The Story of Milly Francis, the Creek Pocahontas
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Milly Francis, The Creek Pocahontas
by Dale Cox
One of the most remarkable stories in American history revolves around the life of Milly Francis, believed to be the first
woman ever to receive a special medal of honor from the United States Congress. She is remembered today as the
Milly was born in the Creek Nation in Alabama in around 1803. Although her name is sometimes given as "Malee" or
"Princess Malee Francis," it appears likely that her real name was Milly. All other members of her family had been
given Anglicized names and there is no reason to suspect that the case was any different with Milly.
Milly's father, Josiah Francis, was the son of a white silversmith and trader and a Native American woman. A relative
and associate of the noted Creek leader Alexander McGillivray, Josiah Francis became widely known for his role as a
leader of the Red Stick movement among the Creeks. A follower of the Shawnee prophet Tenskwatawa, he became
known as the Creek Prophet and his teachings of a return to traditional ways and Native American unity in the face of
westward expansion by the whites helped spark the Creek civil war that eventually spilled over to the whites and
became known to history as the Creek War of 1813-1814.
Milly was only around 10 years old when this war began. By the time it ended, however, she had seen her entire world
destroyed. When Andrew Jackson defeated the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, on March 27,
1814, the Prophet Francis and his family joined with thousands of his followers in a flight that carried them south from
their traditional homes to the hoped for security of Spanish Florida. By the fall of 1814, they were living as refugees at
camps in isolated areas of Northwest Florida and faced the very real possibility of starvation.
The British, then engaged against the United States in the War of 1812, intervened on their half, providing supplies
and arms to Francis and his followers. He moved his family first to the Apalachicola River and eventually to a secure
location on the Wakulla River near St. Marks, Florida.
When Milly was around 12 years old, her father and brother left Florida with the British and traveled to England to plead
the cause of the refugee Creeks with officials there. She remained behind with her mother and sister, living in the
village on the Wakulla and occasionally visiting the Spanish outpost of San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks).
The prophet returned to his family in 1817 to find his people on the verge of yet another war with the United States.
This conflict, remembered today as the First Seminole War, erupted when U.S. troops attacked the Creek village of
Fowltown in Southwest Georgia. An alliance of Creek and Seminole warriors retaliated by attacking a U.S. supply boat
on the Apalachicola River and a full-scale war was soon underway.
General Andrew Jackson was ordered to the frontier to end the conflict, even if doing so required the invasion of
Spanish territory by an American army. Jackson reached Fort Scott (a few miles southwest of Bainbridge, Georgia) in
March of 1818 and soon crossed the border into Florida with an army of thousands of soldiers and allied Creek
warriors. The latter force, under the famed Creek general William McIntosh, were fighting their own people.
Jackson marched down the Apalachicola River to the site of an abandoned British fort where he built a new outpost
named Fort Gadsden. Among the troops under his command was a private from the Georgia militia named Duncan
McKrimmon (also given as McCrimmon and McRimmon). Member of a family of Scottish emigrants, McKrimmon was
a resident of Milledgeville, Georgia.
At some point in March of 1818, McKrimmon slipped beyond the guard posts of the new fort to go fishing. He became
lost in the dense woods of what is now the Apalachicola National Forest and spent several days roaming around
trying to find his way back to Fort Gadsden. He was discovered instead by several warriors from Prophet Francis'
village on the Wakulla. They were serving as scouts to observe the U.S. Army at Fort Gadsden and took McKrimmon
The unfortunate soldier was carried back to the Wakulla River. As Milly later explained to a U.S. Army officer, she was
playing by the river with her sister when they suddenly heard a war whoop and realized that a commotion was
underway in the village. They ran to see what was happening and discovered that a white man had been taken
prisoner. McKrimmon, she remembered, had been stripped naked and was tied to a post or tree, looking around in
fear as the warriors prepared to execute him.
Moved by the man's plight, Milly went to her father and pleaded with him to intervene. Josiah Francis explained that,
under Creek law, he could not do so. The man's fate was in the hands of the warriors that had captured him. He
suggested that his daughter talk to them.
Milly then went to the two warriors that claimed custody of McKrimmon. One of them, she later remembered, was angry
and embittered at the whites because two of his sisters had been killed during the Creek War. The young girl, then
only 15 years old, reasoned with him and eventually convinced him that killing the white man would not bring his
sisters back. He relented and agreed to spare McKrimmon's life, on the condition that the young man's head be
shaved and he agree to live as a member of the village. Milly, who could speak English fluently, explained this to the
soldier and he readily agreed.
Within days of the incident, scouts reported that Andrew Jackson's army was on the move. McKrimmon was handed
over to the Spanish at San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks) for safe-keeping. He was rescued there by Jackson's
soldiers when the fort was stormed in early April.
