe,) that Jarvis and the negroes were going out to be killed; and that the men in the fort ought to be awakened to protect them, if necessary. Mrs. Parker came accordingly to my door in great haste, and awakening me, requested me to go out and see what was best to be done! I therefore jumped up and whilst getting ready to go out, I heard a heavy firing, and stopping only to put on a pair of pantaloons I seized my gun and shot-pouch, ran out, and met William Wilson, a tried soldier, and two others.

We all went outside, and saw Jarvis and the negroes riding across the field, pursued by a large body of Indians. It appeared, they had just got to their ploughs, and were turning their horses to hitch up, when Abraham, the mulatto fellow, mentioned, happening to cast his eyes around, saw the fence not far off lined with the Indian's heads, just in the act of rising up. Giving the alarm to the rest, the whole of them sprang to their horses, and dashed across the field, as they had to ride around in order to get to a lane leading towards the fort. Meanwhile, a large body of Indians fired upon the fugitives a tremendous volley; but fortunately, without hitting any of them.

Looking down to where they were, I told Wilson (the other two men having ran off from us, one into the fort, the other away altogether,) that our best plan was to run down and try to drive back a party of twenty Indians, who were attempting to cut off Jarvis and the others from the fort. We accordingly started, and endeavored to reach a fence between the party and ourselves, our red foes meanwhile straining as hard to reach another fence about as far in advance of them, as ours was in front of us. The space across the little meadow between the two fences was about eighty yards. We dashed into the comers of our shelter, just as the Indians reached theirs; and we had scarcely stooped to our position when their entire volley whistled past over our heads, scattering the splinters in all directions.

Reserving our fire, we at once leaped the fence and charged right up to the troop, who with their guns empty, turned and fled as hard as they could dash up the hill in front. An angle of their fence reaching around, we ran on without getting over into the field-a wheat field, and as we approached the nursery, mentioned, up rose about twenty-five more who were in ambush there, and delivered their volley. At their first appearance, Wilson called out to me to know what we should do? I replied that we must dash right up to them, for I knew that that was our only chance; and I hoped, that disconcerted by our audacity, they might miss us. I knew we were lost if they took deliberate aim at us at so close a distance, when we were running from them. We accordingly ran right up to them, the bullets whistling past our ears, in great numbers; but having delivered their fire, they also turned in the most cowardly manner and fled. Had we known, however, of their proximity, we would not have approached their position, for any consideration on earth.


Repulse of the Attack on Greenfields – Bill Puryear
Sumner County Bicentennial Print

Meanwhile, Wm. Neely and James Hays came out from the fort, and ran down to our assistance; and three more Indians, not having seen us, we being hidden from view by the uneven ground came right up to us in another direction, their whole attention absorbed by the sight of Hays and Neely. We met right at the fence; and seeing us, the Indians threw themselves flat upon the ground, we being one side of the fence, they the other. I brought my gun to bear upon one who lay in the wheat, then about knee high, and as he rolled his eyes around towards me, he saw he was lost if he remained there, so rolling over, he jumped to his feet and fled. At about ten steps distance, I fired upon him as he was running, and I saw the bottoms of his moccasons fly up in the air as he went over on his face, shot through the body. Wilson shot another, and the third ran off to join the rest.

All this time, large bodies of the Indians were doing their best to cut off Jarvis and the negroes; and we, having driven back those mentioned, started and got into the lane referred to. Here a large body of them fired upon and killed poor Jarvis, and one of them, a large Indian, ran Abraham, who had killed an Indian, pretty close to the fort, firing at last upon him but without any effect. As he stopped deliberately to load his gun, I told Neely who with Hays had joined us, to take a chance at him. He accordingly snapped his gun at him two or three times, when he discovered that the flint was turned; preventing its going off. Meanwhile, the parties we had first encountered had re-loaded their guns, and ran down to the aid of the rest, and the big Indian who had chased Abraham carne running back. He mounted the fence and deliberately looking about him, Hays, who was ready for him, took cool aim, and shooting him through the arm-pits, he fell over backwards upon a hill of corn, quite dead, the blood spouting out a foot on each side of him. I should have mentioned before, that Jarvis and the negroes abandoned the horses at the fence near the mouth of the lane, and Jarvis, stopping with Abraham to take a shot at them, was killed, after getting over the fence and advancing some sixty yards from it out into the field.

