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 third part of the article is transcribed here tells of building Fort Claiborne and confrontations with the Native Americans.
JEREMIAH AUSTILL AUTOBIOGRAPHY
Early in December, General Claiborne arrived with his army, and was joined with volunteers under Sam Dale, of our Fort. Proceeding to the Alabama River, where several Indians were killed, we crossed on a raft, and built a fort at Claiborne, as a place of deposit.
There we were joined by C. I. Russell, with the Third Regiment, thence we marched up the public road within a few miles of the big swamp creek and built a stockade for the wagons and cannon, leaving thirty men as a guard. Turning off to the left, we crossed big swamp creek, and reached within six miles of the Holy Ground, where we spent a very cold night without fire, but an Indian crossed our trail fire-hunting, and before he could be captured, he dropped his light and fled to the town, where he gave warning, and before sunrise, the women and children and their effects had been carried across the river, and at daylight, our army crossed a point of three hundred yards, breaking ice an inch thick.
Scouts were seen on the opposite bank where we formed for battle, and ere we advanced fifty yards, the Indians opened fire upon the whole length of our line, a charge was ordered, and a continuous fire was kept up until we reached the towns, where they made a stand for a short time, then they fled up and down and across the river. We camped near the towns, which we rifled and burned that evening.
The next morning our men were fired at across the river, whereupon Russell offered fifty dollars to any one that would would swim over for a canoe, a soldier swam over and brought one, I entered it and carried over Pushmatahaw and five of his men, who lay down on the bank until I carried six soldiers, when we marched up the bank into the cane to give the Indians battle, but they fled in the cane.
Choctaw chief Pushmataha
We found a quantity of plunder piled up in the cane, our Indians and soldiers loaded themselves with booty, I appropriated one pair beaded garters. We then some thirty canoes, and returned over the river. The army marched that day up to Bell Weatherford’s farm, the next morning we marched back to our Fort.
Passing a farm, we surprised three Shawnees and killed them, and that night we reached the Fort, thence back to Claiborne, without a single ration of bread or meat—nine days. I had saved two ears of corn which I parched, and gave half to others of my companions. On our return to Claiborne, rations were issued, and before anything could be cooked, three-fourths of the army was drunk, and all of the Indians but one were stretched on the ground. Several of the volunteers died after returning home.
Some days later, Col. Russell started upon the West side with the Third Regiment, and two Companies of volunteers, my Father commanded one of them. The two companies were mounted, and a schooner was sent up the Alabama to meet them at Cahaba, the old town, the land force taking one week’s rations with them. But before reaching Cahaba were out of provisions. They remained there four days waiting for the schooner, after eating one poor horse. Russell sent Lieutenant Wilcox, with two others, down the river to turn the schooner back, and to fire a swivel to let the land party know where they were.
The schooner had passed Cahaba before land force reached there. Lieutenant Wilcox landed on his way down, and soon after saw an Indian swimming, and just at his boat. He ran down and dispatched other Indians, fired and killed the Lieutenant; George Foster, of his party, ran in the cane and made his escape.
A few minutes after, the schooner dropped down and rescued the body of Wilcox, this gave rise to the name of the County. Soon after the battle at the Holy Ground, General Jackson attacked the Horseshoe upon the Tallapoosa—where most of the upper towns were fortified—nearly all the Indians were killed. Jackson then marched down and built the Fort of his name.
- 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.)
- The Yazoo land fraud;
- Daily life as an Alabama pioneer;
- The capture and arrest of Vice-president AaronBurr;
- The early life of William Barrentt Travis in Alabama, hero of the Alamo;
- Description of Native Americans of early Alabama including the visit by Tecumseh;
- Treaties and building the first roads in Alabama.
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