War of 1812people

The Creeks

First Nations

Read part of Andrew Jackson's speech to the Creek Nation in 1816

More on the American South during the War of 1812

The Creek confederacy was an alliance of First Nations of the northern and eastern parts of the Mississippi Territory who shared many cultural characteristics. This confederacy included the Lower Creeks to the east (in present day Georgia) and the Upper Creeks to the west, as well as some tribes of the Choctaw Nation. Like the First Nations of the northwest, the Creeks were under heavy pressure from the escalating white encroachment on their homelands. Ultimately, it would be the Creeks' divergent approaches to dealing with this pressure that would cause a division in the confederacy lead to the Creek civil war that erupted in 1813.

The seeds of conflict had been sown in the years leading up to the Creek war. In addition to certain linguistic and ethnic differences with the Upper Creeks, the Lower Creeks had a longer history of contact with white settlers and had slowly begun to incorporate white practices, such as farming and claiming private property, into their lifestyle. The Upper Creeks were disturbed by what they took to be passive acculturation of their cousins. A renewed sense of identity and a call for a return to traditional ways grew out of a religious revival that swept the Upper Creek regions in 1811. Though they were weary about a possible British alliance in 1812, they were receptive to Tecumseh's notion of a traditionally-based native confederacy that would stretch from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico, sealing off the westward expansion of the U.S.

The Lower Creeks and Choctaws thought it best to remain neutral and not aggravate the U.S. government by attacking white settlers for fear that retribution would be harsh. But the Upper Creeks had decided to take a stand and strike against the U.S. expansionists. In the spring of 1812 the Upper Creek campaign began, and the first white settlers were killed. This group of four thousand or so Creeks became known as the Red Sticks. The name is derived from the Creek tradition of using a bundle of sticks to count down the days until an event occurs; if the sticks are dyed red, that event is war.

This action led to a gathering of the Creek National Council which was dominated by the influential chiefs of the Lower Creeks. It was decided that an example must be set in order to stop the Red Sticks, or at least to distance the Lower Creeks from the killing of whites. A prominent Red Stick chief called Little Warrior was executed. For the Red Sticks, this act of fratricide only confirmed the Red Sticks belief that the Lower Creeks were succumbing to the influence of the white mentality.

The American declaration of war in June of 1812 heightened tensions within the Creek confederacy. Though both Britain and its Spanish ally in West Florida attempted to lure them into an alliance, the Red Stick Creeks initially maintained their distance from the white man's war. But in the summer of 1813 the internal crisis deepened when the Red Sticks retaliated for Little Warrior's death against the Creek town of Tuckabatchee, signaling the start of a nine-month long civil war.