A CONQUERING SPIRIT:
FORT MIMS AND THE REDSTICK WAR OF 1813-1814
History and Historical Evidence: HI 301
October 14, 2013
In A Conquering Spirit, Gregory Waselkov contends that aggressive American colonization of Creek lands in what is now southern Alabama was the main cause for the Fort Mims Massacre and a continuation of the Redstick War; history seems to support this view without vindicating the action of the Redsticks which were mostly composed of Upper Creek Indians. The atrocities at Fort Mims, such as the indiscriminate killing of pregnant women and children, incensed Americans and escalated the war in the region, which later prompted General Andrew Jackson and his troops to become involved in the conflict. Waselkov appears to believe that the events at Fort Mims were unavoidable given the tensions between the Creeks and the Americans. Bad feelings had been fermenting between white settlers and Creek Indians for several decades primarily because of occupation of Creek lands and the insistence from white settlers that the Creeks adopt white traditions.
In the mind of the Creeks, the battle was more than just a fight for survival; it was a struggle to tenaciously hold on to traditions and culture which the Creeks felt to be under attack by American colonists. As John Walton Caughey mentions in McGillivray of the Creeks, “Our lands are our life and breath, if we part with them, we part with our blood. We must fight for them.”1 This statement seemed to be a common theme among the Upper Creeks. American colonists and the government hoped the Creeks could be assimilated in a peaceful manner into American society through negotiations and financial enticements: “Westward expansion could then proceed in an orderly way, with Indian population retreating before the advancing American frontier or assimilating with American society.”2 The mainstay of the Creeks’ way of life was the trading of deer skins with American settlers which required millions of acres of land to sustain trade. American settlers coveted these lands for their own use such as farming which raised conflict between the Creeks and American settlers. The Creeks resisted the transition of hunter-gathers to a more agrarian society thus contributing to a sense of arrogance concerning the Indian population propagated by government policies; setting the stage for the latter Indian uprising leading to the Fort Mims massacre.3
Numbered among the Redsticks were several prophets who persistently maintained possessing the gift of magical powers that would assure an Indian victory over the Americans which in turn emboldened Redstick aggression in the region. Foremost among the prophets were Tenkwatawa and his older brother Tecumseh; both were of the Shawnee origin. Without these charismatic prophets leading the way the Redstick uprising might have been drastically shortened, if the revolt would have even happened at all. In any case, dissatisfaction of the Redsticks created ripe grounds for the inflammatory rhetoric of the prophets against the white settlers who were encroaching on the Redsticks’ way of life. The Upper Creeks had been relatively unaffected by the incursions of the white settlers’ into their lands. Undoubtedly, the prophets played a large part in Upper Creeks taking to the war path against what these Creeks perceived as white aggression. In Creek Indian History, George Stiggins relates through his writings that, “The Shawanose prophet had convinced them of the overbearing wrongs that they had suffered and of the successful revenge the Indians would have in exterminating the white people for dispossessing wantonly and insatiably of their lands….”4 As the decline in demand for deerskins grew and deer population depleted, the Indian residents were coerced into farming and developed a dependence on American goods such as...
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