The rest of us being at the fence, I proposed that we should fire a regular plattoon upon the crowd, some fifty or sixty in number, who had surrounded the body of poor Jarvis, and were scalping and hacking at it. I was to give the word, so that we should fire together.

As we were fixing our guns at a rest, a volley was fired upon us from the rear, the bullets flying past both sides of my face, one of them tearing the bark loose from the rail against my cheek. Calling on the rest to stop, I looked around, and another volley of some twenty guns followed. I wore my hair very long at the time, and a bullet cut a large lock of it from the side of my head, throwing it up into the air a foot high, as Neely said, who saw it. He called to me to know if I was killed? and I telling him-no!-we all broke past this party who were trying to head us off.


General William Hall of Bledsoe’s Lick

As I ran on down the lane, I passed the body of "'Prince," one of the negroes, who had been shot whilst some forty yards ahead of the rest of us. In my haste I ran several steps past him; but determined to see which of them it was, as he was lying upon his face in a gully, I went back, and hastily seizing him by the collar, turned him over. He gave a gasp or two, his last, and I again turned and fled. Neely and the others were by this time a long way in advance, and more of the Indians having stationed themselves at the 'Spring Branch, again fired on me. Being below them, their bullets splashed the water on my legs as I leaped the branch, and we all reached the fort in safety.

We had killed four of the Indians, whilst we lost Jarvis and the negro man, Prince. The Indians secured the horses, which had been abandoned in the lane. To keep us engaged, and prevent our attacking them, they kept firing at the fort until they collected the horses, when they marched off. It was estimated by us that the Indian force on this occasion was the largest ever mustered in Middle Tennessee, except at the attack on Buchanan's Station; it being supposed that the party numbered at least 260. It seemed almost miraculous that we were able with such slim numbers to keep them at bay. The fort was poorly calculated to stand a regular siege, and, if they had had any bravery equivalent to their numbers, they might have taken it at the first assault.

The firing having been heard at the forts around, for several miles, a number of parties came to the fort, in the course of the day, to afford aid if it should be necessary. The whole number that came during the day, amounted to about fifty men, under command of Major Geo. Winchester. We held a council to see whether we should follow the Indians, but Major Winchester overruled our wishes, and very wisely, too, as it afterwards proved, ordering us back to the fort. A few of us, the late Governor Desha of Kentucky amongst the number, determined to go at all events; but gave it up, finally, and went back with the rest. In the evening, however, we made up a scouting party of eight men, and taking a circuit whilst we left the rest to guard the fort in case of another attack, we came upon the trail of the Indians about three miles off from the fort, on the East fork of Bledsoe's Creek. The Indians had just passed, the water being still muddy from their footsteps, and we then taking the back track, came to where the Indians had laid in ambush for the whites, upon their own trail. They had passed through a dead cane-brake, containing five or six acres, and tying their horses beyond it, they had squatted in the green cane around, ready to fire upon us had we followed them up as they expected we would do. We saw the places where they had thus, nearly through the day, been seated. The precaution of Major Winchester was well justified. 1

Hall’s service to his country continued throughout his long life in which he served as Representative of Sumner County in the State Legislature, Brigadier General in the War of 1812, State Senator from Sumner County, and Speaker of the Senate. He succeeded Sam Houston as Governor of Tennessee and two years later was elected to the US Congress, where he served from 1831-1833. His death at 81 in 1856 spared him the agony of the Civil War, but allowed him to be photographed, one of the very few pioneers, including William Martin, thus available to us.

An orphaned teenager when the Bledsoes were struck down, he picked up the flag and carried it well into the next century. He still lived in the same forted station his father built above Bledsoe’s Lick when he died, full of years and honors. As much as any of the pioneers, he demonstrated that, although isolated and assailed on all sides, without commerce or friends in high places, short of the goods or comforts of this world, they had the one thing that saw them through – courage.

Next Month – The Settlers Counterattack


1 William Hall, Early History of the Southwest, Published by The South-Western Monthly, 1852,
   reprinted 1968 by The Edward Ward Carmack Sumner County Public Library, Nashville, 1968,
   p. 21-26.

 

Bill Puryear, Artist
1512 Cherokee Road, Gallatin, TN 37066, Email: pury@comcast.net

© Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved.  Bill Puryear.