Opothleyahola (c. 1798-1863)

Opothleyahola, also spelled Opothle Yohola, Opothleyoholo, Hu-pui-hilth Yahola, and Hopoeitheyohola, (about 1798 March 27, 1863) was a Muscogee Creek Indian chief, noted as a brilliant orator and spokesperson of the Upper Creek Council. He fought against the United States government during the first two Seminole Wars, and then for the Union during the American Civil War. He was also known by his nickname, "Old Gouge."

Early life Opothleyahola was born at Tuckabatchee town in present day Elmore County, Alabama. He is believed to have fought against the whites possibly as early as the War of 1812 and again in the Creek War of 1813-1814, including against General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Opothleyoholo swore his allegiance to never again bear arms against the Federal government.

After the Creek War, some of the Lower Creek leaders signed a number of treaties that ceded considerable land to Georgia. Eventually, the Creek Confederacy enacted a law that made further land cessions a capital offense. In 1825, these chiefs signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which gave up most of the remaining Creek lands in Georgia. The Creek National Council, led by Opothleyahola, protested to the United States government that the treaty was fraudulent. President John Quincy Adams was sympathetic, and eventually the treaty was nullified in a new agreement, the Treaty of Washington (1826). However, Georgia officials began forcibly removing the Indians.

When the Alabama legislature also moved to abolish tribal governments and extend state laws over the Creeks, Opothleyahola appealed to the administration of President Andrew Jackson for appeasement. When none was forthcoming, the Treaty of Cusseta was signed on March 24, 1832, which divided up Creek lands into individual allotments. Creeks could either sell their allotments and received funds to remove to the West, or stay in Alabama and submit to the state laws.

In 1834, Opothleyahola traveled to Nacogdoches, Texas, in an attempt to purchase land to accomodate his people. After an initial payment of $20,000, pressure from both the Mexican and American governments forced Opothleyahola to abandon the idea. In 1836, Opothleyahola, commissioned as a colonel by the U.S. government, led 1,500 of his warriors against rebellious Lower Creeks that had allied with Seminoles in fighting the white occupation. Soon after, Federal authorities forced the emigration of many of the tribes to the West, an exile known as the "Trail of Tears." In 1837, Opothleyahola led 8,000 of his people from Alabama to lands north of the Canadian River in the Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

Opothleyahola joined the Freemasons and became a Baptist. He became a wealthy trader and owned a 2,000-acre plantation near North Fork Town, with labor from a number of slaves. He quarreled with "half-breed" Lower Creek leaders, who advocated closer relationships with encroaching whites and had supported the removal to Indian Territory. He encouraged the Creek Council to pass and carry out a death sentence on one of these men, Chief William McIntosh, who had been accused of illegally selling Creek lands to the whites.

Civil War

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Opothleyahola refused form an alliance with the Confederacy, unlike many other tribes, including many of the Lower Creeks. Runaway slaves, free blacks, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians began gathering at Opothleyahola's plantation, hoping to remain neutral in the conflict between the North and South. On August 15, 1861, Opothleyahola and tribal chief Micco Hutko contacted President Abraham Lincoln to request help for the loyalists. On September 10, they received a positive response stating the United States government would indeed assist them. The letter directed Opothleyahola to move his people to Fort Row in Wilson County, Kansas, where they would receive asylum and aid.

On November 15, former Federal Indian Agent and now Confederate Col. Douglas H. Cooper led 1,400 men, including blacks and pro-Confederate Indians, northward to convince Opothleyahola and his followers to support the Confederacy or to "drive him and his party from the country." Believing the promises that the Federal government would provide assistance, Opothleyahola led his band (including Seminoles under Halleck Tustenuggee) toward Kansas, fighting three battles against their pursuers. At Round Mountain, he was able drive back the Confederates to Fort Gibson. However, in December, he suffered a tactical loss at Chusto-Talasah and then a crushing defeat at Chustenahlah. Only 7,000 of his estimated 9,000 followers survived the battles, disease, and bitter winter blizzards during their ill-fated walk to Fort Row. However, they soon learned that there were not adequate medical attention and supplies there, and the refugees were moved to Fort Belmont, where conditions were still intolerable. The majority of the Creeks had only the clothes on their backs and lacked proper footwear and shelter. Many more perished, among them Opothleyahola's daughter.

Opothleyahola died in the Creek refugee camp near the Sac and Fox Agency at Quenemo in Osage County, Kansas. He was buried beside his daughter near Fort Belmont.