The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Collision of Cultures (Teaching with Historic Places)

Aerial view of Horseshoe Bend

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park

Today the Tallapoosa River quietly winds its way through east-central Alabama, its banks edged by the remnants of the forest that once covered the Southeast. About halfway down its 270-mile run to the southwest, the river curls back on itself to form a peninsula. The land defined by this "horseshoe bend" covers about 100 wooded acres; a finger of high ground points down its center, and an island stands sentinel on its west side.

This tranquil setting belies the violence that cut through Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814. On the peninsula stood 1,000 American Indian warriors, members of the tribe European Americans knew as the Creek. These men, along with 350 women and children, had arrived over the previous six months in search of refuge. Many had been part of a series of costly battles during the past year, all fought in an attempt to regain the autonomy the Indians had held before the arrival of European Americans. Surrounding the Creek were forces led by future President Andrew Jackson, then a major general of the Tennessee Militia. The core of his force was 2,600 European American soldiers, most of whom hoped that a victory would open native land to European American settlement. Yet this fight was not simply European American versus American Indian: on Jackson's side were 600 "friendly" Indians, including 100 Creek.

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend, as the events of March 27 became known, illustrated three long-running conflicts in American history. It was yet another fight between European Americans and American Indians, in this case the decisive battle in the Creek War (1813- 1814). That day and those leading up to it also provided an example of tensions among American Indians, even those in the same tribe. Finally, both Creek factions received supportfrom white governments, thereby continuing the long tradition of European nations attempting to defeat their rivals by enlisting the native population.

About This Lesson

This lesson is based on the National Register of Historic Places registration file "Horseshoe Bend Battlefield" (with photographs), documents from archives at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, and other resources. This lesson was written by Virginia Horak, Public Affairs Specialist, Interagency Archeological Services Division of the National Park Service. It was edited by Teaching with Historic Places staff. This lesson is one in a series that brings the important stories of historic places into classrooms across the country.

Where it fits into the curriculum

Time Period: Late 18th century to mid-19th century

Topics: This lesson could be used in units on American Indian culture, early 19th-century westward expansion, the War of 1812, European American and American Indian relations, and the Jacksonian Era.

United States History Standards for Grades 5-12

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Collision of Cultures
relates to the following National Standards for History:

Era 2: Colonization and Settlement (1585-1763)

  • Standard 1B: The student understands the European struggle for control of North America.

Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

  • Standard 1A: The student understands the international background and consequences of the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and the Monroe Doctrine.
  • Standard 1B: The student understands federal and state Indian policy and the strategies for survival forged by Native Americans.

Curriculum Standards for Social Studies

National Council for the Social Studies

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Collision of Cultures
relates to the following Social Studies Standards:

Theme I: Culture

  • Standard B: The student explains how information and experiences may be interpreted by people from diverse cultural perspectives and frames of reference.
  • Standard E: The student articulates the implications of cultural diversity, as well as cohesion, within and across groups.

Theme II: Time, Continuity and Change

  • Standard C: The student identifies and describes selected historical periods and patterns of change within and across cultures, such as the rise of civilizations, the development of transportation systems, the growth and breakdown of colonial systems, and others.
  • Standard D: The student identifies and uses processes important to reconstructing and reinterpreting the past, such as using a variety of sources, providing, validating, and weighing evidence for claims, checking credibility of sources, and searching for causality.
  • Standard E: The student develops critical sensitivities such as empathy and skepticism regarding attitudes, values, and behaviors of people in different historical contexts.
  • Standard F: The student uses knowledge of facts and concepts drawn from history, along with methods of historical inquiry, to inform decision-making about and action-taking on public issues

Theme III: People, Places, and Environment

  • Standard A: The student elaborates mental maps of locales, regions, and the world that demonstrate understanding of relative location, direction, size, and shape.
  • Standard B: The student creates, interprets, uses, and distinguishes various representations of the earth, such as maps, globes, and photographs.
  • Standard D: The student estimates distance, calculate scale, and distinguishes other geographic relationships such as population density and spatial distribution patterns.
  • Standard H: The student examines, interprets, and analyzes physical and cultural patterns and their interactions, such as land use, settlement patterns, cultural transmission of customs and ideas, and ecosystem changes.
  • Standard I: The student describes ways that historical events have been influenced by, and have influenced, physical and human geographic factors in local, regional, national, and global settings.

Theme IV: Individual Development and Identity

  • Standard E: The student identifies and describes ways regional, ethnic, and national cultures influence individuals' daily lives.

