DOUGLAS HANCOCK COOPER: CONFEDERATE GENERAL OF INDIAN TERRITORY Part 1 by Addison Hart
(First I wish to thank Pat Jones. Without her very valuable help, I do wonder if this essay could have been written at all.)
To John Marcin, My Godfather, 1954 to 2001, Memory Eternal
DOUGLAS HANCOCK COOPER CAN BE REMEMBERED AS an Indian fighter, it is true. He fought the Indians who joined his enemies, the Union. He fought Seminoles and Creeks, and drove the aging and aggressive chief Opothleyahola out of his territory. However, Cooper must always be remembered as a great friend to Indians, especially Chickasaws and Choctaws. In fact, Cooper was so beloved to Chickasaws that, several months before the Civil War broke out, he became one of the few white men who could boast of being an honorary member of the Chickasaw Tribe. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Douglas Hancock Cooper can be remembered as one of the South's greatest Brigadier Generals.
Douglas Hancock Cooper was, according to one of his contemporaries, "Kind and sympathetic by nature, generous to a fault, he was an honest man of noble impulses, and born a gentleman." Not many details about his early life exist. He was born November 1st, 1815 in a part of Mississippi. Evidence suggests it was Amite County, but there is no real proof as to where in the state he was born. His father was a physician as well as a Baptist Minister.
Cooper was sent to the University of Virginia, which he attended from 1832 to 1834, the year Indian Territory was set up. At the University of Virginia, his classmates included Carnot Posey, Lafayette McLaws, and John Bankhead Magruder, all of whom were good friends of his. In 1835, Cooper returned to Mississippi to live in Wilkinson County, buying his own plantation, which he named 'Mon Clova'.
That year, he married Mary Collins of Natchez, Mississippi, a lifelong friend of his. Together, before the Mexican War broke out, they raised seven children. Cooper then entered politics. In 1844, nine years after his return to Mississippi, he was elected a Representative at the in the Mississippi State Legislature. One of his first jobs was recruiting the 1st Mississippi Rifle Regiment, which he did so just as the Mexican War broke out. To command of the regiment, he appointed a promising Colonel by name of Jefferson Finis Davis.
The United States was hungry for land. President James K. Polk wanted a large part of the Southwest for his country, and he realized the only way to get it was by fighting with, and defeating the people who owned it, the Mexicans. And so, when he provoked war with Mexico, he got it. And he got it the way he wanted it, by letting the Mexicans fire the first shots so as the United States could not be accused of starting a war of aggression against a weaker nation. When a group of trespassing U.S. Dragoons was ambushed and defeated by a Mexican regiment, Polk used this as his excuse to declare war.
Shortly, United States forces were pouring into Mexican territory, defeating the Mexicans in the majority of the battles fought. One of the first regiments to be sent into action was the 1st Mississippi Rifles, Jeff Davis's regiment, incorporated into the Army of General Zachary Taylor. And there, with the 1st Mississippi, was Captain Douglas Hancock Cooper. The first battle he fought in was at the crescent shaped city on the Mexican river Santa Catarina, known as Monterrey. General Santa Anna's troops had not yet arrived, but General Pedro Ampudia, whose men were protected by huge, castle-like fortifications, defended the city. A huge cannon named El Diablo also guarded the city.
On September 20th, 1846, General Taylor's men reached the city via the Saltillo Road. After taking out guns on Federation Ridge and at the Bishop's Palace and Fort Teneria. However, as the attackers reached the area of El Diablo, they faltered. The huge gun was taking many men down in every shot, and for the time, the attackers could not advance. The Volunteer Division lost a quarter of its men. Then, worse, the Mexicans launched a charge by their lancers. For a short period, the day seemed to be lost, but several regiments, including the 1st Mississippi, lead a counterattack, scattering the lancers and taking El Diablo. The following day, Taylor sent his two best officers; Jefferson Davis and Albert Sidney Johnston to settle surrender terms. Cooper was cited for "bravery and gallantry" at El Diablo.
