Richard Thornton | Apr 13, 2017 | 0
Okfuskeena . . . the massacre of a Creek town in 1793
There is no doubt that the sacking of Fort Mims in 1813 should be called a massacre. However, what most history books leave out is the conveniently forgotten histories of dozens of Southeastern Native American towns being ravaged between the end of the American Revolution in and 1818. Some were hostiles. Most were either non-combatants or actually allies of the United States.
In 1793, a Cherokee village, containing no adult men, but 300+ children, women and the elderly, on Bear Creek near present-day Ellijay, GA was exterminated. The death toll among the Hillabee Creeks in 1814 probably exceeded that at Fort Mims. The women and children of the Chiaha Creeks in Southwest Georgia were massacred, while their husbands were in Florida fighting the Seminoles for the United States. Then there is the case of Okfuskeena on the Chattahoochee River.
The newspaper account of its sacking was published during the Creek Trail of Tears. It clearly illustrates the propaganda that persuaded Congress to go along with Andy Jackson in the deportation of all indigenous peoples from the Southeast. Although the article claims that they “only” killed all the adult men, the militiamen actually killed about everybody. Not only that, either the Georgians destroyed the wrong town or Georgia archaeologists have been looking at the wrong place for Okfuskeena. It is another classic case of why Southeastern archaeologists should start learning the Creek languages and reading historic maps, before putting their shovels in the ruins of Creek towns.
Part Two will explain the amazing story of why Georgia archaeologists have been looking for Okfuskeena in all the wrong places. Well, there are a couple of other things, too. The Hillabee Creeks at Okfuskeena were not the ones raiding the Georgia Frontier. The Chickamauga Creeks and the Chickamauga Cherokees were the hostiles. Also, Posketa is in June or July . . . not September!
The Burning of Okfuskeena: September 27, 1793
The burnt village lies six or eight miles west of LaGrange, in the county of Troup, on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River, where the great Wehadkee Creek pours its waters into that river.
Previous to the year 1793, it was the great central point of the Muscogee nation, the crossing place of all trading and marauding parties of that nation on the west, where the untamed savages met to arrange and mature their plans for making those nocturnal attacks upon the helpless and unprotected settlers on the outskirts of the white settlements, by which consternation and dismay were spread throughout the land; and the sparse population of the country at that time, for mutual safety, was forced to concentrate in forts, hastily thrown up on its borders; the place where the scalper with the crimsoned tresses of many a maid and matron, and the flaxen locks of the little blue-eyed boy, would pile the blood-stained trophies, and describe to the half-astonished and delighted women and children of the forest the dying shrieks and screams of the slaughtered victims.
It was after one of those predatory excursions of the Creek Indians into the settlements of the whites (and the ashes of many a building and murdered family told of their prowess) that other plans of murder and plunder had been arranged, and the warriors of the nation had assembled at the little town of which we are speaking, to the number of several hundred, to celebrate the Green Corn Dance, as was their custom, and to take the black drink, an ablution deemed necessary to reconcile the Great Spirit to the enterprise in which they were about to engage.
A few hundred men under the command of Colonel M. and Major Adams, who had volunteered and resolved to strike a blow at the heart of the nation, arrived within a few miles of the river, and waited for the setting of the sun to advance to its bank, to cross and take the enemy by surprise.
Night came, and they were halted in silence on the bank of the river opposite the Indian town. All was hushed and still as death-not a sound was heard save the savage yell and war-whoop of the Indian, with occasionally a monotonous war-song, bursting forth amid the revelry, in which all ages and sexes seemed to join.
The moon had begun to shed a dim light through piles of clouds, and the water breaking over the rocks had the appearance of the ghosts of the murdered whites, calling on their brethren upon the bank to take signal vengeance, or admonishing them of great danger; and many were there who heard sounds in the air-strange moanings and screams of “Beware.”
But there was among them one who was unappalled. The night was far spent, and the noise from the other band had ceased-the voice of the wearied Indian was hushed and still-all had sunk to rest, or the little army had been discovered. Not a sound was heard save the rippling of the stream; ’twas a solemn pause; but time was precious, the blow must be struck, or all would be lost.