Theme VI: Power, Authority, and Governance

  • Standard B: The student describes the purpose of government and how its powers are acquired, used, and justified.
  • Standard C: The student analyzes and explains ideas and governmental mechanisms to meet needs and wants of citizens, regulate territory, manage conflict, and establish order and security.
  • Standard D: The student describes the ways nations and organizations respond to forces of unity and diversity affecting order and security.
  • Standard F: The student explains conditions, actions, and motivations that contribute to conflict and cooperation within and among nations.

Objectives for students

1) Two maps of the Creek homelands and Horseshoe Bend;
2) Three readings that describe the Creek Indians, European American/American Indian relations, and the battle and its consequences;
3) One drawing of an archeologists' conception of how the barricade at Horseshoe Bend was constructed;
4) Two illustrations of the battleground.

Materials for students

The materials listed below can either be used directly on the computer or can be printed out, photocopied, and distributed to students.
1) Two maps of the Creek homelands and Horseshoe Bend;
2) Three readings that describe the Creek Indians, European American/American Indian relations, and the battle and its consequences;
3) One drawing of an archeologists' conception of how the barricade at Horseshoe Bend was constructed;
4) Two illustrations of the battleground.

Visiting the site

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, administered by the National Park Service, is located in east-central Alabama on Highway 49, 12 miles north of Dadeville and 18 miles northeast of Alexander City. Horseshoe Bend NMP is open daily 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., all year. It is closed on December 25. For more information, write the Superintendent, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, 11288 Horseshoe Bend Road, Daviston, AL 36256-9751 or visit the park's web page.

Getting Started

Inquiry Question

Hand-drawn map of Horseshoe Bend

Tennessee Historical Society T-100 Collection

What might this be? What do you think it was used for?

Setting the Stage

Before European exploration and settlement, there were perhaps two million American Indians living in what is now the southeastern United States. This area, bounded roughly by the Tennessee River and the Appalachians, the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and East Texas, contained as many as 100 different tribes. Although exact practices varied, these native populations shared similar ways of providing for themselves: they produced most of their food through farming and supplemented their crops through fishing and hunting.

Five indigenous groups dominated the region by 1776. Three of them—the Cherokee, the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw—can easily be called tribes, since each had a distinct and long-established cultural pattern and thought of themselves as "Cherokee," or "Choctaw," or "Chickasaw." The fourth, the Seminole, developed out of remnants of several tribes who migrated into Florida after its original inhabitants had died from disease or battle. Members of the fifth group, the most important for this story, were called the Creek. Rather than a unified cultural group, they were a political confederacy of approximately 50 villages in Georgia and Alabama.

Over time European Americans came to refer to the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Seminole as the "Five Civilized Tribes." This label indicated their attitudes of those who used it, since what made the tribes "civilized" was that they lived more like European Americans than most American Indians. A 1961 excavation of a Creek town, for example, found not only indigenous foods like deer, turtle and turkey, but also remnants of many of European origin—the shell of a chicken egg, the bones of pigs, chickens, and cows, and peach pits. The tribes also avidly acquired firearms, iron tools, and other manufactured materials they found beneficial. European cultural practices had a smaller impact on indigenous society: although some southeastern Indians adopted Christianity and spoke English, the vast majority continued to prefer their own religions and languages.

By the turn of the 19th century, European American society increasingly pressed in on the Creek. Two issues in particular created tensions. First, many Creek worried that European influences would destroy their traditional cultural values. The second problem revolved around land. Not only did European Americans appear to have an insatiable appetite for it, but their belief in private property differed dramatically from the Creek practice of collective ownership.

Locating the Site

Map 1: Creek Country, 1777-1814

Map of Creek Country from 1777 to 1814

Courtesy of the Alabama Archeological Society. Map by James McKinley.

Questions for Map 1
Before answering the questions, locate Georgia and Alabama on a general map of the United States.
1) Use Map 1 to make a list of towns and waterways that have Indian names and a second list of places that have European names. Be aware that Peter McQueen's is actually an Indian town, one named after a Creek trader who had an English father.
2) What do the major Creek sites have in common? Why might the Creek have been chosen these sites for settlements?
3) How are the European sites located in relation to the Creek ones? Why do you think this might have been so?
4) Find and underline Burnt Corn Creek, Pensacola, Mobile, Ft. Mims, Ft. Jackson, Horseshoe Bend, and the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers. Each of these places was important in the events associated with the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Map 2: Horseshoe Bend

Map depicting the Tohopeka Village, Barricade Area, and Tallapoosa River

Courtesy of the Alabama Archeological Society. Map by Roy S. Dickens, Jr.

Questions for Map 2
1) Would the Horseshoe Bend peninsula, particularly the area labeled "Tohopeka Village," provide a good defensive position for the Creek in case of attack? Why or why not?

