Back | Next
Contents


Chapter 10

Jackson's eyes flicked to his own sword, still in its scabbard and leaning against a tent post. Then, seeing that Houston already had his pistol out, the general turned his attention to Weather-ford.


"How did you get into the fort?" he demanded.


For the first time since he'd entered the tent, there was an expression on Weatherford's face. Not much of one, just a slight smile.


"You called upon all Creek chiefs to come in and surrender, didn't you? I was one of them. I came in and surrendered. The soldiers didn't seem to know what to do, so I just rode in past them."


"You were supposed to be brought here in manacles and chains!" Jackson snapped.


Weatherford's smile widened a bit. "And who was supposed to chain me?"


The smile went away. Weatherford spread his hands. "If you need the chains, Sharp Knife, send for them. I came unarmed. And I simply came to surrender."


It was the first time since Houston had met Jackson that the general seemed genuinely taken aback by anything. Confused, even, as if he didn't know what to do. It was an odd experience; unsettling, in its own way.


Jackson's angry eyes moved away from Weatherford and fell on Houston. Seeing the pistol in Sam's hand—half raised if not yet cocked—he made a sudden, abrupt, impatient gesture with his hand.


"Oh, put that away."


"Yes, sir." Houston slid the pistol back into his waistband— but only far enough to hold it there. He'd still be able to get it out quickly. "Do you want me to send for soldiers, sir? And manacles?"


Jackson glared at him. Sam just returned the glare with a mild gaze, saying nothing.


Jackson looked back at Weatherford; then, suddenly, slapped the table with his open hand. "Tarnation, sir! If you'd been brought to me as I commanded, I'd have known what to do."


"Why should your life be any simpler than mine?" Weather-ford demanded. The Red Stick war leader shrugged. "I am in your power, Sharp Knife. Do with me as you please. I am a soldier. I have done your people all the harm that I could. I fought them, and I fought them bravely. If I still had an army to command, I would be fighting you still."


He seemed to shudder a little. "But I have none. My people are all gone. I can do nothing more than to weep over the misfortunes of my nation."


By the time he was done, the expression on Jackson's face had undergone a sea change. There was still anger there, yes, but...


Jackson rallied. "You massacred hundreds at Fort Mims! Women and children!"


"And you massacred women and children at Tallushatchee."


Even Jackson's innate self-righteousness couldn't prevent him from wincing. Sam hadn't been at that battle, since the Thirty-ninth Infantry hadn't yet joined up with Jackson's Tennessee militia. But he'd heard tales of it.


The Creeks at Tallushatchee, unlike those at the Horseshoe Bend, had been caught by surprise by Jackson's advance. Hundreds of women and children had been trapped in the village. Whether or not any of them had been deliberately massacred— and, given the temper of militiamen after Fort Mims, Sam was quite sure that some of them had—many had died as the village caught fire and burned. Sam had heard one Tennessee militiaman who'd been present describe to him, in a weird sort of half-horrified glee, how he'd watched a Creek child burn to death after crawling halfway out of a flaming cabin.


You could see the grease coming out of him, I swear!


Jackson's jaws were tight. "I gave no orders—"


"Neither did I," Weatherford said sharply. "I tried to stop the massacre. But my warriors were out of control by then—don't tell me you've never had that happen to you as well, General Jackson." His face grew stony. "They even threatened to kill me, at one point, if I persisted in trying to stop them. Tempers were very high."


Jackson's hand came up, and he stroked his jaw, as if trying to knead out the tension. Then, he grunted.


The wordless sound was one of grudging recognition. The story that Weatherford had tried to stop the massacre was by now well known. Enough survivors had reported it that even many white settlers were inclined to accept the story. There was even a rumor that Weatherford had agreed to accept command over the Red Sticks only because the fanatics had taken his family hostage. Whether that was true or not, Sam had no idea.


And, clearly enough, Weatherford wasn't going to say anything more about it. This wasn't a man who was trying to beg for mercy, not even by pleading extenuating circumstances. Even his rejoinder concerning the massacre had been that of an accuser, not a criminal seeing leniency.


Jackson removed his hat and placed it on the table. The motion was precise, almost delicate, as if he were using the moment to marshal his thoughts.


"All right," he said quietly. "War's a nasty business at the best of times, as I well know. I won't hold the massacre at Fort Mims against you."


