COVID Field Trip #2: McIntosh Reserve

This time of year in the South, we’re reminded why we live here. Our friends in Chicagoland and parts north tell us of dressing in many layers and braving snow, but this past Sunday we dressed in short sleeves to sit in the sun in Georgia and felt lucky for the sun’s rays behind our closed eyes.

We spent the better part of the day, after a 110-mile drive, in and around a log cabin in the McIntosh reserve in Carroll County near Newnam and Whitesburg, Georgia. A little far from our original mission of taking pictures of courthouses, but still a great trip for taking the dog. One of us had a professional engagement there – at appropriate social distancing. The other got to wander with the dog.

Have you been to Horseshoe Bend? If not, you should go. It’s a haunted place, still reeking with treachery and concomitant massacre these many years later. It’s where, after a long trek from Tennessee, the monstrous Andrew Jackson cornered the last major resistance to his campaign agains Indigenous people in the Southeast. There Jackson’s troops – working with a faction of Creek and other Indigenous forces – cornered the Red Sticks – led by William Weatherford – at the river’s sharp curve.

Weatherford’s people had secured canoes on the other side of the river for their escape. But Jackson’s Native allies went to the other side and unmoored the Red Stick boats, so that when the end came there was only a sad, hopeless end to what had been (for all of its faults) an important mission to preserve self-determination in the face of a relentless empire.

McIntosh was part of the Native factions hoping to find an edge by allying with Jackson and the new nation. He went on to cede, in increments, all of the Creek land remaining in Georgia and millions of acres in Alabama. He made money from this, thought historians disagree about whether the money was the purpose of his actions, or just an ancillary benefit. The Creek National Council does not seem to have quibbled about motives. They condemned everyone who signed the final 1825 treaty to death and sent their “Law Menders” to carry out the sentence. Arriving at McIntosh’s house, they set the place on fire. They dragged him out of the house, stabbed him in the heart, and shot him dozens of times.

His lands later became a preserve of exceptional beauty. McIntosh is buried along a park road with a small marble marker that recognizes his service in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. The DAR placed that stone many years after his death, when he was supposedly thrown naked into this unmarked grave. There’s a fence around it, some fake flowers and a tiny American flag.

As for the 1825 treaty, the Creek Nation got the US government to render it void, acceding instead to an 1826 treaty that gave the Creeks land in Georgia and money. The state of Georgia refused to recognize this agreement and persecuted the Creeks until Removal. Weatherford, by this time, was also dead.

These days the preserve is part of a system of parks operated by Carroll County – the first time we’d ever seen a county with its own park system. Parking for the day is $5, and there are ample hills for walking and horseback riding within. There’s a lovely bend of the Chattahoochee River that crosses the territory, and several campgrounds – including prized spots right up next to the river.

There’s a log cabin across from McIntosh’s grave – not the original house, which was burned, but a replacement of more recent vintage trucked in from Alabama. It’s a two story structure with nice porches on the front and back of the house.

I had more than an hour to explore the place, and walked with the dog down to the river. The mid-winter calm was lovely, with dense trees waving around us and a still-golden carpet of leaves crunching underfoot. The river was clear and cold, and the noise of roving ATVs in the background didn’t do too much to break the spell. I imagined McIntosh, having spent his whole life bridging worlds, landing here. Surely he thought that he was doing the best for his nation. In my experience, people rarely see themselves as agents of pure malevolence. I wonder if McIntosh came down to the river. If he did, did he think of that other river where the hopes for Creek self-determination in the lands that are now Georgia died? Did he climb the nearby hill to sit and think on the matter of these radical compromises, of the weight of his decisions?

I wonder what it was like to sign away the lands where his people had lived long before Europeans even took to the ocean, to make his bed with Jackson.

I do not wonder at how much Weatherford must have despised him.

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