An episode of the Creek Indian War, November 12, 1813. Following Fort Mims massacre, numerous depredations were made by Indians throughout the entire settled sections of the country, temporary forts were erected, and a general unrest prevailed. However, events were slowly maturing for relief. Among the settlers themselves, brave and adventurous spirits rallied the people, and many thrilling examples of daring are recorded.
Capt. Samuel Dale organized a scouting party and set out from Fort Madison toward the river to drive out the Indians. During the first day, many traces of the latter had been found about the abandoned plantations.
The next day the party marched to Brazier’s Landing (now French’s), and at night crossed over to the eastern bank. Jerry Austill and some others were directed to row the canoes up stream. He reached Randon’s plantation ahead of those on the shore.
As they advanced Capt. Dale and his company encountered a number of Indians, who retreated under a hot fire. The entire command then crossed to the west bank, except Capt. Dale and eleven others. Just as they were preparing something to eat, a canoe of eleven warriors swept down the stream apparently with the intention of joining a number of other Indians, in order to attack from the rear. Dale and some of his party opened fire upon the boatload of savages, but without injury. About this time two of the Indians swam ashore higher up. One was killed by James Smith.
Dale then ordered the larger canoe brought across. Eight men started over but turned back on seeing the number in the Indian canoe. This exasperated Dale,and he sprang into the smaller boat followed by Smith and Jerry Austill. A negro of the party, named Caesar, was already in the boat, and by Dale’s direction, he rapidly paddled the canoe towards the Indians. Within twenty yards the Americans rose for a broadside, but only Smith’s gun fired, as the priming of the other two had been dampened by the water from the river. Caesar courageously pushed the boat alongside the Indians and bravely held them together during the rest of the engagement. When the canoes were about to meet prow to prow, the chief recognized Dale and shouted in English, “Now for it, Big Sam.”
Instantly both parties were in a fierce combat, mainly with clubbed guns. Because of the crowded boat, the Indians were a little at a disadvantage although they fought viciously. Austill struck at the chief with his gun, but without effect. At the same moment, the clubbed rifles of Smith and Dale came down on his head causing instant death. The rifle barrel in hand.
Dale fought with demon-like fury. Austill and Smith fought with equal valor, and although they were badly bruised and had several contused wounds, the three white men and Caesar all escaped, while their nine antagonists were destroyed. One Indian had fallen into the river during the combat, and the others were then thrown overboard. According to witnesses, Dale’s men cheered as the bodies of the dead warriors were cast into the river. The expedition then marched to Cornell’s Ferry, but later returned to Fort Madison.
Samuel Dale’s leading role in the ‘Canoe Fight’ attained hero status, making him as legendary to early Alabamians as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett were to Kentuckians and Tennesseans, respectively. Dale went on to serve as a delegate in the convention that divided the Mississippi Territory into Alabama and Mississippi, represented Monroe County for several years in the Alabama General Assembly, and was conferred the rank of brigadier general in the Alabama militia. He later moved to Lauderdale County in Mississippi, where he died in 1841.
After the Creek War, Jeremiah Austill clerked in his uncle’s store in St. Stephens, served as Clerk of the Mobile County Court, represented Mobile in the state legislature, commenced a business as a commission merchant, and ran a plantation on the Tombigbee River.
Austill lived and worked for many years on his plantation where he died in 1879 at the age of 86. Very little is known about James Smith other than he was a native of Georgia and took part in several frontier expeditions that involved skirmishes with Indians during the Creek War. Smith moved to Mississippi after the war where he lived until his death.
- Pickett’s History of Alabama (Owen ed. 1900), pp. 560-573; Brewer, Alabama (1873), p. 435; Halbert and Ball, Creek War of 1X13 awi 181.}, (1895), pp. 229-240; Hamilton, Colonial Mobile (1910), p. 422; Alabama Historical Reporter, Aug., 1884, vol. 2; Arts, 1821, p. 115.
- DuBose, John Campbell. Sketches of Alabama History. Philadelphia: Eldredge & Brother, 1901.
- Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H., The Creek War of 1813 and 1814, ed. Frank L. Owsley, Jr. 1895. Reprint, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1995.
- Pickett, Albert James. History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi From the Earliest Period. 1851. Reprint, Birmingham, Ala.: Birmingham Book and Magazine Co., 1962.