The Creek War(1813-1814), Part Six, Prelude to a Massacre

This diagram of Fort Mims is called the Claiborne Map, but in truth, we don’t know who drew it. It was probably drawn by one of General Claiborne’s men who came to bury the dead after the massacre.

The Settlers

When Samuel Mims moved to the Tensaw Region in 1780, in what would become the Mississippi Territory, he settled near Lake Tensaw just north of Spanish-held Mobile. Here he built his wealth. By 1811, he owned lots of land and cattle and a profitable ferry that crossed the Alabama River. In addition to this, he owned and sold slaves. Befitting a man of his means, his house was an expensive, one-story frame structure with ten outbuildings—not the more common log houses most pioneers lived in.

When hostilities broke out at Burnt Corn Creek, Territorial Governor Thomas Holmes ordered General Ferdinand Claiborne’s Mississippi Territorial Volunteers to the Tensaw and Tombigbee settlements.

The settlers, though, weeks before the battle, had already begun building stockades. In total, there were fifteen. After he arrived at Fort Stoddert, General Claiborne reduced this number to five and put Major Daniel Beasley in command of Fort Mims, the largest of them. Its timber pickets (sharpened stakes) enclosed Mims’ house on 1¼ acre of land. Settlers poured into it and nearby Fort Pierce. So crowded had Fort Mims become, and so close to swamps, that disease afflicted many of its inhabitants.

Prior to the Creek War Beasley had served in the Mississippi Territorial Legislature (1811-1812), and had also served as a sheriff and a justice of the peace. But he had a drinking problem too – a poor choice of a commander on Claiborne’s part.

After an inspection on August 7, General Claiborne ordered Beasley to build two more blockhouses in addition to the one already partially built and to strengthen the fort in other ways.  Beasley failed to do this, grew complacent because of numerous false reports about Red Sticks lurking nearby, and doubted he’d be attacked. He even left the main gate wide open. Over a period of time sand (or more likely clay) built up around the gate, so hard and thick, that it couldn’t be moved. This would play a major role in the fort’s demise.

The Red Sticks

In late August, after many days of hard rain, Red Stick war parties assembled on Flat Creek on the Alabama River under the overall command of William Weatherford. One thousand strong and coming from thirteen towns, the chiefs and prophets had asked him to lead the attack on Fort Mims because it had been his idea.

A small part of this army, under command of the prophet Josiah Francis, broke away from Weatherford’s force and headed to another fort, Fort Sinquefield.

Weatherford, with seven hundred warriors, proceeded to Fort Mims. On the evening of August 29, they camped near it undiscovered. With two other warriors, he scouted it out in the evening, sneaking right up to its pickets undetected. He heard the people inside it carrying on as usual. He noticed that the pickets’ rifle holes were made about four feet from the ground, which made them easy to capture. And its gate was wide open. Weatherford was convinced that no one inside expected a thing. Tomorrow, August 30, catching the fort by surprise was certain.

Upon his return to camp, it’s believed that he told his warriors to spare the women and children, but instead, capture them and make them slaves. “Only kill warriors,” he is said to have told them, referring to the white and métis males.

Sadly, tragically, no one would heed his words.


Bunn, Mike and Clay Williams. Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. Fourth Printing. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013.

Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2006

NEXT WEEK: The Massacre at Fort Mims

Tips for Writing Effective Dialogue

Well-written, effective dialogue is not real conversation, but it should sound like it.

A Bad Example

“Hey, Jane. How are you doing?” Bob said.

“Pretty good,” Jane said. “And you?”

“Just fine.”

“Are you on your lunch break?”

“Sure. Are you?”

“Yes, I am.”

What’s wrong with my example? Four things.

  • It has zero conflict.
  •  It’s boring (just basic chit-chat).
  • It doesn’t reveal anything about the characters’ personalities and/or interests.
  •  It doesn’t drive the story forward.

A Few Tips

  • Every line of dialogue must have a purpose. If it doesn’t contribute to characterization and advance the plot, delete it and/or revise it till it does.
  • A character’s dialogue must fit his/her personality, education, and emotions. A few examples: (a) If a character is uneducated, give him/her a limited vocabulary. Let the character use simple one and two-syllable words as well as bad grammar. (b) If a character is a narcissist, show it in the way he/she talks. Let that character talk about himself/herself a lot, brag, put down others, etc. In other words, talk and act like a narcissist. (c) If a character is well educated, give him/her a strong vocabulary and let him/her use a few long, multisyllabic words, at least occasionally.
  • Characters don’t always have to respond to another character. Sometimes, silence speaks louder than words.
  • Use contractions. People often use contractions when they talk, so these are a great device to make our characters’ dialogue sound natural.
  • Know your characters. The more we know our characters, their personalities and what motivates them, the easier it becomes to write their dialogue. Even so, writing it effectively is still hard. Getting to know our characters takes time and work. Writing character sketches and their biographies is a great help.
  • Train yourself to listen. Wherever you go, watch people and listen to how they talk. Television and movies are great ways to learn. After all, movie and television scripts are mostly written in dialogue. Spend some time analyzing the actors’ words, how what they say conveys their characters’ emotions and actions.
  • Study other writers’ dialogue. Learn what makes it work, or why it doesn’t work.

