The Many Migration Legends of the Creek Confederacy
There is a reason why even the most fluent of Mvskoki speakers cannot translate the meanings of the majority of Creek tribal divisions. Unlike the Choctaw and Chickasaw, MANY members of the Creek Confederacy originally were not ethnic Muskogeans. Mvskoke was merely the diplomatic language adopted by this alliance. In fact, the word, Mvskoki (Muskogee) didn’t even appear until the mid-1700s. Those strange words are actually Hitchiti-Creek, Uchee, Itza Maya from southern Mexico, Panoan from Peru, Huastec from northeastern Mexico or even Arawak.
The standard Muskogean migration legend of following a magic wooden pole eastward from the Mississippi River to the Southeast was NOT the migration legend of the majority of these tribal towns. Their ancestors came by water or foot from several parts of the Americas, or even across the Atlantic Ocean, in the case of the Uchee, Shawnee and Alabama. However, in many of the legends there is a prevailing them of mankind living in caves and being led by sacred poles.
This is our longest newsletter ever in POOF, but one has to read all the migration legends together in order to draw the lines between the points. No ethnologist has previously presented them in such a manner so that the connections can be seen.
One of the most astonishing facts delved in 2015 from a box, forgotten for 285 years in Lambeth Palace, was that the original People of One Fire, aka Creek Confederacy, was formed by the Chickasaw, Albaamaha (Alabama), Kaushite (Cusseta) and Apike (Abeika) Peoples. Their enemies were such provinces as the Kowite (Coweta), Tokahpa (Tuckabachee), Itsate (Hitchiti), Chiaha, Okvte (Oconee) and Tamai, who would later come to dominate future alliances that were also called the People of One Fire. In other words, there were no Muskogee speakers in the original Creek Confederacy.
Reading these 285 year old documents brought a touch of sadness. In the lifetimes of the famous leaders Chikili and Tamachichi (Trade Dog [itinerant peddler] in Itza Maya) the people that the English called the Creeks had forgotten much of their cultural heritage with which anthropologists define the word, civilization. Most no longer knew how to weave and dye cloth. They no longer knew how to make copper tools and weapons. They no longer lived in large planned towns with massive public structures. A few of the elite still knew their indigenous writing system, but it would quickly disappear soon thereafter. What they still remembered in 1735 was the multiple origins of the peoples, who composed their confederacy. Their ancestors had come from many parts of the sub-tropical and tropical parts of the Americas.
Since the re-constitution of the federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma in the 1970s, there has been an increasing tendency for their citizens to view themselves as distinct ethnic groups with singular origins and traditions. Most Oklahoma Creeks do not seem aware that there were always multiple “migration legends” for the members of the Creek Confederacy. The oppressed peoples who arrived in the Indian Territory during the mid-19th century were certainly aware of their varying ethnic identities, but this cultural memory has generally been lost in the 200+ years of intermarriage between tribal towns, tribes and races that have occurred since then in Oklahoma.
Note: If the real name that the Alabama People call themselves surprises you, this will surprise you even more. Albaamaha has no meaning in their language other than being a proper noun. It is an Itza Maya phrase and means either “Place of the God-Lord” or “Place of the Gods-River.” Apparently, their tribe began when some Itza noble established himself as an omnipotent High King on the Alabama River.
After transcribing the blurred handwriting of the Migration Legend of the Kaushete People, I obeyed an ancient Creek tradition. The first copy was sent to David Yahoola, Speaker of the Muscogee-Creek National Council. His staff graciously thanked me. Since it was important that educators know the contents of this long lost document, a copy was then sent to the College of the Muscogee-Creek Nation. There was no response.
I then called the Language Department at the University of Oklahoma. By great luck, the young lady answering the phone was a Muscogee-Creek citizen. She was ecstatic that the long lost Migration Legend had been found and asked for a copy. That she got. She then gave the names and email addresses of Language and History professors, who should receive a copy.
There was only one response from the professors. A language professor, who was Muscogee-Creek, tersely wrote back: “This is all wrong! Who was your translator?”
I wrote back two words . . . Mary Musgrove. I should have added the date of the translation, June 7, 1735 because she didn’t write back. Apparently, the professor didn’t know who Mary Musgrove was. Since Mary Musgrove was not a citizen of the Muscogee-Creek Nation of Oklahoma or a professor with a PhD at the University of Oklahoma, she was not a real Creek and obviously a “self styled historian.” Therefore her original translation and much more complete account of events that day should be ignored. This funny, but true, anecdote describes the essence of the current ridiculous situation in academia.
