The Great Slave Revolt (Two chapters and a note from Sequoyah)

1841 – The Great Slave Revolt

Cassius watched as Rich Joe Vann ran out the back door of his mansion to the sizable outhouse. “Lookit ol Ranjo run! Deys shittin like turkeys!” he laughed to Ol Buck.
“Jes preten you doan see him,” the older man warned, “and look over dat way, where you spose to be workin.” Ol Buck looked down at his new shoes and grinned. When Rich Joe shut the outhouse door Ol Buck sat down on a stump and looked around. The overseer Petite was nowhere in sight. “Tell me again, Jack,” Ol Buck had begun to laugh, “bout dat senna.”
“Well,” Cassius said, “dem two gals dat Mista Alligator tole us bout. Dey name Sadie an Betty. Firs dey takes dem senna leaves and puts em in a grindin stone til deys like dust. De dust melts right in de soup and de gravy. Dey shake it on de hawg meat fore dey serve it up. It doan take much to do de trick!”
As if on cue, a miserable moan escaped from behind the closed door of the outhouse. Rich Joe thought he and his family had all contracted a stomach bug or some other such malady that tore at the guts. Sadie and Betty had heard him say that his family had all caught the same sickness a couple of days after he got his first dose of the senna. They gradually increased the dosage as the white Indians became more dysfunctional and less likely to detect a strange taste in their food. Sadie had told Cassius how the senna did not affect the stomach or the appetite but only the bowels, and this allowed the Vanns to ingest a continuous supply of the herb as they desperately tried to eat their meals and regain their strength. Cassius reckoned it was a lucky thing for Ranjo that his slaves had their belongings bundled and hidden off in the woods, that tonight they would be leaving him for good – else he might just shit himself to death!

Late that night, Rich Joe, feverish and dehydrated, woke from an awful nightmare to the sound of someone hammering, nailing shut the door of his upstairs bedroom. Wild shadows flickered on his walls from people outside running with torches. He could hear a negro voice barking orders, dogs howling, children screaming, horses and mules sounding off. Feebly he rose out of the sweat-soaked sheets and made his way to that window where he oft surveyed his lands.
“Goddammit to hell!! They’re takin my brood mares! Those black bastard-sons-a-bitches!” Rich Joe’s face contorted with rage, his voice shook from sickness and force. “Those ungrateful African savage niggers are runnin oft … takin my best livestock….I’ll have them whipped to death’s door fer this outrage. Ohhhh, my beautiful thoroughbreds…in their stupid paws…”
Rich Joe ceased his rant as a huge rumble shook his innards. He tiptoed gingerly across polished floorboards toward the big brass pot in the corner. As he passed the oak wardrobe he grabbed a clean towel, but before he could reach the pot, his weakened sphincter let go. Watery feces shot from his rectum explosively, drenching his lower body and the waxed loblolly pine floor with nasty-smelling muck.
The man drug himself back to the window and watched the bobbing torches, now some distance away, and not a soul in pursuit. How could anyone pursue them? Everyone else on the place was just as sick as he. At that moment, Rich Joe realized for the first time that no illness had caused his gastric duress. The witchy nigra bitches had poisoned him, in his own house. He cursed, screaming at the retreating lights, until he was forced to run yet again to the chamber pot.

Principal Chief John Ross sat at a big old oak desk covered with papers. He loved the snug feeling he got in his new log office. It sat on the northwest corner of the Capital Square in Tahlequah. An hour before, he had shooed everyone away so that he could work on urgent Nation business. A young, tan-skinned girl knelt, completely hidden, beneath the fine piece of furniture. As instructed, she had left all her clothes on the floor in the other room – a room lined with books on every wall. From there she had crawled naked under his desk until she crouched in front of him on the Persian rug. Moaning softly, she serviced the sage chief with her mouth in the specific way he had taught her, and Johnny Ross lost himself in the sweet intimate act. He sweated and tensed as the floodgates opened, and she shuddered and swallowed. His body emitted that familiar unmistakable odor, musky and dark. He’ll fall asleep now, she thought. Then she could slip away to the little nearby creek.
The girl took a small gold coin from a black box Ross kept atop his desk. He always put one there for her when he summoned her to his office. The yellow United States coin had old Chief Tammany’s Indian face and feathered headdress stamped on it. As she left the drowsy Ross, he took no notice. She locked the door with her own key and walked east across the square. The November sun cast blue and green sparks off her straight black hair. She strolled past the Lighthorse guard with his shiny rifle, suppressing an urge to reach out and touch the weapon. The tall full-blood nodded at her gently, intimately. She walked the few steps on east to Bear Creek and began to purify herself as her family had taught her. First she plunged Chief Tammany’s head under the cool running water until she felt the tangible evil vanish, leaving just a little golden coin. She hid it down deep in her pocket.