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As one can see, lots of work goes into writing effective dialogue, but the time and effort spent learning is worth it. I hope some of my tips have proved useful in your writing. Till next time!

The Creek War (1813-1814), Part Five: Burnt Corn Creek, The First Battle

Reenactors “fighting” the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek, not far from the site of the actual battle. Photo Credit: The author of this blog.

In the spring of 1813, the Creeks’ civil war was drawing to a close with the Red Sticks on the verge of winning. Meanwhile, the United States was fighting Great Britain a second time and Britain’s ally, Spain, threatened settlers from West Florida. Though Mobile was now in American hands, the Spanish still held Pensacola as West Florida’s capital. Along the Tensaw, Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, settlers began building stockades.

The Red Sticks, encouraged by their prophets and the earth’s tremors Tecumseh had prophesied would hit their land,[1] raided the farms of those who opposed them. A party of hostiles under the leadership of Peter McQueen, head warrior of Tallassee, headed for Pensacola, the second such party that went to that town. On the way, when McQueen’s warriors burned plantations owned by métis planters Sam Moniac and James Cornells, word spread like a forest fire—the Red Sticks were going to get ammunition from the Spaniards to fight them!  

Colonel James Caller, commander of the region’s territorial militia, called his men to action. Six companies of riflemen and Captain Dixon Bailey’s thirty métis from the Tensaw, a total of 180 militiamen, marched to find the enemy.

On July 26, they encountered McQueen’s men returning from Pensacola with their packhorses.  At eleven o’clock, during the Creeks’ meal, Caller mounted a surprise attack.

McQueen’s warriors fled across Burnt Corn Creek into a marsh, but then counterattacked while the militiamen plundered what they’d captured. The undisciplined volunteers scattered. Not long after this, they disbanded.

Not many casualties to report in this brief battle but because of Burnt Corn Creek, panicked settlers fled into their stockades. One of these was built on an acre of land around the home of Samuel Mims. His fort, aptly named Fort Mims, would go down in history as one of America’s bloodiest massacres … and the bloodiest one in America’s Old Southwest.


Bunn, Mike and Clay Williams. Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. Fourth Printing. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013.

Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2006

[1] This was the New Madrid earthquake that hit New Madrid, Missouri in December 1811. It was a coincidence, and it frightened settlers and Indians alike. Tecumseh also prophesied about a comet, something he knew would come because British scientists in Canada had told him he and others would see it. It came over Alabama in September of 1811.

KEEP YOUR DISTANCE. NO! GET CLOSE: Some thoughts on Narrative Distance

When beginning writers first learn the rule “show, don’t tell,” many make the mistake of never using the device of “telling.” Both techniques are important and have their purpose, but they aren’t set in granite. Tied into these guidelines is another technique useful in fiction and nonfiction alike, that of narrative distance.


Narrative distance is how far a writer is from the story. Writers can give readers both a wide view and a closeup view. Riding on a country lane, for example, a person may see farms and crops and barns and animals – that’s the wide view. For a closeup, writers will visit the farm and describe details about it and the farmer.

Fiction and Nonfiction Narrative Distance


Wide-angle: An overview or synopsis of the topic.

Closeup: Delving into the specifics of the topic.


Wide-angle:     Describing a scene or setting in an objective manner.

Closeup:          Showing a character’s emotions, motivations, personalities, etc.

Fiction and Nonfiction

Wide-angle telling is a great way to give readers a break and, although constant telling is boring, constant closeup showing is exhausting. That’s why we writers need to keep our writing balanced between the two.

So, what about your current work in progress? Is it well-balanced?

The Creek War (1813-1814), Part Four: Causes of the Creek War

The causes of Alabama’s Creek War are complex. It started as a civil war between the Lower Creeks, who lived close to the white settlements, many of whom had adopted the white man’s ways, and the Upper Creeks, who lived in a region around and near present-day Montgomery, Alabama and wanted to keep their traditional ways. Inevitably, though, the settlers got drawn into this conflict.

In this blog, I’ll try to keep the reasons as simple and concise as possible.

Westward Movement

After the American Revolution, settlers began moving into Alabama country. Many settled in the Tombigbee-Tensaw River Region just north of Spanish Mobile. These settlements put pressure on the Indians and their way of life. Indians ceded some of their lands to the settlers by treaty, but the settlers wanted more, whereas the Indians depended on the land for survival, such as deer hunting and trading deerskins.

