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The Alabama-Coushatta Indians

By R. E. Moore

For 2012, NEW. We now have names from the Alabama - Coushatta Indians.

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The Great Spirit had bestowed upon man the priceless gift of free will of which each individual makes his own choice between "good" and "evil" - this is a fundamental teaching of the Alabama-Coushatta.

This symbol of the twin water-fowls represents the Alabama-Coushatta Tribes. The Creator is symbolized by what has come to be called the egg, the seed, or the cell.

The four diamond-shaped symbols issuing from the mouth means the four elements: air, fire, water, and earth - all which make life possible. Yet, from the last one, a sprout emerges signifying a new beginning. The design symbolizes the four directions, the four seasons, the four phases of man, and all things appearing in multiples of four.

This symbol also represents the Twin Manifestations, or the two wise ones to come, as foretold in the many legends of North, South, and Central American Indian cultures that will unite the people as one.

The Twin Manifestations are also viewed as the positive and negative elements: day and night, sky and earth, life and death. Each is seen as apart of the necessary rhythm of the Circle of Life as it is known throughout creation.

The seven feathers and black points on either side are a representation of the seven sacred fires and the seven ceremonial pipes. Seven times seven is forty-nine, at which time a man or woman is recognized, after having survived all tests and difficulties and proven through deed the wisdom of his or her spiritual power.

These are two tribes that combined to live together, the Alabama tribe and the Coushatta tribe. Neither tribe is originally from Texas. Both are from the Southeast -- Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia. The Alabama are one tribe from Alabama and the Coushatta are another. Both were forced to move to Texas. The Alabama are a subtribe of the Creek Indian tribe, so anything you can find on the Creeks will be useful to you. The Creeks were, and still are, a large and important tribe. The Creek tribe was formed from the survivors of the many mound building tribes who lived in the Southeast United States. The Creek Indians are one of the five "civilized tribes" from the Southeast who now live in Oklahoma.

The record of the first contact with the Alabama comes from the De Soto expedition in 1641. Desoto found the "Alibamo" tribe in central Mississippi and attacked a killed many of them in a fierce battle. Later they moved east into present day Alabama where they lived at the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers. DeSoto also found the Coushata living on the Tennessee river. By the 1780s the Americans wanted the land in Alabama and the Alabama were forced to move west across the Mississippi river into Louisiana around Opelousa. Around 1803 they moved west again into across the Sabine river into Northeast Texas. They were settled in the region of the Hasinais Caddo Indians where they still live today. In 1858 they were given 1280 acres of land where their reservation is today. In 1955 the Federal Government turned the administration of the reservation over to the State of Texas. So, this is not an official reservation like other Indians have.

The Alabama Coushatta are a culture of farmers who live in villages. Before contact with Europeans, they lived in Indian style houses in large villages. By historical times, 1700-1900, they lived in European style houses on European style farms. They were very much like the Caddo and the other Southeastern Indian tribes. Look for info about the Caddo, Creeks, Cherokees, or other southern Indians.

The Alabama-Coushatta are both part of the Southeastern Mound Building cultures. These cultures include the Creeks, Cherokees, Caddo, Natchez, Choctaw, Muscogee and others. All of these tribes shared a common religion. Each tribe had its own traditions and way of observing this religion. But the basic beliefs, ceremonies and traditions are basically the same.

They built huge temple mounds of dirt. These were like pyramids. On top they would place a temple or the house of a priest or chief. There are thousands of these mounds all over the southern US. In Texas the Caddo built mounds. You can visit Indian Mounds State Park near Alto and see some of them.

Fire was an important part of their religious tradition. Each house kept a sacred fire going all the time. At the main temple there was also a fire that burned all the time. These fires were built a special way. They would place four logs in the shape of a cross around the central fire. One log would point north, one east, one south and one west. As the fire burned the ends of these logs the people would push them in to the center. A home fire would have small logs and a dance ground, would have big logs to last longer. Fire was believed to be a part of the sun and the sun represented the highest God. Here is the Southeastern Indian symbol for fire and the sun.

The arms are the logs and the small circle in the middle is the fire.

For food these Indians farmed corn, beans, squash and other crops. They would also hunt deer and gather berries, roots, and nuts. They used bows and arrows to hunt larger animals in the forests like deer. One favorite food was bear. Bear meat must be very good to eat because the Indians and Europeans seemed to have liked it more than deer or beef when they could get it. To hunt smaller animals like birds and rabbits they used blow guns made from long lengths of cane.

