Chronicles of Oklahoma

Skip Navigation

Electronic Publishing Center
Oklahoma Historical Society
Chronicles Homepage
Search all Volumes
Copyright 2001
Purchase an Issue

Table of Contents Index Volume List Search All Volumes Home

Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 12, No. 3
September, 1934

By Arthur H. Hall



Page 264

During the first two and a half centuries of their recorded history the Five Civilized Tribes dwelt close to the settlements of one or more white nations. This long period of contact altered the primitive customs of the Indians greatly and gave them a claim to the title "Civilized". In the writing of Oklahoma history there seems to be a tendency to forget this foundation, laid while the Indians still dwelt in their old home in the southeastern United States. The remarkable progress of the Five Tribes, in their present location is but the superstructure built on the foundation. The Creek Indians especially were exposed to the influence of various European nations. In the long struggles, either as allies or as enemies of the white peoples, these Indians acquired something of the pale face methods of war, diplomacy, and politics; while in times of peace the Creeks took on a smattering of European agriculture, trade, and industry. This paper attempts to tell the story of the tragic denouement of the two and a half centuries of white contact with the Creeks, incidentally giving an idea of the advances made toward white culture while the Indians still lived in the southeast.

Destiny placed the Creek Indians in a march country between rival white powers. This "debatable land" lay in what is now southern and western Georgia and eastern Alabama. In the beginning Spanish Florida was on the south and English Carolina on the north. Each colony courted the favor of the Creeks in order to have a buffer against its rival. The Spanish built missions and offered the Indians Christianity, while the English built trading posts and offered them goods at low prices. For the most part the Creeks did as less barbarous people have often done: they accepted the more worldly of the two blessings. Hence, they made friends with the English. The French from Louisiana next interposed, but on the whole even they were unsuccessful in drawing the Creeks away from England. Aided

Page 265

by this Indian alliance, the English colonists were able to have the advantage over the two other powers.

Nevertheless, the Creeks were always ready to turn to Spain or France in case the British should abuse their friendship. For this reason the Indians were generally able to get pretty good bargains. On the other hand, the Creeks took part in the quarrels of these white nations, sacrificing their men for causes they did not understand, the settlement of which would effect them only slightly. The climax of British success was reached in 1763 at the close of the French and Indian War, when Great Britain received all of North America east of the Mississippi, including Florida. Now, for a period of about twenty years the Creeks had only the English for neighbors.

Largely through the efforts of a certain Scotch-French-Creek "mestizo" by the name of Alexander McGillivray, the Creek Nation remained true to England during the Revolutionary War. They did this only to find that they had been abandoned by England at the close of the war. Spain again took possession on their southern borders while the new United States came into existence on their north and east. Rivalry between Spain and the United States followed, the Creeks, under McGillivray's guidance, making the most of it. The mestizo, a master of intrigue, courted and received the protection of Spain, securing the trade of all the Creeks for a Scotch company under Spanish license. Since the Creeks had come to rely almost entirely on articles of white manufacture, McGillivray erected a dictatorship over them based on this trade. He welded the Creek Confederacy of towns into a unified nation for the first time. Warfare was waged against traders and settlers from Georgia, but the United States finally induced McGillivray to accept a treaty. This Treaty of New York (1790) did not end the Creek alliance with Spain. Its main usefulness to the Indians was to keep the United States from becoming too hostile.

English traders from the Bahamas, represented by William Augustus Bowles, now began "endeavoring to retain lands that British diplomats had relinguished in 1783 ". Bowles nearly succeeded in usurping McGillivray's place before he was betrayed into the hands of Spain and sent to Havana to die. He demonstrated that the Creeks had not entirely forgotten their former friendship for Great Britain. In spite of Bowles, McGill-

Page 266

ivray retained his leadership, under Spanish protection, until 1793. His death in that year opened the way for the first effective participation by the United States in Creek affairs.2

"Peaceful Penetration" by the United States

The Red Stick rebellion of 1813-1814 was but the frothy surface caused by far deeper stirrings in the waters of Creek discontent. The occasion for these stirrings was the gradual rise of the United States to a position of dominance over the Creek Nation. The contact between Creek and Anglo-American subjected the former to two very divergent influences. On the one hand it gave him the same tools, weapons, and knowledge possessed by the white men, thus making him better able to compete with them. On the other hand it-fostered the growth of white communities on all sides of him, threatening to crowd him off his lands and to end his very existence.

The Treaty of New York and subsequent treaties between the Creeks and the United States provided that the latter should introduce domestic animals and implements of civilization among the Indians with a view to making them farmers instead of hunters.3 In 1796 Benjamin Hawkins of North Carolina was sent as agent to the southern Indians, one of his main objects being to carry out this provision of the treaty. The long association of the Creeks with white men had already given them more than a taste of European culture. They were in the habit of using cloth, arms, ammunition and other articles of civilized manufacture. McGillivray and other mixed-breeds, and white traders living within the nation, had owned plantations cultivated in the white manner with negro slave labor. Hawkins supplemented these gains by many more innovations.

Page 267

He encouraged the Indians to become stock raisers. Many cattle having been introduced during the Revolution, the Creeks took readily to this pursuit. The country was a good range both in summer and winter and the cattle brought a good price. Agents were allowed to buy stock in the Creek country so the Indians could sell their surplus. The gradual failure of the game supply also caused the Indians to turn to stock raising as a substitute. Although all towns had some cattle, few other kinds of live stock were found among the Creeks.

Agriculture did not progress so rapidly as stock raising. Corn and vegetables were perhaps the most important crops; and there were a few orchards of peach trees. Small quantities of cotton were raised. The Indians had been living close together in towns, but the land around these becoming exhausted by the primitive methods of agriculture, Hawkins encouraged the Creeks to settle in villages on new land. If Hawkins' statement is not an exaggeration, nine-tenths of the Lower Creeks had left the old towns and settled on new land by 1812. Hawkins also encouraged the use of the plow.

