Governor W.W. Bibb of Alabama was still trying to deal with the aftermath of the recent Ogly-Stroud attack (please see The war spreads to Alabama) when a party of Muscogee (Creek) warriors struck again 200 years ago today on the Old Federal Road.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
Bibb had ordered out the territorial militia of Alabama and placed Col. Samuel Dale in command at Fort Dale just northwest of today’s City of Greenville when he received news of a new attack:
…[T]he morning I left the place of rendezvous, five men, riding on the road in that neighborhood, were fired on by the Indians; three killed and one wounded; in this state of things it is indispensable to the safety of the country, that troops should be stationed at several points; and I have taken measures, as far as I can, for that object. I have also issued an order, that all Indians who are hunting in our woods depart forthwith to their nation. [I]
The new attack became known as the “Butler Massacre” after Capt. William Butler, one of the three men killed. A small force of Choctaw warriors had come to help the citizens around the Poplar Springs and immediately gave pursuit to the attackers:
…Capt. Wm. Butler, Daniel Shaw, and Wm. Gardner, all late of Georgia, had been killed by the Indians; and that immediate but ineffectual measures were taken to chastise the murders. A scout of Chocktaws fell in with four hostile Indians, with their women and children, who escaped into a swamp, leaving 50 deer skins, some dried venison, and cooking utensils behind, which were secured by the Chocktaws. Another Indian party had been seen, and preparations made to pursue them. The American force at Fort Dale, consisted of 24 volunteers, 17 regulars, 20 Chocktaws, and 14 Creeks. [II]
Two detachments of regular troops from Fort Crawford at today’s East Brewton continued to patrol along the Florida-Alabama border looking for signs of the attackers, but had little success.
The Butler attack came as a party of horsemen were making their way along the Old Federal Road from Fort Bibb in the direction of Fort Dale. The former stockade had been thrown up around the home of Capt. James Saffold, which stood about 12-13 miles southwest of Fort Dale near present-day Forest Home a few miles west of Greenville, Alabama. Saffold was one of the party but escaped without injury. A fifth man, John Hinson, was wounded.
The incident was the second major attack along the Old Federal Road in less than one week. Eleven white settlers had been killed in South Alabama and fear of additional attacks was widespread. The violence was blamed on a somewhat mysterious leader called Savannah Jack by the whites, but no concrete evidence of his actual involvement has ever surfaced.
The move by Gov. Bibb to order all Muscogee (Creek) hunters and travelers into the new lines established by the Treaty of Fort Jackson marked the first time such orders had ever been given:
…It has become necessary to their safety, and to the repose of the inhabitants. We cannot distinguish the hostile from the friendly party; and such is the state of alarm, that the sight of an Indians creates among the women and children the most frightful apprehensions. I have sent a letter to the Big warrior, requesting him to call his people home, and assuring him that my order is dictated by the most friendly motives. [III]
The lands that Bibb called “our woods,” of course, had belonged to the Creek people for hundreds of years until the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson less than four years earlier.
This series will continue. The map below will show you how to reach the historical marker near the scene of the attack from downtown Greenville:
[I] Gov. W.W. Bibb of Alabama to Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, March 27, 1818.
[II] Report dated Milledgeville, Georgia, April 14, 1818, published in the New Bedford Mercury, May 8, 1818.
[III] Bibb to Calhoun, March 27, 1818.