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Nathaniel Pryor: the Unsung Veteran of the Battle of New Orleans

March 4, 2015 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Native American History

Three Forks area where Nathaniel Pryor had his trading post for the Osage Nation

Three Forks area where Nathaniel Pryor had his trading post for the Osage Nation



Among the American soldiers in the Battle of New Orleans, Capt. Nathaniel Pryor is one whose name shows up in no histories of that great battle. Oddly, Capt. Pryor, who served in the 44th Infantry under Col. George T. Ross, never received his rightful credit for participating, or even any special notice by Gen. Andrew Jackson. Pryor, of Virginia and Kentucky, is better known as one of the men who accompanied Meriwether Lewis and George Clark on their exploratory expedition of the Louisiana Purchase lands to the Pacific Ocean and back in 1804-1806.

He had joined the 44th Infantry Regiment August 30, 1813, as a first lieutenant, but did not go to New Orleans until September of that year. By Oct.1, 1814, he was promoted to captain, the highest post he would attain before he was honorably discharged June 15, 1815.

During the Battle of New Orleans, Capt. Pryor fought in the center of Line Jackson alongside his brothers, James Pryor and Robert Lewis Pryor, who had come to New Orleans with the Kentucky soldiers. They were placed alongside sharpshooters from Kentucky and Tennessee. Other Pryor relatives also were there, including his cousins Nathaniel Floyd, Thomas Floyd Smith and William Floyd Turley.

Pryor came to New Orleans late in 1813 from St. Louis, where he had earlier served as a special agent working for his old leader, Missouri Territory Governor Clark. He had done a secretive spying mission for Clark on Tecumseh’s camp at Prophetstown in 1811, and his report alerted Clark and Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison about the rapid advances Tecumseh was making in gathering various tribes to his cause against the white settlers. Pryor’s report was directly responsible for spurring Harrison and US forces to attack the Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe in Indiana, when they burned Prophetstown to the ground in November 1811. Although Tecumseh was absent from that battle and soon rallied back, Harrison regarded the conflict as a success, and his name was so tied to it that Tippecanoe was used as a campaign slogan in his later successful bid for the US presidency.

After his discharge from the 44th, Pryor went to the Mississippi River trading center of Arkansas Post, where he operated a business with Samuel Richards for a time. After he won a permit to trade with the Osage Nation in 1817, he proceeded up the Arkansas River to the Three Forks area of the Verdigris, Neosho, and Arkansas watershed confluence, and set up a small trading post just above the mouth of the Verdigris River.

While at the Three Forks, he became friends with a fellow Indian trader, the legendary Sam Houston, during Houston’s days with the Cherokees at Wigwam Neosho. When an opening came up at the Indian Agency near Ft. Gibson, Pryor asked Houston to recommend him for the position. Houston sent letters to both Secretary of War Jonathan H. Eaton, and his old friend, Jackson, then the president of the United States.

On Dec. 15, 1830, Houston wrote from his home at the Wigwam Neosho, almost directly across from Ft. Gibson. He implored both Eaton and President Jackson to recognize Pryor’s past service to the country by awarding him the appointment as sub agent for the Osage Nation.

He reminded Jackson that Pryor served under him at the Battle of New Orleans as a captain in the 44th Regiment: “…a ‘braver’ man never fought under the wings of your Eagle. He has done more to tame and pacificate the dispositions of the Osages to the whites, and surrounding Tribes of Indians than all other men, and has done more in promoting the authority of the U. States and compelling the Osages to comply with demands from Colonel Arbuckle than any person could have supposed.”

“Capt. Pryor is a man of amiable character and disposition__of fine sense strict honor__perfectly temperate, in his habits__and unremitting in his attention to business,” wrote Houston.

Houston added on his last visit to Washington, D.C., Sec. of War Eaton had assured him that Pryor’s claim for the subagency post with the Osage Nation would be considered, yet another man was appointed, and Pryor was passed by.

“He (Pryor) is poor, having been twice robbed by Indians of furs and merchandise some ten years since…” wrote Houston. He stressed that the claim of Pryor to the subagency appointment was “paramount to those of any man within my knowledge, I can not withhold a just tribute of regard.”

Others also were struck by Capt. Pryor’s situation. General Thomas James, who met Pryor in August 1821 along the Arkansas near the present-day site of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was quite impressed by him, and disgusted by his poor recompense for past service.

“On the reduction of army after the war, he was discharged to make way for some parlor soldier and sunshine patriot, and turned out in his old age upon the ‘world’s wide common’! I found him among the Osages, with whom he had taken refuge from his country’s ingratitude and was living among them as one of their tribe, where he may yet be, unless death has discharged the debt his country owed him,” wrote James in his autobiographical book “Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans.”