At the same time, the Prophet Francis was lured aboud the U.S. schooner Thomas Shields. The commander of the
vessel, Lt. Isaac McKeever, sailed into the port of St. Marks flying a British flag and Francis and a second chief paddled
out to the ship thinking it was a British relief vessel bringing desperately needed supplies. The prophet was taken
prisoner. Milly's older sister tried to paddle a canoe out to the ship the next day, but realized the deception and turned
back for shore. The sailors on board the Shields opened fire on her with both artillery and musketry, but she escaped
Josiah Francis was turned over to Andrew Jackson and was hanged without trial or ceremony by the general's order.
He is believed to be buried somewhere on the grounds of today's San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park.
It is possible that Milly witnessed the hanging of her own father. No one intervened to save his life as she had done for
McKrimmon. She surrendered at St. Marks with her family and was instructed to travel to Fort Gadsden and from there
back to the Creek Nation in Alabama.
Word of her rescue of Duncan McKrimmon spread through the U.S. Army and she received considerable attention
from the U.S. officers and soldiers. One of these, possibly Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle of the 7th Infantry Regiment,
described the incident in a letter to McKrimmon's hometown newspaper and the story of the "New Pocahontas" was
printed in newspapers across the United States throughout the summer and fall of 1818.
Milly and her family traveled across to Fort Gadsden to begin their journey up to the Creek Nation. There she was
presented with money that had been collected in her behalf by the citizens of Milledgeville, Georgia, for which she
expressed gratitude to Col. Arbuckle. The colonel's surviving letters also indicate that Duncan McKrimmon traveled
back to Fort Gadsden during the fall of 1818 and proposed marriage to Milly Francis to express his gratitude for her
role in saving his life.
It is difficult to imagine any set of circumstances that would have led Milly to accept McKrimmon's proposal. Her family
had twice been driven from its home by war, her father had been hanged by American soldiers and the crew of the
Thomas Shields had fired cannon in a deliberate effort to kill her sister. She declined his offer, explaining to Col.
Arbuckle that she had acted from feelings of humanity alone and would have done the same for any other person
facing such a fate. A Florida legend that she married McKrimmon and raised a family on the Suwannee River is just
that, a legend.
In reality, Milly returned to the Creek Nation with her mother and sister. She eventually married a Creek warrior and had
at least three children before war once again disrupted her life. Milly's husband volunteered to fight for the United
States in the Second Seminole War and is believed to have been killed in that conflict. A faction of the Creeks,
meanwhile, rose up against the United States during the spring of 1836. The uprising was crushed by American
troops and the government ordered the wholesale removal of the Creek Nation to lands in what is now Oklahoma.
Milly Francis walked the Trail of Tears as a member of Tuckabatchee Hadjo's party. Several eyewitnesses reported
seeing her as she passed through Little Rock, Arkansas, in November of 1838. She arrived at Fort Gibson in present-
day Oklahoma in January of 1838 and soon settled with her children in a dirt-floored log cabin on or near the site of
what is now Bacone College on the northern edge of the modern city of Muskogee.
She was discovered living there in abject poverty about five years later by Lt. Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock. He had been
sent west to investigate allegations of frauds perpetrated on the Creeks and Seminoles during the removal to the
West. When he reached Fort Gibson, he learned that the famed "Creek Pocahontas" was living nearby. He sought her
out and heard the story of her rescue of McKrimmon from her own lips.
Moved by her selfless act and the dismal conditions under which she and her children were living, he wrote to the
Secretary of War asking that he intervene with the U.S. Congress to secure a pension that would allow her to live in
reasonable comfort. For two years the measure was debated in Congress. The first proposed bill died with the end of
the 1843 session, but a second bill was passed in 1844. It appropriated a pension of $96 per year for the "Milly, a
The act also provided money for the striking of a special medal honoring Milly Francis for her role in saving the life of
Duncan McKrimmon. It is believed that this was the first such medal ever authorized to honor a woman by the U.S.
Congress. Although not a Medal of Honor as we know it today, many people reasonable consider Milly Francis to have
been the first woman ever to receive a Congressional Medal of Honor.
Unfortunately, Milly Francis died of tuberculosis in Oklahoma before ever receiving either her pension or the medal that
was struck in her honor.
She is believed to have been buried near her log cabin home. A monument designating the general area of the grave
was funded by the students of Bacone College during the 1930s and can be seen on the campus today. A second
monument to her memory was placed on the grounds of San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park by the
Daughters of the American Revolution. There is also a marker telling her story at Fort Gadsden Historic Site in the
Apalachicola National Forest.
|Copyright 2009 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.