Discover your family's story.
Enter a grandparent's name to get started.
DeSoto found at least three of the four great Indian tribes of Alabama occupying identically the territory held by them nearly three centuries later. Three of these, the Muscogees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, known to writers on the subject of the aboriginal inhabitants of the Americas as Mobilians, are supposed by Col. Pickett to have migrated from northern Mexico when Cortez was assailing the heart of that empire. He bases this opinion upon the traditions of these tribes, but offers nothing in evidence either tangible or authentic. He is very certain that the Alibamos, encountered by the Spaniards on the Yazoo, were the same who were subsequently known, by a similar name in this State, and that they, too, were from the Aztec hive. He doubtless bestowed much more thought upon the subject than any other who has touched the subject. However, the fact that the Indians found in possession of the country by DeSoto used the same names as were found in vogue two or three centuries later, implies that the same people were in possession. Secondly, the desperation with which they defended, and the tenacity with which they clung to, their native land, are facts that do not sustain the assertion that they were nomads. Again, from 1528 to 1531, the date of these supposed migrations, Cabeza de Vaca and his, companions were among the Indians in Texas and New Mexico, and would certainly have noted in their journals a fact so remarkable as the exodus of thousands of people. Even the belief that the Alibamos of the Yazoo were the more modern Alabamas of our State pales in the light of Meek’s opinion that the word Alaba is only the name Hillaba or Hillibee, (doubtless the Ullibahallee of DeSoto), with guttural exclamation ma added. It is more than probable that the Coosas of DeSoto were the nucleus of the Muscogee confederacy, augmented by their policy of absorbing the remnants of tribes they subjugated, or such as fled to them for protection. Of the first of these the Uchees are an illustration; of the second the Natches, Shawnees, Tuskegees, and Tookabachees may be mentioned. The Pafalayas or Choctaws were doubtless so greatly reduced in numbers by their losses at Mauvilla, where it may be inferred from their customs that every warrior who acknowledged the tribal protection fought, that the Muscogees found it an easy exploit to drive them beyond the Tombikbee. The Chickasaws and Cherokees do not appear to have been disturbed in their occupancy of the headwaters of the Tombikbee and Coosa respectively till they were removed to the West. The CHEROKEES, when first known to the whites, looked out from their mountain homes in east Tennessee and northeast Alabama upon the tide-water region of Virginia, and the lowlands of the Carolinas and Kentucky. Gradually they were driven into north Georgia and northeast Alabama. DeSoto encountered them on the upper waters of the Coosa, and feasted with them in their capital, which they called Chiaha. And Chiaha was the name given by the Cherokees to their country to the hour they left it.
DeSoto visited the towns of Talla, Tallasee, Ullibahallee, (Hillabee), and the countries of Pafallaya and Coosa, names employed by the more modern savages of the same region. To read more about DeSoto and this early expedition into Alabama visit The Spanish Inroads.
The Cherokees had no affinity with the neighboring tribes, and spoke a more liquid language than what Gallatin chooses to term “the Muscogee-Chocta.” Though less tractable than the Choctaws, they were more hospitable than the Chickasaws, less turbulent than the Muscogees, and more civilized than either. They had numerous wars with the Carolinians and white settlers of Tennessee, but were usually at peace with other tribes. At the period of their removal to the West, in 1836, they were under the leadership of several chiefs, of whom John Ross, Elias Boudinot, and Major Ridge were the principal. They were assigned lands in the northern and eastern part of Indian Territory. Before their removal to the West they governed themselves by written laws, and now control their domestic polity by the forms and usages of a popular government. The CHICKASAWS dwelt on the head waters of the Tombikbee and Yazoo. Their territory included the greater portion of the Tennessee Valley in this State, and the first tier of our northwestern counties. The excursions of their war parties extended from the Ohio to the bay of Mobile, and anon they took a scalp on the Arkansas. Their courage exceeded that of all the other aborigines. Neighboring tribes found them invincible; they routed the army of Bienville, and slaughtered that of D’Artaguette; while the more numerous Choctaws were fain to implore the whites to succor and protect them from their ravages. The incessant wars in which they engaged depleted their numbers. A half-breed family, name Colbert, obtained an ascendancy among the Chickasaws early in this century, and yet maintain it. George, Levi and James Colbert were brothers, and Levi was the chief of the tribe, at the time of their removal to the West. They were removed in 1834, and now constitute one of the four districts into which the Choctaws are divided. The CHOCTAWS occupied the southwestern and western portion of Alabama, and all of Mississippi south of latitude 33′ 30′. They were the Maubilians with whom DeSoto came in collision on the lower Alabama and the Tuscaloosa, and partly exterminated. They were the friends of the French, and other whites, and were not so aggressive as other savage tribes. They more quickly adopted the industrial habits of the whites, and tilled the soil to a greater extent than any other tribe. They lived apart, having but few villages. Polygamy was rare among them, and their women were chaste. Their country was divided into three districts. At the beginning of the 19th century Homastubbee was medal chief or mingo of the northern district, Puckshenubbee of the western district, and Pushmataha of the south-eastern district. Homastubbee was succeeded by his son Mushulatubbee; Puckshenubbee was succeeded by his nephew, a half-breed, Greenwood Laflore; and Prishmataha’s nephew inherited his authority, but proving too weak for the place, was superseded by Netuckigee. They were the ruling mingos at the time the tribe was removed across the Mississippi. The Choctaws were usually on terms of amity with the surrounding tribes, but have been during history embroiled in a series of wars with the Chickasaws and Muscogees. In 1830 they were removed, though a remnant remained around the graves of their ancestors in the pine barrens of southern Mississippi. A written constitution land forms of a republican government are administered by themselves. They are divided into three districts, and the Chickasaws constitute a fourth.
