Truths from Grandmother
What contemporary references say about a tribe’s history is not always the truth.
One of my greatest regrets is that I didn’t ask my grandparents, Obie and Mahala (aka Ruby), more questions. Fortunately, they taught me how to grow vegetables and fruits, but their artistic skills and knowledge of the past are gone forever.
My grandfather carved massive, paper-thin, wooden flour bowls. Well, he could carve about anything out of wood that he desired, but the big bucks came from the bowls. What wood did he use that wouldn’t stick to wet dough? I don’t know. Why didn’t his bowls crack with age, since they had no oil or varnish on them? I don’t know.
When she was a girl, my grandmother had some traumatic experiences that would cause her lips to be generally sealed about our Native heritage. The State of Georgia wouldn’t let her attend public school, so was taught in the basement of the local Methodist church by the young minister, who had a Doctor of Theology from Emory University. She undoubtedly had a superior elementary education, but the free school only went to the 8th grade.
When grandmother was a child, her 16 year old sister was beaten, raped and hung from a tree at the edge of the community in attempt by the Bourbons (descendants of the Planter aristocracy) to drive the Indian families off their rich bottomlands. This was standard practice by the Bourbons from the 1820s to the 1920s. They brutalized young, pretty girls in order to terrorize the Creeks and Yuchi, who didn’t have to leave the state. These diabolical acts were intended to “persuade” them to leave anyway. The book and movie, “True Women” had a scene that exposed such brutal murders in western Georgia. However, they have been left out of the official state history books.
Over 20,000 Itsate Creeks and Yuchi in Georgia were not required to relocate to Alabama, and ultimately to Oklahoma. Bet you didn’t know that. They were not part of the Muskogee-Creek Confederacy and had always been friendly with the English-speaking newcomers. Many of these families ended up being forced out of Georgia anyway.
After the murder, my grandmother and her siblings were not allowed to go into the county seat. White kids joined the racist bandwagon and threw mud and manure at them when they did. This was not a case of them being former slaves like our African-American brothers and sisters. It was strictly a result of the Bourbons whipping up hatred among the blue collar whites, so that they would forget that they were kept poor and under-educated by the greed and political control of the Bourbons.
This was a new form of racism that only appeared in the early 1900s. My grandmother’s family owned a large farm. They were relatively affluent for their day, because the Creeks and Yuchi’s were always master farmers. Two of my gg-grandfathers were in Cobb’s Legion in the Army of Northern Virginia. Cobb’s Legion was the 550 man regiment that stopped an entire Union Division at Burnside’s Bridge during the Battle of Antietam. One of those Confederate veterans eventually became a Keeper (Holy Man.) He appeared by name in the visions of many Creek and Cherokee medicine women during the summer of 2001.
There was absolutely no rationale to the new racism. Her family was physically handsome and very intelligent. The girls in the part of the family, who moved to Florida to escape this racism, dominated beauty pageants around Plant City and Tampa for several decades. My mother was the first person in her family, who the State of Georgia allowed to graduate from a public high school. She was valedictorian of her high school class and graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of Georgia.
When we asked Mama Ruby specific questions about our Indian heritage, all she would say was, “I don’t want to talk about it. They treated us worse than the Coloreds.”
There is something else you should know. Until I was in my early 20s, I didn’t know that the Muskogees were Creeks! The word, Muskogee, had always been used in family lore as an aggressive, militaristic tribe that invaded the Creek Heartland from the west. The Muskogees were stopped finally by alliance of many Creek provinces from northern Georgia, eastern Georgia and South Carolina in a great battle somewhere. Afterward, all the opponents supposedly “buried the hatchet” and formed the Creek Confederacy.
A newspaper article finally unlocks her lips
In 1991, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article about archaeological projects immediately north of Brasstown Bald Mountain and (now we know) the Track Rock Terrace Complex. The headlines read, “Archaeological site proves that Cherokees have lived in Georgia for 1000 years.” The article stated that the Creeks had originated in Florida and had invaded Georgia just before the arrival of the British colonists, forcing the Cherokees northward into the mountains.
An accompanying map showed that the Cherokees had built Etowah Mounds, the Nacoochee Mound and Ocmulgee Mounds. Several prominent anthropology professors at the University of Georgia, such as Charles Hudson, were quoted as endorsing the map.
I was living in Virginia at the time and never dreamed that I would ever live in Georgia again. My intellectual focus was the restoration of Colonial Era buildings. When my mother sent me the article, my comments were limited to. “This AJC article is a pile of caca de toro”. – well, I actually said it in English However, my grandmother went ballistic. She was the fifth generation in her family of gals named Mahala (teacher) and finally revealed some her cultural knowledge. Soon she said some mighty strange things.
- White men were living in the Georgia and North Carolina mountains a hundred years before there was even such a thing as a Cherokee.
- The original Creek civilization began in the mountains and along the Chattahoochee, Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers. Our most sacred place is the Nacoochee Valley at the source of the Chattahoochee River on Brasstown Bald Mountain.
- Our civilization was started by Sun Lords, who came from the south long ago.
- The original capital of the Creeks was a great city in northeast Georgia. Now I thought that statement was really bizarre because according to Georgia archaeologists, there were no significant Native archaeological sites in northeast Georgia!
- The Muskogees were never a tribe and not “real” Creeks, but a group of medicine men, who came down from the north with a new religion based on magic plants. The Great War was originally about religion and the followers of the new religion trying to conquer an empire. Hmm-m-m, bet you don’t hear that version of history in Oklahoma!
What about this word, Muskogee?
