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Chronicles of Oklahoma
Volume 9, No. 1
March, 1931

Ohland Morton

Page 17

(Continued from last issue)

According to the traditions of the Creeks, they originally lived in a distant western country. When Hernando Cortez landed at Vera Cruz in 1519 the Muscogee1 apparently constituted a separate republic in the northwestern part of Mexico. Their exodus began when Spain conquered Mexico. The Creek confederacy formed the largest division of the Muskhogean family. They received their name from the early English traders on account of the numerous creeks and small rivers in their country.2

It seems from the migration legend of the Creeks3 that after leaving Mexico they started east and after much wandering settled on the numerous streams between the headwaters of the Alabama and the Savanah Rivers in the country which now lies largely within the boundaries of the states of Alabama and Georgia.1

The Creeks were sufficiently numerous and powerful to resist the attacks from the northern tribes such as the Catawba, Iroquios, Shawnee, and Cherokee, after they had united in a confederacy which they did at an early date. Nothing certain can be said of their previous condition or of the exact time this confederacy was established, but it appears from the records of De Soto's expedition that leagues existed among several of the Creek towns in 1540.2 These towns were presided over by head chiefs.

There were seven different languages spoken among the Creeks. These were the Muscogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Ali-

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bamu, Natchez, Yuchi, and Shawnee. The first five of these were Muskhogean; the others were alien incorporations.3

Geographically speaking, the Creeks were grouped as Upper Creeks on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama and Lower Creeks on the middle or lower Chatahoochee River on the Alabama and Georgia border. The Seminoles were a small body confined to the extreme northern part of Florida and were frequently spoken of as Creeks.4

The Creeks were a proud and haughty race, arrogant, brave and valiant in war. As a people they were more than usually devoted to decoration and ornamentation. They were fond of both vocal and instrumental music. Their most important games were chunkey5 and a form of ball play. Exogamy, or marriage outside the clan, was the rule. Adultery by the wife was punished by the relatives of the husband, even though chastity in the unmarried was not considered a virtue. Descent was in the female line.1

There were some other peculiar customs among the Creeks which are worthy of mention. They usually buried their dead in a pit dug under the bed where the deceased lay in his house. The medical needs of these people were served by female practitioners who effected cures by the use of herbs and "magic".2 All courting was done with the consent of the girl's mother or maternal uncle.3 Polygamy was a common practice and existed among them until after the Civil War.4

No Creek knew his age. They had no months, weeks, and hours. The passing of days was noted by inserting pegs in a board. By the decimal system they counted to millions.5

The busk which the Creeks called the puskita, meaning a "fast", is by some early writers called the "green-corn dance." Taken all together the puskita was one of the most

4Chronicles of Oklahoma, VOL IV, p. 276. Article on Col. Sam Checote, by O. A. Lambert.

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remarkable ceremonial institutions of the American Indians.6 It lasted from four to eight days, varying with the importance of the towns where it was celebrated. The day of the beginning of the celebration of the puskita, which took place chiefly in the town square, was determined by the "miko" or chief, and his council.

This celebration was an occasion of amnesty, forgiveness, and absolution of crime, injury, and hatred. It was a season of change of mind which was symbolized in various ways. A general amnesty was proclaimed, all malefactors might return to their town, and they were absolved from all crimes, which were now forgotten and they were restored to favor. In connection with the busk the women broke to pieces all the household utensils of the previous year and replaced them with new ones; the men refitted all their property so as to look new. Indeed it meant a new life, physical and moral, which had to begin with the new year. Houses were cleaned and all old things were burned.1

The Creek warrior was larger than the ordinary race of Europeans, often about six feet in height, but was invariably well-formed, erect in carriage, and graceful in every movement.2 There seems to be some inconsistency in the descriptions of the Creek woman. One writer says that "she was short

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in stature but well-formed. Her eyes were large, black and languishing, her brow high and arched. Her cheeks were also high but her features were generally regular and pretty. Her feet and hands were small, but exceedingly well-shaped."3 Caleb Swan, the United States deputy who visited the Creek country in 1791, reported that the Creek woman was thick-necked, ugly and extremely masculine.4 Evidently the women described by these two men were either of different tribes or of different rank.

The Creeks had a peculiar form of government in that the confederation seemed to have no central control. The population of a town, regardless of the number of clans1 represented, made up a tribe ruled by an elected chief or "miko", who was advised by the council of the town on all important matters. This council also appointed a "great warrior" or "tustenuggihlako." Certain towns were consecrated to peace ceremonies and were known as "white towns", while others, set apart for war ceremonies were designated as "red towns".

