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Opothleyohola

Opothleyohola, a Creek from Tuckabatchee town, became the most powerful headman in the Creek Nation during the Creek removal period from 1827 to 1838. He was at the forefront of Creek attempts to remain on their ancestral land in the East in the face of white encroachment and government interference in Creek affairs.

Born in 1798 in Tuckabatchee town in present-day Alabama, Opothleyohola first served nationally as the speaker for Big Warrior, the principal chief of the Upper Creek. After Big Warrior's death in 1825, Opothleyohola served as "prime minister or Chief Councillor of the Nation." In 1825, acting as the speaker for the Upper Creek, Opothleyohola traveled to Indian Springs, Georgia, to warn William McIntosh against ceding all Creek land in Georgia and portions of land in Alabama to the federal government. McIntosh disregarded these warnings and signed the Treaty of Indian Springs (1825), for which he was later executed. In addition, the treaty was a removal document that set aside land in present-day Oklahoma in exchange for the ceded land. Opothleyohola and a delegation of Creek headmen traveled to Washington and were successful in overturning the Indian Springs Treaty. The Creek agreed to a revised treaty in 1826 that restored their Alabama lands; however, under heavy pressure from the Americans, the Creek were unable to recoup their land in Georgia. Opothleyohola was staunchly opposed to voluntary removal, and he rejected government overtures to emigrate his people west.

The pressure to voluntarily emigrate became more intense as white squatters settled illegally on Creek land. The problem became so widespread that Opothleyohola and other headmen traveled to Washington in 1832 to negotiate a treaty that gave the Creek legal title to their land. The government did not enforce the articles of the treaty to the Creek's satisfaction, however. Compounding the problem were widespread frauds by which whites cheated the Creek out of their land reserves.

Sensing the inevitability of Creek removal and opposed to emigrating to Indian Territory, Opothleyohola attempted to secure a deed to a tract of land in Texas in 1834. The deal fell through because it was illegal under a treaty signed between the United States and Mexico. In 1835, Opothleyohola began making preparations to emigrate to Indian Territory, and that year he sent a number of his slaves west. But, before Opothleyohola was ready to move west himself, the Second Creek War broke out in east-central Alabama in 1836. Opothleyohola, Tustenuggee Emathla (Jim Boy), and others commanded warriors who helped the U.S. Army bring an end to hostilities. The war provided an excuse for Andrew Jackson to forcibly remove all Creek to the West.

Opothleyohola was assigned to detachment one, which consisted of 2,318 Creek, mostly from Tuckabatchee. The party left Tallassee on August 31, 1836, and traveled through Wetumpka and Tuscaloosa to Memphis, where they arrived on October 9, before they boarded the steamboat Farmer to Rock Roe. Opothleyohola and the rest of detachment one traveled overland through the Grand Prairie and Cross Roads and out to Cadron, where the road joined the military road from Little Rock to Fort Smith. Their progress was slow because of bad roads and rain. The party arrived at Fort Gibson in Indian Territory on December 7, 1836. Seventy-eight Creek from detachment one died along the journey. After arriving, Opothleyohola settled near the Canadian River. Although he maintained his role as one of the principal chiefs in the West, his status was superseded by William McIntosh's brother Roly.

Opothleyohola did not find peace in the West. During the American Civil War, Confederate regiments of McIntosh Creek drove Opothleyohola and his people as well as loyal Seminole and blacks to Kansas, partly as retribution for his role in McIntosh's 1825 execution. Opothleyohola died in Kansas sometime around 1863.

Christopher D. Haveman


Further Reading
Haveman, Christopher D. “The Removal of the Creek Indians from the Southeast, 1825–1838.” PhD diss., Auburn University, 2009; Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982; Meserve, John Bartlett. "Chief Opothleyahola." Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (1931):4: 439–451.
 

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