Alabama Road Trip No. 26
A Bicentennial Road Trip: Fort Mims to Horseshoe Bend
by Edith Parten
For nearly a century, prior to the start of the War of 1812, whites and Creeks had lived side by side with good trade relations, intermarriage, and reliable treaties. There was almost full cooperation between the two groups, but this would soon change. In the fall of 1811, believing that whites were encroaching upon their land, the great Shawnee Chief Tecumseh traveled to Alabama to rally all Creeks to war against the whites and mixed-breed families in the region. He gave a speech at Tuckabatchee, near Tallassee, on the banks of the Tallapoosa River, challenging them to regain their former glory and retain their Indian culture and lifestyles. Each Indian chief voted: red stick for war, white stick for peace!
By June 8, 1812, when the U.S. declared war on Great Britain and so started the War of 1812, the Creeks had become significantly divided among themselves. Most Upper Creeks, called Red Sticks because of their bright-red war clubs, wanted to resist white encroachment while most Lower Creeks, more accustomed to whites, were inclined toward peace. As principal Red Stick leaders William Weatherford, Menawa and others violently clashed with the other chiefs of the Creek Nation, their dispute became a part of the War of 1812 and eventually led to the Creek War of 1813–14.
On this Bicentennial Road Trip, you are invited to follow the progression of the Creek Indian War from Burnt Corn and Fort Mims to Atmore, where many Creek descendants now live in sovereignty. As an added option, continue to Tallapoosa County, near Dadeville, where Andrew Jackson and his large army defeated the Red Sticks during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and effectively brought the Creek War to a close with the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson five months later.
The Battle of Burnt Corn – The Fight That Started It All
On July 27, 1813, after learning that the British in Pensacola had armed the Indians to fight against them, local militia staged a surprise attack on the encamped Red Sticks in the first battle of the Creek War – the Battle of Burnt Corn, about 20 miles northeast of Fort Mims. The Indians had left the Alabama River valley and were returning from Pensacola with supplies and ammunition when they were attacked. The militia moved in quickly and drove the Red Sticks into nearby brush before looting their camp. The Red Sticks, not to be outdone, quickly regrouped and mounted an aggressive counterattack. After the Battle of Burnt Corn, with the Red Sticks more intent than ever on “regaining their former glory,” word spread like wildfire that war was imminent.
The Massacre at Fort Mims
On August 30, 1813, one month after the Battle of Burnt Corn, 1,000 warring Red Sticks, led by William Weatherford, attacked the small stockade by the name of Fort Mims in Baldwin County. They killed nearly all of the 400 or more people who sought refuge at the fort – including families who were of Creek/European mixed blood as well as the militiamen who were ill prepared to protect them – before burning most of the fort to the ground. The battle raged for five hours. Accounts differ on exactly how many people were killed during the fight – but only around 50 of the people in the fort were known to have escaped. Pickett’s History of Alabama, written in the 1840s, records that nearly one-half (500) of the Indian forces also died that fateful day. Other accounts, such as Gregory Waselkov’s “A Conquering Spirit” (2006), put the numbers at 350 dead at the fort and many killed and wounded on the Indian side.
Interpretative signs throughout the area tell the story of the sneak attack and lists family names of those killed as well as the survivors so visitors can see if they are descendants.
The fort, which was hurriedly constructed as a log stockade in 1813 around the home of Samuel Mims, consisted of 17 buildings including the Mims home. Mims, settling in the 1790s in what was then the Mississippi Territory, had become wealthy taking passengers and all their belongings across the Alabama River on his ferry at the terminus of the Federal Road that crossed Alabama and Georgia.
Today, although visitors cannot see any sign of where the fort once stood, the five-acre site is surrounded by a rail fence and has native plants, two historical markers, a picnic pavilion and a backdrop of the reconstructed wooden walls. Construction of a block-house, similar to structures built in the early 1800s, has begun at the southwest corner of the fort wall. Interpretative signs throughout the area tell the story of the sneak attack and lists family names of those killed as well as the survivors so visitors can see if they are descendants.
A recorded five-minute narrative about Fort Mims is available at the west end of the pavilion with the push of a button. The site is owned by the Alabama Historical Commission but is operated by the Fort Mims Restoration Association, which hosts an annual commemorative event the last weekend in August and a spring event in March. Fort Mims is open daily from daylight to dark.
Fort Mims Living History Weekend
2013 marks the 200th anniversary of the attack at Fort Mims, as well as the beginning of the Creek War in Alabama. The best time to visit is in August during the annual Fort Mims Re-enactment and Living History Weekend (251–533–9024). During the commemorative event which usually takes place in the last weekend in August, volunteers will dress in period clothing to re-enact the Battle of Burnt Corn followed by the Battle of Fort Mims. You can witness living history as well as enjoy period music, arts, crafts, covered wagons, tomahawk throwing, blacksmithing, concessions, dancing and 1800s cooking demonstrations.
Travel tip: To prepare for your visit to Fort Mims, be sure to bring chairs, bug repellent, comfortable shoes and light clothing as the summer heat and humidity can be intense. “Cool Zones” can be found during the Living History weekend with tents and fans to dissipate the summer heat. The site is in a wooded area near Boatyard Lake and the Alabama River.
