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Second Creek War

Robert B. Kane, Maxwell Air Force Base
The Second Creek War (1836-1837), also called the Creek War of 1836, was a conflict between the U.S. Army and Alabama and Georgia militias and a faction of the Creek Nation seeking redress for long-standing grievances in Alabama. These Creeks, residing primarily in towns along the Chattahoochee River in the present-day Alabama counties of Chambers, Macon, Pike, Lee, Russell, and Barbour, faced a federal government that refused to enforce the terms of the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta. In addition, more and more white settlers were defrauding them out of their land or stealing it outright. In the wake of the conflict, Pres. Andrew Jackson established a policy of forced removal of the remaining Creeks in the Southeast to Indian Territory (ultimately present-day Oklahoma), resulting in the removal of almost all Creek people from Alabama.
William McIntosh
In the decades prior to the conflict, the Creeks and the U.S. government had signed a series of treaties in which the Creeks ceded portions of their land to the United States. These treaties and the inability of the federal and local governments to keep white settlers out of Native lands created tensions among the Creeks and between the Creeks and white settlers in Georgia and present-day Alabama. After their defeat in the First Creek War in 1814, the Creek Nation ceded more than 21 million acres of land in Georgia and Alabama to the U.S. government in the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The Second Treaty of Washington (1826) nullified the 1825 Treaty of Indian Springs as fraudulent, allowing Creeks to keep their land in Alabama but ceded Creek lands in west-central Georgia to the federal government in exchange for a large sum of money and annual payments of $20,000 in perpetuity. Modifications to this treaty in 1827 resulted in the removal of all Creeks from Georgia.
Then, in 1832, 90 Creek chiefs signed the Third Treaty of Washington (sometimes known as the Treaty of Cussetta), ceding their remaining lands in Alabama. In return, each chief was to receive a square mile of land, and each Creek family was to receive a half-square mile of land of their choosing. The United States also pledged to pay the Creek nation a total of $350,000, provide 20 square miles of land to be sold to support Creek orphans, and to pay a year of expenses for Creek emigrants relocating to the Indian Territory. This treaty also encouraged the Creeks to move west of the Mississippi as quickly as possible but also pledged to remove all intruders from the ceded land until it had been surveyed.
John Gayle
The agreement, however, also enabled recipients of land to remain and gain title to the land after five years. Alabama governor John Gayle (1831-35), a states' rights advocate, denounced the treaty as federal government interference in what he saw as a state matter. Although many Alabamians disagreed with him, he was reelected by a landslide in 1833 in the middle of this controversy.
Even prior to the completion of the allotment process, whites had begun moving into the former Creek lands illegally. Land speculators and companies purposefully defrauded many Creeks of their allotted land and bought the homesteads of individual Creek families for a mere fraction of the land's value. Other whites outright stole the land rights or forced Creek families off their own land. Although Gov. Gayle had denounced the treaty, he supported the white settlers. State and federal officials generally refused to evict the defrauders, and local militia retaliated against Creeks who tried to enforce their property rights.
Creek leaders appealed to the federal government for help. In 1833, Pres. Andrew Jackson sent Francis Scott Key, the author of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and now U.S. Attorney General for the District of Columbia, to Alabama to negotiate with Gayle. Key found newly established white towns on the Creek lands and documented numerous cases of fraud. He also discovered that local and national politicians were using the threat of civil unrest to keep squatters from being forcibly removed but could not stop the flood of whites pouring into the Creek lands. Furthermore, the controversy ended Gayle's and Jackson's friendship. It also prompted Gayle to leave the Democratic Party in 1835 and become a member of the right-wing faction of the Whig Party.
Neamathla
By 1836, Lower Creek leaders had become outraged over the illegal influx of white settlers onto their lands and the unwillingness of the federal and state governments to help them. Some speculators began to spread tales of a planned Creek uprising. In spring 1836, the Chehaw, Yuchi, Hitchiti and other bands of Creeks launched a campaign to drive out the white settlers. Creek war parties burned homes and farms, killed white families out of vengeance, and disrupted the mail stages. On May 14, 1836, Creek warriors, led by Yuchi warrior Jim Henry and the aging Hitchiti chief Neamathla, attacked Roanoke, Georgia, and killed, burned alive, and/or scalped 14 of the 20 defenders; only six managed to escape. The Creek warriors then burned the town to the ground.
The Roanoke massacre caused widespread panic across western Georgia and east central Alabama. Terrified settlers left their farms for larger settlements, and Creek bands burned the abandoned farms and settlements. Other settlers hastily built wooden stockades and blockhouses in eastern Alabama for protection, and Alabama and Georgia militia fought several skirmishes with Creek war parties. On June 9, some 250 Creek warriors, probably led by Jim Henry, attacked a force of Georgia militia, commanded by Capt. Hamilton Garmany, at Shepherd's Plantation, a farm south of Columbus and an important military encampment. The timely arrival of reinforcements from nearby Fort Jones may have prevented the annihilation of Garmany's force, which suffered 22 casualties, most of whom were killed.
Interestingly, many Upper Creeks allied themselves with the whites. In late June 1836, friendly Creeks captured Jim Henry and several other leaders of the Roanoke massacre and turned them over to the Army. The Army, in turn, handed them over to civil authorities in Columbus. Subsequently, a civil jury in Columbus tried them for stage robbery and murder. The jury acquitted Henry but convicted three brothers from the Brown family of Yuchis who were hanged at what is now Phenix City, in present-day Lee and Russell Counties. Henry eventually immigrated to Oklahoma.
By this time, Pres. Jackson had been considering removing the remaining Creeks in Alabama to Oklahoma. He sent 14 companies of Army regulars, including 400 Marines, commanded first by Maj. Gen, Winfield Scott, then Brig. Gen. Edmund Meredith Shackelford, and Brig. Gen. Thomas Jesup, to end the Creek attacks. In addition, five armed U.S. Navy steamboats sailed up the Chattahoochee River to bring military supplies to the Army and militia units and to prevent rebel Creeks from crossing the river into Georgia. By mid-1837, the Army and the Alabama and Georgia militias had brought most of the fighting to an end although sporadic clashes between small bands of Creeks and local militia continued for several more years.
Between mid-1836 and mid-1837, as the Army suppressed the Creek uprising, the soldiers started rounding up Creek families and forcing them into concentration camps. The Army eventually drove more than 15,000 Creeks, west from Fort Mitchell, about 10 miles south of Phenix City, to Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, with little more than the clothes on their backs. More than 3,500 Creek men, women, and children died along the 750-mile route, sometimes known as the "Creek Trail of Tears." After arriving at Fort Gibson, the Army gave each Creek family a blanket and essentially abandoned them.

Additional Resources

Ellisor, John T. The Second Creek War Interethnic Conflict and Collusion on a Collapsing Frontier. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.
Vandervort, Bruce. Indian Wars of Mexico, Canada and the United States, 1812-1900. New York: Routledge, 2006.
Wright, James Leitch. Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Champaign, Ill.: Sports Publishing, 2004.
Published:  October 5, 2016   |   Last updated:  February 17, 2017