February 24, 1955
Transcribed by Janette West Grimes
* CAL’S COLUMN *
The next picture in the old history is that of a pioneer fort. It used to be of special interest to
the writer when he studied it rather closely more than 50 years ago. As we gaze upon the picture at this time, a thousand events of early life in America cluster about the old forts which were about the only defense the early people of our State had against a bitter and treacherous enemy. In the picture we see a clearing in the forest, with part of the stumps of trees still standing. Four log corner houses stood about the rectangular pioneer fort. In our picture we note that one man stands outside the structure by a tall stump. He seems to have a rifle in his hand. Nearby is the shore of a lake or a running stream, with a canoe drawn up to the bank. Inside the fort can be seen two men who are apparently engaged in dressing a deer for food. Three other men are standing together, one of them apparently with a gun in his hand. A fifth man is leading a horse. This makes up all the men to be seen in the picture. Our childish mind use to think much of the deep forest and we wondered how many blood-thirsty savages were lurking out of sight in the deep woods that reached almost to the fort itself.
There is another picture of an early fort, that of fort Nashborough, which in late years has been reproduced on the site, or about the site of the old fort in Nashville. The writer enjoys immensely a visit through this fort. However, it is perhaps not nearly so strongly built as was the original fort, which was attacked by the Indians on the morning of April 2, 1781. The picture of Fort Nashborough thrilled our boyish heart half a century ago as we looked at the many fierce dogs that Mrs. Robertson is said to have loosed upon the Indian attackers. We studied this picture rather closely and will always carry it in memory. We used to note the burning log building, set on fire by the attackers, the huge dogs with their teeth bared fiercely, their rushing toward the Indians, one of whom sought to stand his ground with a huge knife in his hand, the sight supposedly, of Mrs. Robertson, "sicking" the dogs on the foes of their masters and a lot of other things that live in memory till today.
We later read of the old fort that stood in Sumner County, not many miles from the present Gallatin, how that the settlers fearing an Indian attack, had gone into the fort, how that the Indians surrounded the fort and fired on it all day, how that in the night they stormed the fort and took prisoner many of those who had sought refuge in the structure, how that the Indians mercilessly killed perhaps about 75 persons, mostly innocent women and children. We hope to locate the exact spot where this old Sumner County fort stood and to seek to have a fitting marker placed there, to commemorate the bravery, though early Sumner Countians.
We could go on and on with statements about the old forts that once were found throughout Middle Tennessee. The nearest one to our present Lafayette, of which we have any knowledge was at Castalian Springs, about 20 miles southwest of our town, as the crow flies. This was the place of refuge sought by the five hunters or surveyors, attacked in March, 1786, on the present Defeated Creek, just below the present town of Difficult. They had killed a lot of game that day as they gazed over the hills and valleys of what is now Smith County. That night they camped near a big spring, cooked and ate their supper. They had a big fire going and part of the group were engaged in card playing. Their hunting dogs kept rushing into the darkness surrounded the camp, barking loudly. The hunters could hear some noises on the two hillsides of the valley in which they were encamped. But supposing that wild animals "smelled" the game which they had killed that day, they were hardly prepared for the firing of some 50 rifles. Four of the five men, and their names might be of interest to our readers-- John Peyton, Ephraim Peyton, Squire Grant, Thomas Pugh and John Fazier-- were wounded by the fire from the Indians. However, none of them was shot in a vital place and all were able to leave "under their own power." Each man for himself, they "struck out" for the stockade at Castalian Springs. This was a distance of about 25 miles and there was not one settler then in Smith County, nor in the present Macon County. Whether they fled by way of the present Pleasant Shade, about four miles northwest of the scene of attack, or whether they fled directly to the west, crossing Peyton's Creek about the present Graveltown, we do not know. But we are quite confident that they fled right by the location of the writer's early home, near Mace's Hill. Anyway, four of the five men had been hit by a bullet, one in his forearm, another in the upper arm, one in the calf of the leg and a fourth man with a painful but not serious wound and about like the other three. The injured men fled for their lives, abandoning their horses, their surveying compass and chain, saddles and blankets, as did also the uninjured man. A short distance from the scene of the attack, and we have been there many times previously, the uninjured mamber of the group fell down a bluff and threw his ankle out of place. No member of the party had time to offer help to his fellowman and each one was "looking out" for himself.
The man who had dislocated his ankle managed to get hold of a stick and went his way as fast as he could toward the stockade at Castalian Springs. One historian says the attack took place at ten o'clock in the night, and another says it occured about midnight, while the five men were asleep. We are inclined to believe that the first is nearer correct than the latter. It does not sound reasonable that men who suspected the Indians to attack would have been asleep at midnight. But ten o'clock is much more reasonable from another point. The man who had dislocated his ankle managed to get as far as the present Hartsville while it was still dark, for he fell down another bluff near that place and threw his ankle back in place. So he had made a journey of about 17 miles from the time of the attack and before daylight came the next morning.