Determining the Facts

Reading 1: The Creek People

It was around 1680 that English traders started talking and writing about the "Creek" Indians. They first applied this name to the people who lived near Ochesee Creek in northern Georgia, where there was active trading of European manufactured goods for deerskins. Over time these American Indians moved west toward the Chattahoochee River (see Map 1), but the English still referred to them as the "Ochesee Creeks," or simply "Creeks."

European Americans gradually applied the shortened name to American Indians from many different tribes in present-day Georgia and Alabama. Sometimes they divided the Creek into "Lower" and "Upper:" the former applied to those who lived farther south and east, while the latter referred to the people near the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers.

It is not difficult to understand why many European Americans lumped dozens of tribes into one group. These American Indians did live in the same section of the Southeast, a fat "L"-shaped area beginning in northwestern Alabama and extending south to the Florida border and east to central Georgia. They followed a similar lifestyle, relying on farming before the mid-18th century, then focusing on commercial hunting to obtain deerskins for trade. Those called Creek participated in a loose political confederation in which one tribe generally supported another in time of war. Finally, these Indians clearly differed from the region’s other powerful tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw. Since European Americans did recognize this last difference, during negotiations the Creek occasionally used the name the British had applied to them to differentiate themselves from other tribes.

Practices little known to European Americans created some unity within the Creek confederacy. Representatives from different towns, or talwas, met regularly to make decisions for the confederacy. Annual festivals and athletic contests brought talwas together. The clan system, which ran throughout the various tribes, also encouraged closer ties. Every child became a part of one of these groups, all of which were named after an element of nature. If a member of the Wind clan, for example, traveled to a different village, the members of the Wind clan there took care of him.

Even with these shared experiences, however, the people European Americans called Creek rarely referred to themselves that way. That word suggested a degree of unity most people did not feel. Even into the 19th century, they generally described themselves as members of one of the region’s roughly 50 talwas, or as part of a tribe that composed the Creek: they said they were Coweta, for example, or Alabama or Tuskegee.

Other factors limited unity among the Creek confederacy. First, the constant attempts of Georgia’s government to obtain more land tended to divide the Lower Creek, who were generally closer to European American settlement, from the Upper Creek, who lived in Alabama. Second, and perhaps more significant, were culture. There was a deep split between the tribes who considered themselves "Muskogee" and those who did not. Muskogee originally indicated American Indians who had migrated from the west and shared a language, but by the 18th century it referred to a set of cultural practices. Muskogee often saw themselves as superior to non-Muskogee, which created tensions that grew over time. The two factions also lived apart: Muskogees tended to be Lower Creek, while those who followed other practices were generally Upper Creek.

European contact affected the Creek in ways that reached far beyond renaming them. Hernando de Soto's 1539 exploration of the region, the first by a European, set off a dramatic decrease in the native population. Though wars killed some American Indians, most deaths came from European diseases such as smallpox. Although exact figures will never be known, the number of Indians around 1800 may have been only one-fifth its pre-1500 level. This decline drastically reduced their ability to resist the ever-increasing European American population.

Rivalries between European nations also intruded on the Creek. At various times during the 18th century, Britain, France, and Spain all tried to gain the Creek as allies in battles against their European rivals. In 1704, for example, the governor of South Carolina recruited 1,000 Creek soldiers to join the British in destroying Ayubale, Spain’s strongest settlement in Florida. By the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Creek found themselves bordered by the British to the east, the Spanish to the south, and the French to the west.

Even though the Creek occasionally found alliances profitable, overall they refrained from involving themselves in non-Indian conflicts. The Revolutionary War provided an example of this behavior: though they preferred the British, few Creek fought. European officials often gave lavish gifts in order to keep the peace. In the first part of the 18th century, both the French and the British sent the chief of the Coweta frequent shipments of manufactured goods; after 1776, the U.S. and the Spanish each paid Creek leader Alexander McGillivray in the hope of gaining an ally.

The Creek did go to war at times. Sometimes they battled other tribes, particularly the Cherokee, with whom they had a long-running feud. They generally fought European Americans only when they felt threatened, declaring war on the U.S. in 1786 only after white settlers continued to move into territory that treaties had promised to the Creek.

Around the turn of the 19th century, several events increased tensions between and among European Americans and American Indians. Although the Louisiana Purchase supposedly gave the United States control of land from the Atlantic to the Rockies, in reality American authority over the new territory was limited. Frontier families felt threatened both by the British and by Indians, and they believed--often with some justification--that those two worked together to undermine U.S. interests.