Pryor finally was appointed sub agent for the Osages of the Verdigris on May 7, 1831. The man who had been appointed sub agent for all of the Osage Nation, D.D. McNair, was struck and killed by lightning while riding near his post on Jun 2, 1831. Pryor, who had been ill since December 1830, died June 10, 1831, at age 59 at the Union Mission Indian school located on the Neosho River about 25 miles north of the Three Forks junction.

Although Capt. Pryor never received proper honors from the US government for the roles he played in the Lewis and Clark expedition and Battle of New Orleans, his life was its own reward. He became a part of history the minute he became the first man to sign up for the Corps of Discovery. His brave spirit lives on in his namesake town of Pryor, located in northeastern Oklahoma in Mayes County, and his grave is nearby not far from Pryor Creek.

Money and fame never found Pryor, but he had been wealthy with adventures. He had traveled cross-country into the unknown to help forge a path on a dangerous trip of discovery; successfully spied on Tecumseh and his warring Indian tribes shortly before the War of 1812; nearly been burned alive in his home near Dubuque, Iowa, before escaping and fleeing hostile Indians by successfully jumping across ice floes in the Mississippi River; fought the British and helped win the Battle of New Orleans; pushed to the edges of the southwestern frontier on an expedition to Santa Fe in the early 1820s, and became a friend to the warring Osage Nation of Arkansas Territory. Few have led such a vibrant, action-filled life. Remarkably, he had gone through most of it partially disabled, as during the Lewis and Clark trip, he injured one of his shoulders so severely he had only limited use of one arm for the rest of his life.


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Laffite Talk at Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium Jan. 10, 2015

October 5, 2014 in American History, History, Louisiana History, Native American History, Nautical History

battle of New Orleans

Get your travel plans ready now for the Third Annual Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium slated Jan. 9 and 10,  2015,  at Nunez Community College Auditorium at Chalmette, La., near the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park.

Among featured speakers will be William C. Davis, who will deliver the keynote address about “The Pirates Laffite” at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 10. Davis is the author of  The Pirates Laffite,  the Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, largely regarded as the most definitive biography of the Laffite brothers ever written.

“The actions of Jean and Pierre Laffite immediately before, during, and after the British invasion of 1814-1815 and the Battle of New Orleans, have been the stuff of myth and romance for two centuries.  The result is that most of what Americans think they know of the story is pure invention, or at best garbled tradition laced with bits of fact.  This talk explores the real background of their involvement and carefully follows the documentary trail, such as it is, in some interesting directions that Lyle Saxon and Cecil B. DeMille missed.  As so often with the brothers Laffite, the result is a mixed and still somewhat elusive tale of self-interest, patriotism, and betrayal.”   said Davis regarding his plans for the talk at Nunez.

Director of programs for the Virginia Center for Civil War Studies at  Virginia Tech before his retirement, Davis is a widely sought speaker who has written over 40 books on Civil War and other Southern US history.


Here is the full schedule for the symposium, which will be presented by The Louisiana Institute of Higher Education:


The Third Annual Battle of New Orleans Historical Symposium

January 9th & 10th, 2015 – at the Nunez Community College Auditorium


(You will hear lectures likely on the very spot that soldiers mustered for the Battle – though some comforts have been added in the last 200 years)

Friday, January 9th, 2015

A British Perspective

10:30 to 10:35 am – Welcome – Dr. Samantha Cavell

10:40 to 11:15 am – The Battle: January 8th, the Fateful Day  

Ron Chapman will discuss the Battle, especially the operations on the West Bank.

11:20 to 12:05 pm – Jazz Brunch Demonstrations, exhibits/artifacts, informal interaction

12:10 to 12:45 pm – Cochrane, Tonnant, and the War of 1812: A British Admiral and His French Ship in the American War

William Griffin will deliver a portrait of a dominant yet often dismissed figure in the War of 1812: the honourable Sir Alexander Forester Inglis Cochrane, Knight of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the Red Squadron of His Majesty’s Fleet, Commander in Chief of His Majesty’s Ships & Vessels on the Halifax & Jamaica Sations, as well as of his favourite ship, HMS Tonnant, 80 guns.

12:50 to 1:25 pm – The British Navy – Dr. Samantha Cavell

1:30 to 2:05 pm – What might have happened to America had the British won – Dr. Robert Wettemann, U.S. Air Force Academy Center for Oral History

2:10 to 2:45 pm – Andrew Jackson – Dr. Jason Wiese, Williams Research Center

2:50 to 3:25 pm –Weaponry in the Battle-Philip Schreier, National Firearms Museum

3:30 to 4:05 p.m.-History of the 44th Regiment of Infantry from Activation to Consolidation 1812-1815)-Harold Youman

4:10 to 4:15 p.m.-Closing Remarks-Curtis Manning

All events, including the Jazz Brunches, are free and open to the public. At 3710 Paris Rd., Chalmette, LA. Parking is nearby and free. Contact Curtis Manning (504 512 5120 / for details

