Conflicts with Tribes to the West and South (1811–1832)

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Conflicts with Tribes to the West and South (1811–1832)


European Encroachment on Native American Land

Conflicts between Americans and tribal Indians came after centuries of European encroachment onto Indian lands. Since the Age of Exploration, European powers had penetrated the North American continent from several angles. Primarily, the Spanish, English, and French had made their way, at different points in time, into the American South and modern-day Midwest. The story of European exploration of these lands and diplomacy with Native Americans is a complex one. Over two centuries, the European states competed for control over these regions that involved several imperial wars, various methods of diplomacy with the Indians, and constantly changing political borders after multiple conquests, losses, and treaties. Although it is tempting to generalize, no one characterization of how European and native relations played out is apt.

Spain had sent successful missions to the Americas for gold, God, and glory since the days of Christopher Columbus (1451–1506). Their most successful and long-term conquests came in the American West, extending south into Mexico and in Florida. But they also entered the Southeast. Hernando de Soto (c. 1500–1542) went as far inland as modern-day Atlanta and encountered Cherokee Indians during the mid-1500s. Spain showed interest in southeastern United States, particularly the Mississippi Valley, until the late 1700s.

The French explorers and missionaries entered North America and began to dominate the middle region from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Fishing and furs enticed the French, though the official position of the French government was that its people came to the Americas on a religious mission. Since Jacques Cartier (1491–1557) traveled west up the Saint Lawrence River in 1535, the French began to establish outposts and missions along the Northwest Territory. By the time of the French and Indian War, France had established relationships with Indians for military, matrimonial, religious, commercial, and cultural purposes. They maintained control of much of this region and especially the lands west of the Mississippi River until these were sold to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

British imperial endeavors resulted in acquisition of most of the eastern seaboard. Beginning in the late 1500s, England began to dominate the Atlantic coast, forming colonies in Virginia, Massachusetts, and several points in between. Several Native American tribes had already been pushed westward from their homes in the eastern states prior to the American Revolution. The French and Indian War pitted the British against the French, with most natives siding with the latter. After this conflict, and with rising problems between Indians of the Appalachian Mountain range and American colonists, the British government saw fit to restrict any westward expansion with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This simply forbade the colonists from interfering with natives to the west. After the American colonists had successfully won their revolution for freedom from England, the Treaty of Paris defined the official boundaries of the new United States in 1783. The United States stretched from the Atlantic seaboard to the Mississippi River, and from the Great Lakes to Spanish Florida. The thirteen colonies had tripled their real estate, and pioneering and enterprising Americans were now ready to head west.

Those who encountered the Indians had various ways in which to handle this relationship. The early Spanish conquistadors had a reputation for being excessively harsh, and explorers and colonists from the other European nations used excessive force from time to time. But they found success with friendly diplomacy as well. The French forged impressive connections with natives from the Saint Lawrence to the Mississippi River, sending trade goods to the Indians. Many Indians referred to the French as their “fathers” and “brothers.” Many Native American leaders traveled to European nations to be received by heads of state. Cherokee delegations arrived in London in 1730, 1762, and in 1764. A later delegation of Creek and Cherokee Indians visited England in 1790 and 1791. These guests received considerable attention. It was also not uncommon to see Indians in council dress walking streets in the capitals of English, French, and Spanish colonies.

Major Figures

Benjamin Hawkins

Benjamin Hawkins (1754–1816) was an American revolutionary, statesman, and planter, but is most remembered for his role as advocate for the Native Americans in the southern United States. He served much of his career as an agent for the Creek Indians and as a liaison between the Creek Nation and the federal government.

Hawkins was born in 1754 in North Carolina. When the American Revolution began, he was finishing his college degree at Princeton University. He had mastered the French language, which convinced General George Washington (1732–1799) to call on him to serve as an interpreter with the French allies. He was elected as a delegate to the Confederation Congress more than once and served as one of North Carolina’s first two senators under the ratified Constitution. During these times, and well after the United States was established, Hawkins served the United States in its relations with the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes, among others.

In 1785, Hawkins was appointed commissioner to negotiate treaties with the Indians. The Treaty of Hopewell resulted largely from his efforts. This agreement defined the Cherokees’ borders and recognized their right to expel white squatters. In reality, however, American settlers ignored the agreement and encroached on the Indian lands. Hawkins worked out additional treaties, and eventually President Washington appointed him to negotiate with the Creek Confederacy. His interest in the United States’s relationship with tribes and Washington’s confidence in Hawkins earned him positions as agent and superintendent of Indian tribes south of the Ohio in 1796.

Alexander McGillivray

Alexander McGillivray (c. 1759–1793) served as one of the chief diplomats for the Creek Indians with European and Americans during the late 1700s. He was born around 1759 at Little Tallahassee, Alabama, near present-day Montgomery. The son of Scottish trader Lachlan McGillivray and Sehoy, a Creek woman of the Wind Clan, the young McGillivray was destined to be successful. His father came to America at age sixteen and began trading with Indians in 1735. He married a native woman, “cheerful in countenance, bewitching in looks, and graceful in form,” after he gained some property. His father’s success allowed for Alexander to receive a quality education. He was schooled in Augusta and Savannah, Georgia, learning to read and write in English at a young age. He also apprenticed in business. But his mother’s heritage encouraged McGillivray to live the lifestyle of a Creek Indian. With these two attributes, and his intelligence and savvy for politics, McGillivray became active in diplomacy with various political entities over the course of his rather short, but unique life.

He sided with the British during the American Revolution, returning to Little Tallahassee in 1777 to organize the Creeks on the side of the British to fight in southern battles. Though the Creeks were not totally united with England, McGillivray impressed many chiefs and warriors as an interpreter of the outside world. Once the war ended and Britain ceded southern lands to the United States, he took the position that, although the Creeks sided with the Britons, they never gave their lands to them, and thus these lands could not be given by the British to the now-independent Americans. He was involved with negotiating with Spain for the Treaty of Pensacola, which guaranteed Florida Creeks their territorial rights. He also met with officials from the United States and Georgia to convince both that if the encroaching Americans did not respect Creek boundaries, they would be met with force. In 1785 and 1787, Creek warriors kept McGillivray’s promise, attacking and expelling American invaders.

As local chiefs began ceding lands for payments, McGillivray claimed they did not have the political authority to do so. No Creek chief or tribe alone could enter treaties or sell these lands, McGillivray posed, without the consent of the entire Creek Nation and a national council. With his influence over the Wind Clan McGillivray sent warriors into these passive tribes to harass them and destroy their property. With his authority under the Treaty of Pensacola, he prevented trade goods and weapons from reaching the warriors. All this in hopes of creating a strong national government to preserve and protect the Indians from westward-bound Americans.

His final shining moment was representing the Georgia Creeks in the Treaty of New York with the United States. This move sidestepped the reluctant Georgia government and brought the United States recognition. This treaty also gave him control over commerce with these tribes, thus empowering him to subordinate Creek towns for his purposes. McGillivray died on February 17, 1793. Native Americans, especially Creeks, followed his ideals and kept them alive into the resistance to Indian removal in the 1820s and 1830s.

His jurisdiction covered thousands of square miles, while his relationship with the natives earned their respect. He abandoned a potential career and instead immersed himself in Indian life, becoming a diplomat as well as a teacher and an advocate. His kind attitude earned him the title “Beloved Man of Four Nations.” He began a plantation and taught Creek Indians the art of modern farming. His farm became an academy of agriculture for his Indian followers. Hawkins became so respected that his brand, the mark found on his livestock, prevented any losses. Area peoples returned any farm animals that wandered off his lands. For twenty years, Hawkins’s influence allowed for peace between these southern Indians and the United States. He fell in love with a Creek woman, who he took as a common-law wife.

As the War of 1812 approached and as greater numbers of whites encroached on Creek lands in the South, this peaceful relationship between the two nations was soon in jeopardy. Some tribes sided with the British, for they posed less of a threat to their lands. Additionally, Shawnee leader Tecumseh (c. 1768–1813) preached a defense of the Indian homeland and a resistance to the white Americans. Those Creeks nearer to Hawkins joined him and allied themselves with the United States. He raised a regiment of Indian warriors and placed William McIntosh (c. 1778–1825), a chief of mixed heritage, as commander of the regiment.

