The Cherokee Indians

Excerpt from Early Settlers of Alabama
by Col. James Saunders
New Orleans, LA.
 L. Graham & Son, printers

Even when Tecumseh harangued every tribe, with his fiery eloquence, from the lakes of the North to the Gulf of Mexico , the Cherokees remembered Nickajack! and the lesson written there, by the Tennesseans, in blood, and remained friendly. It was through their country that General Jackson marched his army to subdue the Creeks, in the autumn of 1813 . Gen. John Coffee found a ford for his mounted men across the Muscle Shoals . They entered the river near the mouth of Blue Water creek , waded about three miles and emerged from it just below Green's Bluff ; and ascending the steep and lofty bank they found themselves, in what is now, Lawrence county , but then the choice hunting grounds of the Cherokees. As they beheld the level but elevated valley, which stretched out before them, apparently, a broad prairie interspersed, thinly, with trees, it was a sad day for the poor Indian! for many a soldier's heart glowed with admiration and covetousness. There stood the leader, of gigantic stature and fine proportions, with his calm face (which I well recollect) and by his side Major Alexander McCulloch , who was his favorite aide, and had fought in many a bloody conflict, by the side of the noble Coffee. It was a strange coincident, that McCulloch , after the cession, purchased the very tract of land on which their eyes were then resting, and made it his home for many years. In its proper place, I shall give sketches of him, and his distinguished sons, Generals Ben and Henry E. McCulloch . Of the emigrants who afterward came from Middle Tennessee to this county, a large proportion had belonged to Coffee 's command. During this war many of the Cherokees were our allies, and served against the Creeks. Indeed, it was owing to the fact that some friendly Indians were besieged in a small fort near Talladega , that General Jackson precipitated his march in advance of his supplies, for Old Hickory never forsook his friends, no matter what the color of their skins. 

Very shortly after this war closed, I think in 1817 , the Cherokees ceded land enough to form three counties, of which Lawrence was the middle one. The Indians who lived here, moved eastward, and settled with the body of the tribe. Amongst them was a chief named Melton - for whom "Melton's Bluff " was called - who settled about three miles above Guntersville . 

When the whites first came to this county the cabins of the Indians were still standing. Near every house was a pile of muscle and periwinkle-shells. There were monuments of occupation, which seemed to have existed for a long time, in mounds and fortifications. On "Watkins' Island " at the head of the Muscle Shoals - there are a half dozen of them - and on the upper end several acres are covered with shells, as if the natives had occupied it for many ages. On the mainland, also, you can find them. One above the mouth of Town creek is very large. Near Oakville are several, one of which is very broad but flat on the top and about eight feet high. The people have a cemetery on top of it now. The settlements of the natives were most numerous on Town creek , hence the name. On Big Nance was quite a town at Courtland ; and the creek is said to have been named from a very large Indian squaw who lived there. 

There has been much conjecture of late years, in regard to the origin of the mounds, speculative visitors contending that they were made by a very ancient race they call the "Mound Builders." I agree with our historian, Pickett . He considers this a mistaken Garcellasa , and other Spanish writers, who accompanied De Soto on his march, showing that the large mounds were sites for the houses of the chiefs - that they saw houses so located daily - and that the smaller ones were places of sepulture. Nearly 200 years after this, and subsequent to the settlement of Mobile by the French, the Natchez Indians were expelled on account of a massacre of the whites, from the spot now occupied by the city of that name, and settled on the Lower Washita . This was in 1730 , and in only two years from that time they had mounds and fortifications, scattered over 400 acres of land, which are still to be seen. Moreover, as late as the administration of Mr. Jefferson , Lewis and Clark were sent overland to Oregon , to explore the country, and they found the Sioux, and other Western tribes, erecting earthen embankments for defense around their towns; so that the construction of these works can be easily accounted for, within the historic period. 

Wonderful progress in civilization has been made by the Cherokees since the cession of their lands in this valley. This is due to Christian Missions. On the western side of the nation the Methodist Church expended much moral force in this direction. Amongst the missionaries, Rev. William McMahon , D. D., originated this mission and superintended it for many years. He had the sagacity to educate young natives to assist in the work. He has gone from earth, but has left a monument of his usefulness in the regeneration of a nation. When he was transferred to the West his mantle fell on the Rev. John B. McFerrin , D. D., who in the councils of the church was the especial friend of the Cherokee, and always encouraged their native preachers. Amongst these were Turtlefields and McIntosh . Turtlefields before his conversion was a warrior and fought under General Jackson in the Creek war. He was a hero, and was wounded in single combat with a Creek warrior. He was over six feet high, and possessed great physical force. McIntosh spoke English well, was an interpreter and excelled in that work, and became a useful minister. Dr. McFerrin is still robust (1880 ) and has the promise of many years to come - and yet he has seen with his own eyes savages transformed into peaceable, law-abiding Christian citizens, with all the institutions of civilized life, with learned judges, eloquent lawyers, scientific physicians and able ministers. The reason I have singled out Drs. McFerrin and McMahon is that they were identified with our county. In the proper place, I shall give sketches of them, but thought it best to speak of them in this connection before I bid farewell to the Cherokees. 


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11/04/2009 Last updated