Domestic manufacture was encouraged by giving spinning wheels, cotton cards, looms, etc., to the women of the nation, and employing a white woman to teach them to spin and weave.4 There were two blacksmith shops set up, one for the Upper and the other for the Lower Creeks. They did repair work and made articles of husbandry for the Indians.5

It was realized that to gain the Indian's friendship was to dominate his trade. To this end the United States government engaged directly in the Indian trade. "Factorys" were established for the Creeks at Fort Hawkins on the Oakmulgee River and at St. Stephens, near Mobile, in an attempt to break the former Scotch-Spanish monopoly. That the United States was able to do this was due more to the Spanish loss of influence through the death of McGillivray than to any great aptitude

Page 268

shown by the Anglo-Americans. Because of transportation difficulties, the government factories among the southern Indians usually lost money.6

The passing of dictator McGillivray having removed the strongest centralizing force in the Creek Confederacy, Hawkins attempted to supply the deficiency. The plan adopted by the chiefs at his suggestion called for an annual council made up of representatives of each of the Creek towns. Certain national officials were elected by this council, foreign relations and matters of importance to the whole nation were attended to, and the advice and suggestions of the United States agent received. The council had certain judicial powers, but the agent appointed a special court to try cases involving white men.7 It was evidently the intention of Hawkins to knit the Creek Confederacy into a homogeneous unit composed of nearly equal towns, but the old division into Upper Creeks and Lower Creeks continued, Tuckaubatchee being the dominant town of the former and Coweta of the latter. In spite of this, the reforms of Hawkins tended to make Creek government more systematic and stable than it had formerly been.8

It must not be thought that new ideas were introduced and spread without opposition. There was at a very early date (1799) a faction in every town of the nation that opposed Hawkins' "plan of civilization". The agent attributed this to the desire of such persons for presents, since the distribution of gifts was the method generally used to placate the Indians.9 The seat of the agency was on the Flint River, among the Lower Creeks. It seems that because of his nearness, Hawkins' influence was always greater over this part of the nation than over the Upper towns, a fact that had no little bearing on the division of factions in 1813.

If the "plan of civilization" had progressed as rapidly as

Page 269

Hawkins desired, possibly the Creeks might have been able to withstand the white pressure. But time was to prove that the white frontier was advancing more swiftly than the "plan of civilization". The Anglo-American pioneer, with his hunger for land, was the ultimate victor.

Following the Revolution the middle and northern part of Georgia was rapidly filled by pioneer farmers from the Carolinas and planters from Virginia in search of new tobacco lands.10 In 1800 the Georgia counties bordering on Creek lands had a population of some 55,000. Ten years later the same area contained 69,000 people, and there were 6,700 settled on lands recently acquired from the Indians.11 The onward sweep of settlement forced the Creeks to give up their lands bit by bit. In 1790 the federal government secured a parcel of land for Georgia. In 1802 Georgia agreed to relinquish to the United States her claims to the territory between the Chattahoochee and the Mississippi Rivers in return for the federal government's undertaking to extinguish, by peaceable methods, the Indian titles to the lands remaining to Georgia. In pursuance of this agreement, treaties were made with the Creek Nation in 1802 and 1805 by which more land was obtained for Georgia. In general these Creek cessions satisfied the state's immediate demands. The Creeks were given a decade's respite from further importunities.12

The Georgia frontier was not the only one where the white man pressed in upon the Creek. Settlements had long existed around Mobile, both in Spanish and in United States territory. The Creek Treaty of 1805 provided that a horse path should be cut from Georgia to the Mobile settlements. Immigrants from the eastern states began flocking toward the Mobile, with the result that the settlements increased in population from 1,250 in 1800 to 4,300 in 1810. The next year the path was made into a wagon road and the volume of west-bound traffic swelled greatly. In 1810 four thousand people from Tennessee were to

Page 270

be found near Huntsville, Mississippi Territory.13 On all borders of the Creek Nation—eastern, southwestern, and northwestern there were 85,487 white and black representatives of Anglo-American civilization. Against this number the Creeks could show only some 17,500, or at most, 20,000.14

It is no wonder that the leaders of the Creeks were greatly concerned for the preservation of their homeland. They protested many times to the representatives of the United States against encroachments by the white people. The headmen of the towns near the Georgia frontier complained that the whites corrupted the morals of their young people.15 Americans were accused of hunting in the nation without permission, and of allowing their cattle to eat the food of the bear, thus destroying the Indians' principal means of subsistence. When cattle belonging to whites were allowed to stray into the nation and became lost the Creeks were accused of stealing them. Wood was cut on Indian land, and streams in the nation were stopped by fish traps set by settlers. The complaint was made that white people cleared and cultivated on land belonging to the Creeks and the United States government was warned that unless it removed these people the Creeks would claim the improvements as their own. While the chiefs complained the less responsible members of the nation sometimes took more direct action. There were killings and maraudings by both Americans and Indians throughout the years before 1812.16

British and Spanish Influence

People of the American frontier had one pet theory as to the cause of Creek discontent; namely, Great Britain had stirred it up. Spain was designated as co-villain in the plot. These Americans would have, been put to considerable pains had they attempted to prove the existence of any deeply-laid plans by either power. It was always the policy of both nations to cultivate friendly trade relations with the Indians. The red men

Page 271

needed no encouragement to hate the United States, for they had had enough abuse at the hands of that power. Consequently, when the Indians decided to take the war path they would naturally seek aid from their professed friends, the English in Canada or the Spanish in Florida.

Before the War of 1812 high Canadian officials realized that hostilities between the United States and the Indians would at best only expose themselves to American suspicions, while it might even involve Great Britain in the war. For this reason they made some attempts to discourage the northwestern Indians from attacking the American frontier.17

Supposedly the same policy would apply to the southern tribes. Despite the gestures of the Canadian government, the Shawnees from the Great Lakes region led the Creeks to expect that they could receive aid from England in a war against the Americans. Moreover, the previous long connection between the Creeks and the English no doubt caused the Indians to anticipate help from that quarter.

