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Kialegee Tribal Town

The Kialegee Tribal Town is a federally recognized unit of the Creek Indians, currently headquartered in Wetumka, Oklahoma. Members of Kialegee enjoy dual citizenship in their own tribal town and in the Muscogee-Creek Nation, which is also federally recognized. The word “tribal town” is an approximate English translation of the Mvskoke word, etvlwv (etalwa) which originally meant “large town,” but now can mean either “township” or “tribe.” Since its formation in the 1600s, 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 Kialegee 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 tribal government was formally established in 1939, with the constitution and bylaws being established in 1941.

As will be explained in the following narrative, the Kialegee are descendants of a once powerful province in northeastern Georgia that controlled the shipments of greenstone, gold and mica mined in the Georgia Mountains. Their ancestors were not Muskogees, but part of another branch of the Creek People, who originally spoke a language which mixed Itsate (Hitchiti) with Alabama words. Their ancestors were “major players” in the mound-building activities. When forced to relocate to the Alabama Territory in the late 1700s, they absorbed at least two Alabama villages on the Alabama River. Over time, most Kialegee shifted to speaking Mvskoke (Muskogee.) However, the Itsate-Alabama heritage of the Kialegee explains why their traditional stick ball opponents were the Alabama-Quassarte (Koasati) Tribal Town.

Four centuries of horrific plagues, wars, forced migrations and children leaving home to find work elsewhere have left the Kialegee’s a tiny remnant of their former population. Each time they were forced to move across the landscape of the Southeast; each time they were in a war; and especially each time their land was allotted, the tribal members were scattered to the winds, At present the tribal town has slightly over 440 citizens. It is quite likely that well over a thousand persons, who are eligible for citizenship, are dispersed across the United States. Thousands of people across the Southeastern United States, vaguely remember that they had Creek ancestors, but are unaware of the Kialegee-Apalache Creek ancestry.

Meaning of the Tribal Town’s Name

Many “Creek” place and tribal names in Oklahoma today are actually the Anglicized form of the word. Speakers of the Creek languages have been using the English form of the word so long that they do not even know its original form in the Southeast. For example, Okmulgee, OK was originally Okamoleke in Georgia. Tulsa, OK was originally Tvlse Locapoka in Alabama. Ochesee, OK was Vcese in Georgia.

Such appears to be the situation for the Kialegee’s name. Several Oklahoma references state that the name was derived from the Mvskoke (Muskogee) words “eka lache” which means “head left.” This is possible, but not likely since the forms of the tribal town’s name appear as early as the 1600s in a region where the Creek Indians did not speak the Muskogee language. In fact, the majority of Creek Indians in Georgia did not speak Muskogee. They spoke Itsate. Muskogee only became the language used in most Creek homes after the Trail of Tears. People were all jumbled up in Oklahoma. It was absolutely necessary that neighbors be able to speak to neighbors.

One likely explanation is that Kialegee is the Anglicization of a hybrid word between Alabama and Mvskoke, Kilali-ke. Kilali-ke means “Bearing torch” – people. Kilali is the Alabama word for “torch or light.” English speaker usually write down a Muskogean “k” sound as an English “g.”

This makes sense because the area where the Kialegee originally lived in Georgia was part of a region in which several related ethnic groups were called the Apalachee. The Appalachian Mountains are named after them. Apalachee is the Anglicization of the Itsate (Hitchiti) word for “those who bear a torch.” This probably refers to the custom in pre-European times of Muskogean and Maya leaders carrying a scepter in the shape of a torch. It is quite possible that the Kialegee were really a hybrid people, whose ancestors spoke several languages.

Origins in the Southeast

Most Creek Indians today are not aware that originally, the speakers of the three main Creek languages, Mvskoke, Itsate (Hitchiti) and Koasati, lived primarily in Georgia, South Carolina, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. They only occupied the extreme eastern edge of what is now Alabama.

Three factors caused mass migrations to the west and south. First, during the late 1600s, Native American slave raiders from Virginia decimated the Muskogean provinces in North Carolina, South Carolina, eastern Georgia and northeastern Tennessee. Secondly, after the Colony of Carolina was established at Charleston in 1674, Muskogean provinces near there suffered terribly from European plagues. The survivors merged together, sold their lands to the British and moved westward. Finally, when the Cherokees under British patronage began expanding rapidly in the 1720s, Creek provinces were forced to move out of North Carolina and Tennessee, primarily into Alabama, where they would receive assistance from the French.

