The disconnected remarks on the Alibamu Indians which we find in the documents and chronicles represent them as early settlers on Alabama River, at a moderate distance from the confluence of Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. In our legend they are introduced among the four tribes contending for the honor of being the most ancient and valorous.
D. Coxe, Carolana, p. 24 mentions their tribal name in the following connection: On Coussa River 1 are the Ullibalies 2 , Olibahalies, Allibamus; below them the Tallises.” Allen Wright derives Alibamu (also written Allibamous, Alibami, Albámu, incorrectly Alibamon) from Chahta: álba thicket and. áyalmu place cleared (of trees, thickets): álba ayamúle I open or clear the thicket. If this derivation is correct, the name, with its generic definition, could apply to many localities simultaneously. Let us hear what Sekopechi or “Perseverance,” an old man of that tribe, related to Agent Eakin concerning their early migrations and settlements. (Schoolcraft, Indians I, 266 sqq):
“The Great Spirit brought the Alabama Indians from the ground between the Cahawba and Alabama rivers, and they believe that they are of right possessors of this soil. The Muscogees formerly called themselves Alabamians (“thicket-clearers”?), but other tribes called them Oke-choy-atte, “life.” 3 The earliest oral tradition of the Alibamu of a migration is, that they migrated from the Cahawba and Alabama Rivers to the junction of the Tuscaloosa (?) and Coosa Rivers, where they sojourned for two years. After this they dwelt at the junction of the Coosa and Alabama Rivers, on the west side of what was subsequently the site of Fort Jackson. It is supposed that at this time they numbered fifty effective men. They claimed the country from Fort Jackson to New Orleans for their hunting grounds.”
Whatever may be the real foundation of this confused narrative, it seems that the Alibamu reached their later seats from a country lying to the west or southwest, and that they showed a preference for river-junctions, for this enabled them to take fish in two rivers simultaneously. Another migration legend of this tribe, as related by Milfort, will be given and accounted for below.
Biedma relates that H. de Soto, when reaching the “Alibamo province,” had to fight the natives entrenched within a palisaded fort (fuerte de Alibamo, Garc. de la Vega) and the Fidalgo of Elvas: that the cacique of Chicaça came with the caciques of Alimamu and of Nicalasa, 4 whereupon a fight took place. But that Alibamo province lay northwest of Chicaça town and province, and was reached only after passing the Chocchechuma village on Yazoo river; it was probably not the Alibamu tribe of the later centuries. In the report of Tristan de Luna’s expedition no mention is made of the Alibamu Indians, though it speaks of “Rio Olibahali.”
In 1702 five French traders started with ten Alibamu natives from Mobile, for the country where the tribe resided. They were killed by these guides when at a distance of ten leagues from the Alibamu village, and M. de Bienville, then governor of the French colony, resolved to make war on the tribe. He started with a force of seventy Frenchmen and eighteen hundred Indian auxiliaries; the latter deserted after a march of six days, and finally the party was compelled to return. A second expedition, consisting of Frenchmen only, was not more successful, and had to redescend Alabama River in canoes. Mr. de Boisbriand, the leader of a third expedition, finally succeeded in destroying a camp of Alibamu, sixty-five miles up the river, in killing the inmates and capturing their women and children, who were given to the Mobilians, their allies. 5 This action was only the first of a series of subsequent troubles.
An alliance concluded by the Alibamu with the Mobilians did not last long, for in 1708 they arrived with a host of Cheroki, Abika and Kataba Indians, in the vicinity of the French fort on Mobile Bay, where Naniabas, Tohomes and Mobilians had settled, but were foiled in their attack upon the Mobilians through the watchfulness of the tribe and of the French colonists. The whole force of their aggressors and their allies combined was estimated at four thousand warriors (id., Margry V, 477-478; cf. 427).
In 1713, after the Alibamu had made an inroad into the Carolinas with a host of Kataba and Abika Indians, their confederates, the head-chief of the first-named tribe besought the French commander at Mobile bay to erect a fort in his own country. The offer was accepted, and the tribe was helpful in erecting a spacious fort of about three hundred feet square, on a bluff overlooking the river, and close to their village (id., Margry V, 510-511). This fort, built near the junction of Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, was called Fort Toulouse, and by the British colonists Fort Albamu, or Alebama garrison.
When Fort Toulouse was abandoned in 1762, some Alibamu Indians followed the French, and established themselves about sixty miles above New Orleans, on Mississippi river, near the Huma village. Th. Hutchins (1784), p. 39. estimates the number of their warriors settled there at thirty. Subsequently they passed into the interior of Louisiana, where some are hunting and roving in the woods at the present time. The majority, however, settled in Polk County, in the southeastern corner of Texas, became agriculturists, and about 1862 numbered over two hundred persons. Some Alibamu reside in the Indian Territory. Cf. Buschmann, Spuren d. azt. Spr., p. 424.
The former seats of the tribe, near the site of the present capital, Montgomery, are described as follows:
Colonel Benj. Hawkins, United States Agent among the Creeks, saw four Alibamu towns on Alabama river, below Koassáti. “The inhabitants are probably the ancient Alabamas, and formerly had a regular town.” (Hawkins, Sketch of the Creek Country, pp. 35-37, 1799.) The three first were surrounded by fertile lands, and lay on the eastern bank of Alabama River. Their names were as follows:
Ikan-tcháti or “Red Ground,” a small village, with poor and indolent inhabitants.
Tawássa or Tawasa, three miles below Ikan-tcháti, a small village on a high bluff. Called Taouacha by the French, cf. Tohome. The Koassáti word tabasa means widower, widow.
Pawókti, small town on a bluff; two miles below Tawássa.
A′tagi, a village four miles below the above, situated on the western bank, and spreading along it for two miles. Also written At-tau-gee, Autaugee, Autobi. Autauga County is named after it.
These Alibamu could raise in all about eighty warriors; they did not conform to Creek custom, nor did they apply the Creek law for the punishment of adultery. Although hospitable to white people, they had very little intercourse with them. Whenever a white person had eaten of a dish and left it, they threw the rest away, and washed everything handled by the guest immediately. The above towns, together with Oktchoyúdshi and Koassáti were, upon a decree of the national council at Tukabatchi, November 27th, 1799, united into one group or class under one “warrior of the nation.” The dignitary elected to that post of honor was Hulipoyi of Oktchoyúdshi, who had the war titles of hádsho and tustěnúggi. (Hawkins, pp. 51. 52.) Cf. Witumka.
- Anciently Coosa, Coussa River was a name given to our Coosa River, as well as to its lower course below the junction of Tallapoosa, now called Alabama River. Wrights Ch. Dictionary has: alua a burnt place.
- In the report of the Fidalgo de Elvas, Ullibahali, a walled town, is not identical with Alimamu. Ullibahali is a name composed of the Alibamu: óli village, town and the Hitchiti: báhali down stream, and southward, which is the Creek wáhali South.
- Oktchóyi is the Chahta term for living, alive.
- Gallatin, Syn. p. 105, proposes to read Nita-lusa, Black Bear.
- Relation of Pénicaut, in Margry V, 424-432.