Welcome to the town of Cherokee, the heart of Western Colbert County. We pride ourselves on maintaining family values and a “small town feel.” It is truly an honor and a privilege, being granted the opportunity to better this great community.
Our community is located on the beautiful Tennessee River. Come enjoy the best fishing and
boating. Drop a line wherever it pleases you, and you’ll most likely catch a fish. If you are looking for a lifestyle involving hunting, fishing, boating, or a peaceful nature experience, Cherokee is the place for you. Minutes from the Natchez Trace Parkway, Cherokee has become the meeting and stopping-off place for cyclists as they ride and explore the back roads of Western Colbert County. With miles of beautiful country roads to explore, you can experience Cherokee’s beauty in all seasons.
Cherokee is a town with a proud past and a bright future. Come and visit, and you may stay a life-time.
Terry Cosby, Mayor
By: Freda S. Daily
The town of Cherokee came into existence when the Memphis and
Charleston Railroad laid tracks through Colbert County in 1856. Since the mail
now came by rail rather than steamboat, the post office of Newport in the Old
Chickasaw Indian Agency on the banks of Agency Creek (Malone Creek of today)
was transferred December 10, 1856 to a site beside the railroad tracks. The post
office was renamed Cherokee with David C. Oats, former postmaster at Newport,
remaining as the postmaster in the new post office.
Our community history reaches into archaic times. A large prehistoric
shelter investigated by Dr. David DeJarnette, head of the archeology department
at the University of Alabama, in the summers of 1960-61 in the hill country to the
south of the community provided ample evidence to prove the extended
residence of prehistoric people 10,000 years ago. Much other evidence of
prehistoric people including other shelters have since been discovered.
When Europeans first came to the area, the Chickasaw tribe of Native
Americans had claims to a vast area extending from the Ohio River to below
Tupelo, Mississippi and from the Mississippi River to near Cullman, Alabama.
James Logan Colbert, a young Scottish trader, came to trade with the Chickasaw,
then began to live with the tribe. He took three wives, the Chickasaw were
polygamist, and raised a large family with at least five sons and several daughters.
James Logan Colbert was killed by a throw from his horse in 1783. One of the
sons, George, took two full-blood Cherokee sisters as wives (daughters of Double
Head) and had children. The Chickasaw culture was a matriarchal society
meaning all children belong to the mother and her tribe, not to the father.
The children of George Colbert would be considered Cherokee. The area
was called Cherokee as early as the 1840 census (before all Chickasaw had been
removed west on the Trail of Tears).
The first cession of Chickasaw land was negotiated in 1801 to allow a post
road to be built from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee where
substantial settlements existed. The road, little more than a foot-path or trace,
was a connecting of old Indian and animal trails through clearing enough brush
and trees for a “wagon to pass.” Rights to operate “inns” and ferries over streams
were reserved for Indians. George Colbert moved from the mouth of Bear Creek
(Riverton) to operate the ferry over the Tennessee River at Georgetown in our
community. Levi Colbert, by now the chief, moved beside the Trace at Buzzard
Roost in our community to operate an inn near a big spring. The Natchez Trace
was well used until the invention of the steamboat about 1820, when river travel
was faster and safer.
Thomas Jefferson had the idea of teaching the Native Americans to “want”
things. He planned a system of trading “factories” to entice the Indians to buy on
credit, thus when the bills were high enough the Indians would have nothing but
to trade their land to pay their debt. The Chickasaw owned all in common; so
your debt was my debt and “all of our debt.”
By 1805 Chickasaw debt was more than $20,000 at the trading posts and
the US government wanted all the Chickasaw land in Tennessee and Kentucky as
payment. The Chickasaw gave up all land in Kentucky and land in Tennessee
north of the Tennessee divide, a ridge where all streams north of the ridge flow
eventually into the Ohio River and all waters south of the ridge end up in the
Tennessee River. In 1816 again the debt had piled up and not always honestly.
The government bribed Levi and George Colbert by giving them two sections of
land directly across the river from George’s ferry know even today as Colberts’
Reserve. This land was to be sold to an undisclosed person, who turned out to be
James Jackson. The Chickasaw gave up all land north of the Tennessee River and
all land south of the river that was east of Caney Creek. Thus, today’s west
Colbert County was Chickasaw Nation when Alabama became a state in 1819.
