FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Willaim Weatherford]
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Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day
American National Biography Online
Weatherford, William (1781?-9 Mar. 1824), military leader--known
as Chief Red Eagle--of the "Red Sticks," the Upper Creek warriors
who opposed the United States in the Creek War of 1813-1814,
was born near Coosada, on the banks of the Alabama River, in
present Elmore County, Alabama, the son of Charles Weatherford,
a Scots owner of a trading post and racetrack, and Sehoy, daughter
of a Creek chieftain. Much of Weatherford's boyhood was spent
with horses. He was a master at breaking unruly colts and racing
them over the countryside. An Indian woman said that his skill,
grace, and daring on horseback would cause women to "quit hoeing
corn, and smile and gaze upon him as he rode by." An excellent
athlete, he was reputed to be one of the fastest runners in the Creek
Weatherford's artful use of the English language came largely
from the tutoring of his politically powerful uncle, Alexander
McGillivray--also part Creek Indian, part Scottish--who led the
Creeks to sign the Treaty of New York (1790), establishing a
boundary between the Creeks and the encroaching white settlers.
Weatherford first became widely known for the bold capture of
William Augustus Bowles, self-proclaimed director general of
the Creek Nation. Bowles, a defected British army officer, challenged
McGillivray's power and tried to turn the Creeks against the
British, Spanish, and Americans. In May 1804 Weatherford was
part of a small band ordered by U.S. Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins
to arrest Bowles. They openly marched into his well-armed camp
and put him in irons.
In 1811 the Upper Creeks were angered by the increase of roads
through the Creek Nation, bringing white settlers. Attempting
to profit from their unrest, Tecumseh came south to forge an
alliance between the Creeks and the Choctaws and recruit them
into his pan-Indian confederacy resisting U.S. expansion. He
arrived at Tuckabatchee in September and made a speech condemning
encroachments onto Indian lands.
Throughout 1812 and into the summer of 1813, animosity grew
between the Upper Creeks, sworn to maintain their ancient lifestyle,
and the Lower Creeks, more amenable to white culture. Encouraged
by Tecumseh and perhaps by the outbreak of the War of 1812, the
Upper Creeks began attacking whites along the frontier, and Lower
Creek police forces were sent to punish the marauders. Red Eagle
tried to remain neutral. In dress and lifestyle he had little
in common with the militant and more nativist Red Sticks, but
in the summer of 1813 he returned from a cattle-trading expedition
to find his family held hostage by several Upper Creek chiefs,
who threatened to kill him if he did not join them. He told them
he deplored their actions and that the war would inevitably destroy
them. "But," he said, "you are my people, and I will share your fate."
On 27 July 1813 the civil war was ignited by the skirmish of
Burnt Corn Creek, a surprise attack on an Upper Creek detachment.
In retaliation, the Red Sticks planned an attack on Fort Mims,
a pine-log stockade built as a refuge for white settlers north
of Mobile. The chiefs sought Weatherford's advice, and, realizing
that he could not convince them to lay down their arms, he gave
them a plan of attack. They were so impressed by his strategy
that, according to George Stiggins, his brother-in-law, they
placed all future operations under Red Eagle's guidance.
In August 700 Red Stick warriors attacked Fort Mims, killing
more than 250 whites and friendly Indians. Weatherford led Upper
Creek warriors in his first battle against General Ferdinand
Claiborne's forces on 23 December 1813 at Ecunchate, a place
sacred to the Upper Creeks. Here, in a daring escape from a fusillade
of rifle fire, Red Eagle spurred his horse Arrow to leap into
the Alabama River from a bluff "between fifty and sixty feet
high," according to one contemporary account. Today, an eight-foot
bluff overlooking the river near the site of Ecunchate is pointed
out as the site of Weatherford's famous leap.
When General Andrew Jackson's troops defeated the Red Sticks
in the final battle of the Creek War at Horseshoe Bend on 27
March 1814, the general was infuriated that Red Eagle, leader
in the massacre of Fort Mims, remained at large. He demanded
that Creek chiefs bring him in for punishment. To spare his fellow
chiefs the humiliation of turning their leader over to the white
victors, he rode alone into Jackson's camp, boldly walked into
the general's tent, and surrendered. "General Jackson," he reportedly
said, "I am not afraid of you. I fear no man, for I am a Creek
warrior. I have nothing to request on behalf of myself; you can
kill me if you desire. But I come to beg you to send for the
women and children of the war party, who are now starving in the woods."
John Reid, Jackson's aide, witnessed the confrontation and wrote,
"Weatherford was the greatest of the barbarian world"; he "possessed
all the manliness of sentiment--all the heroism of soul, all
the comprehension of intellect calculated to make an able commander."
This incident helped preserve Weatherford's reputation in later
years and ensured that he alone, of several important Creek leaders
in the war, passed into folklore.
After the war Weatherford settled on a farm in the lower part
of Monroe County, Alabama, where he owned 300 slaves and a large
number of fine horses. Although he lived near the site of the
infamous Fort Mims massacre, he was universally respected. He
was married under Indian law to Mary Moniac and Sapoth Thlanie,
and under white law in 1817 to Mary Stiggins. He had an unknown
number of children. In a hunt on 29 February 1824 an albino deer
was killed, and Weatherford said it was a sign that someone in
the party would be called to the hunting ground of the spirit
land. The next day Weatherford became critically ill, and he
died several days later. While ill, he saw a vision of his former
wife, Sapoth Thlanie, reputed to have been a gifted singer and
the most beautiful maiden in the Creek Nation; she had died a
few days after the birth of their only child.
The only manuscript with firsthand references to Weatherford
was written by George Stiggins, a mixed-blood Indian agent. Entitled
"A Historical Narration of the Genealogy, Traditions, and Downfall
of the Ispocaga or Creek Tribe of Indians, Written by One of
the Tribe," it is found in vol. 5 of the Georgia, Alabama, and
South Carolina papers in the Draper Manuscripts, State Historical
Society of Wisconsin in Madison, and has been published as Theron
A. Nunez, Jr., "Creek Nativism and the Creek War of 1813-1814,"
Ethnohistory 5 (1958): 1-48, 131-75, 292-301. Contemporary accounts
of Weatherford's activities are found in John Reid and John Henry
Eaton, The Life of Andrew Jackson (1817), and Thomas S. Woodward,
Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians, Contained in
Letters to Friends in Georgia and Alabama (1859). George Cary
Eggleston, Red Eagle and the Wars with the Creek Indians of Alabama
(1878), is unreliable, but useful secondary works are Henry S.
Halbert and T. H. Ball, The Creek War of 1813 and 1814 (1895;
rev. 1969); Frank Lawrence Owsley, Jr., Struggle for the Gulf
Borderlands (1981); and Benjamin W. Griffith, Jr., McIntosh and
Weatherford: Creek Indian Leaders (1988).
Benjamin W. Griffith
Back to the top
Benjamin W. Griffith. "Weatherford, William";
American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
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