A summary of migration legends among the “Creek Peoples”
The following is a list of migration legends, obtained by 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, or General James E. Oglethorpe, founder of the Province of Georgia. Most can either be found in the UK National Archives or the Library of Lambeth Palace, which is in Surrey County (Southeastern England).
I included the Zuni because according to their tradition, they once lived in the Southeast and in fact, have a very similar Migration Legend to those of the Muskogean tribes. Several South Alabama Creeks have been found by DNA labs to carry Pima-Zuni DNA test markers.
- Suwani (Southern Shawnee) – The Shawnees originated from a different world . . . an island balanced on the back of a giant turtle. From there they traveled to this one. According to Shawnee myth, when the first people were on the island, they could see nothing but water, which they did not know how to cross. They prayed for aid and were miraculously transported across the water. The Shawnees are the only Algonquian tribe, whose creation story includes the passage of their ancestors over the sea, and for many years they held an annual sacrifice in thanks of the safe arrival of their ancestors to this country.
The Piqua Shawnee have a different origin legend. They believe that they were descended from a man, who was burned, but many people rose up from his ashes. This suggests that they were not originally Algonquians. Many Piqua migrated to Alabama in the 1700s.
The Shawnees are also unigue among the Algonquian peoples in believing their creator was a woman, who they called [Inumsi Ilafewanu] “Kokumthena”, which means “Our Grandmother.” Kokumthena” is usually depicted as an anthropomorphic female with gray hair whose size ranges from gigantic to very small. According to Shawnee myth, the idea of creation came from the “Supreme Being”, who is called “Moneto”, but the actual work of creation was performed by Kokumthena the “Great Spirit”, and she is the most important figure in Shawnee religion. The Creeks also believed that the Creator was a woman.
- Tsoyaha or Uchee (Euchee, Yuchi) – The Uchee have traditionally believed that they sailed or paddled to the Southeastern corner of North America from the Home of the Sun across the Atlantic Ocean. They also believe that they are the oldest people, still living in the Southeast. The Creeks concur with them on that belief. The Uchee call themselves, Tsoyaha, which means “Children of the Sun.” They were called the Okv-te (Water People) by the Itsate Creeks. Spanish chroniclers wrote this name as Ocute. The Muskogee Creeks called them Oue-tshi, which means “Offspring from Water.” Uchee, Euchee and Yuchi are the Anglicizations of the Muskogee word.
When the Uchee arrived to the section of the South Atlantic Coast between Port Royal Sound, SC and Altamaha Sound, GA, there was no one living in the Lower Southeast, but they could see ancient structures that had been built by a people, who had gone elsewhere. There were also Algonquians living in the northern portion of the Southeast. The majority of Uchee were concentrated between the Pon Pon River in South Carolina and the Ogeechee River in Georgia, but they established trading towns throughout the Southeast.
- Chiksa (Chikasa-Chickasaw) – Both the Chickasaw and the Choctaw believe that their mutual ancestors came out a hole in the ground. Two brothers, Chata and Chiksh led the original people from a land in the far west that had ceased to prosper.
The people traveled for a long time, guided by a magical pole, which took them farther and farther west. Each night, when the people stopped to camp, the pole was placed in the ground and in the morning the people would travel in the direction in which the pole leaned.
After traveling for an extremely long time, they finally came to a place where the pole remained upright. In this place, they laid to rest the bones of their ancestors, which they had carried in buffalo sacks from the original land in the west. The mound grew out of that great burial. After the burial, the brothers discovered that the land could not support all the people.
Chiksa took half the people and departed to the east and eventually that group became the Chickasaw tribe. They went as far east as Northeast Georgia. We now know that sacred location of their capital as the Nacoochee Valley. After another people arrived in this valley, many Chiksa, but not all, began migrating westward and northwestward. They established a new capital on the Tennessee River in north-central Alabama, but their villages filled up a vast territory that is now most of northern Alabama, Tennessee and western Kentucky.
- Mikosukee – This story is almost identical to that of the Panoan Peoples of Eastern Peru. The only difference is that their universe was held in place by a giant Anaconda snake, whereas in the Mikkosukee legend, a giant rattlesnake encircles the universe.
The ground shakes and the opening to the cave is exposed – the People slowly walk to the opening and look out onto a strange new place – this is the Mother that had been created for them – but the cave represented security – as a child cannot resist the calling of birth the People could not resist the calling of the new place. the cave now gave birth to the People – new life stepped onto the breast of Mother – a beautiful new beginning was at hand.
