As 1815 progressed, so did a trend of desertion that had plagued Andrew Jackson’s troops for months. Tired of mindless drill and stifling military discipline, these men saw little point in their continued service and wished to return home. Crushing boredom, coupled with the December treaty officially ending hostilities and the January victory at the gates of the Crescent City, led many men to believe they no longer needed to stay on duty, and as many as several hundred of them left outright. Andrew Jackson pursued courts martial for many such men, allowing some to pay fees or for their offenses but leaving others imprisoned for long stretches and ordering the execution of six militiamen charged with desertion.
Andrew Jackson gained lasting fame and captured the imaginations of many Americans on January 8, 1815, in his successful defense of New Orleans from British assault. Here the controversial Major General captured widespread and enduring fame. Sharp-eyed yeoman farmers from America’s thriving West, poor but proud, stared down Europe’s fi nest men, so the quickly spreading story went, and cut them down with superior rifle skill. It is perhaps both ironic and appropriate that Jackson’s victory came nearly two weeks after emissaries at Ghent signed a treaty effectively ending the war, and that he owed his triumph to modern artillery and a racially diverse force of various Indian tribes (including some Alabama Creeks), free blacks, and even middle-class whites, not the poor woodsmen of legend. Americans wanted to believe that plain farmers had left their plows to defeat the invading British, much as they believed their parents had done during the Revolutionary War. In fact, the most “legendary” of these yeomen, immortalized in song as the “Hunters of Kentucky,” ran away. “The Kentucky reinforcements,” Jackson noted after the battle, “in whom so much reliance had been placed, ingloriously fled.”
Even with the widespread destruction at Horseshoe Bend and the now-infamous Treaty of Fort Jackson, many Creeks remained either neutral parties or American allies. Big Warrior was perhaps one the more influential “loyal” Creek chiefs. He had fought a losing battle to maintain for his people a middle road between American dominance and open war.
With the Redsticks’ power broken at Horseshoe Bend, American leaders spent the early months of the summer of 1814 trying to figure out how best to proceed. Many people—including Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, territorial Gov. Willie Blount, and Benjamin Hawkins, the Americans’ chief ambassador to the Indian nation--exhibited the United States’ desire to punish the Creeks. But how?
Alabama’s First Creek War reached its zenith on March 27, 1814, at the sharp bend in the Tallapoosa River. At nearly 180 degrees, this stark turn in the river inspired its popular name Horseshoe Bend, for on a map it resembled a horseshoe. Okfuskee chief Menawa—along with about one thousand Red Stick Creeks from upper Creek towns such as Eufaula, Okfuskee, Newyaucau, Fishponds, and Oakchaya—waited with more than 350 women and children for the attack from Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson and his combined forces of white militiamen, regular soldiers, and Indian volunteers. (Jackson had allies among the Cherokees and Creeks who were not part of the Red Stick faction.) Jackson’s army camped northwest of Horseshoe Bend, where Menawa and other leaders gathered their warriors and families for protection—protection that proved tenuous.
Andrew Jackson’s armies slowly attempted to close in a vise around the defiant Red Stick Creeks as the cold, wet last months of 1813 turned into the cold, wet first months of 1814. Jackson was a severe man his entire life, and both the refusal of the Red Sticks to yield and his troops’ inability to make them yield heightened his frustration.
Southern whites would not leave the massacre at Ft. Mims unanswered. To crush the Red Sticks and open at last the fertile Alabama country to unmolested white settlement, four American armies joined at Creek strongholds between the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers.
Just before noon on August 30, 1813, Paddy Welsh and William Weatherford led a force of nearly seven hundred Red Stick Creeks through Fort Mims’s open gate, and approximately four hours later 250 fort occupants, including women and children, were dead. Another one hundred or so were taken captive.
While Creek social and cultural disagreements began to burn in violent earnest in what would soon become central Alabama, the rest of the young United States smarted under a early British triumphs in the North. The of 1812 continued, and it had not gone well for the upstart Americans. The previous August, British troops–led by Maj. Gen. Isaac Brock–and their native allies, including Tecumseh, humbled a pitiful American “invasion” of Canada, forcing the poorly trained troops to surrender at Detroit. Worse, on October 13, 1812, Brock’s men humiliated American forces again at the Battle of Queenston Heights. American dash had led to war, but for many it seemed their arms simply might not be up to the task.
In early 1813 the winter air was grey and barren, and the sun burned cold over what would soon become central Alabama. The Creeks’ desperate cultural balancing act between the loaded words “tradition” and “progress”–which increasingly seemed a generational dispute, almost as much as political or social contest–had exploded along the Ohio River in February.