Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Turkey Town

Turkey Town

Turkey Town was a Chickamauga Indian village named for Cherokee Chief Little Turkey; the town was on the High Town Path that led from Otali (present-day Attalla), to Turkey Town, and then to High Town which is present-day Rome, Georgia.  Turkey Town was just northeast of Gadsden on present-day highway 411 between Gadsden and Centre, Alabama near the Coosa River.  Little Turkey became the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation after the death of Hanging Maw in 1795 and resided in his village that became known as Turkey Town until his death in 1801.

John McDonald

The British were supplying the Chickamauga Confederacy with arms, ammunitions, and powder to help the English defeat the American colonies; even though the Americans had officially declared the Revolutionary War over on April 11, 1783, the Chickamauga fought on with John McDonald supplying war materials from Running Water Town, a Chickamauga town situated at a Creek Indian crossing of the Tennessee River just west of Lookout Mountain.  John McDonald had been appointed as the assistant Superintendent of Indian Affairs by the British under the command of Superintendent John Stuart.  At Running Water, British agent Alexander Cameron and McDonald were being provided supplies, goods, and ammunition from Savannah or Pensacola; however, pressure from the American forces pushed the British arms suppliers farther south to Turkey Town.  The British were using Turkey Town and other Chickamauga villages as their base of operations in the Southwest; they were stockpiling food and military supplies for all tribes of the Chickamauga hostile to the American government.

About 1788, the Scots Irish John McDonald, who had married half blood Cherokee Anne Shorey, moved from Running Water Town together with his family including his daughter Mollie and her husband Daniel Ross to Turkey Town.  Initially, McDonald had been supplying the Chickamauga from his stores some 15 miles south of the Tennessee River on Chickamauga Creek near present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee.  At the time he moved to Turkey Town, McDonald was corresponding with William Panton of Panton, Leslie, & Co., a British supplier of trade goods that had become allied with the Spanish interests; William Panton of Pensacola and Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray were the best of friends.
Turkey Town was also much closer to the old abandoned French Fort Toulouse that was possibly being re-garrisoned by the Spanish; or that a new fort would be garrisoned north of Turkey Town near present-day Ft. Payne, Alabama.  With the help of British agents, McDonald continued to supply arms, ammunition, and powder to the Chickamauga from Turkey Town; it was at Turkey Town where John McDonald’s grandson John Ross was born on October 3, 1790, to McDonald’s daughter Mollie and Daniel Ross.  John Ross was born a true Chickamauga Cherokee at Turkey Town and was destine to become the longest serving chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Cherokee Leaders

From 1775 to 1792, Chief Dragging Canoe led the Chickamauga in their fight against white encroachment on their ancestral lands.  John Watts, Jr. became Chief of the Chickamauga Cherokee after the death of Dragging Canoe on March 1, 1792, and held that position until 1795 when Little Turkey moved to the position as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  John Watts, Jr., was born about 1752 and died at Wills Town in 1808; he first lived at Watts Town between present-day Reedy Creek and Town Creek some 25 miles east of the present-day Town of Guntersville in Marshall County, Alabama; later, John Watts, Jr. lived at Wills Town just a few miles north of present-day Lebanon, Alabama and some six miles south of Ft. Payne.

Little Turkey resided at Little Turkey’s Town that became known as Turkey Town located near the Coosa River in Alabama; Little Turkey became a leader of great influence with his Cherokee people.  In the Grand Cherokee National Council of 1792, Little Turkey was referred to as the great beloved man of the whole nation; Little Turkey was chief until 1801 when he died and Black Fox was elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation.

Black Fox lived at Mouse Town at the mouth of Fox’s Creek on the northern border of present-day Lawrence and Morgan Counties and remained chief until his death in 1811; Pathkiller took over as chief after the death of Black Fox and served until his death on January 8,1827; Pathkiller lived at Turkey Town and is buried near Centre, Alabama.  John Ross, who was born at Turkey Town, was elected chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828 and served until his death on August 1, 1866.

