A Blistering Bicentennial at Fort Mims

Where: Fort Mims (Tensaw, AL)

Who: The Whole Clan

When: August 31, 2013


You think I don’t understand what you’ve told me–what you’ve been through? Well, I understand very well. When I was about your age I was in the Creek uprising, right after the Fort Mims massacre—yes.  Grandma Fontaine to Scarlett, Gone with the Wind

Burnt Corn ReenactmentOn August 30, 1813, Red Stick Indians attacked a fortified plantation in southwest Alabama and killed an estimated 500 settlers, militia, slaves and their Lower Creek allies. Many were scalped. Many others burned to death when the Red Sticks set fire to the building where they were taking shelter.

The raid was in retaliation for a skirmish that had taken place the month before. At the so-called Battle of Burnt Corn, Mississippi militiamen and their Indian allies ambushed a band of Red Sticks who were transporting a large supply of ammunition back to their territory from Florida. The attackers were certain that the Red Sticks were planning to use the ammunition against them because Red Sticks had already committed violent acts against both whites and Lower Creeks in the preceding months.

The attack on Fort Mims led to an enormous public outcry in the rest of the United States and an organized military campaign against the Red Sticks. (You can read more about the results of that campaign in our post on Horseshoe Bend.)

Today Fort Mims is on the National Register of Historic Places. The site, which is maintained by the Alabama Historical Commission, has replicas of the stockade and buildings that were there in 1813. And at the end of August each year, local volunteers reenact both the Battle of Burnt Corn and the attack on the fort itself.

This year the Commission and the locals pulled out all the stops because it was the 200th anniversary of the attack. The commemoration featured not only the reenactments, but also lots of “living history” demonstrations, and food and craft vendors, and talks presenting the perspectives of the different groups involved in the events of 1813.

Kracker DanWe arrived in Tensaw around 9:30 to find what looked like the entire population of Baldwin County at the fort. Everyone enjoyed looking at all the vendors and the reenactors in their costumes. An old-time music ensemble kept us entertained while we ate chicken and dumplings cooked over an open fire.

The reenactment of the Battle of Burnt Corn was more impressive than I expected it would be. Several dozen reenactors took part in it, and we spectators had a close-up view of most of the action.

The big downside of the day was that it was REALLY hot. The temperature was in the mid-90s, and the humidity put the heat index up over 100 degrees. There was some shade at the fort, but not enough. After about three hours, we felt like we were melting, and we decided to forego the rest of the festivities and head off to a couple of other local sites. So we missed the reenactment of the actual attack on the fort, unfortunately.

About ten miles north of Tensaw we found the grave of William Weatherford, the Red Stick chief who led the attack on Fort Mims. Weatherford, also known as Red Eagle, was an interesting character. The son of a Creek princess and a Scottish trader, he owned a plantation in Upper Creek territory. When conflict began among the Red Sticks and settlers, he sided with the Red Sticks and assumed a position of leadership.

After the attack on Fort Mims, Weatherford also led the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend and ultimately surrendered to Andrew Jackson at Fort Jackson. Jackson was so impressed by Weatherford’s bearing and dignity that he let him leave unhindered after the surrender. Weatherford resumed his career as a planter, this time in Monroe County. He died in 1824.

Today Weatherford is buried next to his mother, the Creek princess Sehoy III. The graves are designated as a Baldwin County historical site. I snapped a picture of Son #3 standing between them.

William Weatherford's Grave

There seems to be an unwritten rule in the South that popular catfish restaurants must be located near water in the most rundown buildings possible (preferably trailers). Our final stop of the afternoon, the Dixie Landing Café, certainly met these qualifications. It sits two miles from Weatherford’s grave at the top of a boat ramp on an inlet of the Alabama River in the most ramshackle commercial building I’ve ever seen in my life. The catfish was OK, but the desserts were fantastic. Even the kids left there feeling satisfied.

On a final note, I want to commend the staff of the Hampton Inn-Atmore, where we stayed the previous night. I realized after we made it all the way to Tensaw that I had left a bag in my room! Fortunately, the hotel was on our way back home from the day’s events, and they kept the bag for us at the front desk. No harm done!

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