The Saga of Mahala Bone . . . her people in the Southeast and Oklahoma
Mahala Bone’s descendants include the famous Oklahoma Uchee hero, Tiger Bone.
Georgia descendants of Mahala Bone were listed on the 1937 Creek Docket and received federal reparations.
Some descendants of Mahala Bone are now citizens of the Muscogee-Creek, Seminole or Choctaw Nations in Oklahoma.
They were the descendants of the first great “Creek town” located where Savannah is today. Their first emperor was buried in a mound of Irene Island. After a terrible smallpox epidemic, followed by the appearance of malaria as far north as Ebenezer, the surviving Creeks and Uchees had moved northward to Barnardstown on the Savannah River, immediately south of Augusta.
Just before the American Revolution, a community of Apalache Creeks, Mustees (mixed Uchee-Africans) and Savannah River Uchee re-settled Ruckers Bottom on the Upper Savannah River. The frontier community was on the northern edge of land that had just been ceded by the Creek Confederacy. Most of these settlers had formerly lived in villages and farmsteads along the Savannah River and its tributaries in what was now named Wilkes County. That territory had been ceded.
These settlers were the children and grandchildren of the Native Americans, who welcomed the first colonists at Savannah. Many were of mixed racial heritage and all had thoroughly absorbed European technology. Their daily lifestyles were scarcely different than their Anglo-American neighbors. Their neighbors included Benjamin and Nancy Hart. Nancy would become a household word because of daring exploits during the American Revolution. Many of the mixed heritage immigrants carried three sets of names . . . their English name, the English translation of their Native American name and their Native American name. Increasingly, their Native American heritage was only visible inside the walls of their log cabins.
While James Edward Oglethorpe was in charge of Georgia, relations between the British settlers, Creeks and Uchees were very warm and mutually beneficial. After Oglethorpe left, things chilled a bit and the Creek capital of Coweta moved from present day Macon to present day Columbus, GA. However, there were no wars or near wars before the American Revolution. Several events would change that situation.
In 1754, the army of Coweta, by itself, defeated the entire Cherokee Nation and recaptured all Creek lands lost since 1715. The Coweta’s had burned and depopulated all of the Cherokee villages south of the Snowbird Mountains. The Valley Cherokee Dialect ceased to exist afterward. The principal Valley Cherokee town of Guanasee was never rebuilt after it was captured and burned by a group of teenage girls from Coweta. Meanwhile, the fortified Creek town of Kusa remained guard on the frontier, at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely River near present day Blairsville.
It was now safe for Creeks and Uchees to move back into ancestral lands in Northeast Georgia. It is quite possible, that the reason that all place names in the Nacoochee Valley were Creek or Chickasaw words in 1820 was that the region had been repopulated by Creeks and Uchees from the Georgia and South Carolina Low Country. The Sawate (Sautee ~ Raccoon People) were the dominant branch of the Creeks along the Broad River and Middle Savannah River.
During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and First Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761), survivors of the many Indian massacres along the Virginia and Carolina frontier poured into the back country of Georgia. They hated all Indians and did not know about the special status of the Creeks and Uchees with the Province of Georgia. Many of these settlers were the descendants of bond servants and were not as well educated as the original colonists in Georgia. They immediately began causing problems.
The frontier was kept in turmoil because of the arrival of the new settlers. The were prone to get into drunken fights. Numerous Creek families, living in their midst were robbed, beaten or even murdered for no reason by the newcomers. Many of these frontiersmen were originally from some part of Ireland. Most of the troubles for Royal Governor James Wright was caused by their arrival. He had served with the Royal Army in Ireland and so started called the new frontiersmen, Crackers . . . a term that the British soldiers originally used for the Irish common folk. The name stuck. That is how Georgia and Florida Crackers got their name!
