Mvskoke Country

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)

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Written by James Treat

September 28, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ David Lewis Jr., 2002

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❝ The Unseen Powers of Traditional Medicine

All medicines came from organic sources. Modern medicine now uses synthetic drugs to imitate some of these organic medicines.

The so-called primitive human societies had medicines for their people. Associated with the herbal medicines was what is called conjuring. This is what the modern culture calls it, and it has been dispelled as superstition. What the modern educated man fails to recognize is that there are a great many things that he does not know that are in the unseen worlds of creation.

Modern medicine seems to be limited to powers of the physical and the material. I believe in the so-called primitive way that recognizes powers beyond the visible and beyond man’s so-called smart thinking. The modern material world studies and analyzes mainly what can be seen. The ancient traditional recognized the unseen source of what is seen and this is what most people today have been trained not to see.

The ancient traditional recognizes and is trained to know about this from the very beginning of the learning. These are powers, energies, intelligence; what is known by the medicine people is not a complex knowledge of time-consuming chemical analysis. It is a simple but sacred impartation to a recipient who is prepared to receive.

The power lies in a total respect toward the tasks of fasting, cleansing, prayer words and creation. Words that come from the energy worlds are simple and known by the medicine people. The original instruction to us stated: “I will come half the way, then you must come half the way.”

In other words, creation is here for us to use, not to misuse, not to conquer. It is half the way, for it already has its powers, energies, and intelligence. We humans must align ourselves through fasting, prayer, and taking the cleansing medicines to come half the way with all respect, for it is sacred. For the Indians, the words have already been told and are to be passed along but with the same preparation. By this we do our part and come half the way. This is like an agreement with creation and when we do this, we are in harmony and can have good success.

Materialism has disrupted many things that were for the good of all human beings. Materialism is the aggressive, egotistical brainchild of human beings who have forgotten the intelligent, passive gifts of the unseen creation. If we are to do the complete good, we must harmonize ourselves, make ourselves sensitive to the powers, energies, and influences of creation. The so-called primitive conjuring of powers, in use with herbal medicines among the native people of this land, still lives. ❞

Creek Indian Medicine Ways:
The Enduring Power of Mvskoke Religion

by David Lewis Jr. and Ann T. Jordan
(University of New Mexico Press, 2002)

Written by James Treat

September 21, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Stephanie Berryhill, 1991

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❝ The evolution of Thlopthlocco

In 1936, the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act provided for the establishment of the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town’s constitution. . . .

The constitution states the Thlopthlocco Methodist Episcopal Church would serve as headquarters of the town. The members met at the church until a community building was built during the years of 1939-41 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. The building was built of native hand-hewed sandstone on the North Canadian River, three miles northeast of the church, said Curtis Canard, former town king, treasurer and business manager.

The building housed the tribal offices, had a big lodge room, bedrooms for overnight visitors as well as a fully equipped kitchen.

Canard, whose father Roley Canard was the first chartered tribal town king as well as Principal Chief of Creek Nation, said the town had its own natural gas to fire up the center’s standing pressure cookers.

It also had a drilled water well and water tower for the community building and two nearby homes. The tribal town owned a granary and a storage garage that housed a tractor and farm tools. A gas-fired hot bed also was utilized to raise young onion and sweet potato sprouts, he said.

Lucille Cook Dunson, 75, great-niece of Thlopthlocco’s last ceremonial ground medicine man, Reuben Cook, recalls some of the center’s activities. She and her husband, Earl, remember the many sewing machines tribal town members used to make garments for their family as well as the kitchen in which they could cook.

Mrs. Dunson also recalls the time her family, as well as other town families, gathered at the center to make mattresses.

Around the same time the community building was being built the tribal town received Congressionally appropriated funds to purchase land, small homes, farm equipment, horses, cattle, chickens and hogs.

The tribal town leased “mini-farms” to 12 tribal town members who no longer possessed allotments, Canard said.

Each farm, which consisted of 40 acres and was located on the banks of the North Canadian River, had one home, a dug well and orchard. In turn, the town’s families were required to make certain improvements on their farms as well as pay rent from money made on their harvests, said Charlie McGertt, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town King. The situation was comparable to a housing authority, Canard said.

Tribal-town living at that time was ideal and almost comparable to the tribal town way of life prior to removal from the old Georgia and Alabama homelands, Canard said.

