Friday, May 14, 2010

Fort Mims State Historic Site - Tensaw, Alabama

Not far from Mobile and the booming East Shore of Mobile Bay, an often overlooked historic site is actually one of the most important in Alabama.

Fort Mims State Historic Site is a small park preserving the scene of the bloody Fort Mims Massacre of 1813. The event sparked a dramatic confrontation between the United States and portions of the Creek Nation that is remembered today as the Creek War of 1813-1814. The conflict ended with Andrew Jackson's victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend and the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson, a document that opened much of Alabama and Georgia to white settlement.

Located near Boatyard Lake in the community of Tensaw, Fort Mims was a haphazard log stockade thrown up around the home of Samuel Mims in 1813. Violence was then spreading in the Creek Nation as an increasing number of towns and warriors threw their support behind the Creek Prophet Josiah Francis. A follower of the Shawnee Prophet Tenskwatawa (brother of Tecumseh), Francis was the leader of a religious movement among the Creeks that focused on a withdrawal from white society and a return to native ways. He had established his headquarters at Holy Ground, a village overlooking the Alabama River between today's cities of Montgomery and Selma. His followers were called Red Sticks, because they displayed red war clubs in their towns as a sign of war.

An attack by Mississippi Territorial Militia on a Red Stick supply party at Burnt Corn Creek, Alabama, infuriated the families of the slain warriors. As a result, a large force of Red Sticks set out for Fort Mims to seek revenge.

The attack came on August 30, 1813, when William Weatherford and other Creek leaders launched an attack on the poorly designed stockade. The inhabitants of the fort had just sounded the bell for their midday meal when war cries sounded from a nearby ravine. Columns of warriors stormed forward. The commander of the fort, Major Daniel Beasley tried to close the open gates, but sand had drifted against them and he was struck down before he could dig it away.

By the time the battle was over, hundreds of men, women and children were dead, along with an unknown number of Red Stick warriors. News of the attack electrified the frontier, bringing the United States fully into the Creek War. To learn more about this significant historic site in Alabama, please visit

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Waterfalls of Alabama - History and Scenic Views

Waterfalls probably do not usually come to mind when many people think of Alabama, but the state is actually home to a surprisingly large number of beautiful falls and cascades.

Formed where streams and rivers flow over bluffs or steep hillsides as they make their way down through the state and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico, these stunning natural features have long played an important role in the history of Alabama.

Early Native Americans, for example, frequented the waterfalls. At DeSoto Falls near Fort Payne and Mentone, for example, there are even the remains of unusual manmade caves in the walls of the steep bluff surrounding the huge waterfall. It is generally thought that these were carved out by prehistoric Indians, although some believe they were left behind by Prince Madoc, a Welsh explorer who true believers think reached the New World hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus.

As time passed and the American frontier pushed west, early settlers made use of the strong currents of the falls. At Little River Falls, for example, a water-powered mill once stood. Residents used it to both grind grain and saw the old growth trees of the state into lumber for building homes and businesses.

Today, the waterfalls provide enjoyment for visitors from around the world. Some, like Noccalula Falls in Gadsden and Little River Falls near Mentone are easy to reach and offer paved paths and fenced overlooks. Others, like those around Cheaha State Park in the mountains of the Talladega National Forest, require a hike into the forest but are beautifully preserved in their natural state.

To learn more, please visit

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Noccalula Falls - Gadsden, Alabama

One of the most stunning sights in Alabama is formed by the water of Black Creek as it thunders over Noccalula Falls atop Lookout Mountain in Gadsden.

The stunning natural feature takes its name from the Legend of Noccalula, a folk tale about a Cherokee princess who is said to still appear in ghostly form in the mists that rise from the bottom of the falls. As the story goes, Noccalula was the daughter of a powerful Cherokee chief, but had fallen in love with a handsome but poor warrior in her own village. Her father, however, held hopes that his daughter would marry the chief of a rival tribe, thereby assuring the expansion of his own influence and power.