PUSHSATAHO was born in east Mississippi in 1765, but his dominion embraced our southwestern counties. The name Pushmataha means “He has won all the honors of his race.” Or all the Indians of pure blood who have a place in American history, he blended more admirable traits in his character than any other. He was intelligent, affable, sagacious, brave, eloquent, witty, and comparatively temperate, and, like Logan, he was truly the friend of the white man.’ When told of the massacre at Fort Mimes, he rode to Mobile, in company with Mr. Geo. S. Gaines, and offered his services and those of his tribe to Gen. Flournoy. And when they were accepted, he led a body of his warriors with the expedition of Gen. Claiborne the attack on Econochaca. While on his way to Washington, the last time, he rode through Demopolis, and there asked Col. G. S. Gaines to furnish his nephew with a keg of gunpowder, in the event of his death, so that suitable honors might be paid to his memory as a chief and a warrior. He died in Washington a few weeks later. Gen. Jackson visited him in his illness, and he was buried in the congressional cemetery with military honors. The tablet on his monument bears this inscription : Pushmataha, a Chocta chief, lies here. This monument is erected by his brother chiefs, who were associated with him in a delegation from their nation, in the year 1824, to the general assembly of the United States. He died in Washington, Dec. 24, 1824, of the croup, in the 60th year of his age. Pushmataha was a warrior of great distinction. He was wise in council, eloquent in an extraordinary degree, and, on all occasions, and under all circumstances, the white-man’s friend. Among his last words were this following : ‘When I am gone let the big guns be fired over me.’ He said that his death would be like the falling of a great tree in the forest when the winds were still.
But by far the most formidable of the tribes that occupied Alabama soil were the MUSCOGEES. “Their political importance,”says Bancroft, “made them esteemed as the most “powerful nation north of the Gulf of Mexico.” When first known to the white colonists their domain stretched from the Tombikbee to the Atlantic, but they were gradually driven west of the Ocmulgee and. Flint. Their principal towns were on the Tallapoosa and Chattahoochee. Their war trail extended to Mobile Bay, and the Florida everglades, and they chased the bison in the beautiful valley of the Coosa.
It is the common opinion that the buffalo did not frequent Alabama; but Chinnobee, an aged Hillabee chief, born about 1750, said that when a child be stood on a knoll two miles north of Talladega, and saw the plain later embraced in the plantation of Judge Heflin covered with a browsing herd.
Each town had its micco, or king, which custom arose from the somewhat heterogeneous organization of the nation; composed as it was of various remnants of tribes; but there was usually a civil chief with general authority, such as McGillivray and Big Warrior,} and a war chief, such as Milfort, Weatherford and Opotheleyoholo. The Seminoles were the “wild men “and refugees of the Muscogees, and really a portion of the same tribe. The Hillabees, Autaugas, Cussetas, Cowetas, Eufaulas, Ocfuskees, Uchees, &c., were names which attached to the Muscogees residing in those towns. They differed from the Choctaws in that they congregated themselves in towns, the better, probably, to resist the numerous enemies whom their turbulence provoked. They were frequently at war with the adjacent tribes. In 1813-14 they waged the bloodiest war against the whites anywhere recorded in the annals of the United States. And the combined power of the whites, the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws, assisted by a large portion of their own people, was required to subjugate them; and only then when the superior weapons of modern warfare had almost annihilated the fighting population. They were removed to the Indian Territory in 1837, where they instituted a government republican in form, with written laws.
BIG WARRIOR, a man of much prudence and shrewdness, was a native of Alabama, and a pure-blood Indian. He was peaceably disposed towards the whites, and sided with them in the war of 1813. He died in Washington in 1825, while in attendance there with a delegation of his tribe. LECLERC MILFORT was a Frenchman who lived from 1776 to 1796 among the Muscogees. He married a sister of MeGillivray, and often led the warriors of the nation against the Georgians. Returning to France, he was made a general of brigade by Napoleon, and wrote an account of his sojourn in Ia nation Creek.” OPOTHLEYOHOLO was born in Tookabatchee, and was the son of the halfbreed Alexander Cornells, Weatherford’s brother-in-law, by an Indian woman. A brave man and influential chief, he was always friendly to the whites. He became wealthy, and removed with his people to the West, where he was residing in 1861, when he sided with the North in the war between the States.
The Tensas were a small tribe of Indians who resided on the river of that name. They were thought to be an offshoot of the Natches from the fact that they kept a perpetual and sacred fire. The Choctaws absorbed them.
For further study and reading:
- Native American (Indian) Genealogy