They did things to make hunting easier in the woods around where they lived and farmed. Early European explorers reported finding the woods cleared like a European park. This means the grass was short and the undergrowth was cleared away. The Indians did not have tractors or lawn mowers to do this. They would set fires in the woods to burn away the old taller grass and small shrubs and bushes without hurting the old trees with thick bark. If this is done every year or so, the fire keeps the undergrowth out. The Indians would do this in the fall and winter. In the spring new green grass would get more sun and grow better on the burned areas than in undergrowth. This tender green grass would attract deer and animals to hunt. These fires also made it easier to find acorns and nuts on the ground. The Southeastern Indians used a lot of acorns for food. So these fires were useful and not destructive. This is one way the Indians controlled their environment. Here is a Myth about how the Indians got fire.

"When Bear Lost Fire"
from Texas Indian Myths and Legends
by Jane Archer, Wordware Publishing

Bear roamed through thick forests, eating sweet honey from bee hives, fishing in rushing streams, and sleeping through long winters in deep, warm caves. Strong and powerful, Bear owned Fire.
Bear carried Fire everywhere, but one day Bear grew distracted by an abundance of tasty acorns. Bear set Fire on the ground, then gobbled up acorns with no thought to Fire.
Soon Fire burned low and grew afraid, for Bear moved farther away under ancient trees, tossing acorns into massive jaws.
"Help me!" Fire tried to burn brighter but with no success.
Bear didn't hear, having spotted a beehive. Thoughts of a thick yellow comb dripping with sticky sweetness danced in Bear's head. Copyright, 2000, Jane Archer
"Feed me!" Fire called desperately, almost extinguished from lack of fuel.
The people gathered pecans under nearby trees. They heard Fire cry out, but they knew it was dangerous to go near Bear who owned Fire. Still they could not ignore the helpless cries.
"What do you eat?" the people asked.
"Wood. I need wood."
The people quickly gathered a piece of wood from each direction, then returned. They laid a stick across Fire toward the north. They laid a stick across Fire toward the west. They laid a stick across Fire toward the south. They laid a stick across Fire toward the east. And finally Fire blazed up.
"You saved me." Fire burned brightly.
A loud roar came from under the oak trees, and Bear rushed into the clearing. The people scattered in all directions, dropping their baskets of pecans.
Bear reached down to take back Fire but jerked away, burned for the first time.
"Go away," Fire said. "You forgot me so I no longer know you."
Bear rose up high on two legs, growling and whining, but to no avail. Fire no longer knew Bear, so the mighty beast lumbered unhappily away with no interest in acorns or honey now.
"Come get me," Fire called to the people. "If you take care of me, I will take care of you."
And the People came for Fire.

Copyright, 2000 Jane Archer

If you enjoyed this myth, read more in Texas Indian Myths and Legends by Jane Archer. Ask your librarian to order Texas Indian Myths and Legends for your school.

Click here to send Wordware Publishing a thank you e-mail. for sharing this myth with us.

Did you like that myth? Now that you know about the Alabama-Coushatta and their religion and traditions about fire do you see these things in the myth? To learn more about Indian myths and for activities using myths check out our Indian Myths page.

This is Chief Clayton Sylestine, 1999. He is an Alabama Indian, but is Chief of both tribes. He is a retired forestry technician. I asked him, "what would you like to say to people outside the reservation, what would you like them to know"? He answered.

"I would like people to see the Alabama-Coushatta as human beings, not the savages on TV and the movies. We are just like everyone else in the modern world. I would also like people to know we are not Plains Indians, we never lived in tee-pees. We had log cabins and huts. We were farmers and hunters."

I then asked, "what is the most important thing for your people today"? He answered,

"We need to emphasize education from elementary to college for our young people. We are trying to save the old language. We want the young people to learn to speak Alabama or Coushatta. Too many of them are growing up with only English".

The Alabama-Coushatta are one of three Federally recognized Indian tribes in Texas. The Alabama-Coushatta live today on 2800 acres of tribally owned land in east Texas near Livingston. There are 1100 enrolled members of the tribe and about 500 of them live on and around the land. This land used to be part of a reservation. But, the Government dissolved the reservation many years ago. They have a visitor center that is open in the summer and a campground.

This is the lake next to the campground. The reservation is a very beautiful place. The Alabama-Coushatta have nature tours of the reservation.

By the President of the Republic of Texas (1839)
Whereas, it has been made known to the Executive that serious disturbances and conflicts have recently taken place between the Cushatta Indians and some of the citizens of the Republic residing in the neighborhood of their Towns and Villages on the Trinity River, in which five of the Indians have been slain, and the residue (as it is said) threatened with extermination.

And Whereas, it has also been represented to the Executive that the said Cushatta tribe of Indians are, and always have been, peaceful and friendly disposed towards the white settlers of the country, and are desirous of living upon terms of amity with all the good Citizens of this Republic, if permitted to do so.

And Whereas, such disturbances and conflicts if kept up, will involve the Nation in a war with every Indian tribe now within its borders, and prevent the carrying out that system of policy which has been adopted and is now in progress for the termination of the difficulties with which the Country has been so long harassed, by the removal of all Indians having no rightful claim to the soil of Texas, beyond her Territorial limits.

