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Chapter 8: Yellow River, 1831.

In 1831, while Fort Crawford was still in the process of construction, Lieutenant Davis was ordered up to Yellow River to superintend the building of a sawmill. While he was commanding his small force at Yellow River, where he built a rough little fort, he succeeded in conciliating the neighboring Indians, and gained their regard to such a degree that he was adopted by a chief within the sacred bond of brotherhood, which exists among the aborigines of the West, as it does among the Greek races of the peninsula. This relation is of so sacred a character that nothing short of the most absolute treachery can break it.

Lieutenant Davis was afterward dignified with the title of “Little chief.”

An old Indian woman, bent with age, who remembered the friendly young lieutenant, and did not know he was no longer there, a year or more after he had left the post, travelled a long distance at the risk of her life, and warned his successor of a contemplated attack by the hostile Indians when the grass should [81] be “long enough to hide a man.” Her advice was disregarded and a massacre was the consequence.

Lieutenant Davis's labors were arduous, and during this time he was closely encompassed by bands of hostile Indians. The country was very wild; and he was indefatigable in his energetic pursuit of his duty. The weather was intensely cold, and he was often wet to the skin for hours. The exposure brought on pneumonia, and he lay for many months at this isolated place, directing, as best he could, the operations of the men from his bed. He became so emaciated that his servant, James Pemberton, used to lift him like a child from the bed to the window. During this period James carried the arms, the money, and everything of value possessed by his master, knowing that, at any time, he could be free with the simple ceremony of leaving-taking; but he remained throughout the whole period of Mr. Davis's service on the frontier, as tender and faithful as a brother; and he was held nearly as dear as one.

Mr. Davis once gave a reminiscence of this sawmill, during the Confederacy, to a very assuming young major who came to pay us a visit. He talked diffusely about the manner in which he planked shad for champagne suppers “on my plantation.” He then [82] went on to tell of the fine company he had kept “a week at a time,” etc. Mr. Davis became very tired and said, “I used to be a pretty good hand at planking fish when I had the honor to be at the head of a sawmill.” The major looked his astonishment and said, “Of course it was your own sawmill.” “By no means,” said the President. “I was paid to do it. I cut the timber first, then sawed and rafted it.”

In about a week we heard that Mr. Davis and Mr. Lincoln had both been raftsmen on the river, and Mr. Davis had been hired to saw lumber in the West for many years. It amused him greatly, and he never explained the mistake.

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