The Hillabee Massacre
Tallapoosa County, Alabama

A Tragedy of the Creek War of 1813-1814

The Hillabee Massacre was an atrocity of the Creek War of 1813-1814. It took place in a series of Native American towns along Hillabee Creek in what is now Tallapoosa County, Alabama.

The chiefs of the Hillabee towns had just reached a truce with Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, but the Tennessee horseman that stormed down on them did not know about the agreement and ignored attempts by the Muscogee (Creek) inhabitants to wave them off. Men, women, and children were shot down in a shocking bloodbath. 

It is difficult to believe that Hillabee Creek was the scene of such an atrocity. It fast-moving stream flows down from the Talladega Mountains through the beautiful rolling hills of Tallapoosa County. And yet this green valley was the scene of one of the worst massacres of unresisting Native Americans in U.S. history.

The outcome of the Creek War was still undecided in November 1813. The conflict began as a civil war between the Prophet Josiah Francis and the Red Sticks, who wished to return to their traditional ways, and the Big Warrior, Little Prince, and other leaders of the White Faction. They wanted a lifestyle much like that of white farmers and planters.

The war spilled over to the whites when a force of Mississippi Territory militia launched a preemptive strike on a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Creek. The Red Sticks won the battle, putting the much larger militia force to flight, but warriors were slain and wounded. Their families demanded retaliation and the Prophet's powerful Native American army turned its attention from the fight with the Big Warrior and Little Prince to the white and metis [i.e., mixed race] settlers of the Tensaw region.

The Red Sticks caught the garrison of Fort Mims by surprise, rushing in through open gates in a battle that ended with the deaths of more than 250 men, women, and children. 

Please click the video player to learn more about the Battle for Fort Mims.:
Cattle still graze in the pastures along Hillabee Creek, just as they did in 1813. Tennessee troops crossed this land as they moved in for the Hillabee Massacre.
…We then proceeded to a town called Genalga, and burned the same consisting of 93 hourses.—thence we proceeded to Nitty Chaptoa [Enitichopco] consisting of about 25 houses, which I considered it most prudent not to destroy as it might possibly be of use at some future period. From thence we marched to the Hillibee town consisting of about 20 houses, adjoining which was Grayson’s farm. [Brig. Gen. James White to Maj. Gen. John Cocke, November 24, 1813]

The day was primarily spent by the time White's men arrived near the central Hillabee town. The general opted to rest for the night instead of continuing his advance.​

Gen. White used the night to dismount a portion of his command and send it to block the escape of the Hillabee inhabitants. He believed that Red Stick warriors in the town were ready to fight him and he later claimed that he was told this by a handful of Muscogee prisoners taken during his advance.

With his blocking force in place, he moved a party of Cherokee warriors to the front and made his attack on the morning of November 18, 1813:

…Owing to the darkness of the night, the town was not reached until daylight—but so complete was the surprise, that succeeded in surrounding [the] town, and killing and capturing almost (if not entirely) the whole of the hostile Creeks assembled there, consisting of about 316, of which number about 60 warriors were killed on the spot, and the remainder made prisoners. [Brig. Gen. James White to Maj. Gen. John Cocke, November 24, 1813]

White described his charge as a "gallant" affair, but he did not mention that the warriors of the Hillabee town did not fight back as his men shot and cut them down. 

Honor bound by their agreement with Jackson not to harm white soldiers, the Muscogee men, women, and children tried to stop the slaughter even as it unfolded around them. The East Tennesseans killed around 60 warriors and an unknown number of their family members without suffering a single casualty:

…Before the close of the engagement, my whole force was up and ready for action, had it became necessary, but owing to the want of knowledge on the part of the Indians of our approach, they were entirely killed and taken before they could prepare any effectual defence. We lost not one drop of blood in accomplishing this enterprise. [Brig. Gen. James White to Maj. Gen. John Cocke, November 24, 1813]

It was a massacre, and it could have been worse. Col. Gideon Morgan, realizing what was happening, rushed forward to stop the slaughter. He saved many lives.  

