"Warrior From West Point"

This article was originally published in the February 1974 edition of Soldiers Magazine. It is reprinted here with their kind permission.

Written by Captain Kenneth L. Benton

All forward movement of the attacking force had stopped. In the complete stillness the Major crouched and looked across the obstacle that had halted the advance. The swampy stream was not very wide but he had no way of knowing how deep it was. What he was certain of was that the Seminole warriors they had been pursuing were waiting and watching on the other side of the stream, but no sign betrayed their presence.

He had to get the attack moving again. There was only one way to do it-with a yell the Major leaped to his feet and charged into the stream, his troops following close behind. War whoops and a ragged volley of shots greeted the assault and the Major's body slipped beneath the murky waters. A well-placed Seminole musket ball had stopped the attack and ended the story of the first Indian graduate of West Point.

Major David Moniac was a Creek Indian. His grandfather was a Dutchman who had married a Creek woman. His father, Sam Manac, was raised as an Indian and as a young brave was one of the group of warriors who accompanied the great Creek chief Alexander McGillivray to New York in 1790 to meet with George Washington. The resulting peace treaty of 1791 between the Creek Nation and the United States would have a personal impact on Sam Manac some 25 years later.

West Pointer.

About 1800 Sam Manac married a Creek girl and established a tavern south of present-day Montgomery, Ala., where he served both red and white and where his son David was born in 1802. In 1816 young David was appointed to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. under a provision of a 17901 treaty which called for the education of a limited number of Creek children at government expense. The appointment had two immediate effects upon David's life. The first was that the government appointment named him as David Moniac, the name he would bear for the rest of his life. The second was a trip to Washington to learn to read and write. The training he received at the hands of an Irish tutor must have been adequate for David entered West Point on September 18, 1817 at the age of 15.

Little is known of Moniac during his stay at West Point or how he adjusted to its harsh, Spartan discipline. He did receive several minor demerits; visiting or being absent during study hours accounted for more than half of his delinquencies during his 5 years. We do know he was somewhat bashful and that as an Indian, he did achieve some degree of notoriety. When the cadets marched to Boston to parade before President John Quincy Adams, people along the roadside pointed him out, saying "Look there! There's the Indian!"

At the end of his first year he stood 19th in his class of 29 but at his own request was put back one year. In the next year he was in the upper half of his class but then for the next 3 years he fell steadily in class standing, graduating 39th in a class of 40 on July 1, 1822.

At graduation he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 6th Infantry Regiment and he left on leave. Six months later he resigned his commission, having never served as an officer in the Army.

Perhaps one of the reasons for his resignation was a letter of April 2d from his uncle David Tate. The letter advised Moniac "to get home as quick as you can conveniently do it, as our presence is much wanted here." Tate said Moniac's father had lost almost all his property and had been forced to move on to the Creek reservation. "I took it upon myself, " wrote Tate, "to advise your father not to waist (sic) his property but it had no effect-he kept continually drunk, and made bad trades and every advantage was taken." Tate wanted Moniac back to secure some of his mothers's property and ended by saying that only "hard times" were to be found.

We will never know if the hard times and danger of losing his property were the only reasons for Moniac's resigning his commission. But he did remain in Alabama, acquiring property in the rough, inhospitable hills of southern Alabama's Baldwin County. In this undesirable area he became a "country gentleman." he built a home and attempted to farm while also indulging in his passion for breeding thoroughbred race horses. Sometime after graduation Moniac married Mary Powell, a cousin of Osceola, the leader of the Florida Seminoles. Several years later it was in a battle against these same Seminoles that Moniac lost his life.

Again, little is known about Moniac during the 14-year period from his resignation until he reentered the service in 1836. We only know he married, fathered a son and daughter and tried making a success of cotton planting. As one individual said, "He was a high-toned chivalric gentleman and cordially esteemed by all who knew him."

Creeks Displaced.

The Creeks in general had been gradually changing from a warlike tribe into one trying to earn a living from the land. Now that they were tied to the land they were beset by speculators seeking their land to sell to white settlers moving into Alabama. The settlers wanted the Creeks out of Alabama and arrangements were made for transporting them to new homes in Arkansas. In March 1832 the Creeks signed the Removal Treaty in which they gave up title to all land in Alabama and agreed to emigrate. But the treaty did not compel and Creek to move. They could stay if they so desired. The Indians were given time by the treaty to choose land in the new territory, and they were also to receive a sum of money each year for 15 years. Before the Creeks had a chance to choose new land the white land speculators moved in and dispossessed them. This uprooting probably did not affect Moniac as much as it did many of his fellow creeks as the land he lived on was uninviting. With so much good land all around, the land agents and settlers had no inclination to seek his.

Unfortunately this wasn't the case with some Creeks and in 1836 about one-fifth of the Creek nation revolted against the land frauds being perpetuated against them. Chief Opothleyahola, a friendly Creek leader, raised a force of 1,800 braves and did most of the fighting for the Federal Commander, General Jessup. Moniac served as a guide for Jessup's forces in eastern Alabama. The uprising was short-lived but new challenges arose for the Creek nation and David Moniac.

