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Creek War of 1813 and 1814

The hard-fought Creek War of 1813 and 1814, also known as the First Creek War, actually began in the spring of 1812, when a party of Creek warriors returning from a visit to the British in Canada attacked a small white settlement at the mouth of the Duck River. These warriors killed several people and took a captive, Mrs. Martha Crawley, south into the Creek country. The Creek Council, though, at the insistence of United States Agent Benjamin Hawkins, executed the warriors and their leader, Little Warrior, for their crimes. The executions sparked a long-simmering revolt by nativist Creeks. The nativists, known as Red Sticks, sought to wrest control of the Creek Nation from the council chiefs, whom they blamed for white encroachment on Creek territory and toleration of corrupting white influences on Indian life. The Red Sticks also sought alliance with the British and membership in a confederacy of northern Native Americans under Tecumseh in order to push American settlers from the Indian heartland. During the course of their revolt, the Red Sticks attacked Fort Mims on the lower reaches of the Alabama River, killing approximately 275 of the fort's white and Creek mixed blood inhabitants. At that point, what had been a Creek civil war became a struggle between the Red Sticks and the United States and merged with the larger War of 1812 between the Americans and Great Britain.

The Fort Mims massacre shocked the white citizens of the United States, and they determined to crush the Creek uprising. With their long history of border conflict with the Creeks and their fear of Britain's northern Indian allies, Tennesseans took the lead in the war. Without waiting for federal authorization, Governor Willie Blount asked the legislature to call out 3,500 state volunteers to march against the Creeks. The irate legislators granted the request, and the Tennessee army took to the field in two contingents. Major General Andrew Jackson, the overall commander, led the troops from West Tennessee; General John Cocke led the East Tennessee force, which included a number of Cherokee warriors. Though armies from Georgia and the Mississippi Territory also converged on the Red Sticks, the Tennesseans did most of the fighting. They destroyed several Upper Creek towns and defeated the Red Sticks at the battles of Tallushatchee and Talladega in the fall of 1813 before delivering the death blow to the Creek uprising in March 1814 at the famed battle of Horseshoe Bend. Following close on the heels of his victory, General Jackson assumed command of the Seventh Military District of the United States Army, extracted a 22 million-acre land cession from the Creek Council, and brought a decisive end to the War of 1812 by defeating the British at the battle of New Orleans.

White Tennesseans, and westerners generally, reaped great rewards from their participation in the Creek war. The close of the conflict, along with the end of the War of 1812, promoted western expansion. While more people moved into Tennessee, some state residents simultaneously departed, moving south to the lands taken from the Creeks, and settled below the Tennessee River and down through Jones Valley to the town of Tuscaloosa. In 1819 representatives of these settlers took an active role in creating the state of Alabama, one of a number of western states formed in the wake of war with Britain and British Indian allies. Several Tennesseans, including Sam Houston and Davy Crockett, also made names for themselves in the war, and Andrew Jackson's conquests promoted his rise to the presidency of the United States.

Tennessee's Native Americans suffered as a result of the war, however. The Creek uprising helped turn western whites against the old Jeffersonian policy of civilizing and assimilating the Indians. Instead, westerners became convinced that Native Americans could not be tamed and must be removed to ensure the nation's security. Jackson, representing the growing political power of the West, took the lead in advocating removal when he became president, and did not spare even the acculturated Cherokees of East Tennessee, despite their having demonstrated their ability to coexist with whites by helping Jackson defeat the Red Sticks.

Suggested Reading

Joel W. Martin, Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World (1991); Frank Lawrence Owsley Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans (1981).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010