The Creek War of 1836 on the Chattahoochee River

(part I of II, of the 2nd Creek War)

by Christopher Kimball

The Creek War in Alabama during the War of 1812 is well known. Much has been written on the subject, and it is taught in Alabama schools. Fort Mims and Horseshoe Bend are preserved as parks. In contrast, the Creek War with the final removal in 1836 has never received much note or publication. Shepherds Plantation and Roanoke, Georgia are names that few will recognize, and can only be found by looking for a few forgotten roadside markers. Sources have to be found in various county history and genealogy books, national archive material, or buried in the volumes of American State Papers on Military Affairs. The only place I have ever seen the 1836 war given fair and complete coverage is an article in "The Chronicles of Oklahoma," Vol. LVII, No. 4, Winter 1979-80, (published quarterly by the Oklahoma Historical Society.)

In Georgia and Alabama in the early half of the 19th century, settlers moved onto the Creek land in violation of previous treaties. In the early 1830's, the federal government tried to remove the settlers in Alabama, but violence erupted. Governor Clay of Alabama claimed all the Creek land as part of the state, and said that the settlers should be free to move in. He said that the federal government and President Jackson were violating State's Rights by negotiating with the Indians and establishing a Creek Reservation on land the state claimed. The federal government and President Jackson said that they had the sole right to negotiate and deal with the Indians. Settlers on Indian land refused to move, while crooked land deals stole individual land allotments from unsuspecting Creek owners. By 1835 the once powerful Creek Confederacy had lost all its land through various treaties and crooked land deals.

The dispossessed Creeks who stayed were of different backgrounds. Some were almost totally assimilated to the white American culture. They worked simple labor jobs, remained quiet, were a threat to no one, but were liked and trusted by no one. Other Creeks had supported the United States, but had everything taken away from them despite their friendship. Other Red Stick Creeks had tried to maintain their traditional culture and way of life, but lost everything because of treaties they never signed and never agreed upon. Chiefs like MacIntosh had signed away the land and property of people he did not control and people who never had any say in the matter. Now all the Creeks had lost their homes, their crops and food stores, and even the clothes on their back. At the same time, settlers were moving onto former Creek land and becoming prosperous.

Just imagine what you would do if you were a Creek warrior back in 1835. You lost your home. You have a family that you need to provide for. You decide to go hunting on the other side of the river because where you are, no game can be found. You are walking along and find cattle or hogs roaming free, with nobody around. (Nobody fenced in cattle back then.) You're hungry and need to feed your family, so you butcher a wandering cow. The government had promised to provide food, but never carried through on the commitment. Your family needs clothes, so you take some clothes hanging on the clothesline. Those settlers have more than enough to clothe themselves anyway. Besides, that settler just happens to be living on the land that was once part of your town.

As you can imagine, the settlers were not too happy with what was happening. Their livestock had a habit of disappearing each year. Even though not every Indian would steal cattle, every Indian because a suspect by the settlers. Even Indians who stole nothing from the whites became objects of white hatred. Settler's homesteads were subject to frequent attacks, and reports in the early 1830's of attacks were increasing. By 1836, the white settlers around southwest Georgia had enough of periodically losing their property or having their lives threatened by a few hostiles. They wanted all the Creeks removed. Some people even got so angry that they threatened to kill any Indian the found. They didn't care that a majority of the Creeks had remained quiet and peaceful. The Georgia settlers started to kill innocent Creeks who were simple laborers and had harmed nobody. Innocent people on both sides got killed, and finally the Creeks decided that they have had enough.

In May 1836, tensions between the Creek Indians and white settlers flared up into war. It was no secret that the Seminoles to the south were fighting. The rumor was that the Seminoles had defeated the United States in Florida. (The U.S. had no substantial victory against the Seminoles until 1837.)

Creek warriors crossed the Chattahoochee River from Alabama and attacked the town of Roanoke, Georgia. The citizens of Georgia were caught unprepared. Thousands of citizens from the countryside fled to the larger cities of Lumpkin or Columbus, Georgia. Many people were very fearful of their safety because in southwest Georgia, whites and Indians lived side by side. It was feared that the war with the Creeks would be worse than with the Seminoles in Florida. (Which, of course, turned out to be the opposite.)

