Preserved with help from Alabama Power, Horseshoe Bend commemorates bicentennial of famous battle

On Aug. 11, 1959, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed a proclamation establishing Horseshoe Bend as Alabama’s first and only national military park.

“The military park would never have been approved by Congress if Tom Martin, of Alabama Power, had not been a student of Alabama history,” said Leah Atkins, noted historian and author of “Developed for the Service of Alabama,” the corporate history of Alabama Power. “He was determined to get congressional approval for the military park.”

Horseshoe Dedication
Photo credit: National Park Service

Martin, chairman of the Alabama Power board of directors and the Horseshoe Bend Association, led the effort to make Horseshoe Bend a national military park, which Congress approved in 1956. Working with Martin were Tallapoosa County friends C.J. “Jack” Coley and Thomas Russell, Alabama’s U.S. Sens. Lister Hill and John Sparkman, and U.S. Rep. Albert Rains.

March 27, 2014 marks the 200th anniversary of the famous Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The park is commemorating the bicentennial with a series of events, including a formal ceremony that day to remember the bloody battle.

The 2,040-acre site of Horseshoe Bend National Military Park is in the northeastern corner of Tallapoosa County. Wrapped by a bend in the Tallapoosa River, the area was originally called Cholocco Litabixbee (translated, “Horse’s Flat Foot”) by the Creek Indians.

Leading up to the Battle at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814, there were a number of bloody skirmishes between Native American tribes and the influx of new, American settlers. A band of Upper Creek Indians, known as the Red Sticks, sought to make a stand at Cholocco Litabixbee. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s force took the stronghold within a day, capturing about 350 Upper Creek women and children and killing more than 700 warriors.

In August 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson officially ended the Creek War of 1813-1814, forcing the Creek Indians to cede nearly 23 million acres of land to the United States. That opened the area to settlement and just five years later Alabama became a state.

News of Jackson’s victory further affected the United States’ campaign for sovereignty abroad. British forces had been supplying the Creek Indians with weaponry as a tactic for maintaining a hold on the United States, all while diplomats from both countries had been negotiating peace in Ghent, Belgium. With its final strategy exhausted, Great Britain signed the Treaty of Ghent with the United States on Dec. 24, 1814, ending the War of 1812 and defining the United States of America as a sovereign country.

The national significance of the battle was paramount to receiving congressional approval for designation of Horseshoe Bend as a national military park.

“Martin hired European researchers to comb the archives for primary sources and gathered all the historical information he could on the battle at the bend,” Atkins said.

During the early 20th century, the newly formed Alabama Power Company was considering two locations for dams on the Tallapoosa River. One of the proposed locations, on the Upper Tallapoosa, would have flooded the Horseshoe Bend battle site. Martin recognized the significance of the site as the location of the final battle of the Creek Wars, the start of Jackson’s rise to national prominence and a major impetus in the United States asserting its sovereignty with the British, Spanish and Native Americans.

At Martin’s urging, a dam site north of Cherokee Bluffs, present-day site of Martin Dam, was chosen. Martin Dam was built to twice the originally planned height to avoid the need for a second dam.

“Internal evidence indicates that Alabama Power took the license on the Upper Tallapoosa site so another company would not license the site and flood Horseshoe Bend,” Atkins said.

In support of the military park, Alabama Power donated almost 561 acres. The park’s official opening and dedication ceremony took place on March 27, 1964, the centennial of the battle. Every March since, the park commemorates the anniversary of the battle.

To learn more about the park, or for more information about the bicentennial activities, visit: http://www.nps.gov/hobe/index.htm

— Erin Harney

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