Creek War

views updated


In the early nineteenth century the Creek peoples, who lived in what is today Alabama, numbered about twenty thousand. Differences arose between two factions of the Creek Nation—those who adopted Euro-American farming methods, gender roles, and industrial technology, and those wanted to preserve traditional ways. The Creek War was the second phase of a civil conflict between these factions.

The Lower Towns Creeks, sometimes known as the White Sticks, wanted to accommodate the Americans and adopt their ways. Standing with them was the wealthy and educated Tustunugee Thulco ("Big Warrior"). The Upper Towns Creeks, known as the Red Sticks because of their red war clubs, sought to uphold traditional Creek ways and prevent American encroachment on Creek lands. William Weatherford (Lumhe Chati, or "Red Eagle") had a high rank among this faction. Many leaders from both camps, including Weatherford, were the sons of Scottish and English traders who took Creek brides.

The Red Sticks' movement gained strength when Tecumseh, a Shawnee leader, visited the region in 1811. Tecumseh's message to avoid "white man's" social and cultural practices brought thousands of Creeks into the Red Sticks' fold. Many Creeks identified with the Shawnee diplomat's efforts to rekindle a respect for the spiritual world of their ancestors and to restore the balance between themselves and nature. As part of such a restoration, the Red Sticks believed that their shamans' talismans and prayers could protect them from harm when they went into battle.

The Red Sticks began their active resistance in 1812 in response to the White Sticks' punishment of Creek men who raided Euro-American settlements in Ohio. Another source of contention was the White Sticks' support for a proposed federal military road through Creek lands. Americans in Tennessee and

Georgia wanted to intervene in the Creek civil war in order to acquire more land. The U.S. War Department concurred and forwarded instructions to the governors of the two states to prepare for hostilities. The situation grew serious in July 1813, when the Red Sticks sought guns and powder from the English merchants operating out of Pensacola, in Spanish Florida. The United States government reacted harshly to the Creeks' treating with the British enemy at the height of the War of 1812.

On 27 July 1813 Colonel James Caller, acting on his own initiative, led a force of 180 Mississippi Territory militiamen in the interception of a Creek supply train at Burnt Corn. Though initially surprised, the Creeks rallied to defeat their attackers. Emboldened by their success, the Red Stick Creeks under Weatherford attacked Fort Mims on 30 August 1813, killing several hundred American inhabitants. News of the battle and the massacre spread throughout the Southeast.

Capitalizing on the reaction, General Andrew Jackson marched his army from Tennessee south into Creek country on 27 September 1813. In a parallel move, another Tennessee force under General John Cocke also marched south. Meanwhile, Pushmataha led a Choctaw force from the west against the Creeks, the Choctaws' old rivals. A fourth expedition, commanded by Major General John Floyd, invaded the region from Georgia.

Throughout the autumn and winter of 1813–1814, American forces ravaged the Upper Towns. General John Coffee's brigade destroyed the Creek village of Tallushatchee on 3 November 1813. On 9 November 1813 troops under Jackson defeated a Red Stick war party besieging the pro-American Creek village of Talegda. Later that month, Cocke's volunteer cavalry overran several Creek villages whose loyalty was in question.

Jackson soon experienced a number of setbacks. Enlistments ran out for most of his army; other volunteers threatened to desert because of poor rations and pay. After an abortive attack on a Red Stick fort at Horseshoe Bend on 21 January 1814, Jackson realized that his men would need discipline to mount a successful offensive against the Red Sticks. For the next two months he drilled his troops. During that time Jackson received reinforcements, including the Thirty-ninth Regiment, a regular unit of the United States Army, as well as 500 mounted Cherokees and 100 pro-American Creeks. In early March, with more than 2,700 men, Jackson took the war into Red Stick territory.

On 27 March 1814 the combined force crushed the Red Sticks in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Most of the thousand Red Sticks defending the fort died in the battle. For the next few months, Jackson conducted mop-up operations. On 9 August 1814 the Creeks, Weatherford among them, surrendered 23 million acres in southern Alabama at the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Ironically, most of the land belonged to the Lower Towns Creeks, who fought alongside the Euro-Americans. However, the United States wanted to block the road to Pensacola, thereby cutting off British and Spanish support. Jackson later seized northern Florida even though the country was not at war with Spain.

The Creek War was one of the last incidents of armed Indian resistance against the United States in the Southeast. The Treaty of Fort Jackson secured Alabama for American settlement. It also destroyed the Red Sticks and their threat to other Indians who adopted European agricultural and political practices. Andrew Jackson's exploits against the Creeks helped win him national prominence. As president, he used his power to evict the Creeks from their homelands.

See alsoAmerican Indians: American Indian Policy, 1787–1830; American Indians: American Indian Removal; American Indians: American Indian Resistance to White Expansion;American Indians: Southeast; Horseshoe Bend, Battle of; Jackson, Andrew; Spanish Borderlands; War of 1812 .


Ethridge, Robbie Franklyn. Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.

Hahn, Steven C. The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.

Martin, Joel W. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.

Owsley, Frank Lawrence. Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812–1815. Gainesville: University Presses of Florida, 1981; Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2000.

Piker, Joshua. "Colonists and Creeks: Rethinking the Pre-Revolutionary Southern Backcountry." Journal of Southern History 70, no. 3 (2004): 503–540.

Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. The Only Land They Knew: The Tragic Story of the American Indians of the Old South. New York: Free Press, and London: Collier Macmillan, 1981.

George Edward Milne