Saturday, June 28, 2008

Andrew Jackson and the Creek War

When Andrew Jackson arrived in Nashville in October of 1788 it was a frontier town with a few stores, several taverns, two churches and a distillery. Warring among Creeks, Shawnee, and Choctaws, had left this fertile land uninhabited until arrival of settlers a decade before. Now a small town of a few hundred inhabitants it was continually terrorized by Indians. The settlements “lost a man, woman, or child about every ten days, sometimes in the most ghastly fashion” in its first 15 years. [p61]

Jackson’s existential insecurity didn't revolve around the threat from aboriginal savages; his overriding concern and focus was the imperial threat of colonial European powers, Spain and England. The nation wasn’t secure on its southern border. It was not in control of the land, did not maintain adequate forts, and faced hostile Indian tribes that usually sided with the British. Jackson believed the war with Britain wasn’t settled. Since his appointment as commander of the Tennessee militia in 1802, he prepared for the inevitable.

The British continued to fund aboriginal proxies who were eager to wage war on the settlers. None was as eager, driven, and capable as the Shawnee chief Tecumseh. Together with his brother Tenskwatawa, called “the Prophet”, he called for the total annihilation of the whites from the North American continent. Fuelled by a religious mysticism creed, Tecumseh's call for a holy war, a jihad if you will, inflamed the souls of Indian tribes in the Western lands between the Mississippi and the Appalachians.

In the south, one group of Indians to heed Techumseh’s to annihilate the whites was the Red Stick Creeks. The British and their Spanish allies supplied the Red Sticks with munitions in Florida but the Indians were intercepted upon their return. Remini describes what follows:

“At noon on August 30, 1813, the Red Sticks, led by a new recruit, William Weatherford (Chief Red Eagle), counterattacked. They entered through an open gate, slaughtered the defenders, and burned the fort. It was one of the most appalling massacres in frontier history. ‘The fearful shrieks of women and children put to death in ways as horrible as Indian barbarity could invent’ echoed around the fort. The victims were ‘butchered in the quickest manner, and blood and brains bespattered the whole earth. The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockading. The women were scalped, and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive and the embryo infants let out of the womb.’ Red Eagle tried to stop this savagery, but many red clubs were raised over his head and he was forced to withdraw to save his own life. Between 250 and 275 white settlers, friendly Indians, and mixed-bloods were killed; between twenty and forty escaped.”

The barbarity of this attack outraged the nation. Calls for vengeance, considered a most righteous response, were loud and unequivocal. There were no apologists to argue that we brought it on ourselves; that Tenskwatawa practiced a peaceful religion hijacked by an evil one; or that liberation will reform these poor deprived souls. “Everyone knew what Tecumseh had been preaching. The Fort Mims attack showed that the sermon was being taken to heart. One didn’t have to be an alarmist to fear that the aboriginal war against all the whites had begun.” [p196] (Also, Willard p290-291.)

Jackson responded with all due haste but he knew the Indians were divided. He formed tactical alliances with Creeks who had been fighting the Red Sticks and with the Cherokees; and he drilled his own troops with a degree of discipline that earned him the nickname “Old Hickory.” The coalition defeated the Red Sticks in the battle of Horseshoe Bend. It remains the single greatest slaughter of Indians in American history. [p219]

In the core were a young Davy Crockett and Samuel Houston. Together with their fighting brothers they would put their training and experience to the test in an even greater challenge: the Battle of New Orleans. It was his stunning victory fighting the British in New Orleans that made Jackson the nation's enduring hero and ultimately propelled him to the White House.

His opposition to sovereign Indian nations in the American south continued undeterred and undiminished. (to be continued …)

Ref: H. W. Brands, Andrew Jackson, His Life and Times


Blogger Jason Pappas said...

Comments will be disabled until I finish the series. However, feel free to send helpful criticism via e-mail: jason_from_nyc @

6/10/08, 4:27 PM  

<< Home