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Chapter 6

Andrew Jackson found Sam Houston on the high ground, after it had been cleared of hostiles. The ensign was hobbling along in the company of two Cherokees, engaged in what appeared from a distance to be a cheerful and animated discussion. They might have been arguing about a horse race, for all the general could tell.

He didn't know either of the young Indians, but he knew they were Cherokees. They might have been Creeks, true, since there were about a hundred friendly Creeks participating in this battle on the American side, under the leadership of the headman of Coweta, William Mackintosh. But Jackson, unlike many white men, could see at a glance the subtle difference between Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. Sometimes even Seminoles, although it was always harder with them. The Seminoles were more in the way of a split off from the Creeks than a truly separate tribe.

There was no significant difference in the features between a member of one southern tribe and another. But they all had distinctive clothing, accoutrements, and ways of styling their hair.

White people coming from the long-settled East, when they first encountered southern Indians, were frequently taken aback by their appearance. The general had often been amused by the phenomenon. The southern Indians, except when they painted themselves up for war or ceremonies, or stripped down to loincloths to play the stickball game they were so fanatical about, just didn't look like "wild Injuns." They looked exotic, to be sure, but it was the exoticism of such long-civilized peoples as the Arabs or the Hindoos.

They wore European-style cloth shirts, often with wide and decorated collars, and leggings that were certainly not European in design but resembled Araby pantaloons more than they did an easterner's notion of "Indian leggings." And their headgear, if they wore any, would be a turban or an elaborate cloth cap. Not the feathered headband everyone seemed to expect.

In the last few decades, some of those distinctive features had begun to blur and fade—the elaborate facial tattoos of the previous century had almost vanished—as more and more of the southern tribesmen adopted the ways and customs of the white settlers. Many had become Christians, and the missionaries always encouraged the adoption of white habits and economic practices, as well as the religion itself. But even those who hadn't adopted the white man's religion had adopted much else.

The Ridge, for instance, still adhered to his tribe's traditional religious practices, but Jackson knew he'd been among the first of the Cherokees to erect his own separate log dwelling, in the American style, apart from the traditional Cherokee town. It was said that he had a chimney, in fact, and a well-built one at that.

He'd also abandoned hunting, despite his own fame as a hunter, in favor of tending orchards and raising livestock—much of the labor, as was true for prosperous whites in the South, being done by black slaves he'd purchased. From accounts Jackson had heard, The Ridge's plantation at Oothcaloga was the equal in size and prosperity to that of almost any white man's on the frontier.

The Ridge had even placed his oldest son, John, with some Moravian missionaries in a boardinghouse at Spring Place, at the age of seven, so that he might learn to read and write and speak English fluently. His daughter Nancy, too. And he'd convinced his brother Watie to do the same with his oldest son, Gallegina—or Buck Watie, as he was known in English.

The general had mixed feelings on the subject. On the one hand, he thought that the ideal solution to the Indian problem would be for the savages to adopt the white man's ways completely. He'd already decided that if they did so, he'd throw his considerable influence into granting them full rights of citizenship, and not just the limited rights possessed by freedmen.

For all that he clashed frequently with the missionaries and Indian agents like Colonel Meigs over what Jackson considered their coddling of the savages, he didn't fundamentally disagree with their assessment that Indians might be the equal of white men. As individuals, he'd always found many of the savages to be impressive people. He'd even taken into his household a little Creek boy named Lyncoya who had been orphaned in last year's battle at Tallushatchee, and intended to adopt him legally once the war was over.

But... that was the problem, when looked at from the other side. Impressive people were also stubborn, independent, and fractious people. Jackson didn't fault them for it—rather admired them, in fact, since he was stubborn, independent, and fractious himself. But what he could admire in an individual, he could not admire in nations that were opposed to his own. Certainly not when the British and Spanish empires he so utterly detested were always ready and eager to foment unrest among the savages, and use them as weapons against his beloved republic.

So, watching the young American ensign enjoying the comradeship of two young Cherokees, the general saw a very mixed blessing.

Something in his skeptical expression must have emboldened one of his aides to speak.

"And will you look at that! There's still a battle raging, and there they are, jabbering away like heathens."

The aide was a young officer, and new to Jackson's service. Knowing what was coming, the other officer who stood with them—Major John Reid, that was, who'd been Jackson's secretary for a year now—sidled back a step or two.

Fury was always close to the surface with Andrew Jackson, and it could erupt as instantly as a volcano.

The general spun around, his face red, and thrust his long jaw not six inches from the face of the aide.