In the 1820s the Chickasaw made great strides to live like settlers lived.
Four schools were opened; one in our community beside Red Rock Road of today.
It was called Caney Creek Chickasaw School. The school was founded by the
South Carolina Synod of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Missionaries
operated the boarding school as a farm with children also taught reading, writing, and arithmetic while learning to speak English, farm, and keep house like settlers.
The church was re-imbursed with government funds to “civilize” the Chickasaw.
The Chickasaw agency was moved from below Tupelo, the traditional home
of the Chickasaw, to a site near a huge spring on Agency Creek just north of
Mulberry Lane. A post office was opened in the agency called Bennkhinnah on
July 28, 1829.
When Andrew Jackson campaigned for president he told the people he
would open the Indian lands east of the Mississippi for settlement. He did just
that. The first negotiations for removing the Chickasaw was held at a small
church in Franklin, Tennessee in August 1830. President Andrew Jackson, himself,
attended that meeting. This was the first of several meetings that eventually led
to the Treaty of Ponotoc Creek in 1832 which allowed a reservation for each adult
male and other reservations for wives and children as payment for their land. The
land was to be sold by bargaining with buyers. Many, even most, were cheated
out of their land by unscrupulous whites. Lands left over from reservations were
to be auctioned to pay the expenses of transferring the Chickasaw to Indian
Territory. In March 1834 Chickasaw leaders met at the Chickasaw Agency to go to
Washington, D.C. by horseback. Levi Colbert became ill and was taken to his
daughter’s house on Mulberry Creek. He died there June 2, 1834 at the age of 77.
George Colbert as a member of the Competency Commission made several
trips to Indian Territory helping get his people there. On November 7, 1839
Colonel George Colbert died at Fort Towson, near Doaksville in Indian Territory.
The rush onto Indian lands was incredible. The largest landowner of
Chickasaw land in Alabama was Armstead Barton, a former merchant who owned
a store on the southwest corner of Main and Sixth Street in Tuscumbia where
Chickasaw signed liens on their future allotments for goods that they signed for
with an X. Barton soon built his beautiful plantation home, Barton Hall. Other
large plantations were Lane, Rutland, Goodloe, and Dr. Cross as well as several
smaller plantations owned by Prides and Malones.
The Cherokee community was torn in allegiances as the nation faced Civil
War. Franklin County sent two delegates, John H. Steele and R. S. Watkins, both
strong anti-secession who voted pro-union at the secession convention in
Montgomery January 7, 1861. But, when the majority of the state voted to
secede Franklin County went along with the decision. Strife first hit the
community the week following Shiloh, April 1862 Generals G.M. Dodge and Abel
D. Streight marched up the railroad track destroying as they came. Following this
date troops of both sides moved through the community with fierce skirmishes
fought on the Stage Coach Road near the Rutland plantation and at Barton.
Union troops camped for weeks around the train depot in October 1863.
Thousands of union troops camped at the Yankee Glade in the Mountain Springs
community in March 1865 on their way to the Battle of Selma. Always the troops
lived off the people in the community.
The people were left destitute in 1865; then came Reconstruction. Share-
cropping became a way of life that extended a hundred years. Then following
World War II industry such as Reynolds, Ford, and Tennessee Valley Authority had
brought change. People received electricity from Sheffield Utilities in the late
1940s. In the 1950s Colbert Steam Plant was built and telephones were extended
into outlying communities. Outlying schools such as Pride, Mynot, Rock Creek,
and Riverton were consolidated to Cherokee town schools. Lunch rooms were
begun first at the elementary school in 1947 and then to the high school in 1960.
In 1960-61 the building of the Armour Agricultural Chemical Company
facility employed many. The plant also brought in expertise of men that relocated
their families and built new homes. The fertilizer plant now operates as Cherokee
Nitrogen. Linde (formerly BOC) and Nelson Brothers plants, associated with the
fertilizer plant, have also set up operations in this area. Other industries have
been added through the years to this community as well. New facilities for industry
include SCA Tissue, Navistar, and FreightCar America at Barton Riverfront Industrial
An indepth history is available from local book stores and at local libraries.
Or, better yet, visit our community.