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13 January, 2012
The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|"A historian dare not have a prejudice, but he cannot escape a purpose--the purpose, conscious or unconscious, of unfolding the purpose which lies behind the facts which he narrates."
It was stated in the '"Introduction" that the authors of this work proposed to do justice to the Indians and justice to the whites; which meant that they proposed and expected to state the facts, if they could reach them, concerning both the Indians and the whites, fairly, truly; without coloring; without unduly extenuating the blunders or the wrongs committed on either side; allowing only the ordinary and just feelings of a true humanity to influence them in any sympathy or feeling for the Indians, in any sympathy or feeling for the white settlers; holding themselves as impartial and friends to all, while following the white thread of truth, whether it should lead into the crowded stockade, or was found at the red man's camp fire. All this, and it is much, they hope the readers will feel that they have accomplished with fair success. There is another line, another thread, the golden thread of an even-handed justice, which they would like to trace by giving a brief summing up or review of this border war. Of course every reader of mature judgment will do this for himself, but as we both have had many years of experience in life and are no longer young, perhaps even such a reader would not object to take a look for a moment through our eyes.
There are certainly some well established facts.
There had been some aggressions committed by the Creek Indians. The treaty preamble calls them "numberless." A figure of speech, of course.
A part of the Creek confederacy proposed to make war upon the white settlers, perhaps hoping even to exterminate them.
Some of the war party went to Pensacola to obtain war supplies. They were quietly returning. And here comes in the first real action of the war the Burnt Corn attack. Woodward declares that the Indian leader, "Jim Boy, said that the war had not fairly broke out, and that they never thought of being attacked." It was like saying, if they had been civilized: True, we were getting ready for war, but no declaration of war had been yet made on either side. As they were not civilized, and as the white settlers, not the United States authorities, considered it best to get the start of the Indians, they marched across their frontier line and issued their declaration of war in the first discharge of their muskets and rifles at Burnt Corn. The whites commenced the actual, the open war.
The next action, the first on the part of the Indians, but not the first of the war, was at Fort Mims. Brewer has surely stated the case fairly, when he says, (see Brewer's Alabama, p. 194), "A skirmish on Burnt Corn Creek, eight miles below Belleville, in this county, between the whites and Muscogees, July 27, 1813, was the commencement of the great Indian war." After briefly detailing the action, he says that the Indians were greatly elated by their success"; but he adds: "Inspired by revenge, a month later they fell upon Fort Mims."
And if the facts teach anything there they surely show that the Indians, as being Indians could do nothing less than take the fort and butcher the inmates: nothing less, when the commanding officer, on Claiborne's own testimony, "held the Indians in contempt," "and as a taunt and derision to the timid," (those cautious backwoodsmen, probably, who warned him of danger, those truly brave Baileys and others who wanted to be prepared to protect human life), "had the main gate thrown open." The Indians could do nothing less, without ceasing to be Indians, than enter, kill, burn, and destroy.
Now two questions arise here, in this review, as we seek for the golden thread of justice. The first is, passing over what bloodshed there was in Clarke county, why did not Weatherford with his victorious thousand, if indeed they yet, as Pickett expressed it, "thirsted for American blood," pass over the Alabama and fall upon the stockades of the real, aggressive white settlers, who had put their cattle and put themselves on the Alibamo hunting grounds? Why? Perhaps there were prudential reasons. It was not so easy for the Indians to take food along for a campaign of many days. It was not so easy for a thousand men to cross the Alabama in a body, and then to recross it in haste if they should need to retreat. And there were soldiers at Mount Vernon whom they probably did not care to meet. But perhaps there were stronger reasons. They had learned something of the exaction of justice by the whites in the Meredith and Lott and Duck River tragedies; and now that they had, beyond their own expectation, contrary to the wish certainly of some of them, in one single day swept off five hundred who could be classed, mostly, as Americans, they were, perhaps, startled, as they looked forward to the results. As the chiefs, the leaders, those who knew the Americans best, looked back upon Fort Mims, it seems probable they did not wish any further to incur the vengeance of the whites, they scarcely wished themselves to engage in such another butchery.
Reasons of some sort there must have been why Weatherford, if he was what the historians claim him to have been, did not lead his warriors across the Alabama. Is it not more than possible that Weatherford, who had joined the war party reluctantly, and many others like him, were already sick of the strife?
