Alexa Mayfield – Historical Representation of Indigenous Peoples

Throughout the United States of America’s past, Indigenous Peoples’ history has been altered, seldomly shared, or erased altogether. One example of this alteration and erasure is the historical marker Black Warrior’s Town. The marker was erected by the Alabama Historical Association, also known as the AHA, in 1974, and is located on the side of the road in front of a fire department in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The six-sentence inscription describes a catalyst to the Creek War, which was a conflict between the United States, Spain, Britain, and the divided Creek Nation that lasted from 1813-1814 (Blackmon). It begins by identifying Oce-Oche-Motla as chief of the village Black Warrior’s Town and claims that the tribe members “became hostile” after being visited by Tecumseh in 1811. Next, it states that Martha Crawley was kidnapped by Little Warrior in 1812 but was rescued by fellow white settler Tandy Walker. The text ends by stating that Black Warrior’s Town was demolished by Colonel John Coffee in 1813 (Alabama Historical Association). Black Warrior’s Town historical marker’s inscription continues the erasure and misrepresentation of Indigenous Peoples and their histories, and should thus be altered to accurately portray the catalysts and context of the Creek War.

The inscription of the marker omits information about the catalyst for the Creek War, which is important in understanding the full context of the event. By not including information as to who Tecumseh was and why the people of Black Warrior’s Town turned against the Americans, it silences the Indigenous Peoples’ point of view and portrays their decision as rash and without reason. To accurately describe this piece of history, an informational text should include that Tecumseh was “a Shawnee Warrior… [who] had forged an alliance between the British and many northern tribes… [and he] advocated an armed uprising by all Indians against the encroachments of American settlers” (Blackmon). To fully understand the conflict between the Creeks and the settlers, it is important to understand why Tecumseh and other Natives felt this way.

In Tecumseh’s youth, he was exposed to violence when Virginians were attempting to colonize land claimed by the Shawnee; violence against the Shawnee only continued as settlers felt entitled to their land and spread false rumors about the tribe members (Burt). Whether or not violence was the appropriate reaction to the settlers is debatable, but it is undeniable that there was ample reason for the Indigenous Peoples who went through experiences like Tecumseh’s to have harbored feelings of anger and anguish toward the settlers. Furthermore, it is worth noting that it is unlikely every person in Black Warrior’s Town supported the war despite the entire village being described as “these Indians” (Alabama Historical Association). During this time, the Creek Nation was divided into two opposing groups. There were the Red Sticks, those who fully supported Tecumseh’s cause and rejected the idea of assimilation, and those who opposed Tecumseh’s cause and appreciated receiving financial support from the American government (Blackmon). Rather than leaving the reasoning behind the Indigenous Peoples’ actions shrouded in mystery, it is essential to provide background information about the events leading up to the catalyst in order to have a holistic understanding of why the events unfolded the way they did.

Omitting or stereotyping Indigenous Peoples’ history is not specific to Black Warrior’s Town. It is a phenomenon that has happened throughout history and continues to happen today. One of the most well-known cases of Indigenous erasure is Columbus Day, a day honoring Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of the Americas. Even today, educators teach about Columbus in a positive manner with activities such as making art of his ships and chanting, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue” (Eason et al.). However, the reality of who Columbus was is much less rosy and more cruel than typical depictions of him would lead one to believe. When Columbus stumbled upon the Americas, they were already inhabited by a group of Indigenous Peoples known as the Taíno. Columbus and his men would slice off their hands and were “knifing Indians by tens and twenties and cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades” (Eason et al.). Despite this gruesome history, Columbus Day is still acknowledged and overshadows the tragedy many Indigenous Peoples faced.

A modern example would be the portrayal of Indigenous Peoples in the media, or rather the lack thereof. If they are represented in the media at all, “Native Americans are typically depicted as 18th and 19th century figures… and, in the rare cases in which they are shown as contemporary people, they are negatively stereotyped as poor, uneducated and prone to addictions” (Leavitt et al.). This narrow representation creates a false ideal of Indigenous Peoples’ culture and who they are as people. The exclusion and stereotyping of them in a historical and social context is why preserving their history and accurately depicting it is of the utmost importance.

