Horseshoe Bend National Military Park holding special event

Published 3:13 pm Monday, December 10, 2018

VALLEY — The state of Alabama will be celebrating its bicentennial in 2019. Alabama was admitted as the 22nd state to the union on Dec. 14, 1819. A critical event that led to this was the defeat of the Creeks in a war that began in 1813 and ended the next year. With the Treaty of Fort Jackson in August 1814, the Creek Nation ceded 23 million acres to the U.S. Much of what’s now the state of Alabama was carved out of that land.

The Creeks had little choice but to accept harsh terms after the crushing defeat they suffered at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. Weather permitting, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, located a short drive away from Chambers County, will be hosting a special event Saturday evening, Dec. 15 in anticipation of the bicentennial and Horseshoe Bend’s role in it. From 5 to 7:30 p.m. CST, the park will be hosting an open house and a hay ride. Refreshments will be served in the park’s visitor center and the tour road will be lit with luminaries.

“We hope the community will come out and kick off the holiday season by enjoying their national park at night,” said Acting Superintendent Doug Murphy.

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This will be a rare opportunity to see the park at night and to enjoy the beautiful night sky in rural Alabama.

Due to limited space, sign-up for the hayride is required. Call (256) 234-7111 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. CST daily to sign up. Reservations will be accepted until all spots are filled. Be sure to dress for the weather.

Matthew Robinson, a park guide at Horseshoe Bend, was the guest speaker at a recent meeting of the Kiwanis Club of Valley. He’s been with the park for the past two years while working on his master’s degree in history from nearby Auburn University.

Robinson said a conflict between the Creeks and settlers on their ancestral lands had been brewing for years and reached a boiling point in 1813.

“There had been continual treaties with the Creeks continuing to lose land with each one,” he said. “They were surrounded on all sides by  the U.S., England, France and Spain, who were all vying for influence.”

Robinson talked about the efforts to assimilate the Creeks into the new nation. “They were encouraged to become family farmers,” he said, noting the work of such people as Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins.

The biggest problem may have been that the Creek population never amounted to more than 20,000 to 30,000 people, and it was a matter of time for them to be overwhelmed by a tide of settlers coming in to take their land. This was clearly about to happen when the Federal Road was built through Alabama to New Orleans in 1805.

“The Creeks agreed to it, but it was another way to take their land,” Robinson said.

Tensions grew among the Creeks. Those who wanted to cooperate with the settlers were known as the White Sticks, and those who resisted to the point of war were the Red Sticks. The red sticks were inspired to resist by Native nationalists as Tecumseh, who came south to speak to them in 1809 and in a fiery speech delivered in the Oakfuskee villages on the Tallapoosa River, urged them to resist on all fronts.

Another factor leading to war involved the collapse of trade between the settlers and Indians. In the late 1700s, deer skins were much in demand. “At one time 200,000 deer skins were being brought in every year,” Robinson said. “Such over-harvesting caused the deer population to dwindle. The Creeks had to hunt longer and be away from home longer. They couldn’t get the goods they needed.”

The first incident of the Creek War took place in July 1813 when the territorial militia ambushed a Red Stick supply train returning home from a trip to Pensacola. In retaliation for this, the Red Sticks attacked Fort Mims the next month, killing an estimated 250 settlers.

The U.S. response was almost immediate. The governors of the Mississippi Territory, Georgia and Tennessee organized militias and launched a full-scale campaign to crush the Red Sticks.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson of the Tennessee Militia stuck southward into the heart of Red Stick country between the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. Early victories in November at the Upper Creek towns of Tallushatchee and Talladega raised hopes for a speedy end to the war, but supply delays, the end of enlistments and the threat of starvation slowed the advance. Jackson resumed his campaign in January. After bloody battles at Emuckfaw and Enitachopco he withdrew to Fort Strother and planned an additional attack at Horseshoe Bend.

Robinson said that the warring Creeks faced a hopeless situation.

“They were being attacked on all sides,” he said. “Between 50 and 60 Red Stick towns were destroyed. There’s no way of knowing how many people starved to death. Some went to Florida and lived among the Seminoles. Since the Creeks did not have a written language, and everything was passed down through oral tradition, it’s almost impossible to know.”

Survivors from six Creek towns took refuge in a bend in the Tallapoosa River. They built a barricade across the open end and counted on the river to offer protection on the other three sides. Jackson’s scouts had seen the barricade during the Emuckfaw campaign and reported it to him. He decided it must have been a significant settlement and made plans to attack the  next spring.

It was a very one-sided battle. Jackson commanded the 39th Infantry.

“They were trained soldiers,” Robinson said. “They stayed in formations and obeyed orders.”

The Creeks inside the horseshoe numbered less than 1,000 warriors. Jackson had 2,000 soldiers to scale the barricade plus 700 mounted infantry and 600 Cherokee and Creek allies on the other side of the river. The battle began at 10:30 a.m. on March 27, 1814. At noon, some of the Cherokee allies swam across the river and set fire to the village. Jackson then ordered an attack upon the barricade.

Robinson said it was a formidable obstacle to overcome. A soldier could not approach it without being exposed to fire from two sides. One of Jackson’s finest young officers, Lemuel Montgomery, was killed while trying to scale the wall, and future Texas founder Sam Houston was gravely wounded.

Once the wall was breached, the fighting became a massacre. By the end of the day, an estimated 800 Red Stick warriors lay dead. Robinson said it was the largest death toll among Indians in a one-day battle against U.S. forces.