History: Memorial marks beginning of Creeks’ Trail of Tears

History: Memorial marks beginning of Creeks’ Trail of Tears
The sculpture at the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center at Fort Mitchell represents the sacred fires of the Creek Nation used for religious ceremonies and rituals. The plaque near the memorial has the names of every Creek Indian who began the Trail of Tears from the site. There are 8,522 names on the plaque. The memorial was dedicated on October 4-5, 2002.Mark Clark

Editor’s Note: Russell County has a long history that is important to the State of Alabama and its evolvement from an area described in the book “Russell County in Retrospect” by Anne Kendrick Walker as a “barbaric land” to what it is today. Many of the people who set their roots in the county in its early days including the state’s first Territorial Delegate to the United States Congress, important Native Americans who paid with their lives to cede land that created the county, a family that started a place of higher learning in south Russell County that later led to the establishment of one of the state’s most known institutions of education today and a former slave who placed a monument to honor his former owner, are very much important to the formation of Alabama. The story that follows is another of a series to inform you – our readers – about the history of Russell County. 

In the early years of American history, there were numerous tribes of indigenous people in the Chattahoochee Valley area. The majority were inhabitants of the Muskogulgi (Muskogee) tribe – better known as the Creek Indians. There were dozens of Creek Indian towns. The towns of Cusseta and Yuchi were among the largest towns in the southeast at that time.

But there were many others who desired the lands owned by the tribes. In order to obtain the lands, the Creek Indians were pushed westward and out of the State of Georgia through treaties first with then Governor James Oglethorpe and later with others.

As the Creek Indians migrated into Alabama, many settled in Russell County around Fort Mitchell. Over time, the white settlers pushed even more to have the Creek Indians removed from their homeland. Some of the tribes moved southward to avoid conflict and became a part of the Seminole Nation in Florida. Other tribes and their leaders – such as Opothle Yohola and Neah Emathla – chose to fight. To their misfortune, the Creek Indians ultimately lost their battle with the soldiers of the United States and were ordered to leave their native land for life on a reservation in the Oklahoma Territory

The long trek to what would become their new home began at Fort Mitchell and the Creek Trail of Tears would join with the trails of tears of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole and Cherokee tribes also being forced to Oklahoma Territory. The journey was harsh for the tribal families and many died along the way. It is a sad part of our history as a nation that is often ignored.

That is no longer the case. A short trip down Alabama Highway 165 will take you to a dramatic sculpture honoring the memory of the many Creek Indians who were driven forcibly from the area. Sitting on the highest point in the Fort Mitchell National Historic Landmark, a replica of the site where the Creek Indians gathered in camps before beginning the journey to the Oklahoma Territory, is a monument on land that was the homeland of the Creek Nation.

The internet site exploresouthernhistory.com says of the memorial:

“For centuries, the powerful Creek Nation flourished in much of what is now the s of Alabama and Georgia. Although they are often now called Muskogees the Creeks were actually a confederacy of numerous bands. Muskogees were one of the largest bands, there were also Hitchitis, Yuchis, Alibamos (Alabamas), Chatots. Eufaulas, Tallassees and others. These groups spoke various languages, the primary of which were Muskogee and Hitchiti, languages that were similar but not mutually intelligible. The Yuchi, Alibamos and others also had their own tongues.

For centuries the Creeks successfully maintained their cultural and territorial integrity in the face of advancing English, Spanish and French settlements. During the 18th century, their charismatic leader Alexander McGillivary took them to war against the United States and forced President George Washington to sue for peace.

Two later wars, however, forever broke the power of the Creek Nation. The Creek War of 1813-1814 resulted in the loss of much of their territory and the Creek War of 1836 completed the collapse of the nation in the face of white aggression. Beginning in 1836, the entire nation was forced west at bayonet point on the Trail of Tears. Thousands of men, women and children died on the way.

This tragic removal is memorialized today at the Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center. Located adjacent to Fort Mitchell, a key post in both Creek wars, the center occupies land where thousands of Creeks camped and burned their last fires before starting west on the Trail of Tears.

The center features interpretive signs and a beautiful monument designed to symbolize the sacred fire of the Creek Nation, which last burned on original Creek lands.”

Every Creek village had a town square in the center. This was the location of religious ceremonies and rituals. These town squares were actually square shaped. The monument at Fort Mitchell represents those town squares. The eternal flame in the middle represents the fires that would be constructed during these ceremonies. The fire represents the Creek Indians and their lives at Fort Mitchell and the surrounding area. The flame itself symbolizes the spirits of the Creek Indians that will live on forever.

The monument also has a plaque with the names of every Creek Indian who traveled along the Trail of Tears from Fort Mitchell – all 8,522 of them. The Chattahoochee Indian Heritage Center also has a Creek Indian stickball field and interpretive trails for visitors and students to explore.