Moundville, located on the
border of Tuscaloosa and Hale
grew to be the single largest community north of
Mexico during the 14th
Century. 29 mounds with heights of 3-60 feet. 10 foot palisade wall enclosed
the 185 acre village. This Indian culture controlled the area for 25 miles.
Moundville is believed to have housed 3,000 people.
Black Warrior facilitated commerce and communication amongst many Indian
tribes. The Mississippian Indians made canoes 40 feet in length. This culture
was already gone by the time Desoto arrived.
elsewhere in the state of Alabama, Desoto’s army were the first Europeans to
travel through the Black Warrior basin in the 1540s. Desoto documented the
name of the Black Warrior River used by the Indians as Pafallaya
which translates as “long hair” which was also a name that other tribes used
to refer to the Choctaws. This may indicate the Indians of the region were
of Choctaw descent. (Wood)
Tristan de Luna traveled into Alabama in search of provisions for his
expedition but was disappointed by the decline of Native American chiefdoms
following the diseases left by Desoto.
139 years nothing is known from the basin. This period is known as the
“Century of Obscurity”. However archaeological evidence suggests that
populations withdrew from the region following contact with Desoto, leaving
it virtually devoid of permanent settlements.
However the Black
Basin was far from ignored by Native Americans in the 17th and 18th
centuries. These lands became important hunting grounds that were shared by
the Chickasaws to the north, the Creeks to the east, and the Choctaws to the
south and west. (Wood) In fact, another name for the
Black Warrior River
in the eighteenth century was Apotaka hacha meaning “Border
(apotaka “side” and hacha “river”) since it served as a boundary between
Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek lands. (Keith and
area remained virtually uninhabited until the late 1700s when Creeks being
pushed west by Georgian encroachment on their lands in the Coosa
Chattahoochee basins began establishing settlements. The Choctaws saw this
as an intrusion on these shared lands and expelled the Creeks at the Battle
of Tuscaloosa. Several years later in 1805 another small settlement of
Creeks began near present day Tuscaloosa.
Another settlement, Black
Town, was believed to be near the mouth of the Sipsey Fork. When one of
Andrew Jackson’s generals, John Coffee, was sent to destroy Creek
settlements in the basin, the famed Davy Crockett mentioned Black
Town in his memoirs of these scuffles with the Creeks. His description
seemed to place the town at present day Tuscaloosa (Tascaluza “Black
Warrior”), and it is this error that gave the city its name today.
standing Indian settlements within the Basin following contact with Desoto
were extremely rare and short-lived.
Following the Creek Indian War the Indians were forced to cede all claims to
the Upper Black Warrior. Two years later, in 1816, the Choctaws ceded the
Basin. Immediately, settlers began moving into the area and in the 1830’s
all southern tribes were forcibly removed west of the Mississippi.
The first significant settlement in the basin
was begun on the bluff at Tuscaloosa
in 1816. Despite being little more than a rough and sparse clear spot in the
Tuscaloosa was incorporated as a town in 1820.
Settling occurred most rapidly along the lower Warrior
bottomlands. This pattern continued throughout the antebellum period with
prosperous plantations located in the bottomlands and small subsistence
plots on the less fertile uplands. (Woods)
first coalmines in the 1830s removed coal from streambeds due to the
relative ease of extraction. Such methods were used predominately in the dry
months and loaded on flatboats to await winter rains. Many a flatboat trip
failed to complete its journey through the river’s dangerous shoals.
Tuscaloosa quickly became the port town of the Warrior and served as the
head of navigation for downstream trade with Mobile. Goods from throughout
the region, including Huntsville and Tennessee, were brought to Tuscaloosa
to be sent to Mobile, originally by flatboat, and beginning in the 1820s, by
steamboat. By late 1840 Mobile exceeded New Orleans as a port for coal,
largely due to the coal barges coming from the Black
Basin. And of course cotton was king as it was elsewhere in the south.
state capital was moved from Cahawba to
in 1826. At the time, the city claimed only 1500 inhabitants. A few years
later in 1831 the state university was built. The capital was moved to
Montgomery 15 year later in 1846.
Tuscaloosa was often referred to as “Druid
because of the abundance of large oaks and the ancient druid’s worship of
these majestic trees. (Wood and
Rivers of AL)
Tannehill Ironworks was named for Ninion Tannehill who was one of a series
of owners of this well known iron works furnace built in 1836. Iron furnaces
would greatly contribute to the growth of the region for almost a century.
The Tannehill Works were actually an iron plantation, utilizing as many as
600 slaves who not only forged the iron but also cut the timber and grew the
food that was needed to support this large industry.
Before the beginning of the civil war the age of the railroad began to take
hold and its influence on commerce began to rival that of the steamboat.
However, the Black Warrior Basin and Tuscaloosa were slow to experience rail
expansion. Only 165 miles of rail line ran through Alabama in 1852 and
“railroad fever” easily surpassed the reality of actual rail lines.
the tail end of the Civil War in 1865 Wilson’s raiders left their mark on
the basin by destroying the Tannehill furnaces and then went on to
Tuscaloosa where they burned the bridge across the river, major businesses,
and much of the University of
After the Civil War, so many rail beds had
been destroyed that commerce via waterways received renewed vigor. In the
1870’s there were 118 landings on the Black Warrior and in one year the
river exported 9.1 million dollars worth of goods. (Rivers of Alabama)
To say the river was vital to the economy of the region would be a gross
understatement. A few years later new diesel-powered watercraft would bring
about a new era of river commerce.
was not until 1871 that a rail line reached Tuscaloosa. The priority for
rail lines had overlooked the mineral regions for the cotton regions up
until this point. Most of the line was constructed by Chinese laborers
(nearly 1,000 in number). These laborers suffered harsh and primitive
conditions and when the railroad was complete all left the state. The 1880
US Census found not a single chinese in Alabama.
Black Warrior basin drains the largest coalfield in Alabama. As the demand
for coal expanded beyond Alabama’s borders, the Warrior was increasingly
viewed as the primary artery for its export (despite the slow advance of the
railroad). It was this realization that brought about the permanent
modification of the Black Warrior River Channel
(See Hydrologic Modifications)