The Fort Mims Massacre on August 30, 1813, was one of the worst tragedies in the history of the southeast. It was not the first skirmish or battle of the Creek War, but it set off a chain of events that brought down Andy Jackson and the Tennessee troops, which led to the final defeat of the Creek Nation seven months later at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Horseshoe Bend was a battle that ended up as a massacre. Fort Mims was a massacre, plain and simple. Two massacres on both sides of the Creek War that have remained as their shame ever since. Even today, almost 200 years later and about seven generations, Creeks in Oklahoma are still unable to talk about it.
For some reason I have trouble with the name. It is either Mimms or Mims. Since most sources I see spell it Mims, I will use that.
Below: an 1858 engraving that is probably more romantic than actual.
The background of this time in 1813 was a powder keg waiting to blow. The United States had been at war with Britain for a year and was not doing well. Mobile had been taken by the United States from Spain two years earlier without much notice or protest. Georgia and US troops had tried to occupy and take Florida from Spain during the War of 1812, in East Florida, which would be unsuccessful. Alabama was currently known as Mississippi territory, but much of what is today Alabama and Georgia was claimed and occupied by the Creeks, who were the largest tribe east of the Mississippi. The Creeks themselves were divided between loyalties of the US or British, which was intensified by Tecumseh and his movement to unite all the eastern tribes against the United States. This is a tinderbox waiting for a spark.
The Creek War of 1813/1814 is full of horrific stories of people being burned alive in their own cabins. Even Creek towns that surrendered or were friendly to the United States were attacked by troops who didn’t know the difference between those involved in the war and those who wanted to remain at peace. The Creeks were never unified, nor did they all agree on the same actions.
The number of people inside Fort Mims numbered anywhere from 275 to 550, and we will never know the exact number. Many of them were of Creek ancestry who had adopted the ways of the American settlers in Alabama/Mississippi Territory.
Below: Earlier engraving of Fort Mims.
The red stick warriors who attacked the fort numbered anywhere from 180 to 1500, but closer to probably 300 or 400.
Major Beasley who commanded the fort was so incompetent that he ignored several obvious warnings of attack. Of two slaves that came to warn the fort, he had one flogged for bringing such news. His superior General Clairborne had told him to make several improvements and to conduct scouts to guard the fort, of which Beasley failed to do, and was well drunk at the time of the attack at noon.
Dixon Bailey, an army officer of the Mississippi soldiers, fought bravely but perished. And ironically, his wife who survived was related to William Weatherford / Red Eagle, leader of the Red Stick Creeks he was fighting against. The blame for the tragedy falls squarely on Beasley. If Bailey had been commanding instead, and taken the recommended preventative measures, the fort may have survived. If the fort had survived, it may have been a forgotten incident in history, maybe Andy Jackson wouldn’t have had a cause to come down and become famous, and perhaps the Creek Nation may have survived a different fate than Horseshoe Bend.
The fort quickly caught fire with buildings crowded together. The helpless people inside were burned alive. The heat was so intense that one of the artifacts is an iron pot that melted completely, except for the three legs.
General Clairborne put no blame on the Creeks and Weatherford, but on Beasley.
Weatherford leading the Red Sticks at the beginning of the battle seems to have been treated kindly in history. He does not seem like a rabid fanatical, but a reluctant leader who did not want to see the war happen, but took sides with the Red Sticks simply because they were his people. He said that he left Fort Mims when the battle turned into a bloodbath, and didn’t want any part of that. After the Red Sticks were defeated at Horseshoe Bend, Weatherford surrenders himself to General Jackson for the sake of his few remaining people. He doesn’t ask for mercy for himself, but the women and children who are scattered without food or shelter. Jackson feels a kindred warrior spirit who is honorable, so spares Weatherford and releases him to take care of his people.
Below: Weatherford surrenders to Jackson.
Weatherford remained in Alabama and lived about ten years after the war. He is buried not far from Fort Mims in north Baldwin County. Here is his grave (Red Eagle), with his mother Sehoy buried to the left.
Two days after Fort Mims, across the river, Josiah Francis (the Prophet) and his warriors attack the Kimbell / Kimball homestead. One of the few survivors, Isham Kimbell, later becomes a famous judge in south Alabama. They are distant cousins of mine. I used to be good friends with a Seminole lady on Brighton reservation until she passed away five years ago—she was descended from Josiah Francis. We would get such a laugh when I would tell her that her ancestors killed my ancestors. And we were now good friends. I miss her, and she was a very special lady.
If you ever want to know an interesting part of American history, then read about the Creek War 1813-1814. It is a horrific war, but with tales of bravery and interesting characters on both sides.
Above: Red Eagle/Weatherford's "leap" off a cliff. A story for another time.