Taylor then advanced to Buena Vista, where Davis and Cooper's finest moments in this war would take place. Once at Buena Vista, Taylor received news of Santa Anna's arrival outside the city, and he decided that he must stand his ground. If he did not, he would be driven into the Gulf of Mexico. And so, they met Santa Anna. Many predicted that Taylor would be crushed at Buena Vista, and he nearly was.
Just as the Americans were beginning to rout, Jefferson Davis, accompanied by Douglas Cooper, ran to the front of the brigade in which his regiment was incorporated, and ordered them to stand firm against the Mexican charge. Cooper then rode down to one end of the line, ordering the officers to form a giant 'V' pattern, as Davis rode down the other with the same order. Davis saved the day, as the Mexicans were utterly defeated by the stand. Davis then fell with a bullet in the foot.
Cooper accompanied him back to America, where he was invited to many socialite parties in Washington and New Orleans. The two men had formed a lifelong friendship, which was something that would come in handy when the Civil War broke out. As for Cooper, Buena Vista was his last Mexican War battle; he was going back to politics.
Thus came the first time in which having a friendship with Jefferson Davis helped tremendously. In 1852, Davis was made Secretary of War for President Franklin Pierce (who escaped the Mexican War by claiming he had been severely wounded in combat, although all that happened was he fell off his horse in training). The following year, Davis appointed his friend U.S. Agent to Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians.
This appointment suited Cooper fairly well, as he'd lived near Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees much of his life in Mississippi. One of his first jobs was one of his hardest. Apparently, the Chickasaws and Choctaws had been negotiated into leaving Mississippi and Tennessee for the area known as the Oklahoma Territory. Luckily for Cooper, he would wield enormous influence with the Indians, and by 1855 he moved the tribes to Oklahoma Territory.
After the United States made the Louisiana Purchase with the French Government under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1803, they received, along with Louisiana, a large part of the Western half of America. In 1834, this area was designated as 'Indian Territory' by President Andrew Jackson, and would become home of the five groups of Native Americans known as the 'Five Civilized Tribes'-- the Creeks, the Cherokees, the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, and the Seminoles. Part of the Indian Territory was used also by some white settlers, and named the Oklahoma Territory (Oklahoma being Indian for two things, first "Red Man" and second "Red Mud"). The mass movement of the 'Five Civilized Tribes' was known of as 'the Trail of Tears'.
The Oklahoma Territory had been divided into six different territories. The largest one was the southwestern part of the state. This was designated as 'Leased Indian Country'. The middle part of the state was divided into a northern and southern reservation. The northern reservation belonged to the Creeks and the southern part (by far the smallest reservation of all) belonged to the Seminoles, a race that had been decimated through it's wars with the United States. The whole of the northern part of the Oklahoma Territory belonged to the Cherokee Nation, and the two southeastern territories were those of the Chickasaws and the Choctaws.
The man who commanded the unit of United States infantry that traveled with Cooper and the Indians was Colonel John Johnston of Cheraw, South Carolina. Johnston had been, before entering the army, a lawyer, a judge, and a United States agent. Johnston and Cooper became instant friends, so much so that Johnston later named his half Choctaw son Douglas Hancock Cooper Johnston.
The march went smoothly and without incident, and apparently the Choctaws and the Chickasaws were content with Oklahoma, despite the fact that older inhabitants of the region did not welcome them, the Creeks under Chief Opothleyahola. When he arrived in 1856, Cooper set up his Headquarters at Fort Washita. There he organized a militia unit of Choctaws, Chickasaws, and some Texan settlers. Over the next few years, Cooper was much beloved by the tribesmen, and on May 25th, 1861 an "Enactment by the Legislature for the Chickasaw Nation" adopted Cooper and his family as honorary members of the Chickasaw Tribe.
This all happened shortly after the start of perhaps the greatest event in his life. On April 12th, 1861, Fort Sumter was attacked, and the Civil War began.
