After this defeat Chief Opothleyahola led his people northeastward, in search of safety. On December 9, 1861, the force was at Chusto-Talasah, or Caving Banks, on the Horseshoe Bend of Bird Creek (present day about 1 mile North of 86th Street
on Delaware near Sperry, Tulsa County, Oklahoma) when Col. Douglas H. Cooper’s 1,300 Confederates attacked Chief Opothleyahola around 2:00 pm.
Returning on November 24 to his camp at Concharta, where his supply train was parked, Colonel Cooper learned that the Federal Army had retreated from Springfield and that it was unnecessary for him to take post along the Arkansas border, "but proper to prosecute the operations against Opothleyahola without delay and with the utmost energy," which, Cooper stated in his official report, "I accordingly proceeded to do."
After reorganizing his forces at Spring Hill, near Concharta, and giving his men a few days' rest, Cooper moved on the 29th of November in the direction of Tulsey Town, the Lockapoka Creek Indian settlement. His command, much reduced, now numbered but 780 men, and consisted of 430 men of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, under Maj. Mitchell Laflore; 50 men of the Choctaw battalion, under Capt. Alfred Wade; 285 men of Col. D. N. McIntosh's Creek regiment; and 15 men of Capt. James M. C. Smith's Creek company.
Col. William B. Sims, of the Ninth Texas Cavalry, who had joined the regiment and removed with his sick to Tullahassee, was ordered to support the movement and march with all his available force up the Verdigris River in the direction of Coody's Bluff, where Col. John Drew was posted with a detachment of the First Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
Colonel Cooper had been informed that the loyalist Indians had "taken refuge in the Cherokee country by invitation of a leading disaffected Cherokee"; and on arrival at Tulsey Town he was told by an escaped prisoner that Opothleyahola’s warriors, 2,000 strong, were planning an immediate attack.
Colonel Drew was ordered to march south from Coody's Bluff and form a junction with Cooper's force somewhere on the road to James McDaniels'; and Colonel Sims, then at Mrs. McNair's on the Verdigris east of Tulsey Town, was directed to join him at David Van's. Through some misunderstanding, Drew failed to make connection, and Cooper marched north from Van's as far as the Caney River before he turned west and, about noon on Sunday, December 8, found Drew encamped on Bird Creek. He had arrived there Saturday morning with a force of approximately 480 men.
The loyalist Indians were in camp six miles farther south on the same creek, and Drew was in receipt of a message from Opothleyahola "expressing a desire to make peace." Colonel Cooper authorized him to send Major Pegg, of the Cherokee regiment, to Opothleyahola 's camp with the assurance that the Confederate commander did not desire the "shedding of blood among the Indians" and proposed a conference the next day. Cooper went into camp on the west side of the creek about two miles below the Cherokees.
Major Pegg was accompanied on the peace mission by Captains George W. Scraper and J. P. Davis and the Rev. Lewis Downing. Late that afternoon, before they returned, Colonel Drew learned that not more than sixty men were in camp and that a rumor was being circulated that they were to be attacked by a large force then close at hand. Drew and a small party of Cherokees mounted their horses and started for Cooper's camp. After proceeding some distance, they turned back to secure the ammunition. In camp they found Major Pegg, who had returned without being able to reach Opothleyahola, but who reported that he had seen "a large number of warriors painted for battle," who would be "down" upon them that night. Pegg himself had been allowed to return only on the "plea of removing some women and children from danger." His report completed the demoralization of the Cherokees, and in the darkness they "dispersed in squads." Some of them, including Major Pegg and Captain Davis, made their way back to Fort Gibson, but many of the Cherokees put on the shuck badge worn by Opothleyoholo's warriors and joined the loyal Indians. Among them were Captain Scraper and Captain James McDaniel, the latter a member of the Cherokee National Committee, 1857-59, from the Coo-wee-scoo-wee district. Only twenty-eight Cherokees were left to follow Colonel Drew to Cooper's camp and pledge their aid in its defense.
About 7 o'clock that night Colonel Cooper was informed of the panic among the Cherokees. He sent Lieutenant Colonel Quayle with a squadron of the Texas cavalry to investigate and report the condition of Drew's camp. Some provisions and a portion of the train were brought down that night by the Cherokee wagonmaster and his teamsters, "true to their duty." The remainder of the camp equipment was removed the next morning.
Cooper's whole command was aroused by the alarm and remained under arms all night, and a company under Captain Parks was sent on a scout to the rear of Opothleyoholo's camp.
The loyal Indians did not attack, however, and on the morning of the 9th two companies of Creeks, under command of Captain Foster, went on a reconnaissance in the direction of Park's Store, on Hominy Creek.
Seeking a position that would enable him to maintain lines of communication with his depot at Coweta Mission and with reinforcements expected at Tulsey Town, Cooper re-crossed Bird Creek about 11 o'clock and moved down the east side. He had proceeded about five miles when two runners reached him at the head of the column with a message from Captain Foster saying that he had found the enemy "in large force" and that Captain Parks "had exchanged a few shots with them, taken six prisoners, and was retreating, hotly pursued."
