History of Davidson County, Tennessee
with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers
by Prof. W. W. Clayton
J. W. Lewis & Co., Philadelphia
MOVEMENTS AGAINST THE INDIANS.
MOVEMENTS AGAINST THE INDIANS.
First Military Companies formed-Attack of Indians on Freeland's Station-Battle at the Bluff-Heroic Conduct
of Mrs. James Robertson-The Enemy Discomfited-The Killed and Wounded.
of Mrs. James Robertson-The Enemy Discomfited-The Killed and Wounded.
THE first determined pursuit of the Indians was in the summer of 1780. The details of this affair are very meagre, but it is worthy of mention as the first instance of an offensive policy on the part of the settlers, the vigorous practice of which later on led to the most beneficial results, especially when directed against the enemy in his own home. At this time the depredations of the Indians had become particularly grievous. Aside from the murders committed, the loss of live-stock was very heavy, and hard to be borne on account of the great difficulties in replacing it, the source of supply being several hundred miles distant, Putnam remarks that the death of a milk-cow was a sore affliction to the women, next to that of a member of the family. The capture of a horse was equally so to the men. After a raid by a large party of Cherokees in the vicinity of Freeland's Station, in which a number of cattle were killed and gashed with knives and some horses carried off, prompt pursuit and punishment of the marauders were determined on. For this purpose Col. James Robertson, Alexander Buchanan, and eighteen others quickly embodied and gave chase. The Indians were overtaken at some point on Duck River not now known, but about forty miles south of the settlement, where Robertson's party charged and fired upon them. Several of the Indians were killed and wounded, when the rest fled, abandoning the stolen property to the possession of the whites, who returned in safety without the loss of a man. The result was very creditable, and thereafter Col. Robertson had frequently to restrain the ardor of the settlers in their eagerness to pursue large parties of the enemy with an inadequate force. However, it was an established rule to pursue on the instant when an outrage was committed. In this it was frequently possible to inflict some punishment on the depredators, who sometimes dallied too long to secure the scalp and arms of their victims. As a rule, when the Indians fired upon the whites in the vicinity of the forts they ran off at once and easily made their escape in the thickets of cane which covered over the face of the country. It may be stated in this connection that the Indians exercised the greatest economy in the use of powder, putting in a very small charge, otherwise their warfare would have been much more destructive. They rarely trusted themselves to fire beyond fifty yards, while the average backwoodsman could use his rifle with deadly precision at twice or thrice that distance. They frequently lost their lives, or were placed at disadvantage, by attempting to use the tomahawk as a substitute for a few grains of powder.
THE ATTACK ON FREELAND'S STATION.
During the first year of occupation a number of settlements had been made or projected, extending along the Cumberland River for the distance of quite forty miles. Many of these stations were small in extent, poorly constructed, and insufficiently manned, as the result soon proved. The occupants were more engrossed with the selection of good locations, preferably near a salt-spring, than the thought that such an intrusion on the favorite hunting-ground of the Cherokee and other Indians would provoke serious and deadly opposition. Some of them, Col. John Donelson among the number, neglected even to erect houses, but passed most of the season in the half-faced structures known as hunters' camps. The consequences of this policy of neglect and division of strength were fearfully apparent before the close of the year. The beginning of the year 1781 found the entire body of settlers confined to three forts,-namely, Robertson's or the Bluff, Eaton's, two miles below on the north side of the river, and Freeland's, about a mile to the northwest of the first,-forced into these places for refuge from the rifle and tomahawk of their merciless foes. These results, so flattering to their arms, emboldened the Cherokees and their allies to attempt the extermination of the survivors, now greatly reduced from their original number by casualties and the departure of many families to the settlements in Kentucky and the Illinois.
But to accomplish this result required a larger force than had hitherto invaded the settlements, and the exercise of bravery and enterprise sufficient to overcome fortified posts held bv resolute men fighting in defense of their families and the fertile country they had chosen for habitation. In the execution of this plan Freeland's Station was the first to receive the blow, on account of its situation and comparative weakness. That the attack was not successful was due to a want of concert and disregard of discipline which characterize all barbarous races in enterprises of this character. It appears that there were two parties, each numbering between fifty and a hundred warriors, marching to the attack of the place; but the first detachment, on its arrival discovering the weakness of the garrison, determined, in its eagerness to win the prize, to strike without awaiting the advent of the other.