The People were greeted by their many brothers and sisters that the Great Spirit had sent out ahead of them. Grandfather moved in the sky and kept the cycles in harmony and spoke to the People with his movement. Kiyas also moved and kept the cycles at the time of darkness and spoke to the People with his movement. Beyond Kiyas lay the Okiyas lights that were placed in order – all were in proper place and harmony for the telling of cycles and the times of planting, harvest and movement. It was into this place of creation that the Great Spirit delivered the People at the time of their cave birth.
The People could speak to and understand all of the words of their four-legged, one-legged, winged, crawler, and swimming brothers and sisters. By instruction, these brothers taught and guided the People in the ways of the Great Spirit. Each of the brothers was told to take a small family group of the People and to teach and guide them. Some of the brothers found great favor with the Great Spirit and the families of the People were to be called by the name of these favored brothers.
The wind spirit had breathed life into the People and he too was given a family of the People that would be called after his name. After family clan names were given to the People. Each family clan went out and built their village. No one was to take a wife from their own family clan – this was never to happen – nothing good could ever come from that marriage – each young man was to go to another family clan to get a wife – from this marriage good seeds could be planted in fertile place – and the spirit of the child would be a good spirit – the child would be a blessing to both family clans.
Each clan received the gift of their brother who’s name they used. Some were known as healers, some as warriors, some as leaders – each with their special gift. For many, many cycles the People lived in the way of harmony – led by those of great wisdom and following the movements of Grandfather, Kiyas and Okiyas.
The ways of war, greed and jealousy were not known. The bones of the ancients rested in peace – their ways were the ways of the beginning and that was the way of harmony and understanding the cycles of life.
Then came a time when the People selected a single leader, and this leader commanded the clans of warriors, and this leader fell in love with the movement and cycles of Grandfather – the leader looked to Grandfather for all answers – the cycles of Kiyas and the placement of Okiyas were used only for the worship of Grandfather – these things were not in harmony with the beginning and slowly pain and suffering came to the People.
- Albaamaha (Alibamu, Alabama) – Formerly the ocean was not as large as it is today, and at that time the Alabama Indians, who lived upon the other side, came westward across it in canoes. When they had gotten about halfway over they came upon an island where they rested and fished. Then they resumed their journey and presently reached this land.
At first they lived upon acorns, and they also roasted and ate cane sprouts. Later they made bows and arrows with which to kill deer, and having nothing with which to cut up the meat they used sharp rocks. They also had to learn how to kindle a fire. To accomplish this they used as a drill the stem of a weed called hassala`po (“plant-with-which-to-make-fire”) which is like sassafras and the wood of a tree called båksa (bass) for a base stick.
Traveling inland, they established their village near a river and lived there for a long time. Presently they came in contact with the Choctaw and warred against them, almost destroying one Choctaw town, so that the Choctaw became disheartened and wanted to make peace. For this purpose they selected a poor man, promising that, if he were successful in persuading the Albaamaha to bury their hatchets, they would give him the two daughters of a certain prominent woman. They gave him a white deerskin shirt and white deerskin leggings, plus moccasins. They put a string of white beads about his neck and a rattle in his hand.
- Aparashi (Apalache, Palache) – The word Aparashi means “Offspring of People from the Sea” in the Panoan language group from Eastern Peru. The arrival of the first South Americans to the Southeast appears to have occurred at least as early as the Middle Woodland Period. Swift Creek Culture pottery is almost identical to the pottery made by the Conibo Peopld of Peru at that time. The Peruvians apparently introduced the Sacred Black Drink to the Southeast. The Creek and Panoan words for it are the same.
The Aparashe believed that their ancestors came in many bands that had sailed from at varying times from a land far to the south to the coast of present day Georgia. The home of their Sun God, Toya, was at a great lake in the midst of high mountains, far to the south. (Lake Titicaca?) They established their first great town where Downtown Savannah is located today. Their first emperor, who ruled all the Sea Peoples, is buried in a mound in Savannah – probably the Deptford Mound.
There is physical and linguistic evidence of the Apalache’s arrival at the Savannah River. In the 1560s, the premium quality Yaupon holly leaves for making Ase – which Latin Americans call mate’ – was grown on Ossabaw Island, just south of present day Savannah, GA. Ossabaw gets its name from the Panoan (South American) word Asebo, which means “Place of the Sacred Black Drink.” The equivalent Hitchiti Creek word would be Asepa.
Many of the Sea People from the south eventually coalesced in villages that ringed Lake Tama, which was former where the Ocmulgee and Oconee Rivers met in South-Central Georgia. There they coalesced into a single language and government. Over the centuries, their capital periodically moved northward. The colonies that they established in the Florida Panhandle intermarried with other people, but became known as the Apalache by the Spanish.