With a few exceptions the same general statement would apply to Spain. She had ample reason to be suspicious of the Anglo-Americans, for these "inquiet neighbors" were already attempting to crowd her into the Gulf of Mexico. The Creeks realized this. The attachment between Creek and Spaniard was of even more recent date than that between Creek and Briton; hence, when the Red Stick War broke out the anti-American partizans among the Indians asked Spain to join them. The Florida officials, especially in the earlier period now under consideration, had to content themselves with giving the Creeks the usual presents and with offering them moral support against the United States.18

The important point in regard to foreign support was this the expectation of English or Spanish assistance gave the Creek party hostile to the United States as much confidence as if that

Page 272

assistance had actually been received.19 Very little tangible help was received from Spain, and none from England, until late in the war.

The Influence of Tecumseh and the Shawnee Prophet

During the early years of the nineteenth century the Shawnee mystic, Tenskwatawa, was prophesying a new day for the red man. Claiming to be the voice of the Great Father, he said that that Individual had created the Indians as His own children. The Americans, on the other hand, were "not my children, but the children of the evil spirit. They grew from the scum of the great water, when it was troubled by an evil spirit and the froth was driven into the woods by a strong east wind. They are numerous, but I hate them. They are unjust, they have taken away your lands, which were not made for them."20 But the Indians had thrown aside their primitive purity of life and had adopted the ways of these despised white men. The Great Father, being displeased at this, had punished his children by calling the game from the forest and shutting it up in the ground; thus causing the tribes to grow hungry. In order to regain the favor of the Great Father, and to recall the game to the hunting grounds, the Indians must throw away the weapons, dress, fire water, and manners of the whites. They must return to the old Indian mode of life, and must take up new songs and dances that the Shawnee Prophet would give them. There would be a day of reckoning during the year 1811, at which time those following the Prophet's program would be saved, but the whites and the unbelieving Indians would be destroyed.21

The Prophet's gifted brother, Tecumseh, attached a political program to the religious one. He wished to unite all the Indian nations in one grand confederacy for the purpose of checking the expansion of the United States. Tecumseh traveled far and wide broadcasting the doctrines of the Prophet and

Page 273

his own plans of union.22 He came among the Creeks in the fall of 1811. The Creeks, famished by the manifold evils thrust upon them, were invited to drink deeply from the limpid waters of the Prophet's religion.23

Appearing before the national council at Tuckabatchee, Tecumseh asked the cooperation of the Creeks in opposing the Americans. He seems to have promised that his friends, the British in Canada, would aid the Indians.24 Big Warrior of Tuckaubatchee, the speaker of the nation, and others of the more powerful chiefs, opposed Tecumseh's plan. Even William Weatherford, an influential half-breed, later a leader of the anti-American party, is said to have spoken against the Shawnee, saying that since the Creeks were doing well it would be bad policy for them to side with either Americans or British in the prospective war. If they joined either one it had better be the former.25 On the other hand many of those who opposed the innovations of Hawkins, as well as many among the younger generation, looked with favor upon Tecumseh.

A group of Creek "prophets" arose, opposing the plan of civilization, advocating the wild Indian life, and promising the people that the time would soon come when, "instead of beef and bacon they would have venison, and instead of chickens they would have turkeys".26 They began to practice the ritual of the new Shawnee religion, and to do the "dance of the Indians

Page 274

of the Lakes".27 Since the higher-ups of the nation did not approve, this had to be done in secret. The cult of prophets had a slow, insidious growth for about a year and a half.

Opposing Factions Among the Creeks

By the time war had been declared between the United States and Great Britain the prophetic devotees were ready to show their strength by a series of murders. In the spring of 1812 two white men traveling through the nation were killed. A short time later a party of Creeks murdered several settlers on Duck River, in Tennessee, carrying one white woman captive to their towns. The outrages were capped, in March, 1813, by the murder of seven white families near the mouth of the Ohio. This was committed by some Creeks returning from interviews with Tecumseh and the British officials in Canada. The party was under the leadership of Little Warrior of Wewocau. The presence of a chief of the nation at this outrage made it an issue of utmost importance to the Creeks.

The frontier was instantly aroused by these murders. Tennessee was especially vociferous, Governor Willie Blount demanding that the federal government conduct an expedition against the Muskogees. Andrew Jackson looked forward eargerly to the campaign, while the press of Tennessee also thirsted for red men's blood.28 The Creek chiefs punished the wrong-doers themselves. The United States accordingly refused to send an army against them, but Tennessee remained greatly dissatisfied.29

The desire to avenge fellow citizens and to protect the frontier was not the only motive behind the state's clamor. Men of Tennessee dreamed of supplementing the Mississippi River route to the Gulf by a more direct one through the upper Tennessee, the Coosa and Alahama Rivers and Mobile Bay. This happened to run through the very heart of the country of the Upper Creeks. The fact that some of the best farm land in the South

Page 275

lay along this route did not stay the desires of the ambitious Tennesseans in the least.30 To the east Georgia, also, was becoming uneasy because of frontier depredations.31 All these considerations foretold evil days for the Creek Nation and its agent.