Saturday, January 10th, 2015  

An American Perspective

10:30 to 10:40 am – Welcome – Martin K. A. Morgan

10:40 to 11:15 am – St. Bernard Parish in 1815 – Dr. Christina Vella

11:20 to 12:05 pm – Jazz Brunch Demonstrations, exhibits/artifacts, informal interaction, book-signings

12:10 to 12:45 pm– Locals & the land (Chalmette, Denis de La Ronde and Villere)-William Hyland

12:50 to 1:25 pm – Kentuckians – Eddie Price

1:30 to 2:30 pm –Keynote Address – Pirates Laffite – William Davis

2:35 to 3:10 pm – Free People of Color & Slaves – Dr. Ina Fandrich

3:15 to 3:50 pm – The Experience of Defeat: the Influence of the Battle on Post-War National Defense Planning

Martin K. A. Morgan will compare the construction of the U.S. 3rd System of Fortifications after the War of 1812 to the construction of the French Maginot Line after World War I and argue that, in both cases, the experience of defeat led swiftly to a frontier-oriented defensive posture that was both costly and ineffective

3:55 to 4:00 pm – Closing Remarks – Curtis Manning





Capt. Percy’s Folly at Fort Bowyer

September 14, 2014 in American History, general history, History, Louisiana History, Native American History



This shows the first battle of Fort Bowyer, with positions of the ships. The Anaconda shown is not correct: this ship was the Childers.

This shows the first battle of Fort Bowyer, with positions of the ships. The Anaconda shown is not correct: this ship was the Childers.

Young British Capt. William H. Percy found himself in dire straits on the afternoon of  Sept. 15, 1814. His ship, the sixth rate class HMS Hermes, was mired for the second time that day on a sand bar in shoal water within 150 yards of  Fort Bowyer near Mobile Bay, and the Americans at the fort were taking full advantage of the ship’s predicament, mercilessly strafing it with grape shot, langrege and musket fire.

To Percy’s horror, plans for an easy British attack on the fort had gone terribly awry, thanks to almost no wind, a shot to the anchor line, shallower water than expected,  and the fact that the American fort’s 130 defenders led by Major William Lawrence were much better entrenched and armed than earlier British spying missions had forecast.

More than a third of Percy’s men were casualties of the devastating raking ammo, which ripped sails into rags, and strafed all the rigging of the Hermes. There was only one way out to avoid more loss of British lives: Capt. Percy had to disembark everyone, then personally set fire to his own ship, which blew up a few hours later as the flames hit the powder magazine. Perhaps due to the thick barrage, no attempt seems to have been made to spike any of the Hermes’ 22 guns; a few of the cannons were salvaged later by Lawrence and his men.

The rest of the four-ship British squadron couldn’t save the Hermes as, with the exception of the HMS Sophie under Capt. Nicholas Lockyer, a contrary wind and strong tide prevented them from getting close enough to effectively fire back at the fort. The Sophie, like the flagship Hermes, suffered damage while firing some broadsides at the fort, but the Sophie managed to tack away out of range of the worst of it. The captains and crews of HMS Carron and HMS Childers, and the land forces of the Royal Colonial Marines and some 600 Indians on Mobile Point could only watch in dismay as the Hermes was battered.  An earlier foray from the land side by the Marines and Indians, armed with a Howitzer, had seen but little success on the fort’s flank due to the Americans’ secured entrenchment even on the weak side.

British plans for a great victory which would lead them to an easy route to Baton Rouge and control of the Mississippi River had literally blown up in their faces.

As a result of his actions, Percy faced a tense court-martial Jan. 18, 1815, onboard the HMS Cydnus off Cat Island. Presiding was Edward Codrington, rear admiral of the White, captain of the Fleet, and third officer in command of His Majesty’s ships and vessels in the Gulf of Mexico. Percy was exonerated for destroying his own ship at a critical time in the Gulf Coast campaign, but he would never again be entrusted as captain of any ship. He had torched his own naval career at the same time that he torched his ship.

The HMS Hermes (large ship) is shown in battle with a French ship in 1811.

The HMS Hermes (large ship) is shown in battle with a French ship in 1811.

The primary evidence at the court-martial was Percy’s Sept. 16, 1814 letter to Vice Admiral A. Cochrane, a lengthy and detailed account of what happened during the whole action to try to seize control of Fort Bowyer.

“Having embarked Brevet Lieut. Col. Nicolls and his detachment of Marines and Indians…, on the 11th instant I left this Port (Pensacola) in company with His Majesty’s Ships Carron and Childers and off the entrance of it fell in with and took with me His Majesty’s Sloop Sophie, Capt. Lockyer, returning from Barataria…acquainting me with the ill success of his mission (to enlist Laffite and the use of his light draft schooners in the attack on Mobile).