The Creek town in its outline extended eastward from the town square and represented an autonomy such as is usually implied by the term "tribe." Every considerable town was provided with a public square formed of four buildings of equal size, facing the cardinal points and each divided into three apartments. The structure on the east side of the square was alloted to the chief councillors, probably of the administrative side of the government; that on the south side belonged to the warrior chiefs; that on the north to the inferior chiefs; while that on the west was devoted to the ceremony of the "black drink".2 They had several orders of chiefly rank.3

The general policy of the confederacy was guided by a council composed of representatives from each town who met annually, or as the occasion required at a time and place, fixed by the chief or head "miko". The confederacy had its political organization founded on blood relationship, real

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or fictitious.4 Its chief object was mutual defense and the power wielded by its council was purely advisory. Furthermore the lack of central control is evidenced by the fact that parts of the confederacy and even separate towns might and actually did, on occasion, declare war.1

The history of the Creeks begins with the appearance of De Soto's army in their country in 1540. Then in 1559, Triston de Luna came in contact with the part of the group, but the only important fact that can be drawn from the record is the deplorable condition into which the people of the section penetrated by the Spanish had been brought by their visit. Juan del Pardo passed through their country in 1567, but his chronicler, Juan de la Vandera, has left little more than a list of unidentifiable names.2

The Creeks came permanently into the history of our country as allies of the English in the Apalachee War of 1703-8, and from that period continue almost uniformly as treaty allies of the South Carolina and Georgia colonies and hostile to the Spanish in Florida.

The only serious revolt of the Creeks against the United States took place in 1813-14. This was the well-known Creek War in which General Jackson took a prominent part. This war ended in a complete defeat of the Indians and the submission of Weatherford their leader, followed by the cession of the greater part of their lands to the United States.3

Since this brief article could not possibly record all the events in the history of the Creeks prior to 1865, it is necessary to omit many happenings which may seem important.

Indian education proved to be a repellent force to the efforts to remove the Creeks to the west. Opposition to westward emigration apparently increased in proportion to the completeness of the transition from the hunting to the agri-

Page 22

cultural stage of civilization. The Creeks who had good homes, schools, and churches were loath to leave them in exchange for the rather uncertain conditions in the west.1 Experience had taught them that the Indian's happiness was of little consequence when the white man desired more land.2

In 1811 there was held a general council among the Creeks to discuss the sale of their land to the white man.3 This council voted to forbid the sale of their lands and imposed the death penalty for the violation of this restriction. A large part of the lands of the Upper Creeks were confiscated as a result of their disloyalty during the War of 1812. Additional cessions were made by the treaties of January 22, 18184 and January 8, 1821.5

In 1823, William McIntosh, chief of the Lower Creeks, took the lead in a movement to sell more land to the Government. On February 12, 1825, he signed a treaty at Indian Springs, Georgia, which ceded a large tract of the Creek lands in Georgia in return for an equal tract between the Arkansas and Canadian Rivers and $400,000 in money to be paid to the Creeks.6 The Upper Creeks would not sign this treaty. John C. Calhoun, as Secretary of State, refused to recognize it but after the inauguration of John Quincy Adams as President, it was ratified by the Senate.7 McIntosh was sentenced to death by a council of Creek chiefs and was assassinated on April 29, 1825, at Milledgeville where he had fled and was hiding in his own home.8

A delegation of Creek chiefs led by Opothleyohola and John Stidham went to Washington to protest against the enforcement of the treaty of Indian Springs which McIntosh

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had signed. A new treaty was signed while this delegation was in Washington. The date of this treaty is January 12, 1826. By its provisions the Creeks ceded all their lands in Georgia to the Government and in return were to receive $217,600 and a perpetual annuity of $20,000. A further clause provided that the McIntosh party were to receive $100,000 and moving expenses.2

The final treaty which made way for the removal of the Creeks to the west was signed in the city of Washington on March 24, 1832. By the terms of this treaty, the Creeks ceded all the rest of their lands east of the Mississippi River to the Government. They were to have all moving expenses paid, were to be furnished with supplies for a year's sustenance, besides tools, weapons, ammunition, blankets, and increased annuities. This treaty was signed by duly authorized representatives of the Creek Nation and Lewis Cass, secretary of war, as the representative of the government.3

There was a strong disinclination on the part of some of the leaders to move west and rejoin their fellow tribesmen of the McIntosh party who had preceded them to the new reservation. Opothleyohola, in particular was so bitterly opposed to such a course that he endeavored unsuccessfully to bargain for a tract of land in Texas upon which his people might settle. In the end, however, nearly all the Creeks migrated to the Indian Territory, though many of them did not go until several years after the last of their domain east of the Mississippi River had been sold to the Government.1

Shortly after emigration the Creeks found themselves involved in difficulties over boundary lines. A council which met at Fort Gibson in 1833 succeeded in making a satisfactory adjustment and the Creek boundaries were established.