After General Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) marched under federal orders on an anti-Creek campaign through Alabama and defeated the hostile Red Sticks tribe, the general forced the suppressed natives into a treaty with unfavorable conditions. They were forced to cede large portions of their lands. Even Creeks who had been friendly to the Americans and had all along sided with Hawkins, were compelled to give in to Jackson’s demands. Hawkins was at the great council at Fort Jackson, but could do little to advocate for the Creeks he so admired. Between Jackson’s forceful approach and the white settlers’ push to overcome them, the Creeks’ spirit was broken.

During his time with the Indians, Hawkins recorded authentic accounts of Creek customs that were later published by the Georgia Historical Society. Hawkins finally married his common-law wife on his deathbed and thereafter died on June 6, 1816.

William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison (1773–1841), perhaps best known for his short service as president of the United States, first reached national fame as a military general against the Indian tribes of the West (in modern-day Indiana and the surrounding area) and through his service in the War of 1812. Harrison was a native Virginian and son of Benjamin Harrison, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. His grandson, also named Benjamin Harrison, was elected president of the United States in 1888.

Settling the West

William Henry Harrison joined the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Washington in 1791, in what is today Cincinnati, Ohio. This exposed him to the conflict that he would deal with for much of his military and political career—the conflict between white American settlers and Native Americans, including the Shawnee, Miami, and Delaware tribes. By 1793, the young Harrison sold his Virginia property and relocated to Ohio, beginning his influence as a founder of the Northwestern Territory, first as a soldier and later as a commander and governor.

The infant United States had decidedly defeated the British army and was now faced with encounters between its citizens and Indian tribes. Revolutionary War General Arthur St. Clair (c. 1734–1818) had already lost about one thousand men in a devastating defeat in November 1791 at the Battle of Wabash at the hands of Shawnee and Miami Indians. Harrison now held the rank of lieutenant and served as General Anthony Wayne’s (1745–1796) aide-de-camp. Wayne took Harrison, his other officers, and soldiers to avenge the American defeat and St. Clair’s loss. On this journey, he burned Indian villages and destroyed their crops along the way. Wayne and Harrison met Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, an area north of the American Fort Greenville and just five miles south of Fort Miami, where the trees had been cleared by a strong tornado. Wayne’s army and Harrison came under the attack of the Ottawa tribe. A young Shawnee Indian, Tecumseh, was also in the battle. Wayne’s troops defeated the natives, which eventually led to the Treaty of Greenville, quieting the conflict north of the Ohio River. This outfit eventually established Fort Wayne on the Wabash River, which became the center of American military power in this region.

Harrison became a captain in 1797, but soon resigned his military position to serve in a civil capacity as territorial secretary in June 1798. He served as a chief delegate from the Northwest Territory to the U.S. Congress at the turn of the century. When his term expired, he became the governor of Indiana Territory and settled in the capital of Vincennes. He built a large Georgian home on his new estate called Grouseland. The property served as both a governor’s mansion and a site for several diplomatic encounters with area Indian tribes. As governor, Harrison was absolute ruler. He served as commander-in-chief of the territorial militia and superintendent of Indian affairs. This combined authority caused several Native Americans to bring their grievances to him at Vincennes.

Over the next decade, the territory transformed as Harrison and the United States acquired quasi-legal rights to much of these Indian lands and as more white Americans moved into the region. In September 1801, Harrison worked out a treaty that resolved conflicts between the Shawnees, the settlers in the Vincennes area, and the Piankeshaws, who were few in number by this time. The Treaty of Fort Wayne, which ceded additional lands to Americans, was formalized in 1803. In August 1804, a treaty with the Delaware tribe and Piankeshaws cleared lands between Vincennes, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky. Other agreements followed.

Though these peace offerings were declared formal at councils hosting American officials and Indian leaders, the diplomatic policies that forged relationships between the settlers and the Indians did not make for a completely harmonious relationship. Harrison followed the primary objective of securing Indian-occupied lands in and around Indiana in return for money, liquor, and other goods, and often with a promise of more distant western lands. The United States, through Harrison and others, began negotiating with civil chiefs who often agreed to the conditions of these treaties. The assumption that these chiefs were heads of state like European leaders with binding authority over countless others in their nation was a mistake. In reality, various tribes in the West did not always have a hierarchical relationship under a chief who could speak for all Indians in the area. Harrison and other officers took these treaties at face value, although many Native Americans not privy to the agreements did not.

Handling Hostilities

As more and more white settlers entered the area and encountered tribesmen who ignored these treaties, it became increasingly difficult for these two societies to live side by side. By 1805, five thousand white inhabitants occupied Indiana, which put it on the road to statehood and caused other problems. Alcohol became a real problem. It was a commodity that accompanied treaty agreements. However, it became a social problem within the tribes of the Northwest Territory and a symbol of the white man’s poison, a reminder of how American settlers were destroying the Indian nation. When Indians and white civilians had deadly encounters, the treaties stated that aggressive attackers, whites or natives, should be brought to justice, and properly punished if guilty. But this agreement resulted in anything but a two-way street. Much to Harrison’s dismay, American courts quickly convicted accused Indian murderers, while accused whites rarely met justice. Fellow whites refused to testify, and white juries refused to convict their own. To combat the inequity, Harrison offered rewards for the arrests of white murderers who were never punished when arrested. He reported to President Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826) after the Delawares complained of six non-prosecuted murders, “All these injuries the Indians have hitherto borne with astonishing patience.” He warned his commander-in-chief, “though they discover no disposition to make war on the United States at present … [they] would eagerly seize any favorable opportunity for that purpose.” He warned the president that if America came into any war with a foreign European power, that nine-tenths of the Indians in the region would side with an enemy of the United States.

By 1806, Harrison learned that a Shawnee Indian, Tecumseh, and his brother, who claimed to be a prophet, were preaching against him and the white settlers. Trouble was on the rise. Tecumseh’s goals went beyond seeking immediate revenge. He wanted to create an Indian confederacy among several tribes of the West, and include those from the South. By 1808, these Shawnee had established a village on the Tippecanoe River in present-day Indiana. Tecumseh’s brother, who went by the name Prophet (c. 1775–c. 1837), visited Harrison at Vincennes for two weeks, explaining his complaints.

With the settlers of the Indiana Territory strongly behind a policy of forcing the Indians out, and after Tecumseh refused to accept a delivery of salt by Harrison’s men, the governor and commander felt he had no choice. The safety for the people he represented could, he thought, only come by crushing Indian resisters. On June 24, 1811, Harrison wrote Tecumseh, accusing him of conspiring with other tribes up and down the Mississippi River and of planning to murder Harrison. Except for seizing five barrels of salt, the Shawnee had committed no overt act of war. Additional murders in the area brought support for American action against Tecumseh. But Tecumseh, instead, arrived at Vincennes with three hundred warriors for a discussion with the governor. The meeting became hostile, and the Shawnee warrior departed in a rage. This prompted Harrison to lead an expedition of one thousand forces of regulars, militiamen, and a mounted force from Kentucky north toward Tecumseh’s village of Prophetstown on the Tippecanoe River. On the way, Harrison’s force constructed a fort at Terre Haute as an advance point and named it in his honor as Fort Harrison. The Battle of Tippecanoe was a bloody one that left both sides damaged. Tecumseh was absent. He had traveled south to create alliances with other tribes.

Soon after Tippecanoe, the U.S. Congress voted to declare war with Britain in the War of 1812. Harrison served as a major general in this conflict, starting from Cincinnati and heading north to meet British and Indian enemies. Tecumseh harassed Harrison and his men at Fort Meigs, Ohio, in April 1813. The fort withstood pressures from both British cannon and Shawnee warriors. Tecumseh challenged Harrison to come out and fight, but Harrison wisely declined. Their final confrontation occurred in the Battle of the Thames. Tecumseh had persuaded the English General Henry Procter to fight the Americans, what Tecumseh thought would be the final chance to save his homeland. On October 5, 1813, Harrison and his army defeated their opponents. Tecumseh was killed.

Political Life

Harrison’s wartime successes made him a military hero and catapulted him into a successful political life. From 1816 to 1836, Harrison served at different points in the U.S. House of Representatives, the Senate, as ambassador to Columbia, and in some state and local offices. He made an impressive run for president in 1836, but fell short of victory. In 1840, he was elected on the Whig ticket with Vice President Virginian John Tyler (1790–1862) with the campaign slogan, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too.” He became ill after his inaugural address in the cold and died one month into his term, leaving no legacy as president.


