Execution of Prisoners of War

Historic marker “Six Indians Hanged” in Phenix City, Alabama.

The hanging of six Yuchi and Muscogee (Creek) Indians at what is now Phenix City ended one of the most tragic episodes in Alabama history. The mass execution took place on November 25, 1836:

…They met their fate with might be termed true Indian philosophy, having sung several songs, and given a well known “whoop” before taking the fearful leap. We have been told by those who witnessed the scene, that it was one of an affecting character, and well calculated to draw forth the sympathies of the white man in behalf of these deluded and unhappy people. [1]

The “deluded and unhappy people” mentioned in the Columbus Enquirer report were the Creek Indians. Infuriated by the actions of white speculators who were committing frauds and land thefts in the Creek Nation and facing imminent removal to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, several hundred warriors went to war against the United States in the spring of 1836. The resulting Creek War was the last major stand of the Muscogee or Creek people east of the Mississippi.

Rachael Conrad of TwoEgg.TV reads an interpretive panel near the “Six Indians Hanged” marker in Phenix City, Alabama.

Warriors led by James McHenry (Jim Henry), Neamathla, Sam Brown and others struck against targets west and south of Columbus, Georgia. The best known attack was against the Chattahoochee River community of Roanoke in Stewart County, Georgia. The village was burned after warriors overran militia soldiers left to stand guard when the families were withdrawn to nearby Lumpkin. Warriors also struck a mail stage on the road between Columbus and Tuskegee as well as settlers living Native American lands.

McHenry (or Henry), Brown and other accused chiefs and warriors were captured in the months that followed:

The notorious JIM HENRY, who was foremost in deeds of darkness and bloodshed, with sundry of his associates were confined in the jail of Russell county. Judge Shortridge presiding, bills of indictment were found against them by the Grand Jury. Jim Henry, thro’ his counsel, Messrs. Underwood and Harris, succeeded in changing the venue of his case to this county. He is charged with negro stealing, the punishment, upon conviction is death. Sam Brown was charged with the same offense. The jury found him guilty, but a motion in arrest of judgement having been made by his counsel, Messrs. Goldthwaite and Robertson, his Honor reserved the question as being novel and difficult, for the decision of the Supreme Court. Chilancha alias John for the murder of Fannin, was found guilty; as also was Tuscooner Fixico, and four others for the murder of Green, the stage driver. Messrs. Harwell and Hilliard appeared for the prisoners. – The prosecution on the part of the state was conducted by G.D. Shortridge, Esq. The 25th of November, is the day set apart for the execution of the last six above mentioned. [2]

The marker stands along the Riverwalk in Phenix City, Alabama.

“Negro stealing,” the crime of which James McHenry (Jim Henry) and Sam Brown were accused, was a capital offense in 1836. It was equal to murder in the eyes of the law. The two leaders did not really “steal” anyone, but instead gave captured slaves their freedom. For this, they faced trial.

The six Native Americans convicted of murder were hanged as scheduled on November 25, 1836. A crowd gathered to watch the hanging, which took place directly across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus. A new community called Girard then stood there, its first lots having been sold that same year. It replaced the earlier and much wilder frontier settlement of Sodom:

Six Creek Indians were hung in Gerard, Alabama, on Friday last, convicted at the last term of Russell Superior Court, for murder, &c. The Indian who killed young Fannin some months ago, and a Chief, were included in the number. The Chief declared that the others were innocent, but that he was guilty of the charges preferred against him; he however acted in accordance with instructions give him by Neah-E-marthla [i.e. Neamathla or Eneah Emathla] and Neah-Micco, who it will be recollected have been permitted to go unpunished, and are now safely, and quietly reposing in the forests of Arkansas. [3]

The marker overlooks the Chattahoochee River which, until 1836, marked the border between Georgia and the Creek Nation.

The hanging was not a “lynching,” but a legal execution – at least in the eyes of the state laws of Alabama and Georgia. Whether it was legal under U.S. law is another matter. A state of war existed when the attacks took place and U.S. troops were sent to fight in the region. The chief and warriors executed at what became Phenix City were prisoners of war who had surrendered to the protection of the U.S. Army.

Some realization of the situation was shown in the later trial of James McHenry (Jim Henry). He was acquitted by a Montgomery jury of “negro stealing” and sent west to what is now Oklahoma where he rejoined his people. He later became a Methodist minister there.

The memory of the 1836 execution is preserved today by a historical marker and stop on the Creek Heritage Trail. They are located on the Riverwalk at Phenix City, just off the parking lot behind the Russell County Courthouse and near the Dillingham Street Bridge. In addition to the marker about the hanging, there are interpretive panels that tell more about the Creek towns of the vicinity and the Trail of Tears. The site overlooks the restored falls of the Chattahoochee River and is next to the Phenix City Amphitheater. For directions, please see the map at the bottom of this page.

This quick video will give you a better view of the site. Just click play to watch for free:

[1] Columbus Enquirer, republished in the Macon Weekly Telegraph, December 8, 1836, page 2.

[2] Montgomery Advertiser, republished in the Macon Weekly Telegraph, November 3, 1836, page 3.

[3] Columbus Enquirer, republished in the Macon Weekly Telegraph, December 8, 1836, page 2.