Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: Alabama Fever

By the early 19th century, there was increasing American pressure for Indian tribes to relinquish their ancestral lands so that it could be opened for settlement, sparking a land frenzy known as “Alabama Fever”. Looking to profit from cheap and plentiful tracts of fertile land, some speculators pushed for ways to force native relocation while others went so far as to advocate eradicating the Native-American population in order to force the ceding of land to the US. However, attempts to make the tribes comfortable with US presence by way of assimilation was the most prevalent. Tribes were assured that they were the “red children” of the “Great Father” in Washington and, as his “children”, he wanted them to be happy and satisfied. Appointed “Indian Agents”, notably Benjamin Hawkins, acted as go-betweens between the tribes and the US Government that actively worked to facilitate this approach. Native-Americans were encouraged to “buy in” to western European ways through use of iron tools, agricultural practices which minimized the “footprint” of land acreage required for agriculture, and acceptance of western culture, laws, and practices. In some cases, self-serving Native-American leaders were given “sweetheart” deals (or bribes) to make concessions of native lands (without approval of other tribal leaders) to the US in exchange for incentives such as land, slaves, military rank, and government pensions.

benjaminhawkinsBenjamin Hawkins

            While some Indians genuinely sided with the Americans and were receptive to innovative approaches for making life better and more comfortable, others were outraged at the US attempt at prying ancestral lands away from the tribes. Bolstered by the fortuitous 1811 comet (visible with the naked eye for upwards of 260 days) and a series of four earthquakes centered in New Madrid, MO (two in December, 1811 and one each in January and February, 1812), each with a magnitude of 7.0 or more, ringing church bells in Charleston, SC, and toppling chimneys as far as Cincinnati, OH, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh used prophesy to spread his message promoting violent resistance to American encroachment.

220px-Tecumseh02Shawnee leader Tecumseh

            The Creek nation occupied the majority of lands in Alabama. Cherokees lived in the northeastern part of the state, Chickasaws in the northwest and Choctaws in the southwest. Aside from being individual tribes within a confederacy, Creeks were further categorized as living in either Upper or Lower towns, determined by where they were located relative to “upper” and “lower” trade paths connecting the Creeks to South Carolina. In Alabama, this dividing line ran very roughly from east central Alabama (south of Sylacauga) diagonally below Montgomery, running parallel to I-65 South and then westward along US Highway 84 at Evergreen on to Mobile. Towns effectively served as capitals or county seats and were important centers of tribal culture and politics. They also reflected differing views regarding the flow of settlers into Creek tribal lands. Many of the Upper Towns of the Muskogee, took up the banner for resisting the increasing American presence, while many of the Lower Towns believed the influx of settlers brought opportunities for increased trade and profit. These differing points of view between Upper and Lower Towns resulted initially in a civil war between opposing factions of the Muskogee Nation, which exacerbated each side’s position and escalated into what has become known as the Red Stick War or Creek War with the US, usually considered as part of the War of 1812.

creek nationWilliam Bonar’s map of the Creek Nation

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.