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Memorial Day 2017 . . . American history is everyone’s history

Memorial Day 2017 . . . American history is everyone’s history


One of the many traditions in Dahlonega, that I really admire is that all young men and women from the county, who have given their lives in the defense of our way of life, are honored each year.   It is very humbling to realize that this relatively small college town has sacrificed so much over the past century . . . especially when these sacrifices are magnified throughout the United States.  What is especially shocking is how many young women from that community died in the line of duty during World War II.


Whenever I give a lecture,  I always begin with the statement, Native American history is American history.  However, it doesn’t appear that a significant percentage of United States citizens today appreciate how much this nation’s cultural traditions, food . . . even its very existence is directly attributable to the Southeastern indigenous peoples.   Indeed, the southern half of North America today would be a series of small Spanish-or-French speaking nations, if it wasn’t for the Creek Confederacy, Chickasaw and Uchee.

Watching the two political conventions this year made it perfectly clear that Native Americans and their spiritual values are considered irrelevant by the powers-that-be.  Native Americans can’t produce massive blocks of donations or votes.  To the people now in power, political demonstrations and enlightened rhetoric are proof of impotence.  Truth today is defined by power, not fact.

Many Native American leaders have encouraged this attitude by always presenting their tribes as helpless victims of past wrongs, who can’t compete in the mainstream society without special treatment and government grants.   The message they are sending is that “we are inferior, damaged goods and deserve to get special treatment.”

That is not the case at all.  The influence of indigenous America on the world is greatly out of proportion to the number of indigenous Americans alive today.  Native Americans have absolutely no reason to have an inferiority complex.  They should come to Washington, DC with their head held high, speaking for the “Average Joe” in America and stating, “This is our country. You have royally screwed the majority of people in the United States.  Your disdain for the middle class and natural environment . . .  your arrogance, plus worship of greed and self-centeredness will only lead to this country’s self-destruction.  Things will only get better when you adopt our values. 

Think about it . . .

Seventy percent of the vegetative food eaten by the world today is composed of vegetables, grains and fruits that were domesticated and selectively improved by indigenous Americans.   Batter fried fish and poultry, plus hush puppies were a mainstay of the Creek diet many centuries before they appeared on the menus of Captain D’s  and KFC.   The Choctaw word, “Okay,” and the Creek word “yahoo” are used around the world.   Many country music stars, past and present, proudly acknowledge their Cherokee or Creek heritage.  Did you know that Neil McCormick,  first chief of the Tama Creeks, invented the electric steel guitar?

The vast majority of Native American descendants in the Southeastern United States, however, are just regular folks, who often excel in their chosen career, but don’t even think about placing a “ethnic tag” on what they do.  Perhaps that is why we woke up one day in 2006 and discovered that other people were erasing our history.  Everybody was just “doing their job” and not expecting special recognition.

Muskogean veterans in American history

It is Memorial Day, so let’s focus on the sacrifices of Southeastern Native American warriors to the creation of the United States.  For starters, the ancestors of the Creeks stopped expansion of the Spanish empire, dead in its tracks.  The Spaniards were informed if they sent any soldiers farther north than the town of Tama on the Altamaha River, they would not return home.   Attacks by the tribes around Port Royal Sound, South Carolina made the occupation of Santa Elena untenable.  Santa Elena was originally the capital of a “Province of La Florida,” which included much of what is now the Southeastern United States.

1702 – The Battle of the Flint River: in 1670, the kingdoms of Spain and Great Britain signed a treaty, whereby Parris Island, SC was the boundary between British Carolina and Spanish Florida.  That would probably be the boundary between English and Spanish-speaking North America today, had not Spain decided to ignore the treaty, while a war waged in Europe.  An army of 800+ Spanish soldiers and Florida Apalachee militia sneaked up into what is now Southwest Georgia, in a maneuver that was first planned by the brilliant French military leader, Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville.

At the time, virtually all of South Carolina’s white population was on the coast and clustered near Charleston.  The Spanish planned to stage a surprise attack on Charleston through its “rear door.”  The Spanish army intended to free and arm African slaves, when they entered the Low Country.   Had they been successful,  South Carolina, which then included Georgia, also would have probably become permanently a Spanish-speaking region.  Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas would have probably remained French-speaking to this day . . . no matter the outcome of the War of 1812.

Instead, the Creeks and Chickasaws living near the Flint River, joined with 10 Carolina traders to set up a trap for the Spanish.   They created a faux campground, complete with stuffed blankets then slept in the surrounding woods.   When the Spanish army charged into the fake camp, they were instantly surrounded.  Approximately 3/4 of the Spanish army was either killed or captured.  Only 38 Spanish soldiers returned to Florida, who were not seriously wounded.

