Brief Update: Cultural memory of the American holocaust
Analysis of the Creek Migration Legends Series
During the past month I have been studying every line of the “lost” colonial documents that were discovered in April 2015. I also have obtained other little known records of the contacts between British traders and Southeastern tribes in the early 1700s.
Nowhere is there a mention of a great “die-off” of the ancestors of the Muskogean tribes. We know it happened from the sudden abandonment of towns, cessation of construction . . . even the maps that suddenly show many towns no longer existing. For example, the town of Apalache, located around the Kenimer Mound in Georgia’s Nacoochee Valley, is displayed prominently on a 1693 English map, but is never mentioned again on future maps.
There was a horrific small pox plague in 1696 that decimated the Creeks and Uchees in western South Carolina and eastern Georgia. There is no mention of this demographic disaster in the statements of Creek leaders. That plague would have occurred only 39 years before the creation of the “Migration Legend of the Creek People.”
*By the way, both Creek and colonial officials used the word Uchee, not Yuchi. We can assume that it was the preferred pronunciation.
I have also noticed that even in 1735, the intelligentsia of the Creek Confederacy seemed not to know the meanings of their proper nouns. Many of these same words were translated by the High King of Apalache (quite accurately) to Richard Briggstock in 1653. Eighty years later, they were essentially “Latin” to the leaders of the Creek Confederacy, yet the Creeks still called themselves either Apalache or Palache, not Muskogee. Were the new members of the Creek elite, actually the descendants of commoners?
My only explanation for the lack of cultural memory for the American holocaust is that it killed so many members of the Apalache elite, (who knew how to write) in a short period that the cultural memory was erased. There are two ways that an almost instantaneous elite extinction could have occurred.
- It is known that a hemorrhagic fever wiped out over 85% of the indigenous population of many parts of the Mexican Highlands in a few weeks during the late 1500s. Victims would often be healthy at breakfast and dead by supper time. That horrific disease could have spread to the Southern Highlands of North America.
- Slave raids sponsored by the Rickohocken allies of the English or the Native allies of the French could have instantly exterminated entire towns during the late 1600s. Just because they are not now part of our sanitized American History books does not mean that they did not occur.
I can’t emphasize enough that Muskogee IS NOT a traditional name for the Creek Indians, The word did no appear as an ethnic label until just before the American Revolution.
As our research goes forward, we will continue to look for answers to these riddles, but for now, they are just that – unanswered questions.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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