Hawkins had great faith—one might almost say, too much faith—in the desires and abilities of the Creeks to live in harmony with their white neighbors. He seems to have brought his superiors at Washington around to the same view, but the frontiersmen thought otherwise. They accused Hawkins of neglect of duty and of attempting to lull them into a false sense of security.32 They spread stories of the atrocious conduct of the Creeks. The atrocities gained in horror with each retelling, as atrocities are apt to do. Most of the charges against Hawkins were false. He attempted to maintain a sane balance in Indian affairs, trying to prevent the whites from encroaching on Indian rights, but at the same time impressing on the Creeks the necessity of living in friendship with the Americans and of punishing those guilty of depredations against them.33 The chiefs were as well aware as Hawkins that their safety depended upon living in peace with the Americans. When the War of 1812 began the national council decided to remain neutral and to prepare the minds of the young people for friendliness.34 Occurrences on all sides were, nevertheless, working against the best efforts of the chiefs. The federal government seemed indifferent to them, failing to pay their annuities in goods and money, as it was pledged by treaty to do, for most of the time during 1812, 1813, and 1814.35 In East Florida the Seminoles were aiding the Spanish against a filibustering expedition from Georgia. This

Page 276

activity of their kinsmen was bringing disrepute upon the Creeks. A delegation of the latter went down to induce the Seminoles to refrain from mixing in the quarrels of white nations, but the mission was only partially successful. The southern border continued to be disturbed, Hawkins having to report in January, 1813, that the activities of Americans in East Florida "embarrassed everything".36

The chiefs met their greatest opposition upon the issue of punishing the murderers of white people. The Creeks administered justice through a council of the chiefs who sent out a detail of warriors to hunt down and kill or capture those adjudged by the chiefs as guilty. The death penalty was usually administered on the spot by these warriors, for an Indian would die fighting before he would surrender. In this way the murders of whites were dealt with. For the two white men killed in the nation four Indians died; for the outrage in Tennessee, eight more paid the penalty; and for the murders on the Ohio, eleven were killed, including the Little Warrior.37 The chiefs and Hawkins thought this display of determination would check the mischief makers; but instead it only served to inflame the followers of the prophets and the relatives of those executed. Notwithstanding their efforts to the contrary, the chiefs were now forced to admit that when Tecumseh and his Shawnees had been among the Creeks "some of our foolish people believed their foolish talks."38 Urged on by runners from the Great Lakes Indians, who promised that arms would be delivered to them at Pensacola if they would join the British, the followers of the prophets arose to wreak vengeance.39

The Muskogee Nation was rapidly being split into two hostile camps. Those friendly to the United States were led by most of the "old" chiefs—Big Warrior, William McIntosh, head chief of Coweta, Alexander Cornells, interpreter and a chief of the Upper Creeks, Little Prince, head chief of the entire nation,

Page 277

Tustunnuggee Hopaie, speaker of the Lower Creeks, and others. This party we shall designate the Chiefs' Party, for want of a better name. The more prominent members of the opposing faction were the prophet Francis, or Hillis Hadjo; William Weatherford, the mixed-blood, Peter McQueen, a mixed-blood trader and chief of Tallassee, and Hoboheilthle Micco, an aged chief who had long opposed the penetration of the Americans. The members of this party were called the Red Sticks, hence the conflict about to begin was known among the Creeks as the Red Stick War.40

With the exception of some Uchees, the Lower Creeks, sixteen towns in number, went with the Chief's Party. The Upper Creeks being farther from the agent, joined the Red Sticks. They numbered twenty-nine towns and villages, but five Upper towns, including the capital, Tuckaubatchee, sided with the Chiefs.41 Thus the majority of the nation were of the Red Stick Party. Some towns tried to remain neutral, but were drawn into the war eventually.

The Red Stick devotees gathered in the forks of the Coosa and Talapoosa Rivers in June, 1813. After killing several warriors who had helped execute the murders and burning the house of one of the Chiefs' Party they announced that they intended to destroy everyone in Tuckaubatchee and Coweta, and kill Hawkins and all the chiefs who had taken his talks, after doing which they would be ready for the white people. The prophets claimed to be able to destroy the Americans with soft and miry ground,

Page 278

thunder, lightning, and earthquakes. Any Indian towns that did not join the Red Sticks would be exposed to the same terrific weapons.42 Big Warrior and his followers were hemmed in and besieged at Tuckaubatchee by the Red Sticks. With this crisis at Hand Hawkins urged the Lower Creeks to march to the relief of Tuckaubatchee. He hastily penned a warning to the Secretary of War that hostility to the United States was intended and that a "military corrective" might have to be applied by the government. Cornells went to the Governor of Georgia to obtain aid for the Chiefs' Party.43

Not only did the Red Sticks invest Tuckaubatchee, but they began to destroy villages, crops, and improved property, and to kill live stock throughout the Upper Creek country. Their avowed intention was to destroy everything received from the Americans.44 The Chiefs were alarmed and timid at this sudden explosion and many of their followers were afraid to attack the Red Sticks because of the boasted magic powers of the latter. Both sides were poorly armed but the besiegers of Tuckaubatchee were better supplied with powder than their opponents. Those in the town could only wait until the Red Sticks attacked, in the mean time hoping for assistance from the Chiefs' Party.45

At length, by the end of July, 1813, between two and three hundred warriors from Cussetah and Coweta went to the aid of Tuckaubatehee. The Indians of the beleaguered town were removed under this guard to Coweta, where the combined forces of the Chiefs' Party prepared to defend themselves against further Red Stick attack. Hawkins urged them to go back and give battle to their enemies, but they decided to await help from Georgia.46

There were good reasons for not rushing suddenly into the Creek country with an army. Armies were not to be had for the asking. With the British war in progress, Governor Early of Georgia, the federal military authorities, and Hawkins concluded

Page 279

that it would be better to let the Creeks settle their own difficulties, if possible. These men realized, however, that it might not be possible.47

The Americans Step Into the Creek Quarrel

The hands-off policy could not be maintained as events were soon forcibly to demonstrate. The wholesale destruction of property in the Alabama part of the nation had caused many well-todo mixed-bloods living there to flee to the nearby TombigbeeAlabama settlements. Following the siege of Tuckaubatchee, Peter McQueen, a Red Stick leader, and about 350 of his followers made a trip to Pensacola, where they succeeded in getting a few arms and some ammunition. It was known in the American settlements that the Indians had received the supply, and Sam Manac, one of the despoiled mixed-bloods, had told the Tombigbee people that an attack was to be directed against them. The desire of those plundered by the Red Sticks for revenge, and the desire of the whites to prevent an attack, led the settlers to a determination to waylay McQueen's party upon its return from Pensacola. Some one hundred eighty militia and half-breeds were hastily gathered together. They met the Red Sticks at Burnt Corn Creek, but the latter were completely victorious. The Americans and half-breeds were so far dispersed that they had to return home in separate bands.48

