Gateway to the Classics: Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by Edwin L. Sabin
Boy's Book of Indian Warriors by  Edwin L. Sabin

The Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend (1813–1814)

and the Wonderful Escape of Chief Menewa

As fast as Tecumseh and the Open Door, or their messengers, traveled, they left in their trail other prophets. Soon it was a poor tribe indeed that did not have a medicine-man who spoke from the Great Spirit.

When Tecumseh first visited the Creeks, in Georgia and Alabama, they were not ready for war. They were friendly to the whites, and were growing rich in peace.

The Creeks belonged to the Musk-ho-ge-an family, and numbered twenty thousand people, in fifty towns. They had light complexions, and were good-looking. Their women were short, their men tall, straight, quick and proud.

Their English name, "Creeks," referred to the many streams in their country of Georgia and eastern Alabama. They were also called "Muskogee" and "Muscogee," by reason of their language—the Musk-hoge-an.

They were well civilized, and lived almost in white fashion. They kept negro slaves, the same as the white people, to till their fields, and wait upon them; they wore clothing of calico, cotton, and the like, in bright colors. Their houses were firmly built of reed and cane, with thatched roofs; their towns were orderly.

With the Chickasaws and the Choctaws, their neighbors in western Alabama and in Mississippi, they were at war, and had more than held their own.

White was their peace color, and red their war color. And when Tecumseh gave them the red sticks, on which to count the days, he did nothing new. The war parties of the Creeks already were known as Red Sticks.

This was their custom: that a portion of their towns should be White Towns, where peace ceremonies should be performed and no human blood should be shed; the other portion should be Red Towns, where war should be declared by erecting a red-painted pole, around which the warriors should gather. The war clans were Bearers of the Red, or, Red Sticks.

The first visit by Tecumseh, in 1811, carrying his Great Spirit talk of a union of all Indian nations, failed to make the Creeks erect their red poles. Even the earthquake, that Tecumseh was supposed to have brought about by the stamping of his foot, failed to do more than to frighten the Creeks.

But they caught the prophet fad. Their pretended prophets began to stir them up, and throw fear into them. In 1802 the United States had bought from the Creeks a large tract of Georgia; the white people were determined to move into it. Alarmed, the Creeks met in council, after Tecumseh's visit, and voted to sell no more of their lands without the consent of every tribe in the nation. Whoever privately signed to sell land, should die. All land was to be held in common, lest the white race over-run the red. That was a doctrine of the Shawnee Prophet himself, as taught to him by the Great Spirit.

When Tecumseh came down from Canada, in the winter of 1812, on his second visit, the Creeks were ripening for war. Their Red Sticks party was very strong. The many prophets, some of whom were half negro, had declared that the whites could be driven into the sea. The soil of the Creek nation was to be sacred soil.

Traders had been at work, promising aid, and supplying ammunition, in order to enlist the Creeks upon the British side.

So in the Red Towns the Red Sticks struck the painted poles; the peace party sat still in the White Towns, and was despised by the Reds as white in blood as well as in spirit.

The hope of the Creeks was to wipe the white man's settlements from the face of Mississippi, Georgia and Tennessee. Alabama, in the middle, would then be safe, also. But the Choctaws, the Chickasaws, the Cherokees, refused to join. The White Sticks themselves listened to the words of their old men, and of Head Chief William Maclntosh; they said that they had no feud with the United States.

Commencing with President Washington, the United States had treated the Creeks honestly; the Creek nation had grown rich on its own lands.

The Red Sticks went to war—and a savage war they waged; the more savage, because by this time, the spring of 1813, all the Creeks were not of pure blood. They had lived so long in peace, in their towns, that their men and women had married not only among the white people but also among the black people; therefore their blood was getting to be a mixture of good and bad from three races.

Head Chief William Macintosh was the peace chief. He was half Scotch and half Creek, and bore his father's family name. He joined the side of the United States.

The war chiefs were Lam-o-chat-tee, or Red Eagle, and Menewa. They, too, were half-breeds.

Chief Red Eagle was called William Weatherford, after his white trader father who had married a Creek girl. He lived in princely style, on a fine plantation, surrounded with slaves and luxury.

Menewa was second to Chief Macintosh. His name meant "Great Warrior"; and by reason of his daring he had earned another name, Ho-thle-po-ya, or Crazywar-hunter. He was born in 1765, and was now forty-eight years old. He and Chief Macintosh were rivals for favor and position.