“Those (who) had their own farms raised their own gardens, but everyone pitched in on the communal (garden) plot,” which was harvested and put in storage, he said.

A portion of the harvest also was canned in the community kitchen and distributed among the members.

“We had a community fair at the end of the harvest. The women would bring quilts, canned goods, watermelons and squash to be judged, just like a county fair today,” he said.

But in 1942 the river flooded, washing out three of the mini-farms as well as a bridge in front of the community building, making transportation along the river impossible.

The flood also changed the channel of the river. That year most of the tribal town farmers abandoned the land and the remaining few eventually left, around 1946-47, after realizing they would have to leave to work and make money. ❞

Muscogee Nation News
February 1991

Written by James Treat

September 14, 2011 at 12:00 am

field notes ➤ Lucinda Davis, 1937

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❝ I belong[ed] to a full-blood Creek Indian and I didn’t know nothing but Creek talk long after de Civil War. My mistress was part white and knowed English talk, but she never did talk it because none of de people talked it. I heard it sometime, but it sound like whole lot of wild shoat in de cedar brake scared at something when I do hear it. . . .

Long in de night you wake up and hear a gun go off, way off yonder somewhar. Den it go again, and den again, just fast as dey can ram de load in. Dat mean somebody die. When somebody die de men go out in de yard and let de people know dat way. Den dey just go back in de house and let de fire go out, and don’t even tech de dead person till somebody git dar what has de right to tech de dead.

When somebody had sick dey build a fire in de house, even in de summer, and don’t let it die down until dat person git well or die. When dey die dey let de fire go out.

In de morning everybody dress up fine and go to de house whar de dead is and stand around in de yard outside de house and don’t go in. Pretty soon along come somebody what got a right to tech and handle de dead and dey go in. I don’t know what give dem de right, but I think dey has to go through some kind of medicine to get de right, and I know dey has to drink de red root and purge good before dey tech de body. When dey git de body ready dey come out and all go to de graveyard, mostly de family graveyard, right on de place or at some of the kinfolks’s.

When dey git to de grave somebody shoots a gun at de north, den de west, den de south, and den de east. Iffen dey had four guns dey used ’em.

Den dey put de body down in de grave and put some extra clothes in with it and some food and a cup of coffee, maybe. Den dey takes strips of elm bark and lays over de body till it all covered up, and den throw in de dirt.

When de last dirt throwed in, everybody must clap dey hands and smile, but you sho hadn’t better step on any of de new dirt around de grave, because it bring sickness right along wid you back to your own house. Dat what dey said, anyways.

Jest soon as de grave filled up dey built a little shelter over it wid poles like a pig pen and kiver it over wid elm bark to keep de rain from soaking down in de new dirt.

Den everybody go back to de house and de family go in and scatter some kind of medicine ’round de place and build a new fire. Sometimes dey feed everybody befo’ dey all leave for home. ❞

The WPA Oklahoma Slave Narratives
edited by T. Lindsay Baker and Julie P. Baker
(University of Oklahoma Press, 1996)

Written by James Treat

September 7, 2011 at 12:00 am

Reclaiming the Chickasaw Plum

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Just as there are many ways to track time through the calendar year, there can be various methods for charting the lands of this remarkable continent.

A notable effort to reconceive “America” on the basis of culinary geography is documented in the recent book Renewing America’s Food Traditions. Edited by ethnobotanist Gary Paul Nabhan, this lavishly illustrated volume grew from the timely collaboration of seven major organizations committed to “saving and savoring the continent’s most endangered foods.”

Nabhan and his colleagues have mapped North America—including Northwest Mexico and most of Canada—by identifying thirteen regional “food nations” distinguished by place-based foodways. Each food nation is named for an iconic dish, and anyone familiar with Mvskoke tastes will be gratified to learn that Mvskoke country, both before and after Removal, is encompassed by “Cornbread Nation.” Back east, this region borders “Chestnut Nation” and “Gumbo Nation” in the Mvskoke homeland; out west, this agricultural complex shares a boundary with “Bison Nation” running across the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

The RAFT collaborative has inventoried more than a thousand heirloom varieties and heritage breeds that are currently threatened, endangered, or functionally extinct. Nearly a hundred are profiled in the book, at least half of which were—or still are—indigenous staples. The ten plants and animals detailed in a chapter on Cornbread Nation are as colorfully named as they are appetizing: Yellow Hickory King Dent corn, Mulefoot hog, Southern Queen yam, Early Golden persimmon.