The Chiefs' Party was of the opinion that the ill-advised stroke at Burnt Corn was directly responsible for the massacre at Fort Mims. It seems more likely that the Burnt Corn battle hastened the attack of Fort Mims, but was not the primary cause for that disaster. It will be recalled that the original plan of the prophetic adherents was to unite the whole Creek Nation to them by persuasion or intimidation, killing those who would not join their cause. After this the Americans would be attacked. Following the Battle of Burnt Corn the Red Stick leaders still intended pursuing the plan, the next step being a proposed sally against Coweta. But for the first time dissension appeared within the

Page 280

ranks of the party. The families of those who had been killed at Burnt Corn, as well as many who had fought there, compelled the leaders to turn the attack against the Alabama mixed-breeds and their white allies.49

The white settlements north of Mobile were scattered in a thin line for some seventy miles up and down the Alabama River. Upon the first intimation of Creek hostilities the settlers had abandoned their farms and crowded into about twenty hastily constructed stockades.50 General F. L. Claiborne, in command of the Mississippi territory troops, defended these "forts" as best he could by assigning detachments of militia and volunteers to each one. Fort Mims, far down on the east bank of the Alabama, had 550 persons, white, black, and mixed-breed Creeks, gathered within its acre of ground. Two hundred sixty of these were troops. It was this stockade, inadequately commanded by a careless Major Beasley, that the Red Sticks singled out for destruction. At noon on August 30, 1813 they descended upon the place, 1000 strong. Beasley rushed to defend the wide open gate, where he paid the death penalty for his former carelessness. By nightfall most of the other inmates followed him in death. Some thirty-six escaped this fate, either by flight or capture by the Indians. Most of those captured were negroes, who became slaves of the Indians. A few days later a smaller division of the Red Stick forces under Francis made a raid into the forks of the Alabama and Tombigbee. They murdered two white families, but were unsuccessful in an attack on Fort Sinquefield, another of the stockades.51 The news of these attacks stirred-up a panic among the Alabama settlements. Mobile, now in the hands of the United States, was soon filled to overflowing with refugees. The country above was left practically deserted.

The decision to march against Fort Mims had committed the Red Stick Party immediately and irrevocably to hostilities with the United States. The leaders, among them Weatherford, who had cautioned restraint in attacking the Americans were overruled by the more radical element. Following the massacre the religious heads of the movement seem to have passed entirely out of control


Page 281

of the political heads.52 The prophets became the real leaders, appearing on every field from Fort Mims to Horseshoe to work their magic and give the warriors assurance of superhuman aid.53 Although some may have been a bit skeptical of the prophets, the rank and file of the Red Sticks threw themselves into the war with fanatical abandon.

The successes of the Red Sticks encouraged them to seek allies. They told the hesitating Upper towns that they were now ready to destroy the Lower Creeks, enter Georgia and ravage all before them.54 Mobile had been seized by American troops about five months before. The Red Sticks offered either to help the Spaniards retake it, or to burn it to the ground, in return for more arms and ammunition from Pensacola. Commandant Manrique of the latter place replied that he would try to get arms for the Indians, but he declined their proffered aid. He advised them not to burn Mobile since it belonged rightfully to Spain, and Manrique still hoped that the Americans would return it.55 Overtures had already been made to the Choctaws and Cherokees by the Red Sticks, but both of these nations remained friendly to the United States.56 The ambitious designs of conquest of the Red Sticks were to be truncated by the armies of the United States.

Upon receiving news of the massacre on the Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory sprang instantly to arms. It seemed that the Red Sticks were doomed to a hasty destruction, but such was not to be the case. This force of 2,500 Indians was able to hold out for more than a year against the

Page 282

total of 15,000 American troops sent against it.57 The Red Sticks fought with great courage and resourcefulness, but their ability to hold out so long was due as much to American inefficiency as it was to Creek valor. The forces of the United States were divided into four armies-two from Tennessee and one each from Georgia and Mississippi Territory. About the best that can be said for the cooperation existing among these armies is that they did not fight each other. A unified plan of campaign was worked out by General Pinckney; but the chaotic system of short time volunteer levies, the failure of supply services and the preoccupation of each army in its own designs rendered a sustained united effort impossible. The war was scarcely more than a series of raids against the Red Sticks.

The Mississippi Territory army fought one major battle with the Indians, Georgia fought two, and Tennessee six. The territorial troops won their battle. Those of Georgia were victorious in one, the other being somewhat of a draw. Of the six engagements fought by the Tennesseeans, four were victories and two draws. Although their stakes were of a different nature, both Tennessee and Georgia had about an equal interest in the war. Georgia played a minor part in the field because she was farther from the seat of operations of the Red Sticks than Tennessee, and her troops had to traverse a more difficult route. Besides, Georgia did not have Andrew Jackson.