Therefore be it known that I, Mirabeau B. Lamar, President of said Republic, do by virtue of the power and authority invested in one by law, issue this my Proclamation, requesting and strictly enjoining the Citizens of this Republic to abstain from all and every act of hostility towards said Indian tribe not required for the immediate preservation of themselves and property. And I do hereby invoke the said Citizens to make known to their Government through the agent appointed to superintend the affairs of said tribe, all causes of complaint which now exist, or may hereafter arise in respect to the said Indians before proceeding to hostilities with said tribe. And to preserve peace, and to prevent future violations of the Law, I do hereby strictly require and enjoin it upon all Officers of this Republic, Civil and Military, to be vigilent in suppressing all acts of hostility between Citizens of the same, and the said Indian tribe; and to use all proper and lawful means for the dispersing of any armed bands or parties which may assemble for the purpose of violating these laws, and involving the Country in war and bloodshed.

Given under my hand and the seal of the Republic at Houston, this ninth day of July, eighteen hundred and thirty nine, and of the Independence of Texas the Fourth year

Mirabeau B. Lamar [President of Texas]

"President Sam Houston's plans for the Indian population provided for peace, friendship, trade, and frontier protection. Mirabeau B. Lamar, who succeeded Houston as president, adopted a program that included exterminating the hostile tribes and removing friendly tribes from the republic or moving them to reservations in Texas. It is remarkable that Lamar's harsh policy was not applied to the Alabamas and Coushattas. While all other East Texas tribes were removed, Lamar expressed friendship toward these two tribes, requested white settlers in the Trinity River area to respect their rights, and appointed an agent to assist them in their relations with their neighbors. Furthermore, in 1840—during Lamar's administration—the Republic of Texas Congress granted each of these two tribes two leagues of land. " (Howard N. Martin, "ALABAMA-COUSHATTA INDIANS," Handbook of Texas Online )

For you younger readers, there were many laws and customs in the 1890s and later that discriminated against what were called "persons of color" or colored persons. Persons of color were Africans, Mexicans, Chinese and of course Indians. Of course the term colored means their skin was not white. There were laws back then called Jim Crow laws that banned colored persons from sitting in or eating in white only restaurants. Persons of color were not allowed in the city limits of many towns after dark. Businesses could refuse to do business with them and did so. In some places Jim Crow laws required persons of color to always be employed or be sent to prison to work on convict labor gangs. Persons of color or "coloreds' as they were called by whites were not allowed to vote, could not hold elected office, and were not allowed to sue or use the court system. Their children had to go to substandard colored schools and often had no schools. Many jobs and professions were forbidden to coloreds. Most colleges in the south refused colored students by law. In most towns they had to live in colored sections of town and could not buy or live in white only parts of town. So, if an Indian could pass as being white they did. Many did not want to enroll and come under the Jim Crow laws.

Some names in "Albammo Kosati" language

Alabama : Albaamo :: Coushatta Kosaati

Arrow : taki, achsooka :: Arrow head : Taki halokpa

Bal l : Pokko :: Baseball : Pokkobatka :: Football : Pokkochobal :: Soccer : hatika, pokkohatilka

Beans : Chastoki

Bear : Nita

Beautiful : Ilhicha

Bee : Foho

Bird : Foosi

Black : Lochachi

Buffalo : Yanasa

Butterfly : Hakchoopaalpa

Canoe : Pitta

Cat : Kati

Chief : Mikkotilka

Clay : Okti

Clothing : Ilokfa :: Skirt : Hombayka

Cloud : Onoolichi

Corn : Chassi :: Corn dance : Chassibitka

Coyote : Ifamatatli

Dance : Bitka

Deer : Icho

Dog : Ifa :: Puppy : Ifosi

Drummer : Bokokobaati

Eagle : Talaktochoba

Fart : Holikcho

Feather : Foosiwoksi

Fire : Tiba

Flower : Pakaali

Friend : Okla

Four-footed beings : Naasi iyyiostaaka

Frog : Hanono

Green corn : Chassokchaako

Horse : Chichoba

Indian : Aati

Knife : Talkoosa

Elephant : Aatipachoba (Yes they now have a name for elephants now)

Lion : Kowichokchoki

Merry Christmas : Kilismi (Yes, they have a name for that.) Say it out loud.

Owl : Opa

Spider : Hanchoklala

Raccoon : Sawa

Rattle : Iskataahachaabi

Rattlesnake :Chintochoba

Texas : Stulka teksi

Thunderbird : Kolkohkafoosi

War dance : Ittibafabirka

Woodpecker : Hiplichi

Look at the flint tools!! We have more. Look in the opening page.

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2012 Copyright by R E. Moore and Texarch Associates, all rights reserved. Graphics may not be used or reproduced without prior permission. Short parts of text may be quoted in school reports. Longer quotes require prior written permission.

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