The past is the present for future generations who do not know their history

In the deep foggy bottom of history…

are the legends and the lore of the Five Civilized Tribes. When Europeans began to enter the Alabama portion of the Tennessee Basin in the early 1800s there were three Native American tribes that habitated there. In total there were five tribes, considered civilized, in the territory. They were the Choctaw, Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek and the Seminole.

1828 Map showing the counties and the Native American territories.

1828 Map showing the counties and the Native American territories.

In general, the Tennessee River served as the dividing line between the Chickasaw and the Cherokee at Muscle Shoals.The Chickasaw occupied north Mississippi, eastern Tennessee and southwest Kentucky. Members of this tribe were perhaps the first tatoo artists as they inscribed their bodies with indelible ink and this relatively small band of people were quite impressive to encounter. Fierce warriors that they were, according to the white man, they almost succeeded in wiping out the DeSoto expedition in Mississippi in 1541; DeSoto had tried to enslave two hundred Chickasaw warriors. DeSoto would have used the native Chickasaw as load carriers.

History records no group that valued cleanliness more than the Chickasaw. Summer and winter they would bathe daily. They were known to have broken the ice on the river bank in order to enter the water at bath time. Some believe this high regard for cleanliness as one reason the Chickasaw positioned itself on the side with the English traders rather than the French or Spanish.

One of the best known Chickasaw chiefs during the years of European and American occupation was Chief George Colbert (Kahl-burt) who was half Chickasaw and half Scot. In 1798 he operated a critical ferry across the otherwise  not crossable Tennessee River that came to be known as Colbert’s Ferry. This ferry, located at the mouth of Bear Creek, was the only crossing for the famed trade route the Natchez Trace, a former buffalo run. The Colbert’s were the first millionaire native americans in history.

His father, James Logan Colbert, was a legend in his own right. He was a Scotsman who lived among the Chickasaw, adopting their ways and even joining them in battle. He took on three Chickasaw brides and fathered eight children, many of whom, like George, gained notoriety amongst the Chickasaw. James Logan Colbert 1721 – 1784 and wife Sopha Minta Hoya 1721 – 1836 were the parents of George Colbert.

George Colbert went on to serve as the chief of the Chickasaw for 12 years, and one of his brothers served under General Andrew Jackson during his campaigns against the Creeks. For a time, the Chickasaw trusted and admired Andrew Jackson. The Chickasaw had their loyalty rewarded by Jackson seeing to it that they were removed by treaty and by force from their ancestral home. This removal decimated the native american ‘s families, culture, and erased their once proud history. The removal, and events leading up to it and beyond, were acts of cruelty against a nation of people.

In 1774 the Chickasaw refused the Henderson Land Company access to the mouth of Occochapo Creek (present day Bear Creek). After the treaty of 1816, most of the Chickasaw land was ceded to the U.S. The area of the Cherokee nation occupied was in northeast Alabama, much of Tennessee and northwest Georgia. Some of the villages were settled at Muscle Shoals. This represented the southwestern tip of their domain.

Village of Doublehead Reserve historical marker

Village of Doublehead Reserve historical marker

Perhaps the most interesting of the Cherokee chiefs in the Tennessee Basin of Alabama was Chief Doublehead or TaloTiske meaning “two heads.” Chief Doublehead established a town on the Tennessee River at the head of Muscle Shoals in 1790. This village sat at the mouth of Blue Water Creek in Lauderdale County. Muscle Shoals had always been an area of dispute between Chickasaw and Cherokee, even though it was known as Chickasaw Hunting Grounds. When Doublehead’s occupation of Muscle Shoals came into question, Chief George Colbert of the Chickasaw confirmed that Doublehead was at Muscle Shoals by his permission. This new agreement seems less unusual considering that Colbert had married two of Doublehead’s daughters.

Doublehead’s brother was Chief Old Tassel, one of the Cherokees most well-known and beloved chiefs. When he was murdered with the aid of the white mayor James Hubbert, Doublehead went on the rampage, attacking white settlers throughout the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee. This six-year warpath from 1788 to 1794 is well chronicled, and though it was no doubt exaggerated by the afflicted, the chiefs terrible atrocities certainly add up to a significant sum. He was even accused of encouraging his warriors to cannibalize the dead during this escapade.

At the end of his warpath, Doublehead met with President George Washington at the nation’s capital, and he returned a changed man. Though he began to mimic the ways of the whites and built a large cabin, he continued to defend the Cherokees land rights in various treaties until his death. On the surface his change of heart was characteristic of the Cherokees during this time, many of whom adopted the manners and customs of the whites; but ultimately Chief Doublehead would pay with his life for this abrupt change of heart. He even went as far as forming the Doublehead Company that leased 1,000 acres to more than 50 white settlers between the Elk River and Cypress Creek.

Doublehead was murdered in a savagely interesting tale chronicled by the famous Indian canoe fighter, Sam Dale. On a trip to a ball game on the Hiwasee River, Doublehead engaged in a series of arguments with two Cherokee warriors and a white Indian trader. There are many accounts of Doublehead death; all well worth the time spent reading.

Historian Bill McDonald wrote an article in 2004 which was published by the Times Daily newspaper on Sunday April 4, 2004. Bill McDonald was appointed city historian for Florence, Alabama in 1989. The text of the article follows:

About 1790 the fierce and feared Chief Doublehead, along with 40 of his warriors and their families lived in Moneetown. This Cherokee village was near the head of the Shoals and on the south bank of the Tennessee River, across from the present day Brown’s Ferry Nuclear Plant.