"The day after I left Fort Washita...the Texans arrived in force." So writes Colonel William H. Emory, commander of the Fort Washita garrison. On April 16th, 1861, Emory abandoned the Fort to Cooper's militia. Cooper was torn over this war, but decided that he must go with his state, Mississippi, which had seceded January 9th, 1861. The day after Emory left, a group of Texans and Arkansas troops under Colonel James McQueen McIntosh arrived, and Cooper presented them with the fort. The Chickasaws and Choctaws also decided that they would support the Confederacy, who's President was Cooper's old friend, Jeff Davis.
Davis wanted Cooper and the commander of the department of Indian Territory, Captain Albert J. Pike, to secure alliances with all of the 'Five Civilized Tribes', and did so in most cases. The Chickasaws and Choctaws being first to ally, and then some groups of Creeks and Seminoles, and last the Cherokee Nation under Chief John Ross. Obviously there was some tense situations between the Tribes. A secret society known as the 'Pins' was supportive of the Union, and could be very aggressive against the enemies of the Union. Cherokee 'Pins' was especially violent. One native minister who not only left the 'Pins' soon after the treaty with the South was signed, but refused to leave the Southern Baptist Church was called out of his house on one fall night. He was shot in the side by one of the 'Pins', and he ran, but was grabbed from behind and his throat was cut. Chief Ross was nearly driven to declaring war on the 'Pins'.
The fearsome 'Pins' received their names due to the fact that they wore two cross pins on their labels. In battle, they also put a cornhusk in their hair. The Chief of the Muscogean (Upper Creek) Tribe was one of the most staunchly Pro-Union "Pins". His name was Opothleyahola, or Opothleyoholo, or Hopoeithelyhola, known as 'Old Gouge'. He was a Creek Indian of un-mixed blood. Born (possibly long) before 1800, Opothleyahola was fighting whitemen as early as 1812. He was a leader in the 1814 'Red Stick [Creek] Rebellion' in the territory now known as 'Alabama'. The Rebellion had started when the Creeks allied with Tecumseh to drive the whites out of their territory. After the battle of Fort Mimms, war was declared on the Red Sticks. Under Chiefs Whitepath and Menawa, Opothleyahola was present at the largest battle in the Red Stick Wars, Horseshoe Bend, when he fought against the army of General Andrew Jackson. One of the many United States troops who helped defeat t! he Red Stick! s was Davey Crockett (although he regretted it immensely).
After the horrible massacre at Horseshoe Bend (over 800 Indians dead, many murdered long after the battle in the most horrific manners), the Red Sticks surrendered. They were forced to cede all of the 20 million acres of land to the United States that became Alabama in 1819. After Andrew Jackson became President of the United States he signed the bill that created Indian Territory, and ordered that the 'Five Civilized Tribes' be sent to it, thus starting the 'Trail of Tears'. Later, in 1825, the Creeks were again forced to cede their lands (this time in Georgia) for territory in Oklahoma. Jackson promised him land in the Oklahoma Territory and $400,000. Chief William McIntosh signed the document. Opothleyahola's Upper Creeks refused to sign, but when McIntosh did, Opothleyahola's men almost immediately murdered him.
By 1861, Opothleyahola was a very old man. He was also a slave owner and a plantation owner. Furthermore, he was disgusted with the Cherokees. He and his Muscogeans criticized the Cherokees for being Pro Southern, and decided that he would find a way to resist it. He passed a bill that all free Negroes within the Creek Nation had ten days to "choose a master" or be auctioned away as slaves. Many chose to be with Opothleyahola's people, and so free Africans, fugitive slaves, and many Seminoles fled to Opothleyahola's territory. This was bad enough for the Confederacy, but what made it far worse was that Opothleyahola decided to move his 3,000 to 5,000 Muscogeans, Seminoles, and Africans to Union held Kansas. Once in Kansas, Opothleyahola's men could re-arm and come back to Oklahoma to reclaim their territory.
In May 1861, the Confederate Government authorized the organization of three Indian Cavalry Regiments. In all, four were raised. Colonel John Drew commanded a Cherokee Regiment, Colonel Daniel N. McIntosh commanded a Creek Regiment, and Colonel Cooper commanded the Chickasaw-Choctaw Regiment. The month prior, Colonel Stand Watie, a Pro-Southern Cherokee, organized a regiment of Cavalry, filled with supporters of Chief John Ross and the country he had chosen to support.