The U.S. government thought that the best way to assert its control and protect its citizens was to encourage rapid settlement with loyal citizens. Obtaining the necessary land, however, required dealing with the Indians who lived in that area. Often these negotiations spurred hostilities, since the U.S. frequently forced tribes to give up lands guaranteed by previous treaties.

Thomas Jefferson’s policy of "civilizing" American Indians caused further difficulty. Jefferson extended his belief in a nation of small farmers to the Indians and advocated giving each one a small plot of land. American Indians would gradually learn not only to farm like European Americans, but to live like them, including adopting Christianity and English.

Yet the Indians had little interest in Jefferson's proposal. Only a few American Indians completely rejected European culture; most agreed that European foods and technology improved their lives. Pigs, poultry, pears, peaches, horses, guns, and iron tools all gradually became part of daily life. Marriages between white men and Creek women were not uncommon, and some of the children these unions produced even led talwas.

Most Creek wanted to keep traditional ways. Though they might learn English, they generally spoke their own languages. Most preferred their religion and festivals over Christianity. They believed the tribe, not the individual, should control property, and that much of the land should remain as forest. In the woods the Creek could hunt the deer whose skins they traded to the Europeans for manufactured goods. Yet under Jefferson's system, land tribes previously used for hunting would become available for sale to European American settlers spreading west.

Concerns over culture and land extended beyond the Creek. Throughout the Ohio and Tennessee river valleys, tribes discussed with themselves and each other how to respond to pressure from European Americans. In the early 1800s, a movement historians have called "Pan-Indianism" gradually arose. Led by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as the Prophet, it argued that all tribes had to put aside past differences and work together in order to stop further European American expansion. The two men, who were based in what is now Ohio, recruited other tribes to join in armed resistance against further encroachment.

The Creek differed over how to respond to Pan-Indianism. In general the Lower Creek, who had more contact with European Americans, rejected Tecumseh’s call. They believed they could continue to adapt to new ways and were not prepared to fight a long war against a much larger population.

Many Upper Creek also turned Tecumseh down, but some wanted to fight. One of their leaders was Red Eagle (William Weatherford), the nephew of a earlier chief who had tried to unify the confederacy in the late 18th century. Like many Creek, he was a mestizo, someone with both European and American Indian ancestors.

Red Eagle and the other Creek followers of Tecumseh became known as "Red Sticks," a name whose basis remains unclear. One possible explanation comes from the Creek practice of categorizing talwas as "white," which meant they supplied peace negotiators, or as "red," which meant they supplied warriors. The red towns counted out sticks as a way to determine the proper date to commence battle. Other historians have suggested that Red Sticks refers to the war clubs Tecumseh’s party carried.

During 1813 a civil war began between the Upper and Lower Creek over how to respond to the Europeans. Serious fighting began after a group of Red Sticks who had just visited Tecumseh killed seven European American settlers in Tennessee. To prevent a war with the Americans, the Creek council ordered the murderers hunted down and executed. That action enraged the Red Sticks, who stopped at a Spanish trading post in Pensacola to obtain weapons so they could retaliate against the Lower Creek, whom they held responsible for the council's decision. However, they received no new guns, only powder and shot for those they already had.

A Mississippi militia quickly began to pursue the Red Sticks and surprised them at Burnt Corn Creek. This battle was inconclusive, but the Red Sticks became even angrier when they discovered that among the militia were many Lower Creek. The Red Sticks responded by attacking Fort Mims in southern Alabama, killing 250 people, some of whom were women and children. Although most of the dead were Lower Creek cooperating with settlers and their government, there were enough European Americans among the dead to provide an excuse for state militias and the U.S. government to declare war on the Red Sticks.

The War of 1812 provided further justification for attacking the Red Sticks. Many European Americans, particularly those living near the frontier, saw battles such as the one at Fort Mims as additional examples of European nations stirring up trouble through American Indian allies. They were convinced that it was only a matter of time before the British, as part of their attempt to win the War of 1812, also started passing out weapons to the Upper Creek.

In the fall of 1813, Mississippi and Georgia militias made feeble attempts to put down the Red Sticks. Soon Andrew Jackson organized his Tennessee militia for a full-scale campaign against the Creek. The soldiers had much to fight for: if the Red Sticks were defeated, they would lose their land, which would be sold to new settlers. After two autumn victories, however, the enlistments of many of Jackson’s men expired. He therefore had to wait for more troops and supplies.

During the winter Red Stick warriors, along with some women and children, had come to Horseshoe Bend. There they hoped the encircling river, their religious leaders’ magic, and a log barricade they had built across the neck of the peninsula would provide them protection.