One result of the revolt was that now all Creeks were to be removed from Alabama to new homes in the West. The Creeks-to cover the cost of moving to their new homes-insisted upon an advancement of the Federal annuity which was due them the following year.

The Federal Government, now involved in fighting the Seminoles in Florida with no great success, agreed to the advance provided the Creeks would furnish a regiment of volunteers to fight the Seminoles. As a further inducement, the Creek soldiers were "to receive the pay and emoluments and equipment of soldiers in the Army of the U.S and such plunder as they may take from the Seminoles."

Creek Volunteers.

More than 700 Creeks volunteered to serve in the regiment, among them David Moniac. Moniac was commissioned a Captain in the Creek Regiment of Volunteers on August 17, 1836. he was the only Indian to be commissioned, all the other officers being junior officers from the regular Army or Navy. The Indian leaders were Jim Boy and Paddy Carr but the command of the regiment was given to Colonel John Lane, a hard-driving, confident young man who had already attracted President Andrew Jackson's attention.

Lane led the regiment to Florida and into action. The first battle took place on September 30 a few miles from Tampa where they charged across a river and routed more than 200 Seminole warriors. The next encounter took place 15 days later and again the Creeks were successful in driving the Seminoles away and capturing 400 head of cattle.

Though the Creeks were successful in their first two actions they quickly found how difficult it was to engage the enemy decisively. The Seminoles continually took refuge in the most inaccessible terrain amid twisted and gnarled trees and high grass and surrounded by swamps and rivers. They normally hid on the far side of a stream and waited for the soldiers to cross. While the soldiers were crossing, the Seminoles would disperse into small groups and fade into the swamp.

The Creek regiment finally joined the main Army of Governor Keith Call on October 19th. The march and battles must have been extremely hard on Colonel Lane for a few hours after joining Call he committed suicide by driving his sabre through his right eye. This cast a deep gloom over the regiment but Lieutenant Colonel Harvey Brown took command and led the regiment for the rest of the campaign.

The Seminoles looked upon the arrival of their old enemies the Creeks with "renewed hatred, and lost no opportunity to give vent to their malignity." The Creeks, to distinguish themselves from the Seminoles, wore white turbans.

Keith Call, governor of Florida and commander of the force, welcomed the Creeks for they comprised almost one-third of the force with which he hoped to end the Seminole war. On the 17th Call's Tennessee troops made contact with the Seminoles in a forbidding place called Wahoo Swamp but darkness ended the engagement. The next day saw another assault with basically the same results-the Tennesseans pursued the Indians through waist-deep mud until the day ended. They then withdrew to await the arrival of the rest of Call's forces so a combined attack could be made on the Wahoo Swamp.

Into Battle.

On November 21 all Call's forces were joined together, including the Creek Indians and their newly promoted Major, 34-year-old David Moniac. Call split his force into three elements, the Creek volunteers on the left, the Florida volunteers and regulars in the center and the Tennessee Volunteers on the right. "We marched through the open field," recalled Jo Guild of the Tennessee Volunteers. "The hostile Indians were seen coming out of the edge of a large hammock, half naked, jumping and turning about, accompanied with yelling and the war-whoop."

The Creeks struck the enemy flank and penetrated it while the rest of Call's force charged the Seminole lines. The Seminoles "fell back a few yards, then rallied and poured a heavy fire into our ranks. It was with the greatest difficulty," wrote Guild, "that we could get through the undergrowth, vines, and grass that cut like a knife." The Seminoles kept up the battle, retreating from one position to another in the cypress swamp. The Seminoles "made their final stand behind a neck of water connecting two lakes, where...the friendly Indians, under Moniac, attacked them."

The steam or neck of water held up the advance, the troops considering it "a deep and difficult morass," the depth of which non one knew. Here Moniac showed his qualities of leadership. To keep the advance moving he charged into the stream with his Indians following. The Seminoles opened fire.

governor Call wrote that " A severe conflict ensued and while the brave Major Moniac, one of the Chiefs of the Creek Regiment, was advancing to lead the charge across the stream he was shot down and sank immediately in the stream..." Another witness recalled: "Major Moniac, an educated Creek warrior, in attempting to force the creek, fell dead and the Seminoles were elated."

Not only had the Seminoles killed a leader of the hated Creeks but Moniac's death had effectively put an end to the battle. None of the troops seemed inclined to try the unknown stream as Moniac had so the Seminoles held their ground. The Army eventually retreating, taking along Moniac's body. The loss of Moniac was deeply felt; Guild recalled that Moniac was "a man of great courage."

They buried him not far from the battlefield but no memorial to him was ever raised. He died as he lived, in two worlds: as a Major in the service of the United States Army-and as an Indian warrior in the service of his people.

AI-Grads The 1st Division Pershing Barracks