|WAR WITH CREEKS, 1813-14 - MISSISSIPPI TERRITORY|
The sanguinary struggle known as the Creek War of 1813 and 1814, took place in what is now southern Alabama, but was then the eastern part of Mississippi Territory. It formed, as it were, a stirring side issue to the greater conflict then raging - the War of 1812 between Great Britain and the United States. Begun by the war party of the Creeks in the effort to crush and large and growing settlements of white pioneers along the Tombigbee and Alabama rivers, it developed into a war, almost of extermination, against the Creeks themselves. The Creeks ranked first in military prowess and political sagacity among the tribes of Southern Indians forming the great Choctaw-Muscogee family. Their famous political Confederacy had its origin in remote times, embracing numerous subjugated tribes, as well as fugitive tribes that had applied to the Creek nation for protection.
At the time of the war the region embraced by the Creek Confederacy extended from the Oconee River in Georgia to the Alabama River. Indeed, the western members of the Confederacy, the Alibamos, claimed to the banks of the Tombigbee. The country of the Upper Creeks lay along the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and that of the Lower Creeks along the Chattahoochee. Most of the Upper Creek towns (with which are included the Alibamos), were hostile to the Americans, while the Lower Creeks, strongly influenced by the government agent, Col. Hawkins, were for the most part friendly. Before it ended, the war was waged by the Creeks to maintain their homes, their hunting grounds, their burial places and the land of their ancestors, and the Indians fought with a desperation that "has hardly a precedent in Indian contests." For nearly ten months this powerful Confederacy was able to offer a successful resistance to trained American soldiers, and even jeopardized the very existence of the pioneer white settlements along the Mobile, Alabama and Tombigbee rivers.
The Creeks appear to have had at this time about fifty towns and some 10,000 members, including the women and children. The white settlements embraced about 2,000 whites, and a nearly equal number of blacks, and were thinly scattered along the western banks of the Mobile and Tombigbee for more than seventy miles, while they extended nearly seventy-five miles upon the eastern borders of the Mobile and Alabama. It is difficult to conceive the almost complete isolation of these white settlements; on their south were the Spaniards; on the east, separating them from Georgia; were the Creeks; on the west was the broad country of the Choctaws, between them and older white settlements at the Natchez and the Yazoo; and on the north were the Creeks and Chickasaws, dividing them from the settlements in the bend of the Tennessee river. Many causes had combined to draw the whites to this region at an early period, and the French, British and Spanish had all made treaties with the Indians, which opened up the country.
The policy of the United States when it came into control of the Mississippi Territory was sufficiently aggressive. March 28, 1797, Washington made a treaty with the Creeks by which t6he nation ceded lands for government trading posts, and Col. Benjamin Hawkins was shortly after appointed government agent among the Creeks. May 5, 1799, American troops from Natchez, under Lt. John McClary, marched across Mississippi and occupied St. Stephens. A few weeks later, these troops moved south and built Fort Stoddert at Wards Bluff, a few miles above the boundary line between the Spanish province of West Florida and the American territory of Mississippi; it was three miles below the junction of the Alabama and Tombigbee, and about 50 miles above Mobile.
In 1802 a treaty was made with the Choctaws and a tract of land was ceded to the United States, which is said to have called forth this protest from "Mad Wolf," a Creek chief: "The people of Tombigbee have put over their cattle in the Fork of the Alibamo hunting grounds and have gone a great way on our lands. I want them put back. We all know they are Americans."
In 1805 some thirty Creek chiefs and warriors, then in Washington, through pressure brought to bear upon them there, had taken on themselves the right to cede the use of a horse path through the Creek country; and the same year the Choctaws, by the Treaty of Mt. Dexter, ceded 5,000,000 acres of their land to the united States, which embraced the Creek claim west of the watershed. In 1811, the grant of a "horse path" became the much used Federal Road, which was cut from a point on the Chattahoochee river to Mims' Ferry on the Alabama, and the Creeks were much stirred up by the constant stream of white emigrants moving to the western settlements from the Atlantic seaboard.
The white settlements tended to encroach more and more on the Alibamo hunting grounds. In the fall of 1811, or the spring of 1812, came from the North the persuasive and eloquent chief, Tecumseh, to the Creeks assembled at Tookabatcha. Tecumseh was making the grand circuit of the Indian tribes, and he made every effort to induce the Southern Indians to join his great confederacy, urging that "the Creeks could thus recover all the country that the whites had taken from them; and what the British would protect them in their rights." His efforts, followed by those of his prophet emissaries, aroused a war spirit among the Creeks before which the friendly Indians fled for safety.
