Early History of Jones Valley
Long before the coming of white men to Jefferson County, the Indians traveled the Jones Valley trails to hunt or to journey to other villages to trade pelts and craft items. Trading was an important part of Indian life, but it was the abundance of game that attracted the Indians to the valley. Deer, bear, fox and wild turkey were plentiful. On these trips the Indians would camp by the numerous springs and creeks.
Early pioneers recalled that the Indians had burned the valley floor from time to time, destroying the undergrowth and leaving only the tall timbers, grass, and wild flowers. One legend proclaims that the Indians cleared these areas, usually around springs, to use for sites for annual gatherings. The Indians would meet every year to celebrate with such festivals as the “busk” or green corn dance, and to compete in games and sports.. Jones Valley, close to the lands of all four Indian nations (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw), became alternately a neutral or disputed territory. It was a buffer zone between the tribes, but sometimes became the subject of conflicting claims by the Creeks and Cherokees. Jones Valley was a hunting ground where Indians filled their larder, but none called it home.
The great springs of abundant water were important to the development of Jefferson County during the pioneer settlement of this area, along with the trails left by the Indians. Large herds of cattle, sheep, swan and goats traveled along the old Huntsville Road (now Woodward Road) on their way from Huntsville to Tuscaloosa where they were often loaded on flat boats for the journey down the Black Warrior River. Men who were called “Drovers” cared for these great herds of animals.
It was beside these springs that the drover herded his animals and hobbled his horses for the night. As more settlers came, small villages often grew up around these springs that provided a needed source of clean water.
One such spring in Jefferson County was Hawkins Spring, which is now located in the Municipal Park of the City of Midfield. The land surrounding the spring is lined with strata of limestone, which frequently outcrops on the surface of the earth with thousands of stones. The early horse and mule drivers called this segment of the Huntsville Road “Stony Lonesome” because of it’s roughness and the way their wagons made lasting ruts in the stone. The spring was called the Big Blue Spring, but that was before 1830 when David Hawkins built his house near the spring.
In 1798 Congress created the Mississippi Territory, and in 1802 the area that we now call Jefferson County became a part of this territory. Huntsville had been settled in 1805, and by 1811, two years before the Creek war broke out, the U.S. Army had cut the Federal Road to the South. White men probably traveled the Indian trails through Jefferson County before 1813, but it was the appearance of Jackson’s Tennessee militia in the valley that proved in the long run to be the most significant
Following the defeat of the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend, General Andrew Jackson forced the Indians to cede all their lands in central Alabama, a territory so vast it comprised all of Jefferson County and almost half the entire state. Jackson’s militia volunteers returned home, spreading the news throughout Tennessee about the green hills, with forests full of game, and the deep springs and clear creeks in a lovely long valley that lay beside a high red mountain. Many soldiers made immediate plans to move there with their families. Thus they became a part of the “Great Migration” into the fertile lands of the old southwest, a migration that followed peace with England after the war of 1812 and the cessation of Indian lands in Alabama.
One of the first settlers, John Jones, erected a shanty early in 1815 in the southern end of the valley. By local tradition, the valley received its name from him and his brother Jeremiah. During the territorial period the name “Jones Valley” applied to the entire valley extending from northeast to southwest, and to the areas that became known as Roupe Valley and Murphree’s Valley. Since most of the early settlements were in Jones Valley and the hills around the valley, for a number of years the name was also used to refer generally to what would later become Jefferson County.
In May 1815, these men were joined by Williamson Hawkins from Edgefield County, South Carolina, who had been “detained on personal affairs” in Tennessee. He brought with him “all the supplies he could pack on one horse”, and drove some cattle before him. The other men had exhausted their supplies, and they greeted Hawkins hardily, living the remaining months off his “milk and butter.” After the year’s crops were harvested Jones and the other settlers returned to Tennessee to gather their families. These pioneer families traveled back down the road that had been partly cut out by Tennessee troops during the Creek War. Journeying in groups, they stayed in crude inns along the trail, or camped out under the stars. On the trip into Alabama the women and children walked, rode horses, or traveled in wagons or two wheeled carts.
Upon return the area seemed safe from Indian attacks, but these veterans of the Creek War took no chances. They constructed a crude fort in the southern end of the valley, and Fort Jonesboro became the nucleus of the first settlement. For a brief period Williamson Hawkins, with his wife Elizabeth Nations, settled here at Fort Jonesboro (South of Bessemer), he later purchased over 2000 acres of rich land where the community of Thomas (near Tarrant City) is located and there he built his home. His plantation was one of the largest in the county, which at it’s peak produced over 200 bales of cotton a year.