Our Georgia History
 

The Creek Indians of Georgia
By Larry Worthy
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

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.

Moundbuilder origins

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 Cahokia, Etowah and Ocmulgee, major cities of a dying culture, were no longer active sites.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

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:

  • Choctaw
  • Chickasaw
  • Cherokee
  • Creek.

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.

Yemassee Wars

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
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part II
Creek Indians in Georgia, Part III

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FrontHistory 101Early GeorgiaAmerican IndiansSearch
WarsPeopleTimelineListsPlacesPoetry




Golden Ink
Georgia's innovative design group


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Copyright