Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: Muskogee Settlements

Pinson has an ancient and abiding link with its past – especially its Native American past. As part of the Upper Creek territory settled by Creek (or Muskogee) peoples, much of this heritage is because of water. If anyone spends any appreciable time in or around Pinson, they quickly realize that there is water…lots and lots of water. Creeks, streams, ponds, lakes, you name it, we have this liquid gold in abundance. The earliest white pioneers realized it – that’s one of the reasons they settled here (David Hanby and his mills are a good example.)  Much earlier, Native American tribes roaming through the area depended on the presence of water and the bounty that it yielded – game, wild fruits and vegetables, rich land to grow crops, and trees for shelter. There were also abundant rocks and minerals to be shaped into tools and weapons (Red Mountain in Birmingham was named for the iron ore deposits that local Indians used to color their faces and bodies.) The importance of these water features to Native peoples is well-documented given the number of artifacts (mostly projectiles) commonly found around the creeks. What may be less known is that, while nominally Muskogee, the area in and around Pinson is believed to have been used by a number of tribes as a gathering and hunting ground.

The Muskogee descended from Mississippian culture, which developed in the Mississippi(for which it is named) and Tennessee River Valleys and flourished in what is now the US before the arrival of Europeans. The Woodland Period (illustrated by the Pinson Cave) predates the Mississippian Period. Almost all dated Mississippian sites predate Spanish exploration of the area in ca. CE 1540. Mississippians were structured as a collection of moderately-sized chiefdom’s, with completely autonomous villages and tribal groups. While probably best-known as mound-builders, the Mississippians were also characterized by the development of small triangular projectile points, shell tempered pottery, increased agriculture, the establishment of urban centers and regional chiefdom’s, and a stratified society with a hereditary religious and political upper class. Unfortunately, by the time of Spanish exploration, many of the Mississippian political centers were already in decline or abandoned.

The best known Mississippian site in Alabama is located at Moundville, although there are important sites near Mobile (Bottle Creek) and Florence (believed to be the largest mound in the Tennessee River Valley.) A lesser known, but nevertheless important, mound site was located near Bessemer (near Alabama Adventure water park). Also less well-known are three sites excavated in 1973 prior to the construction of the Miller Steam Plant by the Alabama Power Company near West Jefferson. Shortly thereafter, two small sites were excavated in the Cahaba River drainage. All of these sites date to the Late Woodland and early Mississippian period, resulting in a new sub-classification, the West Jefferson phase. Archaeologists continue intensive investigation of West Jefferson trying to answer a number of important research questions, including the role that West Jefferson might have had in the development of Moundville, Bessemer, or other Mississippian societies, and if other influences might have led to the specific way these cultures and their peoples evolved. These and other questions have prompted ongoing research since the sites were discovered.

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

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