Mvskoke Country

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field notes ➤ Benjamin Hawkins, circa 1800

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❝ A description of the towns on Coosau and Tal-la-poo-sa, generally called Upper Creeks.

5. Foosce-hat-che; from foo-so-wau, a bird, and hat-che, tail. It is two miles below Ho-ith-le-wau-le, on the right bank of Tal-la-poo-sa, on a narrow strip of flat land; the broken lands are just back of the town; the cornfields are on the opposite side of the river, and are divided from those of Ho-ith-le-wau-le by a small creek, Noo-coose-chepo. On the right bank of this little creek, half a mile from the river, is the remains of a ditch, which surrounded a fortification, and back of this for a mile, is the appearance of old settlements, and back of these, pine slashes.

The cornfields are narrow, and extend down, bordering on the river.

6. Coo-loo-me, is below and near to Foosce-hat-che, on the right side of the river; the town is small and compact, on a flat much too low, and subject to be overflowed in the seasons of floods, which is once in fifteen or sixteen years, always in the winter season, and mostly in March; they have, within two years, begun to settle back, next to the broken lands; the cornfields are on the opposite side, joining those of Foosce-hat-che, and extend together near four miles down the river, from one hundred to two hundred yards wide. Back of these hills there is a rich swamp of from four to six hundred yards wide, which, when reclaimed, must be valuable for corn or rice, and could be easily drained into the river, which seldom overflows its banks, in spring or summer.

They have no fences; they have huts in the fields to shelter the laborers in the summer season from rain, and for the guards set to watch the crops while they are growing. At this season some families move over and reside in their fields, and return with their crops into the town. There are two paths, one through the fields on the river bank, and the other back of the swamp. In the season for melons, the Indians of this town and Foosce-hat-che show in a particular manner their hospitality to all travellers, by calling to them, introducing them to their huts or the shade of their trees, and giving them excellent melons, and the best fare they possess. Opposite the town house, in the fields, is a conical mound of earth thirty feet in diameter, ten feet high, with large peach trees on several places. At the lower end of the fields, on the left bank of a fine little creek, Le-cau-suh, is a pretty little village of Coo-loo-me people, finely situated on a rising ground; the land up this creek is waving pine forest. ❞

“A Sketch of the Creek Country, in the Years 1798 and 1799”
The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1810
edited by H. Thomas Foster II
(University of Alabama Press, 2003)

Written by James Treat

October 12, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, 1736

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❝ On the 28th [of July] I went back to Yuchi Town to attend the busk, or annual Indian festivity. . . .

They celebrate a feast every year when the corn is ripe, at the end of July or the beginning of August, which is called Busk.

Even if the nation has not assembled throughout the year, yet they assemble at this time. In this festival, which lasts four days, war, peace and other matters which concern the general welfare are discussed, and, if war is decided on, then it commences just after the Busk. On the first festival day they undertake a cleansing. They purge the body using the four different kinds of plants: Pasaw, or rattlesnake root; Micoweanochaw or, red root; Sowatchko, which grows like wild fennel; and Eschalapootchke, or small tobacco. After that they fast, some for twenty-four hours, some longer. On the second day a few warriors sit together and celebrate in song the deeds of their heroes. During this singing, there comes here a captain, there a captain, there a third, &c., with his people running up in a fury, all singing and shrieking together. The fire in all the huts of the Indian town is put out, and a new fire is made. They take two pieces of wood and twirl them long enough on each other until one of them smokes and fire starts. Each of them lights his tobacco pipe from this fire and takes some of it home with him. Also in this festival a ripe corn ear is brought from the field and hung up, which is kept throughout the year until the next such time. Before and during the Busk no one may bake anything from or eat the new corn; this may be done for the first time only after the Busk.

The remainder of the time during this festival is spent in eating, drinking and dancing. At the same time the women appear in their best finery and join in rows. The music consists of rattles and a kettledrum, which are accompanied by the shrieks of the dancers. . . .

