Hundreds attend commemorationPublished 9:48pm Thursday, March 27, 2014
Hundreds gathered at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park on Thursday to join in the commemoration of the bicentennial of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
Doyle Sapp, superintendent of the HBNMP, called the crowd to order around 10:30 a.m. under a large white tent placed outside the park’s visitor center.
“200 years ago, a cannonade whose end result would change the world for both sides involved took place behind me,” Sapp said. “The battle remains the single largest loss of Native American lives and resulted in the transferring of 23 million acres of Creek land.”
Sapp thanked everyone in attendance for sharing in the commemoration, and then Rec. David Dunson, manager with Muscogee Nation Senior Services, led the group in prayer and then Native Praise Singers from the Muscogee Nation sang a traditional Muscogee hymn which lasted several minutes, with many of the 120 Muscogee Creeks from Oklahoma joining in.
Sherri Fields, deputy regional director for the National Park Service, southeast region, spoke briefly on the importance of the park service.
“One of the primary responsibilities of national parks is to tell stories,” Fields said. “We like to talk about the power of a place, – the power to move us, inspire us or provoke us.”
Though the battle was devastating for the Creek warriors involved in the battle, Fields said that the battle “did not break the Creek culture.”
“We need to preserve places like this for future generations,” Fields said. “We have a mission of stewardship for places such as Horseshoe Bend, which is a testimony to our goal to tell all of America’s stories, no matter how difficult they may be.”
Edwin Marshall, manager of the Muscogee Office of Public Relations, then took the lectern.
“It is a tradition to begin an occasion such as this with an announcement of the occasion and talk in our language,” Marshall said.
With a red stick in his hands, Marshall spoke the Mvskoke words while walking back and forth in front of the crowd. As his voice increased in intensity, the oration took on a call and response feel, with a Creek some distance away from the tent letting out a long cry. His cry was answered by the crowd, with yelps and cries and shouts from those under the tent.
Thomas Yahola, of the Muscogee National Council, shared a few words with the crowd before turning the microphone over to Principal Chief George Tiger.
“Why are we here?” Yahola asked. “I am here to pay homage to my ancestors. They fought a battle to protect their homeland. Our creator has commanded us to be forgiving, and for that we are a proud people.”
Principal Chief Tiger spoke about the battle and the ensuing relocation of Native Americans to unfamiliar land in the West. He also spoke of hope, however, and of a nation of people who have seen their share of adversity.
“As Muscogee people, we overcame our adversity – we are still here,” Tiger said. “As I flew into the area, I can see why our ancestors fought for these lands, and why the non-Indians fought even harder to keep them.”
Tiger urged those in attendance to not forget what happened at this site, and to remember that the Muscogee people and traditions live on.
“As I stand before you today, the spirits of those who fought so bravely stand beside me as well,” Tiger said. “Pay homage to those who died here, but let us also show people we are still here.”
Tiger then presented Sapp with a blanket designed and made by his people.
“We ask you to display this blanket here to show that the Muscogee Nation is alive and well.”
Dr. Kathryn Braund of Auburn University delivered the keynote address.
Braund spoke of the brave Creek warriors, who didn’t surrender despite being outnumbered and cornered to the point of no escape.
George Mayfield, who served as General Andrew Jackson’s translator, approached a covey of Creek warriors who had been surrounded.
“The warriors ceased firing and Mayfield told them they could not escape,” Braund said.
The warriors were promised to be treated humanely if they gave up peacefully, to which one warrior responded by firing at Jackson, missing the general but striking Mayfield.
“Not a single warrior offered to surrender,” Braund said. “This ground remains as a testament to the resilience of the Creek people.”
Braund said that it was fitting that the formidable barricade erected on the battlefield can no longer be seen.
“Today, as we gather here, let no barrier exist between us. Let no barrier stand between those of different backgrounds and cultures who seek to know and understand the past,” Braund said. “Let no barrier stand between those who look to a future marked by compassion for every person and respect for rights of all.”
The event ended with prayer and the singing of a Muscogee hymn, before the Muscogee Honor Color Guard retired the colors, drawing a close to the morning’s event.