This station was erected by George, James, and Jacob Freeland on the spot afterwards occupied by the residence of Dr. McGavock. It was simply a stockade thrown around the houses of the occupants, and probably bastioned, as many of them were, in order to render more effective the fire of a small force of defenders. The gate was secured by a chain which fastened on the inside. On the night of the attack, Jan. 15, 1781, there seems to have been no apprehension of danger, as there was evidently no sentinel whose duty it was to watch over the safety of the place. The garrison consisted of eleven men and some families, including Col. James Robertson, whose presence proved a most fortunate circumstance, and was occasioned by the fact that on his arrival that day at the Bluff from the Kentucky settlements he learned that his family was at Freeland's. His journey through the wilderness had been full of perils, and the narration of this and the detail of home affairs by Mrs. Robertson had kept him awake until a late hour. About midnight his keen ear, trained to wonderful acuteness by long practice on the border, detected a movement of the chain at the gate, and on rising to examine into the cause, he discovered the gate thrown open and a large body of Indians crowding into the inclosure. He instantly raised the cry of alarm and awakened the inmates of the houses to a sense of their danger. Finding they were discovered, the assailants raised their terrible war-whoop to heighten the effect of surprise and chill the spirit of resistance. As soon as possible the men of the garrison sprang to their guns and opened a straggling fire upon the throng. Unfortunately one of the houses occupied by Maj. Lucas and several others, including a negro servant of Col. Robertson, was poorly fitted for defense, owing to the want of chinking and daubing in the cracks between the logs. Maj. Lucas realizing this rushed out to obtain better shelter, but was almost instantly killed. The moon was shining brightly, and the assailants, finding that they could not force an entrance into the houses now without great loss, quickly retreated through the gate, whence they opened a hot fire on the house from which Maj. Lucas had so rashly issued, and which alone on inspection afterwards was found to have received over five hundred bullets. Col. Robertson in a loud voice animated and directed the defense, charging the men to keep from before the port-holes while loading. He was enabled at one time in the conflict to take close aim at a fellow's head, and he declared his belief that he had his man, which was confirmed the next day by the discovery of the body of an Indian shot through the brain. He had been carried about a mile and covered with leaves. The din of conflict soon awakened the inhabitants at the Bluff, and a small swivel was fired at that place to convey to the besieged a knowledge that their situation was appreciated.
The Indians kept up the fire until near daylight, when they withdrew out of range. Only about a half-dozen rounds to the man had been fired from the houses, but evidently to good purpose, from the numerous trails of blood left behind in the retreat. The occupants of the unfinished house were the only sufferers, several being wounded and the negro killed. Soon after daylight Capt. John Rains with a small party from the Bluff reached the scene, and following the trail of the Indians for some distance discovered the arrival of a second detachment. No further attempt, however, was made on this or the other two stations, but the ones that had been deserted were visited and burnt, the stock killed, provisions destroyed, trails waylaid, and the game driven off for miles in every direction in order to make its pursuit more hazardous to the hunters who were compelled to rely for food on this source of supply.
THE BATTLE OF THE BLUFF, OR ROBERTSON'S STATION, APRIL 2, 1781.
