History of DeKalb
Alabama was established January 9, 1836 from land that was ceded to the federal government
by the Cherokee Nation and is named for Baron Johann Sebastian DeKalb, an American
Revolutionary War hero. The county seat is Fort Payne, a name derived from the fort that
was built during the forced removal of Indians along the Trail of Tears,
as commissioned by Captain John Payne.
The Treaty of New
Echota was signed in 1835, which was an agreement between the federal government and the
Cherokee Nation that the Cherokees vacate their homelands east of the Mississippi. A
majority of the Cherokees however opposed the signing of this treaty and therefore refused
The treaty was
enforced though and President Andrew Jackson sent federal troops to transport the Indians
to new lands in the west. Troops, under the charge of General Winfield Scott, were sent to
various points throughout Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia to build stockade forts and
gather the Indians in preparation of their move west. Captain John Payne was sent to
Willstown Mission (Wills Valley named for Indian Chief Red-Head Will),
present day Fort Payne, to command the local garrison of soldiers and see to the
construction of the stockade.
Captain Payne chose a
site Two hundred yards northeast of Big Spring, a place close to the present
location of the Fort Payne Improvement Authority. The spring was a great provider of water
for the Indians, soldiers and livestock. The stockade was built by 22 soldiers under the
command of Captain Payne and was named Fort Payne. It was used for both an internment camp
and a removal fort. Five stockades were built in Alabama with Fort Payne being the only
internment camp in the state.
Several groups of
Cherokees departed during 1838 from Fort Payne with a guide provided by the federal
government while others left under their own command. One such group was lead by Cherokee
leader John Benge. He left with a group of 1,103 Cherokees, October 3, 1838. They followed
what is now Alabama Highway 35 through Fort Payne to the top of Sand Mountain to
Rainsville. They then followed what is now Alabama Highway 75 to Albertville then Highway
431 to Gunters Landing, now Guntersville.
Failure of the
federal government to provide ample means of transport for personal belongings, the
Cherokees were forced to leave behind many of their prized possessions, further stripping
them of their pride and human dignity. Their journey west was filled with hardships,
suffering and illnesses and one out of every seven died before reaching the land they
would then call home.
Today there is no
fort or stockade standing as a stark reminder of what the Cherokees and other Indian
tribes endured. Instead historic markers stand where Indians once gathered to learn to
read and write using an alphabet created and taught by Indian Chief Sequoyah and one where
a fort once stood and held Indians against their will.
cant turn back the clock and undo this tragic act, we can at least bring awareness
to it and educate others in the hope that this never happens again to another race of
DeKalb Tourism has worked closely with the Alabama-Tennessee Trail of Tears Corridor
Association to see this Trail of Tears route marked as a constant reminder of this great
Cherokee Nation. Installment of the Trail of Tears Trail Blazer markers began
December 18, 2000 in Fort Payne for the John Benge Route. The route is being marked from
the Fort Payne Improvement Authority to the visitor center in Guntersville. We hope other
communities will continue this project to see the trail Blazed from Fort Payne
to its end in Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
Funds for this
project were made possible from the ATTOTCA through the sale of merchandise at their
annual Trail of Tears Motorcycle Ride, from community donations and from a generous
donation from former Alabama State Senator Lowell Barron. We appreciate these individuals for
their support of this project.
information about the Trail of Tears and DeKalb County history contact our office at
is a date-order of events that shaped DeKalb County into what it is today:
Land that was originally occupied by the Cherokee Nation.
|1780 - The
area now known as Fort Payne and DeKalb County was Willstown and Wills County, named for
Cherokee Chief "Red-Head" Will Weber.
1820's - Sequoyah, Cherokee Indian known for creating a syllabary that taught an
illiterate tribe to read and write, moves to Willstown.
1835 - Treaty of New Echota signed which brought about the forced removal of
Indians and the tragic era of the Trail of Tears.
1836 - County officially named DeKalb County for American Revolutionary War hero
Johann Sebastian DeKalb.
February 1838 - Captain John Payne is commissioned by the Federal Government to
command the local garrison of soldiers and see to the construction of a stockade to hold
Indians before their march West.
1838 - Stockade was constructed and named in honor of its commander, Fort Payne.
October 1838 - Last group to depart on Trail of Tears.
1840 - Lebanon becomes the fifth County Seat in four years and the first
permanent County Courthouse is built. It served as County Seat for 38 years.
1860's and 1870's - The railroad comes to DeKalb County.
1869 - Fort Payne becomes official city name.
May 5, 1878 - Fort Payne becomes County Seat.The current courthouse is one of three
in Fort Payne to have been built since 1878.
1885 - Coal and Iron Ore are discovered.
1888 - The Fort Payne Coal and Iron Company is organized and the Boom begins.
February 28, 1889 - The City of Fort Payne is incorporated.
1889 - the Fort Payne Opera House and the Hardware Manufacturing Company's 3-story
brick building is built.
1891 - The Fort Payne Depot is built.
1893 - Coal and iron deposits play out and a larger vein is discovered in
Birmingham's Red Mountain. Investors pack up and move South. Boom ends.
1900's - Hosiery industry is born in DeKalb County.
Today - over 100 plants, employing over 5,000, shipping out over 3-million dozen
pairs of socks each week. We are the "Sock Capital of the World!"
Links of Historical Interest