The Creek Indians of Georgia
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part I
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part II
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part III
At the dawn of the 16th century Europeans
had barely reached the coast of the North American mainland. Spanish
sailors heading north from Florida encountered a vast Indian culture
living in a land they called Guale (Wah-li). These coastal Indians
were the largest group of a tribe that covered much of the present-day
Southeastern United States, The Creek.
Moundbuilders, the first great civilization in North
America, arose 4,000 years before the Spanish set foot on the islands
of coastal Georgia. From the oldest of these sites, Poverty Point
in Louisiana, this great culture spread across two-thirds of the
United States, following the Mississippi north to Minnesota, its
tributaries, including the Ohio, east and west deep into the continent,
and around the Florida peninsula into coastal Georgia.
By the time Spanish conquistadors worked inland
in search of the wealth of a continent the Moundbuilder culture
was in steep decline. Cahokia, Etowah
and Ocmulgee, major cities of a dying culture, were no longer active
sites. The remaining Moundbuilders were absorbed into the Woodland
cultures which they dominated. With few exceptions in the state
of Georgia, the Indians that deSoto met were not Moundbuilders,
but these remnants of that tribe.
Spanish missionaries and their accompanying garrisons
are interesting to study, but in fact this was a minor cultural
development in relation to the Creek Indians. It is doubtful that
there was ever more than 200 people in these missions and garrisons,
and there physical location is a subject of intense debate. Evidence
of long-term Spanish habitation exists in three places in Georgia,
Genesis Point (site of Fort
McAllister), Mount Yonah in northeast Georgia, and Rome
(in northwest Georgia). There was a mission at the confluence of
the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, one at the falls on the Chattahoochee
and a number along the coast in Guale and the other fiefdoms.
In the late 1600's English traders found an interconnected
Indian culture south of the Carolinas. Nomadic tribes wandered throughout
the land, but remained centered in a group of villages along the
Ocheesee Creek that were probably pre-Colombian in origin. The traders
named them because their villages were near this creek. They were
known to other Indians as the Muskogee, probably a Shawnee term
who's meaning has been lost to time.
At the time of this first contact with the English
traders there were four distinct tribes in what would become the
Southeastern United States:
Of these the Creek were by far the largest, both
in land and population. However, to view the Creek Indians as a
single tribe, as the others were, is probably wrong. The term confederacy
came into popular use to describe the relationship of these individual
groups; Commonwealth might also be a good term. Generally, Creek
life centered on a village, which had a substantial political structure
to govern. Each village was related to, but politically independent
of other nearby villages.
The largest tribe in the Creek world were the Muskogee
(Muscogee). This culture lived and regularly hunted from the Tennessee
River to to the St. Mary's, west to Alabama, . Along the southeast
coast a tribe known as the Yuchi (Yuchee) were prevalent. The Hitchitee
inhabited the northern half of the Florida peninsula. This tribe
would evolve into the Seminoles, thanks to a policy of absorption.
Throughout the Creek world a common language was spoken, in addition
to tribe's native tongue. This common language, which was also spoken
by the Choctaw and Chickasaw, was called the "trade language."
Arrival of the English
In the 1670's, Dr. Henry Woodward was
chosen by the recently reorganized colony of South Carolina to befriend
the Creek and turn them on the Spanish. It was the intent of the
English settlers to drive the missionaries and their garrisons of
seasoned Spanish regulars from the coast south of Charles Town,
as well as those who had moved inland. DeSoto was not the only adventuresome
soul to wander thought the backcounty. Juan Pardo, Tristan de Luna
and others also explored deep into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.
By 1685 Woodward and the Creek had
successfully eliminated all the Spanish missions along the coast
and internally, including the Spanish mission at the confluence
of the Flint River and the Chattahoochee. From this point onward,
the Creek were in constant contact with the English, first with
traders who wanted goods for coastal whites, then settlers who wanted
land. It was an association the Creek would come to regret.
Over the next 15 years an uneasy peace
existed between the white settlers of South Carolina and the Creek.
In extreme northeast Georgia the Creek nemesis, the Cherokee had
begun to move west in the mid-1400's, but this move was gradual
until increased pressure from coastal settlers forced them further
inland in the 1600's. Peace would occasionally break out on the
Creek border with the Cherokee. 1702 brought Queen Anne's War to
Georgia and the Creek learned about the benefits of taking sides.
