Seminole War
The Battle of the Econfina: Massacre in Florida’s Big Bend (Seminole War 200th)

The Econfina River near the site where the bloody battle was fought on April 12, 1818.

A battle between two forces of Muscogee (Creek) warriors deteriorated into a bloody massacre 200 years ago today in what is now Taylor County, Florida.

This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please visit Seminole War 200th Anniversary Timeline to access all of the articles by date.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s men were were rising for duty on the morning of April 12, 1818, when sentinels reported that they had heard suspicious sounds during the night. The general immediately gave orders to investigate:

…On the morning of the 12th, the officer of the day reported that the sentinels had heard the lowing of cattle and barking of dogs during the night; from which the general was induced to send a runner to General McIntosh, who was encamped a short distance in rear of the army, with instructions to have the country below examined. In the mean time, the army moved slowly in advance. General McIntosh detached Major Kanard with a party, who returned to him a runner reporting the discovery of a hostile party too strong for his little band of warriors. McIntosh moved against them with his whole force. [I]

Brig. Gen. William McIntosh commanded the attack during the Battle of the Econfina.

The “hostile party” encountered by Maj. Noble Kinnard proved to be Peter McQueen’s retreating Red Sticks. Severely outnumbered but with women and children to protect, McQueen and his warriors put up a fight unlike anything the army had seen since it left Fort Scott one month earlier. McQueen was determined to save the women and children of his band, a determination that was only strengthened when he realized that he was fighting his arch foe William McIntosh.

The two Muscogee (Creek) leaders were both the sons of white fathers and Creek women. They had had opposed each other since the rise to prominence of the Prophet Josiah Francis during the days prior to the Creek War of 1813-1814. When McIntosh led an assassination party that killed members of the Prophet’s party, all out civil war erupted in the nation.

Now another war was underway and McQueen and McIntosh faced off again, this time on the banks of the Econfina River in the Big Bend region of Florida. It should be noted that the stream where the battle took place was the Econfina River west of today’s Perry, Florida. It is sometimes confused with Econfina Creek which is north of Panama City.

McIntosh described the scene in a letter that he wrote in a letter the following morning:

…I heard yesterday of Peter M’Queen being near the road we were traveling, and I took my warriors and went out and fought him. There seemed to be a considerable number collected there. When we first began to fight them, they were in a bad swamp, and fought us there for about an hour, when they ran and we followed them three miles. They fought us in all about three hours. [II]

Capt. Timpoochee Barnard led a company of Yuchi warriors in the Battle of the Econfina.

McIntosh did not say so, but the fight turned into a massacre after its first hour. He had more than 1,500 warriors on the field while McQueen commanded no more than 200. The Red Sticks fought fiercely but were driven from the swamp after the first 60 minutes or so of the battle. McIntosh and his men then slaughtered McQueen’s warriors as they tried to escape.

Lt. John Banks was with his company of Georgia militia in the main column of Jackson’s army. He wrote that he first learned that a battle was building when a Creek messenger arrived yelling “Captain Jackson! Captain Jackson!” He was directed to the commanding general:

…[O]n the 12th day of April, we discovered fresh signs of Indians. Gen. McIntosh, with his command of Creek Indians, pursued them. The main army, as was our habit, lay down in the grass to rest and await McIntosh’s return. Very soon McIntosh overtook them, and the battle commenced in hearing of us, probably a mile off. We could hear the firing of guns, which continued for some time. [III]

Banks recalled that Gen. Jackson ordered a reinforcement of mounted Tennessee volunteers to ride to McIntosh’s assistance. Col. Robert Butler, the general’s adjutant, confirmed this, writing that a detachment of men from various companies formed under Capt. Bell and “moved to attack the enemy, whom they found near a large swamp endeavouring to move off.” [IV]

A stream flows through rocks and swampy terrain to join the Econfina near the battle site.

There is some dispute over the role of the Tennesseans in the fight. Maj. Thomas Woodward of the Georgia militia said that none of the Tennesseans were in the fight, but Butler credited them for taking part. The engagement lasted some three hours so the Tennesseans definitely had time to join the attack. Butler wrote his account in 1818 while Woodward’s was not put to paper until 1858 so it is likely that the former was correct.