On the evening of the  12th I landed Lieut. Col. Nicolls with his party about 9 miles to the Eastward of Fort Bowyer and proceeded .. off the Bar of Mobile, which we were prevented from passing by contrary winds until the afternoon of the 15th, during which time the Enemy had an opportunity of strengthening themselves, which we perceived them doing; having reconnoitred in the  Boats within half a mile of the Battery. I had previously communicated to the Captains of the Squadron the plan of attack, and at 2:30 p.m. on the abovementioned day having a light breeze from the Westward I made the Signal for the Squadron to weigh, and at 3:10 passed the Bar in the following line of Battle: Hermes, Sophie, Carron & Childers.

At 4:16 the Fort commenced firing, which was not returned until 4:30 when being within Pistol shot of it, I opened my broadside, and anchored by the Head and Stern, at 4:40 the  Sophie having gained her station did the same; at this time the wind, having died away and a strong ebb tide having made, notwithstanding their exertions, Captains Spencer (Carron) and Umfreville (Childers)  finding their ships losing ground, and that they could not possibly be brought into their appointed stations, anchored, but too far off to be of any great assistance to the Hermes or Sophie, against whom the great body of the fire was directed. At 5:30 the bow spring (cable) being shot away, the Hermes swung with Head to the Fort and grounded, whence she laid exposed to a severe raking fire, unable to return except with one carronade and the small arms in the Tops; at 5:40 finding the Ship floated forward, I ordered the small bower cable to be cut, and the Spanker to be set, there being a light wind to assist, with the intention of bringing the Larboard Broadside to bear, and having succeeded in that, I let go the Best bower anchor to steady the ship forward and recommenced the Action.

At 6:10 finding that we made no visible impression on the Fort, and having lost a considerable number of our Men and being able only occasionally to fire a few guns on the larboard side in consequence of the little effect the light wind had on the ship, I cut the cables and springs and attempted to drop clear of the fort with the strong tide then running, every sail having been rendered perfectly unserviceable and all the rigging being shot away, in doing which, unfortunately His Majesty’s ship again grounded with her Stern to the Fort.

There being now no possibility of returning an effective fire from the ship I made the Signal No. 203, it having been already arranged that the storming parties destined to have acted in conjunction with the forces landed under Lieut. Col. Nicolls were to assemble on board the Sophie to put themselves under the orders of Captain Lockyer. While they were assembling Captains Lockyer and Spencer came on board the Hermes, and on my desiring their opinion as to the probable result of an attempt to escalade the fort, they both agreed that it was impracticable under existing circumstances (at the same time offering their services to lead the party if it should be sent) In this opinion I (concurred) with them.

The Ship being entirely disabled and there being no possibility to move her from the position in which she lay exposed I thought it unjustifiable to expose the remaining men to the showers of grape and langrege incessantly poured in, and Captains Lockyer and Spencer who saw the state of the ship at the same time giving it as their decided opinions that she could not by any means be got off, I determined to destroy her and ordered Captain Lockyer to return to the Sophie and send the boats remaining in the squadron to remove the wounded and the rest of the crew and to weigh; at the same time I made the signal for the squadron to prepare to do so. The crew being removed and seeing the rest of the squadron under weigh, at 7:20 assisted by M.A. Matthews 2nd Lieutenant (Mr. Maingy, 1st Lieut having been ordered away to take charge of the people) I performed the painful duty of setting fire to His Majestys Ship.

I then went on board the Sophie and finding it impossible to cross the bar in the night, I anchored the ships about 1 ½ mile from the Fort, and at 10 I had the melancholy satisfaction of seeing His Majestys ship blow up in the same place in which I left her.

The squadron having during the night partly repaired the damages in their rigging, at daylight I took them out of the bar having previously communicated with the Commanding Officer of the detachment on shore, and desired that he would fall back upon bon secour.

Altho this attack has unfortunately failed, I should be guilty of the greatest injustice did I not acquaint you sir of the high sense I entertain of the intrepidity and coolness displayed throughout this action by the officers, petty officers and crew of His Majestys late ship Hermes, from Mr. Peter Maingy the 1st Lieut. I received the greatest assistance, and I beg to mention the activity and good conduct of M. Alfred Mathews 2nd Lieut.; in Mr. Pyne the late Master (who fell early in the action) the service has sustained a severe loss.

Lieut. Col. Nicolls having been seriously ill on shore had been removed to the Hermes and was on board during the Action; it is almost unnecessary for me to mention of him that he was actively assisting on deck, to which post he returned, after a severe wound which he had received in the Head had been dressed.