President Davis saw the dangers that Opothleyahola posed, and sent an order to Cooper to crush his resistance. Cooper answered that he would "drive him and his party from the country". Opothleyahola's rival Chief, now Colonel Daniel McIntosh (son of Chief William, whom had been murdered by Opothleyahola's men) that the leader of the Muscogeans had declared war on the Lower Creeks (McIntosh) and the Seminoles. McIntosh wrote to the Cherokees under John Ross and John Drew for help. They also declared war on Opothleyahola. It was then that the Seminoles and Creeks had written to Cooper, asking for help, and, with Davis's permission, he was given command of the forces opposing the Federal Indians.
Chief Johnny Jumper of the Seminoles had received reports of a planned attack on his territory by Opothleyahola, and so had already sent scouts out to track the old chief's movements. David McIntosh also believed that Opothleyahola intended to rendezvous with Colonel James H. Lane's 'Jayhawkers' from Missouri, and then create a new Federal Army.
Cooper's own 2000 man "army" was composed of the 1st Regiment Choctaw and Chickasaw Mounted Rifles (his own regiment); the First Creek Regiment, under Colonel Daniel McIntosh; the 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles, under Colonel John Drew; the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles, under Colonel Stand Watie; the 1st Choctaw Battalion, under Colonel Chilly McIntosh; the Seminole Battalion, under Colonel Johnny Jumper; and Colonel W. Quayle's 4th Texas Cavalry Regiment.
Trailing Opothleyahola's thousands was hardly an easy assignment, especially in the heavy blizzards that November. On the 15th, Colonel Quayle's men came across traces of Opothleyahola's march. On November 18th, 1861, the Muscogeans were sighted near the two tall, circular mountains along which runs the Deep Fork of the Canadian River. The mountains were known as the Round Mounds, the tallest being named, very aptly, Round Mountain. That night, Cooper's men advanced through the area, taking several prisoners. They informed him that part of Opothleyahola's people were at the Red Fork of the Arkansas River, where they were building a fort. Cooper decided that Opothleyahola must be crushed before this could be accomplished.
Darkness halted Cooper's march. In Oklahoma at that time of the year, darkness came on early. The area had warmed up and the snow had melted in most places. However, there had been no snow at the Round Mountain area. The next morning, Cooper's command set out, hoping to catch the Muscogeans before they could start up on their own march. For some unknown reason, Cooper's men did not arrive on the field until 4:00 p.m., and it was dark enough as it was then, but by the time Cooper ordered his men to charge, the field was hidden by the pitch-blackness.
It was hard enough to fight in the darkness, but it was even more complicated when the Confederates couldn't tell friendly Indians from those who had sided with the enemy. After a short skirmish between the 4th Texas and friendly Indians, it was decided that all friendly Indians had to tie blue or red pieces of cloth around their arms. Finally, at the treeline below the mounds, the Confederates ran into twelve hundred enemy Indians. Another regiment, following some of Opothleyahola's stragglers stumbled into his camp. The battle of Round Mountain had begun.
Colonel Daniel McIntosh, advancing toward the Round Mounds area, noticed smoke arising in the horizon, and decided to ride toward it, hoping to meet up with Cooper's force. The 4th Texas, which had blundered into Opothleyahola's 1,200 men at the treeline, was having a hard time finding a target. They could not see anyone over 60 yards away, and the Indians were hiding behind bushes and trees while firing. The Texans were reduced to pouring volleys into the treeline. Occasionally one of Opothleyahola's men would be killed or wounded by the exchange, but the shots rarely hit anything but the trees or the bushes. Meanwhile, they were receiving fire on both flanks besides their front. The 4th Texas was forced to withdraw to a safer place on the prairie.
