A Fight on the Trail of Tears
The Battle of Hobdy’s Bridge was a significant encounter of the Creek War of 1836-1837. Fought in March 1837 on the Pea River in Alabama, it took place long after the United States believed that the war had ended.
Hobdy’s Bridge, named for an early settler, spanned the Pea River between Pike and Barbour Counties about seven miles west of the town of Louisville, Alabama. Alabama Highway 130 crosses the river near the site today. Then as now, the bridge site was surrounded by vast floodplain swamps.
A large party of Muscogee (Creek) Indians – men, w, men and children – fled into these swamps early in 1837 and pitched camp near the forks of the Pea River. An estimated 13,526 Creeks were already on the Trail of Tears to what is now Oklahoma, even though most of them had sided with the United States in the Creek War of 1836. The group in the swamp, however, fled the concentration camp where they had been gathered after they were attacked by a party of white outlaws.
The emigrating agent in charge of their removal to the West said that the attack was brutal and sudden. He heard shots from the direction of the 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 this treatment and needing supplies to feed their families, the warriors of the group struck at isolated homes and farms on the fringes of the Pea River swamp. White settlers fled to safety and called for a military force to protect their lives and farms. It appeared that a new war might erupt.
Brig. Gen. William Wellborn (also spelled Welborne and Wellborne) organized a large force of volunteers and militia at present-day Eufaula and marched west in search of the Native Americans. The community – then called Irwinton – had been founded by white settlers on lands still claimed by the Creeks.
Wellborn reached Hobdy’s Bridge, roughly halfway between Eufaula and Troy, where he learned that the main party of Creeks was camped in the swamps about one mile north. The bridge was then a long wooden span and causeway and the general used it to position his force for the attack. One column was sent up the east or Barbour County side of the Pea River under Captain Harrell. Wellborn led the other column in person, crossing the bridge and pushing up the west or Pike County side of the river. As he neared the reported site of the camp, the sounds of gunfire erupted in the swamp.
The general realized that Harrell’s column had encountered resistance and ordered his own men forward through mud and water at a full run. Creek warriors waged a fierce battle to hold off the whites and protect their families. Some of Wellborn’s soldiers later reported that some of the Creek women and children also took up arms to fight, helping the warriors pour showers of rifle balls and arrows into their columns. In one case, two of the Native American 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 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 in the action. Creek losses are unknown but Wellborn’s men reported finding the bodies of 23 warriors on the battlefield.
The frontier general won the Battle of Hobdy’s Bridge but failed to surround and capture the refugee Creeks as he had planned. They fled south down the Pea River to its confluence with the Choctawhatchee, attacking several families in Alabama before crossing into Florida. Furious over the treatment they had received at the hands of the whites, they continued to fight for years to come.
Hobdy’s Bridge is on Alabama State Highway 130, 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 its western or Pike County side. The map at the bottom of this page will help you find it. The actual battlefield is in the swamps about one mile north of today’s bridge.
Please note that the 1836 date on the marker is incorrect. The battle took place on March 24, 1837.