The Uneasy Dead

North Baldwin County, alabama

After a century and a half, war whoops shatter the still night near the old fort. Would spirits rest in peace if the truth of the bloody massacre were known?

Floyd Boone, a young Bradenton, Florida, family man, graduate of the University of Alabama and state parole board employee, is probably one of the most logical and objective persons you could find. Yet a strange event, for which he can think of no logical or objective explanation, still bothers him after almost thirty-six years.

On March 27, 1966, Boone, who is descended on his mother’s side from Chief Red Eagle, the famous Creek Indian leader, and on his father’s side from Daniel Boone, American pioneer; took a friend, a man employed as a county probation supervisor in Florida, and journeyed to his home in Baldwin County, Alabama, to visit relatives in the little settlement where his father and a few remaining Creeks still live.

Boone is collecting historical data about his ancestors. Hoping to add to his material and information, he and his companion visited the site of the Massacre of Fort Mims. Because it was getting dark as they arrived, they decided to camp overnight on the grounds and further study the place the next day. The night was calm and still, with no wind. The two men curled up in their sleeping bags about 10:30 P.M. in the center of the barbed wire enclosure which now surrounds the site of old Fort Mims.

Back in 1813 news of the Massacre at Fort Mims spread across a shocked and saddened nation. A total of 516 men, women, and children were killed on August 30 that year by the Indians in one of the bloodiest slaughters ever recorded in American history. Today the event is almost forgotten. It even is unheard of by many persons living in this country today.

But Floyd Boone, who moved to Florida from his native Alabama in 1951, is a direct descendant of the famous Creek chief who at high noon on that day 189 years ago, led the attack on Fort Mims, Alabama, and he knows the story well. He has heard the tale since he was a little boy... from his father, his grandfather, and other members of his family.

The Massacre at Fort Mims, in Baldwin County, took place one month after the Battle of Burnt Corn, which was fought some 50 miles northeast of Tensaw in the same county. Both sites are approximately 35 miles north of Mobile, Alabama. The Burnt Corn battle was fought between the militia under the command of Colonel James Caller and the Creek Indians, then a powerful and proud nation. This battle, one in the historical conflict odf 1812 - 1816 involving Spain, France, Great Britain, and the United States, ended in an embarrassing and disastrous defeat for the Americans. As a result the entire region of Alabama and surrounding areas were fearful.

Terrified settlers began moving into nearby forts and stockades, preparing to defend themselves. One such was Fort Mims which consisted of a stockade constructed around Samuel Mims’s home, a large one story frame structure with additional sheds, on land adjacent to Lake Tensaw.

Tension grew daily. Sentries kept a sharp lookout.

On August 29 two men, sent outside to herd cattle, rushed panic stricken back to the safety of the fort crying, “Indians!” They reported seeing an unknown number of Indians wearing war paint.

The command at the fort immediately sent out a detachment of horsemen but these men found no trace of Indians.

The next day, August 30, a thousand Creek Indians, led by Chief Red Eagle whose American name was William (Billy) Weatherford, hid in a deep ravine just 400 yards east of the main gate at Fort Mims. As the signal of the dinner call sounded on a drum in the fort at high noon, the Creeks rushed across the open area surrounding the stockade, entered the east gate before those inside could close it and in four hours slaughtered everyone inside the fort with the exception of the few who escaped.

After the massacre soldiers from other forts in the region came to bury the dead. Not much remained of what had been Fort Mims and the healing touch of nature and the surrounding forest soon softened, then covered the hundreds of graves with a blanket of foliage.

General Andrew Jackson and his troops arrived at Fort Montgomery, not far from where Fort Mims had stood, and began the war to the finish with Chief Red Eagle and the Creeks. Skirmish after skirmish followed as more and more men joined the troops pledged to wipe out the Indians.

Only when the Creeks were almost all dead did the famous Indian chief, to save his nation from extinction, bow his proud head and surrender. History records the text of General William Weatherford’s (Chief Red Eagle’s) document of surrender which he wrote beauti¬≠fully by hand, since he was a well-educated man. He delivered this orally to General Andrew Jackson at Tohopeka, Alabama, on the Tallapoosa River when he surrendered on March 28, 1814, eight months after the Massacre at Fort Mims.

This surrender message read in part: “I am in your power; do me as you please. I am a soldier, I have done the white people all the harm I could. I have fought them and fought them bravely. If I had an army I would yet fight ... but ... my people are all gone. I can do no more than to weep over the misfortunes of my nation.

“Once I could animate my warriors to battle but I cannot animate the dead. My warriors can no longer hear my voice. Their bones are at Talladega, Emunckfow and Tohopeka ...

“On the miseries and misfortunes brought upon my country I look back with deepest sorrow and wish to avert still greater calamities ...

“You are a brave man and I rely on your generosity. You will exact no terms of conquered people but such as they can accede to.

“You have told us where we might go and be safe. This is good talk and my nation ought to listen to it. They shall listen to it. I shall say no more.”

Now, on March 27, 1966, Floyd Boone, camping out on the site of old Fort Mims with his friend, could not sleep.

“It was chilly and we built a fire to keep warm,” Boone said. “Shortly after settling down, we began to hear unusual noises. They sounded like moans ... soft ... but like something human. I raised up but saw nothing. I had lain back down trying to tell myself I had imagined it when my buddy suddenly jumped up and looked around. He said he thought he heard footsteps close by us but there was no one there. By this time we were both wide awake and decided the best thing to do was to stay awake and keep the fire going.