At that moment shots were heard in the rear. Directing the Cherokee train to be parked on the prairie, under guard, Cooper hastily formed his troops in three columns, the Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right, the Texans and Cherokees in the center, the Creeks on the left, and "advanced at a quick gallop on the enemy, who had by this time shown himself in large force..."4
Meanwhile, the rear guard repulsed an attack made by a body of 200 loyalist Indians, who were driven back to the creek bottom, a distance of two miles, by a squadron of Choctaws and Chickasaws under Captain Young.
Opothleyahola’s main camp at that time is thought to have been on the west side of Bird Creek in a horseshoe bend about two miles north and one mile east of the present town of Turley, in Tulsa County. This belief is strengthened by the fact that the Upper Creeks seem to have had a penchant for bends of rivers, in spite of their early disastrous experience at the Horse Shoe Bend of the Tallapoosa River in Alabama during the Creek War of 1813-14. Their warriors, however, were mainly on the east side, above and below the camp, concealed in the heavy timber that skirted the tortuous windings of Bird Creek. The creek was deep and could be forded only at certain points; but knowing these, the loyal Indians could cross and recross at will.
The strategy of Opothleyahola’s forces was clearly outlined by Col. D. N. McIntosh in his official report:
"1st. ....They had placed their forces in a large creek, knowing by marching across the prairie that we would be likely to pass in reach of the place.
"2d. The grounds they had selected were extremely difficult to pass, and in fact most of the banks on the creek were bluff and deep waters, so that no forces could pass across only at some particular points, which were only known to them.
"3d. This place was fortified also with large timber on the side they occupied, and on our side the prairie extended to the creek, where the enemies were bedded, lying in wait for our approach."
The main body of Cooper's command advanced rapidly across the intervening prairie, clearing the ravines of skirmishers and sharpshooters, and driving the loyal Indians to the creek bank. In describing the terrain, Cooper said:
"The position then taken up by the enemy at Chusto-Talasah, or the Caving Banks (the Creeks call the place Fonta-hulwache, Little High Shoals), presented almost insurmountable obstacles to our troops.
"The creek made up to the prairie on the side of our approach in an abrupt, precipitous bank, some 30 feet in height, at places cut into steps, reaching near the top and forming a complete parapet...The opposite side, which was occupied by the hostile forces, was densely covered with heavy timber, matted undergrowth, and thickets, and fortified additionally by prostrate logs."
Cooper was describing, it should be noted, the front along the horseshoe bend. The reverse bends above and below were heavily wooded on the east side.
The battle, which lasted about four hours, was a series of attacks and flanking movements. After being driven back into the timber, and often to the creek bank, the loyalist Indians would work around on the flanks of the Confederates and pour in a volley, only to be charged and forced back again. Captain Pitehlynn, of the Choctaw and Chickasaw regiment, stated in his re port to Cooper: "The mode of warfare adopted by the enemy compelled us, as you are aware, to abandon strict military discipline and make use of somewhat similar movements in order to be successful."
The Choctaws and Chickasaws fought on the right of the line throughout the enngagement; and the Creeks, except at the close, on the left. In the center, however, Colonel Sims divided his Texas cavalry, numbering about 260 men, into two divisions; one, under Lieutenant Colonel Quayle, fighting alongside the Choctaws and Chickasaws; and the other, under his own command, fighting at the side of the Creeks; the two being again united on the right late in the afternoon.
Much of the fighting of the Choctaws and Chickasaws centered around "a dwelling-house, a small corn-crib, and rail fence," the location of which cannot now be established with certainty, but which were situated near and probably north of the ravine at the northeast corner of the horseshoe bend.
Just before sunset the Creek regiment ended the fighting on the left by driving the loyalist Indians across the creek; then closed the battle by going to the relief of the exhausted Choctaws and Chickasaws on the right.
Colonel Cooper estimated his force actually engaged at 1,100, and reported a loss of 15 killed and 37 wounded. He was certain the loyal Indians had "over 2,500" in their ranks, and cited Major Pegg's figure of 4,000. But the loss charged to them is 500 killed and wounded but is thought that this number is a gross exaggeration.
The Confederates bivouacked that night on the prairie, returning to the battlefield the next morning, but the loyalist Indians had "retreated to the mountains." After burying their dead, Cooper's men marched to David Van's, where the supply train and their wounded had already been moved, and encamped for the night.
Col. Cooper was again forced to suspend the campaign against Opothleyahola and the loyalist Indians. For one thing, his supply of ammunition was nearly exhausted; but of far graver importance was the alarming news that the defection among the Cherokees was widespread and growing. On arrival at Van's the night of December 10, Colonel Cooper learned that a body of 100 Cherokees from Fort Gibson had passed through the evening before and joined the loyalist Indians on Hominy Creek. He decided to place his troops in position to counteract any further movement among the Cherokees in support of Opothleyahola.
Colonel Drew, with the Cherokee train, and Colonel Sims and the Ninth Texas Cavalry were ordered to march direct to Fort Gibson. Colonel Cooper, with the Choctaw and Creek regiments, fell back by way of Tulsey Town down the Arkansas. Meanwhile, Col. James McIntosh, in command of McCulloch's Division, then in winter quarters at Van Buren, Arkansas, had been urgently requested to send reinforcements of white troops into the Cherokee country. "The true men among the Cherokees must be supported and protected or we shall lose the Indian Territory," declared Cooper in a letter to McIntosh.
Col. Cooper and his Confederates would meet Chief Opothleyahola and his loyalist again in the Battle of Chustenahlah