W.H. Percy, Captain”

Nicolls had been especially unlucky that day. He had been charged with leading his Royal Colonial Marines and the Indians on a land attack toward the rear of the fort, but a severe attack of dysentery sent him early to the Hermes for treatment from the ship’s surgeon, and while he was watching the action from its deck, a stray splinter from a fire of grapeshot hit him in the head and cost him the sight in one eye.

The “butcher’s bill” of the British side was 232, with 162 of that number killed: the Americans, by contrast, had only eight casualties, with four killed. The Hermes’ surgeon’s report reflects the gruesome nature of the wounds: Edward Hall, 34, landsman, left hand torn off by a cannon ball; William James, 16, struck on left knee with a cannon ball, leg amputated on HMS Carron; Walter Price, wounded in the head by grapeshot while serving on the HMS Sophie, died 15 days later. Many of the wounded survived amputations only to die a few days later from tetanus, according to the surgeon’s notes.

Born in 1788, Percy was the sixth son of Algernon Percy, the first Earl of Beverley, and started his naval career in 1801. He was promoted to commander in 1810, with his first ship being the HMS Mermaid in 1811. At that time, he transported troops beween Britain and Iberia during the Peninsular War. He was made post captain on March 21, 1812. His last (and only second) command was the HMS Hermes, which he assumed in April, 1814. After that ship’s destruction, Percy carried back to Britain the dispatches announcing the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans. From 1818-1826, Percy was active in politics as the Tory MP for Stamford, Lincolnshire. Later, he was made a rear admiral on the retired list in 1846.

Historian Arsene Lacarriere Latour, writing in 1815, summed up Percy’s misadventure best with this eloquent assessment:

“Instead of the laurels he was so confident of gathering, he carried off the shame of having been repulsed by a handful of men, inferior by nine-tenths to the forces he commanded. Instead of possessing himself of an important point, very advantageous for the military operations contemplated by his government, he left under the guns of fort Bowyer the wrecks of his own vessel, and the dead bodies of one hundred and sixty-two of his men. Instead of returning to Pensacola in triumph, offering the Spaniards, as a reward for their good wishes and assistance, a portion of the laurels obtained, and the pleasure of seeing the American prisoners he was confident of taking, he brought back to that port, which had witnessed his extravagant boasting, nothing but three shattered vessels full of wounded men.”


For further reading:

Latour, Arsene Lacarriere. Historical Memoir of the War in West Florida and Louisiana in 1814-15, with an Atlas, Expanded Edition, edited by Gene A. Smith, The Historic New Orleans Collection and University of Florida, 1999.




Huron or Wyandot Mythology and Cosmogonic Myths

July 27, 2014 in Native American History

After having written of the New Madrid earthquake of 1811, Tecumseh, and the Native American prophecies, it comes to my mind that many people are not aware of the multitude of native peoples’ oral history histories when it comes to cosmogonic  theories or creation myths.  It should also not surprise anyone that virtually all indigenous peoples had a vast knowledge of basic astronomy, yet apparently it does.  The studies and explanations of the origin of the universe, the solar system, and the earth moon system, have been handed down for generations in indigenous tribes on the American continent.  Their native education in such matters began in early childhood.   This fact alone should make Native American prophecies a little less mysterious.

It is well known that Tecumseh had an unusual education, mingled with white settlers, and traveled extensively.  Certainly he owed some of his education due to the tutelage from Rebecca Galloway.  It’s also been speculated that he must have had access to an almanac, which could be true in relationship to his prophecies of both the Great Earthquake of 1811 and the Great Comet of 1812.  However, what’s not been talked about, is the role of  Native American oral traditions and native knowledge of the natural world played in his prophecies.  Tecumseh, the great leader of the Shawnee and the Tecumseh Confederacy, was not the only native leader who possessed great knowledge on such matters.  The average white colonists and invaders, however, often didn’t possess the same education.   Yet, even with shared knowledge of history, the versions of reality are tested in the telling of the same stories by different peoples.  White settlers did not appreciate what they did not understand or ever heard.  Their history and the history of native peoples merged at times, but there is a great divide in  viewpoint of history and the temptation of revisionist views.  Since recording history is akin to walking a tight rope over Niagara Falls, we’ve failed to bridge the gap of accepting alternative history of other cultures and understanding those differences.

As a direct descendant of Catherine Annennontak, daughter of Jeanne Otrihoandit and Nicolas Arendanki, all of which were Ouendat (aka Ouendanke, Huron, Wendake, or Wyandot), my family owes much to a certain Jesuit missionary priest and those who followed him, who faithfully recorded the history of the Huron/Wendake people starting in 1637.  Father Paul Ragueneau, Society of Jesus, preserved both the oral history and many of the myths of the Huron Wendake tribes.  Of great interest to this eventual Superior of the Huron mission in Quebec, were the beliefs, myths, and cosmogonic myths of his mission charges.  He had been sent to Huron country in 1637.  He arrived during very troubled times of epidemics, violence, horrific hardships, famine, wars, martyrdom, emigration and eventual resettlement of the Hurons.  Back then, likeTecumseh, their elders, shamans, and chiefs learned first hand of their cosmogonic and etiological myths and passed them on.  Only the priest and other lay people around him, took the trouble and had the ability to record many of them.

