Trouble with the Volunteers
G OVERNMENT food supplies for the troops at Fort Strother did not arrive. The men were in a half-starved condition.. For days their only food had been small amounts of parched corn. Their clothing was in tatters. The horses needed grain and fodder. The only food which the horses had was the grass that they could find around the fort.
Many of the men at Fort Strother were volunteers. They had enlisted at the beginning of the Creek war for sixty days. Their period of enlistment was long since past. The volunteers were willing and anxious to fight longer, but they wanted to go home for food, clothing, and fresh horses. They asked General Jackson for permission to go home.
"You cannot go," said the general. "I need every man."
"But we will return as soon as we have new clothing and can get fresh horses," said the spokesman for the men, "some of the men must get new horses as their horses have died of starvation."
"The volunteers will not be permitted to go," said General Jackson, dismissing the spokesman.
The men appealed to Davy Crockett, since they looked upon him as their natural leader. They told him that they had gone to General Jackson for permission to leave, and that he had refused them.
"We told him that we would return as soon as we could get new horses and clothing."
"You are right," said Davy. "We do need horses, clothing, and food. We enlisted as volunteers to serve for sixty days. Our sixty day enlistment is long since past. If we go home, exchange our horses, get clothing, and bring back some food, I don't see that there can be much objection. I have every confidence in General Jackson's fairness, and I think he will understand our doing this. Let all volunteers go home and return as quickly as they can."
The militia of General Jackson's army had enlisted for a longer term than the volunteers. They were better equipped than the volunteers. Their guns, ammunition, and horses were furnished by the government. Davy and the other volunteers had enlisted for sixty days. They had been so anxious to fight and defeat the Indians that they did not wait for government equipment. They carried their own guns and at first used their own ammunition. They furnished their own horses, too.
Davy at the head of the volunteers left camp and started for home. The trail from the fort on Ten Islands to the mainland went over a log bridge. When Davy and the volunteers approached this bridge, regular soldiers blocked the way. One cannon was drawn up in the center of the trail leading to the bridge.
The men following Davy halted. One of the men called to Davy, "Shall we go on?"
"Yes," called Davy as he rode toward the cannon. "If the soldiers open fire, we will fight our way out."
The volunteers followed Davy. The officer in command of the soldiers on the bridge gave the command, "Ready!" The hammers of the rifles clicked as the soldiers drew them back. The soldiers at the cannon made ready to fire. The volunteers followed Davy and held their own rifles ready to fire. There was silence on both sides as the volunteers rode steadily forward.
Davy rode on to within a few feet of the cannon. The officer in charge of the soldiers gave a command. The soldiers let down the hammers of their cocked rifles and moved over to one side. Following Davy, the volunteers rode across the bridge. Not a shot had been fired.
The volunteers rode on until they were out of sight of the fort. Davy then halted the men and instructed them.
"Fall out, and every man go straight home. Just as soon as you can secure fresh clothing and horses, meet me at Fort Deposit."
Fort Deposit was an old post that had been abandoned. It was nearer to the homes of most of the men than Fort Strother. The men could assemble there. It would then be an easy march from Fort Deposit to Fort Strother.
There was excitement in the Crockett home when Davy reached there.
"I hope you are home for good, Father," said one of the boys. "I want to go hunting with you."
"There will be no hunting this time, Son. I have come home only for a fresh horse and some clothes. I must start back just as soon as I can."
Three days later Davy was at Fort Deposit to meet the other volunteers as they came riding in. Each came mounted on a fresh horse. Each man wore new buckskin clothes and a coonskin cap. Every man carried as much food as he could in his saddlebags.
Davy, at the head of the volunteers, marched back to Fort Strother. When they reached there the officer of the day informed Davy, "General Jackson has started for Horseshoe Bend. The Creeks are gathered at that place."
Major Russell was still at the fort. He sent for Davy as soon as he learned that the volunteers had returned. He said to Davy, "Crockett, I want you to take charge of my scouts."
"Very well," said Davy simply. "What are the plans?"
"We must leave Fort Strother tonight," said Major Russell. "We must overtake General Jackson. The general expected you to return. He told me to wait here for you and to bring you with me."
Within an hour Major Russell, Davy Crockett, and a group of scouts were on the march. When they reached General Jackson's camp, Major Russell reported to him.
"Is Crockett with you?" asked the general. "Yes,. Sir. He and the volunteers returned shortly after you left Fort Strother."
"Good!" said the general. "After we have made our plans, I want you to send him to me."
When Davy reported to the general, he said, "Crockett, when you left the camp I was very angry. I could not understand your disobedience of my orders. I think now, however, that I do understand, and I believe that you were right. I know that your sixty day enlistment was up a long time ago. That makes me appreciate doubly your return for service now."
