One of three trails taken to the west was — by water from Alabama down the Alabama River to Mobile on the coast, along the coast to Pass Christian, Mississippi, then to New Orleans, Louisiana, and then up the Mississippi River to Little Rock or Fort Gibson.
By a treaty of March 24, 1832, the Creek Indians ceded to the United States all of their land east of the Mississippi River
" With nothing more than a cotton garment thrown over them, their feet bare, they were compelled to encounter cold sleeting storms and to travel over hard frozen ground ...." Lt. J. T. Sprague, April 1, 1837
Report of Lt. J. T. Sprague, April 1, 1837
Washington City, April 1, 1837
On the 3rd of August 1836, in compliance with an order from Major General Jesup, commanding the Army of the South, I reported to him in person for emigrating duty. After being engaged in the various duties connected with the large bodies of Indians in the vicinity of Tuskegee, Al. from the 3d to the 8th? inst. I received a verbal order from him to report forthwith to the Cuseter and Coweta towns of Indians, and prepare them for immediate removal.
On my arrival at these towns on the 10th, I had an interview with the principal chief, Tuck-e-batch-e-hadjo, and urged upon him the necessity of taking immediate measures to prepare his people for emigration. To this, after raising every argument against it, he reluctantly consented. His principal reasons were, that his peoples crops were not gathered - their cattle were not sold, and that the time specified for their departure was earlier than he anticipated.
The following day, I assembled all the chiefs, and explained to them that the necessary arrangement to embody their towns, in order to transfer them to the charge of the Alabama Emigrating Company upon such a day as might be designated by the Commanding General. They gave no other than a silent acquiescence to my wishes, but expressed among themselves strong feelings of dissatisfaction. I promised them every assistance in disposing of what little they had, but assured them that upon the day fixed for their departure they must be ready. The necessity of their leaving their country immediately was evident to every one; although wretchedly poor they were growing more so every day they remained. A large number of the white-men were prowling about, robbing them of their horses and cattle and carrying among them liquors which kept up an alarming state of intoxication. The citizens of the country had no security, for though these Indians had professed the most friendly feelings, no confidence could be placed in them, as the best informed inhabitants of the country believed them to be allied with those who had already committed overt acts of hostility. Some families which has fled for safety were afraid to return until the country was rid of every Indian. Public indignation was strong against them, and no doubt the most serious consequences would have resulted, had not immediate measures been adopted for their removal. In this state of things, however indignant their feelings or however great the sacrifice, it was but justice to get them out of the country as soon as possible.
On the 23d inst. I received orders from the commanding General to move the Party on the 29 inst. The time, however, was prolonged five days, to the 3d of September. On the 1st of September I had in camp near two thousand ready for removal. This number comprised the whole of the two towns, excepting a few who had been secreted in a swamp from the commencement of the Creek War. These sent an express to know if I would receive them as friends should they come in. I assured them they would be treated like the rest. I heard no more from them until the ninth night of our march, when, they joined the train with their woman and children. Their number I could never learn, as they kept themselves aloof lest they might be treated as hostiles; but from other Indians, who were very silent on the subject, I learnt there were from one hundred to one hundred and fifty. The 3d of September I placed all the Indians under my charge in care of Mr. Felix G. Gibson and Charles Abercrombie, members of the Alabama Emigrating Company, and on the morning of the 5th the Party started for Arkansas, arranged to wagons according to the contract. The train consisted of forty-five wagons of every description, five hundred ponies and two thousand Indians. The moving of so large a body necessarily required some days to effect an arrangement to meet the comfort and convenience of all.
The marches for the first four or five days were long and tedious and attended with many embarrassing circumstances. Men, who had never had claims upon these distressed beings, now prayed upon them without mercy. Fraudulent demands were presented and unless some friend was near, they were robbed of their horses and even clothing. Violence was often resorted to to keep off these depredators to such an extent, that unless forced marches had been made to get out of this and the adjoining counties, the Indians would have been wrought to such a state of desperation that no persuasion could have deterred them from wreaking their vengeance upon the innocent as well as the guilty.