Tecumseh (c. 1768–1813) was a Shawnee warrior who led an effort to unite North America tribal Indians against the growing United States. He was born in the Ohio River valley around 1768 to a Shawnee father, Puckeshinewa, and a Creek Indian mother. As white settlers began moving westward, they violently encountered the Shawnee and surely influenced Tecumseh in his lifelong pursuit of protecting the Indian lands against them. American colonists killed his father in the Battle of Point Pleasant along the Ohio River in 1774. In 1779, Tecumseh’s village was attacked, forcing scores of Shawnee from their home villages.

Tecumseh was a warrior from an early age. He excelled at war games that young Indians played. He was skilled with the bow and the musket, and he would go on hunts and fight mock battles with his boyhood friends, which prepared him for real battles later in life. He also had a humanitarian side. The generous Indian provided food and meat for tribal members who had none. And, though he was foremost a warrior, he opposed torture of captives, a common practice with both Indians and whites on the frontier.

As more and more whites and American soldiers began to occupy the Ohio country, Tecumseh and the Shawnee people were forced westward. After defeats like the one at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Tecumseh, his brother—known as Prophet—and scores of Ohio Indians moved into the Indiana Territory. As the American military proved its might against the Indians, tribes across the region began to cede lands to American agents at councils like the one that took place at the Treaty of Greenville. Dozens more followed. Tecumseh refused to participate at such negotiations and did not agree to any promised relations with the Americans. The United States, however, had secured these lands in what they saw as legal means, giving up federal funds and goods in return. Tecumseh and many others did not support, and in many cases did not even know about, these treaties. Indian tribes were not arranged in a singular hierarchy that representatives of the entire United States or European states could engage in diplomacy. Thus, Tecumseh did not feel bound by these agreements. He watched as his way of life was overrun by the Anglo-American culture. White men’s alcohol, a common tool in persuading Indians, became recognized as a poison by Tecumseh.

By the early 1800s, Tecumseh had relocated near the Tippecanoe River to a village known as Prophetstown near present-day Lafayette, Indiana. The village’s namesake, Prophet, had proven a spiritual and religious leader among the Shawnees, but Tecumseh was certainly the political leader. Tecumseh became the chief nemesis of Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison. As whites and tribesmen clashed in the area, resulting in disputes that often led to murders, Tecumseh began relations on two fronts. He wanted mainly to unite native tribes living in the southern United States with those of the North and West. He traveled frequently hoping to create alliances and perhaps a formal Indian Confederacy. He also began normalizing relations with the British, with whom the United States was at odds. The natives could be a promising ally or a dreadful enemy if the disputes between the two countries resulted in war. The Shawnee warrior began to side with the British and the British accepted him. As this relationship developed, encounters between Tecumseh, his brother, and Governor Harrison caused the peace between area Indians and whites to deteriorate. On more than one occasion, the Shawnee leaders, including Tecumseh, traveled to Vincennes to address Harrison and present their grievances.

Petitioning the governor, sometimes threateningly, only drove the wedge further between these two sides and brought Tecumseh closer to the British. Royal Canadian warehouses began to supply his people with food, supplies, and arms. The climax of tension between Harrison and the Indians came at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Tecumseh was actually away from Prophetstown trying to organize southern tribes when Harrison and his army approached. The winner of the battle is a matter of debate, but it likely harmed Tecumseh’s people and disturbed his following while it rallied American settlers in the region to defeat the Indians. It was also one of the final steps toward the War of 1812. Tecumseh returned to Indiana to find his tribe damaged and war imminent.

He was given an officer’s rank in the British army. He went on to fight with great courage at Brownstown, Fort Meigs, and Fort Stephenson. But Tecumseh did not survive the Battle of the Thames in October 1813, where Harrison’s forces defeated the British and their Indian allies.

Tecumseh’s Speech at Vincennes

Tecumseh denounced the Treaty of Greenville (Ohio), in which Indian chiefs sold millions of acres of natives’ lands for $10,000. He and other Indians did not know of the agreement. These chiefs, Tecumseh claimed, did not speak for all Indians on this land. In a speech addressed to Indiana Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison at Vincennes, Tecumseh outlined his reasons for not agreeing to the treaty:

Houses are built for you to hold your councils in; Indians hold theirs in the open air. I am a Shawnee. My forefathers were warriors. Their son is a warrior. From them I take my only existence. From my tribe I take nothing. I have made myself what I am. And I would that I could make the red people as great as the conceptions of my own mind, when I think of the Great Spirit that rules over us all … I would not then come to Governor Harrison to ask him to tear up the treaty. But I would say to him, “Brother, you have the liberty to return to your own country.”You wish to prevent the Indians from doing as we wish them, to unite and let them consider their lands as the common property of the whole. You take the tribes aside and advise them not to come into this measure.… You want by your distinctions of Indian tribes, in allotting to each a particular, to make them war with each other. You never see an Indian endeavor to make the white people do this. You are continually driving the red people, when at last you will drive them onto the great lake, where they can neither stand nor work.Since my residence at Tippecanoe, we have endeavored to level all distinctions, to destroy village chiefs, by whom all mischiefs are done. It is they who sell the land to the Americans. Brother, this land that was sold, and the goods that was given for it, was only done by a few.… In the future we are prepared to punish those who propose to sell land to the Americans. If you continue to purchase them, it will make war among the different tribes, and, at last I do not know what will be the consequences among the white people. Brother, I wish you would take pity on the red people and do as I have requested. If you will not give up the land and do cross the boundary of our present settlements, it will be very hard, and produce great trouble between us.The way, the only way to stop this evil is for the red men to unite in claiming a common and equal right in the land, as it was at first, and should now be now—for it was never divided, but belongs to all. No tribe has the right to sell, even to each other, much less to strangers.… Sell a country! Why not sell the air, the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?


Eyewitnesses and Others: Readings in American History. Austin: Holt Rinehart and Winston.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson (1767–1845) was a lawyer, general, and president of the United States. He spent much of his career controlling Native Americans, both on the battlefield and as president. Jackson was born in South Carolina and moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to open a law office at age twenty-one. Before entering politics, Jackson was a successful field commander in campaigns against the Creek Indians throughout Alabama and against the Seminoles in Florida. He is noted for defeating the British at the Battle of New Orleans in the concluding days of the War of 1812. But Jackson spent more time conquering the Indian tribes of the growing American South as general and chief executive than he spent defeating the British.

The Creek War

The Creek Indians, one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of the American South, became a challenge to the United States as the country waged war with Britain in the War of 1812. The Creeks generally had positive relations with the British, so between animosities caused by white Americans encroaching on their lands, and their siding with the British, they became a key adversary of the United States. A particular faction of the Creeks, the Red Sticks, were particularly aggressive toward white settlers. In August 1813, the Red Sticks killed hundreds of Americans in the Fort Mims massacre near Mobile, Alabama, after which the military increased efforts to crush this tribe.

Both President James Madison (1751–1836) and Tennessee Governor William Blount (1749–1800) decided that actions against the Creeks were necessary. The Tennessee state legislature authorized Governor Blount to summon five thousand volunteers for this mission. Major General Andrew Jackson organized the soldiers and departed on October 7, 1813, to avenge the attack and to settle the question as to who would occupy and rule this territory. Jackson marched his men southward through Alabama, slicing the Creek Nation in half on his way to Mobile.

General John Coffee (1772–1833) and other soldiers-turned-statesmen accompanied Jackson, including David Crockett (1786–1836) and Sam Houston (1793–1863). Their first encounter took place on November 3, when Jackson’s men encircled nearly two hundred Red Stick warriors at Tallushatchee in northern Alabama. Jackson ordered Coffee and his men to destroy the village. Coffee lost only five men and suffered only forty-one wounded. The Americans slew 186 Indian warriors and brought the captured women and children back to camp as prisoners. The army’s success convinced many Red Stick villages to switch their allegiance to Jackson. William “Red Eagle” Weatherford (c. 1781–1824), a Red Stick chief of mixed ancestry, learned of the local village turning on him and brought a thousand of his tribe to burn it to the ground. Jackson prepared well and met the enemy attackers at Talladega. He and Coffee handily defeated the Indians in this battle, killing over three hundred.