Benjamin Hawkins

Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians, circa 1805 oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 49 7/8 inches Greenville County Museum of Art, Greenville S.C.

As the Indian agent to the Creeks during this era, Benjamin Hawkins sought to assimilate them into white culture. Though some did assimilate, others refused. This furthered the division between the tribal bands. 

The Federal Road

In late 1811, the Federal government opened a road through Creek country. It began at Milledgeville, Georgia and was built down to Fort Stoddert, on the Mobile River, with New Orleans its intended destination. Originally, it had been a post road that, in the Treaty of Washington (1805), the government had obtained permission to build. However, it was widened for military purposes in 1811 as another war with Great Britain grew imminent. This road expedited the influx of thousands of settlers into Alabama, increasing the strain between the Creek factions.


Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief who had familial ties in Alabama, visited the area in 1811 to form a pan-Indian alliance against the settlers. Though he failed to persuade the Choctaws and Chickasaws, he succeeded with many of the Upper Creeks.

At the Upper Creek capital, Tuckabatchee (near present-day Tallassee, Alabama), he gave an impassioned speech, prophesied about an earthquake and a comet and left a prophet there, Seekaboo, to train other prophets.

After he left for home, in Ohio, the earthquake and comet came to pass. This frightened and convinced many to follow their prophets and go to war. The earthquake’s epicenter was New Madrid, Missouri, the largest quake in U.S. history. It was so powerful and huge, Alabama felt its tremors. This earthquake, though, happened by chance. Regarding the comet, British scientists in Canada had told Tecumseh they expected one to pass over.

The warriors who followed the prophets and fought the settlers would become known as the Red Sticks for their red warclubs. Red was the color of war. Twenty-nine towns sided with the Red Sticks. Five towns, under the leadership of William McIntosh and Chief Big Warrior, sided with the settlers.

The War of 1812

While the British impressed sailors off American ships into their Navy and threatened the United States from Canada, Spain, a British ally, threatened settlers in the Old Southwest. Tecumseh allied himself with the British, and the Red Sticks allied themselves with Spain. When some journeyed to Spanish West Florida’s capital, Pensacola, it would be the spark that caused settlers to, at last, get involved in the conflict. But, before the war started, the Red Sticks had already killed a few settlers.

Next Week, War Begins: The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek


Bunn, Mike and Clay Williams. Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. Fourth Printing. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013.

McMillan, Malcolm C. The Land Called Alabama, Austin, TX:: Steck-Vaughn Company 1968.

Southerland, Henry DeLeon Jr, and Jerry Elijah Brown. The Federal Road through Georgia, the Creek Nation, and Alabama, 1806-1836. Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1989.

The Creek War(1813-1814), Part Three: Leaders of the Settlers

William McIntosh

When Captain William McIntosh, a Loyalist, rode into Georgia’s Lower Creek Territory to escape the wrath of Savannah’s Patriots during America’s Revolution, he met and married a prominent Creek woman named Senoya. Senoya, from the tribe’s high-status Wind Clan, gave birth to the younger William McIntosh around 1775. Destined to become a leader in the war against the Red Sticks, young William learned to read and write. Also, he spoke fluent English.

He gained prominence in his own right and formed various alliances with important people such as Indian agents like Benjamin Hawkins and deerskin traders. His influence among his people grew wider and stronger. He owned a plantation, traded in slaves, and kept an inn for weary travelers.

Among his own people, he soon became controversial. He gladly signed treaties with the white man and ceded lands to them. He became chief of Coweta and the leader of the law menders—the Creek police. These warriors enforced the Creek National Council’s laws and carried out sentences. In the past, before the National Council was established, Creek towns executed their own justice on criminals. He would play an important role in the war’s last big battle, at Horseshoe Bend.

In 1825, McIntosh was murdered by his own people, but that is a story for a later post.

Ferdinand L. Claiborne

Ferdinand L. Claiborne, born into a prominent family from Sussex County, Virginia, served as a junior officer under General Anthony Wayne in the Old Northwest Territory (Ohio and Great Lakes region) during the Indian war there. At the Battle of Fallen Timbers (August 20, 1794), he earned a promotion to lieutenant. After the war, he returned east where he became an Army recruiter and in 1802, he resigned from the service with the rank of captain.

His brother, William C.C. Claiborne, was governor of the Mississippi Territory, so he moved to Natchez, the territory’s capital. Here, he became a planter. In 1805, he joined the territorial militia as a major. As a colonel serving under General James Wilkinson, he participated in the first arrest of Aaron Burr, but Burr was released on bond and when he didn’t respond to a summons he was arrested again.

