Days Gone By - stories from the past

Amazing! First-hand account of the legendary canoe fight by participant Jeremiah Austill

Jeremiah Austill ((1793- 1881) was one of the participants of the famous Canoe Fight that took place in Alabama in 1813. We hear his actual words in this autobiography from him. The autobiography was published in The Alabama Historical Quarterly in 1944 and the second part of the article transcribed here tells his personal version of the legendary canoe fight.   (continued from Part I)


JEREMIAH AUSTILL AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Part II

The Canoe Fight

At that time I was confined with ague and fever, father being absent in Georgia when the war (Creek War) broke out. Soon after that he returned alone, traveling through the woods south of the towns and highways, swimming the Conecue (sic) and the Alabama Rivers, to the great joy of all, and was immediately elected Captain of the Fort.

conecuh riverConecuh River

Recovered to join an expedition

I had been reading medicine from the time of our forting (sic) under Dr. Lorry, dressing and operating in surgery under his instructions, to all that were wounded, up to the last of September, when I had sufficiently recovered to join an expedition in search of the Indians who were committing destruction to everything up Bassetts Creek, being absent several days. Soon after our return, some Indians approached the Fort and killed one of the soldiers, who was a short distance from the Fort. Col. Haynes, U. S. Marshal, desired to send dispatches to General Claiborne, at the arsenal above Mobile, for aid, whereupon I volunteered to carry the same, leaving about twelve o’clock.

I crossed the river at Carney’s Bluff, and reached headquarters at eight o’clock next morning, and instead of sending aid, he advised the abandonment of the Fort, and ordered Col. Carron, who had come to our aid with cavalry, to escort us to St. Stephens, where he would make his headquarters. About two-thirds left accordingly, leaving my Father and forty-nine others able to bear arms, men, boys and negroes, to fight it out.

canoe fight markerFrom Clarke County Historical Museum

Expedition on the Alabama proposed

Two weeks later, Claiborne sent Col. Carson back to our aid, with two hundred men, when Capt. Dale proposed an expedition upon the Alabama, and was joined by Capt. Jones, making up in all seventy-two men. We struck the river above Gainestown, where we procured two canoes, where we spent the night in the cane, without fire, 12th vol., 1813. The next morning, Dale, with all but eight men, started up the East bank, leaving me in command of the boats, to keep parallel with the land forces.

On reaching Bagley’s farm, a halt was made, and Dale came on board and crossed to the farm and searched the same, finding plenty of fresh tracks. Returning, Dale started up for Randon’s plantation, where I was to meet him. Soon after starting, I discovered a boat descending with ten Indians in it, who seeing us, tacked about.

Randon's or Claiborne landingRandon’s landing

We ran to the bank of the river

We immediately gave chase, and gained fast upon them; half a mile above, they ran up Randon’s creek into the cane, soon after Dale and Jones met a party of Indians in the cane crossing the creek, Dale killed the one in front, the Indians dropped their packs, and a fire was kept up for a few minutes, and Indians fled in the cane. As the firing ceased, I pushed on up to the landing, soon after the land party arrived. This was at Randon’s Landing, below Corners Landing or Ferry. Capt. Jones crossed over with his men and all of Dale’s Company.

But twelve men, to say, Dale, May, Creagher, Smith, Brady, myself and six others, were roasting potatoes and beef taken up at the creek where the fight took place, and just as we were taking our potatoes out of the fire, a large body of Indians were discovered branched off on either side to surround us. We ran to the bank of the river, and neither of the canoes had returned, the small one was on the way over, but then we discovered a large canoe descending with eleven Indians in it. We ascended the bank some twenty yards, as we were in a three acre field, and commenced firing on the Indians in the boat, which was returned by them for several rounds, when two of them leaped out, and made for the shore about sixty or eighty yards above us, and above the mouth of a small creek.

I fell into the river

Smith and myself ran up to kill them, we were followed by Creagher, who found us up to the waist in mud. being very heavy, we had to stand on the slope of the bank. I slipped and fell into the river in pursuit of one of them, both carrying their guns above water. Smith killed one of them, and the other sprung up and pointed his gun at Smith, as he ascended the bank, passing over my gun. I was after him, but ere I got my gun, he was in the canoe. I pursued him some forty yards for an open place to shoot him, and was in four feet of a place to fire, a gun was fired within thirty feet of me, the load passed just over my head. I turned to fire on the offender, and Creagher had just ascended the bank of the creek, as I was hopping in the canoe, supposing me to be an Indian; by this means my Indian escaped.canoe fight