"You, sir! When the day comes that I see you fearlessly charging the enemy, you may presume to criticize such a man. Until that day comes—and I am not holding my breath in anticipation—you will keep your mouth shut. Do I make myself clear?"

The young officer blanched, and his eyes went so wide Jackson could see the veins in the corners. Jackson's voice, filled with rage, cut like a knife. The aide was too shocked even to step back. He just gaped.

"Answer me, blast you!"

"Yes, sir," the man finally squeaked. "Yes, sir!"

The general continued to glare at him, for long and silent seconds. Finally, with a contemptuous gesture, Jackson waved him away.

"Get out of my sight," he growled. "Somewhere to the rear, where your talents might find some use. Count bullets or something, you miserable clerk. Better yet, count rations. You probably wouldn't recognize a bullet if you saw one."

His right hand went to the hilt of the sword scabbarded to his waist. There was no conscious intent to draw the weapon; it was just the instinctive reflex of a man for whom intimidation was second nature. The aide scurried off like a lizard on a hot rock.

As Jackson's temper settled, he saw that the altercation had drawn the attention of Houston and his Cherokee companions. The three of them were standing some forty feet away, staring at him.

Unwilling, for the moment, to take his right hand from the sword, Jackson summoned the ensign with a jerk of his head.

Houston came over, as quickly as he could given that he was limping. The two Cherokees followed at a slower pace. Something of a reluctant pace, it might be said.

When Houston drew near, Jackson nodded. "That was well done, young man. Very well done, indeed. A most gallant charge. Please accept my admiration and respect, as well as the gratitude of your nation. I'll see to it that you get a promotion."

"Thank you, sir."

Jackson finally took his hand from the sword hilt and pointed at the bandage on Houston's leg. "Your wound?"

Houston stared down at the bandage, which had a few fresh red spots mixed in with the brown of old bloodstains. "Oh, it's not much, sir. It's still bleeding some, but I'll manage well enough till this is over. Certainly not as bad as it was for poor Major Montgomery."

A look of regret passed over the general's face. "Yes. Well, it's not over yet."

Houston smiled thinly. "Not hardly, sir." He turned and pointed toward the river. "Between us and the Cherokees, we've driven the Red Sticks off the high ground, but there are still plenty of them forted up here and there in the forest. This peninsula must comprise hundreds of acres, all told. As heavily wooded as it is..."

Jackson nodded, understanding full well the realities of warfare in the wilderness. The Indian warrior wasn't the match of the white man in a pitched battle on an open field, or in a siege. They lacked the organization and discipline for such. But in their own element they were unsurpassed; as dangerous as wild boars.

"Any chance they'll surrender?"

"I doubt it very much, sir. Not yet, anyway. There's still plenty of fight in 'em." The ensign gave the sky a glance, gauging the sun. "They'll for sure try to hold out until sunset, and then make their escape across the river."

Jackson glared again, although not with the sheer volcanic fury that he'd unleashed on the aide.

"Tarnation, I've given Coffee clear and firm instructions—"

The ensign was bold enough to interrupt. Jackson was rather impressed.

"And he's carried them out, sir." Houston gestured toward the two Indians, who were now standing only a few feet away. "This is my old friend James Rogers—he's the one on the left with the war club. And Lieutenant Ross. John Ross, that is. I just met him for the first time today, but I'd heard of him."

Jackson gave the two Cherokees a quick examination, most of which was spent studying the war club Rogers held. Clearly enough, it had been put to good use.

He grunted his satisfaction, then cocked an eyebrow at the ensign. "And the point is? I'm assuming you didn't interrupt your commanding officer in the midst of a battle simply to introduce your friends."

Houston flushed. The ruddy complexion under his mass of chestnut hair turned pink. He looked like one of the brightly painted Christmas ornaments that German immigrants were starting to turn into a popular custom. It was all the general could do not to burst into laughter. Despite the severity of his rebuke, he approved of this young ensign. Approved of him mightily and heartily, in fact.

"Lieutenant Ross here serves as one of General Coffee's aides, sir," Houston explained. "He was the one Coffee sent to warn The Ridge not to cross the river again. Which he did—he and James spoke to The Ridge himself." Houston squared his shoulder and stood very straight. "That's because it was The Ridge and the Cherokees who grabbed some canoes and created the diversion that gave us our initial advantage."

The last statement was spoken in a slightly combative tone. Not belligerent, precisely. And not precisely aimed at Jackson. But Houston sounded like a man who felt he'd made his point, and had been proven right.