Their towns and dwellings are usually situated on a river. The Creek Nation consists of several towns, which however are more like our villages than towns. The houses are scattered here and there without order, and the plantations are nearby. The houses are beaten together out of mud, without chimneys, without doors, without compartments, without storeys. The fire is in the center of the house around which they lie on the ground in the ashes with their wives, children and dogs round about. When they camp during travelling or on the hunt, they peel a pine tree and make a hut of bark or else of skins and a few poles. ❞

Von Reck’s Voyage:
Drawings and Journal of
Philip Georg Freidrich von Reck

edited by Kristian Hvidt
(Beehive Press, 1980)

Written by James Treat

September 28, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Johann Burckhard, 1811

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September 3.

We took advantage of the dry spell to visit Creeks in the low land. Br. Petersen set out on September 3, and in the forenoon visited seven families in their homes, amongst them the family of the Big King. He, however, was not at home. From here I rode two miles up the river to the first Indian town where I found Big Chief (or in Indian Micco Thlucco) and twenty chiefs, who had gathered in the town house for a “Little Talk.” We had now traveled twelve miles, crossed the river three times for visits on either side of the river and permitted my mare to graze. I shall now discuss how kindly they received me in Indian fashion at their town house. The so-called Micco Thlucco had me sit next to him. He then got up, shook my hand violently and the other chiefs followed suit. When this process was concluded Big Chief got up and handed me some of his tobacco; in return, I gave him some of mine. The other chiefs followed suit. It is understood that, once the different kinds of tobacco have been blended, the smoking begins. Then the “Black Drink” or cleansing tea was served. One of the Indians went from man to man more than twenty times singing, while all were drinking. The Indians immediately ejected it, but it did not affect me that way. Then the Big King had a bundle of 451 small sticks of wood, the size of matches, delivered to him, corresponding to the total number of warriors living up the river who belonged to the town house. The old Micco Thlucco told me that I was not to leave until he returned, as he wanted to go home and fetch watermelons. He said he had a mile and a half to go and that he would [not] stay. I loaned him my mare. He seemed concerned lest the melons might be gone before I again returned. He then said, “I promised that should you visit me you were to eat watermelon with me and I want to keep my promise.” He brought a blanket full of melons, then had saffkee and baked pumpkins brought to the town house where, according to custom, I had the honor to lie down to eat with him and Chief Toshege. After we had finished he called the other chiefs to dine. At sundown they brought wood for a fire at which they danced into the night. I set out by moonlight, traveled up the river with a white man and camped in the woods for the night.

September 4.

I continued the trip and visited a number of families in their homes. All were friendly and immediately offered me saffkee. ❞

Partner’s in the Lord’s Work: The Diary of Two Moravian
Missionaries in the Creek Indian Country, 1807-1813

edited and translated by Carl Mauelshagen and Gerald H. Davis
(Georgia State College, 1969)

Written by James Treat

August 31, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Phillip Deere, 1982

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❝ In the beginning we had no teachers, no instructors. We could only copy off nature, and the whole civilization of the Indian people was copied off of a study of nature. So when we hear the birds sing, we never question no one what they’re saying. . . . 

“Why did you bring your leaves in April?” You never ask the trees this. When you hear the lion roar, no one asks the lion what the lion is saying. So we always felt that we are a part of nature. . . .

So what traditions and customs that our people had, they had meanings that’s somewhat lost throughout the years. Education, perhaps, is responsible for a lot of this. Sometimes Christianizing people is responsible for this also, because all this was worldly and had no meaning to the new people that arrived in this country; they were from another culture. So in the short four or five hundred years much of this has been lost, but if we study our history that we call Indian way of life, it’s not that much different in any other race of people. Because I take it that whether he be a Frenchman or Dutchman or whatever he may be, life couldn’t have begun much different, because at one time, they too had no teachers, they too had no schools, had no universities to go to when their ancestors came about. So they were also close to nature. They also studied nature.

I reminded them of that when I was in London last year; I lectured one week there in downtown London, and I reminded those English people that their ancestors, too, had their mind set on nature at one time. Their old buildings say so; the modern buildings don’t tell us that, but the old buildings down the street have imprints of nature on that building. The old furniture has a print of nature on that furniture, but the modern furniture, there is nothing there to remind us of nature. So the old people way back they had their minds set on nature; they had their love for nature at one time. But under the name of progress, perhaps, our people’s thoughts of nature were drained out of them.