Despite the ineptitude of the Americans, the Red Sticks were on the defensive at all times after Fort Mims. In November one of their towns, Tallishatchee, was destroyed by the west Tennessee army under Jackson. Five days later this same army routed 1,000 Red Sticks who had been laying siege to Talledaga, an Upper Creek town belonging to the Chiefs' Party. Some of the more timid Red Sticks considered themselves beaten already, but mutiny in his camp prevented Jackson from following up these initial successes.58 The battle at Talledaga had caused the wavering Hillabee towns to solicit Jackson's friendship. While the General was negotiating with them a division of the east Tennessee army

Page 283

fell upon the unsuspecting towns and killed or captured nearly the entire population. The Hillabees considered themselves betrayed by this error. The survivors became the most ardent converts of the Red Sticks.59

Since the long delay of the Georgians in coming to their assistance, the Chiefs' Party encamped at Coweta began making forays against the Red Sticks. A force under McIntosh destroyed the town of the chief Hoboheilthle Micco and began plundering in other parts. of the Upper Creek territory. Under this hammering, the Red Sticks fortified themselves at Auttossee on the Talapoosa River, twenty miles from its mouth. They were given only a brief respite here, for the belated Georgia army under General Floyd accompanied by McIntosh's Indians, stormed the place on November 29, 1813. After burning the town Floyd fell back to his base.60 Soon after this the principal Red Stick stronghold in the western part of the nation was destroyed also. This town had been built at the beginning of the war. It was reputed by the Indians to be a charmed place within which no white man could venture and live, hence its name—the Holy Ground. Despite the sacred nature of the place, it proved to be as vulnerable to fire and sword as any ordinary town when Claiborne's Mississippians, supported by Pushmataha's Choctaws, stormed it.61

These reverses were followed by a period of somewhat better fortune for the Red Sticks. Under the leadership of Weatherford they attacked Floyd's army at Calabee Swamp shortly after the beginning of 1814. The attack was repulsed, but so great was the damage done that the Georgians had to retire again from the Indian country.62 All the Red Stick towns near Jackson's encampment had been abandoned, the people concentrating on the lower Talapoosa for a last stand against the Americans. The Tennesseeans and their Creek and Cherokee allies advancing towards these strongholds were attacked at Emuckfaw Creek on

Page 284

January 21, 1814. The attackers were routed, but Jackson began to return toward his base. The next day the Red Sticks fought a rear guard action with the retreating column as it crossed Enotachopco Creek. Jackson was satisfied with the results of these two indecisive battles,63 but the Red Sticks also were elated. They boasted that they had "whipped Captain Jackson, and run him to the Coosa River."64 Their joy was to last for only two months more.

The wall against which the Red Sticks placed their backs was the Talapoosa River. Here, on a peninsula formed by a meander of the river, a number of the Upper towns had gathered their forces. The landward neck of the peninsula had been closed by a log breastwork. Within the enclosed area were nine hundred warriors and their families. Jackson advanced against this position with 2,000 men, including infantry, cavalry and mounted gunmen, Cherokees, and friendly Creeks; the largest army he had yet led against the Red Sticks. He attacked on March 27. The cavalry and friendly Indians lined the bank of the river opposite the peninsula in order to prevent escape in that direction. Jackson's two cannon opened fire on the breastwork, but could not do any damage. A sally by the Cherokees from across the river against the enemy located at the apex of the peninsula having proved ineffectual, the infantry charged the breastwork. They gained this and forced the Red Sticks back step by step into the Talapoosa. The Red Sticks refused to surrender, asked for no quarter, and received none. Their total casualties in killed and drowned were 700. Three hundred prisoners, mostly women and children, were taken. The loss of the Tennesseeans and their Indian allies was 49 killed and 154 wounded.65

This terrible battle, known to the Creeks as Tohopeka and to the whites as the Horseshoe, brought the war in the Creek country proper to a close. Jackson advanced to meet any further opposition that might present itself, but the Red Sticks scattered in all directions. Some gave themselves up to the mercy of the Tennesseeans, others wandered in the forests until starvation forced them to surrender unconditionally. A very large number escaped

Page 285

across the Talapoosa and sought shelter under the walls of Pensacola. Of the leaders, Weatherford, after surrendering himself to Jackson, was released; McQueen was captured, but escaped to Florida; and Francis also made his way to the Spaniards. The Tennesseeans took thorough vengeance on the Upper Creek country, scouring up and down the Coosa and Talapoosa, burning towns, destroying crops and collecting prisoners.66 This thorough scouring left the Indians entirely dependent upon the Americans for subsistence. Some of the captive Red Sticks were taken to the upper Coosa, where they were allowed to start a crop under the direction of Chennabee, a member of the Chiefs' Party. Others were gathered in at the various army posts in the Creek country to be fed by the United States. By August, 1814, 8,200 Creeks were drawing rations.67

The Creeks must now be kept in their proper place. To this end a fort was built near the confluence of the Talapoosa and the Coosa, on the site, of an old French fortification. In token of the characteristic self-effacement of its founder, it was named Fort Jackson.

The Treaty of Fort Jackson

The next thing was to make the Indians pay for the war. The federal administration had already outlined terms upon which peace would be granted. They were: (1) an indemnification to the United States in land for the expense of the war; (2) a stipulation on the part of the Creeks to "cease all intercourse" with the Spaniards, and not to, admit any but American traders and agents in their midst; (3) the United States to be allowed to open roads, navigate the streams, and erect military and trading posts in the nation; (4) a surrender of the prophets and other instigators of the war. General Pinckney and Colonel Hawkins had been named commissioners to make the peace.68 These steps had been taken before news of Jackson's victory at the Horseshoe could have reached Washington. In communicating the terms to the Creeks, Pinckney and Hawkins promised the Chiefs' Party

Page 286

that their fidelity to the United States would be rewarded, that their land claims would be, respected, and that the government would furnish provisions for the Creek women and children in distress.69

Since Tennessee had played the most important part in putting down the Red Sticks, she did not intend to be deprived of her share of the fruits of victory. When it became known that no one from the state was to have a voice in making the treaty, nine officers of the Tennessee army immediately addressed a protest to one of their members of Congress.70 Jackson's brilliant victory, reinforced by this protest, evidently changed the mind of the President and his advisers. In June, 1814, Jackson was appointed commander of the military district including Tennessee and the Mississippi Territory to supersede Pinckney, and was given full powers to treat with the Creeks.

