Misery, Suffering & Death on the Muscogee (Creek) Trail of Tears
by Dale Cox
Fort Morgan Historic Site is a heritage destination that draws thousands of visitors each year to Mobile Point near Gulf Shores, Alabama. They come to explore the historic walls and casements of the fort that played a critical role in the Civil War’s Battle of Mobile Bay.
Few visitors know, however, that the fort and the sparkling white sand beaches and dunes that surround it were a place of incredible suffering during the Muscogee (Creek) Trail of Tears. Thousands of Native American men, women, and children were confined here in 1837. Nearly 100 died of exposure, hunger, and disease.
The story of the Mobile Point concentration camp began when companies of white militiamen raided similar camps established at Polecat Springs and Echo Harjo’s home in central Alabama. Thousands of Creek men, women and children had been driven into three camps ahead of their planned “removal” to new homes in what is now Oklahoma.
Angered over a raid by a small party of Creek warriors on a plantation in Barbour County, the militiamen attacked the camp at Polecat Springs, murdering a 90-year-old man, seizing 253 unarmed men as prisoners and shooting a 15-year-old girl after she resisted their attempts to rape her:
…Upon prosecuting my inquiries further, I learned that 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. [I]
Similar attacks took place at the other camps, although the Creeks living in them were noncombatants promised protection by the government after their warriors went to fight alongside U.S. soldiers in the war against the Seminoles in Florida. Authorities ordered them to march for Montgomery, Alabama, where they would be placed aboard steamboats and carried to Mobile Point.
Nearly 2,000 suffering men, women and children boarded the paddlewheel steamers John Nelson and Chippawa at Montgomery on March 20, 1837. The editor of the Montgomery Advertiser saw them before their departure and wrote of their suffering:
The spectacle exhibited by them is truly
The Creeks reached Fort Morgan after a journey down the Alabama River, past Mobile and across Mobile Bay. They came ashore at the wharf to find they would be confined to miserable encampments in and around the masonry fort.
Some of those housed in the casemates of the fort tried to use wooden planks as beds but soldiers confiscated the lumber leaving the suffering to sleep on the cold, damp bricks.
Not enough fresh water was available and the Native Americans were forced to drink stagnant water that infected them with diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. Fever raged through the camps.
The Alabama Emigrating Company was supposed to feed them, but its agents failed to deliver promised fresh beef. Hunger stalked the camps and small parties of warriors slipped away to look for food. Making their way down the long peninsula, they bought liquor and ammunition from oyster fishermen at Bon Secour and rustled cattle from area farms.
Others tried to escape to Florida but their group – consisting of 50 men, women and children – was captured between the Perdido and Escambia Rivers near Pensacola and sent back to Fort Morgan.
The days grew warmer, and the suffering of the Creeks increased in severity. The white sand reflected the sun’s rays and heat added to their misery.
Agents assigned to supervise their “removal” tried to find a new place for them on Dauphin Island across the bay, but it proved no better a location for the camp of more than 2,000 people. Sites on Cat, Ship and Horn Islands off the Mississippi coast were also inspected, but these islands were also unsuitable.
The government agents finally found a place for a new encampment at Pass Christian, Mississippi. Several springs there offered good water and oak trees promised shady and more comfortable encampments.
The move from the miserable concentration camp at Mobile Point began on July 7, 1837. Soldiers ordered the Creeks from their squalid quarters to the wharf where hundreds crammed aboard the steamer John Nelson for the trip through Mississippi Sound to Pass Christian. “Many of them died on the wharf before they could get on board and some died immediately after they embarked,” wrote Lt. John Page, “and we had to bury them, this detained the boats some time.” [III]
The first group reached Pass Christian on July 8, while more than 1,000 others waited at the Fort Morgan wharf. The steamboat started back on the 9th, but was delayed for two days as a massive storm swept in from the Gulf of Mexico. The people trapped on the wharf refused to return to the camps where they had suffered so severely and instead stayed at the wharf where the rain and wind pounded over them.
Ninety-three Muscogee (Creek) men, women, and children died at Mobile Point between March 24 and June 24, 1837. Twenty-five more died within two days of their arrival at Pass Christian, so sick were they from their suffering at the Point. Eighty-four in total died at Pass Christian before the Creeks continued their long journey on the Trail of Tears.
The bones of those left behind rest somewhere beneath the sands that surround Fort Morgan.
Fort Morgan Historic Site is managed by the Alabama Historical Commission. The grounds are open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors 65+ and students 12+, $4 for children 6-12. Kids 5 and under are admitted free with adult supervision.
[I] Journal of Lt. John G. Reynolds, 1837, Princeton University.
[II] Montgomery Advertiser, March 8, 1837.
[III] Lt. John Page to Maj. Gen. T.S. Jesup, July 27, 1837, Adjutant General, Miscellaneous Letters Received, National Archives.