Monday, June 6, 2016

Finding Alabama in Oklahoma

Recently Dianne and I helped our daughter Becca and son-in-law Matt move from Tuscaloosa to Edmond, Oklahoma, where he has accepted a faculty position at the University of Central Oklahoma. Matt and his father took the U-Haul; Dianne and his mother drove one of their cars; and Becca and I drove the other one, the one with their two dogs. We left Tuscaloosa around 6:30 am and arrived in Edmond about 13 hours later. 

As we made our way across Oklahoma on I-40, Becca and I noticed something familiar. We passed an exit for "Eufaula." Some miles further on we passed an exit for "Wetumpka." This Twilight Zone feeling quickly passed as we realized why there are towns in Oklahoma with names so familiar to us in Alabama.

Those Alabama towns of Eufaula and Wetumpka carry names associated with settlements of various Muscogee/Creek tribes in the state. Several towns by those names were identified by early European traders and settlers in the area. For an in-depth look at such matters, see Amos J. Wright, Jr.'s 2003 book, Historic Indian Towns in Alabama, 1540-1838.

In the 1830's the Creeks---along with Choctaws, Cherokees, Chickasaws and Seminoles---were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in the Southeast to the Indian Territory in the west. Naturally, some of their town names went with them. Another such name was Tuskegee, now an Oklahoma ghost town

Below are three maps. The first one shows the locations of the two towns south of I-40. Downtown Wetumka [without the P] is shown on the second map. There we can see some specifics that would not be out of place in its Alabama counterpart: a Diary Queen, a Dollar General, Wetumka Elementary and High Schools. Oh, wait---that Cowkickers Smokin Barbeque gives it away. You seldom see a barbeque place in Alabama that doesn't use Bar-B-Que in it's name. 

If you look at the water near Eufaula on the third map, you'll see Lake Eufaula there in the middle of the Canadian River. It's a reservoir created by a dam. Gee, isn't there one of those in Alabama, too?

These names are not limited to Alabama and Oklahoma. There is an unincorporated Wetumpka in Florida. A town of Tuskegee in Tennessee associated with the Cherokee and the birthplace of Sequoyah was covered by water in the 1970's after the construction of Tellico Dam. Alabama actually had several settlements by that name; see the book cited above. 

On our trip we also passed an exit for "Prague." And yes, the town was settled in the early 1890's by--wait for it--Czech immigrants. 

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