But the most intriguing story here, from a Mvskoke perspective, is surely the so-called Chickasaw plum.

Early colonists coveted the different “wild Plums of America,” the trees as well as their fruits, which was “considered to be of extraordinary excellence in flavor.” The name was coined in 1773 by botanist William Bartram, who mistakenly believed this particular species had been brought to Mvskoke country “from the S. W. beyond the Missisippi, by the Chicasaws.” This identification was codified in 1785 when the plum was assigned a scientific name: “Prunus angustifolia, Chickasaw Plumb.”

George Washington planted three long rows of P. angustifolia behind the garden at Mount Vernon. Thomas Jefferson established the species at eight different locations on his estate, and “of all the tree fruits grown at Monticello today, the Chickasaw plum is the healthiest and most vigorous with its clean, shiny, pest-free foliage and abundant fruit production.”

The plot thickened during the Creek War, nearly two centuries ago, when frontier militia and their Cherokee allies massacred residents of the Hillabee villages near the Tallapoosa River on November 18, 1813. Having also chanced upon a patch of fruit trees, one settler returned home with a supply of native plum pits, which he cultivated in Knox County, Tennessee.

Locals loved the new plum and took to calling it “General Jackson” and “Old Hickory,” commemorating the spoils of war. The looted fruit later made its way to Illinois, where it was propagated under the name “Chickasaw Chief,” and to Wisconsin, where it came to be known as the “Miner” plum, now the Chickasaw’s best-known cultivar.

Writing in 1911, horticulturalist U. P. Hedrick described this species as “one of the most distinct of plums” and “the first of the native plums to be named,” of which there were already more than forty named cultivars. “The fruits are good in quality, attractive in appearance, comparatively curculio-proof [pest-resistant],” and “especially suited for culinary uses.” But industrial agriculture had little use for this native commodity, and over the past century P. angustifolia was nearly lost and forgotten.

Recent discoveries near Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River, however, have shed new light on both the plum and its history.

Most immigrant writers have assumed this indigenous fruit to be wild. Yet Bartram saw plenty of Chickasaw plums during his travels in Mvskoke country, and he “never saw it wild in the forests, but always in old deserted Indian plantations.” Hedrick also noted that “it is usually found near human habitations and on the margins of fields,” and that “a careful study of recent botanical works indicates that the species is indigenous to the southeastern United States.”

Finally, in 2004, botanists working at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park found six cross-compatible species of native Prunus—including P. angustifolia—near the site of Tohopeka village. It now seems clear that the original specimens taken from Hillabee, a few miles to the west, had been carefully cultivated by Mvskoke growers.

Nabhan and his RAFT colleagues extol this plum for its “primacy among the continent’s great fruits,” concluding that “perhaps the Creek were more accomplished horticulturalists than anyone has given them credit for.”

Muscogee Nation News, September 2011

Sources:

Renewing America’s Food Traditions: Saving and Savoring the Continent’s Most Endangered Foods, edited by Gary Paul Nabhan

The Historie of Travaile into Virginia Britannia, by William Strachey

The History of Carolina, by John Lawson

Travels and Other Writings, by William Bartram

Arbustrum Americanum: The American Grove, by Humphry Marshall

The Diaries of George Washington, Volume IV: 1784–June 1786, edited by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig

The Fruits and Fruit Trees of Monticello, by Peter J. Hatch

The Creek War in Alabama, by Tracy L. Dean and Daniel T. Elliott

The Plums of New York, by U. P. Hedrick

Written by James Treat

September 1, 2011 at 12:00 am

Posted in Mvskoke Country

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 ➤ Alexander Posey, 1903

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What a Snap

I wish I were an editor,
Out in the country free,
Where old subscribers would bring
Potatoes in to me;
And as I counted up each spud,
Each cabbage and each beet,
I grab my pen and give the man
A veg’table receipt. ❞

Song of the Oktahutche: Collected Poems
by Alexander Posey
edited by Matthew Wynn Sivils
(University of Nebraska Press, 2008)

Written by James Treat

August 24, 2011 at 12:00 am

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