Red Sticks

Red Sticks (also Redsticks or Red Clubs), the name 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, as well as the 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. 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. In this context, the Red Sticks led a resistance movement against European-American encroachment and assimilation, 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.[1][2]


The term "Red Sticks" (alternatively "Redsticks" or "Red Clubs"), was derived from the name of the 2-foot long wooden war club, or atássa [3](vtvssv), used by the Creeks. The preferred weapon of the Red Stick warriors, the war club had a red-painted wooden handle with a curve at its head that held a small piece of iron, steel, or bone projecting about two inches.[4][5][6] 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,[7] while opposing assimilation into European-American culture.

The Creeks had a matrilineal culture, in which a person's place and status were determined by their maternal clan. The Creeks of the Lower Towns, who comprised the majority of the population, had adopted more European-American ways; in addition, they had more intermarriage among their women with white traders and settlers, and economic relations with the United States settlers. At the same time, the mixed-race children, such as the chiefs William Weatherford and William McIntosh, were generally raised among the Creek. 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". Hawkins further observed that even wealthy traders were nearly as "inattentive" to their mixed-race children as "the Indians"; Benjamin Griffith 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.[8]

The time in question was one of increasing pressure on Creek territory by European-American settlers. The Creeks 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. The Red Stick War, more commonly called the Creek War (1813–1814), was essentially a civil war as the Creeks struggled among themselves for their future; after the Lower Creeks issued a statement of "unqualified and unanimous friendship for the United States", tensions broke out into violence. Red Sticks attacked the Lower Creek towns.[9] The Red Sticks were backed by the British, who were 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.

Armed actions

Skirmish over arms

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. After the initial assault, the Red Sticks regrouped and defeated these troops. 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.

Massacre at Fort Mims

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. 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.[10]

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. 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). 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.[11][12]

History graduate student Karl Davis, in a manner contrary to prevailing scholarship at the time, interpreted the attack in a journal article treatment as a punitive expedition specifically directed against the Tensaw, a group of Lower Creek who were "separated from core Creek values."[10] Hence, Davis does not believe the Fort Mims attack was representative of the overall conflict between the Upper and Lower Towns.[10]


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.[11] General Andrew Jackson commanded the state militias to campaign against the Red Sticks. The US forces finally defeated the Creeks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (1814) on March 27, 1814. 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.[7]

The war had begun over internal divisions among Creeks who resisted the assimilation and loss of traditions, led by the chiefs William Weatherford, Menawa, and Peter McQueen of the Upper Towns. The war heightened the hostility between the Creeks and the Americans in the Southeast,[13] 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. After the war, the Creeks were forced to cede half their remaining lands to the US.

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. Some remnant Creeks 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. Some Creeks migrated to Florida, where they joined the Seminoles.


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.[11]


  • Waselkov, Gregory A. (2009). A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 978-0817355739. Retrieved March 5, 2017.

References and notes

  1. Andrew K. Frank (2012). "Creeks". In Spencer Tucker, James R. Arnold, Roberta Wiener (eds.). The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History. 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 169. ISBN 978-1-85109-956-6.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  2. Lee Irwin (20 October 2014). Coming Down From Above: Prophecy, Resistance, and Renewal in Native American Religions. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-8061-8579-8.
  3. Jean-Marc Serme (2015). 1812 in the Americas. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 38. ISBN 978-1-4438-8293-4.
  4. Waselkov (2009), A Conquering Spirit, pp. 86-88.
  5. Waselkov, Gregory A. (January 11, 2017). "Fort Mims Battle and Massacre". Encyclopedia of Alabama. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  6. Ceremonial red sticks were used by Creek medicine men, and are thought by some to be relevant.
  7. John R. Burch, Jr. (14 December 2015). "Horseshoe Bend, Battle of (1814)". In Chris J. Magoc, David Bernstein (eds.). Imperialism and Expansionism in American History: A Social, Political, and Cultural Encyclopedia and Document Collection. 2. ABC-CLIO. p. 399. ISBN 978-1-61069-430-8.CS1 maint: uses editors parameter (link)
  8. Benjamin W. Griffith (1998). McIntosh and Weatherford, Creek Indian Leaders. University of Alabama Press. p. 10. ISBN 978-0-8173-0914-5.
  9. Conley, Robert J. (2005). The Cherokee Nation: A History. University of New Mexico Press. p. 89. ISBN 978-0826332356. Retrieved March 5, 2017.
  10. Davis, Karl (2002). "'Remember Fort Mims': Reinterpreting the Origins of the Creek War". Journal of the Early Republic. 22 (4): 611–636. doi:10.2307/3124760. JSTOR 3124760.
  11. Owsley Jr., Frank L. (1971). "The Fort Mims Massacre". Alabama Review. 24 (3): 192–204.
  12. 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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. Thom Hatch (17 July 2012). Osceola and the Great Seminole War: A Struggle for Justice and Freedom. St. Martin's Press. p. 19. ISBN 978-0-312-35591-3.

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