The Birthplace Of Osceola
Inspired by a passage in a book, Seminole Tribune correspondent Michael James recently went in search of history. What he found was a lesson in the often tragic way Indians were treated, and possibly, just possibly. . .The Birthplace Of Osceola.
By Michael James
TUSKEGEE, Ala. - The search for the birthplace of Osceola actually started over a year ago with a page out of Dr. Patricia Wickman's book Osceola's Legacy.
Dr. Wickman, the director of the Tribe's Anthropology & Genealogy Department, detailed Thomas Woodward's recollection of the location of Osceola's cabin. Woodward is credited with founding Tuskegee and is believed to be part Creek himself. Woodward is regarded as having had very close friendships with many of the Creek families in the area during his time.
Woodward recalled, "It (the cabin) was on an old field between the Nufaupba, and a little creek that the Indians called Casta Bogah, which mouths just below where the rail road crosses Naufaupba."
The passage describes a large cedar tree and that, "the rail road from Montgomery to West Point (Georgia) runs within five feet, if not over the place."
Our search began in earnest Dec. 28, with a phone call to Tuskegee. The second call to the Macon County Library was disheartening in that we learned the library would be closed until the New Year. The unanswered phone calls and the general lack of interest in what we were trying to accomplish nearly ended the search before it began.
But, we drove the 100 miles from Randolph County, past historical markers stating, 'This spot was once the meeting place of the Creek Confederacy,' or 'Not far from this spot was an important Creek village.' Wheels began to turn in imagination of what it must have been like to be a Native American living in this part of Alabama at the beginning of the 19th century. The question of where these wheels would stop would be answered very soon.
Following the map to Tuskegee the uneasy feeling of not knowing for sure where to go or who to talk to began creeping up and the thought of turning around became attractive. But, we took the exit off I-85 to Tuskegee. Signs for the Tuskegee Institute dotted the road as we made our way past what will someday be a museum in honor of the Tuskegee Airman. Closer to town we passed the Police Department. We were at a place that we could at least begin to ask questions.
The busy dispatcher pretended to listen to our plight between answering the phone and talking on his radio. Though polite, he offered little hope of locating Osceola's birthplace. Then if by providence not of our own, a woman appeared and asked if she could be of help. After she heard our story she asked us why we didn't try the library. Her response to our knowledge of the closed library was one of puzzlement. She simply turned and said, "Closed? Follow me."
Soon we were at the back entrance of the Macon County Library and in a moment the door opened and we were welcomed in by Maperal "Pearl" Clark, Assistant director of the library and recognized local historian. She listened patiently as we explained our quest. She became an ally and handed over the only known copy of the History of Macon County, and suggested we read through it while she made phone calls to another local historian retired Postmaster, John Segrest.
The dusty pages set the mood for the balance of the day and spoke of a brutal and treacherous time for Native people throughout the region. Some direct quotes from The History of Macon County:
"Indications have been found in Macon County of a people making sand tempered pottery that lived there before the birth of Christ."
"At the time of European contact, the Creek Indians lived in the area that is now Macon County."
"The western part of the County, which borders along the Tallapoosa River, was thickly settled by the Creeks. The most noted Creek towns were Atassi and Talisi. About the middle of the eighteenth century a town named Nafolee was apparently situated near the mouth of Calebee Creek. Further down the river, the Amissi or Massi, a tribe of unknown ethnic origin lived. Yufalo, a Creek town on the Uphapee Creek, was the birthplace of Osceola, the famous warrior chief during the Seminole War of 1835."
On and on we read, ever closer to the inevitable conclusion, closer and closer to what Osceola and his people saw and surely felt.
"After the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 ended the Creek Indian War, the Indians and the settlers lived in relative peace for a number of years. Under the Treaty, the Creeks had surrendered much of their land to the United States Government, retaining only a section of land along the Georgia border. This land, which included the area that is now Macon County, became a part of the new State of Alabama in 1819. Friction between the growing numbers of settlers and the Indians increased. In a treaty signed on March 24, 1832, the Creek Nation finally relinquished claim to the remaining land in Alabama. On Dec. 18, 1832, the Alabama Legislature created Macon County from part of the territory acquired from the Creek Indians."
Pearl chatted and took notes from the old postmaster, who was too frail to join us. The history book beckoned and Osceola was becoming a palpable force urging us on.
"As the tide of settlers grew the real owners of the land, the Creeks, were slowly dispossessed. In 1836 and 1837, the final forced emigration of the Creek Indians to land west of the Mississippi River occurred."
"In 1836, the forcible removal of the Creek was started. Fort Mitchell was the rendezvous point for the subsequent trip west. Groups of Indians would be marched to Montgomery and transported by boat down the Alabama River to Mobile Point. They were then transported up the Tombigbee River to Tuscaloosa and moved over land to the Mississippi River. In early July, sixteen hundred Creek Indians, men, women, and children, left Fort Mitchell. They followed the Old Federal Road, south of Tuskegee, across Macon County. The warriors were all handcuffed and chained together. They were followed by a long train of wagons and ponies carrying children, the old women and the sick who were unable to walk. Near Tuskegee, the group was joined by a considerable number of prisoners, including the chiefs Eneah Micco and Jim Henry. One hundred and forty five members of Micco's party held out and were captured north of Tuskegee in the middle of July. At Montgomery, the Indians were crowded onto two little river steamboats with barges in tow and carried to Mobile."
The Montgomery Advertiser wrote, "the spectacle exhibited by them was truly melancholy. To see the remnant of a once mighty people fettered and chained together forced to depart from the land of their fathers into a country unknown to them, is of itself enough to move the stoutest heart."
With that backdrop, Pearl motioned for us to join her on a trek to Osceola's birthplace. The ride was short "less than five miles" and took us past rich farmlands nestled against gentle hillsides that were bounded by mixed forests of pine and hardwoods. Before we could even comprehend what we had just read we were there.
We parked next to a railroad crossing and walked the track to the edge of a plowed field and surveyed the expanse while checking Dr. Wickman's book. But something was wrong. After a time we walked to the car and drove to the highway to take in the entire field.
There, in an area far beyond the posted signs, we saw what was missing. Cedar trees! One here, one there, they began to pop into view. The trees were scarce everywhere else.
Upon closer inspection we discovered a giant cedar tree that stood within just a few feet of the railroad and within yards of the creek. We re-read the passage from Dr. Wickman's book:
"Tom remembered the large cedar tree which had shaded the place. . .he had moved five small cedars from beneath its branches to his own property."
Were we looking at the birthplace of one of the most famous Indians in North America? There was no historical marker or sign to mark the spot, and like many of the details of Osceola's early life, it was shrouded in mystery and speculation. But, based on available evidence, it seems likely. We had found the birth spot.
If you would like to see this location, take I-85 west to Alabama Highway 81, turn right and travel to Macon County Road 55. If you drive past the railroad tracks you've gone too far. The area will be on your left from where C.R. 55 crosses the tracks.