It was proposed to Colonel M. and Major Adams to cross the river and ascertain the situation of the Indians, so as to be able to lead their little band to certain victory. Colonel M. ???? declined the hazardous enterprise. Major Adams resolved to go, and sought a companion; but he had nearly despaired of finding one who would volunteer to share his dangers, when a small and very feeble man, whose name was Hill, advanced from the ranks and proposed to accompany him. Major Adams and his companion set out together; but the force of the river current soon overpowered the brave Hill and swept him down the stream.
Major Adams sprang to his relief, and at the eminent hazard of his own life, rescued his friend from a watery grave; with his athletic arms he buffeted the rapid current, and bore the exhausted Hill to the bank which they had left. He then set out alone.
The ford which he had to pass was narrow and difficult-making in a direct line across the river, nearly half way, opposite which was an island; it then turned down the stream a quarter of a mile or more, over rocks and shoals, sometimes scarcely knee deep, then up to the neck-and the trunks and limbs of trees, which had drifted upon the island, with the dim light of the moon, shining through the clouds, cast upon them, had the appearance of so many savages ready to pounce upon their victim; but with a firm step Major Adams proceeded, and soon reached the bank in safety.
The town was situated on the edge of the river swamp, about 300 yards from the water, and so numerous and intricate were the paths leading in every direction from the ford into the swamp, and the darkness produced by the thick undergrowth was so great, that when he reached the hill, or dry land, he discovered by the fire around which the Indians had kept their revels and dance, shooting up occasionally a meteoric blaze, that he was far below the point at which he aimed.
Bending his course cautiously along the margin of the swamp, he soon reached the border of the town; an Indian dog seemed to be the only sentinel, and after a few half growls and barkings, as though he had but dreamed, sank away into perfect quiet. In a few moments he was in the center of the town. In addition to those in the cabins, innumerable warriors, with their rifles and tomahawks in their arms, lay stretched and snoring in every direction; the earth was literally covered with them.
Major Adams examined the fastenings of the cabin doors, by running his hand through the cracks and feeling the log of wood or the peg by which they were secured. He was convinced that no alarm had been given, and that the Indians did not suspect an enemy was so near. A huge savage, close to whom he was passing, raised himself upon his elbow, grasped his rifle, and looked around, as though he heard, or dreamed that he heard strange footsteps. Major Adams, perceiving him stir, threw himself down amidst a group of snoring Indians; the warrior, perceiving nothing unusual, concluded he had dreamed, and again sank into the arms of sleep.
Our hero proceeded cautiously, examining with a military eye every point of attack and defense, arranged his plans, and was returning to the anxious army on the other bank of the river. His exertions in crossing the river had been great-he was tired, and perceiving an Indian pony tied to a sapling and believing that the little animal would pursue the ford to which it was accustomed, and probably show him one less difficult than that at which he had crossed, he resolved to ride it over the river. He did not see the bell which hung around its neck; frightened at his approach, it snapped the rope of bark with which it was fastened and scampered off through the town with a hundred dogs at its heels, whose yells and the tingling bell produced a frightful roar through the wilderness. The chattering of Indian voices was heard in every direction.
Major Adams sprang towards the river, but missed his path and found himself surrounded by the briers and thick undergrowth of the river swamp. The Indians passed within a few paces of the place where he stood, half suspended in the air by the briers; and returning from their fruitless search, he thought he heard them speak of strange sights and sounds, such as were told in Rome of the fall of Great Caesar. They returned to the town and again slept.
Major Adams proceeded in a direct line to the river, glided into the stream and swam quietly and safely to the other bank. He told what he had seen and stated his plans of attack. The little army listened, amazed and delighted with their gallant leader; each individual felt that the danger to which he had exposed himself was that their danger might be lessened, and with one voice, when orders were given to march, declared that they would be led by no other commander than their own intrepid Adams. Colonel M. was forced to yield. They were led across by Major Adams, and it was needless to say, to victory, without the loss of a man. Scarcely a warrior escaped. The town was burned; but as far as possible, the women and children, of even savages, were saved. Posts may yet be seen standing in the midst of saplings, grown up where the town was burned, which are the only remains that serve to point out to the traveler the place where stood the “Burnt Village.”
Finally the Creeks gathered about them the remnants of their tribe, and under the escort of United States soldiers bade farewell to the haunts of their youth, and found a resting place in the territory that lies beyond the Mississippi.
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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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