In the coming months, you will be learning about some archaeological discoveries in northeast Georgia, made by researchers in the People of One Fire, which are going to turn the text books upside down. They are real and the artifacts discovered, cannot be either denied or debated. These discoveries verify statements 1-4 made by Mama Ruby. For the moment, my lips must remain silent on the details, but we can talk about Statement Five.
All of the federally and state recognized Creek tribes now call themselves Muskogee. In all references, the words, “Muskogee” and “Creek Indian” are said to be synonymous. Well, all these references also say that Fort Caroline was located in Jacksonville, Florida . . . chuckle.
When I started doing research for the Muscogee-Creek Nation ten years ago, I learned some things that really puzzled me. The words for animals and plants that my grandparents taught me were about the same as the words used by the Alabamas, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Miccosukee. Even though my Native heritage was a couple of hundred miles EAST of the traditional Muskogee heartland, many of the Oklahoma Muskogee Creek words for animals and plants were different.
Then there was the word Muskogee. The actual Creek word is Mvskoke. It means “People who have medicine (herbs)” The word, Muskogee, does not appear on any colonial document until just before the American Revolution. The words, “Creek Indians” first appeared on a map of the Colony of Georgia in the late 1830s. The earliest Georgia maps called the members of the original Creek Confederacy, Coweta’s. A similar word, Cohuita, was used for the Creek Confederacy, by the French. The French called the mountains in north-central Georgia “Les Montes de Cohuitas.” When Great Britain obtained this region from the French in 1763, they labeled them, “The Cohuta Mountains.” Cohutta is not an ancient Cherokee word, whose meaning has been lost.
Throughout all of the 16th century and most of the 17th century, all European maps called the ancestors of the Creek Indians, Apalache. The maps showed their heartland to be in what is now northern Georgia and their capital to be somewhere in northeast Georgia. This is exactly what my Granny Ruby said!
There were other divisions of peoples, who would join other proto-Creek provinces to form a confederacy. The French called the Upper Creeks, Cusate, which means Kusa People. Another branch, living along the Etowah River and Lower Chattahoochee River, the French called Conchaqui (Conkshell People) while the Spanish called them Apalachicola (Apalache People.) Peoples living in eastern Tennessee were called the Kowasate (Bobcat People) the Tasquete (Tuskegee = Warrior People) and Abeke (Apeke) which means “Corn Stalk People.” They were the ones who were so tall.
The Creek scholars in Oklahoma told me that “Mskoke” has always been the real name of the Creeks. I knew that was not true, but also knew that the Oklahoma Creeks had been gone from their homeland for two centuries and could be forgiven for being historically detached. I asked them to show me one province, one town, or even one clan named, Mvskoke. They could not.
What I did know was that the word, Mvskoke appeared as a political label about the same time that there was an influx of Shawnee refugees into Alabama from the Ohio River Basin. The Southern Shawnee were monotheistic like their allies the Apalache. However, Ohio River Basin Shawnee had “prophets” who were really into conjuring of demons from fires and springs, magic herbs, magic colors and magic shirts that could supposedly block arrows and musket balls. The shirts failed miserably at Horseshoe Bend.
During the period in the mid-to-late 1700s, when the word, Mvskoke, suddenly appeared, Tuckabachee (Tokahpasi) replaced Koweta as the nominal capital of the Creek Confederacy. By then, Tuckabachee was located near the confluence of the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers, where the French had built Fort Toulouse.
Many Shawnee refugees flocked to the region around Fort Toulouse and Tuckabatchee because the Shawnee were French allies. However, prior to that time, Tuckabachee was on the Chattahoochee River in present day Metro Atlanta. Its original location was at Highlands, NC. The town was originally the capital of the Tokohle (Spotted People) known to Captain Juan Pardo as the Tokee. They were not Muskogeans, but had been incorporated into the old Apalache Kingdom.
I learned something else in Oklahoma that bothered me. Men and women, who called themselves Keepers, were practicing sorcery. They do dumb stuff like sprinkling magic herbs on doorways of courtrooms, National Council meeting chambers and people’s houses to cast evil spells on the victims. They stare into fires to communicate with the demons within the fires, etc.
I realize that many Native American traditionalists whine that casting spells, conjuring demons from fires and considering certain inanimate objects to be magic, are “Native American traditions” and therefore should not be criticized. However, coming from a Wind Clan family that produced many generations of real Keepers, I knew a smidgeon of what being a Keeper was all about. It was about the positive, the Light and intellectual growth – not casting evil spells on people or creating discord in a tribe.
It all adds up. Everything that my grandmother, a mvhvla (teacher) of ancient truths, said . . . was true. The name that most Creek tribes call themselves today, refers to a relatively recent religious phenomenon, which occurred at some time in the very late 1600s or early 1700s. It was a response to the horrific 95+ percent drop in population due to European plagues, slave raids and wars. In desperation, the people turned to sorcerers, whose magic herbs would stop the catastrophic changes. Instead, the path chosen led to disaster. The most populous and technically advanced indigenous people in North America was scattered to the winds.
Simultaneously, other Native peoples were encouraged by the British to form a “Cherokee tribe” which included many people of mixed-European and Middle Eastern heritage. They were led from behind the scenes by haggi or conjurers, who told the followers that obeying the commands of demons that lived in fires, would lead them to greatness. The greatness lasted from 1717 to 1737. Thereafter, the Cherokees lost every war they fought and ended up dependent today on the trimester checks from casino profits for survival. Their reservation has been give away to the Russian Mafia. They got bad advice from the demons.
By the way, haggi, as in the famous Cherokee conjurer’s name (Charate Haggi) means “wizard” in several Middle Eastern language. Chara-te is the Anglicization of a Creek word meaning, “Sara People.”
Next time, your grandmother tells you something about the past, write it down!
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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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