Indian Massacre at Fort Mims

Published 11:02 pm Wednesday, August 18, 2004

By By LYDIA GRIMES Feature Reporter
Last week I told you a short version of what happened at the Battle of Burnt Corn. I thought I would follow up with the story of the attack and massacre at Fort Mims in Baldwin County. You will remember that the Burnt Corn debacle took place on July 27, 1813.
Fort Mims was the fortified home and surrounding buildings of Samuel Mims. It was situated on the east bank of Tensaw Lake. It consisted of 17 buildings and by August 1813, there were approximately 550 settlers and slaves from the surrounding area who had taken refuge there. There were many friendly Indians and half-breeds there also. Things had been friendly enough for many years and intermarriage was not uncommon. Many of the people who died in the massacre were of mixed blood.
General Claiborne of the Mississippi territorial militia was in charge of the area and he divided his forces to send to the many outposts. He sent Major Daniel Beasley and 170 men to defend Fort Mims and other smaller fortifications in the area. Major Beasley had no military experience and was appointed with the help of his friend, Gen. Claiborne. Beasley was slow to strengthen the fort and seemed to be under the impression that nothing out of the ordinary was going on. Even reports from several people who had seen Indians in the area were ignored.
The hostile Indians, under the leadership of Chief Red Eagle (William Weatherford), were known as "Red Sticks" because of the color of their weapons while the friendly Indians were known as "White Sticks."
By nightfall of Aug. 29, the Indians had advanced to within a mile of the fort and in the dark of night the scouts moved all the way up to the walls of the fort and were able to look through the firing ports where they saw the inhabitants of the fort playing cards.
Early the next morning, Aug. 30, 1813, it was a turning out to be a very hot day and things were quiet within the fort. The main gate was standing open with a bank of sand holding it open. There were no sentries standing guard and the general feeling was that everything was normal. Before noon Major Beasley received one last warning. James Cornells galloped into the fort and shouted to Beasley that he had seen Indians approaching. Beasley replied that it was just some red cattle and Cornells is reported to have told him that the red cattle would "give him a hell of a kick before night." Beasley ordered that Cornells be arrested but he rode out of the fort, leaving those inside to their fate.
At noon, the soldiers and settlers were called to mess by a drummer. While they prepared to eat their noon day meal, they were dancing and playing cards. The drums has been the signal for the attack and the Creeks hiding in a ravine some 400 yards from the fort streamed out and through the open gate. The settlers were surprised and outnumbered by the invaders who set fire to the fort's buildings. Many settlers taking refuge were burned to death inside the buildings. Those few who escaped floated down the river to Mobile.
Those killed were scalped and mutilated and some of the invading Indians tried to put a stop to the slaughter. It is said that Red Eagle was horrified by what he saw going on and he tried to put a stop to it, but the Indians were in a killing frenzy by that time and no one could stop them. Those soldiers and settlers at Fort Pierce three miles away heard the screaming and firing but could do nothing as their force was so small. They could hear the chaos until after 4 p.m. that afternoon. They were terrified that they would be next.
At the end of the battle around 5 p.m. the Indians took the slaves they had captured and left the scene of the massacre. It is believed that there were 250 to 400 settlers and militiamen who died that day.
News spread fast and fear was everywhere, but the soldiers under General Jackson soon were in northern Alabama and March 27, 1814 they struck at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend defeating the Indians. With the surrender of Red Eagle, and his help in persuading the others to surrender, the reign of terror on settlers in the area was over, at least for the time being. Red Eagle or William Weatherford was allowed to settle in Monroe County and he led a peaceful life there until his death in 1824.