Thursday, July 14, 2016

BUCKET LIST UPDATE No. 287: Read “The Red Eagle” by Alexander Beaufort Meek

One of the most famous figures from early Alabama history is Creek Indian leader William Weatherford, who was also known as “Red Eagle.” Weatherford led the Creeks against Fort Mims and later famously against U.S. forces at the Battle of Holy Ground. He was eventually forced to surrender to General Andrew Jackson, further cementing himself a place in Alabama history.

Years later, in 1855, more than three decades after Weatherford’s death, Alabama poet Alexander B. Meek wrote a long, book-length narrative poem about the famous Creek warrior called “The Red Eagle: A Poem of the South.” Although this poem’s been around for over 150 years, I first heard about it just a few years ago. Being interested in Alabama history, I put the poem on my “bucket list” and made plans to read it if I ever came across it.

Fast forward to about a month ago to when I ran across and old, hardbound edition of the poem that was published in 1914 by the Paragon Press in Montgomery. I bought it for just $1 from a used book outlet, carried it home and put it on the shelf with all my other “local history” books. I pulled it down and started reading it Monday of last week and finished it a few days later on Thurs., July 7.

The 114-page edition published by Paragon in 1914 is a neat little book. Not only does it include the full text of the poem, but it also includes an introduction (dated Dec. 1, 1914) by editors Will T. Sheehan and Geo. N. Bayzer. The book also contains a number of remarkable illustrations, including a profile likeness of William Weatherford, a painting of the Massacre at Fort Mims and a painting of Weatherford’s surrender to Andrew Jackson.

The best description of the poem itself is the one offered by the good folks at the Encyclopedia of Alabama. Here’s what they have to say about “The Red Eagle” – “The poem centers on the events of the Creek War, beginning with the battle and massacre at Fort Mims on August 30, 1813, and ending with Weatherford's surrender to General Andrew Jackson. It was one of the first American works to include a Native American protagonist.”

I enjoyed reading this long poem because it felt like I was reading a rare piece of Alabama history. Not only is the poem not widely known, but it’s also hard to find a bound copy of it nowadays. It can be found online, and if you’re interested in reading it, I suggest you Google it.

If you’ve never read it, be forewarned. Most readers today may find the poetry somewhat clunky and outdated. That’s not to say it’s not worth reading, it just doesn’t read like most poems that people have probably read.

In the end, how many of you have read “The Red Eagle” by A.B. Meek? What did you think about it? What other works about William Weatherford would you recommend? Let us know in the comments section below.

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