Reading 1 was compiled from J. Leitch Wright, Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); the National Park Service’s visitor’s guide for Horseshoe Bend National Military Park; William C. Sturtevant, ed., Handbook of North American Indians, vol. 4, History of Indian-White Relations (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1988), 35-37.

Questions for Reading 1
1) Was it accurate to refer to "the Creek" as a tribe? Why or why not? What does its use say about British attitudes toward the native population?
2) How did contact with European Americans affect the southeastern Indians?
3) What were some of the important divisions within the Creek confederacy?
4) What gradual developments and immediate events led to the Creek Civil War?

Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Four Views of European American/American Indian Relations

The following excerpts reflect the attitudes of four people important in the conflicts between European American settlers moving west and the American Indians who had traditionally lived there.

Andrew Jackson to John McKee, 1794.1
(Spelling and punctuation modernized.)
I fear that their Peace Talks are only Delusions and in order to put us off our guard. Why treat with them? Does not experience teach us that Treaties answer no other purpose than opening an easy door for the Indians to pass [through to] butcher our citizens....Congress [should act] justly and punish the barbarians for murdering her innocent citizens; has not our [citizens] been prosecuted for marching to their [town] and killing some of them?...[The] Indians appear very troublesome [on the] frontier. [Settlers are] Discouraged and breaking and [num]bers [of them] leaving the Territory and moving [to] Kentucky. This country is declining [fast] and unless Congress lends us a more am[ple] protection this country will have at length [to break] or seek a protection from some other sources than the present.

Thomas Jefferson on the policy of "civilization," 1803.2
When they [American Indians] withdraw themselves to the culture of a small piece of land, they will perceive how useless to them are extensive forests and will be willing to pare them [pieces of land] off from time to time in exchange for necessities for their farms and families. Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing of the whole country of that tribe and driving them across the Mississippi as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others and a furtherance of our final consolidation.

In 1811 Tecumseh traveled through the Southeast, attempting to gain recruits for the Pan-Indian movement. The following is an excerpt from his speech to the Cherokee.3
Everywhere our people have passed away, as the snow of the mountains melts in May. We no longer rule the forest. The game has gone like our hunting grounds. Even our lands are nearly all gone. Yes, my brothers, our campfires are few. Those that still burn we must draw together.

Behold what the white man has done to our people! Gone are the Pequot, the Narraganset, the Powhatan, the Tuscarora and the Coree.... We can no longer trust the white man. We gave him our tobacco and our maize. What happened? Now there is hardly land for us to grow these holy plants.

White men have built their castles where the Indians’ hunting grounds once were, and now they are coming into your mountain glens. Soon there will be no place for the Cherokee to hunt the deer and the bear. The tomahawk of the Shawnee is ready. Will the Cherokee raise the tomahawk? Will the Cherokee join their brothers the Shawnee?

Junaluska, Tochalee and Chuliwa were Cherokee chiefs. These were their responses to Tecumseh, 1811.4
Junaluska: It has been years, many years, since the Cherokee have drawn the tomahawk. Our braves have forgotten how to use the scalping knife. We have learned with sorrow it is better not to war against our white brothers.

We know that they have come to stay. They are like leaves in forest, they are so many. We believe we can live in peace with them. No more do they molest our lands. Our crops grow in peace....

Tochalee and Chuliwa: After years of distress we found ourselves in the power of a generous nation.... We have prospered and increased, with the knowledge and practice of agriculture and other useful arts. Our cattle fill the forests, while wild animals disappear. Our daughters clothe us from spinning wheels and looms. Our youth have acquired knowledge of letters and figures. All we want is tranquility.

1 Original deteriorated. This version comes from John Spencer Bassett, Correspondence of Andrew Jackson, I (Washington: Carnegie Institution, 1926), 12-13.
2 Moses Dawson, A Historical Narrative of the Civil and Military Service of Major General William Henry Harrison (Cincinnati, 1824), 36.
3 Original lost. This version quoted in W.C. Allen, The Annals of Haywood County (Waynesville, N.C.: 1935), 44-46.
4 Allen, 44-46.

Questions for Reading 2
1) Why, according to General Jackson, did American Indians negotiate treaties?
2) Who are the "other sources" Jackson said settlers would turn to if the U.S. government did not help them fight Indians?
3) How did Thomas Jefferson think the policy of "civilization" would help European American settlement?
4) What events did Tecumseh refer to in order to get the Cherokee to join him? Why?
5) What method did Tecumseh advocate to stop European American expansion?
6) What reasons did the Creek chiefs give for not joining Tecumseh?
7) How did Jackson's and Tecumseh's view of the origins of European American/American Indian conflict compare?

