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OPOTHLEYAHOLA (ca. 1780-1863)

Chief Opothleyahola, McKenney Hall photo

Prominent Creek chief Opothleyahola was most likely born circa 1780 to Davy Cornell, a mixed-blood Creek, and a woman of the Tuckabatchee town in present Montgomery County, Alabama. He became noteworthy beginning around 1820 as speaker for the council of the Upper Creeks, primarily full bloods who held to their traditional culture, as opposed to the Lower Creeks, who adopted the lifestyles of the non-Indians around them. Adding to this divisiveness, a number of the Lower Creeks looked with favor upon the exchange of their eastern homeland for land west of the Mississippi River. One of their leaders, William McIntosh, was executed by Upper Creeks for signing a 1825 treaty that would have given up all Creek land in Georgia. Opothleyahola led the Upper Creeks in their resistance to removal to the West, but eventually he came to see it as inevitable. By 1832, after a large number of the Lower Creeks had removed voluntarily, he was the Creek Nation's acknowledged leader. He was instrumental in negotiating the treaty of March 1832, which led to the exodus of the remainder of the tribe to Indian Territory in present Oklahoma.

The Civil War (1861-65) deepened the Creek Nation's factionalism. After the Creek council made a treaty of alliance with the Confederacy, Opothleyahola led a mass exodus of Creeks and members of other tribes who were loyal to the Union to seek refuge in Kansas. Confederate forces followed in late 1861, leading to the Battle of Round Mountain on November 19, the Battle of Chusto-Talasa on December 9, and the Battle of Chustenahlah on December 26. Forced to leave most provisions behind in their haste to escape the pursuing Confederates, the Indians suffered hardship in refugee camps in Kansas, where Opothleyahola died of illness on March 22, 1863.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carter Blue Clark, "Opothleyahola and the Creeks During the Civil War," Indian Leaders: Oklahoma's First Statesmen, ed. H. Glenn Jordan and Thomas M. Holm (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma Historical Society, 1979). Angie Debo, The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941). John Bartlett Meserve, "Chief Opothleyahola," The Chronicles of Oklahoma 9 (December 1931).

Anna Eddings

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