The Winning of the West - Vol. 3

By Theodore Roosevelt | Go to book overview

was open-hearted and hospitable, with winning ways towards all, and combined a cool head with a dauntless heart; he loved a battle for its own sake, and was never so much at his ease as when under fire; he was a first- class marksman, and as good a horseman as was to be found on the border. In his campaigns against the Indians he adopted the tactics of his foes, and grafted on them some important improvements of his own. Much of his success was due to his adroit use of scouts or spies. He always chose for these the best woodsmen of the district, men who could endure as much, see as much, and pass through the woods as silently, as the red men themselves. By keeping these scouts well ahead of him, he learned accurately where the war parties were. In the attack itself he invariably used mounted riflemen, men skilled in forest warfare, who rode tough little horses, on which they galloped at speed through the forest. Once in position they did the actual fighting on foot, sheltering themselves carefully behind the tree-trunks. He moved with extreme rapidity and attacked with instantaneous suddenness, using ambushes and surprises wherever practicable. His knowledge of the whereabouts and size of the hostile parties, and the speed of his own movements, generally enabled him to attack with the advantage of numbers greatly on his side.1 He could then out-

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1
The old Tennessee historians, headed by Haywood, base their accounts of the actions on state ments made by the pioneers, or some of the pioneers, forty or fifty years after the event; and they do a great deal of bragging about the prowess of the old Indian fighters. The latter did most certainly perform mighty deeds; but often in an entirely different way from that generally recorded; for they faced a foe who an his own ground was infinitely more to be dreaded than the best trained European regulars. Thus Haywood says that after the battle of the Island Flats, the whites were so encouraged that thenceforward they never asked concerning their enemies, "how many are they?" but "where are they?" Of course, this is a mere piece of barbaric boasting. If the whites had really acted on any such theory there would have been a constant succession of disasters like that at the Blue Licks. Sevier's latest biographer, Mr. Kirke, in the "Rearguard of the Revolution," goes far beyond even the old writers. For instance, on p. 141 he speaks of Sevier's victories being "often" gained over "twenty times his own number" of Indians. As a matter of fact, one of the proofs of Sevier's skill as a commander is that lie almost always fought with the advantage of numbers on his side. Not a single instance can be produced where either he or any one else during his lifetime gained a victory over twenty times his number of Indians, unless the sieges are counted. It is necessary to keep in mind the limitations under which Haywood did his work, in order to write truthfully; but a debt of gratitude will always be due him for the history he wrote. Like Marshall's, it is the book of one who himself knew the pioneers, and it has preserved very much of value which would otherwise have been lost. The same holds true of Ramsey.

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