Oakfuskee: A History

Published 10:30 am Thursday, July 11, 2024

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WEST POINT LAKE — The Oakfuskee Conservation Center is in its first year of operation in Troup County’s Pyne Road Park, but the name Oakfuskee goes back to a time long before the county was created in 1826. “Oakfuskee” was the name of a major Creek town on the Tallapoosa River between the present-day cities of Dadeville and Alexander City, Alabama. The town was on both sides of the river and the site now lies under the waters of Lake Martin. British traders who visited the site in the 1700s said it was the largest Creek settlement they’d ever seen.

Oakfuskee Town was the destination of two major trails through Georgia, one from the Augusta area and one from Savannah. The site where it crossed the Chattahoochee River is now underneath the waters of West Point Lake. From the Georgia side, it’s believed the crossing was near the present-day location of Glass Bridge Park; on the Alabama side it journeyed westward to Oakfuskee Town from the current location of Rocky Point Park.

There were two Creek villages along the river’s west bank. Both had connections to Oakfuskee Town. One was near the mouth of Wehadkee Creek and was known as Okfuskenena and one near the point where Hardley Creek flows into the river was known as Okfuscoochee Tallahassee. With the coming migration of settlers in the area, Okfuskoochee Tallahassee was abandoned by the late 1700s. Okfuskenena became known as the burnt village after being attacked and set fire to by militia in 1793. Survivors then fled west toward Oakfuskee Town.

Oakfuskee Town is thought to have been the birthplace of Menawa, leader of the Red Stick warriors in the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Oakfuskee Town is also where the mother of the great Shawnee leader Tecumseh was from. She is thought to have been a blood relative of William Weatherford, leader of the Red Sticks in the 1813-14 Creek War in Alabama.

In the early 1800s, Tecumseh was attempting to form a Native American confederacy to resist the encroachment of white settlers onto what had been Native American land for thousands of years. In 1809, he came South from what’s now Ohio to his mother’s home village to rouse resistance against the westward expansion of the settlers. In a fiery speech delivered in his mother’s native tongue, Tecumseh railed against any kind of cooperation with the whites.

“I will return to the land of the Shawnee,” he told them, “but before I do I want you to know that if I ever find out you have been friendly and getting along with these invaders I will stomp on the ground so hard with my foot you will feel the earth tremble in Oakfuskee Town!”

Two years later when the most powerful of the New Madrid earthquakes rocked the eastern U.S. it caused the ground to move in Oakfuskee Town. Many of the inhabitants thought it was Tecumseh stomping on the ground. A series of quakes with an epicenter near New Madrid, Missouri are thought to be the most powerful ever experienced in the eastern U.S. It’s said to have leveled thousands of acres of virgin forest, created Reelfoot Lake near the Mississippi River, caused a portion of the Mississippi to flow backward and triggered some temporary waterfalls on the river.

A frontiersman named Nimrod Doyle could speak multiple languages and befriended Tecumseh, who called him the only white man he ever trusted. Doyle was married to a Creek woman and settled in what’s now Chambers County in 1816.

A historical marker erected by the Georgia Historical Commission in 1954 on Highway 29 south of LaGrange tells of the Oakfuskee Trail being a famous Indian path. The marker is near the junction of Highway 29 and Upper Glass Bridge Road just outside the West Point Trading Post.

“The Oakfuskee Trail, main branch of the noted Upper Creek Trading Path from the Savannah River to the Creek Indians of Central Alabama, crossed this site, running east and west,” it reads. “Beginning at the present city of Augusta, the route led this way via Warrenton, Eatonton, Indian Springs and Greenville. From here it continued westward to Oakfuskee Town, early main center of the Upper Creeks, located on the Tallapoosa River to the west of Dadeville, Alabama. White traders started following this thoroughfare in the early 1700s. Much of the route remains in use today.”

Early British traders called the native peoples in what later became the states of Georgia and Alabama Creek Tribes because of their preference to live along streams that flowed into nearby rivers. Water provides life-sustaining sustainability for all people, but it was more than that for Native Americans. Water held an honored and indispensable place to them and was a symbolic image of life and death, creation and destruction, nourishment and deprivation. It was an important part of their spirituality.

The name “Oakfuskee” is all about water. In one interpretation it’s the Muskogean word for sharp water, a reference to how the streams they lived by ran clear all the way to the bottom. In another version, it meant “point of land surrounded by water,” referring to what they considered good places to live. During the Native American era, the Tallapoosa River near Oakfuskee Town ran clear, much more so than rivers do today. The combination of large-scale farming, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, industrialization, sewage and wastewater treatment, plus the runoff from highways, railroads and airports affect both water quality and the appearance of rivers and streams.

The new Oakfuskee Conservation Center seeks to honor the rich history of our land and the Creek Indians who once lived here. The Oakfuskee Trail, which ran very close to the present center, offered a lifeline to the Native American culture, allowing for journeys in pursuit of game, fish and trade. It was commonly called the old horse path for the many long-distance east and west journeys that took place on it.

“Oakfuskee is a bridge to the past,” its website reads, “a commitment remembered in every leaf and ripple. It’s our promise to safeguard and celebrate the natural beauty that surrounds us.”

The impressive new building has two ground-floor entrances. The side facing a large parking lot serves as an event center with three large rooms named for the types of pine trees that have dominated the forests in Georgia and Alabama. There’s a longleaf room, a shortleaf room and a loblolly room.

There’s a second ground-floor entrance facing West Point Lake. It’s the headquarters for Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. A wrap-around deck area on the top floor offers some great views of the lake.

“Sustainability is at the forefront of Oakfuskee’s design,” the website reads. “We utilized eco-friendly materials, including responsibly sourced wood, shiplap and other components like rain chains and cisterns. From the ground up, every detail including energy-efficient insulation and the integration of electric vehicle charging stations were thoughtfully chosen to minimize environmental impact. This ensures that our commitment to conservation is seamlessly woven into every aspect of the building.”

The Oakfuskee Conservation Area at Pyne Road Park is open daily from 7 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. EDT. Tours of the center are available upon request. Contact Anna Knight at (706) 298-3767 or at anna@oakfuskee.com for details.