- Red Eagle’s Children: Weatherford vs. Weatherford et al. edited by J. Anthony Paredes and Judith Knight
In 1851 the Alabama Supreme Court heard an interesting case, Weatherford vs. Weatherford et al. This case involved a property dispute between the children of the legendary William “Red Eagle” Weatherford of First Creek War fame. He died in 1824, eleven years after he supposedly engineered the horrific Fort Mims Massacre, and he left behind a considerable estate in Monroe County, Alabama. His widow, Mary Stiggins Weatherford, lived on this estate until her death in 1833, and Red Eagle’s oldest son by an earlier marriage, Charles Weatherford, along with Mary’s brother, George Stiggins, then managed the estate until Mary’s children, Alexander and Levita Weatherford, came of age in 1842. [End Page 192]
At that time, the estate managers and attorneys divided the property, consisting of land, slaves, animals, farm implements, crops and a cotton gin, equally between Alexander and Levita. But this division created a problem because Mary had raised another child in her household, and Alexander and Levita had called him brother. His name was William Weatherford, Jr. yet he received no share of his father’s estate because his half-siblings and apparently the community at large considered him to be Weatherford Sr.’s illegitimate son by a Red Stick woman with whom Weath-erford lived during the Creek War and for a couple of years thereafter. However, the defendants contended that their father had never married the woman under Creek or Alabama law and had sent her back to her people in the Creek Nation before he married their mother, Mary Stiggins, in 1816. Furthermore, they declared, William Jr. was born after their father broke with the woman, thus they did not know for sure if he really was their brother, even though their mother had taken in little William to raise after both Red Eagle and the boy’s mother, Supalamy Moniac, died.
William Jr., however, had another story to tell when he stepped forward in 1846 to file an Alabama chancery court claim against Charles, Alexander and Levita as well as Levita’s husband, Dr. William F. Howell. He contended that they had “conspired to deny him a fair portion of his father’s estate (56),” and not only that, he declared that he was Red Eagle’s only legitimate heir and should therefore receive the entire estate. He believed that Weatherford Sr. had married his mother under Creek law, and had not yet divorced her under that law when he married Mary Stiggins. Consequently, the state of Alabama should not consider the Stiggins marriage legal or her offspring by those union legitimate heirs of the estate. However, the state supreme court decided in favor of the defendants largely because William Jr. could not prove the marriage of his parents. Remarkably, though, the case records seem to show that the court was willing to accept a pre-state-hood Creek marriage as legal in Alabama law if it could be proved. The case is important in that it reveals how a southern court attempted to reconcile the legalities of two different cultural systems.
The editors of Red Eagle’s Children also see this case as significant in other ways. Consequently, they present the “edited and annotated transcript of the case as a cultural artifact” for the use of historians, anthropologist and other interested researchers (1). Indeed, the actual case testimony makes up a substantial body of the book’s text, though the editors do include an introduction, three short chapters by noted scholars to set the historical stage and legal context for the case, and a final summation chapter by a member of the modern-day Poarch Band of Creek Indians. And while the editors do not offer scholarly analysis of the case themselves, they do point to areas of research where the case records are useful. In particular, [End Page 193] the records provide...