Long established families in the Low Country despised the coarse behavior of the Crackers and completely sympathized with the Creeks and Uchees. One of Georgia’s future Revolutionary heroes wrote just before the American Revolution:
“It is a pity that the people on our Frontiers will behave so cruelly toward those poor savages; not contented with having the lands, but to rob, beat and abuse them likewise is enough to bring down Divine vengeance on their heads.” ~ Colonel Samuel Elbert
The assimilated Creeks and Uchees of the Lower Savannah River and Ogeechee River were between a rock and a hard place. They were being brutalized by the Crackers, but they were not Muskogee Creeks and their lifestyles would set them apart from traditional Creek and Uchee communities farther to the west. Some did migrate westward. Their family names, such as Jeffcoat, Berry, Berryhill, Beaver, Brown, Galphin, Roberts, Barnard, Wright and Perryman dominated the leadership of the Oklahoma Creek Nation for many decades to come.
Most of the estranged Creeks and Uchees headed north to the open, fertile lands north of Augusta. Some thought that they were moving to South Carolina, because South Carolina would claim the region until 1787. They were joined by remnants of Creek tribes in South Carolina.
One of the more prominent families in Ruckers Bottom were the Bones. Each generation of the Bone families named one girl, Mvhvlv (Mahala) which means “teacher” in Creek. This went on for five generations in the Bone Family, but also was a name common with other Creek and Uchee families that the Bones intermarried with. Thus, by now there are thousands of people in the United States descended from one of the Mahala Bones or the other Mahala’s. We are proposing that their descendants become the MVHVLA Tribal Town.
Most of the Upper Savannah Creeks and Uchees sided with the Patriots during the American Revolution. They served as rangers and scouts for the Patriots in the Cherokee War and in the Raccoon Regiment. Sawa is the Hitchiti Creek word for raccoon. Throughout the war and on until the early 1790s, they were periodically attacked by Upper Creeks from Alabama and thus became estranged from the faction of the Creek Confederacy that supported Great Britain and later, the Chickamauga Cherokees.
Jack Bone married one of those other Mahalas. He subsequently volunteered for the Continental Army and was killed in the siege of Savannah in 1780. Despite being indigenous, this Mahala Bone was awarded a Revolutionary veteran widow’s reserve by Georgia. It was in prime bottom land along the Savannah River in what was to become Elbert County. Although many Creek and Uchee descendants left Elbert County in the latter half of the 20th century, there is still a concentration of Creek descendants north of Elberton.
Because of service to the Patriot cause, many Creek, Mustee and Uchee Families in Ruckers Bottom were awarded veteran reserves. Some of these reserves were much larger that normally given Revolutionary veterans because the Upper Savannah River Creeks saved many lives in families on the South Carolina frontier when the Cherokees attacked without warning in 1776.
The Upper Savannah veterans spread out into Wilkes, Elbert, Hart, Madison, Clarke, Jackson and Banks Counties in Georgia, plus Anderson, Oconee, Abbeville and McCormick Counties in South Carolina. Living on veteran’s reserves would be a critical factor 40 years later when Georgia was trying to get rid of the Creeks and Uchees. Under federal law a Creek family on a veteran’s reserve could not be forced onto the Trail of Tears.
During the War of 1812, the Upper Savannah Creeks declined to get involved in the Red Stick War. Instead, they formed a unit of the Regular United States Army that was known as the Creek Rangers or Creek Regiment. It was assigned to protect the coast of Georgia from marauding British rangers and marines. These veterans were typically given reserves in the recently ceded Creek tract in Middle Georgia.
During the Second (1843) and Third (1855) Seminole Wars, horrific pogroms were instigated by the white planters in Northeast Georgia. During the efforts by Georgia to drive the Cherokees out, the General Assembly passed laws, which forbade American Indians from owning real estate, attending public school, voting, working in a licensed profession, hiring a white man or even testifying on their own behalf in court. They were aimed at the Cherokees, because at that point in time, the Savannah River Creeks were considered “Good Injuns,” who saved the frontier settlers from Cherokee raids during the American Revolution. That was soon to change.