Georgia Governor William Schley allowed local counties to muster militia forces. The only problem was that the state had not prepared to fight a war. Money budgeted to purchase muskets the year before had not been spent.  There was no problem finding volunteers for the militia, but many arrived for duty without arms. A call for help was sent to the federal government to send troops, but with the Seminole War in full swing down in Florida, Georgia would pretty much have to fight this one by itself. Most of the battles involved the Georgia Militia.  Alabama troops refused to leave their state because of Creek attacks at their homes, and General Scott with the federal troops provided little help.

Town of Roanoke Destroyed:

At dawn of May 15th, 1836 the town of Roanoke awoke to an attack by Creek War Leader Jim Henry and 200 to 300 Creek warriors. The town was taken by complete surprise, and the Georgia Militia could not set up a defense fast enough to save the town. The Indians burned plantations, carried off Negro slaves, and destroyed livestock. Over 100 of the town's residents were forced to flee. Fifteen residents were killed, including four who were burned to death when the hotel was torched. Captain Horne of the militia was wounded, but was saved by a man who dragged him down into a ravine to hide until the Indians had left. Finally a militia force arrived to drive off Jim Henry.

The destructive work of the Creeks continued. The hostiles attacked steamers on the Chattahoochee River, sinking one, and killing and wounding the crew and passengers on another.  Soon 2400 refugees flooded into Columbus.

Battle of Shepherd's Plantation:

The Battle of Shepherd's Plantation in Stewart County, Georgia was one of the more costly battles for the Georgia Militia.

A Georgia Militia Company commanded by Captain Hammond Garmany from Gwinnett County was mustered and sent down to Stewart County to defend the settlements and help round up the Creeks.  As Garmany's soldiers were sitting down for dinner on the afternoon of June 9, 1836, they heard two shots in the distance. Thinking that it was another local militia company, they went to investigate. Apparently these shots were part of a carefully laid trap by the Creeks that the company soon fall into.

Garmany's Company went about a half mile, and the men carried nothing but their arms and ammunition. They found the Creeks in a wooded spot, and took cover behind trees and fired.  The Creeks fell back, and the company moved forward and fired again. The Creeks moved back a second time, and the company moved forward again.  Soon Garmany's men noticed that each time they would send a volley of fire, the Creeks would fall back further, but each time more warriors would join them.  Garmany's men, numbering about 40, soon found themselves almost surrounded by at least 250 Creek warriors.

Captain Garmany ordered a retreat so they would not get completely surrounded. The company fired and fell back, and ran. The soldiers start to get separated and scattered. Captain Garmany and several of his men fell back a half-mile to a local farm and homestead.  Not all of the men joined him, and some were separated in other wooded areas.

Garmany reached the farm, and the soldiers set up defensive positions. Creek warriors were approaching from the other side of the homestead. Close fighting ensued. Captain Garmany is shot in the thigh, and at first the men thought he was killed until he let them know that he still lived. The soldiers were surrounded and under heavy fire. Suddenly, 30 more militia soldiers arrived under the Command of Major Jernigan of Stewart County. Jernigan was three miles away at Fort Jones, and realized that Garmany needed help when he heard the distant firing.  Jernigan's men fired on the Indians, and distracted them enough for Garmany and his men to escape.  17 more soldiers of Garmany's company later arrive from nearby Fort McCreary.

Of the other soldiers that scattered and were not with Garmany, they had a very difficult time.  Creek warriors chased them over two miles through woods and homesteads.  Eight men of Garmany's command were killed; most being ones who were scattered apart from the main group.  They were found hiding in different places and killed one by one.  One private describes that he was fleeing so fast that he was dropping everything, including his oversized clothes that were slowing him down.  By the time he was found by another soldier, he had nothing but his musket without accouterments, hiding in the mud of the swamp.  Being naked and covered in muck, the soldier who found him almost mistook him for a Creek warrior.

The Creek Regiment in the U.S. Army.

The attempt to remove the Seminoles in Florida in the 1830ís began a war that started out as a disaster for the United States, who during the first year of the war saw no clear victories. In September 1836, 759 Creeks were recruited by the United States Army to become Indian scouts and mediators against the Seminoles in an attempt to end the war in Florida. The government promised Creek warriors payment for their services. The removal was taking a high toll on the Creek people, and many did not have enough money or food provisions to make the journey out west. If they received payment for joining the regiment, it would ensure that their families would better survive the journey west.

Of the Creek warriors who went to Florida, 110 died, and mostly from disease and sickness. One of the casualties was the husband of Millie Francis, who is known as the "Florida Pocohontas" for saving the life of an American soldier years earlier, and caused Congress to give her a congressional medal which she received years later on her deathbed.

