- “Last Evening I Saw the Sun Set for the Last Time”The 1832 Treaty of Washington and the Transfer of the Creeks’ Alabama Land to White Ownership
In his satirical account of the Creek Indian land frauds associated with the 1832 Treaty of Washington, Johnson Jones Hooper describes how his fictional character Simon Suggs is able to purchase a Creek widow’s land for no money down, only to then transfer the land to a man named Colonel Bryan for a five-hundred-dollar profit. Similarly, Hooper writes of a man named Eggleston who marries the daughter of Sudo Micco in order to gain ownership of the family’s land reserve. Once the land is signed over, Eggleston abandons the heartbroken woman.1 Although Simon Suggs never existed, many like him did. Hooper’s tale, which first appeared in the East Alabamian in 1844, would have been familiar to almost everyone in Alabama. Only a decade earlier, speculators led a massive scramble to buy up Creek land. The speculation was facilitated by the Treaty of Washington, signed by the Creeks and the federal government on March 24, 1832. The treaty dissolved the Creek polity into 6,696 sections and half sections of land that were allocated to Creek families. Provisions were made for Creek family heads to legally own these reserves in perpetuity, but federal officials were public about their desire to have the Creek owners sell to white buyers and move west. With the treaty, federal officials had achieved what they had long desired: breaking the Creek Nation into individual parts. No longer required to obtain Creek land through the Creek National Council, speculators and white land buyers could purchase directly from Creek landholders.
The Treaty of Washington, although negotiated during a period of desperation for the Creeks, was, as scholars have pointed out, a possible solution to the myriad problems facing the Creek Nation.2 The vast majority of the Creeks opposed emigration and the treaty was a [End Page 61] last-ditch attempt by the Creeks to maintain control of their traditional homeland. In fact, many defiantly stated that they would rather die than move west.3 Ultimately, the treaty failed to protect the Creeks and their land, and by the end of the 1830s almost all of the Creeks were removed to the Indian territory and their land transferred to white purchasers. This article examines why the Creeks disposed of their reserves and the manner in which they transferred their ancestral Alabama land to white ownership. It is a comprehensive study that explores how this process was carried out even after the Creeks were forced to the western Creek Nation. Many Creeks had not sold their land prior to leaving Alabama, many more had not had their land fraud claims adjudicated, and others died while still in possession of their reserves. Moreover, the land frauds, which plagued the Creeks in the east, continued almost un-checked in the west. In addition, this article expands on other scholars’ contributions by providing new details on the manner in which the Creeks disposed of their land prior to removal. Mary Elizabeth Young, who wrote the standard account of the land frauds, focuses on the actions of the speculators but devotes little time to exploring how the frauds affected individual Creek landholders. John T. Ellisor’s sweeping narrative of the collapsing Creek home front and the events that led to the Second Creek War offers many but not all of the ways in which the Creeks disposed of their reserves. Moreover, while Ellisor writes in relatively general terms about how the Creeks transferred their land, this article focuses more specifically on the actions and reactions of the individual Creek reservees. The Treaty of Washington broke the former Creek Nation into individual parts and created thousands of potential sellers. These Creeks oftentimes did not act in unison when choosing to sell their land and they were not all cheated out of their land in the same manner. Regardless of how the Creeks transferred their land, the end result was the same: the disintegration of the former Creek Nation 320 or 640 acres at a time.4