Jackson headed for the important Creek stronghold of Horseshoe Bend, a 100-acre peninsula formed by the Tallapoosa River. A mid-January 1814 battle proved challenging for Jackson when the Red Sticks struck his camp at dawn, but Old Hickory, as the hardened Jackson was known, was ready for them. The Indians attacked, firing guns and arrows. By the time the battle ended, twenty Americans lay dead and seventy-five were wounded. On the Creek side, about two hundred died.

Additional successes followed, but sickness and disgruntled troops caused Jackson some problems. Governor Blount and the U.S. War Department sent reinforcements, giving Jackson several thousand men. On March 14, 1814, Jackson was ready for a full assault on the Creeks that he hoped would end the conflict. He left one of his commanders and 450 men behind to guard Fort Strother, the advance point Jackson had set up in central Alabama. With the additional troops and quite a few friendly Creeks, he headed for Horseshoe Bend. At 10 a.m. on March 27, he arrived to find a heavily fortified breastwork. Within a half hour he began artillery fire at the fort to break down the walls. Soldiers began to fire muskets and rifles into the fort. One regiment eventually charged. The Indians began to retreat, but the killing became savage. “The carnage was dreadful,” Jackson wrote. The next day the general ordered a body count, which totaled some 557 dead on the battlefield and several hundred more in the river.

Much to Jackson’s surprise, Chief Red Eagle was not present at Horseshoe Bend. Jackson and his men rested for a short period and then moved on to set up in an old French fortress that became known as Fort Jackson. Area chiefs got word of the slaughter at Horseshoe Bend and came to Jackson with peace offerings. Red Eagle himself, with bravery and audacity, walked into the fort to surrender. “I am in your power. Do with me what you please,” Red Eagle told Jackson. He continued, “If I had an army, I would yet fight and contend to the last. But I have none. My people are all gone.” Horseshoe Bend proved decisive in quelling the Red Sticks. Jackson was so impressed by the enemy general, that he only gave Red Eagle a strong warning, but promised to protect him if he promised never to rise against the white Americans again.

Seminole Wars

Jackson had handled the Indian dispute in Alabama as a theater of American operations during the War of 1812. He went on to New Orleans to defeat the British there. But within a few years, he returned to deal with the Indians in Spanish Florida, which eventually led to additional white settlement and statehood. U.S. troops attacked Fort Gadsden in the panhandle of Florida to recapture runaway slaves the Seminoles harbored there. After a series of raids by American Major David Twiggs (1790–1862) and the Indians’ counterraids, Andrew Jackson was sent into the area with 3,500 men to repeat what he had done in Alabama.

At this time, Florida was still controlled by Spain. But Jackson and American policymakers in Washington asserted the right to enter the territory, justifying their actions with the effort to commandeer runaway slaves and to control Seminoles who had allegedly been harassing settlers across the border in Georgia. The Spanish were not terribly offended by the act. Most of the encounters were between Jackson’s force and Seminole victims. He slashed through Florida burning villages, crops, and seizing livestock. In April 1818, the general captured the Spanish garrison at Saint Marks, and another Red Sticks village. He then moved on to take Nero, a settlement on the Suwannee River named for a runaway mulatto leader by the same name who had set himself up as chief to several fugitive slaves.

More of Jackson’s exploits led to international disputes with the Spanish and English. Differences of opinion in Washington made for a contentious and suspenseful period. As Jackson conquered the natives, others wondered if another American-European conflict would take place. But with Jackson’s tenacity and proven American might, this campaign ended with the Seminoles defeated, at least temporarily, and with Florida becoming a state.

Jackson left military life and entered politics. After a few years serving as governor of the Florida Territory and in Congress, Jackson won the election as U.S. president in 1828. His policy toward the Indians as Commander in Chief paralleled those as field commander. The Creeks and Seminoles had been put down early in Jackson’s career but had not completely succumbed to American rule. With the president’s support, the Congress narrowly passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830, which relocated scores of Creek Indians to the area west of the Mississippi River.

John Coffee

John Coffee (1772–1836) served as an officer in the Tennessee Militia during General Andrew Jackson’s campaign against the Creek Indians during the War of 1812. After an Indian attack on a southern Alabama fort, Jackson, Coffee, and thousands of American troops marched from Tennessee through Alabama, vanquishing the Creeks. Their primary adversary was the Red Sticks tribe, led by Red Eagle and Chief Menawa (c. 1765–c. 1836). Coffee achieved the rank of general and later fought Indians in southern Georgia and northern Florida.

Coffee was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1772, and was formally educated as a young man. He was also skilled in agriculture, which he learned from his father. After his father’s death, Coffee sold the family property and purchased a valuable tract of land on the Cumberland River in Tennessee, near Nashville in 1804. There, he entered into various businesses, including running a dry goods store, a riverboat operation, and a racetrack. He became a close friend and business associate of Andrew Jackson. In fact, Coffee married Jackson’s wife’s niece. His mentor, business partner, and uncle by marriage, Jackson tore up several of Coffee’s notes of debt as a wedding gift.

Coffee became an experienced surveyor and land speculator. He engaged in the development of the Mississippi Territory and northern Alabama. After the Indian treaties of 1805 and 1806, Coffee was called on to design the town of Twickenham, which later became Huntsville, Alabama.

As more white settlers moved into these southern lands, some Indian tribes reacted violently. Meanwhile, Anglo-American conflicts brought Britain and the United States into war. Coffee served in this two-front war from 1813 to 1815. After the Red Sticks slaughtered a few hundred white settlers at Fort Mims in Alabama, General Andrew Jackson was called on to put down the Indians, who were allying with the British. He relied on Coffe, his trusted friend, to accompany him and lead several missions ahead of Jackson’s main column. They departed Fayetteville, Tennessee, in late 1813, and began attacks on unfriendly Creek Indians, especially those led by Red Eagle.

In one of his early missions, Coffee took nine hundred men from Fort Strother eastward into central Alabama to one of the Creek villages known as Tallushatchee. Early on November 3, 1813, Coffee surrounded and destroyed the Indian village. After the battle, his men counted 186 dead Indians, this from a village of about 284 inhabitants including women and children. “I lost five men, and forty-one wounded,” General Coffee reported, “none mortally, the greater part slightly, a number with arrows … this appears to form a very principal part of the enemy’s arm for warfare, every man having a bow with a bundle of arrows, which is used after the first fire with the gun until a leisure time for loading offers.” At a later encounter at Enotachopco Creek, further south on the Coosa River, Coffee repulsed the Indians after they tried to attack the encampment. He was successful, but suffered a wound himself.

Perhaps the most successful battle that Coffee contributed to was the attack on the Red Sticks stronghold of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa. In the early morning hours of March 27, 1814, Jackson sent Coffee and his cavalry ahead of his main column to the impressive Indian fort. Coffee arrived with his regulars and several Cherokee allies to guard against the Red Sticks’ escape. Jackson also ordered Coffee to create a diversion so the enemy would not realize the principal attack. Coffee was simply to contain the fort and distract the warriors while Jackson smashed through the fort and destroyed them. After getting into position, Coffee ordered his men to commandeer the Indian canoes, ferrying these across the river to prevent escape by that means. Then his men set fire to huts outside the fort. This diverted them and signaled to Jackson that the moment for attack had come. His forces began the raid and won handily. Jackson relied on Coffee to report the details of the aftermath. “The slaughter was greater than all we had done before,” he wrote, “We killed not less than eight hundred and fifty or nine hundred of them, and took about five hundred squaws and children prisoners.”

Coffee marched on with Jackson to New Orleans and participated in the final battles of the War of 1812 against the British. He also campaigned against the Indians in southern Georgia and into Florida during the Seminole Wars. By the time his commander and friend had reached the White House, Coffee served as an Indian commissioner and was instrumental in the United States’ relations with many Creek Indians, including the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes. He died in Alabama in 1833.


Chief Menawa (c. 1765–?) was a leader of the Creek Indians who occupied the southern United States. Menawa was a member of the Red Sticks tribe, a faction that split from other tribes within the Creeks to aggressively oppose American settlement onto the natives’ lands. Menawa resisted the white domination of his area until he and the Red Sticks were forcibly put down and controlled by the federal government during the War of 1812 and into the 1830s.

