The Native Peoples of Alabama
March 1, 2019 | View PDF
The Indians were the first native people of Alabama, as we know. Before Europeans came to Alabama, the native people had been here for many generations. They had built mounds and discovered natural resources in abundance.
Careful Alabama History still tells of their lives, filled with sports, music, art, religion, recreation and occupations. Indian ballplay was a favorite sport, reminding us of football. The ball was made of deerskin and the object was to get the ball over the goal line.
The mounds provided for the burial of their dead, but also for their protection in times of danger. A visit to Moundville in Hale County is a delight; a great place for children to enjoy a day of adventure.
The four principal groups of Indians in Alabama were the Creeks, the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, and the Choctaws. They inhabited the four corners of our state, Creeks in the Southeast, Cherokees in the Northeast, Choctaws in the Southwest, and the Chickasaws in the Northwest.
The Creeks occupied more land than the others, and their true name was Muskogees, but early explorers noted that they preferred to live along creeks and thus gave them the name, Creeks.
The Indian tribes had great conflict and fought wars from time to time. The head of each tribe was their Indian Chief, held in high regard and selected by the warriors. The chief shared his authority with the council of advisers and the tribe's religious leader, often called "the medicine man."
Farming was essential to the Indians and corn was an important crop. Corn and cornbread were introduced to the first Europeans who came to America. Indians cultivated many healthy vegetables as well for their diet.
Grapes and plums were known in both Europe and Alabama. Tobacco was unknown in Europe until their people visited America. It was common for a family to have a small garden for farming. Crops often included yams, corn, squash, tobacco, peas and beans.
Their corn was ground between two stones to make popular cornbread. While women did most of the cooking, they were very active in a variety of work, tending to children and taking delight in manufacturing. Indian women wove pouches of buffalo hair and made blankets of turkey feathers. Basket weaving was one of their favorite kinds of manufacturing. They used bright colors and intricate designs in their patterns.
Homes were built with upright logs and plastered over with mud. Their homes were often made weatherproof by skilled managers.
Hunting and fishing was more than a game of recreation. Indian boys were taught to hunt and fish, and an important part of their schooling was to master these crafts early.
Indians loved music, dancing, painting, the study of birds and animals, and all of Nature. The Cherokees and others used drawing pictures to tell their stories, long before they had an alphabet.
They did not read or write until after the coming of the white man and Sequoyah’s success with the Cherokee alphabet.
The greatest blessing of the arrival of the Europeans to America was the advance of Christianity to our shores. Think of all the generations who lived in America who never heard of Christian principles, the Love of The Lord Jesus Christ and, best of all the path to Redemption.
The influence of the Alabama Indians is relived daily, with all the rivers, creeks, counties and towns, all with Indian names. Their lives were filled with adventure. Close by us, are Autauga creek, county and town. Talladega also names a creek, county, and town. Mobile and Coosa name a river, county, and town. On and on we go, remembering them.
To neglect to study our early history is such a disservice to students. Indians did believe in a life after death. They worshiped many gods. They worshiped the sun, moon, stars, wind, and signs of nature. While they did not have Christianity, they no doubt longed for something to meet their needs, beyond themselves.
An exciting part of our history took place in 1540, when Hernando de Soto crossed the Tennessee River and entered Alabama. He was the first European to enter Jackson County, crossing Sound Mountain. A great deal of research was focused on DeSoto's travel. For the Spaniards to survive, they enjoyed hunting game in Alabama's beautiful forests, and the capture of the plentiful hogs in the large fields. DeSoto went through Dallas County, Wilcox County and on through Monroe County.
Seeing DeSoto's invasion, the Indians were determined to protect themselves, and their corn supplies. Therefore the Battle of Mobila did take place. The Spanish cross bow was a better defense than the Indian's bow and arrow.
In this battle of Mobila, the Indians were led by Chief Tuscaloosa. His name and reputation live on, as the river, city, and county even still today are named for him.
The Spaniards and the Indians entertained each other even though they each knew their true motives. DeSoto did not find the gold he envisioned, but he has to be recognized as one of the greatest and earliest of world explorers. And Alabama was prominent long before her Statehood, even in 1540. Two of DeSoto’s men chose to remain in Alabama, with DeSoto allowing them to do so.
We are blessed today by our climate and natural resources. We are blessed that much of our Southern heritage lives on in our manners, our courtesies, and our willingness to make sacrifices that benefit others. This writer prays that the "old South" that she has known, will continue to live on in generations to come.