Gunter’s Landing, Alabama
Gunter’s Landing, Alabama, on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail: A Site Report
by Jamie A. Metrailer
Resources on Indian Removal No. 4
Sequoyah Research Center
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
September 19, 2006
Research for this report was funded in part by a Challenge Cost Share Agreement with the Long Distance Trails Office of the National Park Service, Santa Fe, New Mexico. No part of this text may be duplicated or otherwise used except by permission of the author or as provided for by the “Special Provision” section of the agreement.
Gunter’s Landing received its name from John Gunter, a white settler of the southern most bend of the Tennessee River in Alabama. Gunter located salt deposits at this site and began to trade with nearby Cherokees.
Gunter married Ghi-go-ne-li of the Holly Clan and became accepted into the Cherokee tribe. The Gunters opened a store known as Gunter’s Landing. The success of this store resulted in the town being named Gunter’s Landing around 1784.1
Gunter’s Landing was an important Cherokee site until removal. In October of 1813, General Andrew Jackson arrived on his way to do battle with the Creeks. He enlisted local Cherokees, including one of John Gunter’s sons.2 After his battles with the Creek Nation, Jackson ordered construction of the Jackson Trail to Gunter’s Landing. This trail was to facilitate the transport of military supplies through the South from Nashville.3 Dr. Emmet Starr, Cherokee historian and genealogist, also notes that “Gunter…operated a powder mill in the Cherokee country in 1814.”4 Starting around 1820, Gunter began operating a ferry across the Tennessee River.5
By 1835, the number of Gunter enterprises had expanded. In this year, Gunter built the first painted house in the area; known as the “White House.”6 When Gunter died the next year, the Rev. William Potter, superintendent of the Creek Path Mission, became executor of his will. Gunter’s will entitled Potter to large number of slaves and cleared land. About the time of his father’s death, John Gunter Jr. built a large store and warehouse near his father’s house.7 Other buildings in Gunter Landing in the mid-1830s included a boarding house and a land office.
Gunter’s Landing’s location on the Tennessee, the Ohio, and the Mississippi Rivers was largely responsible for its early development. Access to these rivers made it an important site in Cherokee removal because it allowed for a water passage through Arkansas into Indian Territory. Gunter’s Landing was a departure point for Creeks and Cherokees who were being removed from their homes in Georgia and Alabama. These facts make it an important site on the Trail of Tears.
Gunter’s Landing and Muscogee (Creek) Removal
Before Cherokee removal, Gunter’s Landing acted as a departure point for Creeks that were being removed along the Tennessee River and into Indian Territory. The first party left Gunter’s Landing in September 1836.
Lieutenant Edward Deas had gathered 1,170 at Talladega and started them on the road westward. Deas then went ahead to Gunter’s Landing, where a large group of Creeks had already been assembled under the charge of Andrew Moore. Deas’ purpose was to enroll these Creeks so that when the first party reached Gunter’s Landing, the groups could be combined into one for removal to the West. On September 10, Deas passed control of the over 1,000 encamped Creeks to conductor John A. Campbell. Campbell was an agent of the Alabama Emigrating Company, which had the contract to remove the Creeks. When the group from Talladega arrived, the combined parties crossed the Tennessee on September 20 and proceeded by way of Huntsville. While they were encamped at Gunter’s Landing, the Creeks had a difficult time. The Alabama Emigrating Company refused to honor their contract, which called for supplying the Indians with rations as soon as they assembled for removal.8
Meanwhile, Deas had returned to Talladega for a second group. This group also took the route that passed through Gunter’s Landing. Deas wrote, “This route was chosen to avoid traveling over the same ground with any of the large parties from the lower part of the nation, that crossed the Coosa River below Talladega & also to pass over the more fertile country, & better roads than by pursuing a more direct course towards Tuscumbia.”9
On September 27th, while still at Gunter’s Landing, Deas wrote: “An unfortunate circumstance occurred two days ago. A few Indians loitered behind the Party at a grocery upon the road near Gunter’s Landing & of course became intoxicated. Whilst in this condition one of them named No cose hadja, of the Hillabees, had some disagreement with a white man named Burns who drew a pistol, shot the Indian in the side. Information was brought to me in the night, upon which I immediately returned to the place, 6 miles, & found the Indian very drunk, but as I thought not dangerously wounded. I had him conveyed to Camp, as speedily as possible, & as Burns had escaped, wrote to Genl Moore at Gunter’s Landing, that he might have him duly prosecuted. The Indians were much incensed & wanted to return & do mischief, but were persuaded to desist, being promised that the Agent would attend to having justice done in the case.”10