Menawa was born around 1765 at the village of Oakfuskee on the Tallapoosa River in central Alabama. He was of mixed ancestry. His mother was also a Creek Indian, and his father was of Scots descent, a heritage not uncommon during Menawa’s generation. He was originally known as “Crazy Trouble Hunter,” and developed a reputation for living recklessly on the edge. Tales of his escapades, which included his marauding into southern Tennessee, earned him a place in local folklore among tribes in the northern Alabama area. He was hated and feared, yet respected by white settlers in the Cumberland River valley.

He settled to a degree and began to somewhat follow the white man’s economically lucrative customs—raising cattle, farming, and trading with Indians. At one point he loaded a train with over fifty horses to sell far south of his home in Florida.

But as the conflict between the overcrowding white American settlers and the natives intensified into the early 1800s, Menawa sided with his Red Sticks tribe not only in custom, but also in war. By this point, he had become second chieftain in his tribe and assumed the name Menawa, meaning “The Great Warrior.” General Andrew Jackson had led an aggressive campaign against the Creek Indians during the War of 1812. His troops and Menawa’s tribe clashed at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. The battle was a one-sided affair that proved a turning point in the United States’ fight both against the British and the southern Indians. Over nine hundred Red Sticks were slaughtered at the Red Sticks fort at the bend of the Tallapoosa River. Menawa fought hard to defend the fortress and to stave off the American soldiers. He was wounded seven times. He lay on the ground until it was safe for him to crawl into a canoe. He then floated down the river to safety. Some Creek women who had also escaped the carnage pulled the wounded Menawa from the canoe and nursed him back to health. After months of healing, he returned to his Oakfuskee village only to find his home and settlement destroyed.

This sight only stirred Menawa to fight to defend his peoples’ lands against the powerful American forces. When his adversary, William McIntosh, another Creek of Scots ancestry, signed a treaty to give additional lands to the United States, Menawa became furious. He led other Creek chiefs to hunt down and assassinate McIntosh.

The Great Warrior watched as the tide turned against his tribe and the entire Creek Nation, preventing his goals of protecting his lands and preserving the culture. He was involved in some negotiations in Washington, D.C., and even compromised to a degree to keep their southern lands. He lived long enough to be a victim of the forced removal of Indians under President Jackson’s administration. On the eve of his departure from his Alabama home, he stayed up all night enjoying his home for the final time. The next day he reportedly said, “Last evening I saw the sun set for the last time and its light shine on the treetops and the land and the water, that I am never to look upon again.” Menawa died during the relocation to western lands.

Black Hawk

Black Hawk (1767–1838) was a Sauk Indian who resisted white settlement in his homeland that is present-day Illinois. He is most known for leading a fight against the United States in 1832, a short-lived but bloody conflict that became known as the Black Hawk War. He certainly opposed white settlement into Midwest Indian lands throughout his life. As a young warrior, he was influenced by the ideas of Tecumseh and fought American soldiers trying to control natives.

Black Hawk was born in 1767 at the confluence of the Rock River and the Mississippi River near present-day Rock Island, Illinois. He earned the reputation as a brave warrior by the time he was a teenager. At fifteen he was given the status of brave, having wounded the enemy in battle. At nineteen, he assumed the sacred duties of tribal medicine man, a role he inherited from his father.

By 1804, countless white settlers had moved westward into Indiana and Illinois, and the United States had purchased the vast Louisiana Territory. America’s westward expansion became the bane of Black Hawk’s existence. Indiana Governor William Henry Harrison had already compelled several bands of Indians to agree to peace terms, which typically included ceding lands for money and alcohol. Black Hawk began to agree with the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, and others who refused to give in to the whites’ demands. As the War of 1812 began, these Indian leaders joined with Britain to defeat their common enemy.

Harrison, the growing white population, and the U.S. military proved too strong for the Sauk and other resisting tribes. Defeats in the War of 1812 and the treaties that followed ended any real threats from Tecumseh and Black Hawk. Tecumseh was killed and Black Hawk’s desires to maintain his lands became more and more difficult to attain. During the interim between Indian defeats during the War of 1812 and his Black Hawk Wars, the Sauk leader came to a degree of acceptance of the white man. One of Black Hawk’s Indian rivals, Chief Keokuk (c. 1767–1848), convinced many Sauk people to negotiate with the United States. As the federal government treated with Keokuk, greater dissention came to the Sauk Nation. Keokuk ceded the Rock River country to the United States in exchange for an annuity and promises of lands west of the Mississippi River.

After a winter hunt in 1829, Black Hawk returned to his village only to find that white settlers had taken up residence in his Indian lodges. The two groups temporarily coexisted. But after his return on a hunt two years later, Black Hawk and his followers were not welcomed. The Illinois governor called out the state militia against the warrior and ran him off, forcing his tribe to cross the Mississippi River. Black Hawk said of the white occupants of his settlement, “They are now running their plows through our graveyard, turning up the bones and ashes of our sacred dead, whose spirits are calling on us from the land of dreams for vengeance.”

Revenge is exactly what Black Hawk wanted. The very ideals he supported at the turn of the century remained deep in his heart in the 1830s. In 1832, he tried to rally support from other Indian tribes who had been abused or displaced. He consulted with the Winnebago, Kickapoo, and Potawatomi tribes in an attempt to fight for the return of their lands and to preserve their way of life. He had little success. These tribes had already been subdued and knew the odds were greatly against them. Black Hawk could only muster a force of about two thousand—a large force during his early days as a warrior, but rather small as these western lands filled with militiamen pressing to remove the Indians.

Black Hawk’s force began to attack white settlements and family farms. In the battle known as Stillman’s Run, Black Hawk defeated a militia unit that had earlier fired on and killed some of his men. In May 1832, his army attacked a farm at Indian Creek, killing fifteen, including women and children. These victories for Black Hawk resulted in widespread support for the cause against him from the frontier, the Illinois governor, and the U.S. military. General Henry Atkinson (1782–1842) had already begun to put Black Hawk down with his force of about two thousand militiamen. The Indian Creek massacre convinced President Andrew Jackson to send General Winfield Scott (1786–1866) from Chicago with eight hundred soldiers to assist the endeavor. With this reaction from the Americans, it became apparent to the vengeful warrior that he had no hope in defeating his enemy. By August, he surrendered.

After his surrender and capture, additional treaties confirmed the concession of lands to the United States. Black Hawk was taken to Washington, where he met President Jackson. The president scolded the warrior for the unnecessary and mindless slaughter in what Jackson saw as a futile effort to regain lands that had already been ceded. Black Hawk was imprisoned at Fortress Monroe in Virginia under the condition that he would be released once he persuaded his Sauk followers to lay down the hatchet. He eventually declared, “It is best to obey our Great Father [President Jackson] and say nothing contrary to his wishes.” This marked the end of Black Hawk’s resistance to the authority of the United States. After his release, he toured the eastern United States and was exposed to the more developed civilization that would eventually envelop his Sauk lands. Only after his unconditional surrender and his promise to live under the rule of his rival Keokuk did Black Hawk return to the Midwest a free man. He died in 1838.

Major Battles

The Battle of Tippecanoe

The Battle of Tippecanoe took place on November 7, 1811. William Henry Harrison led the American forces against the Tecumseh-influenced Shawnee tribe in this indecisive, but notable encounter. By this time, the United States had begun settling land in the Northwest Territory, which heightened the tensions that existed between the Native Americans and whites. The Battle of Tippecanoe was an inevitable skirmish between these two sides that shed light on the two forces and led to the War of 1812.

Tecumseh Refuses to Yield

Harrison, a general and governor of the Indiana Territory, had already worked out the Treaty of Fort Wayne, where he summoned area chiefs to the Indiana town and exchanged $7,000, a complete store of liquor, and an annuity for three million acres of Indian lands. Tecumseh, not present for the deal, became enraged at how his contemporaries and those from neighboring tribes bowed to the American officers. He began a campaign to denounce the white man’s liquor and culture in general. The Shawnee chief also took four hundred of his warriors in canoes to Governor Harrison’s home at Vincennes. Around a council fire, Tecumseh made his case to the governor about how his people did not agree to the terms of Fort Wayne, among other grievances. The general replied that the agreement was between President James Madison and the vast majority of Indians throughout the region, who had consented to the treaty and had partially collected on the annuity. With emotions taking over, Tecumseh became hostile with Harrison and called him a liar. After an interpreter translated for Harrison, the general rejected the claim and drew his sword. The Shawnee leaders around the fire rose ready to fight. After a tense moment of the two leaders staring each other down, the council fire was put out and both sides went their separate ways.