As soon as time and circumstances would permit, proper arrangements were made to secure to the Indians, regularly, their rations and transportation. A large herd of cattle were driven ahead of the train which supplied the Party with fresh beef. Two days rations were issued every other day, while corn was issued every day. The Party moved on without any serious inconvenience other than the bad state of the roads and frequent drunken [brawls], until the 22th, when from the warmth of the weather and the wearied condition of the Indians, I deemed it expedient to halt for a days rest. Tuck-e-batch-e-hadjo, the principal chief, had been desirous of stopping sooner, and had exposed his determination to do so. The situation of the Camp at the time was not a desirable one for a halt, nor was I inclined to indulge him. I ordered the train to proceed, he with reluctance came on. From the first days march, I saw a disposition in the Indians, among both young and old, to remain behind. From their natural indolence and for their utter disregard for the future, they would straggle in the rear dependant upon what they could beg, steal or find, for support. I used every entreaty to induce them to keep up, but finding this of no avail I threatened them with soldiers and confinement in irons. This had a salutary effect, and was the means of bringing most of them into Camp in good season?. On the night of the 24th inst. the Party encamped at Town Creek, Al., after twenty days march averaging about twelve miles a day. I waited on the contractors and requested them to halt the Party the following day. To this they expressed their unqualified disapprobation and denied my authority to exercise such a power. Their expenses they said were from six to seven hundred dollars per day, and if such authority was given or implied in the contract their hopes of making any thing were gone. I assured them, that from the condition of the Indians, the common calls of humanity required it, and that one of the stipulations of the contract was, that they should treat the Indians with humanity and forbearance. I ordered the Indians to halt, and told the Contractors they could act their own pleasure; either go on with their empty wagon or remain. The Party halted and resumed the journey on the following morning, the 26th. The Indians and horses were evidently much relieved by this days rest. From this period to the fifth of October our marches were long, owing to the great scarcity of water; no one time, however, exceeding twenty miles. The Indians in large numbers straggled behind and many could not get to Camp till after dark.
These marches would not have been so burdensome had proper attention been paid to the starting of the Party in the morning. It was necessary that their baggage as well as their children should be put in the wagons, and the sick and feeble sought out in the different parts of the Camp. But this was totally disregarded. I reminded the Contractors that the party now required the utmost attention, that unless they were strictly seen to, we should not at night have more than half the Indians in Camp. To this they were indifferent, saying, that they must keep up or be left. Early in the morning the waggons moved off, the Agents at the head, leaving those behind to take care of themselves. It's an absurdity to say, that Indians must take care of themselves; they are men it is true, but it is well known that they are totally incapable of it, and it's proverbial that they will never aid each other. To this course of proceeding I remonstrated, and the tenth article of the contract which authorizes the officers to make any expenditures contributing to the comfort and convenience &c.,. I put in execution, which relieved the Indians from the destitute situation in which they otherwise have been placed. My letters to the Contractors accompanying this report embrace this period and will explain to you more fully the course I was compelled to adopt. It, however, affords me pleasure to say, that upon a better knowledge of their obligations, they very readily consented to pay the expenses which accrued in keeping up the rear.
On the 5th of October, I again halted the party and rested one day. To this the contractors objected and seemed determined to drive the Indians into their measures. The 7th the Party again moved and on the 9th inst. encamped near Memphis, Tenn. Great inconvenience was experienced upon this entire route for the want of depots of provisions. There was no time when the proper rations were not issued, but from the frequent necessity of gathering and hauling corn, the Indians were often obliged to take their rations after dark. This caused great confusion and many were deprived of their just share. Though the neglect of these Agents in not bringing up the rear of the party deserves the severest reprehension, yet, I must in frankness acknowledge that there were many who not come up under the most favorable circumstances. This, however, was no apology for not bringing up those who would or at least making an effort. If liquor could be found upon the road, or within four or six miles of it, men and women would congregate there, and indulge in the most brutal scenes of intoxication. If any white man broke in upon these bacchanals he did it at the imminant hazard of his life. Often in this state, they would come reeling and singing into camp late at night, threatening the lives of all who came within their reach - alarming the citizens of the country, and not unfrequently creating the most indignant feelings among the sober Indians towards all the white men who were about them. They would taunt them as cowards and dare them to join them in some nefarious act. Without the means of quelling such restless spirits by the strong arm of power, the most kind and conciliatory feelings should have been evinced towards them. But unfortunately for me, these Agent entertained no such sentiments. At Memphis I met a number of contractors and before them I laid my complaints and convinced them, that if no remedy was provided, I was determined to relieve the company of their charge of the Indians, and take the arduous responsibility of taking them to Arkansas myself. The President of the Company in a highly honorable measure declared that nothing should be left undone to meet the wishes of the officers of the Government. These Agents, I either wanted dismissed or taught the first lesson of the obligations they had assumed. One of the Agents left the Party, and it was afterwards in charge of Mr. Gibson and Gilman. Here, I think, for the first time read the contract, and I found in him ever after a willingness to comply with what I considered expedient for the comfort and convenience of the Indians. With such indication of a proper interpretation and understanding of the contract, and upon the assurance of the most respectable men belonging to the company, I could have no hesitation in giving them an opportunity to redeem their pledges.
