It is said that, centuries ago, our ancestors came from the west, descending from the mountains. The Creator sent down a cedar pole and instructed our people to stand the pole upright and travel in the direction it fell. They followed it for countless days and nights as, each day, the pole fell east. Finally they reached the coast with an endless ocean before them. They asked the Creator if they were to live here and were told to follow the pole one more day and night. The pole fell to the west and they followed. At dawn they discovered a rich and fertile land, teeming with life. The sacred pole stood upright. They had reached their home.

The Creek Indians, along with other southeastern tribes such as the Choctaws and Cherokees, are descended from the peoples of the Mississippian period (circa AD 800-1500). In the 16th century, the arrival of European settlers brought epidemics, violence and unrest to the southeast United States, resulting in a scattering of the region’s indigenous peoples. 

In the 17th century, these diverse populations joined together and established settlements along the central Chattahoochee River, the lower Tallapoosa River and the central Coosa River in what is now east-central Alabama. For the next two centuries, these areas were the heart of what became the Creek Nation, and these new towns (“etvlwv” in the Muskogee language of the Creeks) became the centers of Creek political and ceremonial life. 


The early Creeks had an economy based on farming, hunting and fishing. Common crops were maize (corn), beans and squash – the “Three Sisters” – known to flourish if planted in close proximity to each other. The Creeks lived in simple log cabins with earthen floors and stick and mud chimneys, and they used a fireplace or outdoor fire pit for cooking. Somewhat isolated, they were resourceful and self-sufficient, living according to the rhythm of the land.

In the late 1700’s, the center of the Creek Nation was 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. A Poarch Creek ancestor, Sam Moniac, was one of the signers of that treaty. It is a point of pride that, years later, his descendant David Moniac became the first Native American to graduate from West Point. 

After the Treaty of New York, the Creeks were allowed to establish businesses along the Indian trails to accommodate travelers passing through Indian Territory. One of these Indian trails was widened and became the Federal Road, a major thoroughfare for the migration of settlers. Ancestors of the Poarch Creeks moved down the Alabama River to meet demand, serving as guides, interpreters, ferrymen and river pilots for those passing through Creek Territory. They also operated inns and raised cattle, acquiring land along the Alabama River from Tensaw to Claiborne and eastward along Little River.

The Creek Nation grew steadily over these years and into the early 19th Century. It is estimated that the population in the 1680s was 9,000, rising to 20,000 during the Revolutionary War and to approximately 22,000 by 1830.


As more and more settlers traveled the Federal Road, a growing number began stopping within the Creek Nation with the intention of settling on Indian land. This increased tensions not only between the Creeks and the settlers but also within the Tribe itself. The issue was so divisive that even families were sometimes split. While some Creeks chose to adopt the culture of European settlers in order to maintain peace, others armed themselves for resistance. The latter became known as the Red Sticks because they raised “the red stick of war,” a favored weapon and symbolic Creek war declaration.

In 1813, an attack on peaceful Creek towns prompted the Red Sticks to retaliate, beginning the Creek or Red Stick War. Creeks and settlers alike sought shelter at Fort Mims, about 20 miles west of present-day Poarch. However, the Red Sticks were able to breach the fort and what followed was a fierce battle of which few survived.

Though the dispute began as a Tribal civil war, it soon transformed into an American war against the Creeks. The U.S. Army and various state militias joined the battle against the Red Sticks as an opportunity to eradicate Creek power. The strategy was successful. The final battle at Horseshoe Bend resulted in the total defeat of the Creek Nation. Subsequently, General Andrew Jackson forced the surviving Creeks to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814, ceding much of their ancestral homelands to the U.S. government.


Unfortunately, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was only the beginning of the devastation to come, not just for the Creeks but for all southeastern Indian tribes. Gold had been discovered in Georgia, and the Creeks had developed and cultivated rich agricultural farmlands in Alabama.  In response, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, a shattering assault on human rights.

The Indian removal came to be known as the Trail of Tears because of the destruction and human suffering it caused. With the promise of unsettled land elsewhere, the tribes were forcibly marched more than 1,000 miles west, across nine states, to live in what would become Oklahoma. Those who resisted removal were forced out at gunpoint with no time to collect their belongings, their homes looted by white settlers as they left. Of the 22,000 Creek Indians who set out on the Trail of Tears, only half actually made it to Oklahoma. Creek Tribal Chief Sam Moniac was among the approximately 4000 who died on the Trail due to exposure, starvation and disease.

The policy of Indian removal was controversial then and now. It was met with strong opposition and bitter debate at the time of the law’s passage, and modern-day critics have referred to it as ethnic cleansing and genocide. 

In 1987, Congress designated the Trail of Tears a National Historic Trail to acknowledge and pay tribute to those who suffered and died there.

 “…as the blood runs through your veins, it also runs through the ones that were on the Trail of Tears…  So, if you are Indian, you are part of my people.” 

~Chief Calvin McGhee


Despite the removal effort, several Creek families in the Tensaw community were able to escape expulsion during the Trail of Tears. Those who had been loyal to the U.S. government or had worked as scouts and traders were allowed to remain and were awarded land grants. William Weatherford (Red Eagle), who played a prominent role in the Creek War, was among those who stayed. Another who remained was Lynn McGhee. Because the government had sold his original homestead, McGhee was granted new parcels of land in Escambia County, Alabama, an act that would prove providential to our current day Tribe. Those allowed to retain their original land included the families of Moniac (Manac), Hollinger, Sizemore, Stiggins, Bailey, Colbert, Semoice, Marlow, Gibson and Smith.