The next group of Creeks to leave Gunter’s Landing was taken from the Cherokee Nation. Colonel Byrd’s forces captured 543 Creeks who were assembled in May 1837 at Gunter’s Landing. “They were Muscogees who had fled their nation after the removal treaty of 1832 and had been living in the Cherokee Nation, where they were rounded up by militia.”11 A letter from Deas to the Commissioner of Indian Affair, written from Gunter’s Landing on May 10, provides insight into the history of this contingent. Deas states that “about 545 of the Refugee Creek Indians are now camped, and guarded, within four miles of this place [Gunter’s Landing]. Near a hundred of them were apprehended in the mountains of North Carolina, and were conducted by myself to Ross’s Landing…Two other detachments, one from Red Clay and the other from Coosawatie, were brought to the same point, and on the 2nd inst about 350 were there assembled.” Deas then had “them removed by water to the neighborhood of this place, which they reached in safety on the morning of the 7th.”12 Deas noted his plans for the party; to “turn over for Emigration on tomorrow (the 11th) to the Agent of the Alabama Emigrating Company, now present.”13
Deas’ May 10th letter also provides insight into the physical health of these Creek Indians. “Dysentery…has affected a large number of children.”14 To relieve such illnesses, Deas purchased $26.25 of medical supplies on May 10; including cathartic pills, salts, calomel, laudanum, powders, castor oil, phials and corks, itch ointment, and molasses. These medicines were to be administered by William Morgan, physician to Creek Indians near Gunter’s Landing from May 9 to May 25.15 After employing Morgan as physician, Deas offered some medical advice of his own: “It would be extremely hazardous to embark the Indians on their journey until this disorder is checked.”16 On May 16, nine flat boats holding these Creeks departed west from Gunter’s Landing. More than seventy escaped during the first sixty miles of their journey, which would take them to Tuscumbia by flatboats, overland to Waterloo, and then by the steamboat Blackhawk to Arkansas.17
Deas was disbursing officer for contingent and kept a diary of the events that transpired on the Tennessee River. His Journal of Occurrences for May 16, 1837, for example, records their departure from Gunter’s Landing: “I turned the party over this morning at the encampment of Tennessee volunteers about 4 miles south of Gunter’s Landing, where the Indians have been grounded for the last week…They were moved to the water’s edge by noon and about sun-set the whole embarked on the flat-boats and are [at] this time (10 o’clock PM) progressing slowly by the force of the current…”18 Deas remained concerned with the health of the Creek party: “There are but very few cases of sickness.”19
Muster roll for the Creeks on May 16 records their tribal town affiliations as follows: Taladega Town, Chockoloch Town, Cheawhaw Town, Hillabee Town, Tallassee Hatchy Town, Terrapin Creek Town, Emahee Town, Conchardy Town, Oakchonalygy Town, Fish Pond Town, Wewokee Town, Topofka Town, and Potoshatchy Town.20
By the time this last group of Creeks left Gunter’s Landing, the site had already become important for Cherokee removal.
Gunter’s Landing and Cherokee Removal
Though often ignored by the Cherokees, the Treaty of 1828 was aimed at persuading the Indians residing east of the Mississippi to remove their own families West. Government incentives for “enrolling…each Head of a Cherokee family…for emigration” included “the cost of emigration” and “compensation for the property he may abandon.”21 Persons of Indian blood that resided west of the Mississippi were often employed by the United States government in an effort to persuade eastern Indians to avail themselves of the provisions of the Treaty of 1828. Such efforts often resulted in small parties of Indian emigrants boarding keelboats and flatboats at Gunter’s Landing in 1829 and 1830 and continuing their journey west on the Tennessee River.22 For example, “One group, consisting of 113 white men and their Cherokee families, 237 Indian men and their families, and 122 slaves, removing under the Treaty of 1828, boarded 20 flatboats at Gunter’s Landing, Alabama in January 1830.”23
Not all Cherokees who went west of the Mississippi were satisfied with the new land. For example, in a letter to newspapers, dated at Gunter’s Landing on December 24,1831, John Gunter Jr. recorded the disappointing western experience of Alexander Thompson of the Cherokee Nation. Thompson observed that “the country of Arkansas is subject to all kinds of diseases…good springs are very rare to be found, and other streams afford water of a very inferior quality…timber grows to a low height…game is not so plentiful. . . . [and] all kinds of growing evils are practiced in the country- such as gaming cards, horse racing, and other bad habits.”24
President Andrew Jackson’s government officials and the Ridge Party of the Cherokee Nation signed the Treaty of New Echota on December 29, 1835. The treaty ceded Cherokee lands in Georgia and Alabama; in exchange, the Cherokees were given lands in Indian Territory. The treaty gave the Cherokees three years to prepare for their move west.
