Red Sticks

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Red Sticks—also appearing as Redsticks or Red Clubs and deriving from the red-painted war clubs of some Native American Creeks—refers to an early 19th-century traditionalist faction of these people in the American Southeast. Made up mostly of Creek of the Upper Towns that supported traditional leadership and culture and preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting, the Red Sticks arose at a time of increasing pressure on Creek territory by European-American settlers.[not verified in body] Creek of the Lower Towns were closer to the settlers, had more mixed-race families, and had already been forced to make land cessions to the Americans.[not verified in body] In this context, the Red Sticks led a resistance movement against European-American encroachment and assimilation,[not verified in body] tensions that culminated in the outbreak of the Creek War in 1813. Initially a civil war among the Creek, the conflict drew in United States state forces while the nation was already engaged in the War of 1812 against the British.


The term "Red Sticks" was also presented in scholarly work as "Redsticks," and in historical documents also as "Red Clubs," and was derived from the ca. 2-foot long wooden war club, or atássa (vtvssv), a largely straight weapon, painted red, with a curve at its head that held a small piece of iron, steel, or bone projecting about two inches, which was the preferred symbolic and practical weapon carried by Red Stick Creek warriors.[1][2][3] The Red Sticks faction came primarily from the Upper Towns of the Creek Confederacy and supported traditional leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting, while opposing assimilation to the United States culture.[citation needed] The Creek had a matrilineal culture, in which a person's place and status were determined by their maternal clan.[relevant? ][citation needed] The Creek of the Lower Towns, who comprised the majority of population, had adopted more American ways; in addition, they had more intermarriage among their women with European-American traders and settlers, and economic relations with the United States settlers.[citation needed] At the same time, the mixed-race children, such as the chiefs William Weatherford and William McIntosh, were generally raised among the Creek, who commanded their first loyalty.[according to whom?][citation needed][4]

The time in question was one of increasing pressure on Creek territory by European-American settlers.[citation needed] The Creek of the Lower Towns, who were closer to the settlers and had more mixed-race families, had already been forced to make numerous land cessions to the Americans.[clarification needed][when?][citation needed] The Red Stick War, more commonly called the Creek War (1813–1814), was essentially a civil war as the Creek struggled among themselves for their future; after the Lower Creek issued a statement of "unqualified and unanimous friendship for the United States", tensions broke out into violence. Red Sticks attacked the Lower Creek towns.[5] The Red Sticks were backed by the British, which was engaged in the War of 1812 against the United States, and the Spanish, who were trying to retain a foothold in Florida and in territories to the west of the Louisiana Territory.[citation needed]

Armed actions[edit]

Skirmish over arms[edit]

The Red Sticks were involved with the skirmish that become known as the Battle of Burnt Corn. The armed conflict occurred when a group of Red Sticks were attacked by American white militiamen while returning from Florida with arms in 1813.[citation needed] After the initial assault, the Red Sticks regrouped and defeated these troops.[citation needed] While the militia had provoked the attack, frontier settlers and U.S. officials became alarmed about the Red Sticks' actions on the frontier as a result.[citation needed]

Massacre at fort[edit]

The Red Sticks decided to attack the garrison at Fort Mims in the Mississippi Territory (present-day Tensaw, in southwestern Alabama), in an attempt to reduce the influence of the Tensaw Creek who controlled the fort.[citation needed] Also at the fort were intermarried whites, and other settlers and their slaves from the frontier who had become alarmed after the battle that had occurred at Burnt Corn.[6][verification needed]

The fort was poorly guarded and the Red Sticks overwhelmed its defenses on 30 August 1813, killing most of the people who had taken refuge there.[citation needed] Estimates of the number of settlers at Fort Mims at the time of the massacre vary from 300 or so to 500 (including whites, slaves, and Lower Creek).[who?] Estimates of survivors have varied; at the most, about three dozen have been claimed. At least 100 Creek attackers were found dead at the scene of the battle.[7][8]

