Personal Recollections of Michael Woods Trimble, Part 2

“The revival of memory may be a benevolent compensation to an old man for the loss of hope.” – Michael Woods Trimble, 1860

Throughout the research phase of my current book project, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, I encountered many interesting historical anecdotes, stories, and legends recalled by the aged pioneers of the Old Southwest and their descendants. These men knew Sevier, or could at least recall the stories told about his frontier exploits. Although writers augmented many of these narratives with hints of patriotic fervor and nostalgia, often the details surrounding Sevier's life survived literary embellishment.

In 1860, Michael Woods Trimble wrote a memoir of his life, and recalled memories of his father, John Trimble, who served as a Captain of a militia company in the Regiment under Sevier’s command at the Battle of King’s Mountain. Michael Woods Trimble took great pride in his father’s associations with Sevier, and in his memoirs he chronicled the stories of his youth.

I located Trimble's memoir in the Diaries and Memoirs Collection held at the Tennessee State Library and Archives, and quoted from it in my book. This incredibly vivid memoir speaks to how "the revival of memory" played an important role in how writers chronicled Sevier's life. So without further introduction, here are the "Personal Recollections of Michael Woods Trimble."

Part 2 -  He had but one thought -- that was for revenge

   When the Revolution was over my father moved further West and built a blockhouse in the Western part of North Carolina on the East side of what was then called the Warm Springs Mountain. The Cherokee Indians lived on the West side of the mountain. They were warlike and hostile, and frequently crossed over the mountain and made inroads on the white settlement. A few years later, he moved still further West, crossing over the mountain into what is now East Tennessee.

   He built a blockhouse on the headwaters of French Broad River. Other emigrants soon followed. Among the number was my father's old pastor, Rev. Hezekiah J. Balch, who established a church which was called New Hope of which my father was a ruling elder.

   I still have in my possession a small memorandum book of my father's which contains frequent entries in his handwriting of the receipts of provisions for Mr. Balch. In those days there was very little money in the country and the salaries of ministers were paid mostly in provisions. My father, being an officer in the church, made the collections and handed them over to Mr. Balch. The entries in his book show that the salaries were not very great. There is the entry of--received from such a person a few yards of cloth for Mr. Balch, from someone else, a few pounds of meat or flour and sometimes potatoes.

   About the same time the Rev. James Doak crossed over the mountains and established a church on the French Broad River, which was called Greenbrier. These two old ministers were intimate friends of my fathers. I have frequently heard them preach and have a very distinct recollection of them. The Rev. James Balch and the Rev. John Doak crossed the mountains about the same time and established churches near the line of Virginia.
   I was born in the blockhouse at the headwaters of the French Broad River, Jan. 13, 1788. the Cherokee Indians continue hostile. To suppress them, 1791, Col. Sevier crossed over the mountains with a regiment of men. My father raised a company of sixty-two men, of whom his sons, Archibald and Robert, and son-in-law, Thomas Ritchie, were of the number and joined him and went in pursuit of the Indians. They burned several towns and eight miles below where Knoxville now stands, they had a battle. They routed the Indians and built a stockade, which they called Campbell Station. On the North side of Holston River, near its junction with the Tennessee River, they built another stockade and two blockhouses, which they called Fort Loudon.

   Four miles further up the Tennessee River, there was an Indian town called Coyatee, and eighteen miles further up the river was another Indian town called Nica-old-fields. Each of these towns contained about 300 houses, and they were considered the stronghold of the Cherokee Nation. Col. Sevier had not sufficient force to attack them, and returned East of the mountains to increase his army. While he was gone, my father took his two sons, Archibald and Robert, and his son-in-law, Thomas Ritchie, and his nephew, James Cosby, and five other men--ten in all--and went with them in the night down the Holston River to its junction with the Tennessee River and in the forks of the two rivers, he made a tomahawk improvement. Cosby was the surveyor, and made the survey by moonlight. On this improvement he built a blockhouse, in which he left six men to guard it, and with the other four he returned home. Then putting the family in canoes, he moved us all down French Broad and Holston Rivers to the new blockhouse. Soon after the removal of the family, the Indians from Coyatee and Nica-old-fields, crossed the Tennessee and Holston Rivers not far from the house and attacked Campbell Station, which they burned and massacred the people, except one man, Charles McCheny, a surveyor, who escaped.

   When this news reached Col. Sevier, he immediately returned and made a sudden descent on Coyatee and Nica-old-fields, killing about 700 Indians. This brought to them peace. On the North side of the Tennessee River, opposite Nica-old-fields, he built what was called Tellico blockhouse. The next year the Indians collected at Nica-Old-Fields to make a Treaty. Nine chiefs were appointed to treat with Col. Sevier--Corn Tassel, The Old Broom, The Bloody Fellow, Old Abram, and five others. But the Indians could never Treat in cloudy weather, and as there happened to be a spell of such weather, they waited for it to clear up. While they were waiting, the nine chiefs were put in a log house, around which a guard was stationed for their protection. At a short distance, the Indians and whites in companies had their camps. There happened to be on the ground a man by the name of Patton, whose house a short time before had been burned by the Indians. His wife and children massacred, and himself shot, tomahawked and scalped and left for dead. Astonishing to relate, he afterward revived and was at the Treaty alive and well. He had but one thought--that was for revenge.

   The guard, of which my brother-in-law was one, sympathized with him and connived at his finding his way into the house, where he silently, but summarily wrecked his utmost revenge. He entered the house with a tomahawk in his hand. His very look told his purpose. The chiefs were unarmed and knew that resistance was vain. At one glance they saw their fate and submitted to it with stoic courage holding out their heads for the blow. One tomahawk flew off the handle, but another was quickly passed in. He killed all the nine chiefs and ran to his horse tied in the woods and cleared himself. Col. Sevier made a demonstration of seeking him, but he was not to be found. The chiefs had rendered themselves so odious by their massacres that the whites all secretly rejoiced that their violence had been returned on themselves. This affair broke up the Treaty. I saw this same Patton in Jefferson County, Miss. He stayed all night at our house and we talked of the whole affair. The scars were still on his head, where he had been tomahawked and scalped. He wore a cap on his head to cover them. The skin had been nearly all scalped off his head, which had very little hair left on it.

   The year after this affair the Indians, through other chiefs, made a Treaty with Sevier, who had now risen to the rank of General; after which the Cherokee Indians never went to War with the whites. Soon after the Missionaries were sent amongst them to preach the Gospel. They have ever since been in a progressive state of improvement and at present they are considered a Christian and civilized people. They are the most intelligent and talented of all the Indian tribes.

   Soon after this Treaty of Peace was made, the counties in East Tennessee were laid off. We lived in the lower part of Blount County, which was so called in honor of the acting Governor. The County Seat was called Maryville, after his wife.

Published previously in this series, Part 1. Michael Woods Trimble's memoir concludes in Part 3 published on The Posterity Project.

Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.