Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
Footnote – Defining Muskogee Creeks on the Chattahoochee River
A POOF reader is upset, because of a statement I made in the article on the Miccosukee. It was in regard to the Muskogee Creeks living at present day Fort Benning and northwards, while non-Muskogees lived south of there. The actual ethnic boundary was roughly half way through Fort Benning, because Uchee lived on the southern half of Fort Benning.
I should first explain that the maps of the lower Chattahoochee’s Native American towns in the 1700s are not very accurate. They are all the result of succeeding generations of mapmakers copying William Barwell’s 1721 map. Barnwell never visited the Lower Chattahoochee Valley. He left out many towns and villages and the ones he listed were not exactly where he put them. Even in the 1790s and early 1800s, Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins barely mentioned or even ignored villages that were not Muskogee speakers. During the Chattahoochee Corridor Study, I had to rely on eyewitness accounts in the South Carolina and Georgia archives, plus archaeological studies carried out in the late 20th century.
The majority of Creeks in Georgia were Itsate (Hitchiti) speakers until the late 1700s. Muskogee was a diplomatic language enforced in 1717 on the members of Koweta Creek Confederacy by the minority, but militarily superior Muskogee speakers. The Chickasaws soon left the new Creek Confederacy because of this language requirement and other conflicts with the Koweta. Otherwise, the Chickasaw People would have been considered Creek Indians today. Over the decades that followed many Itsate speakers left the Creek Confederacy to either migrate to Florida or assimilate with Europeans, because of the political dominance of Muskogee. That is how Muskogee became the majority language by the early 1800s.
Until the late 1600s, the Florida Apalachee occupied the portion of Chattahoochee Valley south of Eufaula Alabama, while the Georgia Apalache (Apalachicola) occupied towns around present day Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL. The Kolimo (originally from NW Mexico) occupied the region north of Eufaula and the area around Kolomoki Mounds. Muskogee speakers dominated the Middle Chattahoochee and upper Tallapoosa Valleys. During the late 1500s, most of the South American peoples on the Georgia Coast had moved westward to escape the Spanish. They ended up in the region around Eufaula, which until then was a neutral borderland between the Apalachicola and the Florida Apalachee. Until 1832, all of the towns and villages around Eufaula had South American names that are shown on the Georgia Coast in 16th century maps. The Eufaula Creeks eventually began speaking Muskogee or Hitchiti (this is not clear) but they were not Muskogeans.
The Spanish attacked the Apalachicola towns around the Fall Line in 1645 and established Fort Apalachicola south of Columbus. Many of the Apalachicola towns then moved northward to the Etowah River. Uchees between the Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers began moving into the region immediately south of the Fall Line after Fort Apalachicola was abandoned and the Florida Apalachee population collapsed. Throughout the late 1600s and early 1700s, many remnant tribes moved to the Lower Chattahoochee River from elsewhere in the Southeast. They include Itstate-speaking Oconee from the Oconee River, Chiska from Northeast Tennessee, Westo from the Augusta area, Savano from western North Carolina and the Savannah River, members of the Cusabo Alliance from South Carolina, Apalachicola from the Lower Savannah River Basin and numerous Itsate (Hitchiti) speaking bands.
Some time in the early 1700s, Koweta established a satellite town at the Fall Line of the Chattahoochee River. In 1716, members of the Ichese Alliance on the Ocmulgee River fled to the Lower Chattahoochee River after the Yamasee War began turning toward a British Victory. These towns were all Itsate speakers.
Relations began to sour between the Creeks and the British after James Edward Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743. When Malatchi was elected Principal Chief of the Creek Confederacy in 1746, he moved the Capital of Koweta from the Ocmulgee River to where downtown Columbus is now located. Cusseta moved from the Ocmulgee River to where Phenix City, Alabama is now located. Most of the population of Palachicola moved from the Savannah River to the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers a couple of years later. Both Koweta and Cusseta spoke Muskogee. This is when the Muskogee language began to increasingly be the language spoken at home among Creek Indians along the Chattahoochee.
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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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