We boarded the boat

We returned to Smith, and descended the river on the turn of the bank to our squad. Dale, in the meantime, called to Capt. Jones to send over the large canoe to capture the Indian boat, and eight men started over, but when within fifty yards, the man in front rose up so as to see the number who were lying down loading their guns. He sung out to the paddler to back out, as there were too many Indians in the boat, whereupon they retreated back. The small boat having reached us, paddled by a negro, (old Caesar) during the interval, I ordered Brady to ascend the second bank and see if land party of Indians were closing in upon us, he crawled up, but seeing no Indians, he rose upon a pile of rails, whereupon some seven guns were discharged at him, shooting the breach of his gun off; with one bound he was in our midst, swearing it was too hot up there for him.

Dale then proposed to Smith and myself to board the boat. Dale leaped down some ten feet, Smith and myself following. We entered the boat in the same order, placing me in bow; we ran out some twenty yards below the Indians, and they rose up. We all attempted to fire, Dale’s rifle and my own missed fire from the wetting of our priming getting into the boat, Smith missed from the rolling of our boat. Dale then ordered Ceaser to paddle up in a hurry, upon approaching the boat, the Chief and myself exchanged blows with our guns, I caught the end of his and drew him up to me, in reach of Smith and Dale, who brought him down, Dale breaking his barrel into.

Dale got in the Indians’ boat

Smith caught the muzzle end, and fought out the battle with it, Dale getting Smith’s gun with which he made his blows, I used the Chiefs. Just as we were running up broadside, I had two on me at a time, until Dale got in the Indians’ boat, and placing himself opposite to Smith, on reaching the last two, one of them knocked me down with a war club, falling across their boat and holding on to the club I recovered my feet, one in each boat; a scuffle ensued for the club, which I gained, and knocked him overboard, the one in my rear having been killed by Dale and Smith; so ended the battle.

canoe fight placeLocation of the Canoe Fight

Threw the Indians overboard

We then started back, old Caesar paddling, Smith holding the boats together, while Dale and myself threw the Indians overboard, there being still eight in the boat, and when about half out, a ball passed through the boat, and on looking up, saw three Indians on the second bank just above our nine men then under the first bank, the second one, taking rest on a stump, we stood up sideways, his ball struck the water short of the boat, and the last took his seat with a large bored rifle, I could see along his barrel, and felt sure he would hit me; I drew myself up and stopped breathing, his ball passed within an inch of my abdomen, much to my relief.

As we were approaching the same shore, the Indians retired to the main body of two hundred and eighty Indians. We received our nine companions, and crossed over to the West without the Indians knowing it. We ascended the river bank until we reached the public road, and returned to the Fort. I was much bruised from the top of my head to my fingers ends, warding off the blows, and for several days later, was unable to use my left arm, but during the fight did not feel the blows, not one word was spoken after my first blow by either of us until all was over, and the only weapons saved was the Chief’s gun barrel and the war clubs. The barrel was much bent over their heads.

SOURCE

  1. The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 06, No. 01, Spring Issue 1944. The autobiography of one of Alabama’s most distinguished pioneer citizens. (This valuable paper was presented to the Alabama State Department of Archives and History in 1912 by R. T. Irvin, of Mobile. It had probably come into Mr. Irvin’s hands through Judge Henriosco Austill, son of Jere Austin. It was through Judge Austill that a very beautiful oil portrait of his father was presented to the Department and hangs on the walls of the World War Memorial Building in Montgomery. Judge Austill came to Clarke County with his father in 1813 and took part in succeeding years in the perilous border warfare of that day. He was only nineteen years of age when he participated in the famous Canoe Fight with Sam Dale and others. In his mature years, he became an extensive planter, raising huge cotton crops. Descendants reside in South Alabama, Virginia and other sections of the country. He died in 1881.)

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Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and www.daysgoneby.me All her books can be purchased at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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12 comments

  1. Please provide proper credits for the pictures that you use.

    1. All photos are from public domain sources unless otherwise noted. Photo credits are listed in the sources sections at the bottom of the page.

    1. Alabama Pioneers

      It has been fixed, thank you

  2. Kathy Isler

    I had no trouble with the link.

  3. […] late Jeremiah Austill, one of the heroes of the famous “Canoe Fight,” was at that time the marshal for the […]

  4. Pretty cool story.

  5. John Tommy Harmon

    Boy those were men in the best sense

  6. Virginia Ponds Kobler

    My 3 great grandfather, Burwell Stinson, fought with Austell.

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