Read 1824: The Arkansas War Online

Authors: Eric Flint

Tags: #Fiction

1824: The Arkansas War (8 page)

That was enough to tip Sam’s decision over the immediate issue at hand. He held up his tumbler toward one of the slaves waiting on the table. “Some more whiskey, if you would.”

As the slave made to comply, Sam gave Johnson a level gaze. “That’s my doing. The settlement I made of the Algiers business hurt the general worse than the Treaty of Oothcaloga helped him. No doubt about it, I think.”

Now that Sam had said it out loud, Cicero Jones was clearly relieved. “No doubt about it at all,” the lawyer echoed.

Across from him, Jack Hartfield shrugged and spread his hands. As portly as the plantation owner was, the expansive gesture did unfortunate things to his tightly buttoned vest.

Adaline managed to keep quiet, but Imogene burst into a giggle. Sam almost did, too, for that matter. The way the button flew from Hartfield and bounced off one of the candlesticks was genuinely comical.

Hartfield himself grinned. But his good cheer didn’t keep the girl from her chastisement.

“Imogene!”
exclaimed Julia. A hand the color of coffee-with-cream smacked her daughter, leaving a red mark on a cheek whose color wasn’t much lighter. “Do that again and you’ll finish dinner in your room!”

“Oh, go easy on her, Julia,” chuckled the plantation owner. “It
was
pretty funny. I probably would have laughed myself, ’cept I don’t want to think what my wife’ll have to say when I get home. I’m afraid I bust a lot of those.”

“Don’t matter,” insisted Julia. She wagged a finger in Imogene’s face. “You behave yourself, young lady. You know better than that.”

Imogene assumed a properly chastened look. Although Sam didn’t miss the angry glare she gave her sister across the table, once Julia looked away. Adaline’s face had that insufferably smug look that a twin has whenever her sibling is rightfully punished—and she herself gets away with it.

Again, it was all Sam could do not to laugh. Fortunately, the tumbler arrived and he was able to disguise his amusement with a hefty slug of its contents. A heftier slug than he’d actually intended. It was hard to resist, though. The whiskey served at Blue Spring Farm was the best Sam had had in months. And that was a lot of whiskey back.

Once the humor of his mishap had settled, Hartfield went on with what he’d been about to say. “I don’t think it’s really fair to blame young Houston. If the general had just kept quiet about the matter, instead of…”

He shrugged. Even more expansively than he had before, now that further damage was impossible. The button that had popped off his vest had been the last survivor.

“That unfortunate speech.”

That was something of a euphemism, in Sam’s opinion. As much as he admired Andy Jackson, there was no denying the man had a savage streak in his nature that was sometimes as wide as the Mississippi River. If the clash at Algiers had been between any
other
group of black men—free or slave, it mattered not—and a properly constituted white militia, Andy Jackson would have been among the first to demand loudly that the niggers be put in their place. For that matter, he’d probably have offered to lead the punitive expedition personally.

But those hadn’t been just any black men. Those had been the men of the Iron Battalion, led by the same Patrick Driscol, who’d broken the British at the Battle of the Mississippi—the battle that had turned Jackson from a regional into a national figure. If Andy Jackson could be savage about race, he could be even more savage—a lot more savage—when it came to matters of honor, and courage, and cowardice.

Whatever the color of their skin—and their commander’s skin was as white as Jackson’s own—Old Hickory had a genuine admiration for the Iron Battalion. And, on the reverse side, despised no group of wealthy men in the United States so much as he despised the plantation owners in and around New Orleans who had, in the main, refused to participate in the fight against the invading redcoats. And had done so—to put the icing on the cake—because they feared their own slaves more than they did a foreign enemy.

Jackson had had choice words to say about that Louisiana gentry during the New Orleans campaign in the war against the British. His words spoken in public—and reprinted in most of the newspapers of the nation—the day after the Algiers Incident had been choicer still.
Poltroons
and
criminals
applied to rich white men, and the terms
stalwart fellows
and
yeomen defending their rights
applied to poor black ones, were all true, to be sure. But they’d caused the general’s popularity in the South and the West—theretofore almost unanimous except for Henry Clay and his coterie—to plummet like a stone.