The great trade center of the Spaniards was at Pensacola; they looked with growing disfavor on these river settlements. The Indians were constantly coming and going among them, and the Spaniards took great pains to stir them to further discontent. After the War of 1812, the British exerted all their influence to provoke the Indians to hostilities.
The great exciting cause of the Creek war is thus seen to be "the large and growing settlements of white pioneers along the Tombigbee and the Alabama rivers. Encroachments upon the Indian hunting grounds and rights were of necessity made. The great wagon road was an encroachment; the presence of so many white families with their cattle and hogs and horses was an encroachment. It needed not Tecumseh's stirring words to assure them that they must before long give up their Indian life, cultivate the ground, and accept the white man's civilization; or they must migrate; or they must break up this settlement of sturdy frontier families on their western borders. Their proposed attempt thus to do, encouraged by the Spaniards, by Tecumseh and the British, brought on the disastrous Creek War." (The Creek War, Halbert and Ball.)
It is in evidence that the Creeks, in July 1813, endeavored to persuade the Choctaws at Pushmataha (in present Choctaw County, Alabama), to join them in a war against the whites, but were unsuccessful, as Tecumseh had been before them. The white were aware of the growing war spirit, and were further alarmed by occasional outrages perpetrated by the Indians against white settlers, such as the abduction of Mrs. Crawley from her home near the mouth of the Tennessee river and afterwards bravely rescued by "the daring backwoodsman," Tandy Walker, and brought to St. Stephens.
Alarmed by the rising war cloud, the settlers on the Mobile and Tensaw and the Alabama and Tombigbee, hastily improvised a line of stockades or forts, which stretched across the neck of Clarke county from river to river. Altogether there were in the summer of 1813 some twenty of these so-called forts, including those erected at an earlier day such as Fort St. Stephens, Fort Stoddert, Fort Madison and the two forts and U. S. arsenal at Mount Vernon.
Farther west, in what is now Wayne County, Miss., were also Patton's Fort at Winchester (see James Patton) and Roger's Fort, six miles above. Gen. Wilkinson and a force of United States troops had captured Mobile in April and a force of United States troops had captured Mobile in April 1813 and here was the fine old Fort Charlotte, built by the French and now manned by an American garrison; also the new Fort Bowyer, built by the Americans at the mouth of the Mobile Bay.
As the alarm spread, plantations were deserted, and refugees filled the forts. Ill-fated Fort Mims was situated on the east side of the Alabama, a short distance below the "cut off," and about a quarter of a mile from the Tensaw boat Yard. According to the historian Pickett, there were in this fort or stockade in August 1813, 553 human beings, made up of white settlers, a few Spaniards, colored people, and half-breeds; of these 265 were soldiers, including 70 home militia commanded by Capt. Dixon Bailey, a detachment from Mount Vernon under Lieut. Osborn, and 175 Mississippi volunteers under Major Daniel Beasley. Major Beasley was in general command of the fort. General F. L. Claiborne, with a force of regulars, was in command at Fort Stoddert and Mount Vernon; Col. Joseph Carson was the military commander between the Tombigbee and Alabama; Col. James Caller, of Washington county, was the senior militia officer on the frontier; Gen. Wilkinson had been ordered to the Canadian border, and Gen. Flournoy succeeded him in general command of the Southwest at Mobile and New Orleans.
In July 1813, news came that a force of hostile Creeks led by Peter McQueen had gone to Pensacola to obtain arms and ammunition from Governor Manique. On receipt of this information, Col. Caller, at St. Stephens, raised a force of about 180 militia, mounted and armed, and intercepted the Indians, or at least a portion of them, at Burnt Corn on July 27. The whites were poorly organized and disciplined, and though they surprised the Indians and gained an initial success, they were ultimately routed with loss and completely dispersed.
The worst feature of this first battle was the loss of white prestige, which followed, and it was at once followed by more serious depredations on the part of the Indians, including the terrible massacre at Fort Mims. It is only fair to say that neither Col. Hawkins, the government agent living among the Creeks, nor Gen. Flournoy, who was doubtless, influenced by the former, believed that the war party in the Creek nation would prevail. Hence we even find Flournoy writing Gen. Claiborne August 10, 1813, after the Fort Mims' affair, "You wish to penetrate into the Indian country, with a view of commencing the war, does not meet my approbation, and I again repeat, our operations must be confined to defensive measures."