At Memphis we remained from the 9th of October until the 27th. The Mississippi was here to be crossed, and the Company were much disappointed in not finding their steam boats as they anticipated. The boats, however, arrived on the 11th; Captain Batemans party were the first to cross, Lieutenant Scrivens was the second, and my own the third, Lieutenant Deas and Mr., Campbells parties were in the rear. The assembly of thirteen thousand Indians at one point, necessarily made our movements slow. This detention was of advantage to the Indians as it gave them rest and afforded the sick and feeble an opportunity to recover. The required rations were furnished them regularly within this time, and they all conducted with the greatest propriety. The Common Council of the City passed an ordinance prohibiting the sale of liquor, which added greatly to their comfort, and to the peace and security of the citizens.
The Mississippi Swamp at this season was impassable for wagons, and it was agreed, that the horses should go through while the women and children with their baggage took steam boats to Rock Row. This place was attained by descending the Mississippi about one hundred miles to the mouth of White River, and ascending this river about seventy miles, and thereby avoiding a swamp about fifty miles in breadth.
Finding that the embarkation of the parties that preceded mine would cause much delay, a mutual agreement was effected between the chiefs, the contractors and myself to take the party up the Arkansas River to Little Rock. The advantages to be gained by this were evident; it put us ahead of all the other parties, secured us an abundant supply of provisions, and avoided a tedious journey of one hundred and fifty miles on foot. A commodious steam boat was procured and upon this, and two flat boats, I put as near as could be estimated, fifteen hundred women & children and some men, with their baggage. The men amounting to some six or seven hundred passed through the swamp with their horses, in charge of my assistant Agent Mr. Freeman. I received every assurance, that upon this route, the necessary provision was made for them.
On board the boats, an abundance of corn and bacon were stored for the party to subsist upon until we should reach Little Rock. On the 27th the boat started. The Indians were comfortably accommodated, sheltered from the severity of the weather and from the many sufferings attending a journey on foot. The boats stopped at night for them to cook and sleep, and in the morning resumed the journey. The current of the Arkansas being so strong at this time, it was found expedient to leave a part of the Indians until the boat could go up and return. These were left in the care of an Agent with the necessary supplies. On the 3d of November we arrived at Little Rock. The larger portion of the party which passed through the swamp, joined us the 4th. Many remained behind and sent word, that when they got bear skins enough to cover them they would come on. Here, they felt independent, game was abundant and they were almost out of the reach of the white-men. At first, it was my determination to remain at Little Rock until the whole party should assemble. But from the scarcity of provisions and the sale of liquor, I determined to proceed up the country about fifty miles and there await the arrival of all the Indians.
Tuck-e-batch-e-hadjo refused to go, "we wanted nothing from the white-men and should rest". Every resting place with him, was where he could procure a sufficiency of liquor. The petulant and vindictive feelings which this chief so often evinced, detracted very much from the authority he once exercised over his people. But few were inclined to remain with him.