Only so far, of course. Soon enough, the plunging stone had reached the secure ledge of support from the poorer class of the Southwest’s voters. For the most part, they’d been no happier with the result of the clash at Algiers than any other white men of the region. On the other hand, as the saying went, it was no skin off their nose. All the more so, since the battle had been precipitated by the lascivious conduct of some of the New Orleans Creoles, whose wealth and Frenchified habits the poor Scots-Irish settlers resented—and a good percentage considered not that much better than niggers anyway.

Still, when all the dust settled, Andy Jackson’s popularity in the South and West was no longer as overwhelming as it had been. Clay, of course, had immediately seized the opportunity to continue the Jackson-bashing he’d begun two years earlier over the general’s conduct of the Florida campaign. The Speaker of the House had had his own choice words to say on the floor of Congress. He’d even gone to the extreme of offering to lead a punitive expedition to Louisiana himself.

The offer had been as histrionic as it was ridiculous. First, because Henry Clay had no military experience whatsoever—indeed, he routinely dismissed Jackson as a “mere military chieftain,” in no way suitable for higher positions in the Republic. Second, because he knew perfectly well that there was no chance at all that President Monroe would appoint him to the position, even in the unlikely event that he authorized such a mission in the first place. Always the Virginia gentleman, James Monroe kept his private feelings to himself. But Sam was his son-in-law, and he knew perfectly well that if Monroe’s dislike and distrust of Henry Clay was less savage than Jackson’s, it was not an inch shallower.

Ridiculous and histrionic as it might have been, however, Clay’s stance had enhanced his own popularity in the region—and the congressman from Kentucky had already been the second most popular figure there, after Jackson. Considerably more popular among the region’s gentry.

“Well, it’s done now,” said the lawyer. No slouch himself when it came to whiskey, Cicero Jones downed his tumbler. “But don’t fool yourselves, gentlemen. Henry Clay is now at the front of the pack who’ll be running for president, once Monroe’s term is up. Quincy Adams is respected by just about everyone—gentlemen, at least—but he’s not liked all that much, either. Too cold, too harsh, too caustic—too everything. And, like Calhoun, he’s almost a purely regional figure. Adams will take New England just as certainly as Calhoun will take the hard-core South. But that’s not enough votes to win, no matter how you slice it.”

“There’s Crawford,” pointed out Senator Johnson. Only a slight twist to his lips indicated his dislike for the secretary of the treasury. The tone of his comment had been neutral and matter-of-fact.

Jones shrugged. “Yes, there’s William Crawford. Popular in the South also, of course, being a Georgian. And the nation’s well-to-do tend to be fond of him in all regions of the country.”

“As they should!” barked Sam. Most of the disgruntlement in his tone, however, came from the state of his tumbler. Once again, not even noticing, he’d managed to drain it dry. And it would be ungracious to ask for another refill so soon. Always the generous host, Johnson still had a badly frayed pocketbook—and that whiskey was expensive.

“But he’s seen by too many people as too slick,” the lawyer continued. “I don’t think the electorate trusts him all that much. Nor should they, for that matter.”

“Hah!” exclaimed Hartfield. “Why should they look cross-eyed at Crawford? He’s not half the cut-any-corner and make-any-deal bastard that Clay is.”

The lawyer shook his head. “Yes, I know. But Clay makes pretty speeches and knows how to pose in public. Crawford’s not got half his talent for that. Not a quarter.” He took a long pull on his tumbler, leaving it as dry as Sam’s. “No, you watch. It’ll be Clay to beat. Calhoun will throw him his support as the election nears, in exchange for Clay’s backing—half-backing, at least—on the issues Calhoun holds dear. And Crawford…well, I think he’ll settle for secretary of state, if Clay will promise it to him. That’ll position Crawford to replace Clay when the time comes. He’s only fifty-one years old, after all.”

Sam considered Jones’s assessment as he considered the lawyer’s empty tumbler. He thought the assessment was about right. More to the point, he could see where it led straight to a toast.

He cleared his throat. “What you’re saying, Cicero, if I’m following you, is that if Andy Jackson is to be our next president, he’ll have to reach an accommodation with John Quincy Adams. Right?”

“Dead right.” Jones winced a little, then. “And that’ll be some trick.”

“The general thinks well of Adams,” pointed out Johnson.

“Who doesn’t?” said Jones. “A most admirable man, versed in the classics and everything. But does the general
like
him? And, perhaps more to the point, what does Adams think of Andy Jackson?”

