New law would open Dallas County waterways to be plundered

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 20, 2005

Senate Bill 128 and House Bills 125 and 116 are under consideration for passage by the Alabama Legislature, which is now in session. These pieces of proposed legislation are attracting a great deal of attention as well as verbal commentary.

On Wednesday morning, a delegation from Selma attended the Senate debate on Bill 128, carrying with them a Selma City Council Resolution that states:

“Whereas history is important to both the past and the future of the people of Selma, and the protection of our historic resources is important to our city and has long been guarded by city ordinances, and

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Whereas, when it was discovered that historic resources in the Alabama River were being plundered and removed from this jurisdiction, the Mayor and City of Selma took steps to stop these actions, and

Whereas, that the interests of the City of Selma are not served by Senate Bill 128 and house Bills 125 and 116, introduced in the 2005 session of the Legislature of Alabama, which would deny protection to important underwater resources across the state and within our jurisdiction,

Be it therefore resolved that the Mayor and the City Council of Selma want to go on record as opposing these bills.”

Much of the history of this area, and of this country, may be found in and along the rivers, creeks, inlets and bays where earliest inhabitants first settled. After every major flooding of the Alabama River, artifacts may be found giving evidence of the lifestyles and customs of Native American tribes.

Frequent surveys have been made by archaeologists and historians, many leading along the banks of the Alabama into Dallas County where it was hoped traces of two 16th century towns – Piache or Mauville – could be found.

Auburn University Archaeologist David Chase in 1974 with the support of Hammermill Paper Company, Southern Timberlands Division, began an investigation in a promising site found at the mouth of Whiteoak Creek, just north of the Wilcox County Line. Excavation (or “digs,” as such projects are commonly known), followed a survey of the area between Pine Barren Creek to the south and Big Cedar Creek to the north, as well as most lands between these two tributaries of the Alabama River.

At the Whiteoak Creek site, at an overall depth of five feet, evidence of at least seven identifiable culture groups was recovered, 12 features involving pits, hearths and three burial sites were found of the historic village, which appeared to be the Alabamu Indian Town of Chuala, a Choctaw word meaning cedar tree.

Some early crude tools and notched stone points of a type associated with Early Archaic were found, in a date range from 6,000 to 5,000 B.C.

Along Whiteoak Creek, fragments of bowls made of soapstone were found and a very crude form of clay. At Whiteoak the Woodland Period involved three major culture groups of people who lived several hundred year on the site. Unique pottery, hand-decorated and small beautifully made triangles of flint and chert are among the finds.

Between 1200 and 1300 A.D. newcomers to the site left evidence of shell tempered pottery and incised scrolls. Possibly they were the ancestors of

historic Choctaw and Alabamu speaking Indians whom DeSoto met in the area in 1540.

Many questions remain unanswered along Whiteoak Creek about prehistoric cultures and Chuala Village. If the area stays undisturbed by those whose only interest is commercial value of the artifacts, someday these questions about the long ago peoples who lived and hunted along Whiteoak Creek will be answered. (An exhibit of Chase’s findings is on display at The Old Depot Museum, courtesy of Hammermill, now International Paper.)

The Alabama River, once used as a highway by the canoes of early Indian tribes, has been plundered from time to time, and the historic artifacts discovered have been removed and taken from the area.

It remains one of the most valuable sources for Civil War artifacts, in particular those from the Confederate Naval Ordnance Works at Selma. To prevent its products from falling into the hands of Union Troops during the Battle of Selma, workers at the foundries and the Selma Arsenal dumped shot and shells, even, it is said, a small locomotive.

From time to time, divers have recovered a number of these objects, and on occasion, placed them in local museums. Unfortunately, on other occasions, they have plundered the waters of our rivers and creeks and removed these traces of history.

On display at The Old Depot are objects that have been salvaged by those concerned with regional history. Among those pictured today is a Civil War calvary sword found by Jeff Ratcliffe (then age 13) on a sandbar of the Alabama River as a flood receded.

Preserving the artifacts that reveal the story of long ago peoples who lived, hunted and engaged in battle along our rivers and creeks is a responsibility we must bear. If you are concerned, get in touch with your Alabama Legislature representative.