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Series on Muskogee-Creek cultural traditions by The Ghost continues

Series on Muskogee-Creek cultural traditions by The Ghost continues

 

Muskogee-Creek Keeper, The Ghost, has graciously provided the People of One Fire with over a dozen new articles on the traditions of the Muskogee-Creek People of Alabama and West Georgia.  These will be provided readers regularly in September 2017. 

For those readers not familiar with the complexities of Creek culture, perhaps we should explain that the Creek Confederacy was composed of approximately 26 remnants of Native American provinces in the Lower Southeast. Many of these branches originally spoke different languages and certainly had different architectural, cultural and religious traditions. Over time as more and more of Creek territories and South Carolina and Georgia were ceded,  the branch now known as the Muskogee Creeks became culturally dominant.  However, the word Muskogee really did not appear until the late 1740s or even 1750s.  Muskogee is the Anglicization of the word Mvskoki, which means “Herbal Medicine People.” 

The diversity of the Creek People will be discussed later in this article, but first get to know “The Ghost” a little better!

The Creek Keeper, Ghost Dancer, is a mixed-heritage Southeastern Creek elder whose Native roots run deep in northern Alabama. From an early age, Ghost felt a compelling pull toward his Native heritage which has informed and guided his entire life. As an active seeker, he soaked up the wisdom of the surviving elders in his own family and sought mentors among the elders on the Seminole reservation near a childhood home in Florida. He was privileged to sit for a time with the great Muskogee elder, Phillip Deere, as well as wisdom keepers from other Native Nations.

As a warrior fighting for the rights of all Native peoples to practice their traditional religions, Ghost is both respected and feared for his outspoken activism. As a leader, teacher, elder, and friend, Ghost is respected and beloved by all whose lives have been touched by his wisdom, kindness, and generous spirit.

While Ghost has a working knowledge of many Native traditions, his primary interest lies in the ancient customs and beliefs of the First Peoples of the Southeastern United States. For more than 40 years, Ghost has studied, lived, experienced, and taught these traditions for the benefit of hundreds of others. Ghost has been described by those who know him best as a “Gentle Giant” and a “Walking Encyclopedia” of SE Native culture and history.

Original diversity of Creek cultural traditions (text by the editor)

Muskogee-Creek traditions dominate the Creek Culture that the public sees today, but that was not always the case. The Early Colonial Period was a time of catastrophic population declines in Alabama, Georgia, Eastern Tennessee, South Carolina and Western North Carolina.  It is currently believed by anthropologists that the population of the region dropped by somewhere between 90% and 95%.  This holocaust was followed by a consolidation of the remnant populations into a smaller land area and ultimately, the formation of the modern Creek Confederacy at Ocmulgee Mounds in 1717.

There are several “Creek” traditions.   If you read of or see some practice that is not traditionally what your family or tribe did,  that does not mean that either you or the other people are wrong.  There were several legitimate cultural traditions practiced by branches of the Creek Confederacy.   Consider the situation equivalent to the many different recipes for barbecue sauce found in the Southeast, Texas and Oklahoma.

For example . . . today anthropologists consider the Creek Square to be an icon for all Creeks and certainly is assumed by Oklahoma and Alabama Creeks to be a universal cultural tradition among all Creeks.  Although its Creek name, Chokko Rakko, means “Warm House – Big,” the Creek Square was actually, at least by the late 1700s, an open air square, bounded by roofed bleachers.  Readers will be surprised to learn that no prehistoric Creek Square has been found by archaeologists.  It is a relatively recent architectural tradition that probably derived from the earth-bermed council houses of the Kansa People in Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia. As you will see below, it never was a tradition in a broad swath of Creek tribal territory.

The Upper Creeks and Koasati’s built oval plazas and did not build “Creek Squares.”  The Itsate Creeks built town centers that were little different than those in Itza and Chontal Maya towns a thousand years before.  The Uchees built and still build circular plazas and do not build “Creek Squares.”   The Apalache Creeks in Northeast Georgia built oval plazas and oval mounds, but their community meeting buildings were actually massive rectangular structures that were fully enclosed and might have several smaller “club meeting” rooms.   The Apalachicola Creeks on the Lower Chattahoochee River built rectangular plazas that had large public structures on the two ends and bleachers on two sides.  Seminole villages were originally miniaturized copies of the town in the second image, which is a photograph of the model of a town on the Ocmulgee River.   Seminoles did not originally build “Creek Squares” at all.

