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American History
Red Eagle


Early in the 1800's the Creeks lived in towns scattered through Alabama and Georgia. Although many of them remained neutral when the War of 1812 broke out, a remarkable chief named Red Eagle did not. Red Eagle had been born William Weatherford, the son of a Scottish trader. Though only one-eighth Indian, he chose to cast his lot with the Creeks and had been deeply impressed by Tecumseh's message. ("Where today are the Pequot, the Narragansett, the Mohican and many other once powerful tribes of our people? They have vanished before the avarice and oppression of the white man, as snow before a summer sun....") Late in August of 1813 he led a war party against Fort Mims on the lower Alabama River. The fort was little more than a flimsy stockade built around the home of a man named Samuel Mims, who had given shelter to some five hundred settlers seeking refuge there from the threat of Creek attacks.

On the morning of August 30 Major John Beasley, commanding the garrison's small force of Louisiana militia, had complacently left the main gate open and neglected to post sentries. (A slave had seen painted Indians in the cornfield outside the fort. Beasley assumed it was a ploy to get out of work and had the slave flogged. Two other slaves were sent to see and reported they saw nothing.) The major paid for his confidence when, toward noon, Weatherford's men leaped out of the tall grass and came shouting toward the fort. Taken completely by surprise, the militia-men fought back as best they could, struggling for hours under the blazing sun. At last, with the house in flames from fire arrows, the defenders emerged to die at the hands of the victors, who massacred all but thirty-six who managed to escape. Beasley, probably one of the most inept commanders of all times, was killed at the gate.

When word of the slaughter reached Tennessee, the legislature there quickly authorized an army of 3,500 militia and $300,000 to suppress the Creeks and turned to a tough, profane, brawling ramrod of a man named Andrew Jackson to handle the job. Jackson was informed of the appointment on his sickbed, where he was recovering from severe wounds sustained in a duel. Though still too weak to get up, he said he would be on the march in nine days. Pale, haggard, his arm in a sling, Jackson nevertheless drove his men south at the rate of twenty miles a day. As the army approached Ten Islands on the Coosa River, Jackson learned that two hundred Creek warriors were staying in the nearby village of Tallushatchee. He sent a thousand men against the Indians, among them a rangy young frontiersman named Davy Crockett, who reported with satisfaction that "we shot them like dogs."

A note from Michael Green: Here Cowan history enters into the battle: Major Russell's battalion, with Captain John Cowan as a commander of one of the companies, his brother Robert serving under him, and Davy Crockett as one of his 3rd Sergeants; Sam Houston fought in the 39th Infantry as an Ensign; James Newberry fought in William Russell, Jr's company; James Ashley and Elisha Fyke - ancestors of my mother, Birdie Fay Ashley, fought with the mounted gunmen; Simeon Tucker - an ancestor of my father, Tom Green, fought with the Georgia volunteers; my wife, Laura Elaine Everett, would not only have the Cowans, but William Lea - an ancestor of her father, Lea Therould Everett, who served as a Sergeant in the Tennessee Mounted Gunmen.

However satisfying the victory, it did not feed Jackson's ill-supplied troops, and late in November the hungry, disgruntled soldiers started home. Jackson, still weak from his wounds and ravaged with dysentery, blocked their path and, bluffing with a rusted, useless musket, threatened to shoot the first man who stepped forward. The troops stayed, and in January of 1814 their nerveless commander had them marching south to Horseshoe Bend, where the Tallapoosa River swings in a wide loop.

Note from Michael Green: The Tennessee Mounted Gunmen that fought under General Coffee were a force that could ride great distances on the self-sustaining supplies they carried on their horses. But the men became so hungry on this campaign that William Russell, Jr. almost killed his horse for food; later, fat soaked potatoes found in the cellar of a house, where Indians were burned alive, were given to the men for food. Crockett became so disgusted with the killing, that he left just before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and rejoined Captain Cowan at the Battle of Pensacola. Elisha Fyke was wounded in the arm and sent home after fighting in one of several small skirmishes, prior to Horseshoe Bend.

Across the neck of this peninsula, Weatherford's Creeks had built a sturdy log barricade. By the time Jackson arrived with two thousand troops, nine hundred warriors stood ready to oppose him.

Note from Michael Green: Jackson sent General Coffee to the rear to steal the Creek War Canoes and use them for a rear assault. While canon shots are fired on the front, Coffee crossed unnoticed and fired on the back of the fort; Sam Houston is wounded while scaling the wall.

Then Jackson ordered a frontal assault, and he saw his men go forward into the teeth of heavy fire and swarm across the barricade. The Indians fought stubbornly all afternoon, but by nightfall the troops virtually annihilated the Creek nation. More than five hundred warriors lay dead, but Weatherford was not among them.

A few days later a gaunt Indian, dressed in rags, appeared in the army camp and approached Jackson. "I am Bill Weatherford," he said.

Jackson took his visitor into his tent. "I am at your power," Weatherford told the general, "do with me as you please. I am a soldier. I have done the white people all the harm I could; I have fought them, and fought them bravely; if I had an army, I would yet fight, and contend to the last; but I have none; my people are all gone. I can now do no more than weep over the misfortunes of my nation."

Moved, Jackson replied, "You are not in my power. I had ordered you brought to me in chains....But you have come of your own accord....I would gladly save you and your nation, but you do not even ask to be saved. If you think you can contend against me in battle, go and head your warriors."

Weatherford walked out of the camp a free man and never fought again.

Though the Creeks would never again fight as a nation, many of them moved south to Florida, where they settled among the Seminoles, who also hated the whites. The white raids along the Florida border were all the harsher because the Seminoles had long provided santuary for runaway slaves. By December of 1817 the squabbling had grown to such a pitch that Secretary of War John C. Calhoun ordered Jackson to go back south and rectify the situation. Jackson drove straight across the border, burning every Seminole village he could find. Then taking time out from the campaign against the Indians, he seized the Spanish fort at Pensacola. With the Seminoles subdued and the Spanish in an impotent fury, Jackson headed back north. The next year Spain ceded Florida to the United States.

Note from Michael Green: Major Russell was sent to secure Pensacola. Major Russell attacked the fort at Pensacola while the city was being shelled from the sea. The city wisely surrendered; the last refuge for blacks in the South was lost. Major Russell completed his campaign by burning Seminole and Creek villages along the coast.

What happened to these men who served during the many battles of bloodshed? Red Eagle is pardoned and as William Weatherford becomes a successful plantation owner. Andrew Jackson becomes the President of the United States and has his portrait on the 20 dollar bill. Sam Houston becomes Governor of Tennessee and President and Governor of Texas. The British and Spanish lose Florida and the Indians lose 23 million acres of land. James Ashley and Simeon Tucker return to the opulence of their plantations. Elisha Fyke, a pioneer of Dallas, has a road in Carrolton, Texas named for him. William Lea becomes a founding Judge of Meigs County, Tennessee, and Newton County, Missouri. Davy Crockett is catapulted into Washington politics and dies in Texas at the Alamo. Battles that are seldom mentioned but so profound in our lives, even today.

Thanks to the Cowan Page for this story