The Poarch Band of Creek Indians are descendents of a segment of the original Creek Nation, which once covered almost all of Alabama and Georgia. Unlike many southeastern Indian tribes, the Poarch Creeks were not removed from their tribal lands, and have lived together for over 150 years.
In the late 1700′s, the Creek Confederacy consisted of Alabama land north of current day Stockton, with the heart of the Creek Nation centralized along the intersection of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers near Montgomery. The ancestors of the Poarch Creek Indians lived along the Alabama River, including areas from Wetumpka south to the Tensaw settlement.
In the 1790 Treaty of New York, the Creeks gave the U.S. government permission to use and improve the Indian trail through Alabama to facilitate American settlement following the Louisiana Purchase. After the Treaty, the Creeks were allowed to establish businesses along the Indian trails, to accommodate settlers passing through Indian Territory. This Indian trail was widened and became the Federal Road.
Ancestors of the Poarch Creeks moved down the Alabama River to meet demand for these necessary services to the young American government. These “Friendly Creeks” signed contracts with the new federal government to serve as guides, interpreters, ferrymen and river pilots for those traveling through the Creek Territory. They also operated inns and raised free-range cattle. These families acquired land along the Alabama River from Tensaw to Claiborne and eastward along Little River.
As settlers passing through Indian Territory began to increase, a growing number stopped within the Creek Nation and began settling Indian land. Tensions also increased between Creeks considered “friendly” and those deemed “hostile” towards the U.S. Government. In 1813, a military skirmish at Burnt Corn and the retaliatory attack at Fort Mims resulted in the final battle and defeat of the Creek Nation at Horseshoe Bend. Andrew Jackson took command of Fort Toulouse, renamed it Fort Jackson, and signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. As a result of the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creeks were illegally forced to cede their territory to the United States and were forcibly removed from their land in Alabama.
Despite the policy of removal of Southeastern Indians to Oklahoma, several Creek families in the Tensaw community who had assisted the United States by providing essential services, including Manac, Hollinger, Sizemore, Stiggins, Bailey, Colbert, and Weatherford, were allowed to retain their land. Others, such as Semoice and Lynn McGhee, had been unable to file their land selections earlier. In 1836, a special act of Congress permitted land grants to Lynn McGhee, Semoice, Susan Marlow and Samuel Smith, or their heirs.
By 1836, the Tensaw settlement was well populated and the timber companies had already purchased large tracts of timber land. This development left little nearby land available for land grants. Those families receiving 1836 land grants moved inland away from the River into the Poarch area near the Head of Perdido (Headapadea) and Huxford area in order to find sufficient tracts of grant land.
Because of close family ties, the Indian families intermarried with each other so that a distinct group emerged. This group, which became the Poarch Creek Indians, was distinguished from whites and the other descendents of Creeks in the area, and in later years became discriminated against by them. These settlements became tightly clustered geographically and became more strongly based on a network of close kinship.
The Poarch settlement remained largely ignored and increasingly impoverished following Removal. As discrimination increased, the Indian families became poorer and more isolated. Most families in the community were farm laborers, and later worked with pulp wood. Indian-only schools and churches developed before the turn of the century and were known from records to have existed as early as 1908. Indians were buried separately from whites in a segregated Indian cemetery, Judson Cemetery, on land donated by a freed slave.
Since the early 1900′s, there were some organized efforts to improve the social and economic situation of the Poarch Creeks. The federal government did become involved when it halted the Escambia County Alabama Tax Assessor’s illegal taxation of the Federal Trust Land in Poarch in 1920. The federal government also instigated litigation to penalize trespassers illegally cutting timber on grant land, and this litigation continued until 1925. Episcopal missionaries began providing assistance in 1929. Dr. Robert C. Macy and his wife Anna provided basic medical care and assisted in coordinating the construction of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, which is still standing, and St. John’s in the Wilderness church, which is no longer standing. The Indians chose the name St. Anna’s in honor of Mrs. Anna Macy. These community churches were used as schools for the Indian children. Old photos show these missionaries performing baptisms in the local swimming hole.
A number of actions were taken by the community in the late 1940′s to improve community conditions, including a community boycott of the schools. In 1949, Escambia County, Alabama built a small segregated consolidated Indian School in Poarch, to provide Indians a “separate but equal” education, though only through the sixth grade. The community organized a committee which successfully forced local school authorities to provide the bus service which would allow Indian children to attend junior high and high school. Educational opportunities were further improved in 1970 as a result of the Civil Rights movement. In the early 1990′s, the Tribe restored the Poarch Consolidated School, which currently houses the Calvin McGhee Cultural Center.
Oral history, church and court records show a variety of clearly recognizable but not formally appointed leaders from at least the 1880′s onward until 1950, when more formal leadership was established. The most prominent and widely influential of these leaders was Fred Walker, who was a leader between about 1885 and 1941. The first formal leader in the sense of a single leader with a definite title and a clearly defined role was Calvin McGhee, who was chosen in 1950. A charismatic leader, McGhee led the Poarch community until his death in 1970. He also led a wider land claims movement among Eastern Creek descendants, resulting from the illegal tactics of the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
Calvin McGhee headed the council of the Creek Nation East of the Mississippi, established in 1950, which was based at Poarch and was led by Poarch community leaders. After McGhee’s death, under a newer generation of leaders from within the Poarch community, the council gradually evolved into a nine-member formal governing body for the Poarch community alone.
Eddie L. Tullis led the Poarch Creek Indians in their petitioning the United States government to recognize a government-to-government relationship. On August 11, 1984, these efforts culminated in the United States Government, Department of Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledging that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians exists as an “Indian Tribe.” The Tribe is the only Federally recognized Tribe in the State of Alabama. On November 21, 1984, 231.54 acres of land were taken into trust. On April 12, 1985, 229.54 acres were declared a Reservation.
As of 2006, there are about 2,340 members of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, of which over 1,000 live in the vicinity of Poarch, Alabama (eight miles northwest of Atmore, Alabama, in rural Escambia county, and 57 miles east of Mobile). The current chairman of the Poarch Band of Creek Indians is Buford L. Rolin.