Destruction of nature came about the way we see it to this day; that if these trees are in our way, all we have to do is bulldoze them down. There is no love for nature, but in a small way maybe there are certain groups of people that are struggling and fighting to preserve nature; and always the native people had love for nature, they have always had love for what they call Mother Earth. ❞

The World and Way of the Creek People
edited by David Michael Lambeth
(privately published, 1982)

Written by James Treat

August 10, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Blue Clark, 2009

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❝ Muscogee (Creek)

“Muscogee” is of unknown origin in spite of being the name for the widely used Muskhogean linguistic family spoken throughout the historic Southeast. Nineteenth-century ethnographer Albert Gatschet proposed that it derived from a Shawnee word for “wet ground” or “swamp” or “marsh” as a description of their surroundings for their Tuckabatchee town hosts. Perhaps because the Muscogee Confederacy was made up of a complex mix of tribal towns, the label was adopted. Gatschet’s reasoning is now doubtful, leaving the derivation unknown even though it is their self-designation. There are numerous variations of the spelling (Muscogee, Muskogee, Maskogee, Mvskoke). “Mvskoke” is now preferred for the language, “Muscogee” for the nation. Some prefer Mvskoke Etvlwv, “Muscogee town” or “community.” Muscogee people usually also refer to themselves according to their tribal town or tribal community, church, or ceremonial ground (such as Okfuskee, Hanna, or Abeka), then their clan, and finally their family connection or genealogy. “Creek” derived from British traders who referred to local Indians living along the Ocmulgee and Ochesee rivers in Georgia as “Ochesee Creek Indians.” It was shortened to “Creek” in everyday usage. (“Ochesee” or “Ochisi” or “Otchisi” is itself a Hitchiti Indian word to designate those who do not speak Hitchiti.) “Creek” is still sometimes used to designate the Mvskokulke, “all the Muscogee people.” The word “Creek” was heavily used in the nineteenth century . . . .

The “Muscogee (Creek) Nation” headquarters is situated just north of Okmulgee in Creek County. The population is heavily centered in the counties of McIntosh, Tulsa, Creek, and Hughes. The legislative chamber meets in a domed building recalling their ancestral culture, called the Mound. The name of the capital town invokes the Ocmulgee Mississippian mound site in Macon, Georgia, the former ancient capital of the Creeks there. Muscogee Nation tribal towns and communities are scattered throughout eleven counties in the east-central portion of Oklahoma. . . .

Linguistic affinity connects the Muscogee Nation’s citizens with many ancient and contemporary residents of the southeastern United States. Muscogees are distantly related by language to Choctaws and Chickasaws as well as others. Muscogee ancestors resided in a series of Mississippian-period temple mound centers and satellite communities throughout present-day Georgia and Alabama. Oral tradition recounted a long migration from the Far West, perhaps the Rocky Mountains, crossing a giant river and finally settling in the southeastern portion of what is now the United States. Oral stories also tell of four major foundational towns: Cusseta, Coweta, Abeka, and Tuckabatchee (which is credited with origination of the annual Green Corn Ceremony). Tuckabatchee and Coweta are considered paramount towns. Linguists like Jack Martin contend that the tribal language stock Mvskoke spread eastward out of the Louisiana region in prehistoric times. Archeologists point to local development and link several late Woodland sites like Kolomoki in Georgia to the Proto-Creeks. Tribespeople also assert an ancestral claim to the Mississippian sites of Etowah and Ocmulgee National Monument in the same vicinity (“Ocmulgee” means “bubbling water” in Hitchiti). ❞

Indian Tribes of Oklahoma: A Guide
by Blue Clark
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2009)

Written by James Treat

August 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Benjamin Hawkins, 1799

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Boos-ke-tau

This annual festival is celebrated in the months of July or August. The precise time is fixed by the Mic-co and counsellors, and is sooner or later, as the state of the affairs of the town, or the early or lateness of their corn, will suit for it. In Cussetuh, this ceremony lasts for eight days. In some towns of less note, it is but four days. . . .

EIGHTH DAY.

