Though recognized as two separate tribes, the Alabamas and Coushattas have long been considered one tribe culturally. They migrated from present-day Alabama beginning in 1763, eventually settling in the Big Thicket area of Southeast Texas. The Alabamas and Coushattas were skilled warriors but preferred to stay at peace. They fought with Stephen F. Austin in his campaigns against the Karankawas and in the Fredonian Rebellion, and successfully drove the Comanches out of their territory in 1839. Their assistance to the Texans during the Runaway Scrape in 1836 won them the friendship of even such an inveterate Indian fighter as Mirabeau B. Lamar.
In 1853, the Alabamas moved to a reservation in Polk County, where they were joined by the Coushattas in 1859. They helped move military supplies for Texas during the Civil War. Their support won praise from Confederate governors Francis R. Lubbock and Pendleton Murrah. However, the 1870s saw the two tribes reach a low point, as an influx of white settlers into their lands destroyed their traditional way of life.
In the 1880s, the Alabamas and Coushattas began to build new lives, becoming experts in the burgeoning lumber industry and embracing both Christianity and education as anchors in their lives. During these years, an attorney from Livingston, J.C. Feagin, became a tireless advocate for the tribes. Feagin worked for decades to gain federal assistance for land and educational opportunities that would enable the tribes to be economically self-sufficient once again. This effort finally began to pay off in the 1920s, when the government purchased an additional 3000 acres of land that helped make the Alabama-Coushatta more competitive farmers. The federal government also paid for additional educational facilities, a gymnasium, and a hospital.
Since then, Alabama-Coushatta affairs have been alternately under both state and federal jurisdiction. The tribes formally incorporated under the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 and developed both a constitution and by-laws.
One of only three Indian reservations in Texas, the Alabama-Coushatta reservation represents the distinctive heritage of this small yet proud group. Until recently, the tribe offered tours, a museum, and cultural events for tourists; unfortunately, these services are no longer in operation. Regardless, visitors are encouraged to spend time at the reservation’s campground or fishing on Lake Tombigbee.
Located on 4,600 acres of dense woodland close to the center of the Big Thicket National Preserve, the Alabama-Coushatta reservation was established in 1854 by Sam Houston as a reward to the tribes for their courage in remaining neutral during the Texas War for Independence from Mexico. Both groups had been living in the Big Thicket area since circa 1800, when they migrated westward to hunt and build homes out of the abundant East Texas timber.
White settlers displaced countless tribe members, prompting many Coushattas to relocate near Kinder, Louisiana, where a majority still resides today. Malnutrition and disease took their toll on the Alabama-Coushatta, resulting in a disturbingly low population of 200 members in the late 1800s.
By the 1920s, the state and federal government recognized their poor living conditions and appropriated funds to purchase additional land, construct frame houses to replace meager log cabins, dig wells to help eliminate long water treks to natural springs, and provide medical and educational resources.
Despite the recent closing of the tribe’s cultural facilities, the reservation still operates the popular Lake Tombigbee Campground, offering primitive sites, teepees, full-capacity RV stations, new restrooms with bathhouses, swimming areas, and hiking and nature trails.
Call 936/563-1221 or 800/926-9038 for camping information and to obtain a map of the facilities. For additional information about the tribe, call 936/563-1100 or visit www.alabama-coushatta.com.
© Andy Rhodes from Moon Texas, 6th Edition