"All of the volunteers are at your service, General," said Davy.
"Good," said General Jackson. "We must break the power of the warring Creek Indians now. If they should win even one battle they would be more determined than ever. If we defeat them and scatter them now, we can deal with them on our own terms. I shall keep Major Russell with me. I want you to take charge of the scouts and cover our advance. Leave early in the morning."
"Yes, General," said Davy.
With the coming of dawn the scouts moved out. A few hours later Davy and his men located the Indians. He moved his men back and led them on the return march to report to General Jackson.
After General Jackson had heard Davy's report, the general warned his officers. "Have your men sleep with their rifles beside them. We may be attacked at any minute. Have a double guard on duty tonight."
While camp was being made, Davy went to General Jackson and said, "In order to keep well ahead of your command, my scouts and I should leave at once. We should make camp about two miles from here."
"Very well, Crockett. Send me any information you get about the Indians," said the general.
Davy and his scouts left at once. When they had gone about two miles, Davy halted his men. "We cannot make a regular camp tonight," said Davy. "We will have to sleep on the ground. Light no fires. Keep quiet. We will post two sentries. They will keep watch for an hour and then will call the men who are to relieve them." He scooped together some leaves for his own bed.
Before daylight one of the men shook Davy by the shoulder. "What is it?" Davy asked in a whisper.
"Indians," the man answered. "I saw one lurking behind a tree. He was joined by another Indian."
"All right," said Davy, "get back to your post. I will call the men. If any Indian comes close, shoot him."
Davy called the scouts.
Suddenly the Indians began to fire from behind trees.
"Do not go forward," shouted Davy, "watch the flashes from the Indian rifles. Fire at the flashes of light! We will fight from here."
With the coming of dawn the Indians fled. Four scouts had been killed. They were buried in one grave.
"Cover the grave with logs," said Davy. "Set fire to them. We must not let the Indians find and scalp our dead. The ashes will hide the grave."
Davy and the scouts moved forward again. There were few signs of the enemy. The Indians had been careful not to leave a trail.
"They cover their trail well," said Davy.
However, the scouts were able to follow the trail to the Tallapoosa River. There they paused for a rest.
"We must locate a good place to ford the river," said Davy. "It is our job to see that the troops cross at the safest place."
"What's wrong with this place?" asked one of the men.
"The river is not too wide and not too deep at this point," said Davy. "But do you see that high embankment on the other side of the river? Notice that it is covered with a growth of timber. That would make it an ideal place for the Indians to ambush our soldiers."
"You are right, Crockett," said the scout.
"We must turn back and warn General Jackson," said Davy as he motioned for his men to mount their horses.
That night Davy reported to General Jackson. He told the general how difficult it had been to follow the trail during the day. "The Indians cover their trails very cleverly," he said. "I did see a few very small signs though. I am sure the Indians are just ahead of us."
"Did you get to the Tallapoosa River?" asked the general.
"We did, Sir."
"Can we cross the river without going out of our way?"
"General, we cannot cross the river unless we go several miles farther down stream. The ford we saw today is a good place to cross except for the fact that just beyond is an embankment."
"I understand, Crockett, you think the Indians will ambush us there."
"I do, Sir, but farther down stream there is a place where we can cross with less danger of attack."
"Good! We will cross at that point. You have given me the information I want, Crockett. Now I will talk over my plans with my officers."
Jackson talked with the officers for some time. After the plans were made, Major Russell left the meeting to find Davy. His attention was attracted by shouts of laughter which came from a group of soldiers.
Major Russell asked a passing soldier, "Is Crockett over there with that group of men?"
"Yes, he is," said the soldier. "Wherever you find any of our men laughing you will find Crockett there telling stories."
"I have never known anyone like him," said the major. "This would be a hard campaign if it were not for Crockett."
"Yes, it would, Major," answered the soldier. "His good humor and love of fun makes the men ashamed to complain. He never finds fault. If the men get discouraged he tells them stories until he has them all laughing. He is the most popular man in camp."
Major Russell stood and watched the group at the campfire. He could hear Davy's voice although he could not hear what he was saying.
"An hour ago Davy Crockett was seriously engaged in the business of war," said Major Russell to himself. "He was serious enough about it, too. Now he is as lighthearted as though there were no such thing as an Indian war. I do not like to interrupt the fun, but I must have a talk with our chief scout."
1. Why did the volunteers want to go home?
2. To whom did they appeal after General Jackson refused to let them go? Why?
3. Were the volunteers right or wrong in wanting to go home? Why?
4. Were there two sides to the question?