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    We are passing through the bicentennial of the War of 1812 (which actually was fought from mid-1812 to the beginning of 1815), an anniversary being noted with reenactments and commemorations in many states - especially in my home state of Maryland, where September of this year will bring us a weeklong "Star-Spangled Spectacular" centered on the bicentennial of the Battle of Baltimore and Fort McHenry, which gave us our national anthem.
     The War of 1812 is sometimes called a 'forgotten' war because it is generally unknown except to history buffs, even though it brought us our national anthem.  Even less well known, however, is the conflict which ended on August 9, 1814 with the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson.  This was the Creek War - both a war of European settlers against Natives, and a civil war within the Creek nation itself.
     The Creek War actually began prior to the War of 1812, although it then overlapped with that conflict.  The Shawnee war leader Tecumseh had realized that only a coalition of Native Americans had a chance of resisting the expansion of the European settlers. In 1811 he traveled to the Southeastern U.S., where he spoke to members of what were then called the 'Five Civilized Tribes' to encourage them to join in alliance against the US as well.  The Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee, considered his words, and declined.  The Creek did not. (The fifth nation, the Seminole, lived further south in Florida).  One reason for the warmer reception among the Creek may have been that Tecumseh's own mother was Creek, and in the matrilineal society of the tribe this meant he was also considered Creek.
     Creek society was already divided between two factions, the White Sticks and Red Sticks.  The White Sticks favored peaceful accommodation with the Whites and adoption of many aspects of White culture, including farming and private property.  The US Indian Agent for the Creeks, Benjamin Hawkins, encouraged this in the belief that it would prevent conflict between the Creek and White settlers.  The Red Sticks were more alarmed by White expansion, favored preserving more traditional ways, and were more receptive to Tecumseh's message.  The Red Sticks predominantly lived through central Alabama; the White Sticks, further to the South and East in Alabama and Georgia.  Altogether, the Creek nation numbered several tens of thousands at that time (no one was actually trying to count them all, Natives not being included in the U.S. Census).
     The Creek civil war began early in 1812 when a series of killings of Whites led the Creek National Council to send warriors known as 'law menders' to execute the perpetrators.  This escalated hostilities between the Creek factions into open fighting.  White authorities in Georgia, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Territory wanted to send militia against the Red Sticks but Hawkins opposed such a plan.
     In summer 1813 the Red Sticks turned to the Spanish in Florida for assistance.  A force of Red Sticks returning from Pensacola with powder and lead was attacked at Burnt Corn Creek in southern Alabama on July 27 by the Mississippi militia, and defeated them.  Now the Creek were at war with the United States as well as themselves.  A Red Stick attack on Fort Mims near the Alabama River, on August 30, resulted in the deaths of several hundred militia and civilian refugees and increased the sense of urgency.  State and territorial militias were mobilized to move against the Creek.
     At that time Andrew Jackson was commander of the West Tennessee militia and not even the overall leader of the campaign.  However, Jackson quickly proved himself the most aggressive and competent of the generals, spearheading a campaign from late 1813 to early 1814 in which he won numerous battles and steadily forced the Red Sticks from their towns and land.
     The campaign ultimately ended in the decisive defeat of the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River on March 27, 1814.  Nearly 800 of 900 or so Red Stick warriors were killed.  Jackson, who had both White Stick Creek and Cherokee volunteers fighting alongside his White troops, had only a few dozen killed or wounded.  He moved his force to the confluence of the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers, where he built Fort Jackson and prepared t meet with whomever among the Red Stick leaders would put themselves forward.
     The U.S Secretary of War, John Armstrong, initially tasked the Indian Agent Hawkins and General Thomas Pinckney (who had been the overall commander of the campaign) with crafting the terms of the treaty.  Hawkins and Pinckney were in agreement that the Creek would only be required to give up enough land to cover the costs of the war to the government.  White leaders in the Southeast viewed the two (correctly) as too sympathetic to the Natives, and pressured Armstrong until he removed them and appointed Jackson.
     White settlers had long coveted the Creek lands, especially the slave masters of the Deep South, who wanted to expand their brutal plantation system.  Jackson was determined to accommodate them.  When the final terms were presented, the White Stick leaders who had fought with Jackson were stunned.  He demanded - and got - some 23 million acres, well over half the Creek nation's territory, and made no distinction between those who had fought with or against him in seizing the land.  Only one Red Stick leader was present to sign, many of the Red Sticks having fled to Florida where they eventually joined the Seminoles; the rest of the signers were White Sticks.
     In the end, the war had accomplished nothing except to decimate and impoverish the Creek nation.  Thousands of their warriors had died, battling each other and the Whites.  Their major towns and villages were burned, their fields of crops razed, and more than half their lands lost.  The disaster was a prelude to the further disasters that would befall the Native nations of the Southeast.  Not surprisingly, Andrew Jackson was the driving force behind much of the misfortune, culminating in the Trail of Tears as most of the Cherokee were expelled from their homeland and driven West in the 1830s.  Jackson never had a native ally that he did not betray later.  At one time or another, members of the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw had all fought with him, and Jackson's ultimate response was to drive them all West of the Mississippi, disinheriting and dispossessing them.  Of the Five Civilized Nations, only the Seminole would largely remain in their original lands, continuing to resist White encroachment.  
     Ironically, Tecumseh - who had sought the unity of the Native peoples to resist the loss of their lands - had succeeded only in splitting the Creeks and helping to foment civil war.  Tecumseh himself had died in 1813 in Canada, battling the invading army of William Henry Harrison.  As for Harrison and Jackson, both wound up national heroes for their accomplishments in the war and both served as President (although Harrison died early in his term).  Most of the Creek today live in Oklahoma, although - like the Cherokee - some still live in their former lands in the East.
     Further reading: It's easy to find many detailed sources on all of these events - books on the Creek War, the War of 1812, and Jackson all cover the history in varying degrees of detail.

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Comment Preferences

  •  An excellent synopsis... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    and an even better reminder of the complex and often tragic history of the early Republic. It should also remind us all about how deep racism goes into our history.

    Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory, tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu The Art of War

    by Stwriley on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 07:11:30 AM PDT

  •  This period in history is skipped over in school. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The War of 1812 is barely discussed and I never heard of the Creek War. I can see why. Jackson was an ass.

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon him not understanding it.”― Upton Sinclair

    by Save the Mitten on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 07:19:12 AM PDT

  •  It would have been interesting (0+ / 0-)

    if Dkos were around during this era. We'd have hated Jackson for his racial policies. OTOH, his presidency was the first truly populist one, in which the common people of the country took over from the ruling educated elites of the time. He also fought tooth and nail against the Bank of the United States, which would have made him popular around here. There would have been pie fights here like we've never seen.

  •  Good summary. One nitpick. Most of the ... (0+ / 0-)

    ...Seminoles were taken from Florida and delivered to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and the largest group of Seminoles today lives there. My branch—I am an enrolled member of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, based at Brighton—stayed behind. No agreement was signed with the U.S. government until 1934 under the Indian Reorganization Act. It was not until 1938 that Florida Seminoles got their remaining lands declared reservations. Creek is the language most Seminoles who still speak a Native language speak because Lower Creeks made up the largest proportion of Seminoles, an amalgamated tribe that included Apalachees, Calusas, fugitive slaves and some whites.

    Don't tell me what you believe, show me what you do and I will tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 10:01:15 AM PDT

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