Determining the Facts

Reading 3: The Battle of Horseshoe Bend and Its Consequences

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was fought on March 27, 1814. Red Eagle was not present that day, but more than 1,000 Creek warriors were assembled behind a barricade that crossed the neck of the peninsula. In the toe of the peninsula, in Tohopeka Village, were another 500 women and children. Led by a chief named Menawa and the prophet Monahee, the Red Sticks hoped for a decisive victory over Andrew Jackson’s force of 2,600 European American soldiers, 500 Cherokee, and 100 Lower Creek.

Jackson, at this time a Major General in the Tennessee Militia, led forces who arrived at Horseshoe Bend at 10:30 a.m. The U.S. Army’s 39th Regiment and the East Tennessee Militia formed a line facing the barricade. To their rear, the West (Middle Tennessee) Militia formed a second parallel line. Well forward and to the right of both lines, on a rise about 250 yards from the breastwork, Jackson placed two artillery pieces aimed at the center of the barricade. Other troops surrounded the toe of the peninsula on the opposite side of the river to prevent a Creek retreat and to keep reinforcements from reaching the Red Sticks. The barricade impressed Jackson, who described it in a letter he wrote the next day:

It is impossible to conceive a situation more eligible for defence than the one they had chosen and the skill which they manifested in their breastwork was really astonishing. It extended across the point in such a direction as that a force approaching would be exposed to a double fire, while they lay entirely safe behind it. It would have been impossible to have raked it with cannon to any advantage even if we had had possession of one extremity.¹

For the first two hours of the battle, cannon shot plunged into the barrier, injuring the men behind it. The fortification remained strong enough, however, to prevent the attackers from marching through it.

Meanwhile, some of Jackson’s American Indian allies who were guarding the south side of the Tallapoosa decided to swim 120 yards across the river. There they stole Red Stick canoes, which they used to transport a mixed force of Cherokee, Creek, and Tennessee Militia back to the peninsula. These men attacked the Red Sticks from the rear, burning the village of Tohopeka and taking the women and children prisoner.

The main army, however, was still blocked by the breastwork. Jackson saw the smoke rising from Tohopeka Village and heard continuing small arms fire from the peninsula. He decided to assault the barricade directly while the Creek were diverted to their rear. Though a failed charge could destroy his army, Jackson concluded that the futility of the artillery bombardment left him no alternative.

At 12:30 p.m. a roll of the drums signaled the beginning of the attack. The fighting was ferocious, with great bravery displayed by both sides. Jackson reported that the action was maintained "muzzle to muzzle through the port holes, in which many of the enemy’s balls were welded to the bayonets of our musquets...." Once the breastwork was surmounted, hand-tohand fighting ensued. Slowly, the superior numbers of Jackson’s infantry overwhelmed the Red Stick warriors, who also found themselves harassed from behind by the Indians and other militia units who had crossed the river.

What followed is best described as a slaughter. European American soldiers and their Creek allies killed as many Red Sticks as possible. For example, they set fire to a heap of timber the peninsula’s defenders had hidden behind; when the Red Sticks emerged, they were immediately shot down. The bloodshed continued until dark; the next morning another 16 Creek, found hidden under the banks, were killed. In the end, 557 warriors died on the battlefield and an estimated 250 to 300 more drowned or were shot trying to cross the river. Only 49 Tennessee militia men died that day, and another 154 were wounded, many mortally. Fewer than a dozen "friendly" Creek also died.

Among the militia was 21-year-old ensign Sam Houston, later governor of Tennessee and president of the Republic of Texas. Years later he described the results of the battle:

The sun was going down, and it set on the ruin of the Creek nation. Where, but a few hours before a thousand brave...[warriors] had scowled on death and their assailants, there was nothing to be seen but volumes of dense smoke, rising heavily over the corpses of painted warriors, and the burning ruins of their fortifications.²

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend effectively ended the Creek War. In August Jackson went against orders from Washington and singlehandedly negotiated the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which forced the Creek to cede almost 20 million acres—nearly half their territory—to the U.S. Although most of the land the U.S. government took had been held by Red Sticks, the territory also included many villages and a great deal of hunting land held by friendly Creek. (In the 1960s the Creek won a judicial decision that provided compensation to the heirs of those whose land was taken unfairly.)

Surprisingly, Red Eagle, who was not at Horseshoe Bend, was one of the Creek who made out well after the war. When he surrendered to Jackson, he received a promise of safe passage for Red Stick women and children, most of whom were now ill and hungry. It appears this deal with Jackson also allowed Red Eagle to retain his farm in southern Alabama.

