Native Americans

Indigenous Heritage in Northwest Alabama

Northwestern Alabama is a region of continued Native American habitation. Indigenous peoples have lived here since the end of the Ice Age. The following page will take a closer look at some of the region’s Native American history and heritage.

Woodland Period

The Woodland period covers vast stretches of indigenous history -- from 3,000 to 1,000 years ago. Archaeologists often break this period into three subsections: Early, Middle, and Late Woodland. The Florence Indian Mound and Oakville Indian Mounds exemplify Middle Woodland period mound construction. Researchers have dated these sites’ construction to between 2,000 and 1,500 years ago. Mounds of this period fall into one of two general categories—platform mounds and conical burial mounds. Platform mounds, such as the Florence Indian Mound, typically have flat tops and once hosted culturally and spiritually significant structures, such as a religious building or tribal leader’s home. Conical burial mounds, such as those at Oakville Indian Mounds, served primarily as communal burial sites.

Mound complexes almost always consisted of multiple earthworks. Two additional mounds and an earthen embankment once accompanied the Florence Indian Mound. Several structures likewise made up the Oakville Indian Mounds. These complexes were the meeting grounds for extended communities during the Woodland and Mississippian periods. They often figured heavily into certain cultural traditions, such as the Copena Mortuary Complex. The word "copena," is a hybrid of copper and galena (lead sulfide) -- two materials often found in Woodland period burials. For more information on Native American culture and history in northwest Alabama, visit the Florence Indian Mound and Oakville Indian Mounds webpages.



The Indian Removal Act of 1830

The tension between the US government and northern Alabama’s Native American tribes was palpable by the early 1800s. Federal troops entered the Creek Civil War of 1813-1814, defeating an indigenous Creek-led alliance. In 1816 the United States signed a treaty with the Chickasaw that ceded most of their territory north of the Tennessee River to the government. Only two years later, in 1818, yet another treaty ceded the remaining Chickasaw territory to the United States. On May 28, 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, initiating the forceful removal of Southeastern tribes west to Oklahoma. President Andrew Jackson hoped to absorb territories in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Florida into the United States by expelling the region’s indigenous peoples from their lands.

Between 1830 and 1838, US Army detachments systematically expelled thousands of Creeks, Chickasaw, and Cherokee from the affected Southeastern states. Troops marched over two thousand Cherokee westward from Alabama between 1837 and 1838 alone. Many of the displaced stopped at Decatur and Tuscumbia Landing on their way to Indian Territory. Thousands more fell ill or died during the march west, earning this event a grim moniker: the “Trail of Tears.” To learn more about the Trail of Tears in Alabama, visit the Alabama Trail of Tears Association. Today, educational organizations, such as Woodland Indian Educational Programs, help keep Native American cultures alive in the Southeast through public programs and museum collaborations.

This map shows the different routes taken during removal. (Courtesy, National Park Service.)