At its peak of power, the Apalache Kingdom spanned from present day SW Virginia to the Apalachicola River. It is equivalent to the “Lamar Culture” labeled by anthropologists. In 1735, Chikili, High King of the Creek Confederacy, stated that the Palache and Koweta were equivalent names for the same people. In other words, the Coweta Creeks were not originally Muskogeans. Perhaps they were the descendants of Apalache commoners, who had intermarried with Muskogeans.
7a. Itsate (Itza Mayas ~ Hitchiti speakers on Ocmulgee River) – These people told the British colonists that they came from a land to the south over water. They first settled around a large lake in Southern Florida (Okeechobee) then later moved northward to a swampy land of reeds (Everglades or Georgia Tidal Marshes). They then when northward by canoe along the Atlantic Coast until they settled at Savannah. Here some of their “kings” are buried.
While walking around with General Oglethorpe, Tamachichi pointed to some mounds at the current Savannah Riverfront and said that some of his ancestors were buried there. These Itzates eventually went up the Altamaha River and settled at Itza-si (Ichese or Ochese). They were called the Maya-koa by Arawak peoples on the Georgia Coast, when the French were there in the 1560s. Tamachichi, who had pure Maya name, was Mako (mikko) of the Ocmulgee Itsate until 1717.
7b. Itsate (Itza Mayas ~ Hitchiti speakers on the Chattahoochee River and in Appalachians) – Their migration legend is less specific than the Itsate on at Savannah and Ocmulgee Bottoms. They paddled from a land to the south over water and then up the Chattahoochee River until they reached the mountains. There they have lived ever since.
Note: Since the old name for the capital of the Mayami in southern Florida and also Ocmulgee National Monument was Waka-te (Lake People in Itza Maya) I strongly suspect that the Eastern Itsate came from the salt-trading city of Waka at the edge of the Guatemalan mountains. The environs of Waka, Guatemala and Waka-te in Georgia were almost identical. They both were on fall lines and the same distance from the ocean.
On the other hand, the western Itsate were probably from Chiapas, Mexico. It was proven in 2012 that the main ingredient for Maya Blue at the Itza capital of Palenque, Chiapas was mined along the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. The Itza in Chiapas grew large crops of Chia Salvia for food. The De Soto expedition observed large crops of Chia Salvia along mountain rivers leading to Chiaha (Salvia River in Itza.)
- Kusabo and Kusa (Cusabo, Kusapo) – Their name means “Place of the Strong” or “Place of the Elite” in the same Panoan language group as the Aparashi. After arriving on the South Atlantic Coast, they remained in the coastal areas of present day South Carolina. There was no specific tribe named the Kusabo. It was the name of an alliance of Panoan speaking tribes on the South Carolina Coast. In fact, according to the research done by Professor Gene Waddell in South Carolina, the word Cusabo was seldom used in South Carolina until the indigenous peoples there were near extinction.
It is clear from the Migration Legend of the Kaushite People that they were a different people than the Kusa. The Kusa Province was well establish, when the Kaushite became their vassals and settled in Southeastern Tennessee. Apparently, at least the elite of the Kusa in Northwest Georgia were immigrants from the Kusabo. This might explain why the De Soto Expedition was steered in a vast arc around the Apalache and Itsate through territory controlled by the Kusabo or their relatives the Kusa. In the late 1600s or early 1700s, most of the Kusabo moved westward and joined the Creek Confederacy.
- Kalosi (Calusa) – The Calusa also spoke a Panoan language. Their name means “Children of the Stars.” They also believed that they had paddled from the south to reach southern Florida. However, they believed that before then, they were originally humans, who had fallen down from the stars to Earth.
- Satile or Satibo (Satipo) [now called the Eufaula Creeks] – These were Panoan-speaking colonists, who arrived at a later era by paddling from a land to the south. Satibo means “Colonists – place of” in the Panoan tongues. They settled on the coast of Georgia at St. Andrews Sound and Brunswick Sound. Fort Caroline was constructed about 21 miles to the north of them, so it couldn’t possibly have been in Florida. Their principal towns of Satibo, Ufala and Seloy (Seroy/Sehoy) were on the Satilla and Little Satilla Rivers. The French and contemporary academicians call this people the Sati-ouriwa. Actually, that was the title of their leader. The word means “Colonists – King” in Panoan. No anthropologists ever thought about the radical idea of translating the indigenous place names on the South Atlantic Coast.
The Satile also established a colony in the Great Smoky Mountains at the confluence of the Little Tennessee River and Citigo Creek. It was also called Satipo and was visited by Spanish Captain Juan Pardo in 1567. It was later captured by Arawak speakers, who called the town Satikoa. This word was later Anglicized to Seticoa, Stecoah and Citigo.