Father Paul Ragueneau was charged with the conversion to Catholicism of what the French viewed as savage peoples living in ignorance.  In his writings, he quite readily acknowledged his respect for his converted flock and their heritage and his awe of their oral traditions and myths.  Along with other Jesuit priests and laymen that would come after him, they would come to understand that traditional native people stories needed to be protected, recorded, and understood.  He personally took great offense to some missionaries and settlers mixing too much in indian affairs.  He mastered their language. He masterminded their escape and survival from the Iroquois, as they and the French escaped from St. Joseph’s Island to Quebec.  In his recording of Huron traditions, he noted how some of the Huron disapproved of the French stories on the same subject of the creation of earth.  Intolerance for another’s view point often went both ways.

Huron oral tradition bundle of straw used as an aid in storytelling.

Huron oral tradition bundle of straw used as an aid in storytelling.


“The elders of the country were assembled this winter for the election of the very celebrated Captain.  They were accustomed, on such occasions, to relate the stories which they have learned regarding their ancestors, even those most remote – so that the young people, who were present and hear them, may preserve the memory thereof, and relate them in their turn when they shall have become old.  They do this in order thus to transmit to posterity the history and the annals of the country – striving, by this means, to supply the lack of writing and of books, which they have not. They offer to the person from whom they desire to hear something, a little bundle of straws, a foot long, which serves them as counters for calculating the numbers, and for aiding the memory of those present – distributing in various lots of these same straws, according to the diversity of the things they relate.”

“The turn having come to a Christian old man, to tell what he knew, he begins to narrate the creation of the world, of the Angels, of the Demons, of Heaven and Earth, with a most sagacious reservation, which kept all those present in a state of expectancy; for he was far along in the matter, and still had not yet given the name of the one who had made this great masterpiece.  When he came to name him, and to say that God, whom the Christians adores, was the Creator of the world, the eldest Captain of those present seizes the straws from his hands, imposes silence upon him, and tells him that he does wrong to relate the stories of the French, and not those of the Hurons.  But he says, he is going to relate the pure truth, and how it has happened that the earth, which was submerged in the waters, has been pushed out of them by a certain tortoise of prodigious size, which sustains it and which serves it for support – without which the weight of the earth would again engulf it in the waters, and would cause in this world below a general desolation of all the human race.” — Father Paul Ragueneau, Society of Jesus.


The origins of the Pleiades as told in Wyandot myth.

The origins of the Pleiades as told in Wyandot myth.

Here’s a look at one Huron/Wendake cosmological beliefs that revolves around the star cluster, Pleiades, found within the constellation of Taurus.  This cluster is among the nearest star clusters to Earth and one of the most obvious to the naked eye in the night sky.  The celestial entity has several meanings in different cultures and traditions.  The Sioux, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Hopi, Lakota, Nez Perce, Onondaga, Shasta, and the Cherokee all have quite different stories to tell than the Huron. Similarly,  Homer, in the Iliad and Odyssey had his own story about Pleiades.  Even, the Greeks made them the Seven Sisters who descended from Atlas and Pleione.   Clearly, the pleiades are popular cosmogonic myths with mankind. The Hurons believed the constellation consisted of only six stars.  This is the story Chief Nicolas Arendanki of the Bear Clan likely knew:

The Singing Maidens

“The Sun and his wife, the Moon, had many children.  Among these were six little girls, the daughters of a single birth.  They were beautiful, kind, gentle, and loving children.  They were great favorites in all the heavens for they loved to go about and do good.  In addition to their other accomplishments, they were the sweetest singers and the more tireless and graceful dancers in all the sky-land.  They were called the Singing Maidens.

These sweet singers often looked down to this world.  They had compassion on the Wyandots when game was scarce, when the corn was blasted, when famine threatened.  One day they said to their father, the Sun:

“Let us go down to visit the Wyandots on the Great Island.  We wish to sing and dance in that land.”

The Sun said in reply, to his daughters, the Singing Maidens:

“I forbid your going down to the Great Island to sing for man.  Remain in your own house.  Be content with the heavens.”

But when the Sun was gone to give light and heat to the Great Island, these Children of the Light, the Singing Maidens, went abroad.  They looked down on the Great Island.