S. Putnam Waldo, in his memoirs of Andrew Jackson, published in 1818, bears down very heavily on Weatherford. He says that after the battle of the Holy Ground, "Weatherford continued to fight with the rage of a fanatic, the fury of a demon, and the diabolical ferocity of a devil incarnate, until saturated with the blood of Americans." Such was not the Alabama Weatherford. He was for a short time at Fort Mims; he defended the Holy Ground so long as he could; and where else did he fight? Weatherford was not thirsting for American blood. After August 30th he waited nearly four months, till attacked in his place of fancied security December 23d, without striking a blow. The other question that comes up is this: September having passed and October having passed, and no great acts of hostility having been committed by the war party of the Creeks, was it really needful and was it fitting that such a destructive campaign, almost to the verge of extermination of the war party of the nation, should have been visited upon them in November and December and January and March? Did the Fort Mims tragedy, provoked surely by the Burnt Corn action, justify that fearful retribution? And if, when the circumstances are considered, Fort Mims hardly justified the shedding in return of so much Creek blood, was it justice to require such an amount of land from the Creeks to pay the expenses, as claimed, of that subjugating war? Alas! We do not find that golden thread of an even-handed justice. And what did Jackson mean in his letter to Claiborne by those "ulterior objects" which he thought might be "within the contemplation of Government?"
There were land claims, and conflicting claims there had been, in the Mississippi Territory. Georgia had claimed, as granted by Charles II, king of England, all the land between the Savannah and the Mississippi rivers and between latitude 31ë% and latitude 35ë%, and this, so far as Charles was concerned, without regard to Indian rights. Congress bought, at length, the claim of Georgia for one million and a quarter of dollars. Was the Government looking forward to securing a more full title to some of this land? Since the first settlements on the Atlantic coast it has been true that many of the whites have always wanted the Indian lands, their hunting grounds, even their burial places; they are wanting their very reservations now. Indian wars end in the extinction of Indian titles to land, and it may well be feared that this is an "ulterior" object underlying many of these wars.* [* Furthermore, the United States in 1802, had entered into a compact with the state of Georgia to extinguish the Indian title in the bounds of that state so soon as they reasonably could, and the Georgians were in a hurry for their share of the Creek lands. They, after 1814, so crowded the Government that a treaty was made, purchasing lands, which cost the life of Major William McIntosh, and which Congress was obliged to set aside.]
We reach now, in our review, having already implied it and looked at it, the fact of the war waged against the Creeks, in which the larger part of their three thousand hostile warriors seem to have perished. And the conclusion reached here is, that the "Creek War," as waged by the whites against the Creeks, was out of all fair proportion as compared with the "Creek War " as waged by the Creeks against the whites.
Burnt Corn, Tallussahatchee, Talladega, the Hillabee massacre, Autossee and Talassee, the Holy Ground, and Tohopeka, outweigh the few aggressive acts committed by the Creeks, before the war opened, the blood shed in Clarke, and Fort Mims.
It was surely not all justice that influenced the movements of the armies of Jackson and Claiborne and Floyd. Well does Venable call it "vengeance," and that "swift and bloody."
Well would it be if nations heeded more the meaning of the Bible statement: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
The remnant of the War Party and the friendly Lower Creeks, after the treaty of 1814, still held lands which were desired by the states of Georgia and Alabama, and in 1832 was ratified the treaty of Cusseta, the first article of which states: "The Creek tribe of Indians cede to the United States all their land east of the Mississippi River." They were not obliged to remove by the terms of the treaty, but by the crowding in of the whites upon them, and in 1836 war actually commencing, they were constrained to remove to the west side of the Mississippi. Here, in a part of what is known as the Indian Territory, they have found an abiding place. As nearly all of those among the Alabama pioneers who had any part in the events of 1813 and 1814 have passed away, so have the Creek warriors who passed over the great Father of Waters passed now, all or nearly all, over the viewless river which is to the white man and the red man alike the end of strife and of earthly sorrow and earthly joy. The descendants of these Creek warriors have adopted largely the civilization and the religion of the American white race, and they now have farms and mills, and books and papers, and schools and churches. It is to be sincerely hoped that the American Government will at length deal with them on the true principles of Christian equity, suffering no greedy white man to despoil them of their land, and according to them at all times that protection to which they are so justly entitled, And those who dwell along the bright waters which once were held by the free and brave warriors of the great Creek nation, should remember that the children of the forest and the wild had the first and best right to all those beautiful streams, that the white pioneers have nearly always been aggressors upon Indian hunting grounds and burial places, and that the least they can do is, cherishing no animosity for provoked massacres committed in the past, to imitate such virtues as the Creek warriors did possess, and to do their part as American citizens in having henceforth just treatment accorded to all the remaining American Indians.