The 12th we encamped at Potts, the place designated for the concentration of the whole party. My assistant Agent, together with three Agents of the Company, returned immediately to bring up and subsist all in the rear. Some of them went as far back as the Mississippi Swamp. They collected, subsisted and transported all they could get to start by every argument and entreaty. A body of Indians under a secondary chief Narticker-tustunuggee expressed their determination to remain in the swamp in spite of every remonstrance. They evinced the most hostile feelings and cautioned the white-men to keep away from them. The 14th the steam boat that returned from Little Rock to bring up those left on the Arkansas, arrived at our encampment with Tuck-e-batch-e-hadjo and his few adherents on board. On this boat the following day I put all the sick, feeble and aged; placed them in charge of Doctor Hill the surgeon of the party, with instruction to proceed to Fort Gibson, and there be governed? by the proper officer at that place. This party arrived at their place of destination on the 22d inst., and were received by the officer of the proper department. The Agents bringing up the rear arrived at Camp on the 17th. Those in the swamp still persisted in their determination to remain. Neither the Agents or myself, had any means by which we could force them into proper measures, most conducive to their comfort and progress. The season being, far advanced and the weather daily becoming, more severe, I ordered the party to proceed the following morning. The sufferings of the Indians at this period were intense. With nothing more than a cotton garment thrown over them, their feet bare, they were compelled to encounter cold sleeting storms and to travel over hard frozen ground. Frequent appeals were made to me to clothe their nakedness and to protect their lacerated feet. To these I could do no more than what came within the provisions of the contract. I ordered the party to halt on the 22d and proceeded again on the 23d. The weather was still severe, but delay only made our condition worse. The steam boat on its return from Fort Gibson, fortunately, found us encamped near the river Spadra. On board of her I succeeded in getting nearly the whole party, amounting now to some sixteen hundred souls. The boat started again for Fort Gibson on the 24th. Those that determined to go up by land were all mounted or in waggons, and I directed them to proceed as fast as possible. On the 30th we learnt, that owing to the rapid fall of the Arkansas the boat had grounded. We soon came in the vicinity of her, waggons were procured and this body from the boat soon joined those on shore. The Indians here were frequently intoxicated. They procured liquor from other Indian residents of the Country, and the artifices of both combined no man could detect. On the 7th of December, when within eighteen miles of Fort Gibson I again halted the party, and agents were sent back to bring up all that could be found in the rear. This being done we started the following morning, and arrived at Fort Gibson on the 10th inst. By the order of Brigadier General Arbuckle I encamped the party in the vicinity of the Fort. Many reports were in circulation that the Creeks settled in the country were inimical to the emigrants, and it was deemed advisable to have a perfect understanding among all parties previous to entering their new country. This was effected to the satisfaction of all, but how long it will last the future can only tell. Two Agents belonging to my party, who had remained behind, arrived on the 15th, bringing on all they could find or gather? all that were willing to come, a few they said were behind.
As soon as I was satisfied that all were present that could be brought up, I had the number counted as correctly as circumstances would admit. The number present was twenty two hundred and thirty seven. The number, for which I required of the Company rations and transportation, was two thousand and eighty seven; leaving one hundred and fifty that were not enrolled. This number, no doubt, were the hostiles who joined the train on the march. I could never obtain from the Indians, nor from any one identified with them, any satisfactory information respecting their number or how they subsisted. Their friends, doubtless, shared their rations with them to prevent their being enrolled, lest they might be treated with severity. I gave them every assurance of friendship, but it had no avail. On the 20th inst, the officer of the Government appointed to received the Emigrating Creeks, acknowledged the receipt of my entire party.
To Captain Stephenson of the Army, who performs this task, I am greatly indebted for the many facilities he granted me in the performance of my duties. He is untiring in the department assigned to him and discharges his obligations with promptness and fidelity.
After the Indians had received their blankets in compliance with the treaty, I preceded with the larger portion of them to their country assigned them. Thirty five miles beyond Fort Gibson I encamped them upon a prairie, and they soon after scattered in every direction, seeking a desirable location for their new homes. The better understanding, of the contract by these Agents, and the establishment of depots of provisions on the route from the Mississippi, contributed greatly to facilitate our progress, and to the "comfort and convenience" of the Indians. The duties of the officers in charge of these parties being so much at variance with the interests of the company, difference of opinion will unavoidably occur. The requirements of the Indian are against the interests of the Company. One party is actuated by interest, the other by humanity. I was there to protect the rights of the Indian; the course was a straight one and I pursued it. But though these misunderstandings did occur, the agents accompany the parties deserve great credit for their perseverance. The ready acquiescence of the Agents of my detachment to all my wishes, after crossing the Mississippi, deserves my decided approbation; they were unremitting in every emergency.