Jackson interpreted the instructions from Washington very liberally. The Creek chiefs convened at Fort Jackson at the beginning of August, only one of those present being of the Red Stick faction. All the others were of the party friendly to the United States. Jackson laid down irrevocable terms to them. The territory that he required was in the shape of an L on the west and south side of the nation, comprising practically half of the Creek lands. The chiefs deemed this far more than enough for an indemnity. They had expected that the western lands conquered from the Upper Creeks would be demanded, but they had also been promised that their only claims would be respected. Instead, they found that the land was to be taken from the friendly Upper and Lower towns also. The chiefs asked Jackson why he did not fulfill Pickney's promise to respect the friendly Indians' land and reward their services. Jackson replied that he was not empowered to do as Pinckney had promised. The chiefs countered by inquiring why, then, Jackson exceeded his powers by demanding lands from Indians who had been allied to the United States. Jackson answered that since these lands bordered on Florida he did it to keep the Creeks from intercourse with Spain

Page 287

or Great Britain.71 The general certainly proved that when he deemed it expedient he could be above such things as instructions!

Although the chiefs complained, they could do nothing but agree to Jackson's terms. The entire "war guilt" was placed on the heads of the Red Sticks. The United States promised to feed the Creeks until they could harvest a crop. In most other respects the capitulation followed the plan outlined by the administration.72 Tennessee had been greatly favored, for the lands along the Alabama and part of the route to the Gulf of Mexico had been secured. By shutting the Creeks in from other tribes on the west and from Spain on the south the first named Indians were effectively deterred from future hostilities. Nevertheless, the resentment of the Creeks because of the treaty did not abate as time went on. Later in the year, when the British were operating on the Gulf coast, the United States was to find considerable cause for worry over the cool attitude of the once friendly Creeks.

Nor were the Indians the only ones dissatisfied with the treaty. Georgia felt that the federal government had violated the agreement of 1802 by not exacting a larger cession in the state. The land actually ceded was found to be of little value. Efforts were now renewed to have the United States extinguish the Creek title to the rest of Georgia's land.73

The British Gulf Coast Campaign

The aid from Great Britain, so long expected by the Creeks, did not arrive until the back bone of the Red Stick rebellion had been broken. The English were to find that the best they could do was to keep the Indian war smouldering for yet awhile longer. However, the British government had great expectations of its expedition to the Gulf coast. It had received highly exaggerated reports from the West Indies regarding the number of Indians who were ready to join England's standard.74 The leaders of the proposed expedition were accordingly instructed to arrange

Page 288

a general plan of action whereby, "supporting the Indian tribes on the confines of Florida, and in the back parts of Georgia, it would be easy to reduce New Orleans, and distress the enemy very seriously in the neighboring provinces."75

In June, 1814, before the British cabinet had completed its plans for the campaign, H. M. frigate Orpheus dropped anchor off the mouth of the Appalachicola River. Some three hundred men, a colonel, and nine other commissioned officers of the royal marines were landed. They commenced the erection of a fortification and the deposition of a large supply of arms to be used by the Indians. Arms and ammunition were distributed to the neighboring Seminole towns and an invitation sent to the Red Sticks to partake of the distribution. Though greatly exhausted by famine, the Red Sticks managed to make the journey.76 They had been greatly disheartened and were about ready to give themselves up to the Americans, but the news from the Appalachicola revived their latent hostility.77 The Indians were given uniforms, embodied, and drilled as regular soldiers. An invitation to join the British was also sent to Big Warrior and other members of the Chiefs' Party.

Big Warrior replied that he had often been deceived by the British and that he would require further proofs of their sincerity before joining them. Nevertheless, he did not come running to help the United States, the character of whose friendship for him had been measured by the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Instead of making a straight out declaration against Great Britain he informed Hawkins that his young men wanted to go and get the arms and ammunition of the British, asking the agent's opinion on such a move. Big Warrior said that three hundred negroes of the Creeks had been armed at Appalachicola. McIntosh wanted to go down to see what the English meant by this.78

Page 289

Big Warrior evidently understood how to make the Americans bargain for his good will. If that was his motive, he was partially successful. Hawkins issued dire warnings to the chiefs against the deceit of the British, but he did not fail to voice the complaints of the chiefs to the Secretary of War. He reported that the Creek annuities for three years were yet unpaid, that the Indians were naked, hungry, and without means of support as a result of the war, and that they were not paid by the government for their services as runners and warriors.79 In the face of the British danger even Jackson saw the virtue of aiding the friendly Indians. The Indians in Florida were being clothed in the best British scarlet. Jackson said emphatically that the entire Creek nation must be clothed and fed to offset this British policy. He thought the supplies could be given in place of the annuities.80

On August 5, 1814 the British marines and about 500 of their Indian allies under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Nicholls landed at Pensacola. To all intents and purposes the town now became an English possession. The Red Sticks under the leadership of British officers began scouring the American frontier for supplies and booty. Cattle, negroes, and a number of white prisoners were brought off to Pensacola from the Georgia border and the region east of Mobile Bay.81 In September a combined land and sea force of two ships, two brigs, sixty royal marines and 120 Indians attacked the one hundred fifty Americans in Fort Bowyer at the entrance of Mobile Bay The flagship of the fleet grounded in a position exposed to a raking fire from the fort. It had to be abandoned by the crew. The other vessels then withdrew, badly crippled. The land force, after conducting an ineffectual bombardment of the fort, reembarked its artillery and retreated overland to Pensacola. Colonel Nicholls lost an eye in the engagement.82 The first engagement of the Red Sticks since being joined by their British friends had been fought, but the Americans were still the victors.

Page 290

Jackson had for a long time been of the opinion that the Red Stick War would not be over until Pensacola had been captured. He was now to act on this opinion. The Spanish officials had indeed been active on behalf of the Indians. It was at the invitation of these officials that the surviving Red Sticks had come to Pensacola after the disaster at Horseshoe.83 During 1813, and 1814, following the occupation of Mobile by the United States, the Spanish government laid plans to enlist the Indians in a defensive war against that power. The weakened condition of Spain, due to the long struggle with Napoleon, finally deterred her from carrying out the plans,84 but it did not deter the Florida officials from welcoming the British and the Indians. Forbes and Company, the Scotch trading house at Pensacola, was active in aiding the British expedition.85 The company no doubt saw in the British occupation a chance to regain its former ascendency in the Creek trade.