On March 6, 1837, a group of 466 of these Treaty Party Cherokees departed Ross’s Landing and headed towards Gunter’s Landing.25 This party “was the first party to go west using the government assistance under the terms of the Treaty of New Echota. . . ” and included such well-known figures as Stand Watie and Major Ridge and his wife. The party “was under the charge of Dr. John S. Young, and the physician Dr. C. Lillybridge, plus three assistants and three interpreters, one of whom was Elijah Hicks.”26
The March 6 journal entry of Doctor Lillybridge, a physician accompanying the contingent, provides insight into problematic situations at Gunter’s Landing. After Lillybridge mentions the prescribed bleeding of a Cherokee emigrant, the doctor writes: “With a view of preventing the Indians from indulging too freely in Whiskey the Gen. Ordered the Boats on our arrival to be landed at Gunter’s Island…they seized whatever craft touched the Island…and some swam across…The Indians who got to town were soon under the influence of the destroyer, a fight ensued in the fracas, a white man, was stuck by an Indian, who in turn seized an axe and aimed at the offender…The Indian was quick to elude the blow and leap into the River, where he narrowly escaped from drowning.”27
On March 7, the steamboat Knoxville departed Gunter’s Landing pulling eleven flatboats of this party and headed towards Decatur.28 Lillybridge wrote that the steamer was “engaged to tow down the flats to the head of the Shoals.” Lillybridge also spoke of the sickness in the party: “Two Creek women were found sick from exposure during the night a wet situation …a child…was sick with diarrhea [and diarrhea] appears in the different parts of the boat, but very mild…a number slightly affected from the exposure to the Sun…”; Lillybridge also notes that he,” Extracted tooth for Standing Wolf.”29
The first Cherokee group to leave under the forced removal was led by Lieutenant Deas in April, 1838. The group of more than 300 passed Gunter’s Landing around the first of April. Though the captain of the George Guess claimed to have transported 249 Cherokees from the Agency in Tennessee to Tuscumbia, the group’s actual number was more like 300. This was a result of the steamboat captain picking up extra passengers along the Tennessee River route.
Thus two groups of Cherokees made up the emigrants aboard the George Guess. First were the 250 that the government was removing and who would be placed in Deas’ charge. They came from Long Savannah, Tennessee; Creek Path, Alabama; Turkey Town, Hightower; Dirt Town, Georgia; Broom Town, Rabbit Trap, Coosawatie; Wo ki ah; Gilmer County, Georgia, Wills Valley; Floyd County, Georgia; Cha te la, Tennessee; Wills Town; Hamilton County, Tennessee; Walker County, Georgia; Candy’s Creek, Tennessee; Town Creek or Sau tah, Alabama; Mouse Creek, Tennessee; near Ross’s Landing; and Lookout Valley.31
The second group of Cherokees who made up the people on board the George Guess consisted of those who had received $20 per family member and slave to remove themselves. Between December 1, 1837, and March 1, 1838, Smith had enrolled and paid 133 Cherokees for self-removal. They came from Chickamauga, Tennessee; Oostanaula, Georgia; Chestua Creek, Bradley County, Tennessee; Jackson County, Alabama; Hamilton County, Tennessee; Blount County, Tennessee, Lookout Valley, Tennessee; Gilmer County, Georgia; Hare’s Creek, Tennessee; Long Savannah, Tennessee; near the Tennessee River; Grass Hopper Creek; Blythe’s Ferry; Coosawattee; Candy’s Creek, Tennessee; and Gunter’s Landing, Alabama.32 Deas gives no specific numbers of this group, for his duty was to those whom the government was removing. According to Deas, besides his party there were “some other emigrants of the same tribe” in the party who were removing themselves. However, later in Little Rock, he gives the number of passengers in the boat as about 350, which more nearly approximates the number of people in both groups.
