William McIntosh (1775-1825)

Like so many others who made great contributions to Oklahoma history, Creek Chief William McIntosh left a legacy shrouded in controversy and passionate opinions. Born of a talented Scots father and a mother from the respected Creek Wind Clan, McIntosh, like other mixed blood leaders of southeastern tribes, moved with confidence and competence in American, British, and Indian culture alike. But not with all Creeks.


The Upper and Lower Creeks’ opposition over nearly everything—European and American cultural influence, Christianity, agrarian practices, U.S.-British conflicts—coupled with McIntosh’s leadership of the Lower Creeks, marked him for controversy. Upper Creek “Red Stick” leaders like Mun-ah-we, also of Scots-Creek descent, detested him.


Following the War of 1812 and Creek Wars came the Seminole Wars, a series of fights between the United States and the Florida-based tribe recently formed from renegade Creeks. A pot pourri of Natives from other tribes and runaway black slaves formed the Seminoles. McIntosh and other Creeks again shouldered arms alongside the Americans.


He took part in the controversial attack on Fort Gadsden, a redoubt in southern Alabama the British had turned over to slaves. After the latter ambushed an American patrol, Gen. Andrew Jackson led McIntosh and 1,000 other white and Indian soldiers against the fort.


The climactic sequence featured a cannon duel between American artillerymen and gunners in the fort. On their ninth round, the white Americans sent a “hot shot”—a cannonball broiled to a red-hot glow—into the fort’s magazine, triggering a gigantic explosion heard over 100 miles away that instantly wiped out most of the fort’s 320 inhabitants.


Lonesome Visionary


McIntosh early demonstrated commercial ingenuity by not only operating a successful ferry on the Chattahoochee River, but improving a road leading to it from Talladega, Alabama. He also established himself as a successful planter and owned African American slaves, as did many other Creek leaders.


Watching as American pressure against his tribesmen grew overwhelming, McIntosh called the Indian Springs conference in Georgia to treat with American officials about purchasing Creek land in the southeast, in return for the tribe moving west to Indian Territory. McIntosh concluded a successful agreement that paid the Creeks hundreds of thousands of dollars.


Early on the morning he intended to depart for the West, however, Muh-na-we and other Creeks surrounded his home as he and his family slept. It might be said that a measure of McIntosh’s stature was the fact it took not only Muh-na-we, who had long opposed him, but between 120 and 150 other Creeks to ambush him at his own home in the dark, kill him, burn down his house, and steal his livestock and produce.


The U.S. government summoned Creek tribal leaders—including Muh-na-we—to Washington, voided the Indian Springs treaty, then proceeded to craft another one, similar to the first. It also compelled the Creeks to leave. The Lower Creeks did, but most of the Upper Creeks still refused. The mistreatment of the latter escalated—including murder—until they, too, finally left on their own pitiable Trail of Tears. Among those who perished en route was a bitter, brokenhearted Muh-na-we. The morning he left his homeland forever he mourned, “Last evening I saw the sun set for the last time and its light shine on the treetops and the land and the water, that I am never to look upon again."


William McIntosh’s leadership, vision, and dramatic death immortalized him in Creek lore, to some as a Judas, to others as a martyr for his people. None could question his personal courage. He never saw what would become the Oklahoma country, but his legacy among those who did endures to this day. That included sons Chilly and Daniel (OKLAHOMANS 1, Chapter 6), who carved out their own revered places in Creek and Oklahoma history.


McIntosh left a stirring written testament illumining his actions. As with the Cherokees later martyred by their own tribesmen for selling tribal land, these words evinced his concern for the welfare of his people even above that of his own life:


“The white man is growing. He wants our lands; he will buy them now. By and by he will take them and the little band of our people, poor and despised, will be left to wander without homes and be beaten like dogs. We will go to a new home and learn like the white man, to till the earth, grow cattle and depend on these for food and life. This knowledge makes the white man like the leaves; the want of it makes the red man few and weak. Let us learn to make books as the white man does and we shall grow again and become a new nation.”

 

This knowledge makes the white man like the leaves; the want of it makes the red man few and weak. Let us learn to make books as the white man does and we shall grow again and become a new nation.

—William McIntosh

 

The above article is a bonus to the fascinating historical content found within our book

Oklahomans Vol 2 :

Ancient-Statehood

which can be purchased HERE.


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