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McIntosh and Weatherford: Creek Indian Leaders

McIntosh and Weatherford: Creek Indian Leaders

by Benjamin W. Griffith Jr

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Born of Creek mothers and Scottish fathers, these two fascinating men fought on opposing sides during the Creek War of 1813-14. William McIntosh (White Warrior) sided with Andrew Jackson and the Lower Creeks, and William Weatherford (Red Eagle) joined the Red Sticks. Benjamin W. Griffith, Jr., illuminates the remarkable story behind the legends and folk tales


Born of Creek mothers and Scottish fathers, these two fascinating men fought on opposing sides during the Creek War of 1813-14. William McIntosh (White Warrior) sided with Andrew Jackson and the Lower Creeks, and William Weatherford (Red Eagle) joined the Red Sticks. Benjamin W. Griffith, Jr., illuminates the remarkable story behind the legends and folk tales surrounding these Creek leaders.

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University of Alabama Press
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Chapter One


* * *

About the time of the American revolutionary war, when the Creek Indians owned land that is today approximately the lower two-thirds of Alabama and of Georgia west of the Oconee River, two sons were born to Indian mothers and Scots fathers in obscure towns in the territory of the Creek Nation, one along the Chattahoochee River and the other by the Alabama. Both sons were named William, and both were to become leaders of their mothers' people, opposing each other in the Creek War of 1813-14. William McIntosh—called Tustunnuggee Hutkee or White Warrior—was commissioned a brigadier general in the United States Army for his contributions to Andrew Jackson's forces at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and for other services to the country, but he died embroiled in controversy, executed by his fellow Creeks, who charged that he led in ceding lands to the federal government in violation of the agreed-upon policy of the other chiefs of the Creek Nation. William Weatherford, called Red Eagle, opposed Jackson's troops but was so noble in his surrender that he won Old Hickory's respect and pardon. He died a planter and local hero in southern Alabama, near the site of Fort Mims, against which he had led a brutal assault during the Creek War.

    Racial mixtures that resulted in such remarkable men as these were not uncommon. French and British traders had begun filtering into the Creek Nation at a very early date, and it was advantageous for such men to have Indian wives. It was not always so for farmers, who found thatsome Indian women could not easily adapt to the ways of European housekeeping and husbandry. Precise records are lacking to indicate the percentage of Caucasians in the Creek Nation, but it was probably less than 10 percent. Caleb Swan, an army lieutenant and deputy Indian agent, who knew the Creeks of this period first-hand, set the white population among the Creeks in 1790 at three hundred, a number, he added, "sufficient to contaminate all the natives." Historical accounts of the Creeks are liberally sprinkled with such British and European names as Burgess, Cornell, Galphin, Grizzard, Kennard, McIntosh, McQueen, Milfort, Moniac, Perryman, Sullivan, Walker, and Weatherford.

    There is nothing to indicate that the Creeks discriminated against the whites or their mestizo offspring. Since descent was determined through the female line rather than patrilineally as in white society, the father's ethnic background meant little to the Creeks. Moreover, the Indians, as Peter Farb points out, had a well-established system of assimilating new members into the tribes. Often prisoners of war were adopted by Indian families to replace husbands or sons who were battle casualties, and such persons were completely integrated into the new society. When a white settler took an Indian wife, he acquired the support of her entire clan. In an analysis of thirty captive whites, fifteen males and fifteen females, the anthropologist John R. Swanton found among them an unusually high percentage of social success. Three or four men became chiefs, and about the same number of women became wives of chiefs.

    It is fortunate that both McIntosh and Weatherford chose to live in the Creek Nation, where their mixture of Indian and Caucasian blood was no handicap. American English has a number of words to describe a person of mixed blood, all with varying degrees of unfavorable connotation: half-breed, half-caste, hybrid, mestizo, miscegenate, and mongrel. Outside the Creek Nation, Red Eagle and White Warrior were to face throughout their lives the common prejudice toward their hybrid heritage, accompanied by the inevitable charges of emotional instability and psychic dualism.

    Indian women were attractive to North American settlers from the beginning. Within a few years after Virginia was settled in the early seventeenth century, more than forty male colonists had married Indians. "Indianizing," or adopting the ways of the Indians, became such a threat to the dissolution of the early settlements that the colony of Virginia instituted severe penalties against going to live with the Indians, and Cotton Mather preached against Indianizing. The Creek Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins said of Indian wives that "if the concurrent testimony of the white husbands can be relied upon, the women have much the temper of the mule, except when they are amorous, and then they exhibit all the amiable and generous qualities of the cat."

