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Junaluska

Saved the President's life - lived to regret it.

The Indian warrior who saved Andrew Jackson's life and made him a national hero lived to regret it.

His name was Junaluska, a Cherokee chief born near what is now Dillard, Georgia around 1776.  He is the unsung hero of the greatest Indian battle in history.

He made his name and his fame among his own people in the War of 1812 when the mighty tribe of Creek Indians allied themselves with the British against the United States.

With the opening of the Creek War, following the massacre at Fort Mims in Alabama, Junaluska recruited some 800 Cherokee warriors to go to the aid of Andrew Jackson and his Tennessee militia in an advance down the Coosa River against the Creek Red Sticks.

During the waning months of 1813 Jackson's force in northern Alabama had been so reduced by mutinies and expiration of service terms that Jackson was forced to rely more and more upon the Cherokees.

Jackson even employed them to garrison Fort Armstrong, on the upper Coosa, and protect his provision depot. But with the coming of the new year, he received reinforcements from Tennessee, including more Cherokee, and was able to leave his camp on the Coosa and advance on the Creek towns on the Tallapoosa.

Relegating the Cherokee to duties in the rear, Jackson and his Tennessee militia moved like a scythe through the Creek towns. Finally, they halted for a reconnaissance and camped on Emukfaw Creek, on the northern bank of the Tallapoosa, only a short distance from Horseshoe Bend.

There, on the morning of January 24, 1814, they were suddenly attacked by the Creeks.  The attack came with such fury that Jackson, his army badly crippled, was forced to retreat to Fort Strother.  But by March, Jackson was in the saddle again.  This time he was determined to exterminate the Red Sticks.

Word had been fetched by a scout that the Red Sticks were massed behind fortifications at Horseshoe Bend.  Jackson, with an army of 2,000 men, including 500 Cherokee led by Junaluska, set out for the Bend, 70 miles away.

The site of the imminent battle, which would make red heroes as well as white and would go down as the greatest Indian battle in history, was a place the Creeks called Tohopki.

There the Tallapoosa made a bend that enclosed a hundred acres in a narrow peninsula opening to the north.  On the lower side was an island in the river.  Across the neck of the peninsula the Red Sticks had built a strong breastwork of logs.  Behind this breastwork were houses and behind these were dozens of canoes for use if retreat became necessary.
The fort was defended by thousands of warriors. There also were 300 women and children.

The battle, which became a massacre, opened at midmorning on March 27, 1814.  Two cannons opened fire, the balls swooshing through the air to sink into the soft logs of the barricades.  Two hours of heavy cannonading were to no avail.

The Cherokee had been detailed to cross the river at a ford three miles below the fort and surround the bend so that the Creeks could not escape in that direction.  They took position where the Creek fort was separated from them by water.

The battle raged throughout the morning.  There were dead and wounded on both sides. Among the frontiersmen fighting for Jackson were Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, who would go on to write their names in the history books. A few prisoners were brought in and, while officers were attempting to question them in the presence of Jackson, one broke loose, snatched up a knife and lunged for the general.

Junaluska, who had seen the move, stuck out a foot and tripped the Creek warrior, saving Jackson's life. As the battle wore on it became more and more apparent that it was going to be a difficult job to dislodge the Red Sticks, firmly entrenched behind their breastwork of logs.

It was then that Junaluska conceived his brilliant plan.  Without notifying Jackson, he gathered a dozen Cherokee, sneaked to the river's edge behind the fort, plunged into the water and swam over to where the Creek canoes were moored.

Junaluska and his braves freed the canoes and maneuvered them to the opposite bank where other Cherokee warriors piled into them and, under cover of a steady fire from their own companions, returned to the opposite bank, thus breaching the Red Sticks defenses.

This diversion from the rear gave the Tennesseans opportunity to swarm over the breastworks.  Now it was hand to hand fighting.  Amid the smoke from their blazing homes the Red Sticks fell.

When more than half the Creeks lay dead, the rest turned and plunged into the river, only to find the banks on the opposite side lined with blazing guns and escape cut off in every direction.

Of the 1,300 Creeks inside the stockade, including women and children, not more than 20 escaped.  Of 300 prisoners only 3 were men. The Red Stick defenders of Horseshoe Bend had been exterminated.  The result was decisive.  Two weeks later Billy Weatherford, the greatest of the Creek chiefs, surrendered to Jackson.

Thus an end came to the Creek War and freed Jackson to move on to New Orleans against the British. For the first time in a century of war, the Cherokee were allied with the winner.  And they saved the day for Andrew Jackson.
When the battle of Horseshoe Bend was over, Jackson was reported to have told Junaluska:

"As long as the sun shines and the grass grows, there shall be friendship between us, and the feet of the Cherokee shall be toward the east."

In a few short years Junaluska would have occasion to recall those words.  He would recall them with bitterness.  For it was not long until Jackson was in the White House and had set about to remove all the Cherokee to new homes in the West.

When the great removal of the Cherokee began, Junaluska said:  "If I had known Jackson would drive us from our homes, I would have killed him that day at the Horseshoe."
Junaluska was among the Cherokee removed to the West.  But he returned to the mountains of his birth in 1842, walking all the way from what is now Oklahoma.

And when he returned, the state of North Carolina stepped in and recognized the debt that America owed him.  By a special act of the state legislature in 1847, North Carolina conferred upon him the right of citizenship and granted him a tract of land at what is now Robinsville in Graham County.
Junaluska died there in 1858 and was buried on a hill above the town where, in 1910, the Daughters of the American Revolution erected a monument to his memory.

The script on the bronze plaque, bolted to a great hunk of native stone, says in part:

"Here lies the bodies of the Cherokee Chief, Junaluska, and Nicie, his wife.  Together with his warriors he saved the life of General Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, and for his bravery and faithfulness North Carolina made him a citizen and gave him land in Graham County."

Other Web Links Referencing Junaluska

The Junaluska Memorial & Museum
Junaluska
Chief Junaluska

 

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