By Anne McKee
special to The Star
Want to meet a true American hero and son of Mississippi? Daleville, located via Mississippi Highway 39 North, approximately 20 miles from Meridian, is a small community, quiet and unassuming; however the somewhat timid village marks the burial location of one of Mississippi’s giant personalities, Gen. Samuel Dale, American soldier and pioneer.
Dale was born in 1772 and lived with his Scotch-Irish parents in Rockbridge County, Va. His parents were originally from Pennsylvania, and as most settlers of the day, the Dale family migrated toward the Western Frontier.
By 1792, with the death of his parents, Dale became the caretaker of eight younger siblings. He immediately acquired a job as a U.S. government scout to guide immigrants into the Mississippi Territory. The land was dangerous with hostile Indian tribes; among these were the Creek nation, located mainly from Georgia to the Tombigbee River area, now western Alabama.
It was in 1811 that the Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, established an organized Indian campaign to fight against the white man. Dale was an important part of many of these battles, especially when he was employed as a courier riding the rough land from Georgia to bring important documents to many Western Frontier battlefields. Among those to whom he delivered the documents was Gen. Andrew Jackson in New Orleans.
There are historically correct accounts of Dale and his swift and final blows as he protected settlers and vital documents alike. His courage and battlefield expertise soon made him a celebrity of his time.
One of the most legendary accounts was during the 1814 First Creek War, known as the Red Stick War, when Dale survived the famous “canoe fight.” He and two Americans valiantly fought nine warriors while floating the Alabama River.
Another story of astounding bravery happened as he knelt down at the river bank for water and two warriors attacked with tomahawks. After an intense amount of fighting, the Indians fled. Dale, although severely wounded with five knife stabbings, tracked them nine miles to their camp. He quietly crept into their camp and killed them.
It was in October 1816 when the “Pearl River Convention” met in the home of John Ford located near Columbia – at that time the area was known as the Western Frontier of the Mississippi Territory. Dale was present when the convention voted to request the territory be admitted as a single state. On Dec. 10, 1817 President James Monroe signed the resolution that admitted Mississippi as the nation’s 20th state. General Samuel Dale was elected as the first member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from Lauderdale County.
Dale bumped shoulders with the main personalities of the time – Andrew Jackson, Tecumseh, President James Madison and President James Monroe; Marquis de Lafayette of France, John C. Calhoun, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and many additional brave souls whose names have been lost to the ages. He was a fierce Indian fighter, a decisive governmental leader, an American soldier, and a protective scout and courier, but there was a soft side to him as well.
There is a lovely account of Sam’s kindnesses entitled, "Grandmother Stories," published in 1913 by Howard Meriwether Lovett. In the chapter named, Big Sam and Paddy, the story revealed Sam’s loneliness and desolation at the time of the death of his parents – his trips to visit his father’s grave where he kneeled and prayed for help as he alone was responsible for the care of his brothers and sisters.
God did watch over Sam and the family. He prospered and grew to be a brave man … kind to the weak and innocent, but a fierce fighter of Indians when there was war between them.
Dale was known as just and not cruel and many times he sat by the Indian fires and smoked the pipe of peace. He gained respect from the Indian and white man alike. He was described as tall, square-shouldered and muscular, his face and manner grave. He spoke slowly, in low tones, and seldom laughed. He took his responsibilities seriously.
And so it was Big Sam Dale and his horse, Paddy, a Georgia-bred animal of hardy stock, undertook an assignment that was considered impossible to accomplish, however they both were up to the task. It proved to be one of the most memorable events of the Battle of New Orleans. It was a December night in 1814. The United States Secretary of War needed dispatches delivered as soon as possible to Gen. Andrew Jackson, nicknamed, Old Hickory, who was in New Orleans. Thus is was the miraculous journey from Georgia to New Orleans in an amazing eight days that put Samuel Dale in the league of American heroes.
Sam and Paddy left before dawn. He took only a blanket, flint and steel, pistols, and a supply of Indian meal that served as food for him and Paddy. A quick look at the map and Sam could see the long trip across the area later known as the states of Alabama and Mississippi, traversing many rivers and streams. Within seven days he arrived at Lake Pontchartrain, outside of New Orleans. He arrived in time to witness the great battle of Chalmette, where the British columns were in full retreat – one of the great battles of the War of 1812. Finally, near midnight, Dale was able to deliver the dispatches to Jackson.
Later Jackson inquired to Sam’s ability to ride one horse all of the way from Georgia in eight days. Sam explained, “Seventy or eighty miles from daybreak until midnight with light weights.” The light weights included empty stomachs and no saddle-bags.
Dale, a true American patriot, a Son of Mississippi, and founder of Daleville, makes our state proud. The statue to commemorate his memory and burial location is located in Daleville at the Sam Dale Memorial State Park. Dale died at age 68 in Lauderdale County in 1841. There are no records to indicate that he ever married or had any children.
Teachers: Plan a field trip to visit a true American hero. Parents: Take the time to introduce your children to a fearless Mississippi patriot – just 20 miles north of Meridian, located on Mississippi Highway 39, near the Meridian Naval Air Station.
Dear readers: I am always appreciative when one of you suggests a newspaper column topic. I would like to extend a special thanks to William Hatcher of Lauderdale for bringing my attention once again to a local hero, Gen. Samuel Dale. Also, I must mention the fine work done in his memory by the Samuel Dale Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution that is located in Meridian, Chapter Regent, Glenda Thomas.
Anne B. McKee is an awarding winning author and playwright. Visit her web site: www.annemckee.net