In the winter of 1861-62, nine thousand Native Americans in Indian Territory took a chance. Drawing on little else but wits, raw courage, and unshakable faith in the old gods, and their aging leader, Opothleyahola, they made a desperate escape from Confederate troops that were closing in.
Seeking to reach the protection of federal forces in Kansas, their dramatic journey, recounted here from a unique Creek/Muskogee perspective, was filled with hazards; their destination, with disillusion and despair.
The fleeing tribes suffered on the trek from blizzards, disease, and starvation. Constant harassment and desperate pitched battles with rival bands of the Creek Nation led by the Confederate-allied McIntosh family, adjoining Cherokees under Colonel Stand Waitie, and Texan Confederate sympathizers whittled away the number of survivors.
When they finally straggled into Kansas, two thousand were dead or missing. Even then, their trials were not over: Federal "protection" proved to be hollow and harsh. Along with many others, Old Opothleyahola himself died in one of the bleak Federal camps.
The complexity of the relationship between Opothleyahola and McIntosh—and the Native American strategies they represented—the passion of the Civil War, and the drama of battles and pursuits fill the pages of this story of an earlier day's refugee plight.
Told from the Native American view of the events, never before written, this narrative account relies heavily on Creek oral tradition. Personal interviews with members of the Muskogee Nation have been supplemented with academic research in state, federal, and university archives and in the records of the Museum of the Muskogee Nation in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Not only students of Native American history but also those interested in the Civil War will find this volume invaluable reading.