The Secret History of Northeast Alabama
While preparing for the upcoming feature article in the People of One Fire on the Mandan People, I thoroughly reviewed the historical archives and archaeological reports associated with Cherokee County, AL and surrounding counties. It is located on the Coosa River immediately west of Rome, GA and contains most of Weiss Lake. The county seat, Centre, is bounded on two sides by Weiss Lake.
What I found is that during the last few decades of 20th century, many academicians, plus a legion of anonymous people associated with tourism promotion and “Cherokee” history, completely ignored the readily available resources of historic maps and contemporary eyewitness accounts to create a “public history” of Northeast Alabama, which has little relevance to reality.
The only fully accurate statements below are by an Auburn University professor, when she wrote an article in the Encyclopedia of Alabama on the Cherokees. In particular, both academicians and tourism industry personnel partially or completely erased the existence of the Chickasaws in Alabama . . . even though for many centuries the Chickasaw capital was located in north-central Alabama on the Tennessee River.
Quotes off the internet
“The first settlers of the Huntsville, AL Area were Muscogee-speaking people. The Chickasaw traditionally claim to have settled around 1300 after coming east across the Mississippi.”
Huntsville, Alabama – Wikipedia (Anonymous)
“The area included in today’s Cherokee County for centuries had belonged to the Cherokee Nation of Native Americans. On December 29, 1835, however, Cherokee leaders signed the controversial Treaty of New Echota, agreeing to surrender their lands in return for new lands west of the Mississippi River.”
Cherokee County, Alabama – Wikipedia (Anonymous)
“The Chickasaw Indians traditionally lived in what is now northwestern Alabama, northern Mississippi, and southwestern Tennessee. Their villages were concentrated in the area of present-day Tupelo, Mississippi.”
Encyclopedia of Alabama – Author: Dr. Greg O’Brien, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
“Alabama became part of the Cherokee homeland only in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.”
Encyclopedia of Alabama – Dr. Susan M. Abram, Auburn University
FACT CHECK TIME!
(1) The Chickasaw People speak Chickasaw. The Chickasaw Migration Legend states that they migrated eastward as far as the Savannah River in Georgia then began migrating westward. The archaeological record in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia suggests that the Chickasaw villages there were abandoned around 1200 AD. However, there were always Chickasaws in Georgia until 1814. Most historians don’t seem to know this, but until the late 1700s, most Creek Indians did not speak Muskogee as their first language. The Creek Confederacy was compose of many tribal towns and ethnic groups.
(2) The capital of the Chickasaws in the late 1600s was Chickasaw Old Fields on the Tennessee River near Huntsville! The Chickasaws began moving from northern Alabama to northeastern Mississippi in response to proto-Cherokee slave raids. (See the map on Chickasaw land cessions below. )
(3) The Cherokee Tribe did not exist until 1725. No word similar to Cherokee appears on any map until 1715. The South Carolina “Chilique” or “Chalaque,” mentioned De Soto’s chroniclers, ended up in southwest Georgia. That year, the British labeled well over 16 allied tribes in the Southern Highlands, “Charakey.” Earlier references to the Cherokees in Colonial documents were fraudulently inserted by academicians in the 20th or early 21st centuries.
In 1725, British Colonial officer, Colonel George Chicken organized a meeting of the leaders of all these tribes and pressured them into forming a single tribe and electing a Principal Chief. Several of the tribal towns, who spoke Shawnee or Creek languages, declined to join and moved southward. Chalaka (Shawnee) moved to present day Sylacauga, AL
The Cherokee Nation was created on July 27, 1827 at New Echota, GA by adoption of its constitution. Alternatively, some historians label the election of the Cherokee’s first Principal Chief, Little Turkey, in 1794 as the beginning of the Cherokee Nation. Whatever the case, the term “Cherokee Nation” was not used officially in printed documents until 1827, when the Cherokees began to oppose, legally and journalistically, Georgia’s efforts to evict them.
(4) The northern capital of the Creek Confederacy was located at Etalwa (Hightower ~ present day Centre, AL) until at least 1790 . . . more likely 1794. Centre is the county seat of Cherokee County.
In 1790, the Creek Confederacy declared war on the State of Georgia, when its leaders learned that the Cherokees had been secretly given North-central Georgia, Northwest Georgia and what is now Northeast Alabama in a treaty conference held in Augusta, GA in 1786. President Washington asked Colonel Marinus Willett, a Revolutionary War hero, to personally travel from New York to Georgia to convince the Creeks that a war against Georgia was a war against the United States. The Creeks had proclaimed loyalty to the United States. [Lowenthal, Larry, Marinus Willett, Defender of the Northern Frontier, New York, 2000.]
Willett met with the leadership of the Creek Confederacy at its northern capital, Etalwa (Willett called it Hightower in his memoirs) where Centre, AL now is located. The Creeks were promised a much larger land reserve in what is now Alabama, to replace the territory lost in present day Georgia and Tennessee. They withdrew their official declaration of war, but Upper Creeks allied with the Chickamauga Chickasaws and renegade Cherokees, who were ultimately called Chickamauga Cherokees, continued to attack frontier settlers in Tennessee and Northeast Georgia. These Cherokee renegades were INVITED by the Chickasaws to settle on their land . . . thinking that with greater numbers, frontier militiamen were less likely to attack them.
