The Change

So, this is the part of Finnelson’s testimony I’d like to understand better (it’s in third person because he told Hays who wrote it down). Sorry it’s not really clean, but I’m just copying from what Google Books has:

[…]will settle matters better when we all get together Watts sat down and F turned off and went Red headed Will’s and turned out his horses as did also J Deraque and stayed there until the afternoon and returned to the square where the Bloody Fellow was up speaking in the center of the council He told not to go to war it was a bad step they were taking that he had been to hunt for the brothers they thought dead and that he found them they were good people the same as ever they did not wish to hurt them the Cherokees nor their children Look here at the things I fetched for myself likewise for you warriors When was the day that ever you went to your father and fetched as much as I have I did not go by myself others went me Ill had gone by myself perhaps you might have thought that I had made it myself You had better take talk and stay at home and mind your women and children The Bloody Fellow still standing Talohtisky rose said I too have been to Pensacola and seen the Governor as well as Watts and heard his talk I think a deal of his talk for it is good I shall try to tlo as he directed me and sat down The Bloody Fellow proceeded u Look says he at that flag don t you see the stars in it They are not towns they are nations there are thirteen of them These are people who are very strong and are the same as one man and if you know when you well you had better stay at home and mind your women and children The Bloody Fellow still standing Watts again got up and came forward said the day is come when I must bloody my hands again Tomorrow shall send off a runner to the Creek nation to fetch my friends in Then I shall nave people enough to go with to Cumberland or any place that I want to go to All then dispersed for about half an hour then returned all to their flaps painted black dancing the war dance in the square around the flag of the United States and continuing to dance until the evening At night they went to the town house and continued the war dance all night On the second day after arriving at Will’s town Finnelson returned from Red headed Will’s again to the square the Bloody Fellow who took him by the hand and asked him where he had been so long F answered through the Spanish country John Watts sitting near and hearing the conversation called F to sit down him and asked the news from the Governor at Orleans F answered not much but he wanted to see some of Cherokees for to deliver to them their guns and ammunition Watts asked F if there was no other news answered no not choosing to give him any other answer Watts said you have a letter Little John saw it out of your clothes at Red headed Will’s F answered he had a paper but it was not for him Watts him to go and bring that paper F went and took the letter Governor O Neal had given him for Watts tore it flung it into a creek and brought the passport from the Governor at Orleans which having the Spanish arms on it satisfied Watts Little John declaring those were the arms he saw on the paper that dropped[…]

So, I think a few things are going on here. One is that Finnelson  is in a unique position to appreciate what Bloody Fellow is saying, since he also travels a great deal. Bloody Fellow has been to Philadelphia (that’s where he got the flag he’s showing them). He’s seen U.S.ian cities and how they compare to Indian cities and Spanish and French cities. Finnelson might not have been to Philadelphia yet (though it looks like they send him to go talk to the Secretary of War later), but we’ve already seen him in Clarksville and New Orleans and he’s well-known to the dude in charge of New Madrid. So, he’d have reason to trust Bloody Fellow’s judgement about the realities of the United States–they’ve both seen some things. Finnelson also already knows that the Spanish and English are fine with supplying arms, but they don’t really want to have to ‘fess up to it and declare full-blown war on the U.S. so he’s probably less trusting of the word of the Spanish and English than others.

But most importantly, don’t you read this as Finnelson knowing Bloody Fellow particularly well? You can’t tell from this snippet, but Bloody Fellow is literally the first person Finnelson reports speaking to them here at Willstown. He takes Finnelson by the hand and asks him where he had been so long. And that’s when Finnelson decides to not show Watts the letter he wants to see. I can’t help but wonder if it’s not that Bloody Fellow’s speech exactly convinced Finnelson that what folks were about to do was wrong, but that Bloody Fellow reminded Finnelson of some bond they shared and so, if Finnelson was already feeling kind of ambiguous about the coming attack, Bloody Fellow’s acknowledgement of him is what convinced him to try to mitigate the harm of it.

I don’t know, though. I feel like I recognize the moment but not the dynamic.


7 thoughts on “The Change

  1. This is a complicated thing that you’re dropping down in the middle of. Watts was a bi-cultural leader of the Chickamauga (his Tslagi name was Kunokeski, but his daddy was a Scottish trader named Watts) but he had not been in charge very long. He was at Willstown (he’d just moved so that he could be closer to his Muscogee Creek allies) BUT the Big Man In Town was another bi-cultural leader named RedHead Will (or William Weber.) That’s who Finnelson goes to see first. It’s my sense that Finnelson didn’t want to be pulled into the middle of the debate without getting some sound advice from a well-positioned familiar person.

    The piece you’re quoting is Finnelson’s recollection of a Chickamaugan war council at Willstown as they decided whether to make war on the Cumberland Valley. In such diplomatic events, both pro and con spoke, making the most compelling case they could for the course of action they suggested.

    Watts and a large party had been to see Pensacola Governor Arturo O’Neill, who had given them arms to make war against the USians.

    Bloody Fellow made the case against war. He appealed to reason, he appealed to self-interest, and he undercut (it sounds to me) the pretext for a war based on revenge. (This is a little odd. He was usually all for pan-Indian unity and adamantly opposed to white expansion…worth pondering a big why he’s backing off — maybe he believes he doesn’t have enough supplies or enough actual support from the Spanish? I think you’re right that he’s sick of being used as a cat’s paw by Europeans.)

