Colbert County, Alabama is named for two Chickasaw Indian Chiefs, George and Levi Colbert.
Home of George Colbert – Chickasaw Indian chief (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Colbert County was created by the legislature, February 6, 1867after it split from Franklin County, Alabama over political issues after the Civil War. It was abolished on eight months later on November 29, 1867 then reestablished by an Alabama Constitutional Convention by the legislature on December 9, 1869.
On the adoption of the original act, L. B. Cooper, F. C. Vinson, H. Pride, J. C. Goodloe, William Dickson and Carter Blanton were appointed commissioners and to hold an election, May 6, 1867, for authorized counts officers. Until otherwise provided, the act declared Tuscumbia the seat of justice.
The legislature on August 10, 1868, provided for the compulsory delivery of the books, papers, money, and other property belonging to Colbert, to the judge of probate of Franklin county. Both the constitutional convention and the legislature were dominated by the Republican Party.
Colbert County Courthouse
However, the legislature which convened in 1869, by an act of December 9th, authorized a vote to be taken in the county of Franklin to determine whether or not the ordinance referred to should be repealed. The election was held on January 6. 1870, and resulted in the reestablishment of the county, whereupon the governor issued his proclamation declaring the result; and under an act of February 4, 1870, J. C. Goodlove, Thomas Buchanan, Robert Matlock and James Abernathy were appointed commissioners to manage the county.
Subsequently an act was passed February 18, 1870 directing the restoration of Franklin to Colbert County of all of the books, records, papers, documents or other property originally belonging to the latter. Tuscumbia was again named as the county seat, March 1, 1870 and an election ordered held the first Monday in March that year, at which the voters were to choose between Tuscumbia and Cherokee for the permanent seat of justice. The election resulted in the selection of the former.
Claimed by the Chickasaws and the Cherokees
All that part of Colbert County lying east of Big Bear Creek was claimed both by the Chickasaws and the Cherokees. By the treaty of September 14, 1816, the Cherokees ceded to the United States all their territory south of the Tennessee River extending as far west as Big Bear Creek. Six days afterwards, September 20, the Chickasaws ceded all the lands claimed by them south of the Tennessee River and east of Caney Creek, which is in Colbert County. The two Indian tribal claims thus overlapped each other.
This prehistoric aboriginal art petroglyph shows carved footprints and the form of a snake. It was taken from a site in western Colbert County and is now on permanent display at the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art, Tuscumbia, Alabama photographed by Carolyn Highsmith 2010 (Library of Congress)
As there were no Chickasaw settlements at that time east of Caney Creek, it must have been regarded by the Chickasaws as their eastern boundary, and regardless of the Cherokee cession, this Chickasaw ownership of the territory west of Caney Creek was admitted by the United States, and their title to it was finally extinguished by the treaty of Pontotoc Creek, October 20, 1832.
Four Cherokee Villages
The Cherokees formed no settlements on the Tennessee River until about 1770. There were four Cherokee villages in Colbert County during the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Beginning on the river,
- First was Doublehead’s Village, founded about 1790, and situated a short distance above the place where George Colbert subsequently established his ferry. A large spring, still known as Doublehead’s Spring marks the site of this village.
- Second, was Oka Kapassa. founded about 1780, the site of which is ineluded in the present city of Tuscumbia. Oka Kapassa signifies “cold water” in the Choctaw-Chickasaw language, and was evidently the name given to the large spring in Tuscumbia. The name shows that the locality was well known to the Chickasaws, who may have had a village or hunting camp there prior to Cherokee occupancy.
- Third was a small village located at the foot of Muscle Shoals.
- Fourth was a larger village, or settlement, at the mouth of Town Creek extending for a mile and a half up and down the Tennessee River, and about the same distance southward from the river. It was from this village that Town Creek derived its name.
Several Indian towns, known as Bear Creek Villages, are on the creek of that name in the western part of the county as early as the first part of the eighteenth century. Some students identify them as Cherokee, but their tribal relation is not known with certainty.
Large mound near the lock
A large mound near the lock on Colbert Shoals Canal, Tennessee River, near Riverton, survives, originally one of a group of three. One was removed by the Northern Alabama R. R., and the other by Confederate troops during the War, in order to mount batteries there. At the mouth of Colbert Creek on Tennessee River, are two town sites, and a small burial mound. One mile below the mouth of the creek is another site.