Menewa was the head war chief—he frequently crossed into Tennessee, to steal horses from the American settlers there. A murder was committed by Indians, near his home; Georgians burned one of his towns, as punishment. Chief Maclntosh was accused of having caused this murder, in order to enrage the white people against Menewa; and when Maclntosh stood out for peace, Menewa stood out for war.

He and Chief Weatherford led the Red Sticks upon the war trail; but greater in rank than either of them was Monahoe, the ruling prophet, of Menewa's own band. He was the head medicine-chief. He was the Sitting Bull of the Creeks, like the later Sitting Bull of the Sioux.

Out went the Red Sticks, encouraged by Monahoe and the other prophets. Already the white settlers had become alarmed at the quarrel between the Maclntosh bands and the Menewa bands. When two Indian parties fight, then the people near them suffer by raids. All Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia prepared for defense.

There were killings; but the first big blow with the Creek hatchet, to help the British and to drive the Americans into the sea, was struck in August against Fort Mimms, at the mouth of the Alabama River in southwestern Alabama above Mobile.

With all the cunning of the three bloods, the warriors waited until sand enough had drifted, day by day, to keep the gate of the fort from being quickly closed. Then, at noon of August 30, they rushed in. The commander of the fort had been warned, but he was as foolish as some of those officers in the Pontiac war. The garrison, of regulars, militia, and volunteers, fought furiously, in, vain. More than three hundred and fifty—soldiers, and the families of settlers, both—were killed; only thirty persons escaped.

Now it was the days of King Philip, over again, and this time in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, instead of in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. At the news of Fort Mimms, the settlers fled for protection into towns and block-houses. If the Choctaws, the Chickasaws and other Southern Indians joined in league with the Creeks, there easily would be fifteen thousand brave, fierce warriors in. the field.

However, the Choctaws and Chickasaws enlisted with the United States; Chief Maclntosh's friendly Creeks did not falter; and speedily the fiery Andy Jackson was marching down from Tennessee, at the head of two thousand picked men, to crush out the men of Menewa. and Weatherford.

Other columns, from Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, also were on the trail. The Creeks fought to the death, but they made their stands in vain. The United States was on a war footing; it had the soldiers and the guns and the leaders; its columns of militia destroyed town after town—even the sacred Creek capital where warriors from eight towns together gathered to resist the invader. Yes, and even the town built by direction of the prophets and named Holy Ground and protected by magic.

By the dose of 1813, this Jackson Chula Harjo—"Old Mad Jackson," as the Creeks dubbed him—had proved to be as tough as his later name, "Old Hickory." But Menewa and Weatherford were tough, too. They and their more than one thousand warriors still hung out.

In March they were led by their prophets to another and "holier" ground; Tohopeka, or Horseshoe Bend, on the Tallapoosa River in eastern Alabama.

The Creek town of Oakfuskee was located below. And here, in 1735, some eighty years before, there had been a fort of their English friends. It was good ground.

Chief Prophet Monahoe and two other prophets, by song and dance enchanted the ground inside the bend, and made it safe from the foot of any white man. Monahoe said that he had a message from Heaven that assured victory to the Creeks, in this spot. If the Old Mad Jackson came, he and all his soldiers should die, by wrath from a cloud. Hail as large as hominy mortars would flatten them out.

As was well known to the Creeks, Old Mad Jackson was having his troubles. The Great Spirit had sent troubles upon him—had caused his men to rebel, and his provisions to fail, until acorns were saved and eaten. The United States could not much longer fight the British and the Indians together. Let the Creeks not give up.

The Horseshoe was rightly named, for a sharp curve of the Tallapoosa River enclosed about one hundred acres of brushy, timbered bluffs and lowland, very thick to the foot. The entrance to the neck was only three hundred yards wide. On the three other sides the river flowed deep.

Menewa was the field commander of the Red Sticks, at this place. He showed a great head—he was half white and half red, but all Creek in education. Across the neck, at its narrowest point he had a barricade of logs erected, from river bank to river bank.

The barricade, of three to five logs piled eight feet high and filled with earth and rock, was pierced with a double row of port-holes: one row for the kneeling warriors, and one for the standing warriors. The barricade was built in zigzags, along a concave curve, so that attackers would be cut down by shots from two sides as well as from in front. By reason of the zigzags it could not be raked from either end.