At this point in time, the Koweta Creeks in Georgia became dominant in the Creek Confederacy, because they consistently defeated the Cherokees in battle. In 1754 an army composed solely of citizens from the capital town of Koweta, took on the entire Cherokee Nation. It recaptured all of the lands in Georgia and North Carolina that had been lost in 1715. Teenage girls from Koweta alone captured the important Cherokee town of Quanasee. It was never reoccupied. A body of Cherokee chiefs, equal to the number of Creek mikkos murdered in 1715, were executed. The Cherokees quickly sued for peace and the 40 year long war ended.

The Kialegee Creeks in the 16th Century

Had it not been for a hurricane, or the decision of Sir Francis Drake to get back to England after visiting his French Protestant friends at Fort Caroline, the homeland of the Kialegee Creeks might have become the capital of North America. In 1564, the French definitely made contact with the Kialegee, but described them as a division of the Apalache living on the Upper Oconee River near the Blue Ridge Mountains. This was a common practice among the Creek’s ancestors. The ancestors of the Creek Indians were constantly changing the names of their provinces with each Great Sun (king) elected. The province would have the name of the living king, but ethnic names would span several provinces.

In September of 1565, the leaders of Fort Caroline were expecting the arrival of about 1000 more colonists. Once they arrived, they planned to paddle up the Altamaha River to the Oconee River then build the capital of New France next to the Kialegee capital on the Oconee River. The site would have been near where the University of Georgia is now located. From there, they planned to establish a chain of gold mining towns in the North Georgia Mountains. They planned to be equal trading partners with the Apalachee people. Had all had gone as planned, most of the people in North America would be speaking French, and there would have been a lot more Native Americans around. The French Protestants treated Native Americans as humans and equals.

Instead, a hurricane killed most of the French colonists on the ships. The Spanish staged a surprise attack on Fort Caroline while the heavy rains from the hurricane were still falling. The Spanish murdered most of the people inside the fort, even though only ten were professional soldiers. Had the ten ships of Sir Francis Drake still been at Fort Caroline, the Spanish army, itself, would have been wiped out. France gave up plans to colonize the Southeast and shifted its interest to Canada.

English Contacts with the Kialegee Creeks

The first mention by English explorers of an ethnic group that was probably ancestors of the Kialegee was in 1670. Called the Kiawah by these English explorers, they were primarily a highland tribe, but owned what is now called Kiawah Island, SC as a salt-making station. In 1675 the leader of the island sold it to several English colonists. The handful of Native inhabitants on the island probably moved inland to live with the Kusapo (Cusabo) or to their main province in northeastern Georgia.

In 1700 explorer John Lawson spent several days at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina with a people that the English called by their Cherokee name of Keyauwees, but who called themselves Keoleke’s. Later, when a breakaway village of the Keowleke joined the Cherokee Alliance, they called themselves the Kiukee’s.

Lawson described the Keoleke men as being extremely tall. The men wore cloth turbans, long shirts and mustaches. The villages were neat and planned with squares and streets. The turbans and mustaches are certain evidence that Keoleke’s were associated with the Creeks of northeastern Georgia. In the spring of 1540, Hernando de Soto described the Okonee Creeks in northeastern Georgia in exactly the same terms.

The largest towns of the Blue Ridge Mountain Keoleke were named Etalwa, Tamasee, Chauka (Black Locust) and Okonee. These are all standard Creek words. It is definite that the Keoleke were Creeks, not Cherokees. Nevertheless, it was their anglicized Cherokee name that was given to the Keowee River in South Carolina.

During the early 1700s, Indian traders from Fort Moore on the Savannah River, made contact with the main body of the Keoleke’s in the Upper Oconee River Basin. They also called them by their anglicized Cherokee name. Athens, GA and Watkinsville, GA contain mounds that were built by this branch of the Creek Indians. Apparently the capital town was where Watkinsville is now located. The archaeological record in this region shows a strong cultural connection to the great town of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) in northwest Georgia. In fact, one of the most important Native American trade routes, the Etowah (Hightower) Trail connection Etawa with the towns of the Kialeke.

