For much of the 19th century the land between the Tombigbee and Black Warrior rivers was considered neutral hunting ground for the Choctaws to the west and the Creeks to the east. As Indian lands became more and more scarce, a dispute arose between the two tribes for the ownership of these lands. As an alternative to warfare, the two tribes settled the dispute by playing a game of stickball at a location near present day Tuscaloosa. Though the Creeks won the contest, the Choctaws refused to acknowledge their defeat and the two tribes went into battle just south of Pickensville. The battle was also indecisive. Such intra-tribal land disputes made it easy for settlers to continue their steady march.
The Choctaws were a widely dispersed people spreading from Tennessee to Tampa. It is for this reason that the trade jargon of Southern Indian tribes was primarily based on the Choctaw language. The Choctaw people were short in stature, flattened their children’s heads, wore long hair, and were called “Choctaw” by the Creeks, the Creek word for “red.”(Cruising Guide)
The Choctaws were also masterful farmers. Staple crops included corn, beans, melons, and squash and they used their surpluses for trade.
During the colonial period the Choctaws, like other tribes, were encouraged to draw allegiances that primarily benefited the trading positions of the European powers. Bienville, the frenchman of Mobile, after killing the pro-British Choctaw chief, courted the Choctaws most aggressively, even building the fort “Tombecbe”, claiming it was to protect the Choctaws from the Chickasaws, their old enemies.
The Choctaws also aligned themselves with the Spanish and British during the American Revolution.
The Choctaw chief Pushmataha assisted the Americans in the Creek Indian War of 1813. After the defeat of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend, the reward to the Choctaws was the loss of much of their land the Americans claimed belonged to the Creeks.
After the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830, the majority of all remaining Choctaws were relocated to Arkansas. Today over 5,000 Choctaws remain in east-central Mississippi near the town of Philadelphia.
The well-known Shawnee Indian Chief Tecumseh visited the basin in 1812 as he traveled throughout the south spreading his message of war and ousting of American settlers. (Furtado et. all 1989:70) It was around this time that settlers began constructing many small fortifications, such as Fort Mims on the Tensaw River which was the site of Alabama’s most famous massacre. In 1814 this conflict between settlers and the Upper Creeks ended at the battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa The Creeks lost all of their land following the Treaty of Fort Jackson the following year. In 1816 the Chickasaw Treaty gave substantial portions of the Tombigbee and Alabama lands to the United States for settlement. (Furtado et. all 1989:70)
The Chickasaws were invited to Mobile almost immediately upon its first incarnation at 27-mile bluff in 1702. Though Iberville courted both the Chickasaws and Choctaws with peace, tensions between the Chickasaws and the French began almost immediately. By 1736, Iberville’s brother and new governor of Mobile, Bienville decided to annihilate the Chickasaws in a military campaign. Their frequent raids on shipping ports and their strong ties with the English, had become an unacceptable nuisance to the French. Despite having two forces, one approaching from the north, and one from the south, Bienville’s assaults were repelled, both in 1736 and during a second campaign in 1739-1740.
These failed campaigns led to the construction of Fort Tombecbe on the Tombigbee River in 1735. The fort was located at Jones Bluff near present day Eppes Station and was used as a trading post with the Choctaw Indians. The fort represented the first permanent settlement in the Tombigbee Basin and was occupied until 1763 when the French lost possession of Louisiana. (Futado et. all 1989:62)
Also in 1817 the French “Bonapartist” settled at modern day Demopolis (Greek for “city of the people”).
“So within a few decades of the establishment of American control of the Tombigbee valley, the Indian tribes which had earlier played such an important role in the struggle for empire, passed from the political scene.” (Furtado et. all 1989:71)
First mention of a Tennessee / Tombigbee Waterway
The first known recommendation to build a water transportation route connecting the Tennessee and Tombigbee Rivers was made by a French explorer, the Marquis de Montcalm, to Louis XV of France in about 1760 or 1770. At that time, rivers were the only practical means of transporting supplies and commerce from coastal settlements into the interior settlements. A connecting link between the two rivers was considered by the French explorer to be needed if the French were successful in settling this region of the south. (Tenn / Tom)
The first settlement by the early frontiersmen was made by Josiah Tilly in 1817 on a bluff of the river about a half mile above today’s Pickensville. (Rivers of AL)
Washington County was Alabama’s first county, created in 1800 by approval of the Mississippi territorial governor. The town of St. Stephens in Washington County would become Alabama’s first territorial capital until the formation of the state in 1819 when the capital was moved to Huntsville. One of the areas earliest industries was salt mining first began in 1809. A large salt dome was discovered in 1948 at the town of McIntosh (Rivers of AL)
From the early 1800's to about 1910, paddle driven steamboats plied the free flowing Tombigbee River carrying passengers and goods as far north as Amory, Mississippi and returning with tottering stacks of cotton bales, logs and other commodities. The first steamboat ever to be constructed in Alabama was built in St. Stephens, Washington County in 1818. It was appropriately named the “Alabama.” (Rivers of AL)
Today’s town of Columbus, Mississippi, also called the “Friendly City”, wasn’t called Columbus until 1821 when its name was changed from “Possum Town” to Columbus. “Possum Town” was a name given by the Chickasaw Indians, due to the opossum-like features of Spirus Roach, the town’s local trader. In this same year Franklin Academy, the first free public school in Mississippi, opens its doors.
Columbus was the original head of navigation on the Tombigbee River. The rival upstream port of Aberdeen was accessible only during high-water. Horace King, the famed slave bridge builder, was commissioned to build the Columbus bridge in 1844. He was asked to build the bridge low enough that it prevented the passage of steamboats beneath it, thus permanently cutting Aberdeen off from all potential river trade. King was freed two years later in 1846, winning his freedom in a wager with his owner by completing a bridge project within a certain amount of time.
The town of Livingston, AL was founded in 1833 and named for Edward Livingston, a well-known statesman of the times. Soon afterward, they founded Livingston Female Academy, which is now the University of West Alabama (UWA). Livingston also became a health spa thanks to the attraction of its Bored Well, which many people believed had healing properties. Antebellum homes can be spotted in Livingston’s neighborhoods, and live oaks adorn the sidewalks. (Tombigbee Country)
Founded in 1830 with the signing of the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit, Gainesville was Alabama’s third-largest city until an 1855 fire destroyed most of it. (Tombigbee Country)
The Beginning of the Tenn-Tom Waterway