The Muscogeans, led by such Creeks as Billy Bowlegs and Halleck Tuskenugge, decided that they would withdraw from the field. Technically they'd won the small battle of Round Mountain, depriving Cooper of some 20 men. As Opothleyahola's men withdrew, they set the long prairie grass aflame by dragging burning bushes along behind their ponies. Cooper's men began to panic, and the Colonel tried to withdraw his men in an "orderly fashion". In fact, several wagons and mules were lost in the blaze.
The next morning, Cooper returned to the field, finding the wreckage left behind by Opothleyahola's people as they withdrew. Along the treeline, they found the corpses of around 15 Indians and 20 Confederates. Cooper ordered that Opothleyahola be pursued. The battle of Round Mountain was finished.
During the pursuit, Cooper received a message from his superior, General Pike. Sterling Price's Missouri State Guard was being pushed back into Arkansas by the advance of Major General John C. 'Pathfinder' Fremont's Union Army of the West. Troops were being called in from all over Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Missouri to come to Price's aid. Cooper was ordered to join this advance. However, shortly afterward, General Fremont was relieved of command and replaced by Brigadier General David Hunter, who called off the pursuit. Cooper was then free to pursue Opothleyahola.
Three weeks later, Opothleyahola and his men were encamped at Bird Creek, in the heart of the Cherokee territory. Passing through the Cherokee lands they intended to march towards Fort Gibson and take all the slaves in that region and use them for their "army." The area that they encamped in was known as Chusto-Talasah, Indian for Caving Banks, for they were on the Horseshoe Bend (High Shoal) of Bird Creek. Opothleyahola decided that he wanted peace, and sent a message to Cooper requesting that they attend a peace conference the following day at Opothleyahola's camp. Cooper wrote back that this was acceptable as he and his men "did not desire the shedding of blood among the Indians."
However, most of Opothleyahola's people were not going to give up the fight. In fact, the warriors painted themselves for battle, and the 'Pins' stuffed cornhusks into their hair. Cooper's emissaries were not allowed to enter the camp, and were warned not to return. Cooper's men became filled with panic, in fact some of the Cherokees among his ranks deserted to join Opothleyahola that morning. It was December 9th, 1861. Cooper decided that the Indians must be defeated.
Opothleyahola had put his men in a very strong position. The position, which was close to the city that was then known as Tulsey Town (later Tulsa), was the most formidable position, short of Monterrey and Buena Vista, which Cooper had yet seen. The Horseshoe Bend of Bird Creek formed into a deep gorge. On the Confederate side of the creek, everything was prairie land, with no cover. The Indian side was covered with trees, shrubs, large rocks, and tangled thickets. Opothleyahola's men cut down some trees to make the position even more formidable.
The battle began at 2:00 p.m., the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right, the Texans in the center, and the Cherokees on the left. Cooper gave the order to "advance at the gallop." There was quickly vicious hand to hand fighting on both flanks. Cherokees, Muscogeans, and Africans were being clubbed to death, shot with small arms, or tossed into the ravine on the left, and it wasn't any better on the right. Finally, after an incredibly violent fight on both flanks, the Indians withdrew to the position at Horseshoe Bend.
In the center, ammunition ran out quickly for the Texans, and so they reversed their guns and clubbed the Indians. The Indians used their knives to great effect at this close range. The Texans each had long bowie knives of their own, and so the fight in the center became a slaughter for both sides. The most famous Muscogean in this fight was the old man known as 'Alligator.' He stood behind a tree with an old musket, valiantly firing away at any Confederate he could see. The Texans did not want to kill him, but as it was a matter of their life or his they were "compelled to dash out his old brave life."
The battle continued for one more hour when both sides had fought each other to near exhaustion. The Indians were now behind fallen timbers, and the Confederates were behind trees firing at them. The battle seemed a stalemate. Then the fresh Creek regiments under the two McIntosh brothers rode up, running the Muscogeans into the Creek. The Muscogeans scattered, and the battle was over. 15 Confederates were dead, 37 more were wounded. 27 Muscogeans were dead, and nearly a hundred wounded, many mortally.