When the Creek War began, Claiborne commanded the territorial militia. Headquartered at Fort Stoddert on the Mobile River in 1813, he commanded this region when Weatherford’s Red Sticks attacked nearby Fort Mims. He also led the war’s first offensive, an invasion of the Upper Creek Nation, defeating the Red Sticks at the Battle of the Holy Ground in present-day Lowndes County, Alabama.

His poor health forced him to return to Natchez, where he died in 1815. I couldn’t find any picture of him.


In the early 1800s the Choctaw nation consisted of three geographical districts. To the northeast: the Ahepyt, or Potato Eaters District. To the west: Okla Falaya, or Long People District. And in the nation’s southern region: Okla Hannali, or Six Towns District. Within each of these districts were Choctaw towns and villages, most of them in present-day Mississippi.

Pushmataha, greatest of all Choctaw chiefs, led the Six Towns. Although not much is known about his ancestry and childhood, historians generally agree that he was born in 1764 in what is now Macon, Mississippi. He gained a reputation as a brave warrior and great fighter against other tribes, which led to him becoming the principal chief of Six Towns in 1800. However, he never fought the white man.

When the Shawnee leader Tecumseh visited the Mississippi Territory in 1811 to form an alliance with the Old Northwest’s tribes against the white settlers, he tried to get the Choctaws to join it. Although Tecumseh was a great orator, he met his match with Pushmataha’s eloquence and persuasiveness. The chieftain followed Tecumseh to different Choctaw towns and spoke against him at council meetings. In the end, the Choctaws made Tecumseh leave their nation. Tecumseh then went to the Creeks, many of whom listened to his words.

With the American military rank of lieutenant colonel, and later brigadier general, Pushmataha fought in twenty-four battles, some of them under Andrew Jackson. He died in 1824 and is one of only two Native Americans buried in Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery.

Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson led the Tennessee militia during the Creek War and broke the back of Red Stick power at the famous Battle of Horseshoe Bend. This victory vaulted him to national prominence and eventually, the White House. Also participating in this battle were two future heroes of the Texas Revolution, Sam Houston and David Crockett.

At Fort Jackson, in present-day Wetumpka, Alabama, he received the surrender of the Red Stick leaders, including William Weatherford.

A Devotional: Be Careful Whom You Follow

Photo by Matt Weissinger on

My brother-in-law’s white pickup roared ahead, leading me toward his cotton farm on a warm summer day. Though I’d never driven there before, following him was easy, that is, until we reached the traffic light on the edge of town.

Seconds after he passed beneath its green light, it flicked to red. I braked and waited, and assured myself that I’d catch up. But by the time it changed to green, he’d sped well out of sight. I clenched my steering wheel tighter. Narrow country road stretched for miles ahead. There were no trucks, no cars–nothing. I had no idea where I was. “Great. Now what am I going to do?” I muttered.

I suddenly breathed easier–I saw it– a distant white pickup racing past trees and cotton fields. I accelerated; the truck accelerated. I gained more speed; so did the truck. I fumed. Why is he going so fast? I can’t afford a speeding ticket. We’re only going to a picnic.

At an intersection, the pickup made a sharp left turn. My thoughts froze and my spirits sagged. I’d never been here before, not even with my sister. My gas gauge’s needle was approaching empty. I slowed., noticed a nice neighborhood on my left, and turned down a street where I parked.

Slumped against my steering wheel, I berated myself. I’d followed the wrong white pickup. The only thing I could figure was that while I waited at the red light, that white truck had turned in front of me from a side road. And while it looked like my brother-in-law’s vehicle, it wasn’t. I’d failed to keep close to him.

I called my sister on my cell phone. “Lynn, I have no idea what happened.”

“Where are you?” she said, her voice frantic. “We’re all waiting for you.”

“I’m fine. I just have no idea where I am.” I gave her the name of the street I’d turned onto and a brief description of what had happened.

“I’ll send Myles to get you.”

“Thanks.” Sighing, I clicked off my phone.

Minutes later, my nephew Myles arrived in his truck and led me in the right direction. While I followed him, my thoughts wandered back to Paul’s warning about false teachers and how that wrong white truck reminded me of them. Paul called them “false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). On the outside, they look and sound like true Christians, but they preach another Jesus, a different gospel from the true one, and lead others astray.

I’d better be more careful, I thought, as I turned onto my brother-in-law’s property. As I got out of my car, I determined to walk even closer with my Savior, to be more diligent in prayer, Bible study, and obedience. I didn’t want a false teacher leading me astray as that white pickup had.

Originally published in Live: A Weekly Journal of Practical Christian Living, June 4, 2017, Gospel Publishing House, Springfield, Missouri.

Copyright 2017 Jack Cunningham