“Around 1:00 A.M., over the east gate of the fort, or where the east gate had been, we heard six loud drum- beats in succession. This was the entrance where Chief Red Eagle and his warriors entered the fort on the day of the massacre.”

These drumbeats did not end the strange noises. In fact, the men said, they increased after that. Floyd’s companion heard the sounds of horses’ hooves, cries of human agony, muffled thuds, the sound of running feet, all the wild outcry of battle. And 2:00 A.M. two loud drumbeats sounded over the west gate area.

But Floyd and his buddy stuck it out.

“I kept telling myself it had to be my imagination,” Floyd said. ”I never believed in ghosts.”

Floyd’s friend tried to tell himself the same thing even while he was actually hearing Indian war whoops, women screaming, men yelling, sounds so real it seemed to him the massacre was taking place all around him.

Still the two men could see nothing except the dark shadows of the lonely trees at the outer edge of the clearing and the moonlight shining across the field where the old fort once had stood. Not even a wild animal moved in the night, although the wild woodsy area must have been full of game, the men said. “At 4:00 A.M. we heard one drumbeat near where the blockhouse had stood,” Floyd told me. “And that ended the strange incident. We heard no more unusual noises during the rest of the night but we sure were glad when morning came, believe me.”

The two men think now that sleeping in the acre square area where 516 bodies were buried in trenches by General Andrew Jackson and his troops isn’t exactly the most inviting idea in the world.

“I don’t know if I’d want to try it again or not,” Boone confessed. “I wasn’t really afraid. I was in familiar territory ... I was born and raised in Alabama ... but ...”

Some persons who live in the area of the old fort and are familiar with its history suggest that perhaps the departed spirits of Chief Red Eagle, who led the attack on Fort Mims, and Major Daniel Beasley, who was commander of the fort at the time of the massacre, still are restless, still are wanting folks to know more about what happened and why on that long ago day in August 1813.

History tells us that Major Daniel Beasley commanded the fort. General Claiborne, in command at Mount Vernon, came to Fort Mims August 7 to inspect this stockade and instructed Major Beasley “to strengthen the pickets and to build one or two additional blockhouses.” Lieutenant William R. Chambliss stated after the attack, “And I further certify that Major Beasley received a letter, one or two days before the attack on Fort Mims, from General Claiborne (who was on his way to Fort Easley) advising him of the reported movements of the enemy.” Major Beasley ignored all warnings, calling them false, and sent two notes to General Claiborne assuring him of his “ability to maintain the fort against any number of Indians.”

Weatherford (Red Eagle) later explained to General Jackson and Thomas Woodward why he chose to stay with the Creeks. He said he realized there was no chance for the Indians to defeat the whites but he felt it was his duty to stay with them, to try to keep the tribe from being utterly destroyed. He was drawn into the Fort Mims expedition but did everything possible to warn the garrison there of the intended attack and felt that he would have succeeded had the commander, Beasley, not been drunk. When he found he could not stop the Indians from their plans to attack he first sent a message to General Claiborne; later he sent messengers to the fort itself. The guards reported these warnings to the commander but were punished for “imagining” such a story and at least one Negro was severely beaten for reporting the Indians’ warning.

Red Eagle said he was surprised to find the fort in the condition it was in, but he was unable to restrain the Indians after the first shots were fired. During a lull of about one hour he attempted to talk them into leaving the fort but they refused and even threatened his life if he interfered.

Jim Cornells had left Fort Mims on the morning of August 30 and ridden some miles up river. Before noon he returned and halting at the fort gate shouted that the Indians were coming. In the argument that followed Major Beasley ordered Cornells arrested but the scout wheeled his horse and started for Fort Pierce. He yelled back once more that the Indians were coming, that if they would prepare to defend themselves he could take care of himself. But it seems that more of the garrison than Major Beasley were drunk on that day.

Later Cornells said, “Surely nowhere else in American history can an example be found where a fort was so poorly guarded, where a massacre was so needless.”

T. H. Ball wrote in his book, Fort Mims, “This fearful massacre, one of the bloodiest in our land, has been placed at the beginning of the Creek War and its responsibility laid almost entirely upon Weatherford quite long enough. It is time that the real responsibility should be placed where it belongs.”

And so perhaps those persons who believe the spirits of Chief Red Eagle and Major Daniel Beasley still are restless, still concerned with justifying their roles in the disaster should base their reasoning on solid history.

Boone told me, “Red Eagle did not want to lead the attack. History proves he was forced into it against his wishes. He knew most of the people in the fort. Beasley ignored the warnings of an impending attack. Those drumbeats over the east gate that we heard that night could have had something to do with the signals. Who can tell?”

Boone believes his illustrious ancestor would like the record set straight, that he, Chief Red Eagle, was not the villain, that he did not want to attack but was driven by pressures of the times.

Boone wonders, “Would the spirits of the massacred at Fort Mims, most of whom were friends of Red Eagle’s and well known to him, be able to rest in peace if the truth were made known? Maybe they are trying to tell us the truth about what really happened at Fort Mims ... and why.”

The Fort Mims Site commemorates the bloody battle which took place August 30th, 1813.
Fort Mims is located 7 miles west of Tensaw in Baldwin County of State Route 59.
(334) 937-9464


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