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Nature has many ways of providing protection. It’s obvious in the armor-like shell of a loggerhead sea turtle, the sharp spines of a saguaro cactus, or the deadly venom of a rattlesnake. Nature provided a landscape-sized protection in the shape of a sharp horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River to the people of several Upper Creek towns of present-day Alabama.
These Creek people, also known as Red Sticks, chose this site, surrounded by water on three sides, to establish the village of Tohopeka in the waning days of 1813 as a safe haven during the Creek War of 1813-1814 and the War of 1812. The Red Stick warriors knew that a battle with rival Creek tribes and the U.S. military was imminent, and they waited.
On March 27, 1814, the natural defense that the Tallapoosa provided was pitted against the technology of muskets and cannons. An army led by Major General Andrew Jackson of approximately 4,000 Americans, allied Creek, and Cherokee arrived at the bend to attack the Red Stick encampment.
The fighting raged for hours, but ended ultimately in a decisive American victory that resulted in the largest loss of Native American life in a battle against the United States military. Approximately 800 Red Stick warriors died that day.
This struggle marked the end of the Creek War. Within six months, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed; the Creek Nation ceded 23 million acres to the United States government. These lands were divided into the new state of Alabama and the existing state of Georgia.
Today, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is a quiet 2,400-acre sanctuary, belying the chaos of the Creek War and the War of 1812. In spring 2014, the park commemorates the bicentennial of the battle, the end of the Creek War, and the beginning of Andrew Jackson’s rise to national prominence. The commemorations get started in March.
When you visit, start out with a trip to the visitor center, open daily, to explore the exhibits and learn about the Creek way of life at the turn of the 19th century. The exhibits feature artifacts excavated from the battlefield and the Tohopeka village, including pieces to play chunkey, a popular Creek game similar to horseshoes. Here you can watch a 22-minute park video about the battle and learn how dramatically Creek life changed, before and after the battle, as a result of Euro-American contact.
The beautiful natural landscape of central Alabama offers many scenic vistas to explore on your visit. A 3-mile driving tour visits important battle sites, with stops at the spot where the Creek erected the protective log barricade in the early days of 1814 and the site of the Tohopeka village. Not to be missed is the 2.8 mile nature trail snaking through the dense hardwood and pine forest. Along the trail you’ll find a dramatic view overlooking the battlefield and the high ground overlooking the site of Tohopeka, the refuge village of the Red Sticks.
The park will host a wide variety of interpretive events throughout March 2014, including a symposium in partnership with Auburn University, living history encampments, and Creek and Cherokee cultural demonstrations.
Throughout the year, park volunteers demonstrate life at war and at peace through living history musters. Visit the park website to plan your visit.
By Doyle Sapp, Superintendent, Horseshoe Bend National Military Park