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All the accounts I have seen published about the battle of the Island Flats are a good deal imperfect. You may know that those flats lie on the North side of the Holston, immediately opposite the Long Island and about the whole length, four or five miles, width 2 or 3 miles. It is quite poor and marshy but little of it fit for cultivation. Fort Henry where the treaty of 1777 was held was on the North bank of the river and opposite the upper part of the Island or nearly so. From this old fort lead the main travelling ways to Heaton's station, six miles from the Island, on Heaton's ridge and not on Reedy Creek as you have enquired, but four miles from the creek and on the South side and thence on to Abington, etc.
This road passed through rather the upper part of the Flat, and on which (the road), the battle was fought and just where the Flat and upland joined, rather on the Flat side of the line two miles from the Island. My father once owned the land and had a plantation on the tract of which it was a part. I lived there awhile and knew the battle ground as well as I did any place, having passed through it hundreds of times, and Moore's sink hole was near the road. Before this war the Cherokees had been long at peace. The people on the frontier, the meridian of the Long Island or thereabouts, were quiet, apprehending no danger.
But the war with England having come on the British agent, Cameron, or Stewart, I am not certain which, excited them to war with us. And they were organizing a formidable campaign to fall on our unsuspecting frontier.
At this time there were two white men residing in the Nation. Bill Faulin, a large, bold, daring fellow, with much smartness, but he was a notorious horse thief—had fled from justice to the Cherokees. There he took a wife and had children by her. And there was also Isaac Thomas, a trader, I believe.
These men determined on giving notice of this movement. They were prompted by the notorious Nancy Ward. Accordingly they stole off and went with all possible speed 120 miles and gave the news. The alarm spread, the consternation was great. The people rushed together in their respective neighborhoods, and hurried up forts for defense. Expresses were sent into the interior in every direction. Men flew to arms everywhere: hence the five companies Haywood speaks of. Heaton's being on the great thoroughfare and a place of notoriety, the most formidable stand was made there. This gave rise to Heaton's Station so often mentioned in Western history. I have been at it as many times perhaps as there are lines on this sheet, tho not until three or four years after the mighty scenes referred to had passed by.
Here the reinforcements from the country rendezvoused. By this time the spies had discovered the Indians approaching in great force towards Heaton's. A council was held whether to go and meet them or await their arrival. There was difference of opinion. Cocke was in favor of going and it used to be said that it was pretty much through his influence they did go. They met the Indians four miles from Heaton's. The fighting was severe for awhile, without intermission. And Haywood is wrong in saying that after repulsing the Indian advance party, supposing all over, the men got into a crowd and were thus surprised by the appearance of the whole Indian force, etc.
He is much at fault in his description of this whole affair as he is in almost every thing else. Th° Indians soon gave way. And I might as well just here give the case of Ellick Moore and the big Indian.
When the Indians broke, our men pursued promiscuously. Moore in pursuing and about where the Indian line had been formed discovered a live Indian in a sink hole with one thigh broken. The whole was a round sunken place three or four feet deep, something like a bowl and from ten to twenty feet in diameter. He attacked him. They fought for some time. Moore finally got the Indian's knife and killed him with it: so that the Indian did not break from him as Haywood says. The Indian was remarkably large and was known by the name of big Jim as it was afterwards ascertained. I was intimately acquainted with Moore afterwards and used frequently to hear him tell the story. He was a large man, weighing about 200 pounds, industrious, rough, and good humored, and drank freely at times. In his cups he delighted to tell about the fight in the sink hole and would say of himself, "I am big Ellick Moore that killed the big Indian in the big sink hole in the big Island Flats of Big Holston."
The Shelby Brothers And Others Characterized. '
I remember not to^have heard of the number of captains in the fight who commanded nor the name of any but Cocke and James Shelby. Shelby was said to be the most daring of the family. He was slim, lean, with severe features and red hair. He was killed by Indians between Kentucky and Cumberland. His brother John, the oldest, I think, of the family, was much like James, red hair, etc., tho I don't think he ever figured. Moses had red hair too. He was low of stature tho muscular and was considered to be the next boldest to James.
The Governor and Evan were large and muscular, with black hair. The latter was said to be rather slack twisted —a term we used to have for want of courage.
He and Moses were both killed by Indians, I believe, on the Cumberland below Nashville. Of all these men I had some knowledge when I was young tho I was intimate with none but heard much about them.
I have been thus particular in describing them, from the presumption that you would like to know as they were a conspicuous family in their day. I know but little of their father more than history tells. I used when young to be at his house sometimes on business for my father. He was then old, low, and heavy built, and corpulent. In his old age he married a young woman, was unhappy, became intemperate, and I think so died.
Haywood says James Thompson commanded at the Island Flats battle. It might have been so. I knew a clever man of that name in the country but never heard of his having been in the fight. I think he married a Shelby.
Arthur Campbell, I think, could not have been there. He had not much character as a warrior.
Indian Respect For Woman.
The amount of our force in that battle was said to be 250. The Indian force was much greater, commanded by Dragging Alias Dragon Canoo. fclow a little about this mighty warrior. He was a bold, daring, popular, magnanimous chief, always (after the campaign of 1776 under Christian) at war with the whites. At the treaty of 1/77 he refused to come in and remonstrated. He finally moved off with a large party far down the Tennessee and settled at a plac£ called Chickamoga, I think he died not ong after from whence they carried on their depredations. And that was the quarter from whence this country suffered mostly during these wars.
On one of his war trips they took a white woman prisoner. Their custom always has been for the man who took a prisoner to claim it as his own and when they get home to adopt the prisoner into his family.
On their return home one day this man and his prisoner had fallen behind. The rest waited for them sometime, but they did not come up. The Canoo went back to see what was the matter and found the man attempting rudeness with the woman. The Canoo shot him dead on the spot.
This I believe is the only instance I have ever heard of Indians treating female captives immodestly.
Cocke "always Forward To Turn Out."
In time of the battle Captain Cocke ran off and went back to the station, recruiting a few men, and set off again to the battle. On their way they met the others returning. He was arrested and tried by a court martial for cowardice. He pleaded that in attempting with some men to turn the flank of the Indians he was cut off by the enemy and pursued so that he could not get back. He was swift of foot and pretty much of a hand at fighting fisticuffs. The plea was not well sustained and I think he was cashiered. At any rate the seal of cowardice was stamped on him which he never overcame whether justly or not. Gen. Robertson told me they were a good deal together in the wars and that he thought he never knew any man more desirous to be brave than Cocke was, and that he always seemed to think he was so until the pinch came, and then he could not stand, was always forward to turn out. He was a light, vain, assuming, good humored, jocular kind of man, had but little character.
He tried to be a lawyer, made a poor hand of it, was appointed judge, was impeached and tried for malfeasance in office, found guilty and dismissed.
I am now done with this Island battle and its cognates.