The Vagabond – The untimely fate of Rev. Blackburn’s whiskey

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By Danny Crownover

The Whiskey Incident on the Coosa River was recently brought up by some local historians, so an article is needed to explain that incident.

The Vagabond reported in the past about a Chickasaw village called Natchez Village that was once located south of Big Wills Creek in the area of Rainbow Drive near the entrance to Whorton’s Bend.

During the 1750s, the great Principal Chickasaw Chief Chinnaby brought his people to this area. They were Natchez Indians trying to escape being totally killed off by the French. The tribe had nearly been decimated and came here to become Chickasaws.

The Chickasaws had already established a trade route with the British from near Memphis through what is now Gadsden all the way to Charlton, South Carolina. This route was called the High Town Path, and the Chickasaws and British established posts along this route.

The north side of Big Wills Creek was Cherokee land. A small village called Frogtown was located from the Coosa River all the way to Black Creek and beyond. The Vagabond recently discovered that Frogtown was named for a Cherokee Indian named Spring Frog. This was verified in an old article found in the Cherokee Phoenix, a Cherokee Indian newspaper printed in both Cherokee and English.

Spring Frog was known by the Cherokees as Tooantah and Dustu. He was born in 1754 on the north side of Chickamauga Creek at the edge of Lookout Mountain near Chattanooga, Tennessee. The log cabin in which he was born is located in the wildlife sanctuary of the Chattanooga Audubon Society. He died on July 31, 1859 in Oklahoma.

Spring Frog was the grandson of the Raven of Chota, making Spring Frog the last line of the Great Chief’s of Chota. Spring Frog was a representative of the old aboriginal Cherokee Nation.

The reason we now know that Spring Frog lived near where Gadsden Mall is now located is due to an incident that nearly caused a war between the United States and the Creek Indians prior to the Creek War.

The incident involved Reverend Gideon Blackburn, a Presbyterian minister from Maryville, Tennessee. Reverend Blackburn was one of the most eminent clergymen in the region and was successful in his work among the Indians.

Blackburn, however had another side to him besides preaching. It was long suspected that he maintained an illegal whiskey trade and took the opportunity to use others to front his illegal enterprise. Blackburn’s illegal liquor sales to the Indians eventually led to his exposure as a liquor peddler. It was noted that “Gideon Blackburn was at one time a large-scale dealer in liquor.”

Blackburn descended the Coosa River with two flatboats of whiskey when he arrived at Principal Chief Pathkiller’s home located near Turkey Town. Pathkiller informed Blackburn that there was a large camp of Creek Indians encamped at the Ten Islands, and Blackburn thought if he went there, the Creeks would buy whiskey from him. Blackburn decided that he would not go down the river any further and got the Pathkiller to store his whiskey, which was put into one of his houses and locked up.

After the two had left the scene, the Creeks heard of the stored whiskey and soon demanded the lot of it from Pathkiller. Apparently, the Creeks threatened to break down Pathkiller’s door if he would not open it for them. Pathfainder eventually was compelled to give the Creeks his key to the door. It was said that upwards of one hundred Creek Indians took the whiskey.

Two young men had been left to guard the house. But the Creeks burst open the door, rolled out three or four barrels, broke in the heads and commenced drinking. They filled two bottles and gave them to the young men and told them to leave as soon as possible or the Indians would kill them when they got drunk. The young men watched the scene for some time at a great distance as drunk Indians killed and butchered each other with knives and clubs.

During the scrap, Pathkiller’s house caught on fire and the whiskey exploded like a powder magazine. All the Indians who were in or near the house burned to death.

How much whiskey was destroyed was never ascertained? This was confirmed as being in April of 1809. The Creeks seized what was left of the cargo of 2,200 gallons of whiskey. The Creek were already disputing with the U.S. government the right of trading parties to cross their territories. They also confiscated Pathkiller’s whiskey on the grounds that it was being illegally sold in route.

The Whiskey Incident occurred below Turkeytown on the border of the Creek territory at Spring Frog’s home located in the area of the Gadsden Mall.

When the Cherokees were called on for compensation, they excused themselves on the ground that the Creeks owned the land beyond Wills Creek and could do as they pleased in their own country. This was how Blackburn came near involving the United States in war with the Creek Indians on account of this whiskey seizure. The United States soon came to war with the Creek Indians as part of the Creek War of 1813.

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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