At sometime after Georgia was founded in 1732 the Kialekee left the Oconee River Basin and moved westward to the Apalachee River. Of course, the Apalachee River got its name from the other name for the Kialegee. This move was probably to distance the Kialekee some from the Cherokees. The Creek-Cherokee War began in 1715, when the Cherokees invited all the Creek leaders to a friendly diplomatic conference at the border town of Tugaloo, then murdered them in their sleep. The Kialeke were the closest Creek province to the Cherokees.

By 1744, the Creeks were beginning to get the upper hand in this 40 year long war. An official Georgia map from that year showed that the Creeks had resettled northeast Georgia. However, no maps show the names Kialeke or Kialegee in their former homeland. Koweta Creeks are shown in that area. An alternative explanation to the available evidence is that the Kialeke joined the Koweta Creeks to get protection from the Cherokees.

Broken Arrow Associated with the Kialegee Tribal Town

The name of Broken Arrow is definitely associated with the Kialeke Creeks or Kialegee Tribal Town. It was the name of a Creek Indian town and a stream in Walton County, near the Apalachee River. The location was about 10 miles west of the Kialekee capital on the Oconee River near present day Watkinsville. The town was located on the Etowah (Hightower) Trade Path between the Oconee River and the great town of Etalwa.

In 1783 during what was one the last, or the last battle of the American Revolution, a joint army of Georgia and South Carolina militia attacked the Cherokee town of Long Swamp Creek in what is now Pickens County, GA. The Cherokees were harboring a band of Tory cutthroats, who had been murdering and plundering on the Georgia frontier for years.

The Cherokee village quickly surrendered. Its chief then offered a peace treaty in English that gave away all CREEK lands in northeastern Georgia. These lands happened to belong to the branches of the Creeks who had been staunch allies of the Patriots. Georgia gladly signed the treaty and stole the lands of the Kialeke, Okonee and Koweta Creeks living there. This new boundary put the Kialeke village of Broken Arrow on the edge of the Creek Confederacy’s lands.

In 1793, a strip of land that included Broken Arrow, GA was sold by the Creek Nation to Georgia. Apparently, some of the Creeks living there chose to stay as citizens of the state, because the name remained. The village appears on maps as late as the 1860s. Most Kialeke villages moved west of the Chattahoochee River in what was to become Alabama or southward into the areas controlled by the Seminoles.

The Kialegee Creeks in Alabama

A Creek town named Broken Arrow next appeared in Russell County, Alabama, immediately west of Columbus, GA. Americans now called them Kialegees. The site of the town is now located on Broken Arrow Creek. Apparently, the Kialegees settled in several locations between the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa River and the Chattahoochee River. In 1796 leaders of Kialegee signed a peace treaty with the United States.

Little Prince (Tustunnuggee Hopoi) of Broken Arrow was one of the most important leaders of the Creek Confederacy during the early 1800s. He was an ally of the United States in the War of 1812 and the Red Stick War. Kialegees living near Broken Arrow were aligned with majority faction. In 1813, the Kialegees in the vicinity of Tuckabatchee aligned with the Red Stick faction.

In 1825 a draft treaty between the Creek Nation and the United States was given to the Creek leaders at Broken Arrow by General E. P. Gaines. A small portion of Creek leaders later signed the formal version of this draft at Indian Springs. In 1826, Congress declared both treaties to be fraudulent, and therefore nullified them.

Apparently, during the 1800s the Kialegee villages were subordinate to Tuckabatchee, a powerful Shawnee-Creek town on the Tallapoosa River. However, they were definitely not “spin-off” villages of Tuckabatchee, as most Oklahoma history books state. The Kialegee and Tuckabatchee were ethnically, very different folks. The Kialegee were related to the Alabamu’s and Itsate Creeks, while Tuckabatchee was a mixture of Shawnee and Upper Creeks. The Kialegee in Broken Arrow apparently shifted from speaking Itsate to speaking Muscogee-Creek, since they were in the Muskogee heartland. This is not known for certain, however.

Villages of Auchenauhatchee and Hatchachupee

Oklahoma history books state that these two villages “spun off” Kialegee Tribal Town. This is absolutely incorrect. Both French and English maps of the 1720s show them to be Alabamu Indian villages located west of Fort Toulouse. Wetumka was another Alabamu town located west of Fort Toulouse. Auchenauhatchee, Hatchachupee and Wetumka can be clearly seen on the 1725 George Hunter map of the Southern colonies.

