Which Indian tribes lived in Etowah County?

By Danny 'the Vagabond' CrownoverBy Danny 'the Vagabond' Crownover

For several years, the Vagabond has been asked the question of where the Cherokee and Creek Indian tribes lived in Etowah County. On top of that, it has been wrongly said that the Creek tribe held the area south of Wills and Line creeks. This area would include the area south of Gadsden and Attalla. It is amazing that there has been so much confusion on this issue, even among top historians.

It is time to put this issue to rest once and for all.

The Vagabond recently was questioned as to which Indian tribe had control of the land around Altoona, which is located in the southwest area of Etowah County. The Vagabond will explain.

Prior to his death, historian Jerry Jones had many hours of conversation with The Vagabond on this very subject. A tremendous amount of time and studies were spent and made. It is an area in which historians are so confused, that nearly all come to the wrong conclusion. It’s simply because they have not looked at the overall historical picture. However, The Vagabond is 100 percent positive on his conclusion, and begs one to investigate and find a different conclusion.

Let’s start by looking at the map pictured, which is located online at http://www.tngenweb.org/cessions/ilcmap1.jpg. This map – and several other land session maps – came from the famous ethnologist Charles C. Royce, who along with James Moody, Starr and others were famous for studies of the Cherokees and other tribes in the late 1800’s.

Looking at this map, we find many tribes and the numbers related to them when the Indians gave up the land.

The Choctaws dominated the west side of Alabama (treaties numbers 156, 82, 61 and 46).

The Cherokees ceded 64, 101, 203 and 85.

The Creeks had (please note!) No. 75, which Andrew Jackson took away after the battle of Horseshoe Bend during the Creek War, and No. 172, which the Creeks ceded in 1832 and moved out west.

The Chickasaws seceded numbers 80, 178 and 79, which is the area in question.

For those that wish to know, the wordings of the treaty itself is available online at http://www.tngenweb.org/cessions/18160920.html.

Note that Chief Chinnabee (Chinnubby), the Chickasaw King signed the treaty. He originally was a Natchez Indian from western Mississippi. Chief Chinnabee and his people were nearly decimated by the French and came to what is now Gadsden in 1763 and associated with the Chickasaws. Partly because of Chief Chinnabee, the Chickasaws have claimed No. 79 all the way to the Coosa River.

We know that in 1816 it was not Creeks’ land. Andrew Jackson knew that fact after winning the Creek War, and documentations exists in which he commented on this subject. However, Jackson wanted number 79 for United States territory. The Chickasaws had very good claims to this area, but the Cherokees also had a claim (albeit a weak one) to the land.


Around the1760s, the Cherokees were pushed south onto Chickasaw land by the Shawnees. In 1769, the Chickasaws and Cherokees had a major battle over the land at Chickasaw Old Field near the Tennessee River. The Chickasaws won the battle. Up to 1816, the Cherokees claimed it was their land as well. Their land claim started as far south as the Ten Islands and west of the Coosa River.

Because there were some doubts as to the claim to the land, Jackson also had a treaty with the Cherokees to fully obtain the land. For more information, visit http://www.tngenweb.org/cessions/18160322a.html.

Before the Cherokee removal, General Coffee interviewed residents of the areas and had legal signed affidavits from those persons. His findings stated that the Cherokees boundary was accepted as being along Wills and Line Creek and northwestward. With few exceptions, there were never Cherokees south of that line, at any point of time.

There were some Creek settlements (Little Futchie, for example) in No. 79 Chickasaw land, but none ever known in recorded history that the Cherokees had a settlement. Chickasaws (half-breeds and breed camps) did establish settlements on the Creeks side, and there were Creeks who settled in Cherokee land right before their removal in 1836.

The No. 79 area was so mixed up that it would drive one crazy. The Cherokees officially entered Alabama in 1789, which was when Chief Old Tassell was murdered under truce (It was a similar situation to when the Japanese surprised Pearl Harbor). It was such a tragedy that the Cherokees abandoned their “capital city” of Chota (Tenn.) and fled southward into Georgia and into Alabama in Creek’s land (with the Creeks’ permission. The new chief was Little Turkey, who fled as far south as the Creeks would permit (he ended up in Turkey’s Town). All information about getting the Creek’s permission is recorded in the Cherokees’ affidavits to General Coffee before the removal.

Going back prior to 1760s (perhaps the 1700s), we might reasonably say that the Creeks dominated the land, but there’s no hardcore evidence for that conclusion. However, it was definitely Chickasaw land after the 1760’s.

Because of the mountains and hills in the region, the Indian population was generally few. It was almost a “no-man-land” in a way, but upon Chickasaw Chief Chinnabee’s arrival in what is now the Gadsden area, No. 79 was always associated with the Chickasaws. Most important, Chief Chinnabee was officially titled King of the Chickasaws and presided over the entire nation, which included the northern Mississippi area. We know this for a fact.

Even today, the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma recognizes No. 79 as part of its former land. Chief Chinnabee died three years after the treaty in 1819 and is buried on a hill west of where Whorton’s Bend Road begins across from the Kangaroo gas station at Rainbow Drive.

Because of the No. 79 treaty, there were almost no Indian remaining in the area after 1816, except for intermarriage couples and those who chose to stay as U.S. citizens.

So to answer the question, in historic times the Chicksaw tribe dominated the southeastern area of Etowah, the Cherokees the northern half, and the Creeks the southeast area of Etowah County.

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