Georgia’s and South Carolina’s planters hated the Creeks because the Creeks had this disgusting habit of giving asylum to run-away slaves. It didn’t help things that Mustee families lived in the midst of mixed Creek-White families in Ruckers Bottom. White planters, who wanted to acquire their Creek neighbors’ lands real cheap, would file legal complaints during the hysteria of the Seminole Wars stating that their Indian neighbors were in violation of state law because they owned land. After being thoroughly bribed, the sheriffs would round up militamen and show up at Creek farms to evict the families with no compensation. The county seized all real estate, furniture and livestock then sold it for pittances on the courthouse steps. The sheriffs and judges got a cut. It was really a process quite similar to the Spanish inquisition, except they were not burned at the stake.
The United States sets up the Creek and Uchee Peoples for annihilation
There is a dirty little secret that they don’t talk about in Washington, DC much these days. It does not quite speak of a “Great America.” Andrew Jackson and his cronies feared the Creeks immensely. Jackson once stated that it took 40 of his miliamen to equal one Creek soldier. The truth is that the United States would have lost the Red Stick War had not Jackson’s army almost been doubled by the addition of a Native American brigade under the command of Brigadier General and Creek Mikko, William McInstosh . . . the first Native American to be appointed a senior officer’s rank in the United States military. On several occasions a Uchee officer from the Upper Savannah River, Timpoochee Barnard, or a Cherokee officer from North Carolina, Junaluska, saved many white officers’ lives . . . and certainly made possible the overwhelming victory at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. Junaluska later stated that it was the biggest mistake he ever made his life.
You see, the Creeks and Uchees were assigned to a section of Oklahoma that was claimed by six of the most powerful tribes of the Western Plains . . . including the Lakota! Federal government officials assumed that the six “wild” tribes would quickly exterminate the Creeks and Uchees. The United States would accomplish genocide of what had been in 1790 the largest and most powerful indigenous people in North America and be able to blame the “Injuns.” Things did not go as planned.
The Northeast Georgia Creek families, who had been illegally evicted from their homes, were marched in chains to the Alabama Line and told to not come back. The 1855 pogrom did not affect older families, who lived on Revolutionary Veteran reserves, but went after their offspring, who had purchased tracts of land farther west. Records show that members of the Halley, Burden, Bone, Rucker, Wansley, Barnard and Seymour families spent 1855 camping out in Barbour County, Alabama and picking cotton like slaves then someone from the Creek Nation paid for transportation to the Indian Territory. The families were ferried out to the areas around Sapulpa, Wetumka, Muskogee and Henrietta, Oklahoma. Their descendants were later enrolled on the Dawes List as Creeks, Seminoles or Choctaws . . . depending on where they were living. If you had Creek relatives in Northeast Georgia, you might also have relatives in Oklahoma today, who are federally-recognized Native Americans.
During this same period a member of the Bone Clan was making a name for himself in Oklahoma. Tiger Bone was probably born around 1805 in Northeast Georgia and died in 1887. He apparently was the grandson of the Mahala Bone, who was the widow of Jack Bone. Tiger would name his son, Jack Bone. What gets confusing though, is that sometimes, he is listed as Bone Tiger and his son is listed as Jack Tiger.
This confusion seems to be a result of the conflict of the European and Creek naming traditions. Muskogean men were members of their mother’s clan. European men carried the last name of their father. Apparently, the mother of Tiger was in the Tiger (Panther) Clan and his father’s last name was Bone.
Circumstantial evidence suggests that he left Georgia for the Indian Territory on his own accord. He was not deported to Alabama like most Creeks and because of living on a veterans reserve, he could not have been forcibly moved by federal troops to either Alabama or Indian Territory. Nothing much is known about him until traumatic period immediately after the arrival of the Creeks and Uchees to the Indian Territory. At this time, he was living with a mixed Creek-Uchee family, and became known as a Uchee, because he married a Uchee lady.
The Creek wagon trains that headed west on the Trail of Tears were often attacked by the Osage, Wichita, Quapaw and Pawnee. These wild tribes assumed that the Creeks were whites or at least, wusses, because they wore woven clothing. Eyewitness accounts by Creek men of time openly admit that they were initially terrified by the painted, almost naked savages, who charged at their wagon trains and camps like wild men. However, the Creeks quickly figured out that while screaming and prancing around on horses might scare the whites, it didn’t leave much time for aiming a musket or a bow. The Creeks were armed with extremely accurate hunting rifles. They picked the attackers off like ducks in a row.