Ross, the dozing patriarch, jerked instantly awake when an iron-shod horse galloped along the brick sidewalk right up to his office door. He grasped a dragoon pistol in one hand and the door key in his other. “Chief Ross!” he heard the rider cry. “I have an urgent message from Master Joseph Vann.” Ross opened the door, pistol at hand, and grabbed the message from the disheveled rider. The rider tried to speak, to tell Ross the reason he had ridden the lathered horse hard for hours; but Ross simply tossed him a silver coin, turned wordlessly on his heel and retreated to the sanctuary of his little office.
When Ross read the crudely written missive, he stamped his foot three times and said aloud to himself, “Damn! Damn! Oh, Damn it!” As his mind cleared, he read the message again, studying each word.

J.R. – MY NIGERS HAVE RUN OFF WITH ARMS, MY BEST MARES AND SUPPLIES. THE NIGER BITCHES HAVE POISONED ME. HAVE LIGHTHORSE EN MASSE SENT TO MY FARM AT PORT CITY TO PURSUE THE RUNAWAYS.

YOUR COUSIN – J.V.

Ross sat down again at his desk, that time-worn symbol of his power, and groaned. His brains were still down in his balls, and he felt numb and somewhat overwhelmed at this unpleasant news. But as he strode around the room and shook himself awake, his anger grew. He grabbed a sheet of fine vellum paper, his quill pen and ink. Within the hour he wrote out the order in his firm stylish script.

Whereas the Natl. Council has this day been informed that negroes belonging to Joe Vann of the Canadian District have plundered their owners and absconded, be it therefore resolved by the Natl. Council, that Captain John Drew be, and he is, hereby appointed to command a Company of one hundred men to pursue, arrest and deliver over said negroes to the commanding officer of Cantonment Gibson.
Be it further resolved that if any or all of the said negroes so pursued shall resist the Company, and one or all of them be killed, neither the Cherokee Nation, the said Company, nor members therein shall be accountable for such an act. – John Ross, Principal Chief

A PAGE FROM SEQUOYAH’S JOURNAL

The slaves who revolted in 1841 moved some distance south into Choctaw country. They were actually in the sparsely settled Wichita and/Caddo lands given by the United States to the Choctaws in exchange for their homes in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. This is the area that I have long referred to as the Ghost Lands or Lost People Lands. For centuries, the tribes that hunted the bison lived in these beautiful hills.
When Spain invaded Mexico, accompanied by horses, fierce dogs, steel armor and powerful iron weapons, they ravaged the land in search of gold and slaves. In a vain attempt to get rid of these monsters, the Aztec priests told the conquerors about the Cibola, the seven cities of gold, far to the north.
In the mid 1500s, a huge mounted expedition was launched from the Ciudad Mexico, with over a hundred heavily armed men, many Indian slaves, six hundred swine and a large herd of cattle. The dreaded Coronado led the expedition. His evil Christian crusade made a large sweep that encompassed these future ghost lands. Diseases the people had no resistance to spread everywhere. Plagues of cholera, smallpox and influenza ravaged the villages and decimated the people until only the most shy and isolated Indian people survived.
The survivors, who fled deep into the woods at the mere sight of strangers, would slay any European stragglers with their coral snake poison-tipped arrows. I always told young warriors, “Wear a feather in your hair while crossing the ghost lands so the hidden people will recognize you as Indians!’

1841 – The Slaves’ Flight South

The runaways rendezvoused with their Seminole guides and traveled south by southwest for two days. Along the way, they joined more slaves who had escaped from their Creek owners. They too had been assisted by Blue Alligator and his friends. They numbered seventy, and every adult rode a horse or a mule. More mules served as pack animals. It had been a dry November, and Blue Alligator worried that the large group might stir up enough dust to attract unwanted attention. He directed everyone to stop for a while in a patch of cedar brush.
Cassius had been riding ahead of the others, operating as a lookout. He reined in his mule atop a high ridge and scanned the hills with Rich Joe’s brass spyglass. A sudden movement caught his eye and he watched figures entering a distant clearing. He focused the glass in on them and saw two mounted men with at least a dozen slaves, shackled and head-locked, marching between them. He hurried back to the others and found Blue Alligator.
“Deys two men, one injun an one white, an deys comin dis way,” Cassius said breathlessly as he jumped down from the mule beside the Seminole. “Deys got a line a nigras tied up an walkin.”
“Dem’s slave ketchers,” said Blue Alligator. He stroked the little curly patch beneath his lip. “Reckin we jes hasta take care of dem.”

