At the close of 1780 the distressed colony was reduced to three or four stations, and lack of ammunition made impossible a long-continued defense of these. Therefore in the early part of December Colonel ROBERTSON, accompanied by his son, together with his friend, Isaac BLEDSOE, and a negro servant, had set out on a journey to Harrod's Station, Kentucky, for the purpose of securing a supply of powder and lead. The undertaking was one of extreme hazard, but they passed through the Indian lines and arrived at Harrodsburg in safety. Here they received their first news of the splendid victory which had been gained by the American forces over the British at King's Mountain, in October preceding. In this memorable battle their friends from East Tennessee, under the leadership of Col. John SEVIER and Isaac SHELBY, had played a most heroic part. On receiving the news Isaac BLEDSOE is said to have exclaimed, "If SEVIER and SHELBY can handle the combined force of British and Tories, can we not whip the Indians in the backwoods?"
The party was given a hearty welcome at Harrodsburg, but because of the depleted condition of the store they were unable to secure ammunition, and accordingly journeyed on to Boonesborough. Here they found Daniel BOONE, who in former days had been a comrade of both ROBERTSON and BLEDSOE, and who cheerfully divided with them his supply. But this was too scanty and the amount they thus received was not enough to last through the winter. It was therefore decided that Colonel ROBERTSON, his son and servant, should return at once to the Cumberland with what they had, and that BLEDSOE should go across to Watauga and there lay before Colonel SEVIER the urgent needs of the Western Settlement. This he did and came back later to the Cumberland, bringing with him an abundant supply of ammunition. He brought his family also, the latter having hitherto remained in East Tennessee.
In the meantime Colonel ROBERTSON had returned to the settlement, having crossed over to his station at the Bluff on the afternoon of January 15, 1781. There he learned that on January 11, four days previous to his return, another son had been born to him, the late Dr. Felix ROBERTSON, for many years an honored citizen and prominent physician of Nashville.
Upon his arrival Colonel ROBERTSON hastily divided his ammunition with his men at the bluff and went out to spend the night at Freeland's, where his wife and child were staying with friends. This fort was, in the matter of construction, very much as the one at the Bluff, the latter having been previously described. There were a number of one and two-story cabins built near together, the whole being surrounded by a stockade, thus forming an enclosure. To this there was but one entrance, a gate which was fastened each night by a heavy chain. Within the fort that night were eleven men and a number of women and children. One of the former was Major LUCAS, who before coming to the Cumberland had served as an officer under Colonel SEVIER in several expeditions from Watauga against the Indians. He had also been one of the founders of the local government of Watauga. The negro man who came with Colonel ROBERTSON and his party over the mountains in 1779 for the purpose of raising a corn crop at French Lick, as it was then called, was also in the fort at this time.
The scouts, among them Jacob CASTLEMAN, had come into the fort about dark on the evening above mentioned and reported no signs of Indians, therefore no danger was feared. Having had a late supper the occupants of the fort did not retire at an early hour, but by eleven o'clock all were asleep except Colonel ROBERTSON. The latter was known among the Indians as the "Chief who never sleeps", and was probably more alert than usual now by reason of his recent experience in sleeping out of doors on his return journey from Kentucky through a dangerous and lonely forest. Major LUCAS and the negro man, together with several others, occupied a newly built cabin in which the cracks had not yet been chinked. A full moon shone from a clear sky and the night was one of surpassing beauty.
About midnight Colonel ROBERTSON heard a rattling of the chain and looked out just in time to see the gate open and a band of a hundred and fifty Indians, who proved to be Chickasaws, come rushing into the fort. He at once gave the alarm and seizing his rifle fired through the window at the approaching savages. The report of ROBERTSON'S rifle awoke Major LUCAS, who sprang out of bed and rushed through the door of his cabin into the yard. He was immediately surrounded by the savages and fell mortally wounded, pierced by a dozen shots. The settlers were now thoroughly aroused and began firing at the Indians through windows and port-holes, the women lending all the aid possible. Surprised at this vigorous assault from within the savages ran out of the fort after the first volley and renewed the attack from the outside. Some of them went around to the back of the cabin from which Major LUCAS had come and began firing through the cracks at the men within. During this fusillade they killed the negro man above mentioned. The onslaught was terrific and for a time the fortunes of the conflict wavered. Round after round was fired from within and from without. The attacking party, in their savage thirst for blood, rushed from place to place about the fort, jumping high into the air, all the time whooping and yelling like demons. They lighted brands and made repeated attempts to set fire to the roofs and walls of the cabins, but the brands and logs were too green to burn. For six hours this attack was kept up, but just as the gray light of the morning dawn came over the eastern hills the little cannon which had come around on the good boat Adventure, and which was now mounted on the fort at the Bluff, opened its brazen lips and a solitary "boom" echoed along the Cumberland. Capt. John RAINS was thus saying to Colonel ROBERTSON and his beleaguered comrades that he had been apprised of their danger and would be along directly with reinforcements. The Indians, who stood in great fear of a cannon, heard the shot, too, and knowing that the settlement was now thoroughly aroused, began a hasty retreat. However, they were joined during the morning by a party of Cherokees, and together for several days thereafter they continued to infest the neighborhood roundabout, plundering and thieving.
In the attack on Freeland's only LUCAS and the negro man, of the settlers, were killed, and none were wounded. Next morning no less than five hundred bullets were dug from the walls of the cabin in which these men had been sleeping. One Indian was shot in the head by Colonel ROBERTSON. His body was found partially covered with dirt the next day some distance away in the woods where it had been left by his fleeing comrades. No one knew how many of the dead had been carried off, but the bloodstains about the fort and along the trails leading therefrom indicated that a number were either killed or wounded. Had it not been for the timely presence of Colonel ROBERTSON on the night of the attack the fort must surely have fallen into the hands of the enemy. His vigilance on this, as well as on many subsequent occasions, saved the settlers from slaughter. This was the first and only attack ever made on the settlement by the Chickasaws. Soon thereafter Colonel ROBERTSON had a "peace talk" with PIOMINGO, the Chickasaw chief, forming with him an alliance which gave to the pioneers the everlasting friendship of this famous warrior and his people. At heart the Chicaksaws hated the Cherokees, who were the relentless foes of the whites. Though they had on previous occasions allied themselves with the Cherokees, they now joined the settlers in expeditions against them.
PIOMINGO was a striking figure among the noted Indian
rulers of his day. He is described as having been of medium height, well proportioned in body,
and as possessing a face of unusual intelligence. Though at the time of his visit to Bledsoe's Lick
more than a hundred years old, he strode the earth with the grace of a youth. His dress was of
white buckskin, and his hair, which he wore hanging down his back in the form of a scalp-lock,
was, by reason of his great age, as white as snow. This was clasped round about on top of his
head by a set of silver combs. Despite the early offenses of his tribe the name of PIOMINGO
deserves an honored place in the annals of Middle Tennessee because of the generous deeds of his