Creek War of 1836 and the Trail of Tears
The 1832 Treaty of Cusseta gave all Creek land in Alabama to the United States and made the Creeks individual landowners. Despite legal protections, some white settlers and speculators continued to intrude on American Indians’ land. Some Creeks favored traditional farms on communally owned land, while others embraced individual land ownership and new American farms with livestock, cotton, and enslaved African Americans. A few favored a move to the unsettled West, where they were promised freedom from land-hungry Americans.
The Creek War of 1836 began in Russell County, Alabama, when rebel Creeks attacked unfriendly white settlers. Hoping to gain control of the lower Chattahoochee River, a group of 300 Creek warriors scouted the riverside town of Roanoke, Georgia, which now lies beneath Walter F. George Reservoir about thirty miles south of Columbus. In a surprise attack at dawn on May 15, 1836, the warriors burned the prosperous new town, killing twelve residents and causing others to flee into the woods. Columbus militia companies traveled to southwest Georgia swamps to fight the Creeks during 1836, with mixed success. When the war finally ended, settlers throughout the Chattahoochee Valley blamed both rebellious Creeks and greedy white speculators for the conflict.
The Creeks’ forced removal began in July 1836, when the first captured group of rebel Creeks left Fort Mitchell for Indian Territory in present-day Oklahoma. Once 2,500 “enemy Creeks” had been sent west, the United States decided to open more land for American settlement by removing the remaining 20,000 Creeks in Alabama. These American Indians left their homes with the few keepsakes they could carry and walked in chains to Montgomery or Mobile, where they boarded steamboats to travel further west. Difficult travel, unsanitary conditions, and harsh weather resulted in thousands of deaths on what is known as the Creek Trail of Tears.