Chickamauga is the Anglicization of the Chickasaw words that mean, “Place to Look Out.” It was the Chickasaw name for Lookout Mountain, which towered above their village.
Readers will notice in the official government map of Indian land cessions, there were several Creek towns inside the Cherokee Nation’s new lands in Alabama. Over 3,000 Creeks remained in the new Cherokee Nation until 1838. Approximately 800 of them were captured by federal soldiers and shared the fate of the Cherokees. We will talk more about Turkey’s Town or Turkeytown a little later in this article.
(5) The original Creek Confederacy was in the Alabama-Coosa River Basin
In April 2015, I found a box of eyewitness accounts on the Creeks Indians in Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina that had been lost since 1735. Several documents stated that the original “People of One Fire” or Creek Confederacy was composed of the Alibamu, Kaushite, Chickasaw and Apike. Their territory apparently corresponded to what 20th century anthropologists wrongly labeled “the paramount chiefdom of Coosa.” At the time, most of the future members of today’s Creek Confederacy, such as the Coweta Creeks, Tuckabatchee Creeks, Itsate Creeks and Apalache Creeks were enemies of this alliance.
No date was provided for the formation of this alliance, but it apparently was formed in the 1600s. Most likely, its capital of Etalwa was located in present day Rome, GA when Hernando de Soto came through the region in 1540. However, by the time of the American Revolution, the Upper Creek capital had moved to present day Centre, AL.
(6) Beginning with the Middle Woodland Period (c. 200 BC), North-central and Northeast Alabama had different cultural traits than North Georgia, except for the Lookout Mountain area. Between 1954 and 1961, archaeologists examined over a dozen village sites in what was to become the basin of Weiss Lake. The Copena Culture thrived in Alabama, while the Cartersville and Swift Creek Phases were fluorescence in Georgia. From around 1300 AD to 1600 AD, the region around Centre, Alabama (Cherokee County) produced the same styles of pottery as found around Guntersville, Huntsville and Decatur, AL.
These artifacts suggest that North Central and Northeast Alabama were the incubators of what became the Chickasaw People. It was only in the late 1600s and early 1700s did artifacts appear in Northeast Alabama that were similar to those produced in Northwest Georgia. Proto-Creeks maintained a corridor through Northeast Alabama, but there were ethnic Chickasaws to the east and west of this corridor.
(7) The Naposi (Napoochee in Spanish) people of extreme northeastern Alabama, extreme northwestern Georgia and the Chattanooga, TN area appear to have originated in the Napo River Basin of Peru and Ecuador. “ Napusi (pronounced Nä : pö : tshē) means Napo – descendants of” in the Muskogean languages. In this region, archaeologists have found numerous copper pan pipes, village site plans atypical of the Creek’s and Chickasaw’s ancestors and stone veneered mounds.
Archaeologists have linked both the Naposi town sites and the Copena Culture to the Hopewell Culture. It is highly significant that hundreds of earthwork complexes exist in the Napo River Basin, which are virtually identical to the Hopewell Earthworks in Ohio.
(8) The “official history” or Turkey’s Town or Turkey Town just does not “hold water,” when one examines the actual facts of that era. The official story is that a “Beloved Man” and future principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, Little Turkey, led his followers to the extreme southern end of traditional Cherokee territory in either 1786 or 1788 (depends on the author). He was accompanied by the father of John Ross, who was a Scottish Indian trader. That refuge eventually grew to the largest community in the new Cherokee Nation.
Here’s the problem. The territory, secretly given to the Cherokees in the 1786 Treaty of Augusta, only went to the north banks of the Etowah and Coosa Rivers near present day Rome, GA. The land was supposed to be only hunting lands, not a new home for the Cherokees. The northern capital of the Creek Confederacy was 12 miles north of Turkey’s Town in 1786, 1788 or 1790. In 1794, the Cherokee-Creek boundary line was moved farther south and then again twice in the 1820s.
Obviously, when Little Turkey settled Turkey’s Town, he was being given sanctuary like the Chickamauga’s gave sanctuary to what they thought would always be a handful of Cherokee die-hards, who would go home to Tennessee when the war was over.
For the United Stated Bureau of Ethnology to label Turkey’s Town as “Creek” means that over a century ago its ethnologists and historians knew something that was later forgotten in the 20th century. Perhaps Turkey’s Town always had a large Creek population or it was a Creek town before Little Turkey arrived. The question need a great deal more research.
All the Cherokees, Chickasaws and Creeks, who lived through that horrific, blood era are long gone to their eternal award. Perhaps it doesn’t matter. Yet on the other hand, we have found by firsthand experience that when you let folks operating on a political agenda fabricate history, they think that they can get away with worse offenses.
Now you know!
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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