It is the belief of many candid historians such as Halbert, that strict adherence to the policy of Gen. Flournoy, would have prevented the disasters at Burnt Corn and Fort Mims, and very possibly have prevented a serious war at all. Says Brewer: "The savages highly incensed at the attack on them at Burnt Corner, July 27, 1813, resolved to avenge themselves on the Tensaw and Tombigbee settlers." Thus one vengeance succeeded another.
The following account of the events succeeding Burnt Corn is abridged from Hamilton's excellent chapter on the Creek War:
"It was at noon on the 30th of August, while dancing was going on; and a Negro was about to be whipped for giving what was deemed a false alarm of Indians coming, that McQueen and Weatherford and their thousand savages dashed through the open gate of the palisade surrounding the house of Samuel Mims on the Tensaw. Major Beasley redeemed his carelessness by dying sword in hand, and the noble half-breed Dixon bravely led on the whites in defense of the women and children. But the odds were too great, and at least fire aided the butchery by the savages. Even Bailey was mortally wounded, and hardly two dozen escaped of the five hundred and fifty men, women, and children in that stockaded acre of ground. God's acre it was, for, when a relief corps came, it was only to find ashes, and mangled and burning dead. Neighboring Fort Pierce was abandoned during the battle and Lieutenant Montgomery led its people to Mobile; while, among other fugitives from Fort Mims, David Tate and some of his family escaped with the two Pierces on a flatboat down to Fort Stoddert."
The tragedy enacted at Fort Mims aroused the whole country and steps were at once taken to invade the Creek country from the north, west and east, and with the purpose of annihilating the Creeks as a nation. Chiefly through the efforts of Capt. George S. Gaines and Col. McKee, the friendly cooperation of the Choctaws and Chickasaws was secured, and a battalion of about 150 Choctaw warriors, under Pushmataha, fought with Gen. Claiborne at the Holy Ground.
Later in the war, another force of 43 warriors, commanded by Pushmataha, with Moshulitubbee as second in command, formed part of Maj. Blue's detachment, and materially aided in bringing the war to a close; indeed, the whole record of the Choctaw warriors throughout the war was an honorable one and showed the nation was truly loyal to the United States. Inflamed by the news from Fort Mims, Andrew Jackson and his brigade of mounted volunteers came down from Nashville, Tenn., and joined by Cherokees, and friendly Creeks, "captured Tallesehatche, founded Fort Strother, and on Nov. 9 (1813) won the battle of Talladega.
From the east, too, the Georgians under Floyd defeated the Creeks at Autose, but had to retire from lack of provisions. General Claiborne fortunately construed the "defense of mobile" broadly, and in November 1813, from the west he also marched into enemy territory. Above the site of the Canoe fight (where Nov. 12, 1813 Sam Dale, Jeremiah Austill and James Smith engaged in their daring hand to hand conflict with nine Indians and slew them one by one), Fort Claiborne at Weatherford's Bluff was built as a base of supplies, and his square fort can still be traced on the bluff of the Alabama river. His objective was Econachaca, the Holy Ground, on a bluff of the Alabama in what is now Lowndes County. It had been built by Weatherford as a place of safety, where plunder was secured and white prisoners burned. Impregnable, the prophets said, but Claiborne stormed in on December 23, and drove into the water those savages who were not killed outright, for there was little quarter in this war. Weatherford himself fled, and with characteristic daring leaped his gray horse Arrow over into the river. The town was burned to the ground, after the army reserved some supplies and the plunder had been turned over to Pushmataha."
This battle practically ended the participation of the Mississippi twelve months' volunteers in the Creek war, as their term of service hand ended, and Claiborne's army soon disbanded. It is not our purpose here to trace in detail the closing scenes of the war. Suffice it to say that the country of the creeks was overrun and devastated form three directions by forces from the north, east, and west. Though the Creeks fought with the courage of desperation, the struggle was too one sided and could not long endure.
The great decisive battle was fought at the Horseshoe Bend of the Tallapoosa river March 27, 1814, between Jackson and his Cherokee allies, and some twelve hundred Creeks gathered here for a final stand. The battle was little more than a slaughter, and barely two hundred Creek warriors escaped alive, while the loss to the American troops was nominal.
The final treaty of peace was not concluded, however, until August 9, 1814, between Jackson and the defeated Creeks. In this treaty they surrendered to the United States all their lands, except the part east of the Coosa River and of a line drawn southeastwardly from Fort Jackson (the old French Toulouse); the Creeks were forbidden all communication with British or Spanish posts; and the United States were given the right to establish military posts, roads and free navigation of waters within the territory guaranteed the Creeks. The war was fatal to the Creeks, and their formidable strength was forever broken.