They saw the Wyandot villages almost concealed by the beautiful woods on the banks of the lake.  The glittering waves rolled in upon the pebble-strewn beach.  The blue waters reflected the autumn-colored woods.  The gulls, geese, and swans floated at rest on the bosom of the lake, or soared lazily aloft.  The great crane waded and fished among the water-lilies.  Little children ran from the village down to the beaten shores.  They were merry on the yellow sands.  They swam and splashed in the brilliant waters.  Mermaids were not more lovely than these simple children of the forest playing upon the shores of the lovely lake on the Great Island.  This enchanting scene moved the Singing Maidens to ecstasy.  They cried out:

“Here is a more beautiful land than can be found in the sky.  Why should we be restrained from visiting it?  Let us now go down and dance with those happy children, and sing among the beautiful trees on the shore of the bright lake.”

Then the Singing Maidens came down to the shining sands on the lakeshore.  they sang for the happy children and danced upon rippling waters.  The children were charmed with the Maidens.  They clapped their hands.  They sang for joy.  They ran and danced along the wooded banks.

The music of the Maidens and the sounds of the merry making children floated through the great trees to the Wyandot villages.  The people stood entranced.  They said to each other:  “What music is this?  We have not heard before so lovely a song.  Let us see who visits our children.”  And they went to towards the lake shore.

When they saw the Singing Maidens, the Black Cloud of the Little Turtle overshadowed the land.  The voice of Heh-noh, the Grandfather of the Wyandots, rolled over the lake in thunder tones.  It was the Keeper of the Heavens come to carry up the truant Singing Maidens.

The Sun was very angry with his daughters for their disobedience.  He said to them:

“I will give you a place so far away that you can never again visit the Great Island.”

Then he placed them in a distant circuit so far away in the land of the sky that their bright and shining faces can scarcely be seen.  They look with love down to the land of man, where once they sang on the billowy lake and danced with happy children on the shining shore.

And the Indian mother says yet to her child in the calm and silent twilight, “Be quiet and sit here at my feet.  Soon we shall hear the Singing Maidens as they dance among the leaves of the trees.”


Mary McKee, (Ta re ma) Huron/Wendake story teller of the Bear Clan (b. 1838)

Thinking upon that story, it seems that a likely connection in the myths of one this Huron tribe is that their children and subsequent generations, grew up remembering the stories while looking about and observing all that the earth and the universe had to offer them.  One can’t help but wonder, if this natural connection is what’s often missing from the accounts of invading peoples who failed to incorporate a wonderment and appreciation for the earth and stars above them?  Shawnee Tecumseh knew it.  Father Ragueneau understood it.  Have the elders of our modern world failed to teach our own children the stories that would keep them looking far beyond the myths of their childhood, and endeavor to be both life long stewards of earth and seekers of the science of the universe?





The Red Stick Creeks and the Great Earthquakes of 1811 and 1812

July 16, 2014 in Native American History

Without exception every historical event has a backstory and several other backstories within it.  That’s certainly true with many of the Native American stories that often fail to get told from their perspective.  This is the story of the Red Creek Red Stick tribe decision making process when they joined in the War of 1812 and the role certain natural phenomena that played a backstory in their history.

Hidden Backstory

On the eve of the War of 1812, white settlers were increasingly encroaching upon Native American lands as they cut and cleared trees and built villages.  Capitalizing on the deep resentment many tribes felt in regards to this, the British had already given Shawnee leader, Chief Tecumseh, guns and ammo to fight the Americans in an effort to get the various tribes to join on their side.  Tecumseh and his brother Prophet Tenskawatawa went a step further and traveled from tribe to tribe trying to unite all Indians into a confederation to fight against the white settlers.

There were sixteen main tribes of native peoples that would become involved in one form or another as the conflict escalated into war.  The main tribes were:  Ojiibwa (Chippewa), Ottawas, Sioux (Santee Sioux), Menominee, Winnebago, Shawnee, Potawatomi, Creeks (Muscogee Creeks, Red Sticks, White Sticks), Seminoles, Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Salk (Osakawak) and the Fox (Meskawakie).  Not all of these tribes wanted war. Some pushed for peace, such as Chickasaws and the White Sticks.  However, the Red Sticks for example, wanted to fight the white settlers.  Soon native peoples were also fighting each other; Choctaw Chief Pushmataha led his people against the Red Sticks; the Cherokee and White Sticks joined with the white settlers; and the whole situation spiraled into one big messy war.

Prophecies About Earthquakes and Comets

Chief Tecumseh

Chief Tecumseh

It’s claimed that in 1811, as Chief Tecumseh and his brother contacted other tribes in their efforts to raise a mighty defensive army to do battle against the white settlers trying to take their land, that Tecumseh told the Red Stick Creeks in particular:

“Brothers, the Great Spirit is angry with our enemies.  He speaks in thunder, and the earth swallows up villages, and drinks up the Mississippi.  The great waters cover the lowlands.  Their corn cannot grow.  The Great Spirit will sweep those who escape to the hills from the earth with his terrible breath.”