Once the Creeks and Uchees settled down into towns, much more serious trouble came down the pike. The Kiowa, Comanche and Lakota really didn’t like these “white Indians” settling down in the corridors where the great herds of buffalo roam. Quite a few Creeks were killed by Comanches, until the Creeks stopped fighting on the defense and went after the Comanches and Kiowas. The Creeks remembered the good ole days of the Coweta Invasion of 1754 and the American Revolution, when the Creek Mounted Rifles chased the Cherokees up into the tops of the mountains. Horses gave the Mounted Rifles mobility, but once they arrived at their target, they tied up their horses and fought as sharpshooters with rifles. Tiger Bone gained his national reputation as a war hero in that campaign. It quickly ended the Comanche problem.
The Lakota, Nakota and Dakota (aka. Sioux) were invaders from the Upper Midwest, who along with the Cheyenne became the Mongol Horde of the Western Plains in the 1800, after they acquired sufficient horses. They massacred and drove out many an indigenous tribe from the region. After it was clear that the Creeks were there to stay, the Sioux chiefs got together and decided it was time to exterminate the Creeks. They dispatched a cavalry army equally as larger or larger than the one at the Little Big Horn and headed south. They expected the “white Indians” to fight like the Blue Coat Long Knives. Apparently, the US Dragoons on the plains would fire one shot with their muzzle loaders then stop to dismount and reload.
A massive battle between the Sioux and the Creeks was fought on the prairie north of present day Tulsa,Oklahoma. Tiger Bone was there and one of the commanding officers. It is not clear what exactly the Creek Mounted Rifles did different, other than being excellent marksmen . . . but the Sioux left many of their men dead on the rolling prairie of Oklahoma. The Lakota went back north and whined to the other Plains Tribes that the Creeks cheated. They were highly disciplined and carried battle flags like the bluecoats, but a foot taller. Because of their height advantage, in hand to hand combat the Creeks often got to the Lakota before the Lakota could get to them.
The Sioux launched two more invasions of the Creek and Seminole Nations. In the second invasion, they attacked en masse and left a lot of their warriors dead on the field . . . then turned around and went home. In the third invasion, the Lakota army saw the battle flags of the Creek Mounted Rifles then turned around and went home, without getting into a fight.
That gave Tiger Bone an idea. The Indian nations would always be weak and vulnerable to the whites, if they constantly fought each other. Tiger proposed that the concept of the Creek Confederacy be expanded to include all the Native peoples in the West. That would be the only way of stopping the expansion of white settlements westward. The Creek Mounted Rifles would become the police force of the Western Plains and the Five Civilized Tribes would teach the others how to farm and grow livestock.
Many of the Plains Tribes . . . especially those threatened by the Lakota . . . were enthusiastic about a Pan-Indian Confederacy being created. Obviously, the United States Government and Army Dragoons, patrolling the prairie, were not very enthusiastic at all.
The American Civil War
Nothing much happened with the idea until things started heating up between the North and South. The Five Civilized Tribes were torn asunder by the Civil War. The Upper Creeks stayed loyal to the Union. The majority of Lower Creeks and Seminoles joined the Confederacy because they were given full citizenship and representation in the Confederate Congress.
Over a third of the population of the Creek Nation died in the American Civil War. Very few people know that. Otherwise, the combined Creeks and Seminoles would today be the largest tribe in North America as they were in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the Creek casualties were civilians. The vast majority of those casualties were pro-Union men, women and children, who died in Northern concentration camps . . . yes, Northern. When a newspaper reporter asked the Yankee general why he was allowing his own allies to starve to death, he responded, “Dead Indians don’t need land.” It was again a case of intentional genocide.
Very few of the Upper Savannah Creeks and Uchees owned slaves. Most were yeoman farmers, who had no connection to the issues that caused the Civil War. Nevertheless, many volunteered to join Cobb’s Legion of the Army of Northern Virginia, CSA. It was one of the most famous units in the Civil War. Cobb’s Legion was featured throughout the portrayal of the Battle of Fredericksburg in the movie, “Gods and General.” Did the flag carried by that unit in this movie look familiar? It should. The only difference between the flag of Cobb’s legion and Georgia’s current state flag is that Cobb’s Legion had 11 stars and did not say “In God We Trust.”