The following day, Tecumseh sent Harrison a partial apology, but maintained that each side may have to fight it out. One rumor circulated that the chief put a reward of two thousand beaver skins on Harrison’s head. Receiving only a half-hearted apology, and insisting that the land was now federal property, Harrison took steps to assert the United States’s authority over the warriors who refused to yield.

Harrison Marches to Tippecanoe

There can be little doubt that Harrison, with strong support from Indiana’s citizenry, took the offensive against the Shawnee people. Orders from President Madison and the War Department show no aggressive federal policy against Tecumseh’s people. “I have been particularly instructed by the President,” Secretary of War William Eustis (1753–1825) wrote Harrison, “that peace may, if possible, be preserved with the Indians.” Communiqués from Washington, D.C., and the governor’s role as commander-in-chief of the Indiana Territory, did, however, place a degree of discretion in Harrison’s hands. He gathered one thousand men, regulars, and militiamen, and departed Vincennes on September 26, 1811. Tecumseh had left his village, also known as Prophetstown, to rally other Indian tribes to unite against the Americans encroachment on their lands. Harrison marched toward the Shawnee settlement, near present-day Lafayette, Indiana, at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers. While building Fort Harrison at Terre Haute, one of Harrison’s soldiers was shot by an unknown gunman. This gave Harrison more justification to sustain an attack on the Shawnee. His soldiers’ march resumed. Harrison, trying to bait the Indians, camped within a mile of Prophetstown. After Harrison refused Indian appeals for a conference, Tecumseh’s brother, Tenskwatawa, a self-proclaimed mystic known simply as Prophet, drove into Harrison’s camp before dawn.

The U.S. forces awoke to the attack and began to defend themselves. Prophet, left in charge while his brother tried to forge Indian alliances, promised his warriors that his medicine would strengthen the Shawnee and render Harrison’s men helpless. Before the battle was over, over sixty Americans had been killed, and scores more wounded. The Indians lost only about thirty men, but were driven off. Harrison responded by razing the Indian village.

Considering the capabilities of these two forces and the result of the encounter, this battle was somewhere between a draw and a loss for Harrison. But the battle served as a propaganda victory for Harrison and the United States. News of Tippecanoe rallied white settlers further against the natives and brought attention to conquering them. It also gave more support to Americans willing to fight the British in what would become the War of 1812. The British, it was already suspected, were in an alliance with many Indian tribes. British firearms were found on the battleground in the aftermath, making the future enemy look partly responsible for the damage done to Harrison’s army. Tecumseh soon allied himself officially with the British in the war and was later killed at the Battle of Thames. His brother, having failed his followers with false promises, fell into obscurity. Harrison earned quite a reputation from this battle in what became recorded as an effort to protect Americans from both hostile natives and the encroaching British enemy. He later departed his military career for a life in politics, and rode the legacy of the battle all the way to the White House. In 1840, “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” was the slogan for the successful presidential campaign of Harrison and his vice presidential running mate, John Tyler.

The Battle of Burnt Corn

The Battle of Burnt Corn occurred on July 27, 1813, in northwestern Florida, about eighty miles north of Pensacola. The Creek Indians generally fell into two camps, divided on how to relate to the white Americans who were moving into their territory. The Lower Creeks generally decided against any kind of war against the settlers, but twenty-nine of the thirty-four Upper Creek towns declared for war. The two factions became known respectively as the White Sticks and the Red Sticks. The latter painted their war clubs red, indicating that they wanted to spill Americans’ blood. The Burnt Corn encounter pitted a disorganized frontier militia against members of the Red Sticks tribe lead by Peter McQueen (c. 1780–1820), a Creek chief of a Scottish father and Creek mother.

Americans had begun to settle the Mississippi Territory, and especially southern Alabama, near Mobile. The Spanish still controlled Florida. As the conflict between the warring Creek faction and the settlers began, the United States was on its way to declaring war against Britain. With a common enemy in the United States, the British and the Red Sticks ultimately joined forces. The Battle of Burnt Corn began the Creek War.

McQueen led a large group of his Red Stick warriors to Pensacola with four hundred dollars to procure ammunition and weaponry from Spanish Governor Manique to fight the Americans. On their trip, the Red Sticks ran off any of their own who did not take up a position of war against the United States. They also burned down the home of one American settler and kidnapped his wife, leaving her at Pensacola.

Colonel Joseph Carson, who commanded Fort Stoddert, north of Mobile, learned of McQueen’s intentions and sent spies to see if the Spanish Governor complied. Manique provided the Red Sticks with three hundred pounds of powder and an appropriate amount of lead. On their return from Pensacola, McQueen’s warriors held a war dance, signaling their formal declaration of war. Carson’s spies returned to Fort Stoddert to report some of these details. Local settlers became alarmed and began fleeing from their homes to take refuge into area stockades. Colonel James Caller ordered out the militia to intercept the enemy Creeks on their return from Pensacola. Caller left to meet the Red Sticks on July 25, and picked up additional forces along the way. Dixon Bailey, a Creek who sided with the Americans, joined him. The total force numbered about 180, including whites and Indians.

Spending the night at a site not far from the Red Sticks’ camp at Burnt Corn Creek, Caller and his officers were informed of the Indians’ encampment. Caller’s force caught the Indians totally off guard, as they were eating and relaxing. The ill-prepared militia dismounted their horses and took aim at the Indians. The Creeks temporarily stood their ground and fired back before they were forced into wild confusion, scrambling for safety. The battle has been characterized as a series of charges and retreats by both sides. After the majority of his force fled the battle, Caller made a second attempt with fewer than eighty men. The Americans proved to be better marksmen, but the hectic nature of this battle left many wondering who really won.

The Battle of Burnt Corn was the first official engagement in the long and bloody Creek War. The Americans lost only two men and suffered fifteen wounded. About ten Creeks were killed, and approximately a dozen were wounded. The attacking force did commandeer most of the Indian packhorses and two hundred pounds of the gunpowder obtained at Pensacola, but politically, it probably did more harm to the American side. Few respected the disorganized manner in which the militia approached the battle and the fact that most who participated in the skirmish fled the scene and later dropped out of the service. Caller and other officers had lost their horses and therefore lost their way in the forest. When Caller resurfaced, he wore nothing more than his shirt and his underwear. In retrospect, many felt the tactic to meet the Indians was in haste. White residents in the area contemplated whether a diplomatic course had been taken with the war-declaring Creeks and if hostilities could have been avoided. And to avenge the battle, the Red Sticks fiercely attacked the Americans at Fort Mims, killing hundreds of soldiers, women, children, and slaves.

The Fort Mims Massacre

The massacre at Fort Mims took place on August 30, 1813, about thirty-five miles north of Mobile on the Alabama River in southwest Alabama. The Red Sticks made the attack, which resulted in the death of hundreds of soldiers and other innocent victims. The fort was merely an extension of Sam Sims’s home. It housed more than five hundred people, including soldiers, blacks, refugees, women, and children. Some of those living in the fort came from the White Sticks tribe that had befriended the American settlers. Many Creek Indians, both friends and foes of the Americans, had intermarried and borne children with white settlers. The son of a Scottish trader and a native Creek, Chief William Weatherford, also known as Red Eagle, led the attack. He and his Red Stick followers sided with the British in the War of 1812. Tecumseh, Red Eagle’s Shawnee counterpart, met with Red Eagle to encourage a great native confederacy. Both opposed the aggressive white settlement into Indian lands and sought to resist American expansion.

Red Eagle led the Red Sticks to the Fort Mims stockade. When the alarm came that Indians were approaching, roughly 573 whites quickly gathered for safety. Major Daniel Beasley commanded the militia of about 150. Beasley had disregarded warnings that the Indians were approaching. At noon on August 30, Red Eagle and about one thousand of his followers raced stealthily toward the fort. The gates were open. By the time those on watch sounded the alarm, many of the Red Sticks had made their way into the stockade. Once inside, they howled their war cries and began to slaughter those inside.

The massacre resulted in the deaths of over three hundred victims, who were quickly butchered. According to historian Albert J. Pickett, “The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockade. The women were scalped, and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive, and the embryo infants let out of the womb.” The few American whites who made their way into the fort cabins were set afire. Red Eagle allegedly tried to stop these savage acts, but could not control his warriors, and eventually faced threats himself.