All around the high ground back of the barricade, trees were laid, and brush arranged so that the warriors might, if driven, pass back from covert to covert, until they reached the huts of the women and children and old men, at the river, behind. Here a hundred canoes were drawn up, on the bank, in readiness.

But the Red Sticks of Chief Menewa had no thought of flight. They were one thousand. Their prophets had assured them over and over that the medicine of the Creek nation was strong, at last; that the Great Spirit was fighting for them; that the bullets of the Americans would have no effect, and that the Americans themselves would die before the barricade was reached. The cloud would come and help the Creeks, with hail—hail like hominy mortars!

On March 24 "Old Mad Jackson," just appointed by President Madison to be major-general in the United States army, set out against "Crazy-war-hunter" Menewa at Tohopeka.

The way was difficult, through dense timber, swamps and cane-brakes. Alabama, in these days, had been only thinly settled by white people.

He had three thousand men: a part of the 39th U. S. Infantry, a thousand Tennessee militia, six hundred friendly Creeks and Cherokees. He had two cannon: a six-pounder and a three-pounder.

His chief assistant was General John Coffee of Alabama, who had formerly been his business partner. Major Lemuel P. Montgomery, a Virginian of Tennessee, commanded one battalion of the regulars. He was six feet two inches, aged twenty-eight, and "the finest looking man in the army." Young Sam Houston, who became the hero of Texas independence, was a third lieutenant. Head Chief William Maclntosh, Menewa's rival, led the Creeks. Chief Richard Brown led the Cherokees.

In the evening of March 26 bold General Jackson viewed the Red Sticks' fort, and found it very strong. He was amazed by the skill with which it had been laid out. No, trained military engineers could have done better.

But his Indian spies saw everything—they saw the line of canoes drawn up in the brush along the river bank behind, at the base of the bend; and General Jackson decided to do what the Red Sticks had not expected him to do.

Early in the next morning, March 27, he detached General Coffee, with seven hundred mounted men, the five hundred Cherokees and the one hundred Creeks, to make a circuit, cross the river below the bend, and come up on the opposite side, behind the Horseshoe. This would cut off escape in canoes.

With the remainder of his soldiers he advanced to the direct attack upon the breast-works. He planted his two cannon. At ten o'clock he opened hot fire with the cannon and with muskets.

Chief Menewa's Red Sticks were ready and defiant. They answered with whoops and bullets. Their three prophets, horridly adorned with bird crests and feathers and jingling charms, danced and sang, to bring the cloud. The balls from the cannon only sank into the damp pine logs, and did no damage. The musket balls stopped short or hissed uselessly over.

For two hours Old Mad Jackson attacked, from a distance. He had not dared to charge—the prophets danced faster, they chanted higher—the Red Sticks had been little harmed—they whooped gaily—they had faith in their Holy Ground.

But suddenly there arose behind them a fresh hubbub of shots and shouts, and the screams of their women and children; the smoke of their burning huts welled above the tree-tops. General Coffee, with his mounted men, had completely surrounded the bend, on the opposite side of the river; his Indians had swum across, had seized the canoes, had ferried their comrades over by the hundred, the soldiers were following—and now the Menewa warriors were between two fires.

At the instant, here came Mad Jackson's troops to charge the barricade.

That was a terrible fight, at the breast-works. Chief Menewa encouraged his men. The test of the Holy Ground protected by the Great Spirit and the prophets had arrived.

The battle was to decide whether the Creek nation or the American nation was to rule in Georgia and Alabama, and the Red Sticks made mighty defense. While they raged, they looked for the cloud in the sky.

So close was the fighting, that musket muzzle met musket muzzle, in the port-holes; pistol shot replied to rifle shot; and bullets from the Red Sticks were melted upon the bayonets of the soldiers.

Major Lemuel Montgomery sprang upon the top of the barricade. Back he toppled, shot through the head. "I have lost the flower of my army," mourned General Jackson, tears in his eyes.

Lieutenant Houston received an arrow in his thigh; and later, two bullets in his shoulder.

Lieutenants Moulton and Somerville fell dead.

Again and again the white warriors were swept from the barricade by the Red Sticks' arrows, spears, tomahawks and balls. Others took their places, to ply bayonets and guns—stabbing, shooting. The uproar in the rear grew greater, and many of the Red Sticks behind the breast-works were being shot in the back; the voices of the prophets had weakened; no cloud appeared in the sky, bearing to the whites death from the Great Spirit.