    The Indian lifestyle was also alluring to the early settlers. Michel Guillaume St. Jean de Crevecoeur, in his Letters from an American Farmer (1782), wrote that there must be in the Indian's "social bond something singularly captivating, and far superior to be boasted of among us; for thousands of Europeans are Indians, and we have no examples of even one of these Aborigines having from choice become Europeans!" As Peter Farb concludes, "Whites who had lived for a time with Indians almost never wanted to leave. But virtually none of the `civilized' Indians who had been given the opportunity to sample White society chose to become a part of it."

    William McIntosh's paternal grandfather was John McIntosh, a Highlander from Inverness, who came to Georgia in 1736, settled in Savannah, and married a Scotswoman, Margaret McGillivray. He later established a trading post along the Tombigbee River on land granted him for service to the king. William McIntosh's father was Captain William McIntosh, a Tory who commanded a contingent of Creeks who were allied with the British in the revolutionary war, and his mother, said to be called Senoya, was a Creek woman of unmixed blood. Little is known of her except the tradition that she was a member of the most powerful and privileged of all the Creek clans: the Wind clan. Shortly after the Revolution, Captain McIntosh sired another son, Roderick (or Rolly), by another Creek woman, and then he left the Indian country forever. He moved to Savannah and married a cousin, Barbara McIntosh, sister of General John McIntosh. Ironically, General McIntosh's youngest daughter, Catherine, was to become the mother of George M. Troup, who was governor of Georgia at the time that his first cousin William McIntosh met violent death at the hand of some fellow Creeks for ceding land to the federal government, land cessions that had been largely precipitated by Governor Troup.

    William Weatherford also sprang from a distinguished family. He was the great-grandson of Captain Marchand, a French officer in command of Fort Toulouse, located on the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, and his Indian wife, Sehoy, a Creek of the noble Wind clan. Before he was assassinated by his men in a mutinous uprising in 1772, Marchand fathered a daughter, also named Sehoy, who first married a Tabacha chieftain, whose name is unknown. From that union came a daughter, called Sehoy III, who was to become the mother of William Weatherford. Sehoy II later took as her second husband a Scots, trader, Lachlan McGillivray. As a youth, McGillivray had arrived in Charleston about 1738 with a shilling and a jackknife in his pocket. He headed for Indian country, where he traded his knife for pelts, and from this meager capital he amassed a fortune by the time of the Revolution—enough to retire on in Scotland and to assuage the pain of having $100,000 worth of real property confiscated by Georgia patriots. Lachlan and Sehoy had four children, a son and three daughters. The son, Alexander McGillivray, became the most influential of all the Creek chiefs, and from 1787 until his death in 1793 he symbolized the Creek Nation to whites. His uncanny diplomatic skill enabled him to play the British, Spanish, and Americans against each other to gain benefits in trade and protection for his people.

    Sehoy III, daughter of the Tabacha chieftain, was married in 1768 to John Tate, the last British agent among the Creeks. At the outbreak of the Revolution, Tate was given the rank of colonel in the British army; he recruited a large force of friendly Indians and in the summer of 1780 marched with them toward Augusta to reinforce Colonel James Grierson's army. On the way, however, he became deranged and died. Shortly thereafter, Sehoy married Charles Weatherford, a red-headed Scotsman, who was a friend of her father. From this union came the celebrated Red Eagle, William Weatherford. Less than half Indian, with black eyes and light skin, this handsome young man with the Scots name of Weatherford could have merged into the white man's world without notice, but he chose to live as an Indian, reluctantly siding with the Upper Creeks, who were hostile to the white settlers, in the Creek War of 1813-14. Red Eagle's lifestyle differed greatly from that of his uncle, Alexander McGillivray. Despite his power and influence among the Creeks, McGillivray was culturally more allied with the whites. He lived in a plantation house, owned black slaves, and customarily spoke English, so disdaining the Creek language that he always spoke through an interpreter at public meetings of his people.

    The actual date of William McIntosh's birth is obscured by conflicting data, but he was probably born in 1778. His birthplace was the Lower Creek town of Coweta, located on the right bank of the Chattahoochee, at the junction of Broken Arrow Creek, fifteen miles downriver from the present-day Columbus, Georgia, and three miles below the fall line in what is now Russell County, Alabama. Coweta, because it was the seat of the political head of the Creek Nation, was visited often by early travelers. William Bartram, the English naturalist, who visited there in 1777, wrote that Coweta "is called the bloody town, where the Micos, chiefs, and warriors assemble when a general war is proposed; and here captives and state malefactors are put to death." Hawkins, for nearly twenty years an agent to the Creeks, described in 1797 an execution site at Coweta, which McIntosh surely observed as a boy growing up in the town: "I was shown in an old field some stakes to which the Cherokees had been tied in the last war they had with the Creeks about 40 years past when taken prisoners. Three of the stakes remain. Here the captives were tied and here they received their doom, which with the exception of the young lads and a few women was the torture till death."

