In 1813, Fort Mims which is located in Baldwin County, AL near Mobile was the site of one of the largest massacres by Native Americans in the United States. On August 30, 1813, a force of about 700 Creeks destroyed Fort Mims killing between 250 – 500 defenders and taking at least 100 captives, in the first major battle of the Creek War. About 400 American settlers, US-allied Creeks, and African American slaves had taken refuge inside a stockade hastily erected on the plantation of Samuel Mims, a wealthy resident of the Tensaw District of the Mississippi Territory.
Although Major Beasley, the commander, stated that he could “maintain the post against any number of Indians”, the stockade was poorly defended. At the time of the attack, the main gate was partially blocked open by drifting sand. The story is that, the gate was open “…when the officers all got drunk and were playing cards and left the gate open, and it rained and washed the sand in the gate so it could not be shut and Father left with Mother and the children, and the Indians killed all that stayed.”
The attack occurred during the mid-day meal, when no American scouts were out. The force of 700 Red Sticks (named for the red wooden war clubs they carried), led by William Weatherford, and the prophet Paddy Walsh, rushed the fort and tomahawked Beasley, who was trying to close the blocked gate. Half of the surprised, 100-man garrison of Mississippi Territorial Volunteers died with their commander, Major Daniel Beasley, in the first few minutes of battle. Captain Dixon Bailey, a Creek, and his 45 American and Creek militiamen repelled the Red Stick onslaught and for four hours successfully defended hundreds of civilians—white, mixed race, and Indian—huddled inside the flimsy, one-acre stockade. Only when the attackers set the fort’s buildings ablaze with burning arrows did resistance collapse.
The warriors forced their way into the inner enclosure and, despite the attempts of William Weatherford, massacred most of the mixed-blood Creeks and white settlers. About five hundred people died, and the “Red Sticks” took 250 scalps. They spared the lives of most of the enslaved African Americans, to take them as their own slaves. About 36 people escaped, including Bailey, who was mortally wounded.
After several days, parties arrived to make horrific discoveries. The Creeks who attacked Fort Mims knew and even were kin to those who had sheltered in Fort Mims. The deaths, nevertheless, were accompanied by scalping and mutilations. Many settlers had died in the burning buildings. Flies covered the area. The men buried the dead in the potato fields outside the stockade, then left to spread the word of the massacre.
The Creek attack on Fort Mims, and particularly the killing of civilian men, women, and children at the end of the battle, outraged the U.S. public, thus prompting military action against the Creek Nation in what is now much of modern Alabama. The massacre of civilians, however, rallied American armies under the cry “Remember Fort Mims.” The massacre marked the transition from a civil war within the Creek tribe (Moscoge) to a war between the United States and the Red Stick warriors of the Upper Creek Nation. The resultant Creek War culminated in a decisive victory for U.S. forces in the Battle of Burnt Corn on March 27, 1814, and the Creek Nation’s subsequent cession of over 20 million acres of land to the U.S. in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Continuing outrage surrounding the Fort Mims Massacre contributed to the eventual forced removal of Creeks and other Indians from the Southeast in the 1830s.
Read More: Massacre at Fort Mims by David Mason
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