On Wednesday I finished driving the Old Federal Road across Alabama — finishing a leg of the road leading from Phenix City to Montgomery, driving the original road route – and sometimes the actual road itself – whenever possible. Located on the Chattahoochee River near the former Creek centers of Coweta and Yuchi Town, Phenix City has known a violent and fraught history. In the mid 20th cen., it was home to the Dixie Mafia, and as murders, prostitution, and gambling ran rampant the town became known as “the wickedest city in the United States.” 

First designated as a postal route by Thomas Jefferson in the early 1800s, the Federal Road stretched through Creek territory in lower Alabama and ushered in a new era of national expansion, communication, and exploitation of Native American and enslaved people. Crudely constructed overtop ancient Indigenous trails, the road functioned as a major thoroughfare for the western migration of settlers and enslaved people into present-day Alabama for the first three decades of the 19th cen. This colonial migration – what became known as “Alabama Fever” – ultimately led to the Creek Wars and the forced cessation of more than 21 million acres of Muscogee (Creek) territory and the establishment of the plantation system.1