    Yeah, no one cares what Bloody Fellow says. Watts and the other Chickamauguans who spoke were pro-war. He’d already spoke and the people had already decided to follow him. And so ended the first day.

    On the next day, Finnelson comes into the square. Yes, he knows everyone pretty well — Bloody Fellow is eagerly seeking an ally, but it may be more than “Buddy, where were you?!” Bloody Fellow’s wife is a member of the Bird Clan, so there may be some kinship connection there. Watts wants to know what the paper says that Finnelson is carrying — Finnelson says “it wasn’t for you, dude.” Watts wants to see it. Finnelson destroys it, but brings another piece of paper with the Spanish arms on it (his passport) because Watts can totally read and would know that Finnelson had lied. (Ah, the transformative power of Indian literacy. Little John could not read…just knew the Spanish coat of arms when he saw it but could not report on what the paper said.)

    Oh, and some info re: Richard Finnelson biography/genealogical info is in Box 10 of the William Alexander Provine Papers (conveniently microfilmed by TSLA). No clue whether it is useful.

    Whew. Even I’m a little tl;dr about that one. Hope it helps.

  2. Yeah, it’s weird. Because you know what happens next. The Indians write Blount and say “Oh, no, we’re totally not going to declare war on you.” even though they are and Bloody Fellow is one of the people who takes that message to Blount. So, he’s opposed to the war, but still participating.

    One thing I wondered about, just perusing Wikipedia, is if another underlying issue here is that it did make logistical sense for the various Indian groups to work together against encroachment from the U.S., but it doesn’t seem like they just were naturally and always able to set aside their historic differences. It seems like some groups, for instance, were more likely to take hostages and other groups were like “Nope, just kill the women and kids, too.”

    So, I kind of wondered if Finnalson was all “Heh, tough shit for Nashville” until he realized that the Creek were also going to participate and then he realized that meant civilian deaths?

    I don’t know. I’m still kind of confused about what exactly happened when he got to Willstown that changed his mind about things. Well, and not just his mind. Something happened that caused both him and Deraque to say to each other “Shoot, we have to warn these folks.”

    But I’m still not quite sure I understand what.

  3. Oh, here’s something else I wondered–whether this might have been a contributing factor. I read that Robertson had indeed been flirting with the idea of seceding and becoming Spanish. That wasn’t just Fagot blowing smoke. And who was Finnelson carrying letters between when his testimony opens? Robertson and the governor at New Madrid.

    The settlers were, the Indians thought, and it seems to me rightly so, in violation of the Cherokees’ treaty with the U.S. And the Indians pretty much wanted the settlers out of their territory. Fair enough.

    But the whole reason the settlers were looking to get in with Spain is to stop Indian attacks. They had no intention of leaving.

    So, either way, the Cherokee probably aren’t getting their land back. Either they continue to fight with the United States or they fight with Spain.

    I wonder if Finnelson knew that Spain’s plan b. was that Nashville became Spanish,

  4. I’m wondering now, after some thought, if this isn’t a bit of a rewrite on Finnelson’s part, exonerating Bloody Fellow and making him appear more of neutral party than he was. Such things happened…it’s one of the things that make it a challenge to use these kind of records.

    Although if BF took the message to Blount? Perhaps he meant that his town was sitting this one out. That’s the thing about Indian politics during this period…coalitions often don’t happen at the national level, but are brokered village to village or sometimes only certain clans go…) Perhaps Bloody Fellow had gone to Philly and realized that his best play was surfing the wave of white immigration and hoping for the best with a US supplier of arms. He could count heads as good as the next feller and might have realized that the Spanish simply didn’t have the army to get the job done.

    I’ll have to do some more reading about him to understand his motivations because they appear to be in the middle of changing. He had also been renamed in Philly right before this (by Pres. Washington) to a word that meant Clear Sky and he was receiving annuity monies and goods…that’s the stuff he alludes to that he got from the US. He might be conflicted or he might be a little pissed that Watts has become the major leader and heir to Dragging Canoe’s influence…I really don’t know.

  5. The whole thing is really interesting and just trying to catch up as a civilian makes me painfully aware of the holes in my education and the kinds of stereotypes I carry around with me kind of unknowingly.

    Because I have to say that, while I’d gotten beyond the whole “oh, Indians didn’t really live in Middle Tennessee” nonsense, I realize I do have this kind of idea that they were just sitting around all “noble savage”-like with an occasional frightening attack until Andrew Jackson got rid of them. That’s the kind of framework I have to build my understanding of this time period on.

    And it’s not really serving me well. Every time I try to understand something or fit it in I have to actively remind myself that not only is everything I know wrong, it’s got this racist assumption behind it that makes it impossible for me to understand people’s true motivations.

    I’m really excited to see what I dig up at the TSLA today.

  6. For me, there’s a couple of simultaneous racist lies always operating as background noise in my head. The first is the one that you mention. The second one, though, is the equally untrue and intrusive Enlightenment “universal human” lie — everyone at all times is pretty much the same and wants the same things and reasons/loves/hates alike.

    It’s such a complex time in Cherokee/Chickamauga history in terms of their shifting political culture inside the villages, the reorientation of gendered power as the deerskin trade declines and women’s industries grow more economically significant in the external cash economy (always had been in the internal economy), the diplomatic pressures…you never pick the easy stuff!

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