The soldiers burned the town and rode back through the mountains to Fort Armstrong on the Tennessee River. Their prisoners followed on foot. It did not take long, however, for news of the brutal event to reach newspapers across the nation. The reaction was swift and predictable, as editors raged against the slaughter of men, women, and children who did not attempt to resist:
 The Red Stick victory at Fort Mims brought the United States fully into the Creek War. Armies were raised and soldiers penetrated the Muscogee (Creek) Nation from the Mississippi Territory, Georgia, and Tennessee. 
Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson led his army of Tennessee riders over the mountains south of the Tennessee River, setting up camp and building Fort Strother at the Ten Islands of the Coosa River. Brig. Gen. John Coffee took part of the army and attacked Tallushatchee - a town that may or may not have raised the Red Stick - on the morning of November 3, 1813. 

Coffee's citizen soldiers destroyed Tallushatchee, killing 186 warriors and an unknown number of women and children. Frontiersman David (Davy) Crockett recalled that the women fought alongside the men to defend the town.

Coffee's force returned to the Ten Islands not long before a courier arrived from the White Faction town of Talladega to plead for help. Red Stick warriors were attacking, as the inhabitants tried to hold out in a small stockade fort.

Jackson marched his army for Talladega and attacked on November 9, 1813. 

The surprise attack was a disaster for the Red Sticks, 299 died, and 110 were wounded. The Tennesseeans lost 15 killed and 85 wounded.

The bulk of the Red Stick force at the Battle of Talladega was made up of warriors from the Hillabee towns. This array of villages stretched along Hillabee Creek and its tributaries in today's Tallapoosa County, Alabama. The defeat of the Hillabee warriors at the Battle of Talladega wisened them to the futility of fighting the strong U.S. armies, which had more men and better arms.

A white trader named Robert Grierson (or Grayson) lived among the Hillabees, was married to a Muscogee woman, and had children there. He did not flee when the towns raised the Red Stick, and the chiefs now approached him to request that he negotiate a truce with Jackson. Grierson did so, arranging for the withdrawal of the Hillabee warriors from the war.

The truce reached with Jackson provided that U.S. troops would not attack the Hillabee towns. The chiefs and warriors, likewise, pledged to do no harm.

Neither Andrew Jackson nor the Hillabee chiefs knew, however, that Maj. Gen. John Cocke was planning a strike of his own. 

Cocke commanded a large force of citizen soldiers from East Tennessee. His orders were to link up with Jackson, but he hoped an independent action would boost his reputation before he did so. He ordered Brig. Gen. James White to strike south from the Tennessee River and attack the Hillabee towns.

White moved out even as Jackson was concluding his truce with Grierson. Unaware of these negotiations, White's command arrived at the northernmost Hillabee town on November 17, 1813:
Hillabee Creek, along which most of the Hillabee towns stood, is a 
beautiful flowing stream as it flows near the scene of the massacre.
The Nashville Whig told the true story of the Hillabee Massacre on December 7, 1813, just three weeks later. The editor noted the deaths of 64 warriors. Another 29 fell prisoner to the soldiers. The balance of the captives were women and children - although the paper noted that 80 were African-American. After explaining that none of White's soldiers were wounded, the editor continued:

It is scarcely necessary to add that none of our men were either killed or wounded,--when it is reported, that the enemy made no resistance whatever, except that they fired one gun.—They were literally butchered! [Nashville Whig, December 7, 1813]

The editor agonized over how men held in high regard could commit such an atrocity:
  
…[W]e beg our readers to recollect, that this was the town which had only a day or two before sent in a flag to Gen. Jackson, assuring him that they would lay down their arms, and cease to war with us.—This was the reason they made no resistance. They will also recollect that Gen. White had not yet joined Gen. Jackson—was entirely ignorant of what had taken place; and had every reason to suppose that the enemy would content to the last moment. We know that General White would be one of the last men on earth, who would countenance such conduct. [Nashville Whig, December 7, 1813]

The bones of the Hillabee victims were left to return to the dust from which they came. 

The surviving chiefs and warriors were incensed over the attack. They had agreed to a truce with the whites and did not differentiate between Jackson's army and the nearby East Tennessee command of Gen. Cocke. They returned to the fight, many of them refusing to surrender four months later, instead choosing to fight to the death at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Others fled south into Florida where they fought Jackson again during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818.

The site of the Hillabee Massacre is on private lands near New Site in Tallapoosa County, Alabama. The terrain crossed by White's men as they attacked the town is visible from the intersection of Sanford Road in the area where it crosses Hillabee Creek (please see the map below).

There are no interpretive signs at the site. Please respect private property and do not trespass. It is a beautiful country to view from the road.