Woodward wrote that he was on detached duty with McIntosh’s Creeks when the battle erupted. He recalled vividly how he and others plainly heard a woman calling for help in English. She proved to be Elizabeth Stewart, the only female survivor of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s ill-fated party:

…I shall never, while I live, forget the day we took her from the Indians. Billy Mitchell, a son of the then Indian agent, Brown, Kendall Lewis, John Winslett, Sam. Hall and myself, were the only white men that were with the Indians, except old Jack Carter, my pack-horseman. The white men I have named and the Hitchetas under Noble Kenard, and the Uchees under Timpoochy Barnard, commenced the fight. Shortly after the firing commenced, we could hear a female voice in the English language calling for help, but she was concealed from view. [V]

Mrs. Stewart was rescued while hiding in a clump of palmetto between the lines as the battle raged over her.

McQueen’s warriors sold their lives dearly. They were outnumbered more than 7 to 1 but fought for as long as they could. Their line finally crumbled to weight of numbers and the engagement turned into a massacre every bit as bloody as the attack on Lt. Scott’s command five months earlier. Once again, as Maj. Woodward related, Mrs. Stewart survived:

…I can see her now, squatted in the saw-palmetto, among a few dwarf cabbage trees, surrounded by a group of Indian women. There I saw Brown kill an Indian, and I got my rifle-stock shot oft’ just back of the lock. Old Jack Carter came up with my horse shortly after we cut oft’ the woman from the warriors. I got his musket and used it until the fight ended. You saw her (Mrs. Stuart) when she reached the camp, and recollect her appearance better than I can describe it. [VI]

The pursuit and killing of McQueen’s warriors continued for two hours after McIntosh overwhelmed his lines. At least 37 of the Red Stick warriors were killed, although others may have fallen and been lost in the swamps and scrub. Six men and 98 women and children were taken prisoner.

The battle began west of the Econfina River and stretched east for three miles.

McIntosh also reported the capture of “about 700 head of cattle and a number of horses with a good many hogs and some corn.”

The losses among the U.S. Creeks were 3 killed and 5 wounded. None of the Tennesseans were hurt. The dramatic difference in the casualty figures shows that it turned into a slaughter as McIntosh and his men pursued McQueen’s outnumbered warriors.

The army halted at the Econfina for a second night on April 12, 1818, so the soldiers could round up livestock and collect other material dropped or left behind by the fleeing Red Sticks.

The battlefield is on both sides of the Econfina River about four miles south of today’s U.S. 19/U.S. 27. Part of the scene is on private land and part is within the Natural Well Branch Tract managed by the Suwannee River Water Management District. The general area where the battle took place can be visited, but please keep the following in mind:

  • If you visit, do so when conditions are DRY! The dirt roads leading into the Natural Well Branch Tract can turn into quagmires or mud and water when the weather is rainy.
  • The access roads were in extremely bad condition during our recent visit due to logging operations adjacent to the Water Management District lands.
  • Use insect repellent! Mosquitoes and other insects swarm in the swampy areas along the Econfina River at certain times of the year.
  • The exact site of the battlefield is not known but please remember that metal detecting or the removal of artifacts from Water management District lands is prohibited by law!

This map will help you reach the general area of the battle from downtown Perry, Florida. The directions below it will help as well.

To reach the general area of the Battle of the Econfina, travel north from Perry on U.S. 19/U.S. 27 for 12.5 miles and turn left at Tower Road. After just 2/10th’s of a mile, turn left onto Meatball Express Road (note: it is not labeled on the map above). Follow Meatball Express Road for 2 miles and you will enter the Natural Wells Tract. Continue straight ahead for another 1.5 miles and you will come to a crossroads. Turn left and the Econfina River will be just 260 feet ahead. There is a boat landing area on the right before the bridge that is a good place to stop and see this beautiful black water river.

This series will continue tomorrow with the remarkable story of Elizabeth Stewart Dill, the woman rescued 200 years ago today at the Battle of the Econfina.

 

[I] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.

[II] Brig. Gen. William McIntosh to David B. Mitchell, April 13, 1818.

[III] John Banks, introduction to letter of Thomas Woodward, Montgomery Advertiser, 1858.

[IV] Butler to Parker, May 3, 1818.

[V] Thomas Woodward to John Banks, June 16, 1858.

[VI] Ibid.

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