Opothle Yoholo

Opothle Yoholo (ca. 1798?-1863) was a chief of the Tuckabatchee Creeks and served as a leader of the Upper Creek towns during some of most critical events in Creek Indian and American history. He was a supporter of Shawnee leader Tecumseh, who rallied the Creeks to take up arms against the U.S. military in the Creek War of 1813-14, and he fought land speculators and squatters on Creek lands in the war's aftermath. Opothle Yoholo strongly opposed the removal of his people in the 1830s and tried unsuccessfully to keep control of the Creeks' ancestral land in Alabama and Georgia.

Opothle Yoholo The circumstances of Opothle Yoholo's birth are unclear, but scholars generally believe that he was the son of Davy Cornell and a Tuckabatchee woman. Information contained in materials written by people who had met him indicate that he may have been born around 1798, but other documents report him as being born much earlier. One of the earliest references to Opothle Yoholo indicates that he attended an 1811 gathering at Tuckabatchee to hear a speech by Shawnee military leader Tecumseh. Tecumseh was touring the Southeast at that time to urge the Creeks and other southern tribes to join with northern Indian groups and the British in their fight against the Americans. Opothle Yoholo seems to have taken up Tecumseh's call and likely served with the Red Stick Creek warriors in the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

By the mid-1820s, Opothle Yoholo had become spokesman for Big Warrior, principal chief of the Tuckabatchee Creeks, who ironically had opposed Tecumseh's plan to defeat the Americans a decade earlier. In 1825, faced with the sale of all of the Lower Creek land in Georgia by William McIntosh, chief of the Coweta Creeks, Opothle Yoholo was ordered by Big Warrior to address the National Creek Council and warn McIntosh against selling the land. Opothle Yoholo was charismatic, and his leadership during this difficult period elevated his status amongst the Creeks. In fact, when Big Warrior died on March 8, 1825, it was Opothle Yoholo who stepped in to fill the vacuum, rather than Big Warrior's son Tuskeneah.

Throughout the late 1820s and early 1830s, increasing numbers of white settlers moved into Alabama. Many of them sold the Creeks alcohol, swindled them out of their annual guaranteed treaty payments, and encroached on Creek lands. In the hope of stemming this tide, Opothle Yoholo and other principal chiefs and headmen travelled to Washington to urge the federal government to stop white encroachment. The result of his efforts was the 1832 Treaty of Cusseta, which allowed individual Creeks to remain in Alabama on 320-acre allotments assigned to each head of a family. The treaty also provided the Creeks with an option to move west voluntarily to land in what is now Oklahoma.

Opothle Yoholo opposed removing his people, but by 1834 the pressure for the Creeks to head west had increased, and he was forced to rethink his position. Instead of organizing a move to present-day Oklahoma, as the federal government wanted, he entered into a deal with several white land speculators to remove his people to Texas, which at the time was a Mexican province. Texas seemed ideal to Opothle Yoholo because it was out of the jurisdiction of the U.S. government, but his actions were illegal because the Mexican government forbade American Indians from crossing into its territory. The deal soon was terminated by the American government, but by then Opothle Yoholo had given almost $23,000 of Tuckabatchee money to the Texas land speculators.

With his town now deep in debt, Opothle Yoholo agreed to remove to present-day Oklahoma in 1835, but the move was delayed by the beginning of the Second Creek War in 1836. At the request of the federal government, Opothle Yoholo sent a number of young men from his town to fight against the Lower Creeks in Alabama and later the Seminoles in Florida. Opothle Yoholo and his followers finally emigrated west in 1836. Under the charge of Lieutenant Matthew W. Bateman, the group left Alabama from Tallassee in early September 1836. They marched through Tuscaloosa to Memphis, Tennessee, where they boarded a steamboat to Arkansas and then walked the rest of the way to what was then called Indian Territory. There were 2,318 Creeks in Opothle Yoholo's detachment, of which 78 died. Opothle Yoholo and the rest of the Creek survivors finally settled on land along the Canadian and Little rivers in present-day Oklahoma.

William McIntosh Opothle Yoholo retained his status as the leader of the Upper Creek towns in Indian Territory. By the mid-1840s, Opothle Yoholo and other Creeks were raising herds of cattle, sheep, and hogs and producing enough corn to sell at market. Despite this prosperity, the Creeks were still plagued by white land speculators and squatters and attacks by some western Indian groups. Any peace Opothle Yoholo and his followers did have was shattered by the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Many wealthy Creek headmen, including Opothle Yoholo, owned slaves, but there was debate over whether the Creeks should support the Confederacy. In July 1861, a number of Creek leaders signed an agreement siding with the southern states, despite protests from a number of chiefs, including Opothle Yoholo, whose signature was forged on the document. When pro-Confederate Creek regiments began to harass those who did not support the Confederate cause, Opothle Yoholo and his followers fled to Union-held Kansas. The regiments followed the refugees' troops and engaged them in a number of battles along the way. By January 1862, 3,000 Creeks marched north to Kansas and spent the bitterly cold winter in refugee camps on the Verdigris River. The brutal treatment of Opothle Yoholo and his Union followers at the hands of their Creek brethren should be seen within the context of the Creek political landscape that emerged after the Creek War. Among the most influential of the pro-Confederate Creek leaders was the McIntosh family, descendents of William, who was executed by a group of headmen that included Opothle Yoholo in 1825 by order of the National Creek Council. This mutual hatred never subsided.

Opothle Yoholo never made it back to his home in Indian Territory. He died in March 1863 among the Sac and Fox Indians in Kansas and was buried next to his daughter at Fort Belmont in Woodson County, Kansas. Opothle Yoholo's descendents continue to hold prominent positions within the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in Oklahoma today.

Further Reading

  • Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
  • McBride, Lela J. Opothleyaholo and the Loyal Muskogee: Their Flight to Kansas in the Civil War. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2000.
  • Saunt, Claudio, Black, White, and Indian: Race and the Unmaking of an American Family. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.
  • White, Christine Schultz, and R. Benton. Now the Wolf Has Come: The Creek Nation in the Civil War. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1996.

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