An account recorded in Tennessee, the Volunteer State.
During the Chickasaw invasion of the Cumberland extending from the summer of 1780 until the beginning of the year 1781, the Chickamaugas were not idle. Fortunately for the Cumberland, their first organized movement was against the Holston; had it been against them it would have proven disastrous to their infant settlement. As it was, they were greatly harrased and weakened by a constant and destructive guerrilla warfare. Between thirty and forty of their small company were killed by the Indians (Chickamaugas, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Delawares) during the year 1780. Before the end of the year every outlying station in the district was abandoned, the Bluff, Eaton's and Freeland's alone holding out.
In the Spring, John Millikin was killed on Richland Creek, and Joseph hay in Sulphur Bottom. These were the first men killed on the Cumberland. From that time the settlers were picked off here and there, their horses stolen, and their cattle killed and mutilated, by skulking bands of Indians, who escaped without difficulty through the thick canebrakes and tangled undergrowth that surrouned their small clearings. Larger parties were less difficult to punish. In the Summer, Colonel Robertson, with a company of nineteen men, pursued a considerable party of Cherokees who had been depredating in the neighborhood of Freeland's Station, and overtook them on Duck River about forty miles south of the Bluff. Robertson's men charged and fired upon the Indians, several of whom were killed or wounded, and the remainder fled, abandoning their stolen property to the whites, who returned in triumph without the loss of a man. This was the first pursuit made by the settlers.
Among the pioneers who settled a plantation and planted a crop in the Spring of 1780 was Col. John Donelson, the distinguished commander of the flotilla that had just successfully completed the extraordinary voyage from Fort Patrick Henry to the French Salt Lick. He selected a splendid tract of land on the west bank of Stone's River, not far from the Hermitage. It contained a broad and beautiful river bottom, to which the rich upland gently descended. Both bottom and upland were covered with cane and timber, except a few open spots in the bottom, which were carpeted with a luxuriant growth of white clover. The place has since been known as Clover Bottom, and was once awarded a premium as the best farm in Tennessee. Here Colonel Donelson erected a half-faced camp for his family and servants, known as Stone's River, or Donelson's Station. Having planted his corn i nthe bottom on the west side of the river, he planted a small patch of cotton on the east side, where the situation and soil seemed better adapted to its growth.
Coloenel Donelson knew the Indians had killed a numbers of settlers lower down the Cumberland; that they had broken up Renfroe's Station; but as they had not yet appeared in his neighborhood, he hoped to escape their depredations. Soon after the Renfroe massacre, however, Colonel Henderson's negro, Jim, and a young man who had been left in charge of Henderson's half-faced camp near Clover Bottom were killed. Being unprepared to defend his position against an attack from the Indians which now appeared imminent, Donelson abandoned his station and retired with this family to Mansker's Station. His crop, in the meantime, came to maturity without serious injury, either from the floods, the Indians, or the wild beasts.
In November, 1780, he prepared to gather his crop. It was recognized as a dangerous enterprise, on account of the increasing number of Indian depradations committed in the settlement. In addition to this own force, therefore, he engaged a company from the Bluff to assist him, on shares. They were to take their boat at the Bluff and ascend the Cumberland to the mouth of Stone's River, where they would meet the Donelson party, who were to drop down the Cumberland from the mouth of Mansker's Creek. Colonel Donelson's boat was in charge of his son, Capt. John Donelson, and contained a horse, intended for use in hauling even the boat, and also in towing the boat up the river when loaded. The boat from the Bluff was commanded by Capt. Abel Gower, who was a leader in the famous voyage to the Cumberland, and father of the heroic girl. Nancy Gower, who was wounded by the Indians at Lookout Mountain. his crew consisted of seven or eight men, black and white. The two parties having reached Clover Bottom, as agreed, they fastened their boats to the bank near the present turnpike bridge and commenced pulling corn, which they conveyed to the boats in bags and baskets, and also on a one-horse "slide,"which was the only carriage then known on the Cumberland.