Sam could tell that the general was doing his best to appear solemn and grave. But he couldn't quite keep the admiration he so obviously felt for Weatherford's courage from showing, not so much in his face, but in his posture. More than anything else, Andy Jackson despised cowardice. And whatever else you might say about William Weatherford, he whom the Creeks called Chief Red Eagle, he was no coward.


"All right," Jackson repeated, uttering the words sharply this time. A command, now, not a judgment. "I'll give orders that you are not to be detained or molested in any way. But understand this, William Weatherford. The war is over, we won, and you have no choice but to surrender. If your surrender is an honest one, that'll be the end of it. But if—"


Weatherford made an abrupt gesture with his hand. "Please, General. We are both warriors. My nation is beaten, and I must now look to salvaging what I can. If I had a choice..."


He took a deep breath. "But I have no choice. Not any longer. Once I could lead my warriors into battle, but I have no warriors left. Their bones are at Talladega, Tallushatchee, Emuckfaw, and Tohopeka."


Tohopeka was the Creek name for their encampment at the horseshoe bend. Even though Weatherford hadn't been at that battle himself, he'd clearly heard the tales. He hadn't been able even to pronounce the name without hesitating a moment, in order to swallow.


The Creek war leader looked away, sighing for the first time since he'd entered Jackson's tent. "If I'd been left to fight only the Georgians, I'd still be fighting. I could have raised our corn on one side of the river and fought them on the other. But you came, and destroyed us. So it was. I will accept your terms, General Jackson, and urge others to do the same. I will fight you no longer. Such is my word."


Jackson nodded, and stepped to the tent entrance. Pulling aside the flap, he called for Major Reid.


The next few minutes were rather amusing, Sam thought, although he was careful not to let any of that humor show on his face. He wasn't sure which part of it he found the funniest—Reid's astonishment, Jackson's increasingly exasperated attempts not to explain himself, or Weatherford's none-too-successful struggle to hide his own amusement.


But, eventually, it was done. Reid escorted Weatherford out of the tent. He did so with an odd combination of diffidence, wariness, and uncertainty. Much the way an angel might have ushered a devil out of heaven, after God had pronounced him not really such a bad fellow, after all.


After they were gone, Jackson continued to stare at the now-closed flap of the tent. "They are a brave people," Sam heard him murmur, as if he were talking to himself. "That, whatever else."


Abruptly, he turned to Houston.


"All right, Sam. You have my word. If the time comes when you can work out a satisfactory solution, I'll back you. To the hilt."


The general grinned, and rather savagely. "Mind you, I may well be cursing you at the same time, and damning you for a fool. But I'll do it in private. Or perhaps to your face. I might prefer it that way."


Sam smiled. "Well, sure. I wouldn't expect anything else."


Jackson went back to the table and sat down. "Where do you plan to start?"


Seeing the look of confusion that appeared on Sam's face, Jackson barked a laugh. Cawed a laugh, rather.


"Thought so! Fine and sentimental speeches are easy, young man. The trick is in the doing."


Sam's mind was still a blank. The general pointed to the other chair. "Sit down. Let an old warhorse get you started."


After Sam took his seat, Jackson rearranged the large map so that it again covered most of the table. Then, he pointed to the junction of Tennessee, Georgia, and the Territory of Mississippi.


"Start there, Sam. The Ridge lives somewhere here in north Georgia, and most of the other major chiefs aren't far away. Take Lieutenant Ross with you. See if you can talk The Ridge—and any other chiefs, for that matter—into going to Washington. You'll serve as their guide and official liaison with the government."


That was the last thing Sam had expected to hear.


"Washington? You mean the capital?"


Jackson snorted.


"Where else? You want to guide an official Cherokee delegation to any other town named Washington?"


Sam's mind was still a blank. The general smiled smugly.


"Let them see Washington, Sam. Let them see for themselves that there's more to America—more strength, too—than the white settlers they usually encounter."


Sam winced. "I don't know if that'll do much good, General. The Ridge has already been to Washington."


Jackson frowned. "He has?"


"Several years ago. There was a dispute among the Cherokees—sharp one, too—when Tahlonteskee and Black Fox tried to get the tribe to agree to the first proposal for a big land swap. It was tied to relocation across the Mississippi. The Ridge was opposed to it, so the Cherokees elected him to be part of the delegation that went to Washington for further negotiations. I don't think he met with the president, but I know he met with Secretary of War Dearborn. John Jolly told me about it."


"Dearborn! That worthless old coot." Jackson scowled, looking at the map. "I didn't know that. Still... That was back when? 1808? Madison's administration is now in office, and Secretary of War Armstrong is a different creature altogether. He might actually do something."


