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Twice unsuccessful

On the dawn of Nov. 23, 1817, 250 U.S. soldiers circled Fowltown in battle formation with the mission to remove the Red Stick Creeks from their homes and to arrest the leaders and warriors for disobeying General Gaines orders. It was the U.S. Army’s second failed attempt to make the arrests. They had tried just two days prior. The Battle of Fowltown came to be known as the first battle of the Seminole War. General Gaines’ particular disdain for Fowltown inhabitants came from the leader Neamathla’s willingness to defend his warrior’s actions towards citizens of Georgia and the U.S. Army. In September that year, General Gaines had sent a letter to the leaders and warriors of Fowltown asking that murders and “mischief makers” be handed to the U.S. for their crimes. The most heinous crime had been the murder of Mr. Garett’s family, but as Neamathla and other leaders noted – that act was a just response to the murder of several Red Stick hunters whose kettle was found in Mr. Garett’s house. Prior to the attack, Neamathla and other leaders had written to the white men’s “headman” about crimes against their people. These pleas were ignored.

Neamathla (Courtesy image)

Neamathla posed a threat to U.S. expansion, not only because his warriors obtained justice on their own terms but because he was adamant he had hereditary and legal rights to the land near Flint River. After the Creek Wars, Neamathla relocated his town from Kinchafoonee, near Albany, Georgia, to Tutalosi Talofa or Fowltown near the Flint River. The U.S. claimed that under the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the land that Fowltown occupied had been ceded to the U.S. A map by cartographer Joseph Purcell from 1778 labels a town called “Tootoloosa-Hopunga Creek” – phonetically similar to Tutalosi, also known as Fowltown. The “Hopunga” in Hitchiti dialect means abandoned or destroyed indicating that the Tutalosi town had existed before 1778 and perhaps they resettled in Kinchafoonee. This map supports Neamathla’s stance the land near Flint River had long been occupied. Thus they weren’t part of the Treaty of Fort Jackson.

As the U.S. Army rebuilt Fort Scott, Neamathla had warned Major Twiggs not to remove a stick east of Flint River and that he was chosen to protect the land. Adding to the tension, Neamathla declined to speak with General Gaines in person to discuss the alleged crimes against the citizens of Georgia. Acting on orders from Secretary of War George Graham, General Gaines was authorized to remove the Red Sticks and even retain hostages until reparation were made for crimes committed. General Gaines then ordered Major Twiggs to conduct the arrests with the explicit direction not to harm women and children.

On the dawn of Nov. 21, 250 U.S. soldiers approached the town in battle formation. Despite the darkness, their presence quickly became known. Startled and angry for the trespass, the Red Sticks warriors fired shots while evacuating the women and children into the swamps. Only one woman didn’t survive – she was shot by a U.S soldier trying to escape. Lieutenant Twiggs later explained that the woman was mistaken for a warrior because she had a blanket fastened around her and the smoke made it difficult to see.

Unsatisfied, General Gaines ordered a second attack on Fowltown – this time with 300 men. On Nov.23, ready for the attack, the warriors of Fowltown hid in the swamps as the army approached the abandoned town. The battle was short – lasting long enough to shoot several rounds until the Red Sticks ran out of ammunition and retreated into the swamps once again. A handful of Red Sticks warriors died that day and only one U.S. soldier casualty. This time, the soldiers stole the large reserves of corn and cattle left behind.

General Gaines, having gathered intelligence for weeks that Fowltown gained the support of neighboring Seminole towns, knew that the incident in Fowltown would unleash war. Many leaders viewed the U.S.’ cowardly assault on Fowltown as sign of aggression and provocation. An alliance was made among Creek and Seminole leaders from different towns to develop a response against the U.S. – that massive response became known as the Fort Scott Massacre.

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