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Groovefax #5

Who were the Red Sticks?


In the early start of the United States there are many accounts of battles between the colonists and the Native American tribes. Quite often, the Native Americans were defeated, resulting in land loss and relocation. Though many might have heard of the French and Indian War or of General Custard's Last Stand, many attempts by the Native Americans during that time period go without much said about them. The Red Sticks, however, indirectly made an impact on United States' history.

The Creek (Muskogee) Indians during colonial times were one of many tribes that adapted quickly to the changes brought by the powers of Europe (England, France, and Spain). During the first 300 years of contact, the creek leaders played a policy of neutrality towards Spain who had Florida to the south of their territory, France who owned Louisiana to the west of their lands,and Britain who held the east boarder with Georgia and S. Carolina. The nobility of the Creeks often sent their children to Europe to learn, at the cost of the child not knowing his/her native tongue. Alexander McGillvray was one of those children.

McGillvray was a Creek leader who tried to ensure the existence of the Creek Confederacy. To start, once he became in charge of the Creeks, he handed over the highest military position to a French officer, LeClerc Milfort, in an effort to update the Creek army. McGillvray then tried to play games between the Spanish, British, and French governments by accepting positions form each nation. For example, in 1778 the British made him a colonel, but 6 years later he signed a treaty with Spain for a monthly salary and monopoly on the Spanish trade. However, the Creek nation began to dissolve after his death in 1793.

During the war of 1812, two of McGillvray's nephews stepped up to the plate. They announced to the Creeks that it was time to revolt against the settlers and retake their land. The oldest called himself Red Eagle in his native tongue, and asked that all who participated in the revolt to paint their ceremonial war clubs red, hence the name Red Sticks. The movement had hopes of returning to their original culture and way of life. The soldiers decided to use only tomahawks, bows and arrows as their weapons, abstaining from the European guns that they believed were the source of low hunting animals.

Unlike most of the earlier revolts, the Creeks were not against whites, but were fighting against the European culture and all who stood by it. The Creeks themselves by this time period had become infused with a mixture of French, African, and Scottish blood. In fact, one of the main war leaders and interpreters was a West African who escaped from slavery and became known as the Prophet Abraham.

Amongst the many clashes between the Red Sticks and the colonists, nothing stood out more than the attack of August 30, 1813. On that day, some of the Red Sticks attacked the weakly defended Fort Mims on Lake Tonsas, Alabama. Using their basic weapons, they razed the fort, leading to the death of 170 soldiers and 100 civilians. To scare others who might want revenge on the Red Sticks, the Natives scalped all the dead and also killed all the slaves who fought against them.

This massacre led to their demise, for Andrew Jackson organized an army that spent that following winter killing Indians and blacks indiscriminately. He finally crushed the movement at the Massacre of Horseshoe Bend on March 27th 1814. To count the dead Creek Indians, Jackson ordered the soldiers to cut off their noses, skin their bodies, and allowed their Indian allies to scalp the dead. They collected 557 noses, and the skins were later tanned to make souvenirs like bridal reins.

To add more punishment, a treat signed on August 9th of that year opened up the entire Creek nation for settlement. The British soon decreed that the Creek nation was an independent nation and vowed to protect their rights. Upon signing the Treaty of Ghent ending the War of 1812, the British included a clause which specified that all lands should be returned to Indians allied with Britain. The US signed the treaty, but never acknowledged the clause. Furthermore, in 1830 while Jackson was president, the Indian removal Act was past, forcing the remaining Creeks out of lands east of the Mississippi River. This resulted in the forming of the infamous trail of Tears.

Today, not much is said about the Red Stick movement, though many learn in elementary history classes about land skirmishes and the Trail of Tears. However, there is still a constant reminder in the US about the movement, for one of the major cities is named after them. The French way of saying red sticks is Baton Rouge.