“He supported him during that ruckus over Florida,” stated Johnson stubbornly.

The lawyer waved his hand. “Sure he did. John Quincy Adams is the best secretary of state the United States has ever had, if you ask me. Andy Jackson got us Florida, so Adams backed him. But that doesn’t mean he much likes the general. Face it, gentlemen.” Jones leaned forward in his seat and tapped the table with his forefinger. “First, they disagree over most issues that concern the internal affairs of the nation. Adams is still half a Federalist, when you come down to it. Half an abolitionist, too, if I’m not mistaken.”

He tapped the table again, more forcibly. “Second, political affairs are determined more by matters of blood and attitude than they are by cold intellect. I don’t think you could find two prominent men in the country more unlike than Andy Jackson and John Quincy Adams. They’re as different as the Kentucky whiskey and French wine they each prefer to drink.”

That was true enough, of course. Best of all, it was salient.

Sam rose to his feet. “A toast, then, gentlemen! To unlikely alliances!” The men at the table began to rise, all except the two veterans who were missing a leg. But their smiles were enough to indicate their full agreement with the toast.

Sam reached down for his tumbler. Then, his mouth widened as if he’d just noticed the glass was empty.

“Ah. How awkward.”

“Grover!” Johnson barked at one of the slaves standing by the sideboard. “What are you daydreaming about? See to it that Sam’s whiskey is refilled!”

CHAPTER 5

The next morning, at breakfast, Johnson waited until the girls were finished and had excused themselves from the table before returning to the subject of the new school.

More precisely, to where the new school might lead them.

“Tarnation, Sam—I’ll make this as plain as I can—I want them to marry white men. Even if they have to move to Vermont or Massachusetts in order to do it. And how many white men are they going to run into, over there in Black Arkansas?”

“They’re only twelve years old, Dick,” Sam pointed out mildly. “Hardly something you’ve got to worry about right now.”

The senator wasn’t mollified. “They’ll grow up fast enough. Faster than you expect. If there’s any sure and certain law about kids, that’s it. They
always
grow up faster than you expect.”

Sam glanced at Julia. Her expression was unreadable: just a blank face that might simply be contemplating clouds in the sky. He wondered how she felt about the matter.

But since there was no point in asking, he decided bluntness was the only tactic suitable.

“They’ll marry whoever they marry, Dick. If you think you can stop them—here any more than in Arkansas—you’re dreaming. You heard about the ruckus with Major Ridge’s son? Over in Connecticut?”

Johnson chuckled. “Who didn’t? I heard the girl even went on a hunger strike.”

“Yep, she did. Stuck to it, too, until her parents got so worried they caved in and let her marry John Ridge after all. Cherokee or not. But here’s really the point I was making. Did you hear what happened to her family afterward?”

The senator shook his head.

“Well, after the wedding they wound up moving to New Antrim also. I guess, after visiting the town to make sure their daughter wasn’t winding up in some Indian lean-to—” He grinned widely. “Which Patrick Driscol’s Wolfe Tone Hotel most certainly isn’t, not with Tiana running the place. Anyway, it seems they found New Antrim most congenial. Especially since it was maybe the only town in the continent, outside of Fort of 98, where their daughter wouldn’t be hounded every day. Neither would they, for that matter. It got pretty rough on them, too, you know. One newspaper article even called for drowning the girl’s mother along with whipping the girl herself. John Ridge himself, of course, was for hanging.”

“I heard.” Johnson’s lip curled. “So much for that snooty New England so-called upper crust. You can say what you like about the country folks hereabouts, but at least”—he nodded toward Julia—“she doesn’t have to worry none, just going down to the store to buy provisions.”

“Folks are right nice to me,” she agreed.

“What’s your point, Sam?” asked Johnson.

“I’d think it was obvious. The one thing you can at least be sure of, if one or both of your daughters winds up marrying somebody
you
think is unsuitable, over there in Arkansas, is that nobody
else
will.”

He gave Johnson a cocked-head look. “Never been there, have you? You ought to go visit sometime. Soon.”

“Yes,” said Julia. “Soon. But…”

“It can be dangerous these days,” said Johnson. His hand reached out and squeezed Julia’s forearm. “Traveling, I mean, for anyone with her color. Even the color of Imogene and Adaline. Those so-called slave-catchers have been running pretty wild.”

