Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
History of the two Thlopthlocco Tribal Towns in Alabama
The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town is a federally recognized unit of the Creek Indians, currently headquartered in Opewah, Oklahoma. Members of Thlopthlocco enjoy dual citizenship in their own tribal town and in the Muscogee-Creek Nation, which is also federally recognized. The Upper Creek word, Thlopthlocco, means “river cane – big” in English.
The word “tribal town” is an approximate English translation of the Mvskoke word, etvlwv (etalwa in Mvskoke ~ etulwa in Kvse) which originally meant “large town,” but now can mean either “township” or “tribe.” Since its formation in the late1600s, the Creek Indian Confederacy, and later the Creek Nation, was divided into towns, rather than bands, as was typical of less advanced indigenous societies.
The special relationship between the Thlopthlocco and the Federal government is the result of an offer made by the Roosevelt Administration in 1936. The passage of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act allowed tribal town government even if the Creek Nation’s government was inactive. The 44 Creek tribal towns were given the opportunity to be recognized individually as tribes. Only three, Kialegee, Thlopthlocco and Alabama-Quassarte (Koasati) accepted the offer.
The Town established its square grounds and rekindled its fire between Wetumka and Okemah Oklahoma. In 1938, Thlopthlocco Tribal Town ratified its constitution and bylaws under the provisions of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act June 26, 1936, and ratified its federal charter of incorporation in 1939. In 1941 the Secretary of the Interior placed 1900 acres of land in trust for the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town for its exclusive use and benefit. On a tract of those lands near the North Canadian River, the Town members constructed a council house made of hand hewn stone.
Origins of the Creek Confederacy
Although citizens of the Muskogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma tend to view themselves as part of one ethnic group, Creek Indians today are the descendants of the assimilation of many indigenous ethnic groups that originally spoke at least a dozen languages and dialects. Historical, linguistic and genetic analysis has revealed the following ethnic components of the Creeks: Muskogee, Eastern Muskogean (Okonee, Tamatli, Chiaha, etc.), Southern Muskogean (Apalachicola,) Western Muskogean (Alabama,) Northern Muskogean (Chickasaw,) Itza Maya (Central America,) Totonac (northeastern Mexico,) Shawnee, Yuchi, Catawba (Siouan,) Calusa, Tupi-Guarani (South America,) Colima (western Mexico,) Chichimec-Nahuatl (northern Mexico) and Pima (northern Mexico.)
The Upper Creeks are descendants of the largest and most powerful Native American province to ever exist north of Mexico, Kusa. In 1541, when visited by the expedition of Hernando de Soto, the capital of Kusa controlled a province that stretched from present day Knoxville, TN 430 miles southwestward to Childersburg, AL. The conurbation around the capital contained over 3,000 houses. This suggests that the capital had a population of somewhere around 15,000 people.
The towns within Kusa spoke several languages and dialects. However, the predominant language was Itsate, which was a mixture of Muskogean and Itza Maya. The Upper Creek’s close association with Muskogee speakers during the past 300 years has altered their language. For example, the Itza Maya and Itsate word for a town was e-tula. In Upper Creek, it is now etulwa and in Mvskoke, etalwa.
Apparently, the various provinces of the future Creek people periodically made war on each other until the 1600s. During the late 1500s and early 1600s, horrible plagues swept through the Southeast that were caused by microbes introduced by European explorers and colonists. The population of Muskogean provinces dropped by about 90% as a result. Most of the large towns with mounds were completely abandoned.
The leaders of the struggling towns that survived realized that it was foolish to make war on their neighbors. The tribal towns began forming alliances. This process eventually resulted in the creation of the Creek Confederacy, which called itself, “The People of One Fire.” The original members of the confederacy continued to admit towns and tribes that didn’t speak Muskogee or Upper Creek. It was decided that Mvskoke (Muskogee) would be the official parliamentary language of the council. Over time non-Muskogee speaker shifted to speaking dialects of Muskogee.
The Creek Confederacy really did not become a unified tribe until the late 1700s. At that time, it became increasingly known as the Muskogee Confederacy, even though the majority of its member towns did not originally speak Muskogee.
There is another fact that few people know. The majority of Creek Indians were originally in western South Carolina, Georgia, western North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee and the eastern edge of Alabama. The Creeks only occupied the remainder of Alabama after France lost the French and Indian War in 1763.
