Focus on Treaties for Native American Heritage Month
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Creek Removal

The Creek (Muskogee) removal era began on February 12, 1825, when the Coweta chief William McIntosh signed the Treaty of Indian Springs (1825), which ceded large portions of Creek land to the federal government in exchange for a large sum of money and an equal amount of land in present-day Oklahoma. McIntosh was later executed for his role in the treaty signing. The Indian Springs Treaty created great hardship for the Creek, who were forced off their land, and a number suffered from hunger and even starvation. The Indian Springs Treaty also commenced the period of voluntary Creek removal. Between 1827 and 1836, approximately 3,500 Creek voluntarily moved west. Voluntary Creek emigration ended in 1836 when a small band of Lower Creek initiated a war in response to the continued encroachment of white squatters onto their land. As a result of the war, Andrew Jackson ordered all Creek to move west.

In late 1827, approximately 700 friends and followers of the late McIntosh, along with their slaves, packed their belongings into wagons and traveled westward. The party walked from Harpersville, Alabama, to Tuscumbia, Alabama, where a portion of the party took boats down the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers before ascending the Arkansas River and arriving at Cantonment Gibson in late January or early February 1828. The balance of the party walked overland. Almost a year after the first McIntosh party left Alabama, a second McIntosh party traveled approximately the same route and arrived at the Western Creek Agency in late 1828.

Whereas the first two emigrating parties were composed largely of Creek who were friends and followers of McIntosh, the third voluntary emigrating party included Creek who had decided to leave the dire conditions found in the eastern Creek Nation. White settlers not only squatted illegally on Creek land but also, in many cases, had become brazen enough to forcibly evict Creek from their homes. Many Creek had their livestock and crops stolen. Approximately 1,400 Creek, constituting the third voluntary emigrating party, left Alabama in June 1829 and, like the first two parties, either walked or boarded boats at the Tennessee River. While on the Arkansas River, east of Little Rock, the steamboat Virginia ran aground, and the Creek on board were forced to either walk the rest of the way or take keelboats that drafted less water. Disease also ravaged the party, and a number of emigrants died along the route.

The emigrants of the third voluntary party arrived at the Western Creek Agency amidst a sea of discontent involving the emigrants of the earlier parties. Western Indians raided the Creek settlers, and the government was slow in distributing the rifles and agricultural utensils necessary for survival in the West. Disease was also so prevalent that many Creek packed their bags and returned eastward. But life was little better for the Creek in the East. Many Lower Creek had been unable to reestablish their lives after being forced from Georgia in 1826, and starvation became a looming threat. The Alabama legislature compounded the Creek's misery by extending legal jurisdiction over the Creek Nation between 1827 and 1829. And white squatters continued to settle illegally on the Creek's land. In response to these problems, a number of prominent headmen traveled to Washington to negotiate an agreement that would salvage the Creek Nation. The Treaty of Cusseta (1832), signed that March, ceded all sovereign Creek land to the federal government in exchange for parcels of 320 acres for each Creek head-of-family or 640 acres for each Creek headman. The Creek could sell their parcels and emigrate west or remain on their land for as long as they wished. But many Creek who tried to sell were quickly cheated out of their land outright or had their land devalued by unscrupulous land speculators. Moreover, the Alabama state government and federal officials did not enforce the articles of the treaty to the Creek's satisfaction.

Two more voluntary emigrating parties left Alabama in 1834 and 1835. More than 500 Creek left Centreville, Alabama, in December 1834 and traveled through Tuscaloosa and Columbus, Mississippi, to Memphis. At Memphis, a number of emigrants boarded steamboats while the balance walked. Both parties suffered from the cold, and the Creek experienced rain or hail during much of their journey. Government agents conducting the Creek wrapped the children in tents to keep them warm, and the party was forced to stop often to build fires along the route. The land party struggled over the frozen ground through the Mississippi Swamp in the Arkansas Territory. At times they had to tie ropes to their horses' legs and pull them over the ice. The water party was also delayed by ice on the Arkansas River. The emigrants arrived at Fort Gibson in March 1835.

In an attempt to save money on the next emigration, the federal government entered into a contract with the Sanford Emigrating Company to emigrate 5,000 Creek at $20 per person. By December 1835, the Sanford Company had collected approximately 500 Creek. The party traveled north to the Tennessee River, where a portion of the party boarded the steamboat Alpha with two keelboats in tow at Waterloo, Alabama, while the remainder walked. The land party marched long distances over difficult roads, and 15% of the Creek's horses died before they reached Memphis. The journey was also, at times, hazardous for the water party. As the Alpha approached Lewisburg, Arkansas Territory, one of the keelboats hit a snag on the Arkansas River and sank with 250 Creek on board. The emigrants arrived in February 1836.

