At the beginning of September 1792, John Watts gathered hundreds of Cherokee, Creek, Chickamauga, and Shawnee at Willstown to orchestrate a sweeping campaign to attack the Holston region. It would feature a combined army in four bands of two hundred each.
Watts had only been in charge of the Chickamauga (Lower Cherokee) since March. The attack he was planning — coordinated against many different settlements, uniting disparate Indian nations in battle, armed with Spanish weapons — was to be Watts’ triumphant introduction as war chief of the Lower Cherokees.
Meanwhile Blount, as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department, kept tabs on the Willstown proceedings via two spies among the Cherokee. Richard Finnelson and Joseph De Raque, both of whom were present at Willstown, furnished him with transcriptions of the proceedings. (Finnelson and De Raque were double agents: they were also delivering messages between the Spaniards in Pensacola, FL and the Indians assembled at Willstown.)
Finnelson says in letters that when he and De Raque arrived at Willstown, Bloody Fellow was arguing against going to war, saying that “it was a bad step they were taking.”
For one thing, the Indian warrior coalition was tenuous: the Creeks and the Cherokees had engaged in a vicious, bloody war against each other in the 1750s. And while they understood they had to work together to keep the U.S. on the eastern side of the mountains — and Spain near the Mississippi — this was not an easy, natural alliance.
Bloody Fellow spoke to the assemblage of his trip to Philadelphia: “Look here at these things I fetched for myself. Others went with me. If I had gone by myself, perhaps you might have thought that I made them myself. You had better take my talk, and stay at home, and mind your women and children.” He was interrupted in his comments with much grumbling and disagreement. He struggled to maintain his position, pointing out that the Americans were too powerful. “Look at that flag! Don’t you see the stars on it? They are not towns. They are nations. There are thirteen of them. These are people who are very strong, and are the same as one man!”
Watts was not dissuaded from his course: Said Finnelson in a letter to Blount: “John Watts had been to Pensacola; he brought home seven horse loads of ammunition, and as many accoutrements as were sufficient to equip two hundred horsemen, to with, swords, &c. and that Watts was appointed to command the Creeks and the Cherokees who should be called into the field, and be for war, and that the Creek nation had met in council, and agreed to the appointment.”
It must have been a stirring scene when Watts threw the weight of his influence into the scales, and announced “To war we will go together!”
Based on Finnelson’s and De Raque’s regular reports from Willstown, Blount requested General James Robertson to muster his brigade with which to repel the invaders should they attack the Cumberland country.
Anticipating this precaution, Watts hastened to counter it by a clever deception. He induced Bloody Fellow, who still opposed war, and another chief named the Glass to write Blount a letter calculated to throw him off his guard. They alleged that Robertson, in a meeting with the Chickasaw and Choctaw, had told them that he would sweep clean with their blood any blood they might spill in Nashville.
Bloody Fellow and the Glass wrote that the threat had caused the young men of the aforementioned tribes to plan an attack on the white settlements, but that they, with the aid of Watts and some other headmen, had frustrated it by sending them to their different homes to mind their hunting.
A talk from the Bloody Fellow to His Excellency Governor Blount dated the Lookout mountain Sept. 10 1792
Friend & Brother, At this time I am in a bad State of Health and as my brother the Glass has told you the reason of our young warriors being assembled together at this time from different parts I overtook them at this place and it was a long time before I and the other headmen could put a stop to their intended proceedings as we much pitied the innocent people that must have suffered on both sides.
It’s but a short time since I came from seeing the President of the United States my tracks are scarce yet blotted out, the talks we had was that we should not war with one another, and that his people should not encroach on our land.
But in place of that they are daily encroaching and building on our land, this is not what he and I agreed upon; I let all my people know what we agreed upon; he was to let the different Governors know so as they might not let the people settle on our land as they have formerly done.
I hear you are displeased with us for holding talks with the Spaniards or any other neighboring power, why should we not talk with our neighbors as we do not want to be at war with any body if we can avoid it.
What I tell you is the truth it has give me a great deal of trouble, but I am glad it was in our power to put a stop to the effusion of blood.
If you was to consider well you would see its more your people’s fault than mine by daily encroaching on our Land and sending threatening talks
if there is any bad people in your land that wants to hurt us I hope you’ll stop them as I have done mine and that they may live in peace one with another and hear no more of war, you’ll likewise please to send to Cumberland and let them know that it’s not our people that may do them any harm for the future as we wish to be at peace with them.
The friends of the White man killer of this Town think very hard of him losing his at your place and the other fellow that was with him, if his creature was proven away he did not steal it but bought of the Creeks, therefore I think the owner ought to pay one half the value.
If they are found pray have them sent to the Hanging Maws. This is all at present from Your Friend & Brother The Bloody Fellow– To his Excellency Gov. Blount
1792 Bloody Fellow to Governor Blount 10th September 1792
Having forwarded this and one other letter, which they hoped would prevent Governor Blount from sending any troops to the relief of the Cumberland, the Indians hastened to take possession of the main roads leading to the Mero District (the Superior Court district that served the Cumberland frontier).
Blount’s desire for peace and his faith in Watts led him straight into the trap. On September 14 he ordered the Knox Regiment and the Mero Brigade to disband; but when four days later he heard, much to his chagrin, that a large force of Indians was crossing the Tennessee, he ordered John Sevier to augment by sevenfold the number of militia companies in the Washington District.
General Robertson, meanwhile, shared none of Blount’s faith in Watts. The reports from Richard Finnelson and Joseph De Raque only supported his undying suspicions of Watts, Bloody Fellow, Glass and any other savage. He had ignored Blount’s order to disband the Mero Brigade.
“Origins of National Indian Policy,” by Cynthia Cumfer, Journal of the Early Republic, 23 (Spring 2003)
Tecumseh: A Life, by John Sugden,Henry Holt and Company, NY, 1998
Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 16, No. 1, March, 1938, EASTERN CHEROKEE CHIEFS, By John P. Brown
Bloody Fellow original letter: James Robertson Papers/University of Tennessee Libraries (Knoxville, Tennessee)
The Appalachian Frontier: America’s First Surge Westward, by John Anthony Caruso, University of Tennesse Press, 2003
History of Middle Tennessee: Or Life and Times of General James Robertson, by A.W. Putnam, 1859
Considering one of history’s mysteries: whether a Cherokee operative betrayed his people at the Battle of Buchanan’s Station — and saved Nashville, by Betsy Phillips, September 27, 2012, NashvilleScene.com