EARLY TIMES IN THE VICINITY OF THE PRESENT CITY OF MONTGOMERY.1
By William Stokes Wyman, LL. D.,2
University of Alabama
For the historic associations that cluster around it, one of the most interesting localities in the neighborhood of Montgomery is the level plain on the top of the river bluff, about one mile below the wharf—once an old field, but now, as I am informed, included within the premises of Mr. James Chappelle. On this spot lived as far in the past as history or tradition gives us information about this region, a band of that remarkable tribe of Indians known in our history as the Alabamas. By the Indians who lived here the town itself was called Alabama—an interesting fact which has escaped the notice of all our local historians.
This information is derived from a “Sketch of the Creek Country,”5 written about the year 1800, by Col. Benjamin Hawkins, United States Agent for the Creek Indians. Ecun-chate was, it is true, the name given to this town by the Creek or Muscogee Indians. But the Alabamas who lived on this spot, called their town Alabama. The name Ecun-chate is pure Creek and means “The Red Bluff”—a name fairly descriptive of the town-site. The name Alabama is not Creek at all, and the Indians who lived here were, in language and customs, quite distinct from the Creeks. The people of Montgomery may, with just pride, claim that their flourishing city is built in part on the site of the Indian town that gave name first to the river and afterwards to the State.
The homes of the Alabamas
The Alabama River formed by the junction of the Coosa and the Tallapoosa flows first in a westerly direction across a series of strata chiefly sandy, belonging to the Cretaceous formation and underlying the rotten limestone of the prairies. To these strata our geologists have given the name Eutaw Group or Eutaw Sand. The river, in cutting a channel for itself across the dip of the Eutaw strata, has formed a series of lofty and picturesque bluffs, composed for the most part of beds of coarse red and yellow sand, extending from Coosawda Bluff, in Elmore County, as far, perhaps, as House’s Bluff in Autauga County.
On the tops of these high bluffs were situated in the oldest times of which we have any record, the towns of the ancient Alabamas. Along the river on both sides indications are still found here and there of the former habitations of this aboriginal people—mounds, shell-heaps, broken pottery, and flint arrowpoints.
Who were the Alabamas?
In the absence of written records or concurrent traditions we have the right to infer from kinship in language a kinship also in race. Following this clew we are warranted in saying that the Alabamas were a segment of the Choctaw-Chickasaw stock of Indians cut off from the main stock, and living on these riverbluffs long years, perhaps centuries, before they ever saw a white man. We should bear in mind the fact that the language of the Choctaws and the Chickasaws is substantially the same, and that these two tribes, according to their own traditions, were in the distant past one people. An examination of the language of the Alabamas proves that theirs is a dialect of the tongue spoken by the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. According to the tradition of the Creeks, the Alabamas had been subjugated by them and incorporated with the Creek Confederacy many generations before the white people ever reaching this country.’6
Six historic towns contiguous to Montgomery
Within historic times there were six towns of the Alabamas in the region contiguous to Montgomery. I name and number these in the order in which one would have found them in descending the river from the junction:
- Third—Alabama, or Ecun-chate.
I should like here to give some details of all these towns; but this would lead me too far away from my present purpose, which is to give some account of the old Montgomery settlement.
Transcribed as published in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume 2, edited by Thomas McAdory Owen, Alabama Historical Society, 1898
1From Montgomery Advertiser, June 7, 1893.
2Dr. W. S. Wyman, son of Justus and Mary (Stokes) Wyman, was born in Montgomery, Ala..Nov.23.1830. His father was born in Woburn. Mass., of Puritan stock, and his mother was of the Stokes family of N. C. The former emigrated to Claiborne, Ala., in 1818, and to Montgomery in 1822. Dr. Wyman is a graduate of the Univ. of Ala., 1851. In 1852-3 he became a member of the faculty of that institution, where he has since remained. His work there has been signally successful and he has been tendered repeatedly the office of President. He is now Prof. of Latin. Dr. Wyman is the leading authority of the State on Indian history and linguistics, besides ranking at the head of students of the history of Alabama. His wife is Malissa, daughter of Capt. James H. and Julia A. (Searcy) Dearing, and they have several children. For an excellent biography, with ancestry, of Dr. Wyman see Memorial Record of Alabama, (1893), vol. ii. pp. 1098-1100. For sketch of Capt. Dearing see William R. Smith’s Reminiscences, (1889), pp. 96-100.
3 Vol. I. p. 123. Pp. 122-127 contain Hawkins’ full list of towns in the Creek Nation.
4 Abram Mordecai, a Jew from Penn.. who lived in 1785 on Line Creek in Montgomery County, states that Col. Tait, a British officer, drilled squads of Tories at this Indian town during the Revolutionary War.—Blue’s History of Montgomery (1878), p. 5. “My first visit to the spot where Montgomery now stands, was in April, 1814: it was then called Chunnanugga—Chatty, or the High Red Bluff.”—Woodward’s Reminiscences (1859), p. 134. He states that Arthur Moore was the first white settler who lived here, building his house in 1815. In this he is followed bv Blue, who gives more detail as to the history of Moore.
5This valuable sketch was published in 1848 by the Georgia Historical Society as vol. iii, part 1, of its Collections. It was the only part ever issued. No other volumes of its Collections were printed until 1873, when the publication was resumed as vol. iii, disregarding this part. Col. Hawkins was for more than thirty years employed by the U. S. Government in Southern Indian service. He left a mass of valuable MSS, filled with a multitude of detail as to Indian treaties, customs, manners, etc. These papers are in the Georgia Historical Society, Savannah. For description see Publications of the Southern History Association, April, 1899, pp. 174-6.
6For latest researches and collation of authorities as to the early Indians of this region see Hamilton’s Colonial Mobile (1897), a work of great learning and much research.
7On the river, opposite the old town of Coosada, in this county, Weatherford, the Muscogee chief, was born; and at Sauvanoga, on the Tallapoosa, near where the village of Augusta stood, the parents of Tecumseh lived, and there he may have first “seen the light.”—Brewer’s Alabama,p. 447.
ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Exploration: Lost & Forgotten Stories (Volume 1) From the time of the discovery of America through the time of De Soto’s daring expedition, restless, resolute, and adventurous men crossed oceans in pursuit of their destiny.
Alabama Footprints – Exploration is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement
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