Chickasaw Trading Path

Sam Curren

I (Lamar) grew up in central Alabama in the old Muscogee or Creek Indian country. The Cherokees claimed the Tennessee River River Valley of north Alabama including the Muscle Shoals. The Chickasaw claimed the extreme northwestern part of the state where the Natchez Trace crossed the river near Florence. The Cherokee traveled to the Shoals from the Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain area which was the shortest route from the Overhill Towns of along the Tennessee-North Carolina border on the western side of the Unicoi or “White” Mountains. Many a battle was fought over the claim to the Muscle Shoals of the “Big Bend” country of the Tennessee River.

There was a great continental trading path or travelway used by several tribes that connected the coastal areas of the Eastern Seaboard of the Carolinas across north-central Georgia, Alabama into the Chickasaw towns of north Mississippi. This became well used by the white traders when the British trading town of Charles Town, South Carolina was established in the late Seventeenth Century. The name was shortened to Charleston. The trading path was used by James Adair, Thomas Nairne and many other historical figures through the years including William Bartram whose description of a portion of the path I will include. One of my earliest Elders who taught me about the great outdoors, trapping, shooting muzzleloaders, squirrel hunting, and Native skills was Sam (Bobby) Curren, a Choctaw descendant who lived on Shades Creek south of Birmingham, Alabama. Before I moved to the Cherokee Mountains of North Carolina, Sam worked on the Great Chickasaw Trading Path and we traversed the mountains and rivers mapping it through the state of Alabama.

Since Sam is several hundred miles away and can’t get hold of me, I will take the liberty to say that although I cannot publish some of the events of his life that I am privy to, you might compare him to Geronimo, whose photos taken later in life hardly represent the warrior in his days of youth. I will just let it go at that and leave the rest to your imagination. But there is an old admonition: “If one survives the time of youth, young sinners can become old saints.”

Rare image of a Chickasaw man
Sam Curren, Choctaw descendant
Sam is an artist who reproduces among his scrimshawing, carving, gunsmithing, Mississipian artwork on gourds. He meticulously paints the images using matchsticks as brushes and sometimes takes months to complete a masterpiece.

The origins of the most ancient North American trading, travel and hunting paths are not known. Certainly they evolved by the travel of native people as they migrated and settled in communities and hunted game animals. In general, animals and people followed the paths of least resistance.  The ways of least resistance were not always possible as fording places in rivers and natural resources might be out of the way. These travelways connected to other travelways and became highways of trade, connecting town to town and tribe to tribe. Sections of the trails connected to sections of canoe and dugout trails replete with portages around falls and rapids. 

One of the early major Southeastern trails became known as the Chickasaw Trading Path by the British and “Chemin de Carolina” by the French. European traders, explorers, and outlaws traveled inland from the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi River as well as the Carolinas. A Frenchman carved his name in a rock near Huntsville, Alabama on a main trail in 1735.  That is the subject of another story I am preparing. 

Sam has found trade goods such as the horse bell and gun flints above. The petroglyphs below were shown to me by Jim Manasco of Winston County, Alabama many years ago on the Chickasaw Trading Path in western Alabama near the Black Warrior River.
The old trading path crossed a gap in Oak Mountain in Alabama. A few sections of a very old wagon road bed still can be found near later alterations. The person in the photo is Bobby Gillespie, a native descendant who passed away a few years ago.
Rock Landing was located at Milledgeville, Georgia, just northeast of Macon on the Oconee River. The path that crossed here connected several important Creek trading towns along the way to the Chickasaw country.