Thursday, August 20, 2015

Exact date of 1788 'Murder Creek Incident' remains elusive to historians

Alexander McGillivray
Many of you reading this column have probably traveled over Evergreen’s Murder Creek Bridge on U.S. Highway 31 many times, and I’d venture to say that probably hundreds of vehicles pass over Murder Creek every day.

One day last week, someone asked me about how Murder Creek got its name, and, while I’d heard the story before, I had to look up the details to refresh my memory. The story begins in 1788, about five years after the end of the American Revolutionary War, when Col. Joseph Kirkland of South Carolina, a royalist who remained loyal to the King of England, decided to leave South Carolina and move to the Louisiana territory, which was then under the power of Spain.

Kirkland and a group of followers left South Carolina and knew that they would have to pass through Indian Territory in order to get to Pensacola, where they planned to get passports. (Some sources say that Kirkland’s group included his son, a nephew and several friends.) On their way south, Kirkland stopped to see an old friend, fellow royalist Alexander McGillivray, who is best remembered for begin the Upper Creek Indian chief who formed an alliance between the Creeks and the British during the American Revolution.

As the story goes, McGillivray lived in a home on the Coosa River, and when Kirkland told him where he and his group were headed, McGillivray sent a slave to guide them to Pensacola. This guide would not only be able to show other Indians that Kirkland’s group was on friendly terms with the Creeks, but would also allow them to travel under the chief’s official stamp of protection.

It’s said that Kirkland and his group carried saddlebags loaded  with silver, which they planned to use to establish new homes in Spanish Louisiana. They eventually left McGillivray’s home and as they traveled south, they encountered a group of traders with packhorses around sunset who were returning from a trading expedition on the coast.

According to Pickett’s “History of Alabama,” the party of traders “consisted of a Hillabee Indian, who had murdered so many men, that he was called Istillicha, the Man-slayer - a desperate white man, who had fled from the States for the crime of murder, and whom, on account of his activity and ferocity, the Indians called the Cat - and a blood-thirsty negro, named Bob, the property of Sullivan, a Creek trader of the Hillabees.”

The group of traders and Kirkland’s group parted ways late in the day and established their camps a short distance apart from one another. Kirkland’s camp was on the banks of a creek near the trading path, and it’s said that they used their silver-filled saddlebags for pillows and propped their guns against nearby trees when they went to sleep that night.

The outlaws in the trading party, seeing an opportunity to get rich, decided to take the silver and other valuables from Kirkland’s group, so sometime after midnight, the outlaws sneaked across the creek and killed all of Kirkland’s group except for three blacks, including the group’s guide. In addition to the silver, the outlaws stole the group’s guns and everything else of value. They burned everything else.

Word of the brutal attack eventually made its way back to McGillivray, who dispatched men, including a Frenchman named Milfort, to catch the outlaws. They eventually captured Cat, who led McGillivray’s men back to the site of the murders. Cat is said to have begged for mercy, but McGillivray’s men hung him there where the original murders occurred.

“Cat was suspended to the limb of a tree, the roots of which were still stained with the blood of the unfortunate colonel and his companions,” Pickett wrote. “While he was dangling in the air, and kicking in the last agonies, the Frenchman stopped his motions with a pistol ball.”

Prior to these incidents, the creek was known as Aloochahatch (Luko Hatchee), but people began calling it Murder Creek because of the murders that occurred along its banks near the present site of Brewton in 1788.

I’ve always had a number of questions about the story above. For starters, I’ve tried for years to track down the exact date that the murder occurred, but have had no luck. Also, I’ve had little luck trying to find out much more about Kirkland. Also, who was Milfort? What was his full name and what happened to him?

In the end, if anyone out there knows more details about the incident described above, please let me know. You can write me at The Courant at P.O. Box 440, Evergreen, AL 36401 or e-mail me at


  1. I read online about a Frenchman named Le Clerc Milfort that in 1755 came to Alabama and lived with the creek Indians for 20 years marrying one of their women, I believe it was from the book "Red Eagle", not real sure

  2. I read online about a Frenchman named Le Clerc Milfort that in 1755 came to Alabama and lived with the creek Indians for 20 years marrying one of their women, I believe it was from the book "Red Eagle", not real sure

  3. Col Joseph Kirkland was not a Loyalist. In 1778 he led a company in the first military campaign of the South Carolina Militia in an effort to chase the British and their Loyalists out of St. Augustine, British East Florida. The four-month campaign ended with British Regulars repelling the SC Militia. Many of Col. Kirkland's soldiers survived to file Rev War pension applications in 19th century. Their pension stories fill in the details on the many different campaigns in which Kirkland participated. Both Joseph Kirkland and William Kirkland were born to Richard Snowden Kirkland (the younger) in Prince William County, Virginia. They all migrated from VA to Granville County, NC, then south to the mouth of Little Wateree Creek, SC (1752), then finally to Cedar Creek, Craven District, SC (1755). Joseph Kirkland married Lamender McKinnie, and his brother William married her sister Elizabeth McKinnie. Both of the them served with distinction, early in the war, and again after Cornwallis invaded. Not all Kirklands were American patriots (e.g. their uncle Moses), but these two brothers stayed true to the cause. One mystery remains. Where was Col Joseph Kirkland buried? Many years after he died, a memorial was raised for him in Barnwell County, South Carolina. His true grave remains a mystery to this researcher. Thank you for the article on the Murder Creek incident. The new details are fascinating.