“The Good Lord willing and the Creeks don’t rise.”
Early Alabama saying that refers to the Creek Indians, not water levels
“Let the white race perish! They seized your lands, they corrupt your women, they trample the ashes of your dead. They must be driven from where they came upon a trail of blood! … War now! War forever! War upon the living! War upon the dead! Dig their very corpses from the grave. Our country must give no rest to a white man’s bones.”
Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee and a large tribal confederacy, delivered this fiery speech to the Creek Nation in Alabama in October 1811 on the banks of the Tallapoosa River as tensions were rising within the Creek nation between tribal members embracing American customs to become “civilized” and accepted by the United States, and traditionalists who wanted to bring back the old ways and throw off white control.
Tecumseh grew up during the American Revolution on the border of the frontier and had seen warfare his entire life. He also saw settlers encroach on tribal homelands and his people had to continue to migrate west. In the early part of the 1800s, he decided to try to create an alliance between various Native American tribes and the British. He felt that was the only way to protect the land his people still held. As part of his scheme, he visited the large and powerful Five Civilized Tribes in the southeast. Those tribes, made up of the Creek, Chickasaw, Cherokee, Chocktaw, and Seminole still held vast tracts of land in the southeast, land white settlers wanted.
Whites were already starting to migrate into Creek country, setting up homesteads and forts. One of those homesteads is now called Fort Mims. Today, the fort is nestled in the middle of a modern subdivision about 35 miles north of Mobile, AL, its boundaries marked with a reconstructed fence made of tall wooden spikes. Back then, it was on the edge of wilderness. Samuel Mims built a house in this remote wilderness of Baldwin County, Alabama then when tensions started to build, hastily erected a sturdy stockade around his home and outbuildings. He got along well with his Creek neighbors and often traded with local Creeks.
Meanwhile, by 1812 war had broken out between the United States and the British Empire. The Creeks were paying attention. The factional differences between the tribal members seeking to become “civilized” (the White Sticks) started to come into conflict with the tribal members wanting to fight change (the Red Sticks, so named because of their red war clubs). The Red Sticks, made up mostly of younger men, were willing to do anything to return their nation to their traditional way of life, culture, and religion and overthrow white control. They were ready and willing to use violence to achieve their goals. Red Stick leaders included William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa. The Red Sticks started to negotiate with the British for supplies and support. The British were happy to obligate, especially since alliances with Indian tribes irritated the Americans. By 1813, the Creek nation had descended into civil war.
In July of 1813, Peter McQueen was leading a large group of Red sticks to Pensacola, FL to pick up guns and ammunition. McQueen had a letter from a British officer from Fort Malden (in Canada) and 400 British pounds he could use to buy what he needed from the Spanish governor in Florida.You can read an interesting account of the Red Sticks interactions with the Spanish and what they planned to do with that ammunition here:
He then told me they were going down to Pensacola to get ammunition, and they had got a letter from a British general, which would enable them to receive ammunition from the governor; that it had been given to the Little Warrior, and was saved by his nephew when he was killed, and by him sent to Francis. High Head told me that, when they went back with their supply, another body of men would go down for another supply of ammunition; and that ten men were to go out of town, and they calculated on five horseloads for every town. He said they were to make a general attack on the American settlements; that the Indians on the waters of the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Black Warrior were to attack the settlements on the Tombigby and Alabama, particularly the Tensas and Fork settlements; that the Creek Indians bordering on the Cherokees were to attack the people of Tennessee, and that the Seminoles and Lower Creeks were to attack the Georgians; that the Choctas also had joined them and were to attack the Mississippi settlements; that the attack was to be made at the same time in all places, when they had become furnished with ammunition.
On their way to Florida, the Red Sticks band attacked and burned the plantations of Sam Moniac and James Cornells, who were both of Creek heritage and White Stick supporters. The Red Sticks also kidnapped Cornells’ wife. McQueen’s band made to to Florida and started to negotiate with the Spanish governor. That took a while. Finally, McQueen headed home with 300 pounds of both gunpowder and lead shot. They left Cornells’ wife in Pensacola.
