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Fort Mims and the Results

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Below: an engraving dated 1858 of Fort Mims.

August 30th was the 198th anniversary of the Fort Mims Massacre. Some people debate if it was a massacre or a battle. You only have to read the accounts to see that it was a horrific and bloody butchering of over 200 people in the fort settlement who were killed. (A good source is Albert Pickett, “A History of Alabama,” 1851, and in various reprints and probably found on line.) Numbers vary widely on how many who were killed and how many escaped. Over 100 Red Stick Creeks were killed in the attack as well, so it was a heavy cost to the attackers.

One of the artifacts recovered from the site and in the collection of the Alabama Historical Commission is a kettle excavated from the site. The heat from the fire was so intense that the pot is a melted pile of slag with the remaining three legs still intact. And fire that hot to melt an iron pot is an artifact that speaks volumes.

Before the Creek War / War of 1812, the Creeks were thought of as somewhat assimilated and similar to the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. But the Red Stick rising fueled by Tecumseh trying to unify the tribes against the United States worried many of the settlements and states bordering Creek country. The Creek country had no defined border, so the people in Tennessee were very worried about the Creek uprising spilling into their state.

Tecumseh has many connections with the Creeks, because there were strong Shawnee ties to the Creek Confederacy. There were a few Shawnee towns that were part of the Creek Confederacy, and Tecumseh's mother was part of that. Being a matrilineal society, this is important to consider. The Shawnee-Creek connection went back a long time before the war. Many Red Stick Creeks went north to support Tecumseh, and even as far as Canada.

When some of these Red Sticks were returning to Creek Country, they killed Mr. Lott, a settler along the Duck River in Tennessee. Thomas Woodward, half-Creek who wrote of the account years later, said that if Mr. Lott had not been killed, the Creek War would probably never had happened. Tennesseans were keeping their attention on the Creeks after that.

The newspapers exaggerated the number of people killed at Fort Mims, which was the largest number of frontier settlers killed by Indians. Other attacks on Alabama-Mississippi settlers happened as well, such as the Kimbell / Kimbrell massacre on September 1st. Yes, they are distant relatives of mine. I always had a lot of fun telling Mary Francis Johns (who was a descendant of Josiah Francis) of Brighton Reservation that her ancestors killed my ancestors.

Unfortunately the Creeks were the biggest losers as a result of Fort Mims. The surrounding states and territories mobilized their state armies to attack the Creeks. Several significant Creek towns were destroyed with far more Creeks killed than were ever killed at Fort Mims. The end of the Creek War was at Horseshoe Bend seven months later, where about 800 Creeks were killed.

And of course the person who destroyed the Creek Confederacy and forced them to give up their land at the Treaty of Fort Jackson was General Andrew Jackson. He would not have been involved in the war if the attack on Fort Mims did not give the Tennessee governor the excuse to have Jackson raise an army. So if Fort Mims had never happened, it would be likely that Jackson would not be remembered for anything either.

Below: portrait of General Jackson from the Florida State Library collection.

Once Jackson was involved, he took over the defense of the borderlands along the Gulf of Mexico against the British. Previously, the commanding American generals were totally incompetent and would not have been able to resist the British. Jackson organized the defense of New Orleans and soundly defeated the British in one of the most decisive battles in American history that determined the future of the republic. If it had not been for Jackson, the United States would not have survived the War of 1812 and remain a country that we have known ever since.

So with Jackson we have an interesting historical dilemma. The massacre at Fort Mims brought Jackson into the war, where an even bloodier battle happened at Horseshoe Bend that killed four times as many Creeks, followed by the Treaty of Fort Jackson where much of the Creek land was taken away, including Creek land taken from the Creeks who supported Jackson and the United States.

Then Jackson turned around and captured Pensacola from the Spanish, and then went to New Orleans and beat back the British, which saved the United States. The Americans won the War of 1812 along the Gulf because of him, where the other incompetent American generals had lost to the British in the north, along with burning Washington City and forcing the American government to flee. Jackson forever became both the good guy and the bad guy. Such a stark duality is actually very Creek--now that is a difficult thing to consider!
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