Symposium on the Creek War

I’m doing a talk at Auburn University’s symposium “The Creek War and War of 1812 in the South,” May 22-23 in Auburn and at the Horseshoe Bend battlefield park. The website is at auburn.edu/creekwar

Some widely read historians will be taking part, including Gregory Dowd (A Spirited Resistance), John Grenier (The First Way of War), David and Jeanne Heidler (Old Hickory’s War), and Greg Waselkov (A Conquering Spirit). The Creek War is notable not only for including some of the deadliest battles ever fought between Indians and U.S. settlers. It also led to the conquest of the Creek Nation, which in turn opened the Deep South to settlement by slaveholding cotton planters. It also launched future president Andrew Jackson to national fame.

My contribution will be to talk about Burnt Corn, the fight that turned a Creek civil war into a war between Indians and Americans. The episode, which ended in a rout of the American militia by a smaller Indian force, was the subject of what we now call “spin,” from more than one quarter. I’ll be dealing with claims that the Creek Indians were tools of America’s British enemy.

One of the most curious facts about the battle is that it inspired Alabama’s first home-grown literary work, a mock-heroic poem about the commander of the militia at Burnt Corn called The Last Battle of Sir John Falstaff the 2nd, or, The Hero of the Burnt-Corn Fight. I think it’s a good example of the genre, a slashing satire full of self-reflexive humor and playful allusions, which deserves to be remembered for its own sake. I won’t go into this at the conference, but I believe the poem, by one Lewis Sewall, fell into oblivion because it jarred in so many ways with the canonical origin myth of the Deep South.

Contrast A.B. Meeks’ sentimental romance The Red Eagle, which embroiders the life of Scotch-Indian William Weatherford. It was reborn in handsome 20th-century editions used to afflict generations of Alabama schoolchildren. While I don’t imagine the kids are waiting breathlessly for another 19th-century poem to memorize, I do think it’s high time the rest of us had a new edition of Falstaff the 2nd. Today the poem only survives in a few damaged copies guarded by archivists. Philip D. Beidler at the University of Alabama has published more about this subject than anyone else.

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