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Oconee Joe: The Oconee Wars, Samuel Dale

My newest article is a bit different in the way I present the history of the Oconee River. It is set during the contentious period known as the Oconee Wars. I felt that there was no better explanation than from the direct recollections of someone that lived during this time. This particular piece is the true story of Samuel Dale. Much of this first person account is pulled from a memoir of Samuel Dale's life, titled The Life and Times of Gen. Sam Dale, written by J. F. H. Claiborne. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. It was composed during his later years and was published in 1860, nineteen years after his death. This served as my primary source of information although I cross referenced much of the timeline of the Oconee Wars with other historical accounts, records, and writings. I quoted much of his tale from the original text, and elaborated the story only to clarify certain phrases or historical contexts and to set up this time period for potential future articles. The perspective is his and offers a look into the complex life and death politics that played out along the lawless frontier just after the Revolutionary War. Sides were ultimately chosen with the Oconee River creating a physical boundary. It became violent, and deadly. Mistrust, lack of communication, cultural conflicts, and political agendas of newly formed governments created an air of paranoia and a fragile existence along the Georgian Frontier. I believe there are many parallels that we can relate in our own society today. I sincerely hope the readers will enjoy this fascinating tale. - Oconee Joe, February, 2, 2020

Samuel Dale and his horse, Thunder. (J. F. H. Claiborne, 1860)

I was a boy, but already felt a man grown as we traveled south. Such was the spirit of many of our youth that grew up during those years. At age eleven, my family removed from Virginia to the vicinity of Greensborough, Georgia. Though I was forced to ride in the wagon much of the way, I witnessed a vast frontier of woods and waters. Father had anticipated a more tranquil settlement than we had suffered along the Clinch River during the War. It was toward the end of 1783 when we came to the waters of the Oconee.

We were still establishing ourselves with a cabin and clearing land, when the Creeks, and even occasional Cherokee out of the North, began to make incursions and challenge our stay. It was then, the whole of our community were compelled to seek shelter at Carmichael’s Station, a private fort built near what some people call Watson’s Springs today.

I remember distinctly, when I finally trudged my few belongings and my father’s only hog into the center of the station. I was sorely disappointed in what our defense consisted of... These forts were merely a number of log cabins built around a small square. Some forts had the mushroom shaped blockhouse in the center of the square or built into the angle of the fort, with larger ones having both types of defenses. Ours had neither. Beyond, out past the muddy yard around the cabins, was a palisade of small timbers where chickens wandered and dogs shit.

Our strength was not in the fortifications, however, but in our numbers. The number of people determined to survive. The number of people determined to establish a life of their own choosing. The number of people simply unwilling to leave a newfound territory. All the while, the Old Ones of the First People refused to fade or scatter.

Thirty families had forted at Carmichael’s. Like most of the men living there, one of our best from Carmichael’s Station was a War of Independence veteran. Captain John Autrey. Together he and father divided a few other men folk and went out in squads to look after their cattle. Others hunted for game. Mostly, we went to till our fields of corn. It was corn that sustained the first White man. Just as it had the Indian for thousands of generations before.

But the law of crying the Blood Revenge had been declared by many of the Creek villages long before we had arrived and tried to make a go on those river bottoms. Their clan-based ways had a justice system that came from religious requirements of balance, from the outer cosmos down into their own savage heart. If a person had been inflicted pain, injury, or death the maternal clan kin were responsible for restoring spiritual balance by causing an equal infliction of pain or death, though material goods often satisfied too. Their notions of justice, however, were not our own, and conflicts between us and them went unresolved. The Georgia government’s treaties of Augusta, Galphinton, and Shoulderbone, were even more of an insult to both the Indian and Georgian living along the Oconee River. Border raids and patrols intensified...

In the dead of night we were startled by awful yells and a blaze of light! The Indians had silently approached, and brought fire concealed inside a cow’s horn. There, they applied embers to the corn shucks then retreated to the corner in the fort where they found our hogs had squeezed through a gap in the logs.

My father and mother each seized a rifle and stood in the door. They ordered my brother and myself to keep the fort between the Indians and us and put the fire out if possible. We ran to the corn-pen, and pulled down the rails. The high pile of corn slipped down on the blazing shucks, smothering them. Seeing this, the Indians retreated, but not until two of their party had been killed by shots from the different cabins. They then set fire to an outbuilding stored with flax. Dark silhouettes showed in force against the flames. They had regrouped and stood grim shouting their war-yelps. But our women had put on hats and overcoats and with our men turned out too with firearms. Deceived by this appearance of strength, the Indians retired.

Map of the Oconee River area (Captain Jonas Fauche, 1792)

A few days after the station attack, Captain Autrey made the solemn decision to set off and test the countryside. He took his farm hands out to strip fodder, and while scouting around in the field, they were ambushed. The hands made it back but Captain Autrey had stayed and fought. The men went out looking for him the next morning. We knew of his prowess in battle and most felt his chances were good to have survived or even beaten the Indians down. Father let me accompany the party on my first pony named Thunder. Oh how brave I rode until we finally came to the slaughter.

We found him sitting under the big oak in the middle of the field. All there that day said Captain Autrey had fought well. Blood stains filled the ruts in the field. At least two Indians had been carried off probably to die. Blood ran and watered roots. He had been tomahawked. Then they had scalped him. His torso had been cut open. They had hung his bowels around the lower branches of the old tree. Two redtail hawk feathers were tied to a limb with Indian rope. They fluttered in the cold day. We buried him where he died. I remember the defiance on that man’s anguished face of ash. It was left on every man’s face that day. That face was now worn along both sides of that boundary river.

Oconee Joe has lived along the Oconee River for over 10,000 years. The River is his Mother, the Land his Father. You can continue to read about Oconee Joe, his guided trips and explorations along our local river, here at Classic City News.

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