by Mike Slate.
The earlier of Nashville’s two most famous Indian onslaughts occurred on April 2, 1781. It was probably Charlotte Robertson – stalwart wife of Nashville co-founder James Robertson – who sicced the Fort Nashborough dogs on the attacking Indians, a storied deed that helped foil a clever Indian subterfuge. Another hero of that fateful day was John Buchanan Sr., who darted from the fort and rescued Edward Swanson, who had been clubbed by one of the marauders. These heroics notwithstanding, several pioneers died at the “Battle of the Bluff,” including Alexander Buchanan, thought to be John’s son.
The second of our legendary Indian battles took place on September 30, 1792, at Buchanan’s Station, which had been established about 1784 by Major John Buchanan, another son of the elder John. In his 1853 Annals of Tennessee, J.G.M. Ramsey described the Battle of Buchanan’s Station as “a feat of bravery which has scarcely been surpassed in all the annals of border warfare.” In that nighttime attack as many as 900 Creeks, Cherokees, Chickamaugans, and others were repulsed by about 20 settlers inside the station. Again the hero of the day was a woman: Sarah (called “Sally” or “Sallie”) Buchanan, wife of Major John. The heavily pregnant Sally cheered on the defenders, molded bullets, and perhaps even served up distilled beverages while the men fired away through blockhouse portholes.
Although the battle could have become Tennessee’s Alamo, the besieged pioneers did not suffer a single casualty. However, among the noteworthy Indians killed that night was Kiachatalee (or Chiachattalla), a dauntless warrior who attempted to set the fort ablaze. The Indians intent was to assault Fort Nashborough after destroying Buchanan’s Station, but the plucky stationers confounded the natives’ ambitions.
At first light an inspection of the premises produced numerous articles left by the retreating attackers. Several swords were found, including “a fine Spanish blade . . . richly mounted in the Spanish fashion.” Some historians have conjectured that the sword may have been traded to the Indians in exchange for scalps of slain settlers (certainly the Spanish stirred up such trouble for the westward-advancing Americans). Such a sword would have been quite a prize for the victorious stationers, plunder that would not have been treated carelessly. We can easily imagine that they presented it to Sally Buchanan as a tribute to her uncommon spunk.
So what has happened to this splendid Spanish sword? Does a Buchanan family member treasure it today? Does it survive in some museum, under the auspices of curators who have no knowledge of its history? Maybe it awaits us in a dark, cobwebbed attic; or perhaps all that separates us from this luxurious booty is a nondescript floorboard in some old house. Unfortunately, we may never set our eyes on this symbol of pioneer resilience, but all is not lost. In fact, we have something far more precious than a mere sword: we have the Buchanan Station Cemetery, where Major John and Sarah Buchanan are buried, along with other pioneers.
If the Buchanan Station sword were in a display case at the Tennessee State Museum, tens of thousands of admirers would have by now filed past it. But only a handful of Nashvillians have made the pilgrimage to the little cemetery to pay respects to our earliest settlers, upon whose sturdy shoulders rests our local civilization. If you are moved to visit the cemetery, you will find it along Mill Creek near the corner of Elm Hill Pike and Massman Drive. If you turn on Massman into the industrial park, you will find the cemetery on your left just after the first set of buildings. Parking for a few cars is available on the left side of the cemetery, which is now marked by a black fence and informative signage. We think you will agree that the Buchanan Station Cemetery is one of the most fascinating features of Nashville history.