Settlement in Alabama
During the 1790s, a cluster of new Creek villages appeared in what now Chambers, Lee are and Russell Counties, Alabama. At the time, they were in the State of Georgia, but in a section that Georgia’s leaders knew would soon be a separate territory. This region is in the east-central part of the state, immediately west of the Chattahoochee River and the State of Georgia. The villages’ names were Kialegee, Fish Pond, Lochapoka, Thlakatchka, Halawakee, Thloplocco 1, Thlopthlocco 2, Loplokee, Chatahospee, Osanipa and Cowikee.
The new villages had something in common. They were composed of immigrants, who had formerly lived in sections of eastern and northern Georgia that the Creek Nation ceded in Treaty of New York in 1790 and the Treaty of Colrain in 1796. Some of the village names were recognizable as being from northern Georgia where much land was ceded in 1790 to either the State of Georgia or the Cherokees.
Residents of Waverly, AL which straddles Lee and Chambers Counties have always stated that their town grew directly out of Thlopthlocco. In fact, numerous families are descended from Creeks who took allotments there in 1832. Neither village named Thlopthlocco appeared on official maps of Alabama, but are grouped in the census with Lochapoka, which is known to have been on Saugahatchee Creek.
Saugahatchee (Rattle Creek) Creek is a major tributary of the Tallapoosa River that joins it at the site of the large Creek town of Akfvske (Okfuskee in English.) The Akfvske were the largest branch of the peoples, who claimed direct descent from Kusa. In Poskitv speeches, they identified themselves as Kvsete-ke – Kusa People in Muskogee.
Thlopthlocco is listed as an Upper Creek Red Town in lists made in the early 1800s. The term “Red Town” originally meant that it was town that furnished warriors and in which judicial executions could take place. By the early 1800s the term has less meaning, though, because Creek towns were no longer concentrated behind timber palisades. Soldiers left from both red and white towns to fight each other in the Creek Redstick War.
In 1974 the elders of Thlopthlocco decided that their town was a offspring of Tuckabatchee. Tuckabatchee was a Tvlse town, originally located on the Tallapoosa River near the Alabama-Georgia State Line. A portion of the Tallapoosa River Basin in Georgia was taken from the Creeks and given to the Cherokees in 1790. The people of Thlopthlocco may have been forced to move downstream at that time. Nearby Lochapoka was a Tvlse town.
Alternatively, Thlopthlocco may have been an offspring of Okfuskee, since it was so close to that mother town. Some of the residents of Thlopthlocco had Okfuskee as part of their name in the 1832 census. This means that they were from Okfuskee. In either case, most of Thlopthlocco’s citizens were probably direct descendents of Kusa.
There were also some residents of Thlopthlocco with Yuchi names. There was a large Yuchi town on the Chattahoochee River, about 25 southeast of Thlopthlocco. Perhaps these Yuchi men married Creek women and moved to Thlopthlocco.
Relations between the Creeks and Caucasians deteriorated rapidly after the Mississippi Territory was broken off from Georgia in 1798. The entire eastern side of Alabama was either Creek or Cherokee territory. Settlers passed through over a hundred miles of Creek land to get to territories along the Tombigbee River. Some pilfered Creek farmsteads. Some stole or ate Creek livestock. Many hunted game along the way to supplement their diets.
When the War of 1812 began, English and Spanish agents intentionally stirred Creek antagonisms in hope that the Creeks would attack Caucasian settlements. These efforts were generally ineffectual until the Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, came south to promote a pan-Indian alliance to fight the United States. Tecumseh’s mother was a Tuckabatchee Creek.
The majority of Creek National Council members opposed hostilities with the United States and promoted assimilation of Euro-American technology. The minority Red Stick faction wanted to return to a traditional Creek lifestyle and also go to join the Shawnee in war. When they lost the vote in council, they went to war against the pro-American faction. The resulting civil war was a horrific time for the Creek People. The United States Army became involved in August 1813.
Both the pro-American and Red Stick factions were forced to give up millions of land to the United States at the close of the war in 1814. That was just the beginning. By 1827 there were no Creek lands left in Georgia. Continuing pressure forced the Creeks to cede their lands in Alabama in 1832. Some Creeks opted to accept allotments and state citizenship, while others moved to the Indian Territory. The Creek villages in Lee and Chambers Counties were some of the last to leave. Most of those villages accompanied the town of Okfuskee, when it departed Alabama in 1835 and arrived in the Indian Territory in 1836.
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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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