Forgotten and Concealed American History
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Thanks to several documentaries, broadcast by PBS, the American public’s awareness of the Red Stick War (or Creek Civil War) has grown beyond the superficial portrayal of history in Walt Disney’s Davy Crockett series during the mid-1950s. Some people are even aware that Brig. General William McIntosh, mikko of the Coweta branch of the Creek Confederacy, was the first Native American, appointed by Congress to be a general in the United States Army. HOWEVER, have you ever heard of the First Creek Regiment? Bet not!
I learned about the First Creek Regiment the good ole fashion way . . . by first saying “What the heck?” For years, I knew that some of my Creek ancestors had fought in the War of 1812. I assumed that they had served in the American Indian Brigade under the command of William McIntosh in the Red Stick War. Several had actually taken veteran’s land grants in the vast 24 million acre territory, ceded by the Creek Confederacy at the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814.
One of the many other ironies of that war was the Andy Jackson mainly stole land belonging to his Creek allies in Georgia. He claimed that it was “punishment” for allowing the Creeks in Alabama to rebel. Actually, shortly after being given command of the Tennessee Volunteers, Jackson hired four agronomists to identify the best lands in Georgia and Alabama Creek territory for growing cotton! Most of the best cotton land belonged to Jackson’s Creek friends! I learned this while doing research for Roger Kennedy’s last book, Greek Revival America.
While working as a planning consultant to Auburn and Opelika, Alabama, I took a drive up to the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park . . . where Jackson’s Cherokee and Creek soldiers saved the white regiments from disaster . . . thus enabling them to massacre the Red Stick soldiers and their families after victory was obtained. This was in the days before the internet. None of my ancestral family names were on the roster of McIntosh’s brigade or any of the other brigades that fought the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama. What the heck?
The answer came this past week. I am finishing up the book on Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks. I first became interested in this great man over two decades ago, when I was consulting architect for the restoration of his first home and farm, which later became the home of the famous author, Corra Harris.
Charles Hicks was a officer in the McIntosh Brigade. Prior to combat occurring in Alabama, he was directed to Fort Hawkins in Macon, GA for training. In researching that period of history at Fort Hawkins, I ran across a brief reference to the First Creek Regiment. It mentioned that they were garrisoned at Fort Hawkins for awhile, but were an entirely separate unit of Regular Army soldiers, who were Creek, but also citizens of the State of Georgia and the United States. Native American members of McIntosh’s Brigade were considered either militia or allies.
That launched me on another line of research. Sure enough . . . that is where my ancestors served. It was composed primarily of Creek men from northeast and central Georgia of Itsate (part Itza Maya) and Uchee ancestry, who were citizens of Georgia and thus not members of the Creek Confederacy. They primarily spoke English and being Itsate, probably knew very little of the Muskogee Creek language.
There is not much information on the First Creek Regiment. First, though, we will have some background history. When Congress declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812, its army and navy were woefully understrength and ill prepared for any war. Several of our most important forts on the Canadian frontier were quickly captured by the British, because their garrisons did not even know that war had been declared. Someone in Washington forgot to tell them. The situation in Georgia was even worse. It had virtually no coastal defenses, capable of withstanding British naval cannon and relatively few federal troops stationed anywhere in the state.
The state’s leaders feared an immediate British attack on Savannah and so most militia units were rushed there. Rumors were circulating that British agents were trying to get the Alabama Creeks to attack white settlements. It was feared that they might be joined by British Redcoats in an attack on Macon, GA and Fort Hawkins. The US Army recruited a regiment of Georgia Creeks, who were citizens, plus better educated (European definition) than most traditional Creeks, to augment the skeleton garrison at Fort Hawkins.
From what is readily available on the internet, we know that the Creek regiment had nothing to do for many months. They were marched back and forth along the Georgia frontier to intimidate the Red Stick Creeks, but apparently were not involved in any combat. A few archives suggest that they were sent to protect Tuckabatchee, which then was located where Six Flags Over Georgia is located now. Tuckabatchee was Pro-United States and the Red Sticks had threatened to massacre the large town.
Then Napoleon’s Grand Army of the Republic evaporated on the icy plains of western Russia. French armies soon began fleeing Spain. This enabled Great Britain to send battle hardened soldiers to attack the United States from Canada and along the South Atlantic Coast. New England states were not harassed because they were about to secede from the Union.
The British Navy began launching raids against towns and islands on the Georgia coast, since it was so poorly defended. On the few occasions when white militia units were able to confront British Rangers, they were thoroughly defeated. US Army commanders in Savannah, Brunswick and Fort Hawkins thought that the First Creek Regiment’s “educated” Creeks might fare better, since they seemed to still have knack for guerilla warfare. Whatever the case, being regulars, they carried state of the art firearms and were led by professional military officers.
When they were reassigned to carry out asymmetrical warfare on the Georgia Coast, the Creek regulars dispersed rapid-response teams on each of the occupied islands and near major towns. Instead of hanging around plantation houses, waiting to be attacked, they camped out behind the dunes . . . waiting to spring on the British Redcoats and Greencoats (Rangers) as they got out of their clumsy row boats. Unlike the white militias, the Creek Rangers demanded horses so they could immediately move to the point, where the British were to land.
Again, there are no surviving details of the battles fought on the Georgia beaches, but apparently the new tactics worked. We are not sure in the Creek Regulars were just better trained and armed soldiers than the militiamen or if they literally out-fought the British Redcoats. Whatever the case, the British soldiers REALLY did not like being attacked on the beaches by Crazy Creeks, who had the military discipline of professional soldiers, but the terrifying harjo of Creek warriors. The British decided to move on to a safer place . . . you know . . . New Orleans. That did not turn out too well for the Redcoats.
Why we wear mustaches
One of several complaints that I have about Native American History museums in Alabama, Georgia and Florida is that they do not accurately portray the physical appearance of Creek men. Read the De Soto Chronicles, the autobiography of John Lawson in Carolina or the commentaries of William Bartram. All describe the Creek men they met as being tall and brawny, plus wearing mustaches and turbans. Creek men could only wear a mustache, after being in a battle. Most of the chiefs wore beards or at least, goatees. You can also see the mustaches and turbans on ancient statues from southern Mexico . . . where most ancestors of the Creeks came from.
Now, I know the real reason that many Creek men wore mustaches. We have big lips! It is also a physical trait of many tribes in southern Mexico. I just got tired of cutting my upper lip with a razor, while shaving.
At left is a frame from a comedy movie that a 24 year old, Vivi the French Courtesan, was in. Look at her big lips. Her grandmother is an Indian from southern Mexico. She thought that she was the only person in the world with big lips until we met one enchanted evening so long ago.