Soldiers near Fort Mims got wind of the attack on the Moniac and Cornells plantations and also heard rumors about reason for the trip to Florida. Militia leader Colonel James Caller raised a 180-man militia to intercept McQueen and his band as they headed back from Florida. The Americans found the Red Sticks on the banks of Burnt Corn Creek in modern Escambia County, AL on July 27. The Americans attacked. The Red Sticks scattered. The Americans at first thought their attack had scared off the Red Sticks and they started looting the Creek camp. But the Creeks were not so easily deterred. They counter-attacked, driving off the Americans and essentially winning the engagement. The American militia did succeed, however, in taking most of the ammunition and powder the Creeks had bought in Florida.
The Red Sticks were infuriated by the American attack. Americans living in the area started to get nervous. Many white settlers and their Creek allies living in the area took refuge at Samuel Mims’ compound, which by now was Fort Mims. Joining them were a few hundred soldiers and about 100 slaves. All told, about 400 people sought refuge at Fort Mims. All of them had a feeling that the Red Sticks would seek revenge. They were right.
The settlers weren’t nervous or diligent enough, though. Colonel Beasley, with the Missisippi Volunteers, arrived at the fort and took command. Warnings of an impending attack started to arrive from various regional military men. But Beasley had a lackadaisical attitude towards protecting the fort. He left the gate open. He allowed people to wander outside the gates. In addition, when two slaves reported seeing Indian warriors in warpaint creeping around in the woods on August 29, Beasley not only didn’t believe them, he had one of the slaves brutally whipped for stirring up anxiety in the fort.The owner of the other slave believed his slave’s story. Beasley was so angry that he ordered the slave owner and his large family to leave the fort by the next day.
In the meantime, 700 Red Stick warriors, led by William Weatherford, snuck up on Fort Mims and attacked around noon on August 30. Unfortunately, the attack was pretty easy because the gate to the fort was wide open. Pandemonium ensued. Men inside the fort rushed to find their weapons. Women and children ran indoors to hide. Beasley, ran to the gate to try to close it. He was one of the first people killed.
A brutal battle began, and lasted until 3:00 in the afternoon. The Creeks then stopped fighting and conferred about how to proceed. They eventually decided to destroy the fort. The settlers, although outnumbered, fought back hard. Women and children helped in the battle by loading guns and drawing water from the well. Although the militia and the settlers had managed to fight back the attack, late in the afternoon, the Red Sticks shot flaming arrows into the fort, setting all of the buildings on fire. In the end, everyone except a few lucky people who managed to sneak off and escape the carnage were dead or taken prisoner by the end of the afternoon.
Word of the massacre spread like wildlife. In Nashville, Andrew Jackson heard about it and published a blurb in the newspaper the Nashville Whig to stir up the public. He decried the “horrid butcheries perpetrated on our defenseless fellow citizens… which cannot fail to excite in every bosom a spirit of revenge.” The massacre did incite outrage and a desire for revenge, and so started the Creek War which the United States, led by Andrew Jackson, launched against the Creek Nation. Miltiamen from Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi territory headed to the Creek nation to defeat the instigators of the massacre. “Remember Fort Mims!” because their battle cry. But Jackson also had something else in mind. He didn’t want to simply subdue the Red Sticks. He wanted to defeat the Creek Nation and force the tribe to cede their valuable land.
The two sides fought skirmishes until March 27, 1814 when Jackson’s forces cornered the Red Sticks. They fought the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and Jackson’s troops won. The story of that battle is long and will be the topic of a future post. The Treaty of Fort Jackson ended the conflict, and also resulted in the Creeks ceding 23 million acres of land. Jackson, in the end, not only won a war, he gained an awful lot of land.
Today, Fort Mims has been reconstructed. The stockade has been rebuilt, along with many of the buildings inside the fort. You can visit, wander the grounds, and follow the interpretive tour to learn more about the fort, its people, and its history. If you’re traveling near Mobile, it’s worth a stop.
How to Visit:
From I-65 north of Mobile, turn north onto highway 59. Continue for 16.5 mile then turn left onto Boatyard Road. Follow the signs to the park. Admission is free. There are no employees or a visitor’s center, you can just wander the grounds. Visit this page for more official information. You can find a map to Fort Mims here.
To Learn More: