Desperate Fight on the Pea River
Named for an early settler, Hobdy’s Bridge spanned the river between Pike County and Barbour County about seven miles west of the town of Louisville, Alabama. Then, as now, the bridge was surrounded by vast floodplain swamps.
A large party of Creek Indians – men, women and children – had fled into these swamps after the concentration camps where they were waiting to be sent west on the Trail of Tears were attacked by white militia units. These attacks, several in number, took place in February of 1837. An estimated 14,526 Creeks were already on the long journey to what is now Oklahoma by then, forced from their homes despite the fact that most of them had sided with the United States during
the fighting in 1836.
The attacks were described as particularly brutal. One emigrating agent heard shots from the direction of his camp and rushed to the scene to find that a blind, elderly man had been killed and a young girl shot in the leg by men who tried to assault her:
…The same men had in several instances accomplished their diabolical views upon the frightened women, and in many cases deprived them by force of finger-rings, ear-rings, and blankets. Many of their women and whole families, under a state of alarm, ran to the swamp, where the major part of them are still, and no doubt viewed as hostile. I have used every possible means to draw them out without success….
Outraged by such treatment and needing to feed their families and obtain supplies, the warriors in this group began to strike at isolated homes and farms around the fringes of the Pea River swamp. It did not take long for a military force to pursue them.
Led by Brigadier General William Wellborn (also spelled Welborne and Wellborne), a large force of volunteers and militia left present-day Eufaula (then called Irwinton) to root out the refugees in the swamp.
Reaching Hobdy’s Bridge, then a long wooden span and causeway, Wellborn learned that the main party of Creeks were camped about one mile north of the bridge. Sending part of his force up the east or Barbour County side of the Pea River under Captain Harrell, he moved up the west or Pike County side with his primary command. As he neared the site of the camp, gunfire erupted in the swamp.
Correctly assuming that the party moving up the east bank under had encountered resistance, Wellborn ordered his men forward through the mud and water at a full run.
The Creek warriors fought fiercely to hold off the whites while their families tried to flee the scene. Participants in the fight later reported that some of the Creek women and children also took up arms to fight, raining showers of rifle balls and arrows on them. In one case, two of the Indian women attacked a member of the Franklin Volunteers with knives:
…He used every exertion to disengage himself from them, but they made a furious and deadly assault upon him with their knives, and in self-defence, he drew his Bowie and with two blows killed them both….
Unable to defeat the desperate Creeks with gunfire alone, Wellborn finally ordered a direct charge on their lines. The tactic work and, “the Indians fled to the encampment to carry off their children, and there scattered in every direction, many swimming the river.”
Two whites were killed and seven wounded. Creek losses are unknown, but Wellborn’s men found the bodies of 23 warriors on the battlefield.
In winning the Battle of Hobdy’s Bridge, Wellborn had defeated the refugee Creeks but had failed to surround and capture them as he had hoped. Instead they fled south down the Pea River to its confluence with the Choctawhatchee and continued across the line into Florida. Furious at their treatment, they continued to battle the whites for years to
Hobdy’s Bridge is located on Alabama State Highway 130, about seven miles west of the town of Louisville. A modern concrete bridge crosses the Pea River at the site and a marker commemorating the battle can be seen on the western or Pike County side.
Please note that the 1836 date on the marker is incorrect. The battle was fought on March 24, 1837. Also incorrect is that it was the last Indian battle in Alabama. Later fights took place in today’s Geneva and Dale Counties.
The bridge was also the site of an important skirmish during the Civil War. Research indicates, in fact, that the last Union soldiers wounded in that war may have fallen at Hobdy’s Bridge.