Opothleyahola managed to rally his people, and had them fall back to Cooweescoowee District of Cherokee Territory. Cooper was ready to pursue once more, but that evening a blizzard struck. It left Cooper's men in such bad shape, that he had no hope of pursuing Opothleyahola and defeating him. Even though the 2nd Cherokee Rifles under Watie were riding to join Cooper, he needed more help then that. He wrote to General Benjamin McCulloch, commanding Confederate forces in Arkansas. He sent Cooper the brigade of Colonel James McQueen McIntosh (no relation to the Creeks). McIntosh and Cooper joined forces at Fort Gibson.
James McQueen McIntosh was the son of Colonel James S. McIntosh, mortally wounded at Molino del Rey in the Mexican War. Born in 1828 at Fort Brooke (now Tampa), Florida, McIntosh graduated last in the class of 1849 at West Point. He was made Captain of the 1st Cavalry on the Frontier in 1857. He resigned the commission on May 7th, 1861 to be made a Captain of Cavalry in Confederate Regulars. He was then made Colonel of the 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles. After fighting through the battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, he was promoted Brigadier General in the Confederate Provisional Army.
On Christmas Day, 1861, Watie's men joined up with Cooper's and McIntosh's Brigades. The following day, Opothleyahola's men were sighted once more, this time at Chustenahlah (Cherokee for 'shoal in a stream') near Patriot Hills in the northern part of Cherokee Territory, not far from the Kansas Border. Cooper planned the attack. McIntosh's 1,380 men would attack the camp from one direction, and Cooper's 1,300 would attack from another. Although the position was still strong, it was the weakest one chosen by Opothleyahola yet.
The attack came at noon, McIntosh charging into the camp. Opothleyahola's men were hidden in the underbrush, and McIntosh's men nearly rode over them, but for the unexpected volley they let lose. McIntosh's men nearly routed right there, but he rallied them, and ordered them to "ride over them!" They did exactly that, trampling down many of the ambushers and chasing the majority into the camp. McIntosh ordered his men to dismount as they scaled the ridge. The 3rd Texas dismounted, and sent their forces up the side of the ridge, despite hails of arrows and falling boulders. Amazingly, the 3rd reached the top, as Cooper's men charge up the other side.
Opothleyahola's men were surrounded, and they panicked and retreated. As Cooper's men rode after them, the retreat became a rout, and all organization of the Muscogeans was lost. Charging down into the Indians, Cooper's men pulled out their sabers and became cutting the warriors down. By the end of it, 250 Muscogeans and Blacks were dead. 160 women and children captured, along with 20 Africans, 30 wagons, 70 yoke of oxen, 500 horses, and several hundred heads of cattle.
For Stand Watie, this was not enough. At the old battlefield of Patriot Hills, Watie's men made a headlong charge down into the retreating Indians, killing 100 of them without losing a single man. But this was not a battle; this was murder (which is what the campaign had degenerated into). Cooper was disgusted with this action, seeing it as "unnecessary...the enemy has been defeated. There is no need to murder them."
Opothleyahola's people were no better off when they reached 'Federal protection'. Due to blizzards and starvation, 2,000 more Indians were dead or missing. In the Federal 'Refugee Camps' many of the Muscogeans died of starvation and cold, including the noble old chief Opothleyahola, at the Sauk and Fox Agency at Quenemo, Kansas, in 1871.
The next February, General Albert Pike returned from Richmond. He was the new district commander of Indian Territory, and had received a letter from General Earl Van Dorn to send help to his Army of the West, which had been pushed out of Southern Missouri into Northern Arkansas. Van Dorn planned an attack on the enemy army of Brigadier General Samuel Ryan Curtis at Bentonville, but felt that he needed more forces. General McCulloch's army had advanced to join Van Dorn, McIntosh, now a Brigadier, among them. Pike organized his Oklahoma Territory forces into a single brigade, with Cooper as Colonel of the Chickasaws and Choctaws. They were moving to Arkansas. Colonel Douglas Hancock Cooper was about to become a Yankee fighter. ===========================================