They were thus engaged for several days, and it was observed that on each night, and especially on the last night, their dogs kept up a furious barking, which suggested Indians to them, but they tried to explain the excitement of the dogs on other grounds, and manifested their anxiety only by hastening the completion of their work. Early on the last morning, Captain Donelson pushed his boat across the east side of the river, and commenced gathering cotton. This, he thought, would cause by a short delay, and he expected the other boat to hoin in the picking and share the cotton with him, also. But when Captain Gower's party had finished their breakfast, they launched their boat out into the stream and began its descent. Donelson hailed them from the bank and desired them to come over and help him. Gower replied that it was getting late and as he wished to reach the Bluff before night, they would have to move on. Donelson remonstrated, but determined to finish gathering his cotton before he returned.
While they were yet parleying, Captain Gower's boat reached the narrow channel between a small island and the west bank. In the meantime, a large party of Chickamaugas had concealed themselves on the west bank opposite this island, and as Captain Gower's boat passed them, they poured a destructive fire down upon him. Four or five of his party were killed in the first fire; the others jumped overboard into the shallow water. A white man and a negro escapted into the woods, and ultimately found their way back to the Bluff. Jack Civil, a free negro, being slightly wounded, surrendered and was carried to the Chickamauga towns, where he was so well satisfied that he remained with them and adopted their life. Among the killed were Capt. Abel Gower and his son, Abel Gower, Jr., and James Randolph Robertson, the eldest son of Col. James Robertson, a youth of much promise. Their boat drifted safely down the river, and was recovered with a the dead still on board, and undisturbed except by the hungry dogs that had escaped the Indian fusillade.
Captain Donelson witnessed the attack from the opposite shore, ran down to his boat and secured his rifle, fired across the river at the Indians, then hastened to join his own party. They had fled into the cane when the firing and yelling of the Indians began, and were collected together with some diffiulty. It being necessary for the party to separate to prevent leaving a trail that the Indians might follow, they hastily agreed upon the directio to be taken in order to meet the next day upon the banks of the Cumberland, some miles above the mouth of Stone's River. Robert Cartwright, and elderly gentleman who had come to the Cumberland with Colonel Donelson, was given the horse to ride, without which it would have been difficult for him to make his escape.
At sunset, they collected under a large hickory tree that had fallen to th eground, and spent the night concealed in its thick foliage, but were to cold to sleep, as they dared not make a fire. Next morning, after a number of fruitless efforts to construct a raft on which they might cross the river so as to reach Mansker's Station, which was on the north side of the Cumberland, Somerset, Colonel Donelson's body servant, volunteered to swim the river, with the aid of a horse, and ride to the station for assitance. He reached the settlement without accident, and soon returned bringing relief to the distressed harvesters.
The attack by a considerable party of Chickamaugas caused consternation among the settlers. A Short time before, Mansker's Station had been alarmed by the depredations of a small band of Creeks. William Neely, and early hunter and companion of Mansker's, had undertaken the manufacture of salt at Neely's Lick, and was assisted by several of the stationers (settlers) from Mansker's. His daughter went with him to care for the domestic affairs of the camp. One day, after a successful hunt, Neely brought in a deer, and being tired, laid down to rest. His daughter was busy preparing supper for her father and the men who would be in soon from the Lick. Suddenly she hear the crack of a rifle near the camp, her father raised himself up, groaned, and fell back dead. The Indians then seized her and carried her captive to the distant Creek Nation. She remained in captivity for several years, but was finally exchanged, and married reputably in Kentucky.
When the men returned from the Lick to the camp and found the father dead and the daughter missing, they fled to Mansker's Station, under the cover of night, and caused great excitement and distress by their sad tidings. It seemed that death was lurking everywhere, and was ready to embrace the whole settlement. Under these circumstances, Mansker's, the last of the outlying stations, was abandoned. Colonel Donelson withdrew with his family to Davis's Station in Kentucky. Colonel Mansker reluctantly moved to one of the stronger central stations, probably Eaton's. After everyone else had left the station, David Gowen and Patrick Quigley, two young men who, evidently, thought they could take care of themselves, remained another night. Before morning they were killed in their beds, being shot through the port holes.
More of this story can be read here.