About thirty-six people were lucky enough to escape the carnage. Several of the fort’s black tenants were taken as slaves for the Red Sticks. One young girl was placed in a canoe and floated downriver to safety. She reported the massacre, and the horrific details traveled throughout the area and to military leaders in Washington. The news shocked government leaders. A committee of public safety called on General Andrew Jackson to retaliate against the violent Creek faction. He soon began a march from his home state of Tennessee through Alabama to conquer the warring Creek Indians. After a series of battles throughout Alabama, Jackson eventually subdued the Creeks, with support from both Tennessee volunteers and federal troops. Red Eagle surrendered in April 1814, when he bravely walked into Jackson’s fort. The mastermind of the Fort Mims massacre had come under the control of the United States.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend pitted American volunteers against the Red Sticks at a major bend in the Tallapoosa River in west-central Alabama. The battle took place on March 27, 1814. At the time, the United States was at war with Great Britain in the War of 1812. The Red Sticks tribe, led by William “Red Eagle” Weatherford, opposed the Americans and sided with the British. They had already massacred hundreds of people, including innocent women and children, at Fort Mims in southern Alabama. This prompted a response from both the U.S. War Department and from the Tennessee Militia. General Andrew Jackson was called to lead troops southward to conquer the Indians.

Avenging Fort Mims

Jackson had traveled with his army from Tennessee since October 1813. He set up Fort Strother on the Coosa River on his way southward, a position from which several of his raids would take place. Jackson suffered some setbacks in the expedition. Many men wanted to return after their terms expired. But by early 1814, reinforcements of both regular militiamen and additional volunteers arrived, swelling Jackson’s army to five thousand men. By January 21, Jackson camped at Emuckfaw Creek, three miles from the Red Stick fortification at Horseshoe Bend. Jackson, as he often did, sent spies out ahead of time to determine the Indians’ intentions. His investigators returned to camp and reported that their whooping and dancing indicated that they knew of the white army’s presence, and their attack was on the way. At dawn, the Red Sticks struck the Americans at Emuckfaw Creek. Ready for them, Jackson’s fighters drove them back after about an hour of battle. After the Indian retreat, the general sent one of his officers, John Coffee, with four hundred men to attack their base at Horseshoe Bend.

The Red Stick fortification, however, was too strong for the detachment to do any real damage to it. Coffee returned to camp to report that a different strategy was necessary. In the meantime, the Red Sticks struck again, peppering the Americans with musket shot. Jackson’s men defended themselves once again, but the damage during these encounters encouraged Jackson to temporarily retreat back to Fort Strother. On his way, the Red Sticks followed and delivered more relentless attacks. Another skirmish occurred at Enotachopco Creek. The retreating volunteers did well to defend themselves—twenty Americans were killed compared to about two hundred Indians—but still backpedaled away from Horseshoe Bend. After the battle, Jackson received word that two thousand soldiers from East Tennessee would join him. On February 6, the Thirty-Ninth Regiment arrived at Fort Strother, giving Jackson enough men to take Red Eagle’s strong fort.

The Seige

On March 14, Jackson began his move. Jackson left officers and 450 men behind to guard Fort Strother. He took a force of four thousand, including Cherokees and friendly Creek Indians, to attack the eight hundred or so Red Sticks at their headquarters at Horseshoe Bend. The bend was a 100-acre wooded peninsula almost completely surrounded by water, with a stout breastwork protecting it across its 350-yard neck. Earlier reports estimated that a thousand hostile Red Sticks occupied the fort, plus about three hundred women and children. At 10 a.m. on March 27, Jackson began artillery fire on the structure. Cannonballs simply bounced off. He reported later to his superiors that the strength of the breastwork was “astonishing.” For two hours, Jackson kept firing cannons harmlessly at the fortified walls, as Red Sticks fired muskets at the soldiers while they reloaded.

General Jackson sent John Coffee and a detachment to cut off the Red Sticks’ options for retreat. With allied Cherokee scouts, Coffee stole the enemy canoes. He brought these back to the front line, and Jackson’s foot soldiers used the canoes to ferry over to the fort. He also ordered his men to set fire to adjacent huts clustered at the turn of the bend. When he saw the smoke, and the diversion he needed, Jackson ordered his light infantry to charge the garrison. Running into flying bullets and arrows, Americans pushed the muzzles of their rifles through the portholes of the fort and began firing at very close range. Others began to leap the wall. The carnage had begun. Some Indians escaped, but most did not. By the time the battle ended, the Red Sticks’ losses far outweighed those of Jackson’s men. The general ordered a body count the following day. Some 557 Indians were found dead on the ground and about three hundred bodies were discovered in the river. Additional Red Sticks were discovered in the woods. About nine hundred enemy Indians were killed in the battle. Jackson’s forces lost about forty-seven uniformed dead, and 159 were wounded. Of his Creek allies, twenty-three were killed and forty-seven were wounded.

Much to Jackson’s dismay, Chief Red Eagle was not at the fort and therefore still remained to lead fighting forces against Americans. But this victory proved a turning point in the War of 1812. The Indian’s threat as a British ally began to decline. The victory at Horseshoe Bend also furthered American interest in settling the South. Local white settlers became more confident that the so-called Indian menace would eventually subside, and these lands would be ceded to them. It also marked Jackson’s rise in military stardom. He received a promotion to major general in the regular army.

The Home Front

The Rise of Plantations in the South

The conflicts between Indians and white settlers in the American South were inevitable in the face of political and economic changes that occurred from the late 1700s through the period leading to the U.S. Civil War. The swath of land from the Mississippi River to Georgia had changed hands many times over the prior century. The Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek Indian tribes, among others, occupied this land before European contact. At different points, British, French, and Spanish claimed these lands. In 1763, France ceded the land to Great Britain after its victory in the French and Indian War. American colonists, however, were prevented from entering the area with the Royal Proclamation of 1763. Certainly some aggressive frontiersmen violated this parliamentary act, which was haphazardly enforced. But for the most part, Creek and other tribal Indians dominated the region west of the base of the Appalachians Mountains. After the American Revolutionary War, the victorious American colonists acquired the Mississippi Territory with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

This unsettled area became attractive to land speculators and enterprising planters. Over the next twenty years, it would begin to populate as the United States issued land grants to Revolutionary War veterans, but more so as the demand for cotton began to rise. The plantation system had its roots in the colonies to the east and north, where tobacco and other lucrative crops were grown. At the turn of the nineteenth century, Eli Whitney’s invention of the cotton gin caused tobacco to take a backseat to America’s new primary cash crop. The textile industry in England was the destination for much southern cotton. Plantations emerged as American settlers entered the Deep South from Tennessee and Georgia, and from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi River valley. With the fertile soil and navigable southern rivers, the wilderness frontier was eventually replaced by organized farms and plantation culture.

Slaves came with these planters. One provision in the U.S. Constitution prevented the international slave trade after 1808. Slave traders brought over 400,000 slaves into the interior of the United States prior to that year. Afterward, illegal international trading, domestic trading, and births of slaves on southern plantations increased the slave population. White inhabitants, too, began to fill the southern landscape. Federal roads allowed for migration into the region. By 1820, Tennessee, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama had populated and entered the Union as states. The 1820 census reported that these states ranged in population; Mississippi had over 75,000 inhabitants and Tennessee had more than 422,000.

This growth of white population threatened Native Americans, while the economic bounty from the plantation system caused Southerners to press even harder for rights to operate these lands. Violent encounters between pioneers of the South and southern Indian tribes were not uncommon. As greater numbers of settlers encroached on these Indian lands, tensions between Americans and the natives grew. Having had some amicable relations with the European powers in the decades and generations prior, the southern natives began to ally with the British and Spanish, viewing these nations as less aggressive in desire for their lands. Skirmishes between white American settlers and Indians in southern Alabama and northern Florida brought the conflict to a head. The militia attacked Indians at the Battle of Burnt Corn near Pensacola, and the Red Sticks tribe of the Creek Indians retaliated by slaughtering American soldiers, women, and children at Fort Mims, north of Mobile. This essentially solidified the Red Sticks’ anti-American position and alliance with the British in the ensuing War of 1812.