While the warriors were down in Florida, their families were gathered and put at a remote coastal brick fortification on the gulf coast, Fort Morgan, Alabama.  The fort had been almost abandoned since the garrison left the year before to fight in Florida, where many of the soldiers had been killed with Major Dade. When the Creeks left Fort Morgan in 1837, they took with them about 18 inches of dirt off the top layer of the fort.  The Creeks did not stay inside the fort, but were scattered down the beach for miles.

The state of Florida also recruited a Creek regiment to fight the Seminoles in Florida, and I discuss this elsewhere on my web page, with the names from the unit roster.

Other Events and Skirmishes:

26 January 1836 - "Battle of Hitchity" near Bryants Ferry on the Chattahoochee River, in Stewart County, Georgia. A company of local militia fires upon 40 Creek warriors crossing the river. The Creeks defend their position on a bluff and drive off the militia.

19 May 1836 -- General Thomas Sidney Jesup becomes commander of the western troops involved in the Creek war, and soon comes in conflict with General Scott over conflicting tactics and strategies.

22 May 1836 - Creek Indians surround and attack the town of Irwinton, Alabama (today the city of Eufaula.) They are repulsed after sustaining heavy losses.

9 June 1836 - The steamboat Metamora on the Chattahoochee River, carrying Georgia militia troops, is fired upon by a large number of Creek warriors on the shore, about 20 miles south of Columbus, Georgia.

22 June to 22 October 1836 - A company of Florida Militia from Columbia County has several battles against the Creeks in the Okefenokee Swamp area, claiming to have killed and taken prisoner many Indians.

1 July 1836 - General Scott declares the Creek War in Georgia and Alabama over.  The announcement is premature.  84 year old Neamathla and hundreds of his warriors are marched 90 miles in chains from Fort Mitchell to Montgomery, Alabama.  Scott estimates that there are only about 200 Creeks still at large in the swamps or on their way to Florida.

3 July 1836 - The Battle of Chickasawhachee Swamp in Baker County, Georgia ends with defeat for the Creeks.  Soldiers route the Indians from an almost impenetrable island in the swamp and secure all the Indian's supplies and food.

10 July 1836 - Battle of Brushy Creek. Georgia militia pursues and attacks Creeks retreating into Florida.  At the beginning of the battle, the Indians have the advantage; but with the arrival of more troops, they are forced to retreat and disappear into the swamp.  The Creeks left in such a hurry that many babies were found abandoned and dead.

The same day there is a skirmish on the Alapaha River in Georgia.

24 July 1836 - Skirmish near Wesley Chapel, Stewart County, Georgia. Creeks defeat and drive away a company of Georgia Militia.

25 July 1836 - Battle of Nochaway. A company of Georgia Militia under Major Jernigan pursues the Creeks the next day and engages them in a fierce fight in the swamp on Nochaway Creek. The soldiers are out numbered and forced to withdraw from the battle.

27 July 1836 - Georgia militia forces continue to battle the Creeks in the swamp of Nochaway Creek, with very hard fighting until the soldiers attack the hammock from two different sides and completely drive out the Creeks from area.

27 August 1836 - Battle of Cow Creek in southern Georgia. Georgia militia forces find and attack Creeks who are heading into the Okefenokee Swamp.

Over the next year, Georgia and Alabama militia units will search the remote areas of Georgia for any Creeks. There are a few skirmishes where they find and attack small groups that have little food or weapons. In 1837, the Florida Militia will lead a relentless campaign against the Creeks in Florida, and in some instances will brutally kill defenseless Creek prisoners.

3 February 1837 - Skirmish between Alabama Militia and Creek Indians near Cowikee Creek, southeast Alabama.

Early February 1837 - Skirmish with Creek Indians and Alabama Militia along Pea River in Alabama at Hobdy Bridge.

25 March 1837 - Battle along the Pea River in Alabama near Hobdy Bridge. Alabama Militia forces find and overrun an Indian camp in the swamp. Many of the soldiers are firing in the water at a heavily defended Indian camp. The battle lasts for almost four hours with heavy casualties on both sides. There is a lot of close hand-to-hand combat with even the Creek women from the camp fighting and firing weapons. The soldiers eventually take the camp with a cost of about a dozen casualties, and maybe as many as 50 Creeks killed. This would be the last battle in Georgia and Alabama as the war with the Creeks shift south to Florida.

GREAT RESOURCE!
The Rare Map Collection at the University of Georgia.

Next part: Part II - The Creek War in West Florida, 1836-1840.



 

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(c) 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003 Chris Kimball