For the last several weekends I’ve been visiting various places throughout Alabama, ranging north and south, many with a connection to Alabama’s role in the Creek war. On the agenda were Fort Mims, Claiborne, and St. Stephens.
I often read around the Creek war, but never about it. From what I’ve gathered this weekend, tensions rose sharply in the early 19th century between the Creek peoples of the area and early American settlers, who were pushing past Georgia into the ‘southwest’ territories. In one instance, a Creek faction known to be belligerent sought arms and ammunition from the Spanish in Mobile, and were ambushed by American settlers, then counter-attacked. In the resulting tit-for-tat fracas, civilians took took refuge in a homestead turned fort, along with soldiers and allied Creeks. The belligerent faction of the Creeks, the Redsticks, launched an attack that caught the fort’s residents off-guard, and used the fort’s defenses against it — using the portholes built into the walls to fire into the fort. Hundreds died, but the Redsticks would only have a short-lived victory.
The Redstick faction was then expressly targeted by the full U.S. army, throughout the Southeast, with battles across the Alabama Territory and Georgia. The most famous reprisal came when Andrew Jackson, confronted the Redsticks at one of their own fortified sites, in a bend of the Tallapoosa river. Although the Redstick commander arranged his barricade to invite attackers into a reverse U, Jackson waited with artillery booming until his Creek allies across the river began a rearguard attack, and then commenced his own assault. Surrounded, and their only possible line of retreat likewise cut off by Jackson’s men on Bean Island, 80% of the Redstick forces were killed. Their commander, Menawa, survived; interestingly, he was the son of a Creek woman and a Scottish fur trader.
The commanding general at Fort Mims, Ferdinand Claiborne, gave his name to a nearby stockade-turned-river town, Claiborne. I’d never heard of Claiborne until last year, when reading parts of Rivers of History; Claiborne was named as one of Alabama’s early river towns, one larger than Cahaba and St. Stephens, both sites of early Alabama government. One of its more famous sons, William Travis, died at the Alamo; the town itself appears to have peaked in 1830 and withered away after the Civil War. General Claiborne is all over the place during the Creek wars; he appears to have had general supervision of many of the forts.
The fort itself is no more; only a sign in a lot not far from the river bears witness to its existance. The battle at Holy Ground took place midway between Selma and Montgomery; it was there that one of the Redsticks’ more flamboyant leaders allegedly drove his horse over a ridge into the water to escape. Not far from the Claiborne signpost is a Masonic lodge, the oldest building in Monroe County and possibly once part of the town.
St. Stephens, a fort-settlement created by the Spanish, had been ceded to the English and then passed into American possession, is nearby. I haven’t done any background reading into the fort and its brief history, but it sits in the granddaddy of dozens of Mississippi and Alabama counties, Washington, and was the territorial capital of Alabama before statehood. According to the signage, the old town was deserted by the 1820s, though apparently the incorporated village of St. Stephens (a couple of miles away from it) was formed in 1830.
In eastern Alabama, I paid a visit to Rockford to see its old jailhouse, built entirely of rock; and to pay my respects to Fred the Town Dog. I was told he was buried near the rock jail, but I only found a sidewalk leading to a tree stump and a pile of stones. Possibly a grave, but surely Fred the Town Dog had a placard, at least. He was Fred the Town Dog, appearing in Christmas Tales of Alabama and an Animal Planet special! After wandering around downtown Rockford chatting with people, I found someone in the post office who knew exactly where Fred was.
The goodest of boys, I’m told Fred wandered into town with the mange, took up residency near the liquor store, was nursed back to health by the town residents, and later became the ‘author’ of a newspaper column. Then he was bitten by something Mysterious and died. (“Mysterious” is always used to describe the animal bite in the Fred accounts I’ve read.)
Much further east is the small town of Wadley, which I reached late in the afternoon after exploring Horseshoe Bend. I went there to see one of Alabama’s four extant Mission Revival train stations. Judging by appearances there may soon be only three extant Mission Revival train stations in the state. The inside looked rather junked up; I was curious but didn’t have a flashlight or company, so I decided not to tempt fate.
Let’s wrap up by looking at a couple of buildings in good shape: the Masonic lodges in Claiborne and St. Stephens!