Alabama: Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

View of Tallapoosa River from Horseshoe Bend
View of Tallapoosa River from Horseshoe Bend

Courtesy of National Park Service


Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
Courtesy of The National Park Service

“This bend which resembles in its curvature that of a horse-shoe, includes, I conjecture, eighty or a hundred acres. The River immediately around it, is deep, & somewhat upwards of a hundred yards wide. As a situation for defense it was selected with judgment, & improved with great industry and art.”

In his own words, Andrew Jackson described the site where US forces and allied warriors from the Cherokee Nation defeated Chief Manawa’s Red Sticks of the Creek Nation. A defining moment in American history, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend provided a glimpse of the fate that lay ahead for the American Indians as the nation continued to expand and as Andrew Jackson took the oath of office as President of the United States. Today, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park preserves the site of the last battle of the Creek Indian War of 1813-1814, where the US Army under General Andrew Jackson defeated the Creek Nation--breaking the power of the southern tribes and opening the area for white settlement.

Before Europeans first encountered the indigenous people of the New World, the Creek Nation had not yet formed in the American Southeast. Originally, the Creeks descended from a large population of southwest Indians, who eventually migrated to the present States of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and the Carolinas. Over time, for reasons still debated, by displacing or incorporating other tribes, these southeastern Indians began to build a confederacy of small tribal towns that together formed what eventually became the Muscogee Nation. Although each of the tribes spoke a different language and most came from different cultures, the tribal towns developed a strong political alliance that helped keep the people of the Muscogee Nation at peace. By the time the British arrived in 1715, the tribal towns stretched along both sides of Georgia’s Chattahoochee River.  Seeing one of the Muscogee communities on the Ochese Creek, the English began calling these allied peoples Creeks. Divided by the river, the Creek Indians were broken into two groups: the Upper Creeks and the Lower Creeks, who until the English encounter peacefully shared the river and its surrounding lands. Eventually, the British lifestyle began to influence the Creeks’ traditions and overall way of life.


Andrew Jackson with the leader of the Red Sticks, William Weatherford (Red Eagle), after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Andrew Jackson with the leader of the Red Sticks, William Weatherford (Red Eagle), after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Artist: J.R. Chapin c.1800s.
Courtesy of The Library of Congress through 
Creative Commons

Like many American Indians who traded with the Europeans, the Creeks developed a dependence on British luxuries, which changed their world and created competition among the tribes. Over time, Creek dependence on European goods would have a tremendous impact on their communities, permanently dividing the Upper Creeks and Lower Creeks from what was once a strong political alliance of the Muscogee nation. Although the world the Creek Indians knew began to change during the first European encounters, the greatest impact on their lifestyle occurred after the American Revolution.

Once the Creeks and the United States signed the Treaty of New York in 1790, U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins began working with many Creeks to improve their agricultural traditions and living standards. He hoped that this effort would foster peaceful relations between the Creeks and American settlers. Because the Lower Creeks lived closer to the American settlers, the Upper Creeks were unable to benefit from Hawkins’ “civilization” program. Conflict arose from the growing division, and as the Lower Creeks continued to develop a closer relationship with the American settlers in Georgia, the Upper Creeks began attacking settlers and Creeks who ignored their call to rise up against the “white man,” and drive him out of their lands.

War broke out between the Creeks in February 1813, when the Upper Creek warriors known as Red Sticks murdered seven frontier families living in the region. Since the Red Stick Indians acted independently from other Creek warriors, representatives of the Creek tribal council agreed to execute the Creek Indians who killed the American families. Angered by the council’s decision the other Red Sticks retaliated and killed all who had a hand in the executions of the Upper Creek warriors.


View of Tallapoosa River from Horseshoe Bend

View of Tallapoosa River from Horseshoe Bend
Courtesy of The National Park Service

As the civil war between the Creeks progressed, and as the Red Sticks began attacking and killing American settlers and all groups associated with Hawkins’ civilization program, the governors of the Mississippi Territory, Georgia, and Tennessee began mobilizing their militias to end the Red Stick resistance and the growing division between the Creeks. By March 1814, after numerous campaigns against the Red Sticks, Major General Andrew Jackson of the Tennessee Militia lead the Lower Creek warriors and the Cherokee allies in the final battle against Chief Manawa’s Red Sticks.

On March 22, Jackson and his men marched out of Fort Williams toward the Tallapoosa River bend where the Red Sticks had their village of Tohopeka. The Creeks believed that the river bend, known as the Cholocco Litabizee or “Horse’s flat foot,” would protect their village from enemy attacks. Although the encircling river was difficult to cross, it did not keep Jackson from moving his troops and Indian allies across the horseshoe shaped bend on the morning of March 26, when he sent 700 mounted infantry and 600 Cherokee and Lower Creek warriors three miles downstream to cross the Tallapoosa River and position themselves around the bend. Once Brigadier General John Coffee began to lead their forces across the river, Jackson and the rest of his army moved into the peninsula where they attempted to break down the log barricade the Red Sticks had built to protect their village.

Although Jackson’s artillery had no effect on the barricade, by noon Coffee’s Cherokees had already crossed the river and began attacking the Red Sticks on the other side of the barricade. When Jackson realized that the Cherokees had successfully launched a rear attack, he immediately ordered his troops to pour over the barricade to close in on the Red Sticks from the front. By sunset, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend was officially over, and although Chief Menawa managed to escape, the Red Sticks had a great number of casualties. Of the 1,000 Red Sticks at Tohopeka, only 200 survived, while Jackson only lost 49 men.


Tohopeka Village site

Tohopeka Village site
Courtesy of The National Park Service

Despite Jackson's victory, many Red Sticks refused to surrender and moved to Florida, where they joined the Seminoles. Eventually, the Creeks who stayed in Alabama surrendered to Jackson, and ceded 23 million acres of their ancestral lands to the United States in the 1814 Treaty of Fort Jackson.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend established Andrew Jackson’s reputation as a military leader and an Indian fighter. After defeating the Creeks, Jackson continued his campaign against the American Indians. After the nation elected him President in 1828, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Bill that forced the southeastern tribes and their allies to move west in the journey known to the Cherokee as the “Trail of Tears.”

Visitors can see where the battle took place and learn more about the history of the encounter at the Horseshoe Bend National Military Park Visitor Center.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, a unit of the National Park System, is located at 11288 Horseshoe Bend Rd. in Daviston, AL. Click here for the National Register of Historic Places file: text and photos. The park grounds are open daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and the visitor center hours are from 9:00am to 4:30pm. Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Admission to the park is free. For more information, visit the National Park Service Horseshoe Bend National Military Park website or call 256-234-7111.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is the subject of an online lesson plan, The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Collision of Cultures. The lesson plan has been produced by the National Park Service’s Teaching with Historic Places program, which offers a series of online classroom-ready lesson plans on registered historic places. To learn more, visit the Teaching with Historic Places home page.

Last updated: August 7, 2017