(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)
GREAT MORTAR, Yah-Yah Tustenugegee, Yahatatastenake, or Otis Micco, Creek chief, of whose early life nothing is known. He was born in Okchaiyi, belonged to the Bear clan, and became a prominent chief of his native town. He did his trading at Fort Toulouse, and during the French and Indian war was in the French interest. Governor Ellis of Georgia often sent messages to him to come and see him, as he wished to cultivate a good understanding with him and convert him to the English interest.
The Great Mortar, at last, about the summer of 1759, inclined to the English and perhaps might have become a thorough English partisan but for the foolish conduct of Edmund Atkin, the first Superintendent of the Southern Indians. About the first of October 1759, Atkin was holding a council with the chiefs and headmen of the Creeks in "the great beloved Square of Tuckabatchee." Here he committed a most egregious folly in stigmatizing the chiefs as Frenchmen, that is, in the French interest, and refusing to shake hands with them, an act regarded by them as extremely discourteous. Worse than all this, he forbade them to hand the white peace pip~ to the Great Mortar, because he had been in the French interest. Atkin here threw away a great opportunity, for had he acted with wisdom he might then and there have thoroughly reclaimed the Great Mortar. In the course of his talk to the Creeks, he made use of so many bitter remarks, that at last a chief, stung to madness, sprang up and threw his tomahawk at the agent's head. It fortunately missed and struck a plank above his head. The action would have been repeated but for the interposition of a friendly warrior.
After the personal affronts and insults at Tuckabatchee, the Great Mortar became a staunch friend of the French. In the war that soon broke out between the Cherokees and the province of South Carolina the French at Fort Toulouse made much use of advantages of this border town. It became a great rendezvous to the Cherokees, the Mississippi Indians and the disaffected Creeks. Had the "nest of hornets," so styled by Adair, been left to remain undisturbed, it would have shown it self the deadliest foe of the Georgia and Carolina colonists.
The Chickasaws, staunch friends of the English, soon heard of its establishment. Their warriors were thoroughly familiar with the locality, even with the very site of the Great Mortar's residence. A large party of them embodied, marched against the town and broke it up. They attacked the Great Mortar's house. He managed to escape, but his brother who was with him was slain. The disaster wrought deeply upon the proud spirit of the Great Mortar. Ashamed to return to his former home, he and his followers made a settlement in the most northern part of the Creek nation, the place receiving from the traders the name of "Mortar's plantation."
From this place, with their Cherokee allies, they made frequent raids upon the Carolina settlements. They were with the Cherokees in 1761, when Colonel Grant brought the war to a close. It is probable that when Colonel Grant began his march from Fort Prince George up into the Cherokee country in June, 1763, the Great Mortar may have begun to doubt the ultimate success of the Cherokee cause, and hence may have wished to make fair weather with the English. For, about this time, in a public talk with another headman, he denied being in the French interest, or an ally of the Cherokees in their war; but declared himself a firm friend of the English, and wished to be looked upon as such; and that he would be greatly pleased to receive a small present from them.
This talk of the Great Mortar having been
reported to Governor Wright, he ordered on July 21, 1761, that a
silver gorget and armlets should be sent to some headman in the
nation, who would present them to the Great Mortar. The peace made
between the English and French was certainly generally known
among the Southern Indians by the spring of 1763. Then for the first
time there was an interchange of talk between the Great Mortar and
Governor James Wright of Georgia. The Creek ch// at
the council of the Upper Creeks, on April 5, 1763, where he
made a talk which as was sent to Governor Wright. In his talk the
Great Mortar complained and justly so of the intrusion of white people
with their cattle and horses upon the Indian lands, that these people
had killed or driven off all the deer and bear, so that the Creeks
could nat supply their families with provisions as formerly, and as a matter
of necessity they had to kill the white people's cattle roaming on the land
so as to have food to eat when they were hungry. The Virginia people
occupying these lands had; said that they would not leave them neither for
the King's nor the red people's talk, and he hoped that the King
would oblige them to take his talk, which would prevent much mischief that
would otherwise happen. The Great Mortar next spoke of the insufficient
supplies of powder and lead, which the traders supplied the Creek town,
which should be fifteen bags of powder and an equivalent amount of bullets
to each town. A chief of the Lower Creeks present at the council
also sent to Governor Wright a talk of the same import,--that he
had told Sampiaffi and Togulki that as soon as the Cherokee
war was over, the Virginians should be sent off the lands, but now
since the close of the war they were settled there more numerous than before.