Sam grinned savagely. “Less wild than they used to be, I bet. When I passed through Cincinnati, I heard about the killing.”

Johnson grimaced. “Don’t make light of it, Sam. Most people down here were pretty upset about that.”

“Sure. So what? ‘Most people’ aren’t running around trying to catch so-called runaway slaves. Who, most times, are just freedmen trying to make it safely to Arkansas. Which they have to, thanks to that bastard Calhoun and his Cossacks stirring up lynch mobs all over the country. So what difference does it make if they’re ‘upset’ because some unknown abolitionist fiend gunned down a slave-catcher across the river? What matters is that the slave-catchers are a lot more than just ‘upset.’ ” His grin grew still more savage. “Why, I do believe they’re downright nervous. Seeing as how they don’t know who the fiend and his fifty brothers were. Or where they might pop up next.”

Sam waved a hand. “But it doesn’t matter, anyway. As long as you make the trip while Monroe’s in office, I can provide you with a military escort as far as the Confederacy. A small one, but that’ll be enough. After that, the Cherokees will escort you the rest of the way.”

Julia pursed her lips. “That gives us almost a year. How soon will this Mr. Smith have the school up and running?”

Sam shrugged. “I don’t know. Not that soon, I wouldn’t think. But you can put the girls up at the Wolfe Tone in the meantime. Tiana will look after them.”

Johnson looked a bit dubious. As well he might. The young Cherokee princess who’d married the notorious Patrick Driscol enjoyed her own reputation in the United States. Granted, a more favorable one than her husband’s, since in her case most of it was in the form of overwrought and long-winded verses written by New England poets.

Ridiculous verses, too, for anyone who knew the realities of Indian and frontier life. Sam had shown one of the more famous poems to Tiana once—Edward Coote Pinkney’s “The Cherokee Bride”—and her comment, after reading less than a third of it, had been a terse “Well, he’s never gutted a deer.”

But however uncertain the senator might be at the prospect, Julia was firm. “We’ll do it, then. Look for us coming toward the end of the summer.”

Sam nodded. “Good. I probably won’t be there myself, then, but I’ll let Patrick and Tiana know that you’re coming.”

When they found out at lunch, the girls were ecstatic.

“We get to play Indians!” squealed Imogene.


With
Indians,” her sister corrected her.

Imogene bestowed the inimitable sneer of a twelve-year-old upon a hopelessly ignorant sibling. “In Arkansas, silly, there’s no difference. Everybody knows that!”

Johnson looked to be growing more dubious by the minute. But since Julia wasn’t wavering, it didn’t really matter.

Johnson left shortly thereafter to attend to some business around the plantation. After he was gone, Julia asked Sam quietly: “How much of that is really true? What Imogene said, I mean.”

By then—noon being a thing of the past—Sam had a tumbler of whiskey in his hand and was leaning back comfortably in one of the porch chairs. “Not much, Julia. Not the way Imogene put it, anyway.”

He took a sip from his whiskey, feeling the usual contentment the liquor gave him as it warmed its way down. “You’re familiar enough with the Indians down here in the South. The way they figure descent and inheritance, through the mother rather than the father, makes a lot of difference when it comes to the way they figure which race starts here and which one ends there. It’s not that they don’t see the difference, mind you.”

He chuckled harshly. “In a lot of ways, they’re worse than white men. At least, our clan feuds don’t tend to spring up that sudden and last forever. But that’s because what really matters to them is not which race a person belongs to, but which clan. And clans intermarry. They always have. So…”

Another sip, longer this time, helped him focus his thoughts. “So the country they’re putting together out there in Arkansas looks strange to us. A lot stranger than their tribes used to look, I think, because they’re taking so much of it from us in the first place that most of it looks pretty familiar. In Arkansas, everything’s a hybrid. Race counts, sure, but it doesn’t trump everything the way it does here in the U.S.”

He chuckled again, but the sound this time was much softer. Amusement rather than sarcasm. “They’ve even got newspapers. Five of ’em, at my last count. Four in English, and one that just started up that’s trying out Sequoyah’s new Cherokee script. The most popular is the one that’s owned by Major Ridge’s son and nephew. John Ridge and Buck Watie set it up in New Antrim, you know—or ‘the Little Rock,’ as the Cherokees call the town.”