    In 1799 Hawkins described Coweta Old Town, the "public establishment" of the Lower Creeks and the residence of the agent, as good, rich land on a "high flat." The Creeks estimated the number of gunmen in Coweta at one hundred; Hawkins "ascertained by actual enumeration" that they had sixty-six. Hawkins fenced in two hundred acres and tried to "introduce regular husbandry to serve as a model and stimulus for the neighboring towns who crowd the public shops here, at all seasons, when the hunters are not in the woods." Even as he wrote he doubted the success of the project, "from the difficulty of changing the old habits of indolence and sitting daily in the squares, which seem peculiarly riveted on the residenters of the towns." He was no more complimentary to the Indian country white man, whom he described, "with but few exceptions," as "a lazy, cunning, thievish animal, so much degraded in the estimation of the Indians that they are considered a slave of their family and treated accordingly."

    LeClerc Milfort, a young French adventurer whose hastily written account of his twenty-year sojourn in the Creek Nation has sometimes been found questionable, claimed to have arrived in the town of Coweta in May 1776, a short time before McIntosh's birth. He wrote of the timber cabins set three to a side in a perfect square in the center of the town, with the grand cabin of the great chief of the nation facing the rising sun. Milfort mentions sleeping on the floor on a bearskin rug and his bounteous meals of roasted meat, bread, and sagamite, a drink made of fermented corn meal.

    The year of William Weatherford's birth is given in most sources as "about 1780," but since Sehoy Tate did not become a widow until the late summer of that year, a more likely date is sometime in 1781. He was born near Coosauda, an Upper Creek town situated on the west bank of the Alabama River, three miles below the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. Weatherford's father had set up a trading post on a high bluff near the river and built a race track nearby. He devoted much of his energy to breeding and training fine horses, and the crowds attracted by his races added to the prosperity of his trading business. Benjamin Hawkins visited the Weatherfords in December 1766 and described the experience in his journal: "Mr. Weatherford showed me this morning some fine horses raised by him, on his plantation, they were blooded nearly full, 15 hands high, looked well, their feet somewhat too flat, owing to their being raised in flat swampy lands." Near Weatherford's house, Hawkins noted, were five conic earthern mounds, the largest thirty yards in diameter and seventeen feet high and the others thirty feet in diameter and five feet high. He did not speculate on the purpose for which these obviously ceremonial mounds were raised, but he pointed out a practical use, that of giving cattle and horses a safe place of refuge when the Alabama River overflowed its banks.

    The agent met Mrs. Weatherford and remarked, "I am informed [she] lives well in some taste, but expensively. Her negroes do but little, and consume everything in common with their mistress, who is a stranger to economy." He did not mention young William, who would have been about fifteen years old at the time. After leaving the Weatherford plantation, Hawkins paddled his canoe to the site of Fort Toulouse, on the Coosa River one mile above its junction with the Tallapoosa. In his visit on December 20, 1796, Hawkins found five iron cannon with the trunnions broken off and a few bunker beds, all that remained of the old fort that was destroyed by its commandant, Chevalier Lavnoue, at the close of the French and Indian War in 1763. Young Weatherford must also have explored the nearby site of the Old French fort, where his great-grandfather Captain Marchand was killed by his own men.

    The Indian ancestors of McIntosh and Weatherford were a remarkable people, the Muskogees, called Creeks by the English traders because of the many streams and rivers in their homeland. Creek legends relate that they came to this rich and abundant land, later to become the envy of cotton-planting white settlers and encroachers, by way of the Red River. When the Creeks first came is not known, but it may have been as early as A.D. 800; then for two centuries Indians from the north continued to pour into the Southwest by way of the eastern Rockies. As they moved eastward, the Muskogees incorporated defeated remains of tribes into a loose confederacy of at least twelve distinguishable ethnic groups. Before Europeans arrived, the Creeks had taken in the Alabama, Koasati, and Hitchiti Indians; later, members of the Apalachee, Shawnee, Yuchi, Natchez, and Chickasaw tribes joined the confederacy. Many of these peoples retained their own languages, and by the eighteenth century, six languages were spoken in the confederacy. By the early part of the nineteenth century, however, the tongue of the Muskogees was the dominant one, and many of the original differences in social organizations and clan relationships had merged into what became generally known as the Creek way of life.