William Bartram spent about 95% of the time, he devoted to exploring the Southeast, in either Creek or Seminole-Creek territory. It is amusing that the only TV documentary on the Bartram Expedition is devoted to the two weeks that Bartram spent among the Cherokees at the extreme southern edge of their territory. LOL  Bartram stated that the Cherokee village of Etchoe was about 20 miles north of the Tallulah River (in northern Habersham County, GA) which then was the northern boundary of the Creek Nation.  Despite a one hour PBS documentary being based on that visit to Etchoe, Bartram had to leave quickly because the Cherokees were about to attack white settlements on the South Carolina frontier. 

The only locations, where Bartram mentioned seeing Creek Squares (as we think of them today)  was in the region between the Tallapoosa River and present day Columbus, Georgia . . .  or East Central Alabama.  Elsewhere, he saw town and village plazas quite similar to what was built before the arrival of Spanish and French explorers in the Southeastern United States.  Below is a model that I built for the Muscogee-Creek Nation, based on a drawing by Bartram of a large Hitchiti-speaking Creek town on the Lower Ocmulgee River.

What is particularly fascinating is that even as late at 1776,  there was very little difference in a Creek town in Middle Georgia or Southwest Georgia than a similar sized town of the Olmec Civilization in 800 BC.  The Tamatli-Creek town on the Ocmulgee River (below) is virtually identical to those of the Chontal Mayas of Tabasco State in Mexico around 200 AD to 1500 AD.

 

 

 

 

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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.

7 Comments

  1. theoldlibrary19@yahoo.co.uk'

    Thank you for the introduction Richard. I shall follow this series.

    Reply
    • I am sure people get tire of reading my articles all the time. This series gives readers the perspective of someone, who has an entirely different background than me. I put in the section about the different cultural traditions of the Creek Indians so people would understand that if the Ghost says something different than what they were taught or experienced . . . it is okay.

      Reply
  2. redpath1@bellsouth.net'

    I personally saw a Muscogee square ground in Lee county Georgia near the Kinchafoonee Creek in 1964. An old black farmer guided three of us for quite a distance through small cotton fields and woods to the site. This square had a rectangular dirt wall 3 feet high by about 45×90 feet , solid all the way around. There were huge Live Oak trees growing in the dirt wall. The floor of this square was packed very hard, as if the feet of dancers had done it. I only wish I had the foresight to take photos of this sacred place. This was a special place to all of us that day.

    Reply
    • Any chance that these earthworks still exists? Since that area was ceded to Georgia in 1825, it is miracle that you saw it. If it does exist, it needs to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

      That just proves my point. Traditional Creek squares in East Alabama and around Columbus did not contain earthworks. They had bleachers on all four sides. What you are describing sounds similar to what William Bartram drew when he was visiting a Creek town in Southwest Georgia. There are probably low mounds nearby.

      Reply
  3. wrdwevr@comcast.net'

    Richard, Ghost is so pleased that you will be publishing his writings. He sends his thanks and even more thanks for all that you and other POOF researchers do to learn and share so much more of our Southeastern history and cultural heritage. I will second all of that as well.

    Reply
  4. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, As soon as we dump the nonsense of the university history, but use the data they have collected, the sooner we will have a more accurate understanding of the Ancient peoples that made it to Georgia. The Olmec’s (Yamasee?) and Yuchi’s were most likely a sea-fairing trading peoples that had towns in more than one part of this land-mass. Perhaps their main ancient city was what you found in the Okefenokee swamp… once a lake that had cannels to the river systems in Georgia and Florida down the Suwanee river to the Gulf. In the 500’s the comet hit and wiped many out but some remained away from the impact site…so this might have been the Native Americans “Atlantis” clone city of a lost trading Kingdom. Most likely a multi-cultural city of sea peoples that worked… traded together in peace. Tula might have been connected with these people as that city seems to be started in the 650-700’s by the arrival of ships from the East to the coast of Mexico in one Native history I read?

    Reply
  5. redpath1@bellsouth.net'

    Richard, This earthwork was so far back in the woods that there is a good chance it is still there. Even if there was a timber harvest and replanting to pine monoculture, I think the huge live oaks would have provided some degree of protection. I know an old woods rat that still lives in the area, so maybe he and I can get a search going. By the way, this earthwork is in the area of Kinnards Settlement on the Kinchafoonnee Creek. There is a historical marker on US 19 at the turnoff to get to Fowltown Road.

    Reply

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