While the Deas party was just getting under way, General Winfield Scott arrived at the Cherokee Nation in order to initiate his plans for Indian removal.33 The Military Orders No. 25,. signed May 17, 1838 at the Cherokee Agency East by General Scott state: “The Cherokees, by the advances which they have made in Christianity and civilization, are by far the most interesting tribe of Indians in the territorial limits of the United States. Of the 15,000 of those people who are now to be removed—(and the time within which a voluntary emigration was stipulated, will expire on the 23rd instant–) it is understood that four fifths are exposed, or have become adverse to a distant emigration; and altho’ none are in actual hostilities with the United States, or threaten a resistance by arms, yet the troops will probably be obliged to cover the whole country they inhabit, in order to make prisoners and to march or to transport the prisoners, by families, either to this place, to Ross’ Landing or Gunter’s Landing, where they are to be finally delivered over to the Superintendent of Cherokee Emigrations.”34
In June of 1838, General Winfield Scott ordered local militia to capture Alabama and Georgia Cherokees. Of the Indians remaining on their lands, a party of 800 Cherokees was forced into stockades and placed in charge of Lieut. Edward Deas at Ross’s Landing in early June of 1838. In his journal, Deas stated: “The present party of Cherokees consists mostly of Indians that were collected by the Troops and inhabited that portion of the Cherokee embraced within the limits of Georgia.”35 The emigrants were forcibly placed on the steamboat George Guess and six keelboats by twenty-three guards in order to prevent escape. Several days after leaving Ross’s Landing, the detachment passed Gunter’s Landing.36 In his Journal of Occurrences for the 8th of June, Deas states: “We passed Gunter’s Landing about 9 o’clock and then continued to run…until dark…The weather has been remarkably fine since starting and the people generally healthy though there are several cases of sickness amongst the children.”37
The next Cherokee party to pass Gunter’s Landing left Ross’s Landing on June 12. Lead by Lieutenant R. H. K. Whiteley, the party of about 875 made their journey down the Tennessee on six flatboats. A large number of the Cherokees in route to Waterloo escaped a few days after departure.38
After these removals by water, Cherokee removal suspended until the fall of 1838. The government then agreed to allow the Cherokee Nation to remove its own people. They divided into thirteen contingents, all of which would go overland except the last. The first contingent of 1,103 Cherokees in charge of John Benge began its overland journey on October 1, 1838.39 Benge’s contingent left Fort Payne, Alabama, for Gunter’s Landing, “accompanied by the assistant and second chief of the Cherokee Nation, George Lowry, the physician W.P. Rawles, and the contractor William Shore Coodey.”40 Benge’s detachment left Gunter’s Landing on October 10.41
In the early days of January, 1839, the thirteenth and final Cherokee removal detachment passed Gunter’s Landing. The Drew detachment, which included Chief John Ross and his family, left the Cherokee Agency on December 7, aboard four flatboats, floating down the Hiwassee and Tennessee. An extreme drought in 1838 had greatly reduced water levels in the Tennessee, thus travel was slow and laborious. As far as the U. S. Government was concerned, the arrival of this party in the West would mark the end of Cherokee removal.42
4. Emmett Starr, History of the Cherokees and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Reprint ed. (Millwood, NY: Kraus Reprint Company, 1977), 472.
8. Amanda L. Paige, et al., North Little Rock Site on the Trail of Tears Historic Trail: Historic Contexts Report (Little Rock: American Native Press Archives, UALR, 2004), 29; Edward Deas to George Gibson, September 26, 1836, National Archives Record Group 75, Records Relating to Indian Removal, Records of the Commissary General of Subsistence, Letters Received, Box 9, Creek–1836 File
9. Deas to Gibson, September 26, 1836, Letters Received, Box 9, Creek–1836 File.
11. Paige, et al., North Little Rock Site, 32.
12. Edward Deas to C. A. Harris, May 10, 1837, National Archives Microfilm Publications M234 (Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs), Roll 238, frames 214-217.
15. Receipt for William N. Morgan, May 15, 1837, National Archives Record Group 217, Indian Affairs, Settled Accounts & Claims, Box 226, Edward Deas File, 1180B.
16. Deas to Harris, May 10, 1837, M234-R238, frames 214-217; Walker and Inman receipt, May 11, 1837, RG217, Indian Affairs, Settled Accounts & Claims, Box 220, Edward Deas File 1180B.
17. Grant Foreman, Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956), 188-189; Paige, et al., North Little Rock Site, 32.
20. Muster Roll of a Party of Creek Indians about to Emigrate to the West of the Mississippi River, Under the Contract with the Alabama Emigrating Company on the 16th Day of May 1837, National Archives Microfilm Publications M234 (Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs), Roll 238, Document D79-37.
22. Foreman, Indian Removal, 230.
24. Arkansas Advocate, February 15, 1832.
25. Foreman, Indian Removal, 274.
27. Foreman, “Journey of a Party of Cherokee Emigrants” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 18 (September 1931): 234-235.