Despite this marginalization, Indigenous Peoples want their past, culture, and heritage to be represented and efforts are being made to do so. Indigenous Peoples and allies have recently been attempting to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in order to honor Natives while portraying a historically accurate past (Eason et al.). Efforts have even been made to alter historical markers like Black Warrior’s Town. In 1997, Chief Redbone of the Ramapough wrote to a New York congressman requesting an inscription be changed on a historical marker that was prejudiced against Indigenous Peoples. While Chief Redbone was unsuccessful in erecting a new marker with an inscription written by his people, he was successful in having offensive terminology removed from the text (Hauptman and Dixon). While more should have been done for the Ramapough, their experience was a step in the right direction and shows that change for representations of history regarding Indigenous Peoples is possible. Due to the continual silencing of Native perspectives, there is no excuse not to reform inaccurate, biased, or exclusive versions of history. The most accurate way to gain insight and perspective about Indigenous Peoples is to get it directly from them. If the people who these biased representations of history directly affect want these inscriptions to be changed for inclusivity, they should be changed.

However, some may argue that markers like Black Warrior’s Town should simply be left alone because they are already in place and a more inclusive description would be difficult to fit on a small space. It is true that due to the physical limitations of space, historical markers are not able to include every detail related to an event. Yet, in a brief inscription, one perspective should not be favored over another unless it is specifically designed to be an opinionated piece. Even removing the marker may be seen as a hassle, waste of time, and misuse of money that could be going toward something with larger implications. While more substantial efforts to make reparations to the Indigenous community could be done while removing and replacing a marker such as Black Warrior’s Town, change does not happen overnight, and it is important to start small. Substantial change, such as incorporating adequate education about Indigenous Peoples in public schools, cannot be fully effective while prejudiced representations of history are unquestioned and deemed socially acceptable. Additionally, historical markers can be removed far more easily, and without penalty, than monuments because they are not protected under the Alabama Memorial Protection Act (Kirkland). Indigenous Peoples want their history to be represented, and as previously stated, copious amounts of their culture have been pushed aside or shunned. It is crucial to have their history represented, accounted for, and seen commonly. Making their history easily accessible and commonplace in public settings via accurate, inclusive historical markers or monuments could be a great place to continue the efforts already in place.

From a moral and historical standpoint, the AHA should revise Black Warrior’s Town. They easily have the means to do so. According to the chair of AHA’s historical marker committee, Scotty Kirkland, the AHA recently refurbished around 40 historical markers and altered the inscriptions for some of them. In a personal interview, he stated, “the Association encourages communities to erect markers reflective of their communities, and we are always happy to work with them to revise markers to make that a reality.” While the association appears to be willing to correct any mistakes if brought to their attention, it prompts one to question their processes in the first place if such mistakes can make it onto the final draft for a marker. There is not much information available about how the committee goes about verifying and approving a submission to erect a marker. The application asks about a sponsorship for the funds, location of a potential marker, potential inscription for a marker, and sources for a potential marker (“Historical Marker Placement”). The lack of transparency between the AHA and the public is cause for concern. Frankly, it would be in their and any other similar association’s best interests to be as open with the public as possible, to be able to take responsibility for, correct, and avoid any biases, forced perspectives, or inaccuracies within their historical markers.

One should have a sense of urgency to preserve and educate oneself about Indigenous Peoples due to their gross mistreatment, historical neglect, and unique culture. Although some may consider the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples an issue of the past, it is obvious that this issue is still prevalent today just from the few examples of Columbus Day, media representation, and representation on historical markers. It is fundamental to the Native community and the world’s understanding of them that they need to be seen and heard commonly within society. That is why it is of paramount importance that the historical marker Black Warrior’s Town be revised to take a step in the right direction of including, normalizing, and bolstering Native voices within historical representation.


“Black Warrior’s Town.” Alabama Historical Association, 1974,

Blackmon, Richard. The Creek War, 1813-1814. CMH Pub, U.S. Army Campaigns of the War of 1812, EBSCOhost, 2014. s-live&scope=site.

Burt, Larry W. “Tecumseh.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia, 2019, EBSCOhost,

Eason, Arianne E., et al. “Sanitizing History: National Identification, Negative Stereotypes, and Support for Eliminating Columbus Day and Adopting Indigenous Peoples Day.” Cultural Diversity and Ethic Minority Psychology, June 2020. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1037/cdp0000345

Hauptman, Laurence, and Heriberto Dixon. “The Recognizable Ramapough: Chief Butch Redbone’s Quest for Federal and State Acknowledgment.” Hudson River Valley Review, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 40-68, 2014. EBSCOhost,

“Historical Marker Placement.” Alabama Historical Association,

Kirkland, Scotty. Personal Interview. 12 October 2020.

Leavitt, Peter A., et al. “‘Frozen in Time’: The Impact of Native American Media Representations on Identity and Self-Understanding.” Journal of Social Issues, vol. 71, no. 1, pp. 39-53. Mar. 2015. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1111/josi.12095