Robertson's Station, or the Bluff, as it was more usually designated, was, from its central position and the number of inhabitants congregated in the place, the most important of the Cumberland settlements. It was fortified with much care on the stockade plan, and so situated that water from a spring near by could be conducted in troughs within the inclosure. The site was immediately on the bluff of the river, and partly covered the present debouchement of Church Street, in Nashville. The main building ia the inclosure, not erected at this time probably, was built of stone, two stories high, the northern face being on a line with the southern boundary of Church Street. The regulations for its safety were carried out with much care, watches being constantly maintained over the boats in the river and from a block-house on the land side. Since the attack on Freeland's all who ventured out were compelled to use great caution on account of the presence of prowling parties of Indians in the vicinity. Only a few days before the engagement at the Bluff Col. Samuel Barton, who was out endeavoring to get some beef cattle into the fort, was wounded in the wrist about where Wilson's Branch crosses College Street. On the night of April 1st an Indian was discovered spying the premises and was shot at by James Menifee, the sentinel in the block-house, when he withdrew. Between daylight and sunrise the next morning two others approached, and firing their guns at the fort ran off out of range, where they halted and began leisurely to reload, waving their hands in a bantering manner. It had always been the practice of the settlers to pursue under such circumstances, and although an ambuscade was feared by some it was determined to resent the insult at all hazards. Thereupon a party of twenty-one quickly mounted their horses and dashed through the gate in pursuit. Capt. Leiper led the advance and Col. Robertson the main body. The names of thirteen only of this daring band of salliers have been handed down by tradition, and are as follows: Col. James Robertson, Capt. Leiper, Peter Gill, John Kesenger, Alexander Buchanan, George Kennedy, I. Kennedy, Zachariah White, James Menifee, Kasper Mansker (usually pronounced Manscor), Isaac Lucas, Joseph Moonshaw, and Edward Swanson. When the advance reached the present locality of Broad Street, about its intersection with College, a few of the enemy were seen making a stand at the Branch a short distance off. The whites immediately dismounted for battle, but before they could secure their horses a force of about three hundred warriors rose from the thickets along the Branch and poured into them a deadly volley. They returned the fire with spirit and to good effect. In the mean time another large body of the enemy, which had taken post before daylight in the cedar and privet bushes which thickly covered the present site of Cherry Street embraced between Church and Broad, ran from their concealment after the horsemen had passed and extended their line rapidly in the direction of the fort and the river. The war-whoop of these savages in their rear at once conveyed to the sallying-party and also to their friends in the fort the desperate nature of their situation, and excited in all the gravest fears for their safety. They began at once their retreat, resolutely bringing off all of their wounded who could be assisted. Fortunately for the survivors their horses had broken back in the direction of the fort when the fight began, but on reaching the interposing line they swerved off to its right to escape, when large numbers of the Indians, unable to resist the temptation, quit their places and hurried in pursuit of them. Into the gap thus opportunely left the retreating whites now pressed, hotly pursued from the rear and fired upon from different directions.
At this juncture another most fortunate circumstance occurred to favor their escape. There were great numbers of dogs gathered into the fort, trained to face any danger at bidding, and on hearing the well-known reports of their masters' rifles in the vale below they were seized with an uncontrollable frenzy, and evinced by loud cries their disposition to join in the conflict. Mrs. Robertson, the wife of Col. James Robertson, who was watching gun in hand with intense interest the varying changes of the battle, on discovering the snare into which her friends had fallen, and fearing that they would all be lost, now urged the sentinel to open the gate and hiss on the dogs. These animals on being released flew at once at that part of the Indian line still in place, and attacked it with a fury and persistence probably never before witnessed. It was an anomaly indeed in warfare, as dogs are usually much afraid of the fire of guns. Such an onset, however, could not be despised, and forced the enemy to empty their pieces and resort to their tomahawks in self-defense. Favored by this unexpected diversion, the little band of whites now hastened on, and all reached the fort in safety except Isaac Lucas. He had reached a point in rifle-range of the place when he fell with a broken thigh. He had just finished loading his gun as he ran, and when he fell an Indian rushed upon him with the purpose of securing his scalp. Lucas took deliberate aim as he lay on the ground and shot his pursuer dead in his tracks. He then dragged himself a short distance to shelter from the Indian fire, reloaded his rifle, and disposed his tomahawk for a desperate resistance; several determined efforts