History graduate student Karl Davis interpreted the attack in a journal article treatment, in a manner contrary to prevailing scholarship at the time: as a punitive expedition specifically directed against the Tensaw, a group of Lower Creek who were "separated from core Creek values."[6] Hence, Davis does not believe the Fort Mims attack was representative of the overall conflict between the Upper and Lower Towns.[6]


The massacre had significant short-term and long-term effects. Alarmed by the fall of the fort and understanding little of internal Creek tensions, settlers demanded government protection from the Creek. With federal forces otherwise engaged in the War of 1812, Georgia, Tennessee, and the Mississippi Territory raised state militias for defense and engaged Native American allies, such as the Cherokee, traditional enemy of the Creek. Historian Frank L. Owsley, Jr. suggests that the state-sponsored military activity in the area likely prevented the British from occupying an undefended Gulf Coast in 1814.[7]

General Andrew Jackson commanded the state militias to campaign against the Red Sticks. The US forces finally defeated the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814) on March 27, 1814.[citation needed] His forces killed or captured most of the Creek, but some survivors escaped to Florida, where they joined the Seminole tribe and continued the resistance to the United States.[citation needed]

The war had begun over internal divisions among Creek who resisted the assimilation and loss of traditions, led by the chiefs William Weatherford, Menawa, and Peter McQueen of the Upper Towns.[citation needed] The war heightened the hostility between the Creek and the Americans in the Southeast, at a time when Americans had steadily encroached on Creek and other Native American tribes' territories, forcing land cessions under numerous treaties but always demanding more.[citation needed] After the war, the Creek were forced to cede half their remaining lands to the US.[citation needed]

Within twenty years, they lost the remainder of their lands as a result of the Indian Removal Act, and the forced removal to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.[citation needed] Some remnant Creek chose to stay in Alabama and Mississippi and become state and US citizens, but treaty provisions to secure their land were not followed, and many became landless.[citation needed] Some Creek migrated to Florida, where they joined the Seminole.[citation needed]


The stockade and fort have been reconstructed at the historic site. The state installed a historic plaque at the Fort Mims site that notes the British had provided weapons to the Red Sticks as part of its campaign against Captain Kaleb Johnson's troops in the South during the War of 1812.[7]


References and notes[edit]

  1. ^ Waselkov (2009), A Conquering Spirit, pp. 86-88.
  2. ^ Waselkov, Gregory A. (January 11, 2017). "Fort Mims Battle and Massacre". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Birmingham and Auburn, AL: Alabama Humanities Foundation and Auburn University Outreach. Retrieved March 5, 2017. 
  3. ^ Ceremonial red sticks were used by Creek medicine men, and are thought by some to be relevant.[who?][citation needed]
  4. ^ Benjamin Hawkins, who was first appointed as United States Indian agent in the Southeast and then as Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the territory south of the Ohio River, lived among the Creek and Choctaw and knew them well. He commented in letters to President Thomas Jefferson that Creek women were matriarchs and had control of children "when connected with a white man", see Griffith Jr., Benjamin W. (1998). McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders. Birmingham, AL: University of Alabama Press. pp. 10f.  Hawkins further observed that even wealthy traders were nearly as "inattentive" to their mixed-race children as "the Indians"; Griffith Jr. argues that Hawkins failed to understand the closer relationship that children in Creek culture had with their mother's eldest brother, closer than with their biological father, because of the importance of the clan structure; see Griffith Jr., op cit.
  5. ^ Conley, Robert J. (2005). The Cherokee Nation: A History. University of New Mexico Press. p. 89. ISBN 0826332358. Retrieved March 5, 2017. [verification needed]
  6. ^ a b c Davis, Karl (2002). "'Remember Fort Mims': Reinterpreting the Origins of the Creek War". Journal of the Early Republic. 22 (4): 611–636. Retrieved February 13, 2012. (Registration required (help)). 
  7. ^ a b c Owsley Jr., Frank L. (1971). "The Fort Mims Massacre". Alabama Review. 24 (3): 192–204. 
  8. ^ Heidler, David Stephen & Heidler, Jeanne T. (1997). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO. p. 355. ISBN 9780874369687. Retrieved March 5, 2017. 

Further reading[edit]

Note, the current article does not yet reflect the content of these further readings.