Back in Alabama, the land frauds associated with the Washington Treaty drove the Creek to distraction. Although the government investigated the frauds, justice seemed to elude many Creek. In May 1836, a small band of Lower Creek lashed out at white settlers and started a war in eastern Alabama. The Second Creek War (1836), as it came to be called, was the last, desperate act of a number of Creek who had been victimized by the Indian Springs Treaty and the Washington Treaties of 1826 and 1832.

Many had lived on the edge of starvation for almost a decade and had had their reserves stolen by white land speculators. The violence gave Jackson an excuse to forcibly remove the remaining 16,000 Creek to the West. Military agents quickly rounded up captured Creek warriors, placed them in chains, and marched them to Montgomery, where they were placed on steamboats. In July 1836, the detachment of approximately 2,300 Creek prisoners descended the Alabama River to Mobile before traveling by boat to New Orleans and then ascending the Mississippi River to Rock Roe, Arkansas. From Rock Roe, the prisoners marched the remainder of the way to Fort Gibson. A second, smaller detachment of Creek, following the same approximate route as the first, left Montgomery in early August 1836.

Even before the Creek prisoners arrived at Fort Gibson, the government collected the remaining "friendly" Creek. Five detachments left from various locations in the former Creek Nation and marched, along different routes, to Memphis. From Memphis, the detachments took land and water routes to Rock Roe or Little Rock, before marching the remainder of the way to Fort Gibson. During their journey, the Creek experienced a scarcity of potable water and torrents of rainfall. A severe snowstorm hit as the detachments approached Fort Gibson, and the Creek were forced to walk in as much as eight inches of snow. The Creek arrived at Fort Gibson in December 1836 and January 1837. The Alabama Emigrating Company, which contracted to remove the Creek, tallied the number of deaths. They reported that they removed 2,318 Creek of detachment one with 78 deaths; 3,095 Creek of detachment two with 37 deaths; 2,818 Creek of detachment three with 12 deaths; 2,330 Creek of detachment four with 36 deaths; and 2,087 Creek of detachment five with 25 deaths.

Despite the removal of approximately 15,000 emigrants in 1836, many Creek remained in the Southeast. Most were family members of Creek warriors commissioned to fight the Seminole in Florida. In exchange for their service, the family members of the Creek warriors were allowed to remain in Alabama until their tour of duty was over. But local whites terrorized the emigrants as they waited in camps for their relatives to return from Florida. In a move designed to protect the Creek from local settlers, government agents removed the Creek families from east-central Alabama to Mobile Point on the Gulf Coast in March 1837. By the summer of 1837, disease had become so prevalent at Mobile Point that agents again moved the Creek to a healthier location at Pass Christian, Mississippi.

While the Creek waited at Pass Christian, government agents rounded up the refugee Creek who had fled to live among the Cherokee and Chickasaw people. In May 1837, 543 refugee Creek living among the Cherokee traveled by boat from Gunter's Landing, Alabama, to Fort Gibson entirely by water. A number of these Creek refugees were captured as far away as North Carolina. Eighty Creek died or deserted the party during the journey, and they arrived in the West in June 1837. Agents also traveled to Mississippi to round up the Creek living among the Chickasaw. Enrollment camps were established near Memphis and Pontotoc. In November 1837, approximately 300 Creek marched to Memphis. There the party was divided, and a portion boarded the steamboat Itasca while the balance walked to Fort Gibson. The Creek arrived in late December 1837.

In mid-October 1837, the Creek waiting at Pass Christian, along with their reunited relatives from Florida, boarded a number of steamboats to continue their journey west. Over 600 Creek ascended the Mississippi River in the Monmouth, an aging steamboat scheduled to be dismantled. As the boat passed Profit Island, it was cut in half by the steamboat Trenton. Approximately 300 Creek were killed in the accident. The recovery effort took a number of days, and the party continued westward after burying their dead on the west side of the river. The Creek did not arrive in the West until sometime in early 1838.

Many Creek continued to trickle into the Indian Territory from Alabama into the 1840s and 1850s. These Creek traveled individually or in small family groups. Other Creek, entrenched among other southeastern Indian nations, were removed with the Cherokee removal, Chickasaw removal, or Seminole removal. Those who remained under the Treaty of Fort Jackson (1814) were the ancestors of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in Alabama today.

Christopher D. Haveman


Further Reading
Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal; the Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1989; Green, Michael G. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982;.
 

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