Beset on all sides, Chief Menewa's men began to scurry back for their timber shelters, to fight their way to the river. But no one surrendered.

Having won the barricade, and cut off the escape of the Red Sticks in the opposite direction, the white general halted the further attack. He sent a flag of truce forward, toward the jungle.

"If you will stop fighting, your lives will be spared," he ordered the interpreter to call. "Or else first remove your women and children, so they will not be killed."

But the anxious eyes of warrior and prophet had seen the Spirit cloud rising, at last, into the sky; high pealed their whoops and chants again; a volley of bullets answered the truce flag.

The white soldiers re-opened with musket balls and grape-shot. The Cherokee and Creek scouts, fighting on their side, tried to ferret out the hiding places. Alas, the cloud proved to be only a little shower, and then vanished. The Great Spirit had deserted the prophets.

The American bullets thickened. With torches and blazing arrows the jungle was set afire. Roasted from their coverts, the Red Sticks had to flee for the river. When they fled, the rifles of the Tennessee sharp-shooters caught them in mid-stride, or picked them off, in the river.

Chief Menewa was bleeding from a. dozen wounds. He made desperate stand, but the cloud had gone, the fire was roaring, Head Prophet Monahoe was down dead, dead; the Great Spirit had smitten him through the mouth with a grape-ball, as if to rebuke him for lying. There was only one prophet left alive. Him, Menewa angrily killed with his own hand; then joined the flight.

He plunged into the river. His strength was almost spent, and he could not swim out of reach of the sharp-shooters' bullets. The water was four feet deep. So he tore loose a hollow joint of cane; and crouching under the water, with the end of the cane stuck above the surface, he held fast to a root and breathed through the cane.

Here he stayed, under water, for four hours until darkness had cloaked land and river, and the yelling and shooting had ceased. Then, soaked and chilled and stiffened, he cautiously straightened up. He waded through the cane-brake, hobbled all night through the forest, and got away.

But he had no army. Of his one thousand Red Sticks eight hundred were dead. Five hundred and fifty-seven bodies were found. upon the Horseshoe battle-field. One hundred and fifty more had perished in the river. Only one warrior was unwounded. Three hundred women and children had been captured—and but three men. The Red Sticks of the Creek nation were wiped out.

Of the whites, twenty-six had been killed, one hundred and seven wounded. Of the Cherokee and Creek scouts, twenty-three had been killed, forty-seven wounded.

Chief William Maclntosh also had fought bravely, but he had not been harmed.

The Red Sticks now agreed to a treaty of peace with the United States; and Chief Menewa, scarred from head to foot, was the hero of his band. "One of the bravest chiefs that ever lived," is written after his name, by white historians. In due time he again opposed Chief Maclntosh, and won out.

For in 1825 Maclntosh was bribed by the white people to urge upon his nation the selling of the last of their lands in Georgia. He signed the papers, so did a few other chiefs; but the majority, thirty-six in number, refused.

Only some three hundred of the Creeks were parties to the signing away of the land of the whole nation. The three thousand other chiefs and warriors said that by Creek law, which Chief Maclntosh himself had proposed, the land could not be sold except through the consent of a grand council.

As the nation owned the land, and had built better towns, and was living well and peacefully, the council decided that Chief Maclntosh must be put to death—for he was a traitor and he knew the law.

Chief Menewa was asked to consent; he ruled, by reason of his wisdom and his scars. Finally he saw no other way than to order the deed done, for the Creek law was plain.

On the morning of May 1 he took a party of warriors to the Chief Maclntosh house, and surrounded it. There were some white Georgians inside. He directed them to leave, as he had come to kill only Chief Maclntosh, according to the law.

So the white men, and the women and children, left. When Chief Maclntosh bolted in flight, he was shot dead.

The Georgia people, who desired the Creek land, prepared for war, or to arrest Menewa and his party. But the President, learning the ins and outs of the trouble, and seeing that the land had not been sold by the Creek nation, ordered the sale held up. The Creeks stayed where they were, for some years.

Menewa went to war once more, in 1836, and helped the United States fight against the Seminoles of Florida. In return for this, he asked permission to remain and live in his own country of the Creeks. But he was removed, with the last of the nation, beyond the Mississippi to the Indian Territory.

There, an old man, he died.

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