were made by the friends of the dead man to carry off his body and dispatch Lucas, but were frustrated by the vigilance of the garrison, who kept up a warm fire in that quarter. Lucas was carried into the fort after the enemy withdrew out of range, and soon recovered. Edward Swanson, another of the salliers, was overtaken, within twenty yards of the gate by a large Indian, who pressed the muzzle of his gun against his back and attempted to shoot, but it failed fire. The Indian then struck Swanson heavilv on the shoulder with the barrel, making him drop his gun. Swanson now turned, and seizing his antagonist's gun by the muzzle, endeavored to wrench it from his hands. A desperate struggle ensued for the possession of the weapon, which ended at length in the Indian's favor, when by a heavy blow on the head he felled the white man to his all-fours. The combatants had been so closely engaged that the friends of Swanson could not fire from the fort without danger to both ; but at this instant, when the Indian was in the act of disengaging his tomahawk to give the finishing blow, old Mr. John Buchanan rushed through the gate and firing quickly, mortally wounded him. Thereupon the savage, gritting his teeth with rage, retired to a stump near by where he fell. Swanson, assisted by his deliverer, made his way into the fort. During the night the body of the Indian was dragged off by his comrades, and was found several days later buried on College Hill, at the place afterwards occupied by the residence of the Rev. Mr. Hume. No attempt was made to carry off the one killed by Swanson, as he was probably scalped by the whites, and this, according to Indian theology, rendered him unfit for burial. The loss of the scalp was supposed to be sufficient to debar the victim from the "happy hunting-grounds." no matter how bravely he may have fought. Hence they always sought at great risk to consign an enemy to the dominions of the bad spirit by practicing this mutilation upon him.
Of the sallying-party seven were killed, according to the statement of the Rev. John Carr, who lived in the pioneer period. These were Capt. Leiper, Peter Gill, John Kesenger, Alexander Buchanan, George Kennedy, Zachariah White, and J. Kennedy. James Menifee, Kasper Mansker, Isaac Lucas, Joseph Moonshaw, and others were wounded. Putnam's account says that five were killed, but no names are given. In an obituary notice of Gen. James Robertson, published in the Nashville Clarion in 1813, the writer states that only thirteen returned alive to the fort, which would put the number of killed at eight. Very few of the horses were captured; most of them, after a hot chase across Capitol Hill and about the Sulphur-Bottom, broke by their pursuers and reached the gate of the fort, into which they were admitted. At ten o'clock A.M. the enemy withdrew from the contest, but returned at night and fired a great many shots at the walls. It was understood that this party was a reinforcement which had arrived too late to take part in the morning's battle. At one time during the night a knot of several hundred were seen collecting about the present intersection of Church and College Streets, when it was proposed to fire the swivel at them. Some objected on account of the scarcity of ammunition, but a contribution of powder, slugs, and pieces of iron having been made up, the piece was brought into position and fired. In the stillness of night the report and flash of the little swivel proved very creditable, and more than answered expectations. The party decamped with such haste that they left several articles of value behind. Not another shot was fired at the fort after this, nor was it again directly attacked during the existence of hostilities. Soon after the swivel was fired the one at Eaton's gave an answering signal, and in the course of the night a small force came from that place to the opposite bank, where, on making its presence known, boats were dispatched, and it was quickly transferred to assist in the further defense of the place if needed. Early next morning scouts went out and ascertained that the Indians had gone westerly and crossed Richland Creek. The number of their killed was never definitely ascertained. The bodies of the whites were found stripped and scalped. Thus ended an expedition of six or seven hundred Cherokees, the details of which were planned with much judgment and executed with remarkable secrecy. The proverbial want of discipline with the savages at the critical moment alone saved the party which rashly sallied out to attack them from total destruction. In the light of subsequent events the death of Col. Robertson would have been a public calamity, which at this juncture might have operated most unfavorably on the interests of the Cumberland settlements. In any event the loss of so many brave men at one fell swoop would bave been a most serious blow, and liable to have been followed by a train of worse disasters. As Mrs. Robertson pertinently remarked, the Indians' fear of dogs and love of horses proved the salvation of the whites on this occasion. It is due to the memory of the pioneer women of Nashville to state that in the midst of the terrible excitement succeeding the repulse of their husbands, brothers, and friends, and the heart-rending prospect of their total destruction, they stood gun and axe in hand at the gate of the fort, determined to die in its defense if occasion demanded it.
 On Market Street, opposite the entrance to the Vanderbilt Medical College.