Richard Thornton | Aug 9, 2017 | 5
The Surprising Connection between Etowah Mounds, Georgia and Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Creek Confederacy was at the peak of its political influence and military power in the late 1700s, but in 1785 and 1794, was tricked out of most of its lands in northern Georgia by federal and state officials. In early 1785, two Creek mikkos were persuaded to sign a treaty that had been rejected by both the National Council of the Creek Confederacy and the United States Congress. In later treaty negotiations solely between the Cherokee leaders and federal officials vast swaths of Creek land were given to the Cherokees without the Creeks’ knowledge and consent.
After the Battle of Long Swamp Creek near the Etowah River in northwest Georgia in November of 1783, Sour Mush, the defeated chief of a tiny renegade Cherokee hamlet unilaterally offered a peace treaty which gave away all Creek lands in Northeast Georgia, but no Cherokee lands. Sour Mush had moved onto the eastern fringes of Upper Creek territory in 1777, when he was evicted from the Cherokee Nation.
Georgia’s general assembly quickly ratified this treaty and began awarding Creek lands in northeast Georgia to Revolutionary War veterans to which the state owed back pay. The Creek National Council bitterly abjured this fraudulent treaty. The United States Congress refused to ratify it, because no state had authority under the Articles of Confederation to sign treaties with Indian tribes. Nevertheless, Colonel Andrew Pickens, the victorious Patriot commander in the Battle of Long Swamp Creek invited two minor Creek mikkos in northeast Georgia to his plantation in South Carolina. The two men, Fat King and Quiet King, were somehow persuaded to sign the treaty. The two unknowingly signed a clause, who vague wording could be used to steal even more Creek land.
The US Congress again refused to ratify new treaty on the same grounds that only the federal government could negotiate with Indian tribes. In mid-1785, Pickens and some federal agents negotiated with the Cherokees separately. The Cherokees were offered Upper Creek and Chickasaw lands in northwest Georgia, south to the Etowah River as hunting grounds, if they ceded most of their hunting grounds in Tennessee. The Creek sacred lands around Etowah Mounds were not included in the hunting grounds. All lands within the Coosa River Basin in the future state of Alabama were to remain in Creek territory.
The Cherokees agreed, but apparently assumed that they could live in their hunting grounds. Thousands of Cherokee began moving into Georgia. Georgia officials were extremely upset, because they wanted fewer Indians in their state, not another tribe moving in. The situation remained in limbo for the next seven years until the Constitution was ratified and a Federal government created. George Washington was elected president in 1793.
During this era, the ancient town of Lucv Pokv Tulasi [Lü : chȁ Po : kä Tü : la : she] was located on the Lower Etowah River, downstream from the ruins of Etowah Mounds. The Itsate Creek words meant, “Town descended from Etula at the place where the turtles sit.” Etula was the original Itsate name for Etowah. This was an honorary title that meant these people were direct descendants of the people, who built the great mounds on the Etowah River in Georgia.
The Upper Creeks were extremely angry about both white settlers and Cherokees flooding across their ancestral lands in North Georgia. At that time, they spoke a dialect of Itsate Creek that mixed in some Mvskoke (Muskogee) words. They were threatening to go to war against the State of Georgia and were already dispatched small raiding parties to burn farmsteads that had been illegally established on Creek Land. It was an odd situation, because the Creeks considered officials of the national government to be their friends, so the declaration of war was only against the governor of Georgia, who they called, Fakke Mikko (Dirt King.)
A highly respected Continental officer from New York, Colonel Marinus Willett was dispatched by President George Washington as his envoy to meet with Creek leaders and invite Principal Chief Alexander McGillivray to meet with Washington at the new national capital in New York City. He traveled from Andrew Pickens plantation, through the new Cherokee lands into what is now Alabama to meet with the Creek leaders.