Sam hesitated. True enough, John Armstrong was a very different man from the tired old general who had served Thomas Jefferson as secretary of war. But the country had been at peace in 1808, too, whereas today...


Doing something, whatever that might come to mean, would inevitably entail spending money—and plenty of it—or those were just two meaningless words. No Indian tribe was wealthy, at least not in terms of movable property. Asking them to relocate beyond the Mississippi without providing them with massive assistance before, during, and after the relocation was just a pipe dream. And given the demands of the current war with Britain, Sam doubted the government had much money to throw at anything else. Especially not the Department of War, which was legally charged with handling all Indian affairs.


Jackson seemed to read his thoughts easily enough.


"Patience, youngster," he said, still smiling. "You know as well as I do that no Indian tribe—certainly not those cantankerous Cherokees—will be making any big decision quickly. And they've got a few years, anyway, before the rope starts to tighten."


Sam looked at him skeptically. Jackson cawed another little laugh. "I said I'd break them if they tried to resist me for too long. I didn't say I was Attila the Hun. Besides—"


The general began tracing lines on the map. "The Cherokees—Choctaws and Chickasaws, too—are down the road. Quite a ways, unless I miss my guess. Our main enemies are the British and Spanish, don't ever forget that. So the first thing I intend to do, at the upcoming negotiations with the Creeks, is strip the Creeks of half their land. This half."


His finger quickly traced the area he proposed to seize from the Creeks. "That'll create a buffer zone between the Creeks and the Spanish territories. They won't be able to get war supplies from our enemies, any longer."


Sam grimaced. "General, most of that land belongs to friendly Creeks. The Lower Towns. The same ones who were allied with us in the recent battles."


Jackson glared at him. "Allies! That's just because the Red Sticks had them by the throat. They sent us a few hundred warriors, here and there, never more than that and never all at one time. And you know as well as I do that if the British had landed soon enough on the coast, and waved guns under his nose, that Big Warrior would have switched sides in a heartbeat."


That was true enough, so Sam couldn't argue the point. Despite occasional clashes—the last major one had been the battle at Etowah in 1793—the Cherokees had usually been allied with the United States since its creation, and before that with the colonists against the British. The same was true for the Choctaws.


The Creeks, on the other hand, had maintained close ties with the British and the Spanish for many decades.


Sam didn't trust Big Warrior's change of allegiance any more than Jackson did. Traditionally, the Lower Town Creeks and the Seminoles had been the southern Indian tribes most closely tied to the British and Spanish. The only reason the Lower Town Creeks had allied with the United States was because the civil war launched by the Red Sticks had been an immediate danger to them, and Britain and Spain had been too preoccupied with their war with Napoleon to provide much in the way of assistance.


"And it's all beside the point, anyway," Jackson continued. He jabbed his forefinger at a spot on the map, then at another. Both spots were on the coast. One was marked Pensacola; the other, Apalachicola. "Don't forget—ever—that the Indians are a sideshow. The real enemy is down here. Spanish Florida is a running wound in the side of our republic. As long as the Dons hold territory in North America, the British will use it as an invasion route whenever they can—and as a conduit to arm and stir up the Creeks and Seminoles against us year-round, year after year. As well as any other tribe they can reach and influence—and provide with arms."


As long as the British held Canada and the Spanish held Florida, Sam realized, the United States would be caught in a vise. Granted, the Spanish Empire was a shadow of its former self. But they'd let the British do the dirty work for them, and Britain looked to be emerging from the Napoleonic wars as the most powerful empire in the world. If the British could seize New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi, the two-sided vise would become a three-sided one.


So Sam could understand the cold-blooded logic of Jackson's plans. By stripping away the southern half of Creek territory and opening it up to white settlers, the general would separate Spanish Florida from all the southern tribes except the Seminoles. Whatever clashes the Creeks—or the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, for that matter—had in the future with the United States, they'd have to fight them without access to guns and ammunition from the European powers. Which meant, in practice, that they couldn't really fight at all. The destruction of Tecumseh's forces had demonstrated graphically that poorly armed Indians couldn't hope to defeat the United States in an open battle.


That still left the Seminoles, of course. That breakaway portion of the Creek Confederacy was already entrenched in Florida.


Sam cocked his head, studying the general. "And that'll be stage two of your strategy, won't it? You'll go after the Seminoles."