“Why there?” she asked. “I thought most of the Cherokees lived further west.”

“They do. But newspapers need big towns to prosper, and the only big towns in the Confederacy are New Antrim and Fort of 98. Even the Cherokee capital at Tahlequah doesn’t have more than two thousand people.”

Sam considered tracing a map for her but gave up the idea almost immediately. With Julia’s stern housekeeping regimen, there wasn’t enough dust on the floor of the porch to do the trick—and he wasn’t about to waste this good whiskey wetting his finger in it. So, he made do with words alone.

“Patrick’s chiefdom ends at Fort of 98, where the Poteau River meets the Arkansas. Most of the Cherokees and Creeks live in the lands west of there. By now, they’re spread out quite a ways, each clan staking out a big chunk. Mostly along the Arkansas, Canadian, and Cimarron rivers—but Chief Bowles and his people settled south of the Red River.”

Julia frowned. “I thought they weren’t supposed to do that.”

“They’re not. According to the Treaty of Oothcaloga—I ought to know, since I drafted it—the southern border of the Confederacy of the Arkansas is marked by the Red River. But Indians don’t generally pay much attention to stuff like that. People like John Ross will, even Major Ridge these days, but not someone like The Bowl and the traditionalists who follow him.”

He took another sip. “Right now, nobody’s saying much. But once somebody figures out how to clear the Great Raft and make the Red navigable—which is bound to happen, sooner or later—there’ll be Sam Hill looking to collect the bill.”

She cocked her head, gazing at him. “I’d think you’d be more upset at the prospect.”

He shrugged. “That won’t happen any time soon, Julia. By then, it’s not likely I’ll still be in charge of Indian affairs for the government. I’ve spoken to Henry Shreve about it. He’s the steamboat genius Patrick Driscol went into partnership with, if you didn’t know.”

“The one who got into that big legal fight over Fulton’s monopoly?”

Sam nodded. “The very man. He won that fight in court, but the Fulton-Livingston steamboat company was still able to make things miserable for him in New Orleans. Legal monopoly or not, they’ve got the backing of the Louisiana authorities. When Patrick made him the offer to set up his own company on the Arkansas, he jumped at it. Anyway, the point is that Shreve told me it’s
possible
to clear the Great Raft out of the Red. In fact, in his spare time—which isn’t much, as busy as the new companies in Arkansas are keeping him—he’s starting to design a special steamboat to do the job. A ‘snagboat,’ he calls it. But even Henry Shreve doesn’t think he could have it ready in less than five years—assuming he could find somebody to back him.”

“And how likely is that?”

Sam shrugged again. “It’d almost have to be the government. A project like that would be too expensive for a private company, with no obvious quick profit to be made.” After another sip of whiskey, he added: “The U.S. government, I mean. No way the Confederacy would do it. Even if they had the money, which they don’t.”

Seeing her head still cocked quizzically, he explained. “John Ross and Major Ridge think the Great Raft is just dandy, Julia. Patrick probably burns incense to keep it there. Well, he would if the scoundrel had a religious bone anywhere in his body.”

Her head was still cocked. Sam shook his own. “You’ve never met Patrick Driscol.”

He finished the whiskey and set the tumbler down on the floor of the porch. “He’s probably my closest friend, Julia, but there are times I swear the man scares me. Scares Sam Hill, for that matter. I don’t think there’s a harder man alive, anywhere in the world. He’s gotten stinking rich over the past few years, but not because he paid much attention to it. That came from luck—the proverbial right place at the right time—and having Tiana for a wife.” A quick grin came and went. “Not to mention Tiana’s rapscallion father, who seems to be able to squeeze money out of anything. But Patrick himself never thinks like a rich man. He thinks like a poor Scots-Irish rebel, still seeing redcoats everywhere he looks. Even if the coats look to be blue, these days.”

“You want more whiskey?”

Other books

A Fish in the Water: A Memoir by Mario Vargas Llosa
Speed of Life by J.M. Kelly
Stealing Coal by Laurann Dohner
Encala by T.M. Nielsen
Pulse - Part Two by Deborah Bladon
By Love Enslaved by Phoebe Conn
The Funeral Boat by Kate Ellis