Horseshoe Bend was not the last conflict between Jackson and the Creek. Rather than surrender, some Upper Creek fled to northern Florida where they allied themselves with the Seminole. For a brief time they received weapons from the British, but in 1814 England decided to concentrate on defeating Napoleon and stopped sending supplies. The Seminole continued to fight European American settlement anyway, first as part of the War of 1812, then in what became known as the First Seminole War (1818-1819). In 1818 Jackson led an army into Florida, then claimed by Spain, to stop the Seminole from attacking border settlements and providing refuge for slaves. This campaign increased Jackson’s popularity among American citizens, because he won victories that forced the Spanish to cede Florida to the United States. Many of the remaining American Indians then moved into the Florida swamps.

After Horseshoe Bend, the European American population of Georgia and Alabama continued to skyrocket. In the latter state, for example, the nonIndian population rose from 9,000 in 1810 to 310,000 in 1830. Despite increasing pressure from European American settlers, however, the Creek resisted attempts to force them to sell their lands. When William McIntosh, a mestizo chief, attempted to sell the U.S. virtually all the remaining Creek territory, the Creek council voted to execute him. Leading the party that carried out this sentence was Menawa, who had survived terrible injuries from Horseshoe Bend to regain a position of leadership among both Lower and Upper Creek.

Yet ultimately the Creek could not hold back the flood of European Americans into their homeland. In 1829 Jackson became president, in part because of the popularity he had acquired from his victories over American Indians. He decided to adopt the Indian policy favored by most Southerners who wanted more land: move the remaining tribes west of the Mississippi to "Indian Territory," what today is Oklahoma. The Cherokee, the Chickasaw, the Choctaw, the Creek and the Seminole—the "Five Civilized Tribes"—each had treaties signed by the U.S. giving them control of their lands, and in 1831 the Supreme Court upheld the Cherokee land titles. But the Jackson Administration ignored these facts and forced the five tribes to move.

Responses to federal policy varied. The relocation of the five tribes became known collectively as the "Trail of Tears," because it separated the tribes from their homelands and caused many deaths during the trip. Perhaps as many as 25,000 Creek (including Menawa) reluctantly took part. Other Creek decided to move south and continue fighting the U.S. government. In Florida, these Indians joined those Seminole who also refused to move; together they fought the Second Seminole War (1835-42). Finally, some Red Sticks slipped quietly into southwestern Alabama, joining other Creek who had moved there both before and after Horseshoe Bend. Today members of the dominant group in the area are known as "Poarch" Creek, a name whose origin is unclear.

Reading 3 was compiled from George C. Mackenzie, "The Indian Breastwork in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Its Size, Location, and Construction," National Park Service, 1969; the National Park Service’s visitor’s guide for Horseshoe Bend National Military Park; Donald Hickey, The War of 1812, A Forgotten Conflict (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989); J. Leitch Wright, Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992); J. Anthony Paredes, "Federal Recognition and the Poarch Creek Indians," in Paredes, ed., Indians of the Southeastern United States in the Late 20th Century (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 120-22.

¹Jackson Papers, first series, vol. XVIII, doc. 1586, Library of Congress.
²Donald Day and Harry Herbert Ullom, eds., The Autobiography of Sam Houston (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1954), 12.

Questions for Reading 3
Refer to Map 3 as needed for the following questions.
1) Why did Red Stick leaders, even with 2,000 fewer soldiers, believe they could score a victory over U.S. troops?
2) What was Jackson's reaction to the Creek barricade?
3) What two events turned the battle to Jackson's advantage?
4) Why do you think the militia and its Indian allies were so brutal toward the peninsula's defenders?
5) What were the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson? Were the Lower Creek rewarded for assisting the U.S.?
6) What did Jackson's popularity reveal about European American attitudes toward American Indians during the early 19th century? Do you think someone with experiences and beliefs like his could become president today? Why or why not?

Visual Evidence

Drawing 1: Archeologists' conception of how the barricade at Horseshoe Bend was constructed

Hand-drawn map of Horseshoe Bend

Courtesy of the Tennessee Historical Society

Visual Evidence

Illustration 2: A map drawn by Colonel John A. Cheatham, Jackson's topographical engineer

Hand-drawn map of the larger Horseshoe Bend area

National Archives

Please note that Andrew Jackson's map is oriented so that South is the top.

Questions for Illustration 1 and Illustration 2
1) Which map is easier to read and understand? Which one provides the greatest amount of information?
2) Historians have determined that approximately 300 wooden huts stood in the toe of the peninsula. Does it matter that neither map shows nearly that many? Why or why not?
3) Which map is most in accord with the description of the battle found in Reading 3? Why do you think that? How do you think historians evaluate which one is more accurate?