On May 8, a common talk by the Great Mortar and Gen. Merchant was sent from Okchaiyi to Governor Wright in which the land question was still the burden, and the talk closed with the fear that the white people intended to settle all around the Indians and so smother them out of life. The Governor replied to these talks by a talk informing the Indians that there would be a general meeting with them at Augusta in the fall, when all these things would be talked over and settled. He also sent them copies of the King's instructions, forbidding, any persons settling on the lands claimed by the Indians, and requiring those already settled on them to remove therefrom.
According to Adair the Great Mortar was present at the Indian congress held in Augusta in November. If so, he was only a looker on, for his name does not appear among the Creek speakers, nor among the signers of the treaty. Adair also states that the Great Mortar, after his return home, sent off into South Carolina the party that murdered on December 23, the fourteen persons in the Long Cane settlement above Ninety-six. There is a dearth of historical materials to the Southern Indian World in 1764. But from some causes during this year the Great Mortar became the leading chief in the Creek nation. Tho fall of this year was a period fraught with peril to the people of Mobile and Pensacola.
Pontiac was still a formidable character in the northwest in spite of the subjugation of the Shawnees and Delawares, his staunchest allies. In the summer of 1764, he visited the Kickapoos, the Peankishaws, the Miamis and the Illinois, and by his imperious eloquence aroused them to the fiercest hatred and hostility against the English. At Fort Chartres he had his women to make a wampum belt six feet long and four inches wide, wrought with the symbols of the forty-seven towns and tribes that still adhered to his alliance. This belt was consigned to an embassy of chosen warriors with instructions to carry it down the Mississippi River and exhibit it to every nation inhabiting of the English and repel any attempt they might make to ascend the river.
Governor George Johnstone and Captain John Stuart have left it on record that the Great Mortar, and Alabama Mingo of the Choctaw Upper Towns were allies of Pontiac in this great scheme of a general war against the English. This statement certainly implies that emissaries of Pontiac must surely have visited the Southern Indian chiefs in 1764. But whatever hopes they may have entertained were soon after dashed to earth by the ruin of Pontiac's cause. Still the evils of Pontiac's teachings lived after him. His emissaries had instilled into the minds of the various Indian nations that the English intended to surround them, extirpate them by cutting off their supplies, and then take possession of their lands. All this was fully believed by these untutored peoples. In such an alarming state of affairs, it was a most serious consideration with the English officials how to induce the Creeks, now so greatly under the influence of Great Mortar, to attend the congress that was proclaimed to be held in Pensacola.
First it was needful to gain over the Great Mortar himself. Finally John Hanny and a Lieutenant Campbell were commissioned by Governor Johnstone to go up into the Creek nation and induce him to attend the congress. They acquitted themselves well of their dangerous mission. The Congress in Pensacola was in session from May 26 to June 4, 1765. The Great Mortar was present and was the recipient of marked attention on the part of the English officers. He was a prominent speaker in the councils and was one of the thirty-one chiefs that signed the treaty then made between the English and the Creeks. On the last day, after the signing of the treaty, the Great Mortar and three Upper Creek chiefs were vested with the authority of great medal chiefs, and at the same time three Lower Creek chiefs were made small medal chiefs. The medals were given to them under the discharge of the great guns of the fort and of the ships in the harbor and with the music to the chiefs, explaining the nature and duty of their offices, and then presented them to the Indians present as their chiefs, whom they must obey and respect as their superiors. This ceremony over, the Congress was closed with the drinking of the King's health.