The excessive bad state of the roads, the high waters, and the extreme cold and wet weather, was enough to embarrass the strongest minds. The distance traveled by the Party from Chambers county, Alabama to their last encampment, was eight hundred miles by land, and four hundred & twenty five miles by water; occupying ninety six days. The Health of the Indians upon the entire route was much better than might been anticipated. Twenty nine deaths were all that occurred; fourteen of these were children and the others were the aged, feeble and intemperate. The unfriendly disposition of the Indians towards the whites from the earliest history of our country, is known to every one. To what an extent this feeling existed in the party under my charge, I cannot with confidence say, for it was seldom expressed but when in a state in intoxication. But if this be a fair criterion, I have no hesitation is saying it was of the most vindictive and malignant kind. To say they were not in a distressed and wretched condition, would be in contradiction to the well known history .. of the Creeks for the last two years. They were poor, wretchedly, and depravedly poor, many of them without a garment to cover their nakedness. To this there was some exceptions, but this was the condition of a larger portion of them. They left their country at a warm season of the year, thinly clad, and characteristically indifferent to their rapid approach to the rigors of a climate to which they were unaccustomed, they expended what little they had for intoxicating drinks or for some gaudy article of jewelry.
So long a journey, under the most favorable auspices must necessarily be attended with suffering and fatigue. They were in a deplorable condition when they left their homes, and a journey of upwards of a thousand miles could not certainly have improved it. There was nothing within the provisions of the contract by which the Alabama Emigrating Company could contribute to their wants, other than the furnishing of rations and transportation, and a strict compliance with the demands of the officer of the Government; these demands, unquestionably, must come within the letter and spirit of the Contract. All these they complied with. The situation of the Officers of the Government at the head of these parties was peculiarly responsible and embarrassing. They were there to protect the right of the Indians, and to secure to them all the Government designed for them. These Indians looking up to the officers as part of the Government, not only appealed for their rights, but their wants. They could sympathize with them, as every one must who saw their condition, but could not relieve them. They had nothing within their power, for in a pecuniary point they were scarcely better off than those they were willing to assist. All that the contract granted was secured to them, but all this, could not shield them from the severity of the weather, cold sleeting storms, and hard frozen ground. Had a few thousand dollars been placed at the disposal of the officer which he could have expended at his discretion, the great sufferings which all ages, particularly the young, were subjected to, might have been in a measure avoided. But as it was, the officer was obliged to listen to their complaints without any means of redress. Captain Batemans was the first party to arrive at Fort Gibson, my own was the second, Mr. Campbells the third, Lt. Screvins the fourth and Lt. Deas the fifth. I have conversed with all these gentlemen since the delivery of their parties, excepting Mr. Campbell, and I believe they will concur with me fully in my views and opinions. With all the officers I held almost daily intercourse when upon the road, and I can bear testimony, to the faithful discharge of the arduous duties that devolved upon them. They all complained of the difficulty in making the Indians keep up with the moving train.
The following is an extract of a letter from Lt. Deas who was in the rear, addressed to me when I was waiting the arrival of my party from the rear.
"The Agent of the company, with my party, requests we to write you upon the subject of your Indians that have remained behind your party. He says that he has ample means to bring up all that straggle from whatever party, and it is not my intention to allow any of the emigrating Indians to remain upon the route of emigration if I can possibly prevent it. "
I believe every effort was made to keep them up, but nothing but the rigour? of military authority can ever effect it. Many exaggerated reports are in circulation repeating the miserable condition of these emigrating Indians. Let these be traced to the proper source, and it will be found that the white-men with whom they have been associated for years past have been the principal cause. There is enough in support of this opinion. It is only necessary to advert to the allegation, in many instances well established, of the lands of the Indians having been purchased by some of these citizens at prices much below their real value, or of the purchase money having been in whole or part, withheld; to the prosecutions for valid or fictitious debts commenced at the moment of their departure for the west, and thereby extorting from them what little money they had.
Had they been permitted to retain the fair proceeds of their lands, they would have had the means of procuring any additional supplies required for their comfort.
The stipulations of the treaty were fairly executed; all that was to be furnished the Indians was provided, and if these were inadequate to their comfortable removal and subsistence, no blame can be attached to the Agents of the Alabama Emigrating Company or to the officers of Government.
I have the honour to be
Your Obt Servant
J. T. Sprague
Lt. U.S. M. Corps
& Military Agent
5th Detachment Emigrating Creeks