Muskogee People continue research into the Southeast’s past

Submitted by Richard Thornton (Talamachusee@aol.com)

The Muskogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma and the member tribes of the Southeastern Muskogee (Creek) Confederacy are continuing their ongoing research projects in 2007, which will provide archaeologists and historians a more complete understanding of the Southeast’s Indigenous Peoples. For decades, the Creeks have been frustrated because many official documents, historical markers and publications contained inaccurate information about their cultural heritage or mistranslated Muskogean words. Several years ago, Creek leaders came to the conclusion that a primary factor in the continued regurgitation of inaccurate or incomplete information from publication to publication was the indifference held by many Creeks toward historical and archaeological research. That problem is being rectified by a wave of new books being published by Creek scholars and professionals.

For the third year in a row, the Creek Nation co-sponsored non-intrusive archaeological studies at Etalwa (Etowah Mounds National Landmark). The research project is being headed by University of South Carolina archaeologist, Dr. Adam King, and being monitored by Joyce Bear, Director of Cultural Resource Preservation for the Muskogee (Creek) Nation.

Also, for the past three years, the Judicial Branch of the Muskogee (Creek) Nation has funded a team of Creek Law and History professors from Tulsa University, Muskogee University, and Baconne College in their comprehensive review of original archives, documents, and publications in Georgia and Tennessee relating to the Creek Indians. The final report has not been published, but some very interesting facts are coming out of the study—the most surprising being that there were Creek and Yuchi Indians living as ethnic communities in Georgia and Tennessee long after the Removal Period of the 1830s.

There were a series of pogroms in Georgia from 1832 through 1855 in which either Federal troops, Georgia Guards or local militias evicted “Friendly Creeks,” who were citizens of the state, and then marched them to the nearest state line. Creeks were living in tribal units in the Okefenokee Swamp at least as late as the 1860s. Contemporary newspaper accounts in Waycross described militia action against the “Ware County” Indians in which the Creeks were driven off of farmsteads and back into the swamp. Apparently, the Ware County Creeks never left the state, but in the late 1800s dispersed and began working for the turpentine industry or in railroad construction. Today, there are no identifiable Creek Indian communities in that region.

During the 1940s and 1950s, timber companies supplying the new paper mills on the coast, evicted hundreds of Creek families from along the edges of Southeast Georgia rivers and swamps. These families usually did not have clear title to their property, because for over a century they had lived anonymously on land that nobody wanted, or else were share-croppers. Most had never been listed by the census or attended public schools.

The State of Tennessee has documented the presence of Yuchi and Upper Creek Indians in the rugged Cohutta Mountains of Polk County, TN and Fannin County, GA as late as 1911. At the time, they were supplying fire wood and maintaining roads for the copper industry around Copperhill, TN. It is has been theorized that the Yuchi either moved to the Qualla Cherokee Reservation, intermarried with Caucasian families, or else dispersed to larger communities where there were more opportunities.

For the second June in a row, a team of Oklahoma Creek professors and students worked alongside archaeologists and volunteers of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History at sites along the Ocmulgee River near its juncture with the Oconee River. The project is seeking the location of a Spanish colonial mission and also studying the dense Native American settlement of the Ocmulgee Basin. Hands-on experience and structured independent research are basic tenets of Muskogee University’s new curriculum. Creek student teams are also working with the History and Anthropology departments of the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.

In early 2007, the Muskogee (Creek) National Council and Second Chief Alfred Berryhill sponsored the construction of a large photorealistic model of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) that used the latest information available from Adam King’s project (see below). Both the Etalwa Model and the earlier Ochesee Model (Lamar Village) are now on permanent display in the rotunda of the Creek Capitol in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. The models were built in Georgia and transported to Oklahoma. The models are used to explain the Creek’s heritage to school and college groups, and of course, an increasing number of tourists.

muskogee_village_image

The Perdido Bay Muskogee (Creek) Tribe of Pensacola, Florida and Warm Springs, Georgia is sponsoring a broad array of programs to expand the public’s knowledge of Creek culture and history. With the help of the Florida Endowment for the Humanities and many donations, Perdido Bay recently started operation of a 43-foot-long mobile anthropological museum that will tour the Southeast. The tribe has also contracted with a Pensacola architectural firm to a design a regional museum and cultural center on land it owns in Escambia County, Florida. Construction funds for the project are now being assembled.

Buck Woodard, from southwest Georgia, and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe, was hired by the directors of the ‚“The New World” to insure the authenticity of all Native American aspects of that beautiful movie. He subsequently has become involved with other similar projects, and was named Director of Virginia’s American Indian Resource Center at William & Mary College.

Richard Thornton, originally from Waycross, Georgia, and also a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe, is an architectural history consultant for the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. He recently completed a three year study of the Native American town sites in the Southern Highlands. The goal of the project was to identify the ethnic composition of this region at the time of first European Contact. The Creeks have long felt that many commonly accepted ‚“facts” concerning Native Americans in that region were contrived by early European settlers and then, not thoroughly researched by mid-twentieth century scholars. Linguistic analysis was the most interesting aspect of the study. This phase involved the translation of as many settlements mentioned by the de Soto and de Pardo expedition chronicles as possible. Thornton also translated the modern ‚“Indian” place names in the region. At least seventeen ethnic groups were identified. About eighty percent of the place names were Muskogean in origin, including both rivers on the Cherokee Reservation! The only major rivers with Cherokee root names were in northwest Georgia and northeastern Tennessee. The name of the Swannanoa River (near Asheville, NC) seems to be derived from the Muskogean words ‚“Suwannee Owa” or ‚“Shawnee Waters.” All the town names mentioned by the Spanish chroniclers for sites in Georgia, Tennessee, and western North Carolina were Muskogean—either Koasati, Highland Hitchiti, Coastal Hitchiti, Taskekee, Alabamo or Highland Muskogee. The Carolina Piedmont contained a mixture of Muskogean, Siouan, apparent Yuchi, and Algonquian names. However, all political titles in the region except for one small province in the Carolina Piedmont, were Muskogean. The biggest surprise was that a major town in the Smoky Mountains, Cholahuma, was an Alabamo word meaning ‚“Red Fox!”