Cobb’s Legion fought in every major battle that the Army of Northern Virginia fought, from beginning to end. They were under the expert command of Lt. General James Longstreet. The Creek Boys in Cobb’s Legion are most famous, though, for their stand at Antietam Creek Bridge in the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). The 550 surviving members of the legion stopped an entire Federal division in their tracks. One wonders what made these young men so brave? They were fighting for a planter aristocracy, who had done such evil things to the Creeks and Uchees over and over again during the previous four decades.
Jack Bone was one of those men on the ridge above Antietam Creek. Somehow he survived the bloodiest day of the Civil War. His luck ran out at Gettysburg. A artillery shell exploded near him, which forced the amputation of part of one leg. Afterward, he played in the regimental band, until surrendering at Appomatox. For the rest of the 102 years of life, he wore a hand-carved wooden foot and ankle. That didn’t “cramp” his style, however. At age 78, he married the 28 year old Hally girl, who was part Creek herself. They had four more children in addition to his original family!
The Twentieth Century
Jack Bone became a mikko in the late 1800s. In some photos, you see him wearing standard clothes of the time and in others a Seminole-style turban and a Creek longshirt and in others a old Confederate uniform. He must of been a very special man. In the summer of 2001, he appeared in the dreams of a couple hundred Creek, Seminole and Uchee medicine women. He would rise up out of a white mound in his tattered Confederate uniform and wooden leg . . . then announce, “Bone is my name. You have abandoned the ways of the Creek People. You once were master farmers and now you buy everything from a store. Hard times are coming.” In most dreams, he then predicted the forthcoming 9/11 attack, followed by the rise of fascism. This would be followed some time in the future by a starving time, which would be the Master of Life’s punishment for the evil ways of this nation. He told the women, “It is important that you get back to growing your own food . . . and teach your neighbors the Creek way of farming. It will save their lives.” To some women, he told them that “it was important that they find the black book.” Most apparently didn’t know what the black book was. Finally, Grandpa Jack bade them farewell and climbed a golden stairs into heaven.
The Creek, Mustee and Uchee families along the Upper Savannah River openly wore Creek style clothing until the early 20th century. That suddenly stopped and the families began to conceal their ancestry. Around 1900 things suddenly changed and evil white men began persecuting the Creeks along the Savannah River as they had 60 years earlier. Jack Bone’s kids were not allowed to ride the mule wagon into Elberton because white kids would throw mud and manure at them. Just before World War I a teenage daughter was raped and lynched from a tree at the edge of Ruckers Bottom. Wealthy “Bourbons” as the Post-Civil War planters were called, wanted to drive the Indians off their rich bottom lands. Instead the Creek men grabbed their weapons and waged a two decade guerilla war against the KKK, until it was driven out of the region.
Probably from the late 1700s onward, it was a custom for the interrelated Creek-Uchee families in Ruckers Bottom to hold their family reunions each some on the weekend nearest the full moon nearest the Summer Solstice and when the roasting ears (fresh corn) was ripening. The elders would meet several months in advance to establish the official date of the reunion. None of the elders ever mentioned the words, “Green Corn Festival” to the new generations. They seemed terrified of anyone finding out that they were Creek Indians. The covert celebrations of this ancient Creek tradition continued until the late 1970s, when the new generations of families had become so scattered to make the logistics impossible.
In 1897, the oldest son of Jack Bone, William Washington “Scuddy” Bone, moved to Alabama. He soon had enough of the racism and poverty in the Southeast. The rest of the family had refused to have anything to do with the Dawes Rolls or Oklahoma, but Scuddy headed west with his bride in 1904 and took a Creek allotment in 1905, based on the Bones being listed as Creeks in Georgia on the census. However, most subsequent generations of Oklahoma Bones often inherited the light complexion of Scuddy’s wife. Besides, Oklahoma was a very racist place throughout the early 1900s. It was really not a “good” thing to be Indian, unless your allotment had oil underneath it. Although raised a Methodist, Scuddy became a Baptist minister in the area around Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.
