An eyewitness account of the Green Corn Festival
Native American Brain Food
Chickasaws were founding members of the Creek Confederacy!
Editors Note: POOF has transcribed one of the earliest documents placed in the archives of then new Georgia Historical Society. Our slightly different, original version comes from the archives of the Church of England. The spelling of the Muskogee words is phonetic, not contemporary Muskogean. Apparently, this is how Muskogee sounded to European settlers. The letter seems to have been written by Thomas Christie, Colonial Secretary of Georgia, who also recorded the Migration Legend. The word, Muskogee, does not appear in this letter, and would not appear in the colonial archives for another three decades.
This description of the Green Corn Festival was based on a visit to an Upper Creek town in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains, where corn does not ripen until early August. I also encountered the word, physic, while transcribing the Original Migration Legend of the Creek People earlier this year. During the early 1700s, physic meant “medicine” and is the origin of one of our contemporary English words for medical doctors, physician.
Note that the Chickasaws were one of the four original members of the the Creek Confederacy, which was called the People of One Fire. I don’t think that many Chickasaws or Oklahoma Creeks are even aware of this fact. This letter contains passages from the original Migration Legend, which are not seen in versions previously published.
The Georgia Historical Society is the oldest state historical society. It was founded in 1838. Its original archival collection included all of the surviving documents related to communications between the Colony of Georgia or the State of Georgia with its Native American occupants. Ironically, it was being founded just as the Cherokees were being marched out of Georgia. It is an outstanding resource for researchers.
Yet, alas! They don’t have a copy of the original Migration Legend of the Creek People. We offered it to them, but received no response.
Boos-ke-tau is an annual festival celebrated in the months of July or August. The precise time is fixed by the Micco and counselors, 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 early August. In some towns of less note, it is but four days.
In the morning, the warriors clean the yard of the square, and sprinkle white sand, when the a-cee, (decoction of the cassine yupon,) is made. The fire-maker makes the fire as early in the morning as he can, by friction. The warriors cut and bring into the square, four logs, as long each as a man can cover by extending his two arms; these are placed in the centre of the square, end to end, forming a cross, the outer ends pointed to the cardinal points; in the centre of the cross, the new fire is made. During the first four days, they burn out these four logs.
The pin-e-bun-gau, (turkey dance,) is danced by the women of the turkey tribe; and while they are dancing, the possau is brewed. This is a powerful emetic. The possau is drank from twelve o’clock to the middle of the afternoon. After this, the Toc-co-yule-gau, (taapole,) is danced by four men and four women. (In the evening, the men dance E-ne-hou-bun-gau, the dance of the people second in command.) This they dance till daylight.
This day, about ten o’clock, the women dance Its-ho-bun-gau, (gun-dance.) After twelve, the men go to the new fire, take some of the ashes, rub them on the chin, neck and belly, and jump head foremost into the river, and they return into the square. The women having pre-pared the new corn for the feast, the men take some of it and rub it between their hands, then on their face and breasts, and then they feast.
The men sit in the square.
The women go early in the morning and get the new fire, clean out their hearths, sprinkle them with sand, and make their fires. The men finish burning out the first four logs, and they take ashes, rub them on their chin, neck and belly, and they go into the water. This day they eat salt, and they dance Obungauchapco, (the long dance.)
They get four new logs, and place them as on the first day, and they drink a-cee, a strong decoction of the cassine yupon.
They remain in the square.
Is spent in like manner as the sixth.
They get two large pots, and their physic plants,
5. Chu-lis-sau, the roots.
11. To-te-cuh chooc-his-see.
These are all put into the pots and heat 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 on the cabin of the Mic-co, and they give a little of it to everyone present.
The Micco and counselors 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 0-bun-gau Haujo, (mad dance,) and this finishes the ceremony.
This happy institution of the Boos-ke-tuh, restores 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 it-self in oblivion.