    The confederacy was divided along geographical lines, with the Upper Creeks living along the Coosa and Tallapoosa river valleys, in present-day Alabama, and the Lower Creeks in the valleys of the Flint and Chattahoochee, primarily in what is now Georgia. Michael D. Green theorizes that the designations Upper and Lower Creeks were given by the Charleston traders, who traveled west on a road that forked in central Georgia, the left, or lower path leading to the Chattahoochee, and the right, or upper path leading to the Tallapoosa River. In fact, the upper towns lay almost directly west of the lower towns. The thirty-nine upper towns, as reported by Francis Ogilvie in the summer of 1764, were divided into three groups: the Alabamas, the Tallapoosas, and the Abeikas. The most important Upper Creek towns were Tuckabatchee and Coosa, and the principal Lower Creek towns were Coweta, home of McIntosh, and Cusseta. These towns were also divided into two other categories: red towns and white towns. The red towns were associated with war and the white towns with peace, and they were often so designated according to whether the chief of the town was a member of a red or a white clan. Clans had from the earliest times been designated so that the white clans, the hathagalgi, supplied the councillors who spoke for peace, and the red clans, the tcilokogalgi, supplied the "bearers of the red sticks," traditional Creek war symbols.

    Whether they lived in an upper or lower town, the Creeks were blessed with lands well favored by nature. Traveling in Creek country in the middle of the eighteenth century, James Adair wrote: "Most of their towns are very commodiously and pleasantly situated on large beautiful creeks, or rivers where the lands are fertile, the water clean and well tasted, and the air extremely pure."

    Creek villages, which had no ceremonial squares, were residential communities, offshoots of nearby towns, which were themselves small, usually with fewer than two thousand persons. Towns consisted of houses located in small square compounds that radiated out from the town square, the seat of government and ceremony, and the nearby chunky yard or playfield. William Bartram described the ingeniously arranged family compounds at length:

The dwellings of the Upper Creeks consist of little square, or rather of four dwelling houses inclosing a square area, exactly on the plan of the public square. Every family, however, has not four of these houses; some have but three, others not more than two, and some but one, according to the circumstances of the individual, or number of his family. Those who have four buildings have a particular use for each building. One serves as a cook room and winter lodging house, another as a summer lodging house and hall for receiving visitors, and a third for a granary or provision house, etc. The last is commonly two stories high, and divided into two apartments, transversely, the lower story of one end being a potato house, for keeping such other roots as require to be kept close and defended from cold in winter. The chamber above it is the council. At the other end of this building, both upper and lower stories are open on their sides; the lower story serves for their shed for their saddles, pack saddles, and gears and other lumber; the loft over it is a very spacious, airy, pleasant pavilion, where the chief of the family reposes in the hot seasons, and receives his guests, etc. The fourth house (which completes the square) is a skin or warehouse, if the proprietor is a wealthy man and engaged in trade or traffic, where he keeps his deerskins, furs, merchandise, etc., and treats his customers. Smaller or less wealthy families make one, two, or three houses serve all their purposes as well as they can.

    McIntosh and Weatherford were born to relatively wealthy Creek families, but as privileged members of their society, they did not shirk the causes of their people. They were born in areas already redolent with history and prehistory, but many significant dramas were still to be played out near Coosauda and Coweta, and Red Eagle and White Warrior were to play important roles in these events.

    They came to manhood at a time when external pressures were reshaping the Creeks from a loose affiliation of autonomous tribes into a nation. The National Council, which had from ancient times been a means of gathering civil and war leaders in a primarily social annual conference, now became more of a legislative body as the Creeks sought to cope with such pressures as the encroachments of white settlers, the territorial aspirations of Georgia, and the further encirclement caused by the admission of Alabama to statehood in 1819. During this crucial period, some towns and villages clung stubbornly to their autonomy, and others joined political factions formed around such influential leaders as McIntosh, Weatherford, Opothle Yoholo, Little Prince, and Big Warrior. Federal officers, sent to the Creek Nation to negotiate treaties, and Georgia politicians already the scene sowed dissension among the Creek factions and used bribery and intrigue to set one group against another to achieve the goals of expansionism and the ultimate removal of the Creeks from the Southeast. In these turbulent times, these two mixed-blood Creeks played significant roles in the destinies of their mothers' people.

Snakes, Snails, and Environmental Tales

By Whit Gibbons Anne R. Gibbons

The University of Alabama Press

Copyright © 1998 The University of Alabama Press. All rights reserved.

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