In 1916 we became a rural carrier and had to wait each day at Difficult for the mail to arrive from Carthage. Difficult post office was then about 250 yards from the scene of the attack. The present post office is only about 60 yards from where Hanging Maw, a cherokee chief, and his 50 braves, fired on the five white men on March 2, 1785. Here at the Difficult post office, we heard an old, old man, James Thomas, then perhaps nearly 90 years of age, tell of the "defeat" of the white men which gave the stream its name "Defeated Creek." Although it has been nearly 40 years since we heard him tell the story, it is still fresh in our memory. He stated that the first of the number to reach Castalian Springs reported that the other four had been killed by the Indians. This man had run himself "nearly to death." A short time later a second member of the party arrived and reported the other three as having been killed. A short time later the third member of the party came in and he was sure the other two members of the party had been killed. But it was not a great deal later that the fourth member arrived and he was quite sure of the death of the last member of the party. But two hours after the first man had arrived to report the "tragedy," the fifth and last man, the one who thrown his ankle out of place, arrived to bring the total number of escapees to five.
John Peyton, a surveyor, is said to have sent a note to Hanging Maw, asking for the return of the horses, blankets and compass left behind. It is said that Hanging Maw's reply was about as follows: "People who can run as fast as you did, do not need horses. As for your land-stealer, [the compass] we broke it against a tree."
We are sorry that the conflicts in some points have arisen. Ramsey, in his Annals of Tennessee, says it was midnight, March 2, 1785. Another account we have says it was in February, 1786. Ramsey names only four men, but we are quite certain that there were five men and have their names above. Ramsey says the men were asleep at the time of the attack, but we have another record which says they were playing cards at the time of the attack. This other account says one of the attacked men had the presence of mind to throw a heavy wet blanket over the big fire, thus, for the time being, cutting off the Indians from being able to reload and see how to fire at their intended victims once more. Anyway, the scene of the attack was about six miles from our childhood home.
After this rather wide departure from the old book we set out to "review," we return to McGee's History of Tennessee. Next are pictures of James Robertson and John Sevier. He was born in Brunswick County, Virginia, in 1742. He was later called " The Father of Middle Tennessee." John Sevier was born in Rickingham County, Virginia, in 1745. He was married at the early age of 28, and had three sons. His second wife was "Bonnie Kate," Miss Katherine Sherrill, whom he rescued from attacking Indians as they sought to cut her off from a fort she was trying to reach. If memory serves us aright, she managed to outrun the Indians and was lifted over the wall of the fort or stockade in the nick of time by the man who later married her, Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier.
We recall having read once a story about a school boy who was trying to write something on the life of Patrick Henry. He wrote: "Patrick Henry was married at the age of 16, and said "Give me liberty or give me death." The fact that he had married had nothing to do with his statement about liberty or death, the latter taking place during the stirring times that preceded the American Revolution.
The closest John Sevier ever came to being in the present Macon County, so far as we can learn, was early in the past century when he had to swim his horse across Big Goose Creek, some distance east of the present Hartsville. He had spent the night before in the home of Peter Turney, who lived on the stream that the writer claims for his birthplace, the Young Branch of Dixon's Creek. However, we have a descendant of John Sevier and his wife, "Bonnie Kate," living in Lafayette. She is Mrs. Lucy Rowe, wife of Bill Rowe. Mrs. Rowe is the daughter of Mrs. Eula Harris Smith Cornwell and her husband, Percy Cornwell. Mrs. Smith resides near Hartsville, Tenn., and still has an "end" of the banquet table owned a long time ago by Governor Sevier. She also has a silver spoon belonging once to her great-great-great-grandfather, John Sevier. In the War Memorial Building in Nashville is a silver spoon of the same set as that owned by Mrs. Eula Harris Smith Cornwell.
Mrs. Cornwell was the second child of her parents, William Smith, and Martha Frances Wisener Smith* former citizens of Jackson County, Tenn. Felix Harbor Wiseman, the father of Martha Frances Smith, married Susan Joann Windle, fifth child of Robert Sevier Windle and Amanda Fitzgerald Harris. Robert Sevier Windle was the son of Joseph Hawkins Windle and his wife, the former Miss Joann Goad Sevier, third daughter of John Sevier and his wife, the former Miss Kate Sherrill. So Mrs. Rowe is the great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Governor John Sevier. John Sevier once owned large tracts of land in the present Overton County. John Sevier was quite active in the real estate business more than 140 years ago.
(To be continued)
The following correction appeared in the Book “Cal’s Column”but not in the Original Article.
*Incorrect: Wm. Smith married Martha Frances Wisner, dau. of Felix Harbor Wisner [ Feb. 6, 1814--August 9, 1888, Conf. Vet. ] and Susan Joanna Windle born [ Oct. 21, 1841--Dec. 28, 1925] 5th child of Robert Sevier Windle [ Feb. 5, 1811--Aug. 9, 1891] and Amanda Fitzgerald Harris who was born _____ and died _____ .