Some few earthenware vessels of a character differing from those found elsewhere have been discovered here. A town-site and cemetery near the mouth of Cane Creek, on property of R. M. Garner, show burials of a fiexed type, but differing from any heretofore met with in the State. The Cherokees claimed to be the very first settlers in the Tennessee Valley, and the mounds and remains above are doubtless to be ascribed to them.
George and Levi Colbert
George and Levi Colbert, for whom the county was named, both lived in Colbert County on the Natchez Trace, which crossed the Tennessee River at Colbert’s Ferry.
However, George Colbert did not live continuously at the ferry, but spent the greater part of his time at his other home, on Wolf Creek, four miles west of Booneville, Miss.
Hand-beaded cap which belonged to Chickasaw Chief George Colbert in the Tennessee Valley Museum of Art in Tuscumbia, Alabama photographed by Carolyn Highsmith 2010 (Library of Congress)
Levi Colbert’s home was on the Natchez Trace, at the crossing on Big Bear Creek. These two Colbert brothers were not real Chickasaw chiefs.
On account of their knowledge of English and their superior intelligence they were appointed by the Chickasaw King to act as principal chiefs in all matters connected with the United States Government. George Colbert died in 1839, in the Chickasaw Nation west; Levi died at Buzzard Roost in the spring of 1834, while on his way to Washington city on some official business. Another brother, James Colbert, lived 30 or 40 miles further down the Tennessee
Dickson family first settlers
Michael Dickson with his wife and four sons were perhaps the first settlers that made a permanent home in 1817 in Colbert County. They came in a keelboat up the Tennessee River, landed at the stream on its south bank, which issues from the well known spring in Tuscumbia, ascended this stream and camped near the spring.
Here they purchased from Tuscumbia, a Cherokee chief residing there, a tract of land extending from the mountain on the south to the river on the north, embracing the spring and stream to its influx into the river. Five silver dollars and two poll axes was the price paid for this land.
Dickson built his cabins upon the hill above the spring. It seems that other settlers accompanied Dickson and made their homes near him. The year following a daughter was born, named Annie, who perhaps was the first white child born within the limits of the county.
Ten or fifteen families joined them
In 1820 some ten or fifteen families moved into the place, and it assumed the appearance of a village. It was incorporated the same year by the name of Ococoposo (Oka Kapassa). The next year, June 14, 1821, the name was changed to Big Spring.
Need for Post Office
In 1822 the people began to feel the necessity of a post office, as Russellville, the nearest office was 36 miles distant. Two names were suggested, Annieston from the name of the infant daughter of Michael Dickson, and Tuscumbia, the name of the Cherokee Chief. By a single vote Tuscumbia won. The old chief was greatly pleased at the result, and to show his appreciation of the honor he presented the defeated candidate with a pair of dainty buckskin moccasins. The legislature formally recognized the change December 31, 1822.
Academies for boys and girls by 1826
The early settlers of Colbert, then old Franklin, were ambitious and aspiring. Less than 10 years after the founding of the town two institutions, the Tuscumbia Academy for boys, and the Tuscumbia Female Academy, were chartered by the legislature the same day, January 13, 1826. Messrs. Thomas Wooldrldge, Alexander A. Campbell, Wm. H. Wharton were trustees on each board, while Robert B. Marshall was an additional member of the former, and John Hogan of the latter.
On April 28, 1863, Federal troops burned the school and many buildings in LaGrange. The town was never rebuilt, and the land is now a part of Colbert County. The building and trees on the right side of this photograph have been drawn in
Near the present Leighton, La Fayette Academy was incorporated January 12, 1826, later to become La Grange College, founded in 1828. In after times Deshler Female Institute, a high-grade school for girls, was located at Tuscumbia, founded in 1874 on a bequest of Maj. David Deshler.
First Railway track laid
The first railway in the state, and the first railway track laid west of the Allegheny Mountains was built under a charter of 1830 to the Tuscumbia Railway Co. and a track of 2 1-8 miles was completed in 1832, from Tuscumbia to the Tennessee River, an event which was celebrated by the firing of cannon and a public dinner and ball on June 12.
Men buying and selling bales of cotton on a railroad platform in Colbert County, Alabama
(Isaac Winston Papers 1928 -Alabama Department of Archives and History)
Two men weighing a bale of cotton at a gin in Colbert County, Alabama
By the 4th of July, 1833, the Tuscumbia. Courtland and Decatur Railroad Co., incorporated in 1832, had completed (8)7-10 miles of its line from Tuscumbia to Decatur. At one time an extensive cotton factory and an iron foundry were in operation at Barton Station. The Tuscumbia railroad in 1830 ran from downtown Tuscumbia to the river to carry cotton from the gins to the barges for transport down the river.