After repeated attacks by the Spanish in the late 1500s, the surviving Satile moved westward and joined the People of One Fire. Their principal town was Ufaula. There are now towns in Alabama and Oklahoma named Eufaula.
- Zuni – The ancestors of the Zuni originally lived deep inside the earth in what is now Mexico. Then there bow priests fashioned sacred poles out of four different woods. The fourth pole, made of aspen, enabled them to break out of the cave into the sunlight. The priests then taught them how to show proper reference to the Sun God. It was at that time that they learned how to grow crops. However, they became oppressed by the peoples around them and so the Fourth Pole led them out of Mexico and then eastward. They followed the Fourth Pole all the way to the Atlantic Ocean then turned around and headed westward. The Fourth Pole stopped in the lands that the Zuni live in today.
- Kaushite (Kashitaw, Coushetta, Cusseta) – I am living a lot of details out of this legend since it is several pages long. The Kaushite were apparently the last member of the Creek Confederacy to arrive in the Southeast. Their appearance in their new home around 1300-50 AD coincided with the appearance of Lima beans and Mexican purple plums in the Southeast. It also coincides with the sudden abandonment of Etowah Mounds and the Middle Savannah River Valley. The warlike Kaushete made have played a role in those stark cultural changes.
The ancestors of the Kaushite were originally very primitive and lived in caves on the eastern slopes of the Orizaba Volcano in west-central Vera Cruz. One day they came out of the caves and into the sunlight where the Sun God and Corn Woman taught them how to grow crops. However, the earth began to kill many of their children so they migrated eastward along the Bloody (Jamapo) River until they reached the ocean. They carried with them the fire that they obtained from the Orizaba Volcano and ignited all their cooking fires with it. Then they dwelled in a swampy place near the ocean for awhile. Some wanted to stay, while other wanted to return home to the highlands.
Those that stayed near the coast were soon sorry because their neighbors killed many of their children. Those who were returning to their homeland came again to a Great White Path that ran north-south. This time they wondered where the Great White Path went so they followed it northward around the coast of the Gulf of Mexico until they came to a great river, which was surrounded by swampy, foggy lands. Here they stayed for awhile until they noticed that a sacred pole was pointing eastward.
The Kaushite traveled each day in the direction that the pole pointed until they came to a place where the Alabamu, Chickasaw and Abeika were camped. The four tribes decided to come together to become the People of One Fire. Each people had their own fire, but the one carried by the Kaushite was the strongest, since it came from a volcano.
The four members of the confederacy then held a contest to decide who would be the elder brother (leader) of the alliance. The tribe that obtained the most scalps of from their enemies would become the leader. The Kaushite won and the Chickasaw came in second. From then on, the Kaushete and Chickasaw built their towns beside each other if both were living in the same region.
Note: In the late 20th century, Tennessee archaeologists noticed that “Dallas Culture” towns and “Mouse Creek” towns were built beside each other. They called the Dallas Culture towns “Creek” and incorrectly, the Mouse Creek towns, “Yuchi.” The Mouse Creek towns were identical in layout to other Chickasaw towns in the Southeast.
In 1735, High King Chikili told General Oglethorpe that when the Kowetas became the dominant member of the People of One Fire, the Chickasaws left the alliance in anger. The Kaushite refused to attack their friends, the Chickasaws, when the other branches wanted to punish them. As a result the Upper Creeks were still always friendly with the Chickasaws no matter who else were their enemies. Basically, what this is saying is that had not the Chickasaws and Kowetas bickered with each other, all Chickasaws today would be considered “Creek Indians.”
At some point in the past, the Kaushite moved into the lands of the Kusa and became their vassals. Then some of the Kaushite decided to move to other lands. For awhile they lived on the Talasee (Little Tennessee) River but because of a drought or famine they eventually decided to move southward along a Great White Path (US Highway 129). They eventually encountered a haughty people, who lived in a city on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain. This has to be the Track Rock Terrace Complex or else a similar town, 7 miles to the southwest in the Nottely River Valley. The people of this town spoke a different language had flattened foreheads, so they probably were Itsate.
When the leaders of the town would not give the Kaushete food, the Kaushete massacred the town. This seems to have occurred around 1500 AD, because that is the newest radiocarbon date for a terrace at the Track Rock acropolis.
The Kaushete then moved southward to the lower range of mountains in Georgia, where the Apalache lived. The Apalache gave the hungry Kaushete food and allowed them to settle on the west side of the Chattahoochee River. The condition was that the Kaushete give up their bloodthirsty ways. That they did, and so the Kaushite and Apalache have been allies ever since then.
And now you know . . .
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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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