Scuddy’s younger brother, Earl, left Georgia before World War II and originally settled in Tampa, where his features would blend in with the locals. If asked if he was Indian, he would say that he was from an “Florida Spanish family.” His family eventually settled around Plant City, near where many Seminoles then lived. Many of Earl’s descendants retained his black hair and tan skin. Despite being typically pragmatic Creeks, the Florida Bone girls thrived from being in the sunshine and working in the strawberry fields. For that matter, quite a few of the Bone girls in Georgia and Florida became beauty queens, but also a bunch of them ended having postgraduate degrees and professions.
The Oklahoma Bones and the Georgia Bones tried to stay in contact with each other for much of the 20th century. However, as the generation after Scuddy hit middle age, the mail communications dribbled to a close. Oklahoma Bones rarely came to the Green Corn Festival reunions anyway. The last letter received from an Oklahoma Bone came from Sgt. Charles Bone from Henrietta, OK. He was sitting on an ammunition crate in the jungles of Viet Nam. His letter was filled with misty memories of the good times had at the few family reunions he had attended and the horrors of the Viet Nam. He was already dead by the time that the letter arrived in Georgia.
If one explored the drawers and closets of Mahala “Ruby” Bone, one would quickly find sage brooms, Creek style pottery, weavings and baskets that she made as a girl and young woman. In the drawers of her office desk were old sepiatone photographs, showing ancestors dressed in turbans, long shirts or ribbon dresses. However, even though she was the designated mahala (teacher) of her generation, a question about why her family was dressed like Florida Seminoles drew a scowl. She typically would say, “I don’t want to talk about it. They treated us worse than the coloreds.” Some of her brothers, though, did teach the next generation the names of plants and animals in Creek, plus how to count to ten in Creek. For the most part, however, knowledge of the Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek language died with Ruby’s generation.
Ruby did confide on a few occasions to some of her grandchildren that their ancestral mother towns were down near Savannah and in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia. She considered both the Nacoochee Valley and Tallulah Falls to be Creek Sacred Sites . . . at least to our branch of the Creeks. She and Papa Obie had spent their honeymoon at both locations. One time, when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published map showing that the Cherokees had always occupied all of Georgia, from Macon northward, Ruby went into a rage. She shouted, “That’s horse manure. There were white folks living in the mountain for over a century before there was even such a thing as a Cherokee. They ain’t from around here! ” It would take decades for the next generation to figure out what she meant.
There was one area in which Obie and Ruby couldn’t hide their Native heritage . . . food. Papa Obie didn’t have nearly as much Native heritage as Ruby. He said that he was part Pee Dee-Creek (Hillabee). However, he was always delighted to take the grandchildren out into the woods or onto the shoals of the Broad River to teach them how to build fish traps, catch turtles, hunt and find edible meals in the forests. Wild food was a mainstay of their dinner table. That especially included Mama Ruby’s Southern Fried Turtle or Possum ‘n Taters . . . but anything wild and edible was commonplace. Only venison from deer, who had been grazing in corn fields was served. Other animals were caught and fed cornbread and buttermilk for a week or two before being butchered. Cornbread was often served Creek style . . . as flat cakes, fritters or hush puppies.
The next generation after Obie and Ruby left the country and went to the city. There was no future in subsistence farming. The mixed-heritage Creek and Uchee communities was continuously occupied until the late 20th century, when they were forcibly removed by the US Army Corps of Engineers to build Clark Hill Reservoir, Lake Richard B. Russell and Lake Hartwell. However, unlike the situation on the Lower Chattahoochee River, the consultants for the US Army Corps of Engineers did not label them Native Americans.
Then one day, the next generation after them woke up one day and realized that all of the elders were gone. Our parents’ generation knew next to nothing about their Native American heritage . . . although now they could be proud of it since Jimmy Carter had tossed out all the laws that made it illegal to live in Georgia. Then began the long journey to figure out, “Who are we?”
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