The Great Mortar was undoubtedly a very superior Indian. But, as in the case of men of all undeveloped races, he was, viewed from the point of modern civilization. like a child in some respects. Sometime after the Congress, on account of some trade regulations, he became very much offended with some traders, and received some affronts from them. This nettled him and with childish pettishness, he resigned his medal to Neahlatko, the Headman of Little Tallassee, with instructions for him to carry it back to Governor Johnstone. At a council held at Okchaiyi on May 16, 1766, which the Great Mortar attended, Neahlatko in a talk said that if ever the Great Mortar should visit England without the medal given to him by the English it would no~ look well, and he wished him to take it back, and the general talk of the people was that he should take it back. By keeping the medal, it might too induce him to live in the nation as now he lived far from it. If he resigned it, the people might think that he took no interest in the affairs of the nation. As now the governor had written to the King that the Great Mortar had accepted the medal, he insisted that the chief should keep it and wear it.
The Great Mortar yielded to the force of Neahlatko's arguments and took back the medal. Notwithstanding this action, the Great Mortar at heart never was really friendly to the English,--"that bitter enemy of the English name," as he is styled by Adair. In 1768 war was raging between the Creeks and the Chickasaws. In April of this year, a deputy Superintendent convened a council of most of the headmen of the Creeks in order to induce them to make overtures by sending the Chickasaws a friendly mediating letter. The Creeks assented, and the letter, accompanied with such peace token as eagle tails, swan wings, white beads, white pipes and tobacco, was entrusted to a white man who traded with the Chickasaws.
The Great Mortar, animated by a bitter feeling against everything transacted by a British official, determined to render these peace measures of no avail. Soon after the departure of the trader, he set off with ninety men and traveled to within one hundred and fifty miles of the Chickasaw nation. Here he halted and sent seven of his staunchest warriors, under the command of his brother, to surprise and kill any one in the Chickasaw country they might encounter. The trader meanwhile arrived at his point of destination, delivered the letter and the peace tokens, assuring the Chickasaws besides that he had seen no tracks of any war party on the long trading path that he had traveled. With all such evidences of peace, the Chickasaws were thrown off their guard. It was now early in May.
Two days after the delivery of the letter and the peace tokens, two women, who were hoeing in a field, were shot down, tomahawked and scalped by two of the Big Warrior's detailed party, who then gave the death whoop and bounded away in an oblique course so as to baffle their pursuers. The Chickasaws as once gave their shrill war whoop, and forty mounted men at once started in hot pursuit. Four sprightly young Chickasaws, outstripping the others, intercepted the Creeks, killed the Great Mortar's brother, and recovered from him the scalp of one of the women, which was fastened to his girdle. The other six Creeks escaped by taking refuge in a large dense came brake.
With all this mishap, the Great Mortar succeeded in his scheme. All hopes of peace were broken and the war continued to rage between the Creeks and the Chickasaws. The last extant notice of the Great Mortar is his presence at the congress held in Augusta in June, 1773. Here he persuaded Captain Stuart to write a conciliating letter to the Choctaws. A white interpreter and a Creek chief named Mesheesteeke were the carriers of this letter, which was acco//// reception. The Great Mortar's design in this matter is left to conjectures. Suffice it to say that Stuart's action was censured by the traders, who ever considered it the worst kind of policy to intervene in Indian intertribal wars, for during the continuance of such wars, there was generally more or less peace upon the frontiers, the pitiless wrath of the uncontrollable young Indian warriors being then vented against people of their own race.
References.----Adair's American Indians (1775), pp 253-256, 268-272; Mississippi Provincial Archives (1912), vol. i, pp. 184, 189-191, 198-210, 516, 525-531; The Colonial Records of Georgia, vol. 9, pp. 70-74; Ibid, vol. 8, p. 539; Drake's Indians, p. 384.
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