Yet again Jackson stifled a smile. For all that he routinely referred to Indians as savages, he understood them quite well. He wasn't all that different himself, in many ways. Like any Cherokee or Creek or Choctaw chief, he magnified his own influence by gathering young leaders around him and making them his protégés. Political authority, among white men on the frontier as much as the Indians, was mostly an informal matter.

But it wasn't enough for his protégés to be smart and capable. Not enough, even, to be physically courageous, as well. They also had to have the strength of character to stand up to Jackson himself, if need be. Without that, they were useless to him.

Andrew Jackson had been a bully as far back as he could remember. As a boy, he'd bullied other boys; as a man, other men. He'd bully anyone he could, and he'd do it in a heartbeat.

He was phenomenally good at it, too. That wasn't and never had been because he was an especially large man. Although, even there, Jackson's whipcord body was one that could do far better in a fight than many people would have suspected just looking at him.

Yes, Jackson was a bully, and he made no apologies for the fact. Indeed, he worked at it, the way a smart man works to improve his skills. It enabled him to get things accomplished he could not have accomplished otherwise.

But he also knew—he'd seen it all his life—that a stupid bully collected nothing around him but yes-men, fawners, toadies, and lickspittles. Who, as a rule, were good for absolutely nothing else. And what did that accomplish?

So. Ensign Houston was looking better all the time. Jackson was starting to develop great hopes for him.

But that was for later. Today, there was still a battle to be won.

He looked up at the sky. There were still several hours of daylight left, even this early in the year with the solstice just passed. Enough time, he thought, to drive the matter through before night fell.

Whatever else, Jackson wanted the Creeks defeated—no, more than that: broken and pulverized—before the sun set.

It wasn't so much that he feared fighting them in the dark, though that certainly wasn't something he looked forward to. But Jackson knew from long experience that the red men were in many ways a more practical breed than whites. They had their superstitions, to be sure, but they had their reason, as well. Indians preferred ambush and surprise attacks to open battle, and they simply weren't given to pointless last stands. Not, at least, if there was a viable alternative.

Which there would be, if hundreds of them were still at large come nightfall. There was no way in creation that John Coffee, even if he had thrice the force he had covering the riverbank, could prevent Creeks from escaping the trap under cover of darkness.

"All right," he said. "Is there any place in the peninsula where they seemed to be centered?"

Houston's eyes ranged the forested peninsula. "I don't think so, sir, but it's hard to tell. Everything's pretty confused right now, what with the Thirty-ninth and the militiamen milling around on this side of the peninsula and the Cherokees starting down by the river. We met them on the high ground—"

He grinned coldly for a moment. "I even managed to discourage the militiamen from shooting at The Ridge and his men, if you can believe such a wonder."

His hand slid to the butt of his pistol, which was stuck in his waistband. The ensign had apparently made a priority of recovering it, after that initial dramatic charge across the barricade.

Again, Jackson had to stifle a smile. He was pretty sure that Houston's "discouragement" had included threatening at least one militiaman with the nonregulation weapon. Possibly several of them. Under that genial, boyish exterior, Jackson suspected that Houston could throw an impressive temper tantrum himself.

"Indeed," the general said mildly, looking down at Houston's large hand covering the pistol butt. "I have found myself that militiamen generally need discouragement, from time to time. And even more in the way of encouragement. They're a flighty bunch."

Houston took the hand away from the pistol. The gesture was almost surreptitious. There'd be some complaints coming from the officers, Jackson knew, about the coarse young regular officer who'd had the unmitigated gall to bully—outright bullying, sir!—stalwart citizens of Tennessee who were temporarily serving under the colors.

Jackson wasn't concerned about it. He could bully militia officers in his sleep. With a handful of exceptions, he wouldn't trade the young ensign standing before him for all the militia officers in the United States. If they complained, he'd set them straight.

Hurrying past the awkwardness, Houston continued. "If I might make so bold, sir, I'd recommend that we take the time to reorganize, and then start driving the Creeks in that direction." He pointed toward a portion of the forest that seemed indistinguishable from any other. "I've been told there's a ravine down that way that'd wind up making the bottom of the trap."

Jackson ignored the presumptuousness of an ensign telling him that they had to "reorganize"—as if that wouldn't be blindingly obvious to the most incompetent general in history. The rest of the advice seemed sound enough.

"See to it then, Ensign. Pass the word to Colonel Williams yourself. I'll handle the militiamen."

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