What followed was General Andrew Jackson’s march through Alabama to put down the Creeks and defeat the British at New Orleans. This removed many of the Indians to lands further west and opened the door for more plantation settlement of the region. Conflicts between Southerners and Indians, however, did not cease with these defeats. Many Cherokee, Creeks, and others refused to bow to the planters and the whites populating the region. As late as 1830, the Congress addressed the issue. What resulted was a sectional debate that paralleled the debate around slavery. The southern bloc, having witnessed atrocities between whites and Indians and insistent on protecting their plantation livelihood, argued for swift removal of the Indians. Northerners, influenced by the same religious and moral ideals that sparked the abolition movement, felt that Southerners should respect the natives, who occupied the land first. With the support of then-President Andrew Jackson, the Southerners won, and the federal government began forcing the Indians away from the plantations in what became known as the Trail of Tears. The plantation economy that dominated the region throughout the Civil War had superceded and pushed out the Indian culture from the Deep South.

International Context

Spanish Presence in the Americas

As Europeans discovered and explored the Western Hemisphere in the sixteenth century, Spain dominated. Under the Spanish flag, Christopher Columbus, Ponce de León (c. 1460–1521), Hernán Cortés (c. 1485–1547), and Hernando de Soto voyaged into the Americas, claiming lands in the name of Spain, God, and gold. Columbus arrived first in 1492, planning to reach the East Indies and believing that he had. In reality, he landed on a Caribbean island and erroneously named the natives “Indians,” assuming he had landed on or near the country of India. Columbus made three more voyages from Spain to the New World, reaching the mainland of South America. The conquistadors that followed Columbus discovered additional parts of the Americas. Landing on Easter Sunday in 1513, de Leon dubbed the newfound territory La Florida for the beautiful and unique flora that he discovered on the peninsula. A dozen additional voyages from Spain to the New World resulted in Spanish dominance of much of North and South America. Cortez began his conquest of Mexico in 1519 and established Spain as a ruler of much of Mexico and the American Southwest. Hernando de Soto explored the west coast of Florida and the coast along the Gulf of Mexico from the late 1530s to the early 1540s. He also made his way to the interior with impressive expeditions, encountering natives several miles inland. His discoveries and exploits carried him from southern Georgia westward into Texas and Oklahoma.

One hundred years after Columbus’s initial voyage, Spain claimed thousands of square miles of American land. The conquistadors who conquered these lands, and the hidalgo, or noblemen, who ruled locally, often did so brutally. Though the Spanish Crown had strictly instructed to use diplomacy before force, explorers and their armies did not follow those directives. Columbus and the others earned a reputation for brutality with the natives, and often with their own subordinates. Their ships carried women, slaves, friars, and priests, but these missions were decidedly military in nature. Soldiers also departed these ships with lances, crossbows, and later, muskets. Large vicious dogs of war sometimes accompanied the columns of Spanish warriors to fight off any unfriendly Indians. Native villages were plundered, women raped, and people taken into slavery. One tactic was to lure the tribal chief into the Spanish council and hold him hostage until their demands were met. Such an approach caused these explorers to be embroiled in battles with the natives. Columbus faced an immediate revolt in his camp known as Villa de la Navidad (town of the Nativity). De Soto’s clash with Choctaws in the battle at Mabila was likely the deadliest encounter of the period.

Spain’s exploration of the southwestern United States continued as Francisco Vásquez de Coronado (c. 1510–1554) searched the region for cities of gold. All told, Spain claimed most of the southern and western United States, Mexico, and many lands south of the equator before England or France could realistically compete with the Spanish. However, during the seventeenth century, these other European powers did compete with Spain. The French entered the continent through the Saint Lawrence River in the northeast to the Great Lakes and eventually down the Mississippi River. The English began to settle the Atlantic coast. Over the next century, a series of imperial wars between these nations and peace treaties resulted in a frequently changing map of North America. In 1800, Spain still controlled Florida and the landmass from California to Texas, and extending south into Mexico. France held the Louisiana Territory that stretched from the Gulf of Mexico to modern-day Washington State and Oregon. During the American Revolution, the English lost the area from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, and south of the Great Lakes, to the American colonists.

The French sold the Louisiana Territory to the United States in 1803, which brought border disputes between the United States and Spain. The American government contended that the purchase included lands southwest to the Rio Grande and into parts of Florida. Spain disagreed, holding fast to Texas and Florida. This caused great tension between the two nations, but Spain faced a greater dilemma in the Peninsular War. France attacked Spain, causing King Ferdinand VII (1784–1833) to abdicate and hand the Spanish throne over to Joseph Bonaparte (1768–1844), Napoleon’s brother. The Spanish people, however, refused to accept him. The fallen state was not strong enough to defeat the experienced and well-financed French. The British, however, came to Spain’s rescue to once again fight their long-time French enemy. These battles on the Iberian Peninsula weakened Spain in world politics and caused the United States to cease relations with the country until a more stable government was in place. With the English assistance, that time finally came. By 1819, the Adams-Onis Treaty, named for Secretary of State John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) and Spanish Foreign Minister Luis de Onís (1769–1830), gave Florida to the United States and defined the borders of Louisiana Territory along the Sabine, Red, and Arkansas rivers to Spain’s liking.

Meanwhile, revolutionaries in Mexico had already shown interest in ousting their mother country. By 1821, they succeeded and eventually set up a republic. An influx of Americans into Mexican-controlled Texas followed. Mexico initially accepted these contractors and planters, but later deemed them unwanted. The Mexican government did not want Protestantism or slavery to enter its lands. But the Americans kept coming. By 1835, about 28,000 Americans lived in Texas, far more than the Mexican population there. Tensions increased that led to Texas’s fight for independence, which it earned in 1836. It operated as an independent republic until the United States annexed the state in 1845.

Spain had certainly dominated vast amounts of lands in North America since its early conquests. The Spanish invaders dominated the Indians of Florida, the southeastern woodlands, and the lands from Louisiana to California and south into Mexico. The Spanish culture can be seen throughout this region today. But by the early to mid-1800s, Spain had lost much of the control it once had on the New World.


Indian Removal Act

The Indian Removal Act passed the U.S. Congress on May 28, 1830. The primary idea behind the law had been discussed since Thomas Jefferson’s administration offered a similar bill in 1803: to remove Native Americans from their original lands east of the Mississippi River and relocate them in the U.S. territories to the west. The plan was reintroduced in 1825 after a series of problems that resulted from encounters between the tribal Indians of the southern states and the federal government. President Andrew Jackson, who had conducted military campaigns against the Creek Indians and other tribes, supported the law. He first called for it in his initial message to Congress. He felt the Native Americans constituted a distinct threat to American interests, and he honestly felt that removing them from within the white settlements in the South was in the Indians’ best interest, believing that they could not live surrounded by a sovereign white nation.

The legislation recommended the area west of the Mississippi River to be divided into enough districts to accept as many tribes that would be relocated to this area. The bill also offered an exchange of Indian lands from the South for those in the Midwest. In both the House of Representatives and in the Senate, this proposal sparked a heated debate. Senator Theodore Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a deeply religious man, claimed the Indians had the right to refuse the taking of their lands. “We have crowded the tribes upon a few miserable acres of our Southern frontier … and still, like the horse-leech, our insatiate cupidity cries, give! Give! Give!” Members from the southern states, who felt more threatened by the Native Americans, spoke in favor of the bill. The Senate voted for the law by a vote of twenty-eight to sixteen on April 26.

In the House, the debate was even more contentious. Religious leaders and organizations back home in the congressmens’ districts had expressed their opposition to the bill, and several House members worried about how voting for the measure would affect their next election. Some of these lawmakers leveled accusations at President Jackson for defying the Constitution. Others claimed that Jackson exercised a paternalistic approach toward the natives, believing, as Georgia Congressman Wilson Lumpkin said, “No man entertains kinder feelings toward the Indians than Andrew Jackson.” The bill barely passed the House by a vote of 102 to 97.

Jackson and his administration negotiated the treaties that removed the so-called Five Civilized Tribes. Many of the relocated Indians were moved to what was commonly called Indian Territory, in present-day Oklahoma. The relocation journey, harsh and unexpected, became known as the Trail of Tears. Thirteen tribes made the one-way trip. Some resisted. Federal troops had to remove some Cherokees. As late as 1838, General Winfield Scott was assigned this duty. He and seven thousand U.S. troops rounded up the remaining Cherokees and forced them to the new Indian Territory. The Seminoles of Florida fought the United States in the Second Seminole War (1835–1842) before the act was completely carried out.



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Conflicts with Tribes to the West and South (1811–1832)

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