28. Foreman, Indian Removal, 274.
29. Foreman, “Journey,”235.
30. Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., Ed., Lieut. Edward Deas’ Journal of Occurrences, April-May 1838. Resources on Indian Removal No. 3 (Little Rock: Sequoyah Research Center, UALR, 2006), 3-5
31. Ibid., 4.
36. Foreman, Indian Removal, 291-292.
38. Foreman, Indian Removal, 302; Paige et al., North Little Rock Site, 47..
40. Account from Batesville News in Arkansas Gazette, December 20, 1838.
42. See Daniel F. Littlefield, Jr., The John Drew Detachment. Resources on Indian Removal No. 2 (Little Rock: Sequoyah ResearchCenter, UALR, 2006).
About North Georgia. Winfield Scott. http://ngeorgia.com/people/scott.html.
Alabama Bureau of Tourism and Travel. Tours and Trails: The Trail of Tears. http://touralabama.org/tours-trails/native-american/trail-of-tears.cfm.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The Cherokees. www.arkansaspreservation.org/preservation-services/trail-of-tears/pdfs/cherokees.pdf.
Arkansas Historic Preservation Program. The Creeks. http://www.arkansaspreservation.org/preservation-services/trail-of-tears/pdfs/creeks/pdf.
Foreman, Grant. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. Second Printing of New Edition. Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.
The Gunter’s Chapter III. http://bryansspace.com/The_Gunters_two/the_gunters.htm.
Historical Timeline. http://www.guntersville.com/hist_3.htm.gunters.
Marshall County CVB. Historical Sites. http://www.marshallcountycvb.com/Historical_Sites.htm
Nance, C. Roger, and Beverly Bastain. “Report on Old Bellefonte: An Historical Site in Northern Alabama.” Birmingham: University of Alabama in Birmingham, 1974.
Paige, Amanda, Fuller Bumpers, and Daniel Littlefield. The North Little Rock Site on the Trails of Tears National Historic Trail : Historical Context Report. Revised April 20, 2004.
Starr, Emmett. History of The Cherokees and Their Legends and Folk Lore. Reprint Edition. Millwood, New York: Kraus Reprint Company, 1977.
University of Tennessee Digital Library Database. Tennessee Documentary History, 1796-1850. http://oai.sunsite.utk.edu/sgm/tl220.html.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District. Guntersville Lock. http://www.lrn.usace.army.mil/locks/guntersville/info.htm
Published Primary Sources
Arkansas Advocate, February 15, 1832.
Arkansas Gazette, December 20, 1838.
Foreman, Grant. “Journey of a Party of Cherokee Emigrants.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review. Vol. 18, No. 2. (Sept., 1931), pp.232-245.
Kappler, Charles. Treaty with the Western Cherokee, 1828. http://digital.library.okstate.edu/KAPPLER/Vol2/treaties/che0288.htm#mn1
Littlefield, Daniel F. Jr. The John Drew Detachment. Resources on Indian Removal No. 2. Little Rock: Sequoyah Research Center, UALR, 2006.
Littlefield, Daniel F. Jr., ed. Lieut. Edward Deas’ Journal of Occurrences, April-May 1838. Resources on Indian Removal No. 3. Little Rock: Sequoyah Research Center, UALR, 2006.
Sequoyah Research Center. Edward Deas Journal of Occurrences May 1837http://anpa.ualr.edu/trail_of_tears/indian_removal_project/eye_witness_accounts/eye-witness4.htm
Sequoyah Research Center. Edward Deas Journal of Occurrences June 1838. http://anpa.ualr.edu/trail_of_tears/indian_removal_project/eye_witness_accounts/eye-witness6.htm
Unpublished Primary Sources
Creel—1836 File, Box 9, National Archives Record Group 75, Records of the Commissary General of Subsistence, Letters Received.
Edward Deas Account, File 1180B, Box 220, Record Group 217, General Accounting Office, Treasury Department, Second Auditor, Indian Affairs, Settled Accounts, 1817-1922.
Edward Deas File, Indian Removal Collection, Sequoyah Research Center.
National Archives Microfilm Publication M234, Letters Received by the Office of Indian Affairs, Roll 238 (Creek Emigration).
John C. Reynolds Account, Files 3229A and 3229C, Box 285, Record Group 217, General Accounting Office, Treasury Department, Second Auditor, Indian Affairs, Settled Accounts and Claims, 1817-1922.