Legends have it that he was at other places at the Muscle Shoals from time to time.One site was near the home of his double son-in-law, George Colbert, in present Colbert County where there is a nearby “Doublehead Spring.” old stories remembered by the family of James Jackson tell that Doublehead lived briefly on the knoll where the mansion of the Forks of Cypress once stood. In recent years, trade beads and other Indian artifacts were uncovered at an early log house at this site.A few miles west of the Forks of Cypress was a cave where Old-timers remembered seeing an Indian carving showing double heads at the entrance.

Sometime around 1800 when his raids against white people had ended, Doublehead established a village between Center Star and Elgin in east Lauderdale County. His brother-in-law Tahlonteeskee lived there before he moved to Blue Water Creek in Arkansas following the Treaty of Tellico.

Early pioneers described Doublehead’s village as being on the east bank of Blue Water Creek. On one side of the bank is a high palisade on the Tennesee River that appears on early maps as “Doublehead Bluff.” Nearby is another “Doublehead Spring.”

The rich bottomlands around his BlueWater Creek village did not always produce an abundant harvest. A severe drought in 1804 brought an appeal for help. The Cherokee Agent at Hiwasee sent 300 bushels of corn for which he billed Doublehead a total of $150 for this relief. However, records reveal that this amount was later returned to the village by the U. S. War Department.

According to legend Doublehead built a large two-story house log house overlooking his village. It was styled after the homes of white people he had seen in Tennessee. Daniel White purchased this place in 1818 and used the log structure as a stage stop known as Wayside Inn. Some think that White may have had a “claim” to this house as early as 1812. A number of White’s descendants believe that he, not Doublehad, built this house.

Territorial records reveal that the house that Doublehead lived in was commodious. On one occasion he wrote the Cherokee Agent requesting aid for two poor middle age women living on his property with  large families composed only of girls. This may have been the Samuel Adams family.

On July 20, 1802, Doublehead had requested for permission for this family of 16 people to enter his village “in the plan of promoting civilization amongst the Cherokees.” Later that summer, Silas Dinsmore, Choctaw Indian Agent, while travelling over the Natchez Trace was surprised to find this family here. He called them a “pretty dismal group – lazy and shiftless.”

There are those that write that the wily old chief was a wife beater, and that prior to his assassination, his fierce attack on his wife resulted in her horrible death. One of her brothers was said to have been involved in a conspiracy that led to Doublehead’s death on the Hiwasee River in 1807.

The story of Doublehead is surely a paradox. It involves a blood thirsty villain who led raids into middle and eastern Tennessee. It was said that no song ever came from his lips. He admitted that he had tasted the white man’s flesh and found it too salty. Then, he suddenly changed to become a friend of the white settlers who first arrived at the Muscle Shoals around 1806 at his invitation.

Although this strange and minor chief among the Cherokee People lived at various places and various times , he nevertheless left his footprints in the history of the Muscle Shoals in northwest Alabama.

The Creek Nation (a confederacy of Musckogean tribes) inhabited parts of present day Colbert and Lauderdale counties for a time during the late 18th century. The Creeks were known for their ruthlessness in battle, mutilating the bodies of fallen enemies by cutting off the arms and the legs and removing the scalp by cutting a circle around the head just above the ears. By the way, it was first the white settlers who practiced the gruesome art of scalping victims. They adorned their bodies with shell jewelry and freshwater pearls obtained from the large mussel populations of the Tennessee.

In general, the Tennessee basin served as the dividing line between the Chickasaw and the Cherokees at the Muscle Shoals area. About a thousand years before the establishment of Florence, Alabama in 1818, located at the top of the hill, there was a thriving community at the bottom of the hill. The ceremonial mound there was called “Wawamanona” by the native americans. The mound was established between 400A.D. and 1500A.D., according to the research by Lore. After the natives were removed small towns slowly became river ports and ferries across the river were quite common. Many of the ferry sites have histories of their own, much as the Colbert Ferry that transported settlers across the Tennessee River in northwest Alabama.

In 1819 Alabama was admitted into the Union as a state and Huntsville was designated as its first capital and seat of the state constitutional convention.The Moulton Valley was an important southern fruit supplier, and so much grain was produced in this area that it became known as the South”s Cereal Belt.

During the Civil War, many battles were fought throughout Alabama”s Tennessee Basin, including many led by Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Ulysses S. Grant made his first marks upon the Civil War by understanding the strategic importance of the river at his first victories at Fort Henry and Fort Donelson on the nearby Cumberland tributary to the upper Tennessee. Many of the Civil War”s Union troops, upon discovering the rich untapped resources of the area returned to the region following the war”s conclusion. Andrew Jackson and James Madison owned tracts of land in northwest Alabama.

Meanwhile, there were factions forming that opposed Doublehead. The rise to power of the Hicks-Ridge-Pathkiller leadership was assisted by the death of Chief Doublehead in 1807 and by Chief Vann in 1809. Doublehead’s authority had been undermined by the rewards he reaped from the Treaty of 1805 and by his agreement to the secret clauses in the Treaty of 1806 that surrendered tribal land and enriched him and his friends. The assassination of Chief Doublehead was plotted by Upper Town chiefs who privately agreed that he had betrayed his nation. And it appears from later events that this group saw themselves as agents of tribal justice and their acts were basically accepted as just by the majority of the tribal members. With all the tension and stress involved in establishing new leadership, this transition of the shift in power remains historically important for its lack of bloodshed (McLoughlin, page 89).

Since this is a lengthy article and writing on this subject could go on forever, this little bit of history telling will continue with the next article which will chronicle Doublehead and Colbert family history.

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