By Danny Crownover
Many folks over the years have asked The Vagabond about what Indian tribes lived in å County.
The most commonly known tribes are the Cherokees and Creeks. Yet few people realize that there was a third tribe, the Chickasaws.
The Cherokee tribe was located in northern Etowah County. The Creeks were located in southern Etowah County, east of the Coosa River.
It is often heard that the Creek tribe held land west of the Coosa River and south of Wills and Line creeks. This would include the area south of Gadsden and Attalla. There has been so much confusion on this issue that top southeastern historians are not sure.
Perhaps The Vagabond can put this matter to rest once and for all.
It 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.
Prior to his death, local historian Jerry Jones had many hours of conversations with The Vagabond on this very subject, and a tremendous amount of time and studies were made. It is an area that historians are so confused that nearly all come to the wrong conclusion. It is simply because they have not looked at the entire historical picture. However, The Vagabond is 100 percent positive on this conclusion and begs one to investigate and draw a different conclusion.
In the early 1700s, the Chickasaw were trading with the British and crossed a long path on what became known as the Hightown Path from near Memphis, Tenn., to the coast at Charleston, S.C. For a time, the tribe claimed the land on both sides of the trail, and the English built trading posts called factories. One such factory was located at Turkeytown in northeastern Etowah County.
Chief Chinnuby, originally a Natchez Indian from western Mississippi, along with his people were nearly decimated by the French. The chief came through this trail in 1763 to what is now Gadsden and decided to associate with the Chickasaws. Chief Chinnuby eventually became the Chickasaw’s principal chief and lived in what is now Gadsden until his death in 1819.
The map pictured above, along with several other land session maps, were done by the famous ethnologist Charles C. Royce. He, along with James Moody and Starr and others, were famous for studies of the Cherokees and other tribes in the late 1800s.
Looking at this map we find many tribes and the numbers related to them when they gave up the land.
The Chotaws dominated the west side of Alabama with treaties numbers 156, 82, 61 and 46. The Cherokees ceded 64, 101, 203and 85.
The Creeks had treaty number 75, which Andrew Jackson took away after the battle of Horseshoe Bend in the Creek War, and treaty number 172, which the Creeks ceded in 1832 and moved out west.
The Chickasaw seceded treaty numbers 80, 178 and 79, which is the area in question. Chief Chinnabee (or Chinnuby) signed the treaty. Because of this, the Chickasaws have claimed number treaty number 79 all the way to the Coosa River.
We know that it was not Creek land in 1816. Andrew Jackson knew as much after winning the Creek War, and there are documents in which he commented on this. However, Jackson wanted treaty number 79 for United States territory. The Chickasaws had very good claims to this land, but the Cherokees had a claim, albeit a weak one, to the land. Why?
Around the 1760s, the Cherokees were pushed south into Chickasaw land by the Shawnees. In 1769, the Chickasaws and Cherokees fought 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 the land was their land as well. Their claim started as far south as Ten Islands and west of the Coosa River. Because there were some doubts to the claim to the land, General Jackson also had a treaty with the Cherokees to fully obtain the land.
Before the Cherokee Removal, General Coffee had interviewed the residents of these areas and obtained legally-signed affidavits from them. He found that the Cherokees boundary was accepted as being located along Wills and Line creeks and northwestward. With few exceptions, Cherokees never ventured south of that line at any point of time.
There were some Creek settlements such as Little Futchie in treaty number 79 in Chickasaw land it is not in recorded history that the Cherokees indeed had a settlement. Chickasaws (half-breeds and breed camps) did have settlements on the Creek side, and some Creeks settled in Cherokee land right before their removal in 1836.
The treaty number 79 area is such a mixed-up area that it is very confusing. Cherokees officially entered Alabama in 1789 when Chief Old Tassell was murdered under truce, much like the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. It was such a tragedy the Cherokees abandoned their capital city of Chota in Tennessee and fled southward into Georgia and into Alabama in Creek land, with the Creek’s permission.
The new chief, Little Turkey, fled as far south as the Creeks would permit, which turned out to be Turkey Town. The process of obtaining the Creek’s permission is recorded in Cherokees affidavits to General Coffee before the removal.
Going back prior before the 1700s, we can reasonably say that the Creeks dominated the land, but there is no hardcore evident. However, the area was definitely Chickasaw land after the 1700s.
Because of the mountains and hills in the region, the Indian population was generally few. In fact, it was almost a no-man’s land, but with the Chickasaws trading with the British in Charleston and Chickasaw Chief Chinnabee’s arrival in what is now the Gadsden area, treaty number 79 was associated with the Chickasaws.
Most importantly, Chief Chinnabee was officially titled King of the Chickasaw. He oversaw the entire Chickasaw nation, which included the northern Mississippi area. This we know for a fact. Even today, the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma recognizes treaty number 79 as part of its former land.
Chief Chinnabee died in 1819 and is buried on a hill behind the Kangaroo gas station where Whorton Bend Road begins at Rainbow Drive.
Because of treaty number 79, there were almost no Indians after 1816 except for those that intermarried or chose to remain as U.S. citizens.
So, to answer the question, in historic times, the Chickasaw tribe dominated the southwestern area of Etowah County, the Cherokees the northern half and the Creeks the southeast area.