1742 – The Battle of Bloody Marsh:  Another war was raging in Europe.  The Spanish planned to capture the young colony of Georgia, which had no fort comparable to Castillo San Marcos, to protect its frontier or Savannah.   However, fearing another massacre like on the Flint River, the Spanish avoided sending troops through the lands of the Creek Confederacy.  By taking a coastal route, the Spanish enabled the British to take advantage of their superior navy.   A large of contingent of Creek soldiers joined their friends in Savannah to stop the Spanish invasion.  That they did . . . on St. Simons Island at the Battle of Bloody Marsh.

1754-1763 – French and Indian War:  The Seven Years War raged in Europe.  France and Spain planed to crush the British colonies in a vice, since France controlled the interior of North America.  Principal Chief Malatchi of the Creek Confederacy refused to join either side in battle, but sent word to the French and Spanish that if they sent their troops through Creek territory, the colonies of Louisiana and Florida would be annihilated.  

For three years,  the British Redcoats suffered catastrophic defeats in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.  The Shenandoah Valley lost over 90% of its population due to massacres staged by Native allies of the French.  However, the joint Spanish-French attack on the southern frontier never came, because the Spanish still remembered that massacre on the Flint River.  The British eventually triumphed.  Had they lost,  the English-speaking lands in North America would have been forever locked on a relatively narrow strip between the Appalachians and the Atlantic Ocean.

When the Cherokees changed from being allies to dangerous adversaries, the situation in the colonies was critical.   James Adair formed a battalion of Georgia Chickasaw soldiers, which blocked the Cherokees raiding parties from making a sweep down the Savannah River Valley and attacking coastal communities.   Later, when the British Army and Carolina militia counterattacked, the Creeks and Uchees provided their scouts.

1775-1785 – The American Revolution:  The Creek Confederacy officially stayed neutral during this war, but many of the Creeks in Alabama and Tennessee became British allies, while Creeks in Northeast Georgia and South Carolina were staunch Patriots.   When the Cherokees suddenly attacked the Carolina and Virginia frontier without warning,  Sawakee and Talasee Creeks in the Sawakeehatchie River Valley of Northeast Georgia (today’s Broad River) formed the Raccoon Regiment, to protect their villages and the farmsteads of their white neighbors.    When a combined force of Redcoats and Colonial militia invaded Cherokee lands, the Northeast Georgia Creeks provided mounted ranger units, which protected the flanks of the British force.   When you read about the neighbors of the famous Patriot Nancy Hart having Creek neighbors, who were her friends and watched over her when her husband was away on military campaigns . . . that’s my family! 

Creek Confederacy Navy flag

1783-1803 – Gulf Coast Pirates:   Piracy became a serious problem in the Gulf of Mexico after the American Revolution, because the young United States had no ports on the Gulf, while Spanish officials and marines were too few in number to oppose the pirates.   The Creek Confederacy created its own gun boat navy to patrol the coastal waters and navigable rivers.  Piracy continued on the coast of Louisiana, but where the Creek Navy was operating, most pirates were eliminated.  This is a little known fact, but the Creeks also built docks and lighthouses along the Gulf Coast of Florida to protect commerce between Cuba and the Creeks.  At this time, the Seminoles in Florida were still considered to be Creek Indians.  The Battle Flag of the Creek Navy was adopted from the flag of Norway.

1812-1814:  War of 1812 ~ Red Stick War:   By far the greatest mistake ever made by the Creek People in Alabama was to believe the promises of British agents that they would be fully supported by the British Army and Navy.  Pretty much the same factions of the Creeks that supported the Redcoats in the American Revolution rebelled against the leadership of the Creek Confederacy and started a civil war.  At this time, there were over 20,000 Creeks and Uchees living in Georgia, outside the boundaries of the Creek Confederacy.  They wanted no part of this fratricidal war and were staunchly loyal to the United States.  They formed a unit in the Regular United States Army, not a militia, known as the Creek Regiment.  It marched to the Georgia coast and helped protect the coastal islands and ports from raids by British Rangers and Marines.

One of the great ironies of the Red Stick War is that if it had not occurred, Great Britain would have probably captured the major ports on the Gulf Coast. Louisiana would have become a British colony and the interior of the nation, drained by the Mississippi River, would have been land-locked.   Throughout much of the War of 1812, there were few regular army units in the Southern States other than the Creek Regiment.   Great Britain knew this and planned to recapture the Southeast with the aid of the Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks.   The Choctaws, Chickasaws and the majority of Creeks flatly refused.   However, the Red Stick Creeks terrified the national government, when Fort Mims was massacred.  Until then, the Red Stick War was generally ignored. 

Three armies were formed by Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia to fight the Red Sticks.  The British postponed their invasion of Louisiana until Napoleon was defeated.   By then, however, the Red Sticks were defeated and the United States had an experienced army of veterans in the field, with a competent general, Andy Jackson, at its command.    Had not the Red Stick War occurred,  the British would have captured New Orleans and Mobile with barely a shot being fired.  There would have been no Battle of New Orleans.  By the way, a company of Choctaw soldiers fought in the Battle of New Orleans.