Tuscumbia was important during Civil War
The territory of this county, as other portions of the Tennessee Valley, was alternately occupied by Confederate and Federal troops throughout the War of Secession. Tuscumbia was a point of much importance during the occupation of Corinth by Federal troops.
On April 16, 1862 the town was occupied by the Federals, and on the 24th and 25th following, several skirmishes took place in the vicinity. In the fall of 1862, there was a spirited artillery engagement between Col. P. D. Roddy, commanding the Confederates, and a Federal force under Gen. Thomas W. Sweeney. The invaders were compelled to fall back to Corinth. About 4 o’clock Sunday morning,
February 22, 1863, Gen. Grenville M. Dodge’s Cavalry under Col. F. M. Cornyn, attacked Tuscumbia, and according to the official report, took 100 prisoners, and according to another report, 200 prisoners, 200 horses, one piece of artillery, a large amount of stores, including a train of cars, 100 bales of cotton belonging to the Confederate Government, considerable money and a large number of mules.
In this engagement the Confederates were commanded by Col. Roddy. There is nothing of an official nature by the Confederates on the attack. On April 25, 1863, during his expedition up the Tennessee Valley to cover Col. A. D. Streight’s raid, Gen. Dodge occupied Tuscumbia. He was again opposed by Col. Roddy, later, promoted Brigadier-General. There were several skirmishes in the vicinity of Tuscumbia on October 24 and 25, 1863.
On February 20, 1865, the town was again captured by a Federal force, moving from East port, Mississippi to Russellville. There were only about 20 Confederates in the place, who after skirmishing, made good their retreat.
Of the presence of Gen. Dodge in this section of the State, Brewer’s “Alabama,” page 188, note, says that his “atrocious vandalism lit up the valley of the Tennessee from Town creek to Tuscumbia on the memorable night of April 28, 1863, with the flames of burning dwellings, granaries, stables, fences, &c., &c., was born in Danvers, Mass., in 1831. He entered the federal army as colonel of the fourth Iowa infantry, and arose to the rank of major general.”
Delegates to Constitutional Conventions
1867—H. H. Russell.
1875—John D. Rather.
1901—A. H. Carmichael, James T. Kirk.
1871-2—D. V. Sevier.
1872-3—J. C. Goodloe.
1873—J. C. Goodloe.
1874-5—J. B. Moore.
1875-6—J. B. Moore.
1876-7—W. C. Sherrod.
1878-9—John D. Rather.
1880-1—John D. Rather.
1886-7—James H. Branch.
1888-9—J. H. Branch.
1890-1—L. D. Godfrey.
1892-3—E. B. Almon.
1894-5—E. B. Almon.
1896-7—Walter H. Matthews.
1898-9—W. H. Matthews.
1899 (Spec.)—W. H. Matthews.
1900-01—W. I. Bullock.
1903—William Isbell Bullock.
1907—George T. McWhorter.
1907 (Spec.)—George T. McWborter.
1909 (Spec.)—George T. McWhortor.
1911—E. B. Fite.
1915—W. H. Key.
1919—A. H. Carmichael.
1868—C. P. Simmons.
1869-70—C. P. Simmons.
1870—John A. Steele.
1871-2—John A. Steele.
1876-7—S. J. Harrington.
1878-9—J. A. Steele.
1880-1—N. T. Underwood.
1882-3—N. T. Underwood.
1884-5—G. T. McWorter.
1888-9—W. C. Summers.
1890-1—C. C. Rather.
1892-3—W. R. Brown.
1894-5—P. N. G. Rand.
1896-7—W. R. Brown.
1898-9—Wilson R. Brown.
1899 (Spec.)—Wilson R. Brown.
1900-01—John E. Deloney.
1903—John Edward Deloney.
1907—A. H. Carmichael.
1907 (Spec.)—A. H. Carmichael.
1909—A. H. Carmichael.
1911—E. B. Almon.
1915—A. H. Carmichael.
1919—W. H. Shaw.
- History of Alabama and Dictionary of Alabama Biography, written by Thomas McAdory Owen, was published in 1921 by the S.J. Clarke Publishing Company.
- Alabama Department of Archives and History
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