Putting It All Together

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend was one result of the spread of Europeans west from the Atlantic Ocean. It reflected many of the conflicts that developed as people from different societies came into contact—battles over land and culture that occurred not just in the Southeast but across North America.

Activity 1: Cultural Conflict
Ask students what approaches different groups of Creek people took toward the United States in the years leading up to the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. If needed, have students examine their textbooks to learn more about European American/American Indian relations in general and/or review Readings 1-3. Divide the class into small groups. Assign each group one of the two decisions that Creek people made: 1) to join Tecumseh’s pan-Indianism movement and form the Red Sticks; 2) the decision to collaborate with the United States. Each group should create a list of reasons why Creek individuals may have chosen this option. Students should consider what different Creek individuals’ goals were and the outcomes they may have anticipated from different courses of action. Please note that students should not evaluate whether their assigned option was a “good choice”; rather, they should try to understand why certain people chose that course of action. Students might discuss within their groups which reasons were most influential or debate this question with the other groups who considered the same Creek decision. Have groups share their answers with the class.

Activity 2: What Else Was Happening?
It is often difficult to place events such as the Battle of Horseshoe Bend into the broad developments of American history. To help students develop this skill, have them start by reading the following list:

  • 1793 Eli Whitney improves the cotton gin
  • 1796 Tennessee becomes a state
  • 1803 Louisiana Purchase
  • 1803-1815 Napoleonic Wars in Europe
  • 1808 End of legal slave importation
  • 1811 Steamboat service begins on the Mississippi River
  • 1817 Mississippi becomes a state
  • 1819 Alabama becomes a state

Break students into groups of four to six. Ask them to decide whether these events were connected to Horseshoe Bend and, if so, how. Did these events help cause the battle? Did they illustrate long-term trends that also affected the battle? Were they connected in some other way? If necessary, have them reread sections of their textbooks to get more information. After they have worked in their groups, have them discuss their answers with the rest of the class, making sure to have them explain why they decided what they did.

Activity 3: The Trail of Tears
Reading 3 only briefly describes events in the two decades following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, yet the fighting profoundly affected what happened over the next two decades. Have students research what happened to the Creek confederacy between 1815-1836, so they better understand how government policy developed in the years leading to the Trail of Tears. Subjects of particular interest include:
1. How far did various Creek talwas go toward adopting European culture? Why?
2. How did what happened to the Creek after 1815 compare with what happened to other nations, particularly the Cherokee?
3. How do these events fit with the idea of "Jacksonian Democracy?"

Activity 4: Discovering Traces of Local American Culture
Have students separate into small groups to research the names of towns and cities in their immediate region to see if any of them are derived from original American Indian inhabitants. Local historical societies often have material that will provide this information. Have students’ further research to find out if any European American/American Indian battles took place in their area. If so, have them determine if the causes and effects were similar in any way to the Creek’s stand at Horseshoe Bend. If not, have them determine how the United States obtained the land they live on, and then compare that acquisition with the way in which the U.S. acquired Creek lands. If there are local tribes, invite a representative to speak to the class. Finally, ask the students to discuss whether the tribes should receive compensation because of past government treaty violations. Why or why not? If so, what should it be?

Additional Resources

The Battle of Horseshoe Bend: Collision of Cultures examines the conflicts that developed as European Americans and American Indians came into contact. The lesson plan provides insight into the struggles that were prevalent across North America over land and culture. Those interested in learning more will find that the Internet offers a variety of materials.

Horseshoe Bend National Military Park
Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web page presents information on the park's history and visitation.

Muscogee (Creek) Nation
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s website offers a look at how one faction of this tribe operates as a Nation today. The site details information on their history, present-day government structure, tribal affairs, customs, and more.

The Seminoles
The Florida Division of Historical Resources provides in depth information about the Seminoles, including their leaders, the Seminole Wars, and their role in society today.

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties
The Oklahoma State University Library offers a compilation of treaties for the Creeks as well as other tribes. Included is the Treaty of Fort Jackson, 1814.

American Presidents Travel Itinerary
The Discover Our Shared Heritage online travel itinerary on American Presidents provides information about the 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, and his home in Tennessee, The Hermitage, a designated National Historic Landmark.

Historic Places of America’s Diverse Culture
­­The National Register of Historic Places online itinerary Places Reflecting America’s Diverse Cultures highlights the historic places and stories of America’s diverse cultural heritage. This itinerary seeks to share the contributions various peoples have made in creating American culture and history.

Last updated: March 23, 2020