By 1836, the Tensaw settlement was well populated. However, the timber companies had purchased large tracts of land which left little available for land grants. As a consequence, those families receiving grants at that time moved inland away from the river into the Poarch area near the Head of Perdido (Headapadea) and Huxford in order to find sufficient tracts of land.

Separated from the rest of the Creeks, these Indian families worked and lived alongside each other and, over time, became a distinct Tribe unto themselves – the Poarch Creek Indians. 


In the years following the Indian Removal, Poarch Creek ancestors endured severe hardship and discrimination and struggled to provide for their families. Many of the original land grants were lost to swindlers and armed squatters. In some cases, land was sold under duress, the result of pressure and fear tactics, or abandoned out of the need to find work to survive.

Sharecropping became a common practice among Poarch ancestors. Those families who were without land grants moved around the region for work and sometimes even moved away. For a few decades, Poarch ancestors who had stayed in Alabama exchanged visits with their close relatives in Indian Territory in Oklahoma. Some even voluntarily relocated to Oklahoma in the hope of a better life and to reunite with loved ones. But as the years passed, so did many elders and, along with them, the bonds with family in Indian Territory were sometimes lost.

Lynn McGhee passed in 1848, the last to still hold his original land reservation. He had been unable to acquire his full allotment within the same section so his land consisted of two parcels. In 1840, his allotment in Red Hill was occupied by his family and other members of the Tribe. Upon his death, they remained on the land but relocated southwest to the area at the head of the Perdido River. 

In 1850, the U.S. government was petitioned to order transfer of the families who continued to occupy the land they had been granted, removing them to Indian Territory in the Arkansas District. But the debate over the removal request was eventually overshadowed by a bigger issue­—the Civil War. When Alabama seceded from the United States in 1861, many Poarch ancestors answered the call to serve. However, the fear of removal continued throughout the war and beyond, as more and more Indian land and natural resources were sought by the surrounding non-Indian population.

In the late 1800s, with the Civil War ended and the country focused on other issues, the existence of the Creek Indians was mostly ignored by the federal government. Though they were increasingly disadvantaged economically, the Poarch Creeks shared a strong bond of family, tradition and heritage. There were four primary communities: Hog Fork, Bell Creek, Poarch Switch and Headapadea. Tribal Members lived solitary rural lives with little outside contact. Most worked the land as farm laborers, cattle herders or in the timber or turpentine industries. 



Just as Jim Crow laws discriminated against the African American community, the Indian population at Poarch was also the victim of increasing discrimination as the years passed. Indian-only schools and churches became the norm in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Burials took place in an Indian-only cemetery on land donated by a freed slave.

The turn of the 20th century saw the first truly organized efforts by the Poarch Creeks to improve social and economic conditions for the Tribe. In 1920, the federal government halted the illegal taxation of trust land by Escambia County, Alabama. There was also federal litigation on behalf of the Poarch community that outlawed the illegal cutting of timber on grant land.

Throughout this time, the church played a critical role in helping ease the burdens of the community. Episcopal missionaries Dr. Robert C. Macy and his wife Anna began working in Poarch in 1929, providing basic medical care and spiritual counsel. They oversaw the construction of St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, which stands to this day and is named after Anna Macy. The couple also started St. John’s in the Wilderness, which is no longer standing. These churches proved to be important touchstones for the community, even serving as schools for Indian children. Every Sunday morning you could hear the Episcopal Church bell ring.

Education was the spark that would lead to reform and self-determination among the Poarch Indians. In 1949, Escambia County opened what became known as the Poarch Consolidated School to provide Indian children a “separate but equal” education—but only through the sixth grade. In response, the community rose up and forced local authorities to provide bus service so Indian children could continue their education at the county junior high and high school. Educational opportunities continued to improve as the years passed and, in the early 1990’s, the Tribe restored the Poarch Consolidated School which had been closed in 1970 with desegregation. It remains today as an important symbol of the Tribe’s history and solidarity.


Leadership within the Poarch Creek Tribe was not formalized until 1950. Prior to this, leaders such as Fred Walker, who served from 1885 until the 1940s, rose naturally from the community.

The first formal leader was Calvin McGhee who served from 1950 until his death in 1970 as head of the council for the Creek Nation East of the Mississippi, the precursor to today’s Poarch Creek Indians. McGhee was a fearless, intelligent leader and powerful public speaker who established critical relationships with federal policymakers on behalf of the Creek Nation, even meeting with President John F. Kennedy. To fund his trips to Washington, the community came together to host local events and dinners to solicit small donations. Under McGhee’s leadership, the Poarch Indians successfully developed land claims for eastern Creeks and sought formal recognition for the Tribe from the U.S. government. 


After McGhee’s death, a new generation of leaders emerged and evolved into a formal nine-member Tribal Council to govern the Tribe. The U.S. government was then petitioned to recognize a government-to-government relationship.

On August 11, 1984, the U.S. formally acknowledged that the Poarch Creek Indians officially exists as an “Indian Tribe.” A segment of the original reservation land of Lynn McGhee became the center of Tribal operations. It is the only land within the original domain of the Creek Confederacy to still be occupied by Creek people.

To this day, the Poarch Creek Indians remain the only federally recognized Tribe in the State of Alabama.