“Your blood is white!  You do not believe the Great Spirit has sent me.  You shall know.  I leave Tuckabatchee directly, and shall go straight to Detroit.  When I arrive there, I will stamp on the ground with my foot and shake down every house in Tuckabatchee.”

The tribal location of Tuckabatchee was on the Tallapossa River in what is today Alabama.  His audience were the Creek leaders, and his message didn’t go over well at the time. The leader of the Upper Creeks (Red Sticks) was Big Warrior, and he refused to pledge his people into the confederation of native peoples Tecumseh was assembling.   It was Big Warrior that he accused of having white blood.

Great Earthquake of 1811

Imagine his skeptical audience’s surprise when on December 16, 1811, exactly when he arrived in Detroit, that the first of two a strong earthquakes shook the ground. Actually, these two earthquakes that hit the same day were so intense, that they are still considered the most powerful earthquakes to hit the Eastern United States in history.  It’s believed the first quake hit at 2:15 a.m. at an estimated strength of 7.2 to 8.1.  Six hours later a second quake of equal force hit the same area again.  These were no ordinary earthquakes.  The epicenter was around what is today New Madrid, Missouri.  They were thought to be felt strongly across 130,000 square miles and moderately for a total of nearly 3 million miles.   The earthquakes were felt as far away as the White House, and it’s said that church bells in Boston rang on their own.  These earthquakes actually altered the landscape so severely, that the Mississippi River momentarily reversed its direction.  It is also believed that over two thousand aftershocks occurred in the months following, five of which were 8.0 or greater in strength.

Massacre at Fort Mims August 1813

Of course, the Red Sticks thought that this was Tecumseh’s signal to start war.  How could they think otherwise?  Such were the calls to action that were based on prophetic insight when the events predicted came true.  His prophecy was a signal to the Red Sticks and other tribes to unite in resisting the European white intruders intent on claiming their lands.

Native People and Prophecy

 It is well known among Native American tribes that the wisdom of ages is passed down from generation to generation.   I don’t think that any of us can definitely prove that there isn’t an ancient science for predicting the future from collective memory of the distant past that was handed down from generations ago.  One can only speculate that Tecumseh knew which natural signs to look for, and there were plenty of natural occurrences during this time period for Tecumseh to draw from.  Native peoples heavily relied upon stories to explain the natural world and its phenomena.  Had he been taught from childhood what to look for? Or had there been a large number of mild or moderate tremors in the region that tipped him off?

Also, it’s no secret that animals and insects do seem to be able to sense such events.  It has scientifically been recorded that catfish behave strangely right before earthquakes.  Chickens have been known to stop laying eggs.  Dogs and cats bark and whine for no apparent reason and other animals show signs of stress before such events.  Are they just simply feeling the “foreshocks” that predict an earthquake?  Could it be that since native peoples are more in tune with nature that Tecumseh was more in tune with what happening in a world that white people did not understand when it came to earthquakes?

The Great Comet of 1812

1812 Comet

How much of an influence of Tecumseh’s prophecy had to do with other unusual phenomena of the time remains unknown.  The Great Comet of 1812 (which was seen for over 260 nights) was so large that it has been estimated to have been over a million miles across, almost fifty percent larger than our own sun.  Since the comet was becoming more visible during the New Madrid earthquakes in December of 1811, arriving almost in conjunction with a fiery comet rushing across the horizon, it must have also struck fear into many native peoples hearts.  After all, wasn’t the comet all part of Chief Tecumseh’s  prophetic prediction of a great fire coming across the sky?

Here too, the ability to predict the future was a part of many Native American tribes, and the Shawnee culture and religion did acknowledge that many of the leaders and medicine men of such tribes could predict the future based on their extensive traditional lore.  Shawnee cosmology dictated that catastrophic things happen when people do not follow the warnings and laws of their given Deities.  Certainly the sanctity of ancestral lands and the obligation to protect them from invaders were in fact, simply common sense to a certain degree.

Muskogee Creeks (Red Sticks) shared very similar belief systems and alliances with the Shawnee.  Both were among the “Five Civilized Tribes.”  When it came to the Red Stick Creeks and the others who joined in the Native American confederation in the War of 1812, it really didn’t matter whether or not Chief Tecumseh and his Prophet brother could actually predict the future — all that was important was that they believed he had been right.  The Great Spirits did indeed seem angry.  Belief in something is sometimes all the power a leader needs to motivate his soldiers in action.

Surprisingly, Tecumseh, although angered when they first refused to join in, needed them as much as they needed his guidance.  The Red Sticks had a long history of being fierce warriors who trained since birth for war.  When Tecumseh lost his life shortly after, the decisions made by those Native American leaders who remained in the war spelled the beginning of the end for America’s native peoples and their way of life.  It also would prove to be the complete loss all their native lands to the invading white settlers and rulers.


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