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.
On the western bank of the Chattahoochee River, along the Riverwalk in Phenix City, is a historic marker that is a tribute to the oral history of the local American Indians who inhabited the area long before the expansion of Europeans into the New World. The marker is entitled “The Tie-Snake.”
The creature was a mythical monster believed to live in this section of the Chattahoochee River between the states of Georgia and Alabama.
The Tie-Snake was but one of the many mythical creatures spoken of by the Muscogee Creek Indians. Other mythical creatures and natural forces that were a part of the oral history of the local tribes were the Winds, the Thunder Helper, the Orphan, the Trickster Rabbi, and the Tarbaby. These myths and legends were passed on from generation to generation.
The historic marker on the Rivewalk reads as follows:
The Creek Indians believed this section of the river was inhabited by a giant Tie-Snake, a mythical monster that snared the unwary and dragged them down into the watery underworld. LaGrange lawyer W.O. Tuggle recorded many of these tales in the late 1800s. Joel Chandler Harris read Tuggle’s collection, which formed part of the material out of which Harris fashioned his Uncle Remus stories.
This historic marker was erected by The Historic Chattahoochee Commission and the Phenix City-Russell County Chamber of Commerce.
Tuggle recorded the tales during the time he represented American Indians in law suits against the United States. As a folklorist, Tuggle traveled to Indian Territory in the 1880s to record the myths, ceremonies and traditions of the Creeks and Yuchi, who once inhabited the Chattahoochee Valley.
Around the same time, Harris was an associate editor and columnist for the Atlanta Constitution who was taking his initial steps toward becoming an author.
As a young man, he had been an apprentice on the Turnwold Plantation where he heard the myths and legends told by African slaves. He also read Tuggle’s collection of myths and legends compiled from his visits with the Creeks and Yuchi. These tales from both groups inspired Harris to write his Uncle Remus stories – of which eventually there were 185.
You can see the similarity of his Uncle Remus tales and those of the Creeks and Yuchi recorded by Tuggle. The following is a short story from Tuggle’s collection:
RABBIT ENGINEERS A TUG OF WAR BETWEEN TIE-SNAKES (Tuggle collection)
Rabbit saw a Tie-snake in the water and challenged him to a trial of strength. The Tie-snake laughed at him, but consented.
The Rabbit said: “I will bring a vine, and when you feel me jerk you pull.”
Afterwards Rabbit went over the hill and met Istepahpah, the Man-eater (the Lion), and proposed to pull against him, and Istepahpah consented. Rabbit fixed the same time for the Tie-snake and Istepahpah; and when that time arrived he got the vine and put one end in the water and running over the hill gave the other end to Istepahpah, saying, “When you feel me jerk, then pull.”
Presently he went up on top of the hill and jerked the vine. The Tie-snake began to pull and Istepahpah, feeling the jerk, also pulled. Each was surprised and pulled harder and harder.
Rabbit enjoyed his deception and watched his victims pull until both were tired, and astonished at the strength of such a small animal.
Want to read more of Tuggle’s collection of local Creeks and Yuchi folklore? You may find some on the internet or you may find more in the Columbus State University Archives.