They aided the English settlers of South Carolina on a number of
occasions, the most notable were:
- Turning back a Spanish advance along
the Flint River in 1702
- Destroying the Apalachee Province
(northern Florida) in January, 1704
- Killing the members of a French
diplomatic mission, also in 1704
As a result, in 1705, the Creek formally
aligned with the South Carolina government. Protection was a major
reason why the Carolina settlers wanted friendly Indians on their
borders. Another was slaves. Creek warriors would sell captured
enemies to South Carolina traders, eventually moving east to work
the cotton and rice plantations along the coast. As intertribal
conflict lessened the number of Indian slaves decreased. White men
who had come to buy slaves simply took the Creek when no other Indians
were available. By 1707 conditions worsened to the point that South
Carolina took the unusual step of licensing these traders.
Unfortunately, controlling the traders
on the frontier did not turn out to be as easy as the South Carolina
government had imagined. In 1715, after killing every trader they
could find, the Creek Indians launched a broad attack across the
Savannah River at settlers on South Carolina's frontier. No one
had warned these settlers of the problems further inland, so they
were caught completely off-guard. The Yemassee Wars had started.
The Creek were very successful at
first. Then the settlers slowly gained the upper hand. The war ended
when South Carolina militia joined with the Cherokee to drive the
Creek away from the Savannah River. The Creek made an uneasy peace
with the South Carolinians;war continued with the Cherokee for more
than forty years. During this time that the Creek Confederacy reached
its pinnacle; all groups of Creek Indians joined in the common battle
under a common leader known as Old Brim (sometimes called Old Bream).
A New Colony
As Cherokee warmed to the advances
of the South Carolina government the Creek began to side with both
the French and the Spanish. They let the French build Fort Toulouse
deep in Creek territory and swore allegiance to the Spanish crown.
The English, unknown to the Creek or Cherokee, wanted the two nearby
Indian tribes to keep fighting so that they would be too burdened
to strike at the English colonies. For about 25 years this sufficed,
until Georgia was formed. On May 21, 1733 the Creek officially gave
General Oglethorpe permission to live on their land in the Treaty
of Savannah. By this time the Creek capital was Coweta.
South Carolina wanted the colony
of Georgia as protection. What they did not anticipate was competition.
Suddenly the Carolina traders competed with the Georgia traders,
French traders from Mobile and New Orleans and the occasional Spanish
trader from Florida. The Creek were centered between the four and
knew how to trade. They took complete advantage of their situation
and over the next twenty years enjoyed a prosperity few Indians
had known before that point.
The Cherokee Invade
In the north, the western movement
of the Cherokee bothered the Creek. At first the Cherokee contained
themselves to land near the Tugaloo River to which the Creek had
never laid claim. Even the land further north in Tennessee only
had fleeting Creek inhabitants. Now the Cherokee had pushed deep
into Creek territory. The battle of Taliwa (1755, multiple spellings)
determined the Creek-Cherokee border. After five successful attacks
by the Creek warriors the Cherokee were nearly destroyed, but the
teenage wife (known today as Nancy Hart) of a dead chief picked
up a weapon and advanced on the Creek line. This time the Cherokee
overran the Creek, driving them south of the Chattahoochee
River, which became the new boundary in Georgia.
Taliwa would be the last major battle
fought between the Cherokee and Creek. Afterwards the Cherokee settled
to the north of the river, Creek to the south. In northeast Georgia
a hard border was formed at the first ridge south of the river.
Any Creek found north of this line could be killed. In the western
part of Georgia the line was somewhat soft, mostly because the Cherokee
did not have enough people to fill the area the Creek had ceded
after the loss at Taliwa. A trade zone developed between the Chattahoochee
River and Cedartown.
In 1757 the Creek signed the second
Treaty of Savannah, which gave Georgia control of coastal land the
Creek had given to Mary
Musgrove. In 1759 a new superintendent of Southern Indians,
Edmund Atkins, introduced himself to the Creek Nation, along with
a small force of regulars. An October conference at Cusseta brought
assurances of peace from the combined tribe.
Unfortunately, while the Creek were
powerful in smaller groups, weren't all that powerful as a nation.
Their existence as a confederacy meant that individual groups had
significant say in their own destiny. The Upper Creek, under the
leadership of the Great Mortor decided to side with their former
enemies, the Cherokee, when they retaliated against English actions
during the French and Indian War. South Carolinians, Virginia, and
Georgia (then English colonies) defeated both the Cherokee and Creek
and extracted a sizable secession of land as a result at the peace
conference in Augusta in 1763. Among those who attended the conference
were Edmund Atkins replacement, John Stuart and Georgia's royal
governor, James Wright.
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part I
Return to Index
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part II
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part III