Great Mortar, Yah-Yah Tustenug-Gee, 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 Tucka- batchee.” Here he committed a most egre¬ gious 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 pipe to the Great Mortar, because he had been in the French interest. Atkin here threw away a great op¬ portunity, for had he acted with wisdom he might then and there have thoroughly re¬ claimed 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 Gerat 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 the Great Mortar and his adherents, by sending through them all kinds of military supplies to the Cherokees. In the spring of 1760 the Great Mortar devised a scheme to kill all the traders among the Upper Creeks and to appropriate their goods. He engaged the services of all the young warriors who were his kinsmen and selected May 14 as the day for the bloody work, as at this time the Creeks were usually in their fields hoeing their crops. The whole affair was a secret, known only to the conspirators. The day came and the bloody work began in the northernmost town, Suk- aispoka, whence the raging savages surged down the country to Kialagee, where the massacre was repeated, then to Okfuskey, but before they reached Okchaiyi, the traders of that place received warning, and all made their escape except two, who were killed by some warriors of the town who were in the conspiracy. Ten traders were killed on this day, all the outcome of the Great Mortar’s revenge. In the meantime, while the Cherokee war was still going on, the French, after mature deliberation, concluded to settle the Great Mortar, his family and his warriors, far up the Coosa, half-way to the Cherokee country, where he could better enlist the Cherokees and other disaffected Indians in the French cause. The place selected was all that could please the Indians,—no annoying insects, the river at that point shallow, and its bottoms covered with a salty grass upon which the deer were always feeding,—making it altogether a most suitable place for an In¬ dian village. Supplies for it could always be sent up the river from Fort Toulouse. In due time the Great Mortar, furnished with a French commission, a French flag, and other essentials, with his numerous followers, loaded with supplies for themselves and the Cherokees, began their march to the new settlement. Here they built their cabins, and here they erected the French flag, no doubt the farthest point up Coosa River where the French flag ever floated. The French and the Great Mortar were not mistaken as to the advantages of this border town. It became a great rendezvous to the Cherokees, the Mississippi Indians and the disaffected Creeks. Had this “nest of hornets,” so styled by Adair, been left to remain undisturbed, it would have shown itself 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 report¬ ed to Governor Wright, he ordered on July 21, 17 61, 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 chief was present at a council of the Upper Creeks, on April’ 5, 17 63, where he made a talk which 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 Indians’ lands, that these people had killed or driven off all the deer and bear, so that the Creeks could not 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 Sampiaffii 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 Gov¬ ernor replied to these talks by a talk inform¬ ing 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 In¬ dian congress held in Augusta in November. If so, he was there only as 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 2 3, the fourteen persons in the Long Cane settlement above Ninety-six. There is a dearth of historical materials relating 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. The 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 Port 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 instruc¬ tions to carry it down the Mississippi River and exhibit it to every nation inhabiting its banks, exhorting them to watch the movements 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 John¬ stone 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 other 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 of drums and fifes. Captain Stuart then gave a charge 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 Pongress 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. Some¬ time 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 Okchayi 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 not look well, and he wished him to take it back, and the general talk of the people was that he should take it hack. 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. t 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 friend¬ ly 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 dep¬ uty 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 tokens 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 trav¬ eled 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 hoe¬ ing 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 at 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 cane 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 con¬ gress held at 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 Meshee- steeke were the carriers of this letter, which was accompanied with the usual peace tokens.
History is silent as to its reception. The Great Mortar’s design in this matter is left to conjecture. Suffice it to say that Stuart’s action was censured by the traders, who ever considered it the worst kind of policy to inter¬ vene in Indian inter-tribal 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 Provin¬ cial Archives (1912), vol. i, pp. 184, 189-191, 198-210, 516, 517, 525-531; The Colonial Records of Georgia , vol. 9, pp. 70-74; IMd , vol. 8, p. 539; Drake’s Indians , p. 384.