Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Apalachicolas - Confederate Floridians on the Western Frontier

One of the most unique documents of the Civil War is a treaty signed between the Apalachicola band of Creek Indians and the Confederate government.

Most of the warriors had been born on the Apalachicola and lower Chattahoochee Rivers in Jackson County, Florida. They lived on reservations there that had been established in 1823 under the terms of the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. In 1838, however, they were forcibly removed at gunpoint by U.S. troops led by Colonel Zachary Taylor, a future president of the United States. The removal of the Apalachicolas came despite an agreement they had signed with the government just five years earlier guaranteeing them "permanent" possession of their lands in Florida.

It was a sad chapter in American history. The Apalachicolas had remained at peace with the United States, despite the uprisings by other bands that led to the Creek War of 1836 and the Second Seminole War. Instead of trying to resolve their desputes with the whites with their rifles and knives, the Apalachicolas resorted to the courts and actually won a major case in Federal court sustaining their right to observe traditional Indian law.

When they arrived in the Creek Nation in what is now Oklahoma in early 1839, the Apalachicolas settled in a community south of present-day Muskogee. Their life in the west was extremely difficult at first. They suffered from shortages of everything and the U.S. Government failed to pay them promised money to compensate for the loss of their homes, mills, orchards and fields in Florida. Slowly, though, they built new lives. They did not, however, forget the loss of their traditional homes in Florida.

In 1861, as the War Between the States erupted, the Indian Nations of modern Oklahoma became a much disputed area. Some of the Cherokee, Creeks and Seminoles allied with the Union, while others - along with the Choctaw and Chickasaw - allied with the Confederacy. The Apalachicolas were part of the latter group. And they made clear in the treaty they signed with the Confederate government why they were forming an alliance against the Union:

...[They removed] from the country occupied by them in Florida to the Indian country west of Arkansas, leaving the  lands...and a large number of horses, mules, cattle, hogs, wagons, and other articles which they could not collect together and carry with them, and which the said emigrating agent persuaded them to leave in his charge, on the promise that the owners should be paid the value of all such property in money by the agent of the United States on their arrival in the country provided for them....

The Apalachicolas never received the promised money and on July 10, 1861, they declared war on the United States. For the next four years they fought in many of the battles in the Indian Nations and Arkansas and suffered the destruction of their homes and farms by U.S. troops.

To learn more about their time in Florida before they were forced to remove to the west, please visit or consider the book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years, available here.

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