McGillivray did travel to New York and ended up signing a treaty that gave away Northwest Georgia down to the Etowah River, reserved all lands south and west of the Coosa and Etowah Rivers for the Creeks. He also agreed to cede all lands in Northeast Georgia, east of the Oconee River. At this time, this latter land cession was moot, because it had already been filled with white settlers. Lucv Pokv Tulasi was forced to move southward from the Etowah River to the upper basin of the Tallapoosa River in Georgia
In 1794, the Cherokees were unilaterally given their erstwhile hunting grounds as a permanent home for the new Cherokee Nation. In return, they were to cede most of their lands in northeast Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. Their southern boundary was set at a line that went through Kennesaw Mountain in present day Cobb County, GA. That was about 25 miles south of the Etowah River and also grabbed a vast territory on both sides of the Coosa River to give to the Cherokees . The Creeks had been snookered again by federal officials.
The leaders of the Creek towns were in a rage. McGillivray was dead, but no one had authorized him to give away so much land. The United States had given the Cherokees a vast tract of Creek land that even McGillivray had not ceded. The Upper Creeks were about to go to war again with the State of Georgia. General Washington let it be known that if the Creeks attacked Georgia that now, under the Federal Constitution, they would be attacking the United States. The Creeks could expect a disastrous war with all the states.
Seeing how devastated the Cherokees had become because of the 15 year long Chickamauga War with the United States, the Creeks backed off from their threats. They agreed to the new southern boundary line in return for generous cash payments and the promise that they could keep most of Alabama forever. However, Lucv Pokv Tulasi found itself in Cherokee Territory yet again. The people would have to move.
In 1796, the town of Lucv Pokv Tulase relocated to a fertile region near modern day Auburn, AL. Very soon, they began speaking a dialect that was more and more like the Mvskoke of their neighbors. They changed their honorary title from the Itsate, Tulasi, to the Muskoge, Tvlse.
In 1814, 1818 and1825, mixed-blood Creek mikko, William McIntosh, gave away all the millions of acres of Creek land in Georgia. During the 1830s, the States of Georgia and Alabama, and often the Federal government, pressured the Creek Nation to relocate west of the Mississippi into a region that is now eastern Oklahoma. The 1832 Treaty of Cusseta ceded all Muscogee land claims in Alabama. The original heart of the Creek Nation in Georgia was already gone. Many of the former Red Stick Creeks, who had fought a war with the United States left with their tribal towns for the Indian Territory in 1832.
Creek families Alabama, who had especially good relations with their neighbors, were allowed to stay in the East on privately owned tracts that were allotted to them. They became citizens of Alabama, but in accepting 1/4th square mile tracts of land, they unknowingly lost their citizenship in the Creek Confederacy.
Between 1832 and 1836, many Creeks in Alabama were swindled out of their new land allotments. They became homeless, and theoretically were no longer even considered Creek Indians. War broke out again, as the men raged at seeing their families starving.
Some Creeks in the tribal town of Lucv Pokv Tvlse were able to hold on to their land and expressed a willingness to stay in Alabama. These were primarily Christian Creeks, who had been banished from the tribal town because of adopting “the white man’s religion.”
Those, who wanted to hold onto tribal traditions had no option, but to be deported. In a terrible period known as the “Trail of Tears” entire Creek towns relocated from Alabama to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma.)
Lucv Pokv Tvsle left in 1836 and after several months of walking or riding in wagons, they arrived on the Arkansas River, where Tulsa is today. Of the original group of 630 people of this town in Alabama, at least 161 people died in route.
In late 1836, the survivors of met under the shade of a Burr (Post) Oak on a terrace to elect their new town government. In the years that followed, the people of this town would hold social dances, ceremonial dances and political meetings near the “Council Oak.” Miraculously, the tree continued to thrive as the new land was tamed.
The town of Lucha Poka Talse eventually became known to its white neighbors as Talsa. By the late 1800s, it was predominantly a non-Creek town and the word had been changed by Southern drawls to Tulsa. The discovery of oil turned the market town of Tulsa into a booming city.
In 2009, the Oklahoma Centennial Commission constructed a beautiful Trail of Tears Memorial on the edge of Council Oak Park. The Council Oak monument was designed by a Creek sculptor from Oklahoma and Creek architect from Georgia to symbolize renewed ties between two branches of the same people, separated by 800 miles for 180 years. It has become a major tourist attraction in Tulsa.
Trail of Tears Memorial in Council Oak Park, Tulsa, OK
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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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