The town of Tuckabachee didn’t exist at that time. It would be founded in the late 1760’s by Shawnee after France had abandoned North America. The Shawnee in eastern Ohio had so enraged the people of Virginia in their attacks on France’s behalf, that they could no longer stay in the Midwest. The Creeks offered the Shawnee sanctuary in lands that had formerly belonged to the Alabamu (French allies.) Apparently, Auchenauhatchee, Hatchachupee and Wetumka elected to join the Creek Confederacy, rather than accompany the Alabamu to Louisiana.

In a matter of a few years, Tuckabachee absorbed Creek culture and rose to prominence. Apparently, Broken Arrow, Auchenauhatchee, Hatchachupee and Wetumka subordinated themselves to Tuckabachee because of its military power. However, Wetumka, Auchenauhatchee and Hatchachupee were originally Alabama Indian towns that were much older than Tuckabatchee.

In 1832 the Creek Nation sold all of its territory to the United States. Creek citizens were given an option to take allotments and become citizens of Alabama, rather than relocating to the Indian Territory. In many areas, this turned out to be a disaster. Kialeke Creeks living around Broken Arrow, AL almost immediately lost their allotments to white land speculators. The whites would gather up a group of vigilantes and drive Creek families off their legally owned lands. Some were murdered. The survivors fled to their kin living in neighboring Lee County, AL, Wetumka or Tuckabachee.

In 1836, the Second Creek War ended the hope of most Creeks, living in Alabama to stay in their homeland. The United States Army forced all Creeks living in areas where there had been fighting to relocate to the new Creek Nation in the Indian Territory.

The Kialeke living around Wetumka joined with the small Alabama villages of Auchenauhatchee and Hatchachupee to go on the Trail of Tears to the Indian Territory. There is a reason for this. Although the Kialeke in the state of Alabama had become “Muskogeanized” they were not originally Muskogee Creeks. It is possible that many of the people in the Kialegee villages still spoke Itsate or Alabama as their first language.

A considerable number of Kialegee Creeks, who had been part of the Majority Creek Faction during the Redstick War were allowed to remain in Alabama. Few, if any of their descendants can be found in the vicinity of Broken Arrow Creek in Phenix City, but are in Russell, Lee, Macon, Bullock and Barbour Counties, AL. Of course, through the years members of these families have spread all over the United States, especially in the late 20th century.

The Kialegee Creeks in Oklahoma

When the refugees of Kialegee, Auchenauhatchee and Hatchachupee arrived in the Indian Territory, they initially settled around present day Henryetta, OK. A dance ground and stickball field was constructed. The favorite stickball opponents of the Kialegee were their friends at the Alabama-Quassarte tribal town.

During the American Civil War, a third of the population of the Creek Nation died. The war was particularly hard on those Creeks who sided with the Union. They starved to death or died of disease in concentration camps established by the Union Army in Kansas for pro-Union Creeks.

The allotment program of the late 1890s and early 1900s permanently disrupted the social cohesiveness of the Creek People. A sizable percentage of Creeks refused to sign the Dawes Rolls, because they suspected that it would result in their land being taken away . . . and they were right. However, the descendants of these non-signers now cannot normally be enrolled with the Muscogee Creek Nation or the Kialegee Tribal Town.

For those readers not familiar with Native American history . . . the Federal government “gave” each Creek household 160 acres of Creek land and took possession of their former property. The excess property was given or sold to homesteaders. It was quite common for Creek families to be assigned lots long distances from their traditional community. This was an intentional act of the Federal government designed to destroy cultural traditions. Unscrupulous attorneys and real estate speculators obtained power of attorney, or even guardianship of Creek families, who couldn’t speak English, then stole their allotment.

The allotments dispersed members of the Kialegee Creeks across much of the former area of the Creek Nation. Kialegee families were somewhat concentrated in the Wetumka and Broken Arrow areas, but many lost contact with the tribal town because of the distances between them and their tribal relatives. As a result the tribal town’s elders “put their ceremonial grounds to sleep” in 1912. Today, the tribal town has very little real estate that it can call its own.

Undoubtedly, during the past 200 years there has been much intermarriage between true Muskogees and the other branches of the Creeks, who composed the Creek Confederacy. However, the original ethnic differences between the Kialegee and Muskogees might explain why the Kialegee always wished to maintain a separate identity. That desire continues among this relatively small tribal town today. It is still looking for a home.

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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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