The Second Creek War
Interethnic Conflict and Collusion on a Collapsing Frontier
By John T. Ellisor
2010, University of Nebraska Press
Call me crazy, but I couldn't wait to dive into this 500 page book about a subject long ignored. Any mention of the 1836 2nd Creek War has been rare. There was a good article about 30 years ago in the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the historical quarterly of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Then there is a long out-of-print history on Stewart County, Georgia that covers much of the Georgian side of the conflict because it involved the Stewart County volunteer militias. Other than those, you pretty much have to go back to the original newspapers and periodicals to find any mention.
Below: Front and back covers.
As this book shows, the 2nd Creek war was neither brief, nor concentrated to a small area. It covered three states and the raids and skirmishes continued after the 2nd Seminole War was declared over in 1842.
What I like about this book, is that the author delves into the reason for the conflict. And that is what I really want to know. At the heart of the conflict were issues such as States' rights, Jacksonian democracy of the independent farmer, slavery and racial order, and the whole economy of the antebellum south. At the heart of it all was the biggest land fraud and theft in the history of our country.
By the 1830s, the Creeks are almost totally integrated with society in the south. Creeks were a mixture of people of different colors and economics. From white to black, rich to poor, highly educated to menial labors. The distinctions between Creeks and Alabamians or Georgians were really hard to identify from outward appearances.
The 1832 Treaty of Cusseta with the Creeks sounded like a good idea. The Creek land in new Alabama was going to become part of the state of Alabama. Creeks would own individual allotments of land and be citizens of the state of Alabama. Or they could sell their land and move to Creek land in Arkansas territory.
It sounded like a good idea. But it was a miserable failure of the worst kind. It opened the door for rampant land fraud. It also did not take into account the cultural differences of a matriarchal society that had a completely different idea of land ownership, and exploited the weaknesses in a way that robbed the Creeks of everything.
Speculators and land companies moved in and produced forged sales documents. Land is stolen for pennies and sold for a substantial mark-up. Destitute Creeks are employed to impersonate the land owners and sign for the sale.
The whole economic system implodes as a result of the land fraud. The ideal of Jacksonian democracy where the individual farmer prospers with his own homestead becomes nothing more than an illusion. And everyone loses, because the small white farmers are sold land, but have it taken away when it is determined that the sale was fraudulent. The poor get poorer.
Every conflict has the industries that rely on it. Grog shops and merchants who deal with the Creeks force the people in debt and gladly accept land titles as payment which they also sell. So the Creeks are without their land, without any money for the removal to the west, while their personal livestock, possessions, and slaves, are plundered by the local settlers or people looking to profit from the situation.
The 2nd Creek War finally exploded as a rebellion against the system. People who had lost everything and felt that open rebellion and war was the only option left. Following a similar story of people all over the world who become oppressed and rise up in revolt against the larger colonial power. With the revolt, maybe they could extinguish debts, and possibly regain their culture and land they had lost. During the same time, the Seminoles in Florida were rumored to be winning their war, so maybe the Creeks could have success as well. The reaction was swift and very bloody, and put everyone in the frontier into a panic. No one was safe.
The interesting aspect this time is that it was unlike the previous Creek War. It erupted without much warning. This time there were no prophets, no religious or ideological movements. It was pure desperation, caused by the economic implosion, starvation, and loss of their land. And the Upper Creeks sided with the United States, while the Lower Creeks were the ones responsible for the uprising.
When the war broke out, miscommunication causes conflict and rivalry between two high ranking generals in the Army. General Winfield Scott makes the same mistake that he just did in Florida using a slow Army that does not take to the field soon enough. He gets at odds with General Thomas Jesup, who has a quicker response and finished his campaign before Scott even starts, similar to what happened between Scott and Gaines on the Withlacoochee. Then the response of the state volunteer militia units proves that the militia is unprepared with lack of discipline and often results with cowardly defeat against the Creeks.
In the end, the Creeks are removed without a removal treaty. Their land is stolen right out from under them. Although some Creeks remain, they go into hiding with a chameleon effort of blending into their surroundings and appear as the poor farmer in the deep south.
What the book outlines is a template of what happens in the United States and territories with Indian Removal. And for the Creeks, it will be repeated again in Oklahoma in the early 1900s with allotment under the Dawes Act. And once again, their tribal land is stolen from them.
In the last chapter, the author mentions that the large percentage of the population of the south is descended from the Creeks. But he thinks that most of these people are mistaken, that it is instead a guilt that the local population had from the cruel removal of an established population.
But the Creeks who remained did survive with remnants of the culture. I doubt that the local white population would practice Creek mortuary practices out of guilt, where there are cemeteries with Creek grave houses. But I don't fault the author for thinking that most of the Creek culture has disappeared, with many current groups claiming Creek ancestry while making an odd appearance with generic native American clothing and decoration. But there are a few who remain, and they would rather still remain hidden. I won’t go into examples that I have seen, but Creek culture and ceremony does still exist down here, but remains in hiding. There is a fire that has always burned, even if there are other multitudes who are seeking to regain what they had lost.