To achieve this goal, he expelled Noccalula's true love from the village and ordered his daughter to marry the rival chieftan. Instead, as the wedding ceremony was about to begin, she leaped from the high bluff at the waterfall, meeting her death on the rocks below. Her grief-stricken father realized his error and decreed that the waterfall would forever bear the name of his daughter. It was said that Native Americans still living in the area when the first settlers arrived told of having seen the ghost of the young princess in the mists of the falls.

There is no way of knowing how true the legend may be, but it is a colorful part of Alabama folklore and history and Noccalula Falls is one of the most beautiful and easy to access large waterfalls in the state.

To learn more, please visit

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Fort Conde - Mobile, Alabama

The early French settlers of Mobile were quick to learn what other early settlers of the Gulf Coast had already discovered, that wooden forts and defenses quickly deteriorated in the humid conditions and heavy rains.

It is a little known fact that the Mobile Bay area of Alabama usually receives more rain each year than famously rainy places such as Seattle, Washington. It is not uncommon for a summer hurricane or tropical storm to bring 8 to 10 inches of rain in a single event, sometimes more. These heavy tropical rains washed away earthworks and rotted the log stockades erected by the French to defend their toehold on Mobile Bay.

As a result, in 1723, the French started construction of a solid masonry fort on Mobile's waterfront. Built of brick on a foundation of stone, the square bastioned fort was the strongest erected on the Gulf Coast to that point. Armed with numerous cannon, the work was named Fort Conde after the Prince of Conde and was surrounded with a dry moat and additional defensive earthworks.

Fort Conde served as the primary protector of French Mobile until the city was surrendered to England in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War. The British took over the fort and renamed it Fort Charlotte. It became an important post during the American Revolution and one of Alabama's two little known Revolutionary War battles took place there on May 10-13, 1780, when Allied forces led by the Spanish General Bernardo de Galvez laid siege to the fort.

Fort Charlotte was surrendered to Galvez's overwhelming force and remained in Spanish hands until it was seized by the United States in 1813. The fort was in bad condition then and was not held for much longer. It was dismantled during the 1820s.

Fort Conde's history, however, was far from over. Now partially reconstructed, it serves as a welcome center that greets visitors to Mobile. To learn more, please visit

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Fort Toulouse - Wetumpka, Alabama

In 1717, a party of French soldiers arrived at the head of the Alabama River near the modern cities of Wetumpka and Montgomery.

Their mission was to establish a permanent presence for the King of France in the deep wilderness of Alabama, then under the control of the Creek Nation. The French had cultivated strong ties with the Alabamas (also spelled Alibamos), who lived around the point where the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers joined to form the Alabama. A branch of the Upper Creeks, but possessing their own languages and customs, the Alabamas were actually a conglomeration of several smaller tribes.

The French needed a presence among them to half English expansion into the Creek country, which was then claimed not only by the Creeks and the French, but by the English and Spanish as well. A log fort called Fort Toulouse, named for the Count de Toulouse who was a son of King Louis XIV, was built on the Coosa River side of the point of land formed by the confluence of the Coosa and the Tallapoosa Rivers.

Despite its remote position deep in the wilderness that then covered virtually all of Alabama, the little settlement at Fort Toulouse survived for more than 45 years. The French built homes, cultivated gardens, intermarried with Indian women and engaged in trading and exploring. Although Fort Toulouse was surrounded by stockade walls and armed with small pieces of cannon, it owed its general survival to the goodwill of the Alabama who remained strongly loyal to the French despite the increasing influence of the English among the Creeks.

Over time, the fort was rebuilt at least once as the Coosa River slowly eroded away the bluff on which it stood. Archaeologists have found the remains of one of the corner bastions (angled projections that extended from the corners of the fort to allow infantry and cannon to sweep the walls in the event of an attack) of the original fort as well as buried traces of the second. Their work at the site has allowed modern interpreters to reconstruct Fort Toulouse so that visitors today can see the important early structure as it originally appeared.

Fort Toulouse was evacuated by the French in 1763 due to the treaty that ended the French and Indian War. Their homes and gardens were reclaimed by the forest and the fort itself soon rotted away. By the end of the century, the only remains still to be seen were a few old cannon abandoned at the site.

To learn more about Fort Toulouse and the other historic features of the site, please visit