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78 Things to Love About Alabama: Chief Tuskaloosa

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The original Black Warrior

Tuskaloosa: A giant of a man, both physically and otherwise.

[Tuskaloosa]’s appearance was full of dignity he was tall of person, muscular, lean, and symmetrical. He was the suzerain of many territories, and of numerous people, being equally feared by his vassals and the neighbouring nations.

Tuskaloosa gave a city, a county, and a meandering river their name. He was a paramount chief (over-chief) of a sprawling Mississippian/Muskegeon mound culture that thrived in Central Alabama/West Central Alabama prior to contact with Spaniards. And as a paramount, he had numerous vassal chiefs and territories spread throughout the region — many of whom you may recognize by their names, such as Chief Talisi and the town of Mabila (the latter would give its name to Mobile).

His name is derived from the western Muskogean language elements “taska” and “losa,” which means “Black Warrior.” Also known as Tushkalusa, Tuskalusa, Tastaluca, or Tuskaluza, he was a principal chief of the ancestral Choctaw and Creek Native American confederacies who lived in a series of villages, mostly along the Coosa and Alabama Rivers in what is now the US state of Alabama. Nothing is known of his early life and there was no written documentation of him until the Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto came into contact with him in October 1540.

And, while we do know he was much feared throughout the region, Tuskaloosa would unfortunately be no match for the conquistadors. The story of contact with Europeans was one which rarely inured to the favor of indigenous peoples. This was particularly true with the Spaniards, who were notoriously callous and given divine writ to exploit and enslave the in dios under the Papal bulls of 1452 and 1493.

Tuskaloosa’s story would end no differently than those of the countless other tribes that de Soto encountered. But, for the Spaniards, it would not be easy to subdue Tuskaloosa.

Chief Tuskaloosa and his men were exceedingly clever, first in evacuating the women and children, and then in constructing a Trojan Horse village near the community of Mabila. He and his men fought very well, inflicting the most casualties of any tribe that de Soto faced: it was a battle that de Soto was wounded in and very nearly lost his life. But, at the end of what became called the Battle of Mabila, up to 6000 Indians were dead.

While Tuskaloosa’s body was never recovered, it is believe he died there as well. And along the way, his legacy proved to leave such a mark on the Spanish invaders that he is still remembered and memorialized on our maps.

So, pour one out for the original West Alabama bad ass — the Tuskaloosa that set a high bar for everyone who would hope to share the same land where the Black Warrior once ruled.