Most references leave out the fact that the forces of the United States were often being defeated by the Red Sticks, until Andrew Jackson almost doubled his army with a Native American brigade, commanded by Brigadier General William McIntosh, Micco of the Coweta Creekss.  It was composed of Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw volunteers.  Each tribe was promised that they could live in the Southeast forever, if they helped crush the Red Sticks.  McIntosh was the first Native American to made a general in the United States Army.

1861-1865 – The American Civil War:   Native Americans and Jews were generally not allowed to serve as officers in the Union Army.  Few Native Americans were allowed to fight for the Union, except in the Indian Territory.   There was no such discrimination in the Southern Army.   The highest ranking Native American officer was Major General Thomas Rosser, CSA, a mixed blood Choctaw from Louisiana.  Rosser is considered one of the most competent cavalry officers in either army during the Civil War.  Rosser also served as a Brigadier General in the United States Army during the Spanish-American War.

Brigadier General Stand Watie commanded Cherokee and Creek Confederate forces in the Indian Territory.  He was from one of the most prominent Cherokee families.   His second-in-command was a Creek, Colonel Chilly McIntosh, a son of William McIntosh.  The fathers of both men had been executed by their fellow tribesmen for signing treaties that ceded their lands in the east.   The Cherokee and Creek forces under their command were the last Confederate units in the field at the end of the Civil War.

The majority of the members of the Five Civilized Tribes sided with the Confederacy, because they were given full citizenship, plus many mixed-bloods by this time owned some slaves.   Those Creeks and Cherokees, who sided with the Union paid a terrible price for their loyalty.  The Union Army had little concern for their welfare.   Over a third of the total population of the Creek Nation died in the Civil War.  The vast majority of deaths occurred in Union concentration camps, established in Kansas for Pro-Union Creeks!

Thomas’s Legion was recruited from North Carolina Cherokees and their white neighbors to protect the Southern Highlands from bushwhackers and invading Union cavalry units.  It served with distinction throughout the war, and was also one of the last units to lay down its arms.

Cobb’s Legion was formed in Northeast Georgia, primarily from Irish immigrants and mixed-blood Creeks.  It is one of the most famous units of the Civil War and was featured in the movie, “Gods and Generals.”   The 550 members of Cobb’s Legion stopped an entire Federal division in its tracks at a bridge over Antietam Creek during the Battle of Antietam and New York’s Iron Brigade at the Battle of Fredricksburg.    The battle flag of Cobb’s Legion is now the state flag of Georgia.

Early 20th century:  The US Army was segregated until 1947, but began incorporating Native American units during the Indian Wars of the Western Plains.  Typical of the way that the army handled Native soldiers was in Blackjack Pershing’s 1917 campaign in Mexico in the chase after Poncho Villa.   “Wild” Western Indians were incorporated into scouting units as privates and corporals.  “Civilized” western Indians were made sergeants.  Educated mixed blood Creeks and Choctaws were put in command of these units as junior-grade officers.

World War I Wind-talkers:   The brash US Army Expeditionary Forces were suffering horrific casualties and making little progress.  Commanding officers eventually learned from German POW’s that the Germans had figured out a way to covertly tap the telephone lines, which connected headquarters with field commanders.   The Germans always knew where and where the Americans were going to attack.

A clever US Army officer observed some Choctaw dough boys chatting away in their native language.  Much to their delight, the Choctaws were pulled from combat assignments and attached to field commanders.  All critical communications between US Army units henceforth was spoken in Choctaw.   The Germans were dumbfounded and never cracked the Choctaw Windtalkers Code.  This change coincided with Argonne Offensive, which smashed German resistance and any hope of achieving a negotiated settlement.  World War I soon ended.

Vietnam Era until today:   Twice the percentage of Native Americans serve in the United States military as the population as a whole.  Racial segregation has long ended, but there is an ethnic profiling in a positive way.  A disproportionate number of Creeks, Seminoles and Chickasaws have served in Special Ops, Recon, Intelligence, Delta Force, SeaBee and independent command units (commandos).   It has been found that Muskogeans do especially well in situations in which they have to make decisions without the direction of senior officers.  They also tend to stay “cool under fire.”  It is not uncommon for a Muskogean warrior to be sent alone on assignments.   One of the most famous of those Special Ops veterans is Florida Seminole Principal Chief,  Jim Billie.


Why we fight . . . Prelude to war

As a special tribute to our veterans and especially all those Americans, who have given their lives or their health for the defense of our way of life, we present the film, which was shown to every American entering the military during World War II.  I would like readers to pay close attention to how radically the attitude of the leaders of the United States government toward the Average Joes and Joans of our nation has changed since 1942, when the movie was produced by the famous film director, John Capra. 

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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.



    Very timely article, a must read for every American.


    As always Mr. Richard, you give us a history lesson to open our eyes and realize there is so much we do not know or understand or have been taught about our past that each and everyone of us Americans need to know so We the People can Appreciate from whence we come. Thank you for all of your work. I’m working on the rest of the movie series. Very interesting.


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