Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
Creek Indian War, 1813-1814

In the early part of the sixteenth century, white explorers who visited the territory now forming the southeastern United States found it occupied by tribes of American Indians who had lived there for centuries. The Creek, Cherokee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw Indians saw the land they inhabited become an object of desire for the visitors. Inevitably, this interest in the southeastern Indian land caused contention, conflict, and the eventual forced removal of the tribes to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma.


As white settlers began to move into the region at the start of the nineteenth century, the Creeks became increasingly hostile. Many did not wish to adopt the ways of whites as government agents urged them to do under a new Indian policy instituted by President George Washington. Indian agents were supposed to instruct Indians how to plow, raise cotton, weave, spin, care for domestic animals, and become skilled in carpentry or black smithing. Indians also wanted to keep their lands. Unfortunately for them, they had granted the American government the right to maintain horse paths through their territory over which white pioneers were allowed to travel to the region around Mobile. These horse paths became highways of settlement.


As white population increased, the Creeks began to divide among themselves, into those who held more traditional views and those who were more assimilated through contact with whites. The traditionalists responded to Tecumseh, the great Shawnee Indian leader. Just before the start of the War of 1812 between England and the United States, Tecumseh traveled south from the Great Lakes to try to unite all Indians against white Americans. After Tecumseh's visit, the Creeks divided. Most Upper Creeks, called Red Sticks because of their bright red war clubs, wanted to resist white encroachment. Most Lower Creeks, more accustomed to whites, were inclined toward peace. This division led to the Creek War of 1813-14, which was a part of the War of 1812.


During the War of 1812, the waring Creek Indians were supported by Spain and England. They fought against the Americans led by General Andrew Jackson and the allied Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and "friendly" Creek. The "friendly" Creeks were often of mixed heritage due to decades of intermarriage between the Indians and Europeans. The Creek War ended in 1814 when the Creeks were forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, ceding some forty thousand square miles of land to the United States. Although the Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee fought for the United States against the Creek, they, too, were soon pressured to cede their lands.


After the War of 1812, the federal government began to force southeastern Indians to exchange their remaining lands for land in Indian Territory. Most Indians fiercely resisted leaving their ancestral homelands, but with the election of Andrew Jackson as president in 1828, Indian removal was established as a national policy. States quickly passed laws to ensure jurisdiction over Indians living within their borders, and President Jackson informed the Indians that the federal government was helpless to interfere with state laws. He told them their only option was to comply with removal. In Alabama, removal was completed by the late 1830s, though a few native Alabamians, such as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, escaped removal and remain in Alabama today.


Suggested Introductory Activities for the Creek Indian Unit:


1. Ask your students what stereotypical images come to mind when they think of American Indians. List their responses on the chalkboard. Ask students what they think might contribute to these stereotypes.


2. Using guidelines from Teaching About Native Americans, listed in the bibliography below, lead a discussion about the changes in terminology used over time to refer to American Indians such as Indians, Native Americans, American Indians, and indigenous peoples. Discuss why terms such as Injun, red man, chief, squaw, papoose, brave, warrior, and redskin should be avoided. Sources listed below provide helpful information about each term and about the following unit.


Suggested Research Activities for Creek Indian Unit:


1. Ask students to research and present reports about a tribe that lives or lived near their geographic location. Compare the life-style and experiences of that southeastern tribe with those of a western tribe in the 19th century or present-day. For information on contemporary tribes in Alabama see Chapter 5, Part 3 and Chapter 15 in Seeing Historic Alabama, listed in the bibliography below. Also, write to the Alabama Indian Affairs Commission, 669 South Lawrence Street, Montgomery, AL 36104.


2. Ask students to research and present reports on the southeastern Indian removal experience, often referred to as the Trail of Tears. Students should include the tribe's point of view in their report. Ask a student to "walk" the trail by mapping the route for a bulletin board display.


3. Ask a volunteer or volunteers to interview an American Indian in person, by letter, or by telephone for a contemporary point of view, and summarize the interview in a written report. The report should also compare and contrast the tribal customs and awareness of tribal heritage of contemporary American Indians with textbook accounts of American Indians. It should conclude by outlining how the federal government responds today to issues of concern to contemporary Native Americans.


Suggested Readings:

Halbert & Ball: The Creek War of 1813 and 1814

Hamilton, Virginia and Jacqueline Matte, Seeing Historic Alabama. Tucsaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1996.

Harvey, Karen D., Lisa D. Harjo, and Jane K. Jackson. Teaching About Native Americans. Bulletin no. 84. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social Studies, 1990.

Matte, Jacqueline A. "Southeastern Indians, Precontact to the Present: An Essay and Selected Bibliography for Teachers," Social Education 57 (October 1993): 292.

Slapin, Beverly, and Doris Seale. Through Indian Eyes: The Native Experience in Books for Children. Philadelphia: New Society Publishers, 1992.



Go to Lesson 1: The Creek War - Return to Nativism or International Pawn? Religious War or International Conflict?

Go to Lesson 2: Geography Determines History


Updated: March 3, 2010