Before leaving the area, visit the burial ground of William Weatherford in the nearby Little River community. The gravesite is about a 10-mile drive north on Highway 59. To get there, turn west on Dixie Landing Road, travel about 2.3 miles and then take a left on T.J. Earle Road. Drive one mile to Red Eagle Road on the right. At the end of the road you will find the stone grave marker of Weatherford beneath beautiful moss-laden oak trees. He is buried next to his mother, Sehoy, who was also a prominent Creek Indian.
Atmore and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians
About 20 minutes northeast of Fort Mims in Atmore, descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, have lived together for nearly 200 years. This group represents the only federally recognized tribe in the state of Alabama, operating as a sovereign nation with its own system of government. The tribe owns the nearby Wind Creek Casino & Hotel (303 Poarch Road; 866-846-3360), just off I–65, where you can enjoy entertainment, a spa treatment, overnight lodging and your choice of four restaurants. It also plays host to the annual Thanksgiving Day Pow Wow, which features dance and drum contests, various tournaments, food and the crowning of the Indian princesses. For more information, visit the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce website or call 251–368–3305.
The Battle of Horseshoe Bend – The Final Chapter of the Creek War
The final chapter of the Creek War was essentially written in blood during the Battle of Horseshoe Bend near Dadeville in Tallapoosa County – about 200 miles from where the Battle of Burnt Corn and the Fort Mims attack took place. The fighting began at 10:30 a.m. on March 27, 1814, and lasted for more than five hours. By the close of the battle, more than 800 of the 1,000 Red Stick warriors were dead and several were wounded, including Menawa who had allied himself with the British during the War of 1812. Many of the survivors fled into Florida and took refuge among the Seminole Nation. Menawa was wounded seven times in the battle but managed to escape. With the Red Sticks unable to fight against Andrew Jackson and the U.S. forces from Tennessee, Georgia and the Mississippi Territory, William Weatherford surrendered and persuaded the other Red Sticks to do the same.
Bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend
2014 marks the Bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The Horseshoe Bend National Military Park (11288 Horseshoe Bend Road, Daviston; 256–234–7111), established in 1959 and operated by the National Park Service, will commemorate the occasion with a special living history weekend in March and ongoing programs throughout the year. The living history weekend will include live cannon fire, an introduction to the lives of the Creek and Cherokee Indians, hunting camps and demonstrations of traditional skills of the 1800s.
Visiting Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
The first stop when visiting Horseshoe Bend is the visitor’s center, where you’ll get an excellent overview of the history of the site through photos, arrowheads, cannonballs, a miniature display of the battlefield, and other artifacts. After watching a 20-minute introductory video, enjoy the three-mile walking or driving tour that takes you along the battlefield to the horseshoe-shaped bend in the Tallapoosa River.
Five stops along the tour route are marked with kiosks that provide details of what took place at the site. The first stop, a scenic overlook approximately 100 yards from the visitor’s center, is where Andrew Jackson’s army arrived at the start of the 1814 battle. A 2.8-mile nature trail through the battlefield is right next to the paved path up to the overlook. At the top of the overlook, you can enjoy great views of the battlegrounds and hear the wind whisper through the tall pine trees.
Visitors with disabilities may have difficulty getting up the steep incline to the overlook at the first stop. The battlefield can also be seen from the last stop (Stop 5) without any accessibility problems.
Other stops include the site of the former village at the bend in the river and the fields with white posts marking the original site of a log barricade. If you want to make a day of it, nature trails, picnic areas, boating and fishing are available.
The Treaty of Fort Jackson
On August 9, 1814, five months after Andrew Jackson’s victory at Horseshoe Bend, the U.S. and the Creek Confederacy signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson near present-day Wetumpka. At the site now known as Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson Historic Site (2521 W. Fort Toulouse Road; 334–567–3002), operated by the Alabama Historical Commission, the Creeks were forced to cede 23 million acres of land in Alabama and Georgia to the United States, which opened up thousands of acres in present-day East Alabama to white settlement.
When visiting Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson, you’ll find there are several exits from Interstate 65 and I–85 that will connect to U.S. Highway 231 and three scenic routes from Horseshoe Bend that will take you to Wetumpka. To get to the site, turn off U.S. Highway 231 onto Fort Toulouse Road; the park is at the end of the road. Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson is open seven days a week. A small portion of Fort Jackson has been replicated. Of interest to students of the period are the Tennessee Militia encampments that take place the first weekend of most months (re-enactors take the summer months off) and the annual Alabama Frontier Days in November. Frontier Days, a five-day event, showcases lifestyles of the period from 1700 to 1820 with significant representation of the War of 1812 era.
Although the War of 1812 did not end until 1815 after the British defeat at the Battle of New Orleans, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson, established Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a military leader and an Indian fighter. After the nation elected him president in 1828, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Bill that forced the southeastern tribes and their allies to move west to Oklahoma in the journey known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Where To Stay and Eat
Alexander City, about 18 miles away from Horseshoe Bend, offers camping and log cabins at Wind Creek State Park (4325 AL Highway 128; 256–329–0845) as well as a variety of other accommodations including hotels, condos, and a bed and breakfast facility. There are also great dining options available. Visit the Alexander City Chamber of Commerce website (256–234–3461) for more information. For places to stay and dine in Wetumpka, contact the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce at 334–567–4811. On your way to Atmore, the Stagecoach Cafe (52860 AL Highway 59; 251–580–0608) in Stockton is a good place to stop any day of the week, but especially on Sundays when the restaurant is serving its shrimp and grits.
Points of Interest
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