They get two large pots, and their physic plants, 1st Mic-co-ho-yon-e-juh. 2. Toloh. 3. A-che-nau. 4. Cup-pau-pos-cau. 5. Chu-lis-sau, the roots. 6. Tuck-thlau-lus-te. 7. Tote-cul-hil-lis-so-wau. 8. Chofeinsuck-cau-fuck-au. 9. Cho-fe-mus-see. 10. Hil-lis-hut-ke. 11. To-te-cuh chooc-his-see. 12. Welau-nuh. 13. Oak-chon-utch-co. 14. Co-hal-le-wau-gee. These are all put into the pots and beat up with water. The chemists, (E-lic-chul-gee, called by the traders physic makers) they blow in it through a small reed, and then it is drank by the men, and rubbed over their joints till the afternoon.

They collect old corn cobs and pine burs, put them into a pot, and burn them to ashes. Four virgins who have never had their menses, bring ashes from their houses, put them in the pot and stir all together. The men take white clay and mix it with water in two pans. One pan of the clay and one of the ashes are carried to the cabin of the Mic-co, and the other two to that of the warriors. They then rub themselves with the clay and ashes. Two men appointed to that office, bring some flowers of tobacco of a small kind (Itch-au-chu-le-puc-pug-gee,) or, as the name imports, the old man’s tobacco, which was prepared on the first day, and put in a pan in the cabin of the Mic-co, and they give a little of it to every one present.

The Micco and counsellors then go four times round the fire, and every time they face the east, they throw some of the flowers into the fire. They then go and stand to the west. The warriors then repeat the same ceremony.

A cane is stuck up at the cabin of the Mic-co with two white feathers in the end of it. One of the Fish tribe, (Thlot-lo-ul-gee,) takes it just as the sun goes down, and goes off towards the river, all following him. When he gets half way to the river, he gives the death whoop ; this whoop he repeats four times, between the square and the water’s edge. Here they all place themselves as thick as they can stand, near the edge of the water. He sticks up the cane at the water’s edge, and they all put a grain of the old man’s tobacco on their heads, and in each ear. Then, at a signal given, four different times, they throw some into the river, and every man at a like signal plunges into the river, and picks up four stones from the bottom. With these they cross themselves on their breasts four times, each time throwing a stone into the river, and giving the death whoop ; they then wash themselves, take up the cane and feathers, return and stick it up in the square, and visit through the town. At night they dance O-bun-gau Haujo, (mad dance,) and this finishes the ceremony.

This happy institution of the Boos-ke-tau restores a man to himself, to his family and to his nation. It is a general amnesty, which not only absolves the Indians from all crimes, murder only excepted, but seems to bury guilt itself in oblivion. ❞

“A Sketch of the Creek Country, in the Years 1798 and 1799”
The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1810
edited by H. Thomas Foster II
(University of Alabama Press, 2003)

Written by James Treat

July 27, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ W. O. Tuggle, 1881

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❝ HOW THE ALLIGATOR’S NOSE WAS BROKEN

Far back in the old days all the animals determined to have a big ball play.

The four footed animals with the alligators were chosen for one side, & all the fowls & birds, including the eagle, were on the other side. All the preparations were made, the ground selected, the poles erected, the ball conjured & the game began, after dancing around the poles & whooping at each other.

The ball was thrown in the air & as it came down the alligator opened wide his mouth & caught the ball. Away he ran, waddling along through the other animals while the birds & fowls flew & fluttered around his head but were afraid to put their heads between his glittering teeth. All was dismay & the birds were in despair.

The animals cheered the alligator & his wife clapped her hands, exclaiming, “Look, everybody look! See the little striped alligator’s daddy—how he catches & carries the ball. Just look at him,” and she screamed till she cried.

The eagle flew on high, sailing round & round till he seemed a mere speck in the sky. Suddenly he darted down like an arrow from the clouds & struck the alligator on the nose, broke it & out fell the ball, which a bird seized and carried between the poles, & won the game.

Ever since that time alligators have had a broken nose— ❞

Shem, Ham & Japheth: The Papers of W. O. Tuggle, Comprising His
Indian Diary, Sketches & Observations, Myths & Washington Journal
in the Territory & at the Capital, 1879-1882

edited by Eugene Current-Garcia and Dorothy B. Hatfield
(University of Georgia Press, 1973)

Written by James Treat

June 29, 2011 at 12:00 am