Creek Stand: exploring a cultural crossroads

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Big Warrior looked out upon an uncertain world from this overlook along the Federal Road in Creek Stand, Alabama in the spring of 1811, the vast Halawakee wetland, teaming with fish and otter and beaver and white tail deer, spreading below his feet represented only a fraction of the good and nurturing land under his family’s care.  As a principle Chief of Tukabatchee town on the mighty and fertile Tallapoosa river at the confluence of the the Uphapee Creek watershed, Big Warrior had to choose wisely the course he would advocate on behalf of his family and kin in the Upper Creek Towns in their emerging relationship with the United States Government. DSC_0239There was this road he was standing on to consider carefully. The Federal Road, built so that the Americans could deliver their war correspondence from their capital in Washington City (later D.C.) to the hotly contested international ports of trade of Mobile and New Orleans on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. By a treaty with the Americans, Big Warrior’s daughter and her husband ran an active and, by accounts and archeological evidence, successful trading and lodging business here, giving this modern Alabama town its name, Creek Stand. Quite literally a place to stand and stretch one’s legs and back after a day’s brutal and exhausting travel on the poorly constructed road through the wilderness of the Creek Nation.

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Galena, the ore of lead, from southern Illinois is mounted into the posts that protect the historic marker in front of the Creek Stand A.M.E. Zion Church. Big Warrior may have sent the Galena to his daughter and son-in-law at Creek Stand to smelt into lead for bullets, bullets for sale or bullets to hide, for a ban on the amount of arms a Native American could posses in his own nation was coming in the next few years; a directive from the land hungry speculators from Tennessee and Georgia that would petition the U.S. government for the right to deprive Big Warrior’s people of their land. Maybe Big Warrior’s friend in the Pan-Indian resistance, the Shawnee Holy Man, Techumsah had shared the Galena traders routes with Big Warrior and his family. With bullets from Illinois, deer and beaver skins to London, Big Warrior’s world was epic in scope and ultimately tragic in reality. By 1835, under the insatiable leadership of greed embodied by then Major General Andrew Jackson, Big Warrior’s landscape was no more. The land around Creek Stand was sold sight-un-seen by land speculators from Georgia to eager families of white folks ready to populate the landscape with cotton rows and slave shacks. And so they did with less or more success; an older Alabamian once said, “Cotton in Alabama in the first half of the 1800’s was just like the Cocaine boom in Columbia in the 1980’s, it was just a few families willing to do whatever it took to make all the cash they could”.  Whichever lens one chooses to look at the period of transition from Creek Nation to white owned, slave produced cotton to post Civil War small planters, it should be considered that it all happened in a mere 54 years. The Federal Road was built in 1811 and the American Civil war ended in 1865. So what now?
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The Bobcat Flats juke joint that probably ran from the 1970’s to the 1990’s on the remnant of the Old Federal Road is just a pile of rotting lumber and a brick foundation in the woods, probably a good thing, serious drug trafficking has pretty much made juke joints too dangerous to operate in the South anymore. Big land owners have several large hunting clubs in Creek Stand, as if the white tailed deer that fed and enriched Big Warrior and his people just keep getting fatter and bigger on the abundant acorns and cover of the Halawakee Swamp. There was a food CO-OP that tried to grow a good crop of sweet potatoes to give away to folks on a limited budget, but the deer ate them up. Things are old and delicate and somehow wounded in Creek Stand. There isn’t a store to buy anything. Everyone who needs to go do something other than hunt or go to church goes up to Tuskeegee or even further, all the way up highway 29, up to the Walmart in Auburn.

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But Creek Stand whispers its story into the ears of sleeping descendents  far away from the A.M.E. Zion Church, where a slave named Jalani, later Steve Pace, who was kidnapped in Africa and brought to Creek Stand, managed to keep the lock that shackled him and passed it down to all the Paces that followed him into the cemetery at Creek Stand…Dr. Lorenzo Pace heard Jalani from his resting place in Creek Stand, he heard his great-great Grandfather tell him the story of the lock, and Dr. Pace, who is an artist, told everybody else, especially children, in his book for children called Jalani and the Lock. DSC_0233

Shari Williams, heard her grandmother’s voice in Akron Ohio telling her about the wonderful sense of peace that came over one in Creek Stand, how you could really listen to the land and the land speaks. Shari is a descendent of Jalani as well, and when she finally came to visit the Creek Stand of her grandmother as a grown woman, she knew she had come home. She now is the director of the Ridge Interpretive Center at Creek Stand, Alabama; finding out more, listening more closely, and telling more people about the land that sings so quietly but so persistantly.

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