Horsehoe Bend 200th Countdown
By Ron Fritze
200th anniversaries don’t come along all that often but we have one coming up in Alabama in a few weeks. On the 27th of March, 2014, it will be the bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
If you, like me, grew up with“The Wonderful World of Disney” appearing on the TV on Sunday night, you’ll remember the Davy Crockett (aka Fess Parker) episodes. I remember as a little kid the opening episode in which Davy and his friend George Russel (aka Buddy Ebson, aka Jed Clampett) were scouting for hostile Indians in a swampy region. Along the way, Davy has to fight a bear and kills it using just his knife. He also fights an Indian chief to save Russel’s life. My memory is that at the end Davy’s boss Andrew Jackson arrives with the army and captures all the hostile Indians in what I now know was a highly sanitized version of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Of course, if you are younger and grew up on the Disney Channel and Nickelodean, than you grew up with the same TV shows that I watched, it is just that for you they were retro while for me they were cutting edge.
Disney’s Horseshoe Bend was nothing like the real battle. The Creek Tribe was embroiled in a civil war. Some Creeks wanted to fight the encroaching Americans and others didn’t. A large band of some 900 warriors favoring war with the United States had occupied a Creek village called Tohopeka in a horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa River. They also had close to 600 women and children with them. Their camp was toward the bottom of the peninsula formed by the horseshoe bend. They had built a log fence across the neck of the peninsula as a defensive position but for all practical purposes, they were trapped like fish in a bottle. But they had a religious shaman for one of their leaders and he assured them that they would triumph with God’s help.
Jackson wanted to crush this resistance so he marched on the Creek position with some 3,000 men, several hundred of whom were allied Cherokee Indians hostile to the Creeks. The Cherokee and some militia were positioned on the bank of the Tallapoosa across from the Creek camp at Tohopeka. They were there to prevent an escape. Meanwhile Jackson and his main force positioned cannons to fire on the wooden wall of the Creeks. After a bit of shelling the American army charged and captured the wall. An uneven struggle ensued in which most of the Creek warriors were killed, some 700-900 men and the women and children were captured. American casualties were 51 killed and 148 wounded. The power of the already badly divided Creek tribe was permanently weakened. From an American point of view, the frontier was secured. From a Native American point of view, it was the prelude to removal to the Indian Territory in Oklahoma a couple of decades later.
If you have not visited the Horsebend Battlefield Park, you need to. It is beautiful and green with trees and the meandering Tallapoosa. The park is well marked. It would be a great place to bring a picnic. The visitor’s center has a fine movie focusing on the battle. The park service is planning some great events during the week of the anniversary of the battle. So if you have been to the park, it will still be worth visiting again. And if you want to visit Horseshoe Bend, remember the Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning is planning a bus trip on 29 March. Check out the Center for Lifelong Learning catalog under “Academic Traveler” at : http://www.athens.edu/cll/PDFs/2014-WTR-Catalog.pdf.