Ways of the Creek Indians
The Ceremony of initiating Youth into Manhood
At the age of from fifteen to seventeen, this ceremony is usually performed. It is called Boos-ke-tau, in like manner as the annual Boosketau of the nation. A youth of the proper age gathers two handful of the Sou-watch-cau, a very bitter root, which he eats a whole day; then he steeps the leaves in water and drinks it. In the dusk of the evening, he eats two or three spoonfuls of boiled grits. This is repeated for four days, and during this time he remains in a house. The Sou-watch-cau has the effect of intoxicating and maddening. The fourth day he goes out, but must put on a pair of new moccasins (Stil-la-pica.) For twelve moons, he abstains from eating bucks, except old ones, and from turkey cocks, fowls, peas and salt. During this period he must not pick his ears, or scratch his head with his fingers, but use a small stick. For four moons he must have a fire to himself, to cook his food, and a little girl, a virgin, may cook for him; his food is boiled grits. The fifth moon, any per-son may cook for him, but he must serve himself first, and use one spoon and pan. Every new moon, he drinks for four days the possau, (button snakeroot,) an emetic, and abstains for these days, from all food, except in the evening, a little boiled grits, (humpetuh hutke.) The twelfth moon, he performs for four days, what he commenced with on the first. The fifth day, he comes out of his house, gathers corn cobs, burns them to ashes, and with these, rubs his body all over. At the end of this moon, he sweats under blankets, then goes into water, and this ends the ceremony. This ceremony is some-times extended to four, six, or eight moons, or even to twelve days only, but the course is the same.
During the whole of this ceremony, the physic is ad-ministered by the Is-te-puc-cau-chau thluc-co, (great leader,) who in speaking of a youth under initiation, says, ” I am physicing him,” (Boo-se-ji-jite saut li-to-mise-cha,) or ” I am teaching him all that is proper for him to know,” (nauk o-mul-gau e-muc-e-thli-jite saut litomise cha.) The youth, during this initiation, does not touch anyone except young persons, who are under a like course with himself, and if he dreams, he drinks the possau.
War Physic, Ho-ith-le Hil-lis-so-wau
When young men are going to war, they go into a hot-house of the town made for the purpose, and remain there for four days. They drink the Mic-co-ho-yon-e-jau and the pos-sau, and they eat the Sou-watch-cau. The fourth day, they come out, have their bundle ready, and march. This bundle or knapsack, is an old blanket, some parched corn flour, and leather to patch their moccasins. They have in their shot bags, a charm, a protection against all ills, called the war physic, composed of chit-to gab-by and Is-te-pau-pau, the bones of the snake and lion.
The tradition of this physic is, that in old times, the lion, (Is-te-pau-pau,) devoured their people. They dug a pit and caught him in it, just after he had killed one of their people. They covered him with lightwood knots, burnt him and reserved his bones.
The snake was in the water, the old people sung and he showed himself. They sung again, and he showed himself a little out of the water. The third time he showed his horns and they cut one; again he showed himself a fourth time, and they cut off the other horn. A piece of these horns and of the bones of the lion is the great war physic.
The opinion of Efau Haujo, great Medal Chief of Took-au-bat-che, and Speaker for the Nation in the National Council on these Ceremonies, given in answer to some queries put to him.
1st. What is the origin of the new fire, and of the Boosketau?
Answer. I have been taught from my infancy, that there is an E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-see, (master of breath,) who gave these customs to the Indians, as necessary to them and suited to them; and that to follow them, entities the red people to his care and protection, in war and difficulties. It is our opinion that the origin of the Boosketau and our physics, proceeds from the goodness of Esaugetuh E-mis-see; that he communicated them in old times to the red people, and impressed it on them to follow and adhere to them, and they would be of service to them.
2d. Do the red people believe in a future existence?
Answer. The old notion among us, is, that when we die, the spirit, (po-yau-fic-chau,) goes the way the sun goes, to the west, and there joins its family and friends, who went before it.
3rd. Do the red people believe in a future state of rewards and punishments?
Answer. We have an opinion that those who behaved well, are taken under the care of E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-see and assisted; and that those who have behaved ill, are left there to shift for themselves; and that there is no other punishment.
4th. What is your opinion of retaliation, as practiced among the Indians; can it be just to punish the innocent for the guilty; and do you believe that this custom of the Indians proceeded from E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-see?
Answer. I believe our custom did not proceed from E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-see, but from the temper of rash men, who do not consider consequences before they act. It is a bad custom.
5th. What is your opinion of the custom of the red people, to punish for accidental death, with the same se-verity, as where there has been a manifest intention to kill?
Answer. This custom of ours is a bad one, blood for blood; but I do not believe it came from E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-see, but proceeded from ourselves. Of a case of this sort, I will give you my opinion, by my conduct. Lately, in Tookaubatche, two promising boys were playing and slinging stones.
One of them let slip his sling, the stone flew back and killed his companion. The family of the deceased took the two boys, and were preparing to bury them in the same grave. The uncles, who have the right to decide in such cases, were sent for, and I was sent for. We arrived at the same time. I ordered the people to leave the house, and the two boys to remain together. I took the uncles to my house, raised their spirits with a little rum, and told them, the boy was a fine boy, and would be useful to us in our town, when he be-came a man; that he had no ill will against the dead one; the act was purely accidental; that it had been the will of E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis-se to end his days, and I thought that the living one should remain, as taking away his life would not give it to the other. The two uncles, after some reflection, told me, as you have advised us, so we will act; he shall not die, it was an accident.
