January 16th, 1832

Alabama Criminalizes Creek and Cherokee Tribal Customs

On January 16, 1832, the General Assembly of Alabama enacted provisions prohibiting the Creek and Cherokee from practicing customs or making laws that conflicted with Alabama law. The provision stated, “All laws, usages and customs now used, enjoyed, or practiced, by the Creek and Cherokee nations of Indians, within the limits of this State, contrary to the constitution and laws of this State, be, and the same are hereby abolished.”

This statute was created just three years after another that effectively extended the jurisdiction of Alabama into Creek territory. In response to that first law, and white settlers’ increasing unlawful encroachment into the Creek Nation, the Creek Council repeatedly – yet unsuccessfully – petitioned the federal government for assistance and protection.

Even without federal support, many Creeks refused to succumb to mounting pressure to emigrate west of the Mississippi River, and their leaders continued organizing efforts to secure their tribal lands. These efforts were frustrated by this 1832 law, which also declared it illegal for tribal leaders to “meet in any counsel, assembly, or convention” and create “any law for said tribe, contrary to the laws and constitution of this State.” Punishment for violating this law was imprisonment “in the common jail of the proper county, for not less than two, nor more than four, months.”

The 1832 law also provided that the Cherokee and Creek could only testify in court in suits involving other Cherokee and Creek, effectively ensuring that Creeks defrauded and illegally deprived of their land by white intruders would have no recourse in the Alabama courts. White settlers, speculators, and those intending to illegally occupy tribal lands were enticed by the law preventing any suit for trespass and traveled to Creek territory in Alabama to take advantage of the law. Both the Alabama and federal government’s singular goal was removal of Indians from Alabama to the Western Territory and this law furthered those aims. By 1837, 23,000 Creeks had emigrated out of the Southeast.