Creek Indian War

During the Creek Indian War, Cherokee Colonel Richard Brown raised a group of some 25 local Indians to meet John Strother at Turkey Town; a route led south from Turkey Town to Hickory Ground, and then to old French Fort Toulouse.  Within some 15 miles south from Turkey Town, a large mixed force of Cherokees and Tennessee Volunteers under Jackson’s command attacked the Red Stick Creeks at Tallasahatchee; David Crockett participated in this first major campaign of the Creek Indian War at the Battle of Tallasahatchee.

Turkey Town Treaty of 1816

After the Chickamauga War and Creek Indian War, Turkey Town remained an Indian town of great importance; the Turkey Town Treaty of September 1816 was negotiated at Turkey Town.  The treaty of gave up Cherokee and Chickasaw lands in the north Alabama portion of the Warrior Mountains; both tribes had legitimate claims by previous treaties to the Indian lands in the present-day counties of Franklin, Colbert, Lawrence, and Morgan Counties.  According to the terms of the Turkey Town Treaty, the last Indian lands of the Warrior Mountains were bought from the Cherokees and Chickasaws on September 14 and 18, 1816, respectively.  The Chickasaws were paid $125,000.00 with the Cherokees being paid $60,000.00 for land that now makes up Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, and Morgan Counties.

The Chickasaws and Cherokees had overlapping land claims with the Cherokees claiming land west to Natchez Trace some 10 to 15 miles west of Caney Creek in Colbert County.  The Chickasaws claimed land east to the old official Chickasaw boundary, which runs from the Chickasaw Old Fields (Hobbs Island) south to the High Town Path then west along the High Town Path to Flat Rock in present day Franklin County.  From Hobbs Island, the boundary ran northwest diagonally across Madison Counties.

The Chickamauga Chief Doublehead and the Cherokees farmed and controlled the Tennessee Valley to Natchez Trace by agreement with Chickasaw Chief George Colbert.  The Turkey Town Treaty signed by the Cherokees on September 14, 1816, ceded Colbert, Franklin, Lawrence, and Morgan counties; however, the U.S. Government established the Chickasaw’s new eastern boundary from Franklin County’s Flat Rock Corner on Little Bear Creek to Caney Creek in Colbert County until 1832.  The High Town Path was recognized as the southern boundary of the cessions for both the Chickasaw and Cherokee, until the Turkey Town Treaty of 1816; the treaty identified the new cession boundary as a straight line drawn from Flat Rock on Little Bear Creek in Franklin County to Ten Islands on the Coosa River.  Previous treaties recognized the Continental Divide along which ran the High Town or Ridge Path.

Turkey Town Conclusion

In the 1835 census, the Turkey Town area had only 43 families with 254 individuals with the majority of the people being mixed Indian and white; only five of the families owned black slaves.  In June of 1838, the remaining Indian families of Turkey Town were rounded up and herded into stockades by United States Army soldiers for removal to the west which started in earnest during the fall of 1838.  After the removal, white settler families moved in and claimed the former Indian lands of the Chickamauga Cherokee of Turkey Town; remnants of the Indian settlement fell in ruin.

When I recently visited the site of Turkey Town, a large marble monument marking the location of the prominent portion of the Cherokee settlement and an old well dating around 1810 was all the aboriginal evidence that remained of this once thriving Chickamauga town.  I was disappointed that very little historical structures and information about Turkey Town was available at the site of such an important Indian village; it is sad that we in Alabama preserve very little of our ancestral and cultural landscape.


  1. I'd never heard of Turkey Town before. That's interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Alice, thanks for reading about our north Alabama history!

  2. As I trace my linage. I am kin to john watts as him being like 4th grandfather. I see no truth as standing turkey, or little turkey having no daughter by the name if noccalula. Being from Gadsden I find this insulting that the town allows a fable to gather tourism. But will not preserve actual native sites. I lived in owls hollow place where turkey town was. No preservation their.