A correspondence was carried on between Jackson and Manrique, the commandant at Pensacola, in which the latter displayed all the candor and politeness of the Spanish gentleman while the former showed all the insulting cockeyness of the frontier bully.86 Jackson charged Manrique with assisting the Indians to make war on the United States, and demanded that he deliver up McQueen, Francis, and the other Red Stick chiefs. Manrique said that he had armed the Indians, not as a measure of hostility to the United States, but as a defense from "insults". He declined to surrender the chiefs.87 Jackson placed no further reliance on words.

With 3,000 men, including regulars, Tennessee and Mississippi Territory militia, and a body of Choctaw warriors, Old Hickory advanced upon Pensacola from Mobile early in November. The Indian allies of the English fled toward the interior of Florida, or to the fleet, and the English themselves retired to their shipping in the harbor. From here they fired a few rounds at the Amer-

Page 291

ican columns entering Pensacola, and attempted a sally in small boats; otherwise they left the entire defense to the Spaniards. The latter capitulated after some skirmishing in the streets. The next day the British blew up Fort Barrancas at the entrance to Pensacola Bay and stood out to sea. For a second time British aid had availed the Red Sticks nothing. Jackson had been disappointed in his hopes of capturing the enemy, but he was certain that he had "broken up the hot bed of the Indian war and convinced the Spaniards that we will permit no equivocation in a nation professing neutrality".88

The next step was to bring the last vestige of Indian opposition to a close. Before departing for fields of greater glory to the westward, Jackson detailed a force of mounted gunmen, Chickasaws, Choctaws and friendly Creeks, about 1600 men in all, to pursue the Red Sticks who had fled east of Pensacola, and to punish the Seminoles, who were reported to be ready for war. About the same time Hawkins also took the field against the Seminoles with some of his Creeks.89 The leaders of the Indians hostile to the United States escaped, but all resistance from that quarter was now at an end. Driven from their homes and from their refuge at Pensacola, there was nothing for the Red Sticks to do but remain in hiding in the Florida wilderness.

Aftermath of the War

Colonel Nicholls was not one to give up easily. Compelled to retire from Pensacola, he and several of his officers returned to the fort on the Appalachicola. Here they stayed, even after peace had been declared in December, 1814, treading the path of Indian intrigue marked out by William Augustus Bowles. Nicholls gathered about him some remnants of the Red Sticks, some Seminoles, and fugitive slaves belonging to Indians and whites.90

The Treaty of Ghent provided that the United States and Great Britain should restore to the Indian tribes with which each was at war all possessions and rights enjoyed by the tribes in 1811, provided the tribes should cease hostilities.91 Nicholls protested

Page 292

to Hawkins in the name of his red friends that under the treaty the Creeks considered their lands to be as they had been in 1811. The chiefs on the Appalachicola declared that they would remain at peace with the United States. They claimed to act for the entire Creek Nation, "declared by His Britannic Majesty to be a free and independent people". Nicholls' idea was to nullify the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Hawkins refused to recognize the Appalachicola chiefs, since they were either Seminoles or members of the hostile Red Stick party. As a gentle hint, he called the Englishman's attention to the fate met by Bowles.92

Nicholls and his associates soon departed for London, taking the Prophet Francis with them, and leaving the other Indians well supplied with arms. Francis was shown some consideration by the British government. He was given a commission in the army and presented by the royal family with a snuff bog, a gold mounted tomahawk, and other trinkets.93 But the government did not support the acts of Nicholls. It had some little difficulty quieting the jumpy nerves of American statesmen on this head.94

The activity of Nicholls seems to have encouraged some of the Chiefs' Party in their opposition to the Treaty of Fort Jackson. In November, 1815, when the new Creek boundary was being run, a number of them assembled at the forks of the Flint and the Chattahoochee to bar the extension of the line eastward through the Lower Creek lands. Finding themselves outnumbered by the force with the boundary commissioners, and being importuned by other Creeks to desist, they allowed the party to go on. They contented themselves with declaring that any attempt to settle the ceded lands would be resisted.95

In spite of the disturbances caused by Nicholls, his sojourn was not wthout its beneficial results for the Creeks. With the Britisher attempting to alienate the friendship of the Indians, United States officials saw that "policy" dictated a concession to justice. The ponderous wheels of government began to turn slowly. At length, in 1817, a law was passed appropriating

Page 293

$85,000.00 to reimburse the friendly Creeks for the land taken from them at Fort Jackson.96


The Red Stick War marked the rend of the Creek country proper as a "debatable land". Surrounded on all sides by lands of the United States, their military power broken, the Muskogees were no longer in a position to bargain for their independence. Being now subject to the whims of the Americans, the Creeks found that it was only a question of time until they would be driven from their remaining territory also. For this reason the Red Stick War is of interest to students of Oklahoma history. The war was the first definite step toward the removal of the Creeks to the Indian Territory.97

On the other hand, the fugitive Creeks who had gone to the Floridas were able to maintain those provinces as a "debatable land" for some years to come. These Indians and their Seminole kinsmen kept alive the spark of hostility to the United States, a spark that was fanned into flame by white intrigue. The war had revived attempts, begun under Bowles, of Bahama merchants to "muscle in" on the Creek-Seminole trade. Some officers who had accompanied Nicholls, and who later returned to intrigue and trade with the Indians, were citizens of the Bahamas. Their activities not only led to the Seminole War of 1817-1818, but they embarrassed the relations of Great Britain, Spain and the United States until the final transfer of Florida to the latter power.98 Thus, the Red Stick War contained within itself the germs of later alarms and excursions.

Return to top

Electronic Publishing Center | OSU Home | Search this Site