Creek War - Background


From December 11, 1811, four major episodes of the New Madrid Earthquake, estimated at about 7 in intensity, shook the Creek lands and the Midwest. The shocks were felt over an area of 50,000 square miles. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. It came at a time when Southeast American Indians were under pressure from European-American encroachment and internal tribal divisions were becoming more important.

A faction of younger men from the Upper Creek Towns, known as "Red Sticks", sought aggressively to return their society to a traditional way of life in culture and religion. Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa, who were allies of the British, clashed violently with other chiefs within the Creek Nation over European-American encroachment on Creek lands. Before the Creek Civil War began, the Red Sticks, generally younger men, had attempted to keep their revival activities secret from the older traditional chiefs.

Before the Creek Civil War, in February 1813, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh came to the Southeast to encourage the peoples to join his movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. He had united tribes in the Northwest (Ohio and related territories) to fight against US settlers after the American Revolutionary War. Many of the Upper Creek were influenced by his brother Tenskwatawa's prophecies, echoed by their own spiritual leaders, which foresaw extermination of the European Americans. Peter McQueen of Talisi (now Tallassee, Alabama); Josiah Francis (Hilis Hadjo) of Autaga, a Koasati town; and High-head Jim (Cusseta Tustunnuggee) and Paddy Walsh, both Alabamas, were among the spiritual leaders responding to Upper Creek concerns.

The Red Sticks particularly resisted the civilization programs administered by the U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins, who had stronger alliances among the towns of the Lower Creek. The latter had been under more pressure from European-American settlers in present-day Georgia. The Lower Creek had been convinced to make land cessions of hunting grounds in 1790, 1802 and 1805, because the settlers ruined the hunting. The Creek began to adopt American farming practices as their game disappeared. Leaders of the Lower Creek towns in present-day Georgia included Bird Tail King (Fushatchie Mico) of Cussetta; Little Prince (Tustunnuggee Hopoi) of Broken Arrow, and William McIntosh (Tunstunuggee Hutkee, White Warrior) of Coweta.

In February 1813, a small war party of Red Sticks, led by Little Warrior, were returning from Detroit when they killed two families of settlers along the Ohio River. Hawkins demanded that the Creek turn over Little Warrior and his six companions. The old chiefs, specifically Big Warrior, decided to execute the war party themselves. This decision was the spark which ignited the civil war among the Creeks. That spring warriors of the prophets' party began to attack the property of their enemies, burning plantations and destroying livestock.

The first clashes between the Red Sticks and United States forces occurred later that year on July 21, 1813. A group of territorial militia intercepted a party of Red Sticks returning from Spanish Florida, where they had acquired arms from the Spanish governor at Pensacola. The Red Sticks escaped and the soldiers looted what they found. Seeing the Americans looting, the Creek regrouped and attacked and defeated the Americans. The Battle of Burnt Corn, as the exchange became known, broadened the Creek Civil War to include American forces.

The Upper Creek chiefs Peter McQueen and William Weatherford led an attack on Fort Mims, north of Mobile, Alabama, on August 30, 1813. The Red Sticks' goal was to strike at mixed-blood Creek of the Tensaw settlement who had taken refuge at the fort. The warriors attacked the fort, and killed a total of 400 to 500 people, including women and children and numerous European-American settlers. The incident became known as the Fort Mims Massacre; as a prominent chief, Weatherford was held responsible by the US, although some reports suggest he tried to stop the killing.

The Red Sticks subsequently attacked other forts in the area, including Fort Sinquefield. Panic spread among settlers throughout the American Southeastern frontier, and they demanded US government intervention. Federal forces were busy fighting the British and the Northern Woodland tribes, led by the Shawnee chief Tecumseh in the Northwest. Southeastern states called up militias to deal with the threat.

Read more about this topic:  Creek War

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