At the crossroads of two trails, the slave catchers rode up on a group of negro women and children, sprawled in a brown meadow. The men smiled at each other when they heard their cries and saw their defenseless position. They ordered their prisoners on the chains to halt while they advanced on the wailing women. The men pointed their rifles and the women held up their hands. Just then a sudden a flurry of shots rained down on the two slave catchers, and they tumbled from their saddles, dead.
Blue Alligator, Cassius and some others left their hiding places and approached the downed men warily. Blue Alligator rolled the dead man over with his foot and commented on his appearance. “Look at dis white man,” he mused. The man was dressed from head to toe in filthy buckskin. “Wearin dat necklace wit ol grizz claws.” The wind drifted the dead man’s hair and beard. “Look at dis curly red hair. He was a full-blood Scot. And he was prob’ly married to dis Delaware’s sista!”
Blue Alligator rolled the Delaware Indian over and showed Cassius the dead man’s distinctive garb and make up. “Dis one got dese roun painted spots,” Blue Alligators said. The Delaware’s head was shaved and tattooed, with a long topknot. Red round spots of paint stood starkly on the points of his cheeks. “Look at de voodoo tattoos on his body. Delaware warriors doan wear no shirts.” He turned the man’s leg displaying fringed buckskin leggings. “Shit.” Braided into the fringe they saw human scalps of various colors and sizes. “Dis here is a heap big muckety-muck Delaware warrior. Bet dat rifle cost forty dollar.” Blue Alligator hefted the man’s handmade rifle. “Find dem bullets,” he said.
Lizzie, one of the runaways who had helped lay the trap, was already searching the dead men. She held up a key on a thong next to an old rusty crucifix hung round the white man’s neck. She ran to the dead men’s prisoners who remained shackled and released them. For a time there was great rejoicing, but Blue Alligator cut that short. “We gotta keep goin’ south,” he told them. Blue Alligator rode his horse to the front of the group. His eyes were filling with tears, but he shook them away in order to scan the horizon. He knew that with the addition of a dozen more runaways, he could not provide enough horses for everyone to ride. Now they would be forced to move much more slowly. He shook his head, trying to deflect sudden doubts. Maybe we should have stayed hidden, let the slave catchers go on about their business, he thought. But then those prisoners would still be chained together. No, we did right. He just hoped the price would not be too dear. “We got no daylight to waste,” he said out loud and with their numbers now expanded, the runaways moved again to the south.

Three days later Captain John Drew and his Lighthorse posse saw buzzards circling in the distance on the trail south. They rode up on the shredded corpses of two men. A coffle and chains were laid across what was left of their chests.
A young Cherokee rider asked Drew, “Do you want to give these men a decent Christian burial, sir?”
“No, I doubt these two slave ketchers were ever Christians.” Drew spat at the horrible sight and smell and told his subordinates, “Now our fugitives are not just runaways… they’re murderers as well. They’ve killed a white man. We must hasten our pursuit. Leave the bodies…bring the chains.”

A few days passed before the fleeing runaways noticed a cloud of dust in the north and soon realized it came from a troop of pursuers on horseback. Blue Alligator knew the area well. He led the people to the ruins of an ancient walled village, now completely overgrown with oaks and hickories. The little copse of woods was surrounded by the remnants of an ancient earth wall that would hopefully afford some protection for the weary travelers. They led their horses into the center of the trees where a bubbling spring ran clear. The men loaded their weapons, taking positions around the old earth wall, and prepared to defend the site.
Drew’s Indian trackers had no difficulty following the slaves to the old village. They cautiously surrounded the area and Drew called for the runaways to surrender. He was answered by a hail of bullets from the heavily-armed slaves. In the shady thicket, Blue Alligator handed Cassius the dead slave catcher’s big Hawken rifle.
“Lean dat rifle in de crotch of de tree to steady it,” he said. “If you’se shootin dat far, aim de sights at de man’s head. Den you hits his belly.”
Just then Cassius saw a young soldier next to Drew climb up on a stump for a better view of the village wall. Cassius looked at Blue Alligator who nodded encouragement.
“Jes squeeze dat trigger when you’s ready, High John,” the Seminole said.
Ka-boom! The rifle flexed in Cassius’ hands and the young soldier disappeared from view into the brush, mortally wounded. Both sides suffered casualties that day. In the late afternoon, White Alligator fell dead in the thicket. A stray bullet had found its way into his brain. The runaways fought back successive advances by Drew and his men upon their position.
Drew realized that he would need more men and arms if he hoped to defeat the negroes. He took his wounded and withdrew to the trail north. Cassius helped Blue Alligator bury his brother. Blue Alligator never spoke while they dug the grave, or when they laid White Alligator down and covered him with soil and stones.
As dusk fell in the ancient village, Blue Alligator sat eating a small bite of salt pork with Cassius. He suddenly decided to speak. “See dis ole place here?” he asked. “Dem Caddos tole me dis place was built by people who came here long time ago in sky canoes.”
“Where dey come from?” Cassius said.
“Doan know,” replied Blue Alligator. “Dey come from de stars, I reckon. Dey say when dey’s done wit dere business here, dey left out in dem same sky canoes. And dey say dey took some young Caddos and Wichitas with em.”

The runaways kept moving south, nearing the very banks of the Red River on the border with Texas. Thieves, they thought most likely Comanches, stole all their horses one black night. Soon after, the last of the salt pork and meal ran out. The exhausted slaves were forced to hide in a forest of river cane and willows near the river, without food, in a freezing winter rain.
One dark cloudy morning, the runaways woke to find themselves surrounded by Captain Drew and a hundred Cherokee Nation Lighthorse riders. The slave catchers had crept right up on them in the rainy night. The male runaways were clubbed senseless, then chained into neck coffles. The women, hands tied behind them, were lashed by their necks onto a long rope, and each one was whipped. One of the children tried to run off. He was chased down by Lighthorse riders and shot. They left the child’s body where it fell. The soldiers cooked themselves some breakfast and then marched the slaves off into a miserable driving sleet. They were headed for the Cantonment Gibson.

When the grueling march was over, those who survived it straggled into Cantonment Gibson. A crowd of onlookers were gathered there, jeering and booing at their arrival. The ones accused of killing the white catcher were chained up outside. The crowd beat them with clubs, breaking bones and knocking out teeth. Joe Vann’s overseer Petite came up and told the crowd to go home – these captured runaways were Rich Joe Vann’s property. He inspected the slaves against a list of those who had run off or been killed since and soon discovered that their number had increased. Drew reported to Petite that the runaways had apparently killed slave catchers in the Choctaw Nation and coerced the slaves they found in bondage to accompany them.
Rich Joe arrived and claimed ownership of all the captured slaves. While inspecting them, Petite discovered that Blue Alligator was covered with old bullet and knife scars and tribal tattoos. “Mr. Vann,” Petite said, “I think this here is a goddamn Seminole zambo!”
“My bloody Christ!” Vann yelled and stepped closer. “He could well be one of those treacherous nigger savages.”
“You want to keep him, bring him home?” asked Petite.
“Hell, no.” Vann turned away. “Shoot the son of a bitch.”
Vann walked away and Petite drew his pistol and placed it against Blue Alligator’s skull. He pulled the trigger. They unchained his corpse from the line of slaves. Cassius stood a few feet away and bits of his friend’s brain landed on his own cheeks. Try as he did to hold them back, his own bitter tears washed the specks away.

After a hasty drumhead trial, Rich Joe authorized Petite to pick out a handful of the older and less valuable runaways and to make them an example for the others. Due to the inclement weather, the slaves were marched into a large room in the main fort in order to witness the spectacle. Other guests and witnesses, both white and Cherokee, were in attendance. The room stunk of pipe and cigar smoke and the bodies of the unwashed slaves. The five runaways selected for execution were marched over to five makeshift hangman’s nooses, hurriedly suspended from beams in the ceiling. Old tarps were laid on the wood floor under their feet to catch any mess.
While the other slaves watched in terror, the five were hoisted up to their tiptoes. Ol Buck, two older women , another old man, and a younger man, so badly injured by one of Drew’s bullets he could barely stand alone, were the doomed. An officer came out and read final orders to the five while they stood on their toes, stretched by the ropes around their necks. Petite pulled out a skinner’s knife and cut Ol Buck’s shirt away so that his back, chest and shoulders were bared. A man with a cat-o-nine tails was ordered to whip him.
The watching runaways tried to turn away or cover their eyes. The whip snapped across his naked skin and brought blood streaming. Ol Buck looked at Cassius over in the crowd of runaway and gave him a weak smile. Then he began, between lashes, to sing.
“Ranjo, oh, oh, oh, oh.” Snap! The whip hit him.
“Ranjo, oh, oh, oh, oh!” The lash fell again.
“When Ranjo die, when old Ranjo die, I be ridin his hoss, to de city in de night.”
The man with the cat-o-nine tails hesitated, listening to the words of Ol Buck. Petite produced a dirty rag and ordered it be stuffed into the old slave’s mouth. The whip blows came harder and harder. By the time Ol Buck collapsed into the noose, he was thankfully unconscious. Petite ordered him hoisted up. As Ol Buck swayed in the air, the only sound in the room was crying. Slowly, one by one, the other four bodies joined his and they too were hoisted up for all to watch their final throes of death.

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3 Responses to “The Great Slave Revolt (Two chapters and a note from Sequoyah)”

  1. Judith Anderson Says:

    You musta gotten some “politically correct” flack. haha

    Well, as you say, the veneer is quite thin from “then to now.”

    I anticipate all of the stories. They never disappoint me. I am so happy for all of you guys….just more success.

    Judith

  2. Marie Leaf Says:

    Riveting!

  3. Kory Kencayd Says:

    Good stuff. I finally got a few minutes to read it. Keep it up…

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