The Opinion of Tus-se-kiah Mic-co, on the Origin of the Creeks, and the New Fire
“There are in the forks of Red River, (We-cha-te-hat-che Au-fus-kee,) west of Mississippi, (We-o-coof-ke, muddy water,) two mounds of earth. At this place, the Cussetuh, Cowetuh and Chickasaws found themselves. They were at a loss for fire. Here they were visited by the Hi-you-yul-gee, four men who came from the four corners of the world. One of these people asked the Indians, where they would have their fire, (tote-kit-cau.) They pointed to a place; it was made; and they sat down around it. The Hi-you-yul-gee directed, that they should pay particular attention to the fire that it would preserve them and let E-sau-ge-tuh E-mis see, (master of breath,) know their wants. One of these visitors took them and showed them the pas-sau; another showed them Mic-co-ho yon-ejau, then the Au-che-nau, (cedar,) and Too-loh, (sweet bay.) [There are one or two other plants, not recollected. Each of these seven plants was to belong to a particular tribe,] (E-mau-li-ge-tuh.) After this, the four visitors disappeared in a cloud, going from whence they came.”
“The three towns then appointed their rulers. The Cussetuhs chose the Noo-coose-ul-gee, (bear tribe,) to be their Mic-ul-gee, (mic-cos,) and the Is-tau-nul-gee, to be the E-ne-hau-thluc-ul-gee, (people second in command.) The Cowetuhs chose the Thlot-lo-ul-gee, (fish tribe,) to be their Mic-ul-gee, (miccos.”)
“After these arrangements, some other Indians came from the west, met them, and had a great wrestle with the three towns; they made ball sticks and played with them, with bows and arrows, and the war club, (Au-tus-sau.) They fell out, fought, and killed each other. After this warring, the three towns moved eastwardly, and they met the Au-be-cuh at Coosau River. Here they agreed to go to war for four years, against their first enemy; they made shields, (Te-po-lux-o,) of Buffalo hides, and it was agreed that the warriors of each town, should dry and bring forward, the scalps (E-cau halpe) of the enemy and pile them; the Aubecuh had a small pile, the Chickasaws were above them, the Cowetuhs above them, and the Cussetuhs above all. The two last towns raised the scalp pole, (Itlo chate, red wood,) and do not suffer any other town to raise it. Cussetuh is first in rank.”
“After this, they settled the rank of the four towns among themselves. Cussetuh, called Au-be-cuh and Chickasaw cha-chu-see, (younger brothers.) The Chickasaws and Aubecuhs, called Cussetuh and Cowetuh, chat-la-hau, (oldest brothers.) Au-be-cuh, called Chickasaw, Um-mau-mau-yuh, (elders, or people a head of them.) Chickasaws sometimes use the same expression to Aubecuh.”
This being done, they commenced their settlements on Coo-sau and Tal-la-poo-sau, and crossing the falls of Tallapoosa above Tool-cau-bat-che, they visited the Chat-to-hoche, and found a race of people with flat heads, in possession of the mounds in the Cussetuh fields. These people used bows and arrows, with strings made of sinews. The great physic makers, (Au-lic-chul-gee,) sent some rats in the night time, which gnawed the strings, and in the morning, they attacked and defeated the flats. They crossed the river at the island, near the mound, and took possession of the country. After this, they spread out eastwardly, to O-cheese-hat-che, (Ocmulgee,) Oconee, O-ge-chee, (How-ge-chuh,) Chic-ke-tal-lo-fau-hat-che, (Savannah,) called sometimes Sau-va-no-gee, the name for Shaw-a-nee. They met the white people on the sea-coast, who drove them back to their present situation.”
“Cussetuh and Chickasaw consider themselves as People of One Fire, (tote-kit-cau humgoce,) from the earliest account of their origin. Cussetuh appointed the first Micco for them, directed him to sit down in the big Savanna, where they now are, and govern them. Some of the Chickasaws straggled off and settled near Augusta, from whence they returned and sat down near Cussetuh, and thence back to their nation. Cussetuh and Chickasaw have remained friends ever since their first acquaintance.”
During the late war between the Creeks and Chickasaws, Cussetuh refused her aid, and retained her long established friendship for the Chickasaws; and when the Creeks offered to make peace, their offers were rejected, till Cussetuh interposed their good offices. These had the desired effect, and produced peace.
Archives of the Church of England, London, United Kingdom
Collections of the Georgia Historical Society, Volume III. Part I., Savannah, Printed for the Society, 1848