That period intervening between the time of the removal of the Creeks and the Civil War must necessarily be treated very briefly in this article. It is characterized by progress

Page 24

in religion, education, and the adjustment of their relationship with neighboring tribes.

During the first decade after removal the Baptists and the Methodists were the principal religious workers. During the period from 1840 to 1860 the religious factor in the Creek life proved to be a most potent force in the Creek Nation's advancement.

As early as 1833 the Baptists had established a mission boarding school at Ebenezer.2 The American Board established a school at Coweta in 1843,3 and the Methodists established the Asbury Manual Training School near Eufaula in 1850.4 During the year 1848 the Presbyterians established a school at Tullahassee.5

The young people who were accommodated in these schools showed marked progress and soon improved noticeably in dress, speech and manners.

Practically the same form of government prevailed among the Creeks until 1867. This particular phase of their development has already been discussed in previous articles by the writer in The Chronicles of Oklahoma.

The Seminoles were originally a part of the creek Nation and after much litigation they were assigned lands by the government which had already been given to the Creeks. The Creek chiefs accepted the arrangement but the Seminoles objected because it would place them under Creek jurisdiction and make possible the enslavement of their fugitive black friends. However, in 1845 they agreed to removal to the assigned lands, and submitted themselves to the Creek council in all matters except finances.1 On account of disagreements over fugitive slaves the two tribes were unable to live together peaceably and in 1856 the Creeks ceded part of their territory to the Seminoles on condition that it should not be sold, or otherwise disposed of, without the consent of the Creek Nation.2

With the exception of a few skirmishes with the Osage

Page 25

and Pawnee tribes to the north, there was no further trouble among the Creeks until the Civil War.

On July 10-12, 1861, Albert Pike, as commissioner of the Confederate States, met the representatives of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole Nations at Eufaula. At this meeting and at one held on August 1, he negotiated formal treaties of friendship and alliance with each of these tribes. Thus the Indians of the Five Civilized Tribes were placed in an attitude of hostilty toward the Government of the United States, and the "White Man's quarrel" became the source of the Red Man's woe.1

Many of the Creeks remained loyal to the Union, even though the Federal Government seems to have abandoned them for a time.2 In the fall of 1861 about 2500 of these gathered under the command of Opothleyohola, the aged chief. This group, after a few battles with confederate Indian forces were finally dispersed at the Battle of Chustenahlah, December 16, 1861.3

Thus Opothleyohola was crushed. The Indians who remained loyal after this nearly all gathered north of the Kansas Line. Their sufferings during the following winter are almost indescribable. They had abandoned homes and farms and stock. Most of them were scantily clothed, many without shoes, and food was scarce. Hundreds of them died from exposure and fever. Opothleyohola died in 1863.4

There were two regiments and one cavalry battalion made up mostly of Creeks which served with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Col. D. N. McIntosh commanded the first Creek Regiment, Lieut. Chilly McIntosh commanded the 1st Creek Cavalry Battalion, and Col. Chilly McIntosh commanded the 2nd Creek Regiment. Col. D. N. McIntosh was

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the son of William McIntosh, the assassinated chief mentioned elsewhere in this article.

An examination of general histories does not reveal much in the way of detail concerning operations of contending armies in the Indian Territory, nor does a closer investigation of source material reveal any great strategic advantages gained therefrom. Nevertheless, war, in all its brutality, cruelty and destruction, came home to the inhabitants of that country during the years that followed.1

For students of Oklahoma History and others who are interested in a more detailed account of the topics treated in the latter part of this article the writer recommends the following works by Dr. Annie Heloise Abel:

"The History of Events Resulting in Indian Consolidation West of the Mississippi River." American Historical Association Annual Report, 1906, Vol. I, pp. 235-412. Government Printing Office, 1908.

"The American Indian as Slaveholder and Secessionist" "The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War." 2 Vols., Arthur H. Clark Co., Cleveland, 1915 and 1919.

Eastern Oklahoma College,
Wilburton, Oklahoma.

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