"Blast the Seminoles, lad. I'll use the Seminoles as an excuse to go after the Dons." Then, scowling: "Not that I've got any problem at all with crushing the Seminoles. But if they were just down there in Florida on their own, they'd be a minor problem, at best."


Abruptly, he rose to his feet. "It's the Dons I'm after! I swear, I will have them out of North America entirely. I'd love to take Cuba from them, too—let the Negro rebels have Hispaniola, I don't care much about that—but I doubt I can. Still, I'll settle for driving the Dons off the continent entirely. Let them rot on their islands."


Sam couldn't help but laugh. It was like hearing a man complaining that he didn't think he'd be able to fly to the moon after he climbed the tallest mountain.


"Uh, General... you do know that official U.S. policy is to stay on good terms with the Spanish?"


Jackson snorted. "That'll change. If needs be, I'll force those fools in Washington to change it."


A light was beginning to dawn. "I see. My Cherokee delegation to Washington is just an excuse, really. What's more important is that I might have an opportunity to talk to someone while I'm there. Say, Secretary Monroe."


Jackson waggled the hand that was draped in the sling. "Well, not exactly. I actually do have hopes that something might come out of the Cherokees going back to Washington. It's not just a masquerade. But, yes. Monroe will be the next president, most likely. I don't have anything specific in mind, but from what I've seen of him he seems a substantial sort of man. Quite unlike—"


He broke off abruptly. Not even Andy Jackson was prepared to openly deride his own president. Not, at least, in front of a junior officer.


But he didn't need to say anything. The animosity between Andrew Jackson and James Madison was well known on the frontier. In Washington, too, for that matter, unless Sam missed his guess. It dated back to Thomas Jefferson's attempt to have Aaron Burr convicted of treason during the last year of his administration. The trial had become a national spectacle. Jackson had supported Burr. Madison, of course, being the secretary of state at the time and the man most people assumed would be the next president, had supported Jefferson.


Jackson, in his inimitable manner, had publicly pilloried Madison. He'd pilloried Jefferson, too, but that was nothing new. The animosity between Jackson and Jefferson dated back even further.


Once Madison became president, needless to say, he hadn't forgotten the episode. When the war with Britain erupted, he'd repaid Jackson by passing him over when he was selecting generals for the regular army.


Monroe, on the other hand...


Jackson continued. "I don't know Monroe well, you understand. But I was deeply impressed by his vigorous protest of Britain's policies when he was ambassador to the Court of St. James. He's likely to make a good chief executive, I think."


"I understand, sir," said Sam. "And if I get the chance to speak to him—"


"Oh, you will. Have no doubt about that." His tone was now harsh. "Whether those bast—ah, people in Washington like me or not, they have to live with me now. They're counting on me to keep the British at bay here in the South—and I daresay I'll have more success than they've had dealing with them in Canada."


He cleared his throat noisily, almost triumphantly. "I'll write several letters for you to take along, Sam. You'll get to see the secretary of state. Count on it."


Sam rose to his feet. "Best I be off, then. It'll take me several months to convince the Cherokees to send another delegation to Washington. If I can do it at all, which I rather doubt."


"Just do your best. If nothing else, just go yourself. See if young Ross will accompany you. He's said to be a rising man among the Cherokees. And he's too young, I assume, to have seen the capital?"


Sam shrugged. "So far as I know. I'll find out. But even if he agrees to come with me, he's not on the council. So he won't represent anyone but himself."


"Well, you never know how these things will work out, in the end. Ross might well grow into his new role. And, remember, you've still got a few years before..."


Jackson smiled grimly. "Before you call in your promise—or I drive over whatever promise you couldn't come up with."


Sam nodded. "And in the meantime?"


"I'll have Colonel Williams release you from the Thirty-ninth, for detached duty. But by the end of the year, I expect, I'll be facing the British. Either in New Orleans or Mobile. So come back from Washington as soon as possible. I could use an officer like you then, Sam. I'll find a suitable place for you, be sure of it."


"By the end of the year . . ." Sam mused. "That should be enough."


The general stuck out his hand, and Sam shook it. "In eight months then, Captain Houston. I'll expect you back no later than mid-December."


Sam raised an eyebrow. Jackson just grinned.


"One of those letters will include my strong recommendation that you be promoted to captain." He cleared his throat again, just as noisily and even more triumphantly. "And I daresay they'll listen to me this time. After the Horseshoe Bend, I dare-say they will."


Back | Next
Framed