When did the Muskogean Peoples arrive in the Southeast?
Nowadays, Native American scholars typically are focused on proving that their tribe is the “Master Race”. That becomes a major problem with all the Muskogeans, except the Choctaws, because their ancestry could best be described as Heinz 57 varieties and their ancestors moved all over the place. There are seven distinct migration legends associated with the Creek Indians alone. Those legends describe homelands separated by thousands of miles of mountains, plains and ocean.
Long ago, academicians created the ethnic label “Muskogean” for the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Alabama, Koasati, Muskogee, Hitchiti, Miccosukee and Apalachee Peoples of the Southeast. It was derived from the name of the Muskogee Creeks. Ironically, Muskogee-Creek is the most aberrant of the Muskogean languages, while Apalache, Kusabo, Okate, Itsate and Miccosukee Creeks have very little in common with the Choctaws, genetically. Hitchitis, Miccosukees and Koasatis look like tall Highland Mayas. The Choctaws look like the aboriginal people of Tamaulipas State in Northeastern Mexico. The Chickasaws, Muskogees and Upper Creeks look like the non-Nahuatl Peoples of Central and East Central Mexico.
The Muskogean language group should have been called “Choctawian.” The ethnic history of the Choctaws seems to indicate that their language through mixing with other languages produced the other Muskogean ethnic groups. As will be discussed in a later section, architectural history suggests that the core ancestors of the Choctaws have been living in the same place since the creation of Watson Brake around 3400 BC. However, even the Choctaws took in lots of their neighbors after the Holocaust.
When I was in college, textbooks taught a simplistic concept of the past that was akin to the histories one reads in Chamber of Commerce tourist brochures today. Tourists are told that the last federally recognized tribe to live in their particular region had lived there for thousands of years. I only know of three counties in the United States that accurately brag of being an aboriginal home for the Uchee . . . Taliaferro County, GA on the Ogeechee River near the Fall Line, plus Allendale County, SC and Effingham County, GA on the Lower Savannah River.
When did people speaking “proto-Muskogean” enter the region east of the Mississippi-Alabama Line? It is a very tough question that really has not been answered. There is conflicting evidence that suggests very complex ethnic histories for today’s federally-recognized tribes.
Total Extinction Date: All life on the Atlantic Coast from Ossabaw Island, GA to Cape Canaveral, FL would have been destroyed by a 100+ feet (33m+) high tsunami in 539 AD. The tsunami was caused by an asteroid or comet that struck off the Florida Coast from the southeast at a very low apogee. The tsunami debris ridge is still over 85 feet (26m) tall about 12 miles inland on the Altamaha River. Flood waters would have extended about 75 miles inland in Southeast Georgia.
The debris ridge in Florida is less pronounced, but there the flanks of the tsunami wave obliterated the coastal islands and pushed their land inland to join with the mainland. The original mouth of the St. Johns River at St. Augustine was blocked by this catastrophic event.
Migration legends by order of arrival
A consistent trait of all the Creek migration legends is that they do not include supernatural events like those of the Chinese, Middle Easterners, Greeks, Romans and Scandinavians. Being monotheistic peoples, there are no gods, goddesses or magical demons.. Virtually all their contents read like “real” history. The reader will note that a majority of the members of the 1717 Creek Confederacy did NOT have ancestors, who were ethnic Muskogeans, living in the Mississippi River Basin. They would have originally spoken languages quite different than Choctaw.
The Uchee traveled by boat from across the Atlantic. They originally lived in the “Home of the Sun.” The Uchee initially settled on the Edisto, Pon Pon, Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers. There was no one living in the Southeast, when they arrived, but signs that people had lived there before them. The Uchee eventually established trading center villages all over the Southeast. The Uchee said that the Algonquians were living in North America before them, but not in the Lower Southeast.
The Savano (Southern Shawnee) believe that they are descendants of the Lenape (Delaware), who traveled southward to enjoy a warmer climate. Some Shawnee later migrated northward to the Ohio Valley, where they became associated with the Hopewell Culture. The Shawnee disagree completely with the current Cherokee story that they were late arrivals to the Southeast, who came to the North Carolina Mountains as squatters after the Cherokees were well-established.
The Shawnee are shown on European maps in the Southeast over a century before a word similar to Cherokee appears. As late as 1707 French maps showed the Shawnee as the primary occupants of Western North Carolina.
Linguistics and colonial maps support the Shawnee version of history. Algonquian and Muskogean languages have words similar to the archaic Shawano (now: Shaawanwa) meaning “south”. However, the stem shaawa- does not mean “south” in Shawnee, but “moderate, warm weather”.
The ancestors of the (Georgia) Apalache arrived by water from the south with other kindred people. Their first great town was located where Downtown Savannah is today. They then spread outward. The villages of these sea peoples, living around the edge of Lake Tama, first developed the Apalache Culture. Their capitals gradually moved northward until the last one was in the lower Georgia Mountains.
The Kaushebo (Cusabo, Kusa) arrived by water from the south. They settled in the estuaries north of the Savannah River in what is now the South Carolina. Apparently, some of their descendants became the elite of the Kusa Province in Northwest Georgia. The Upper Creeks still call themselves Kauche, which the original Panoan (Peruvian) name of the Kusa.
The Chickasaw originally were one and the same as the Choctaw, but are descended from less conservative villages that wanted to venture out. In their migration legend this schism is described as a disagreement between two brothers, Chakta and Chikisa. In Chickasaw tradition, their ancestors traveled far to the east, before turning around returning as far as Northern Alabama and Western Tennessee. As will be discussed further in the article, archaeology backs up that belief.
Today, the Chickasaws believe that their ancestors were the creators of the Copena Culture in northern Alabama. That is questionable. The Copena People mummified their dead by coating them with clay. This custom was also practiced by the peoples of western Peru, beginning around 5,000 BC. The Apalache also mummified their elite by coating them with white clay. This suggests that the Woodland Period Copena Culture was developed by immigrants from Peru.
The Oconee arrived by water from the south. They first became a distinct people while living on islands in the Okefenokee Swamp and the edge of the swamp. Some of the people stayed in the swamp basin, but others established colonies farther and farther north on a True North line, originating on Billy’s Island, where the Oconees maintained a Temple of the Sun, staffed with beautiful priestesses. The Oconees definitely got as far north as the Great Smoky Mountains and the current Cherokee Reservation. The main river there is the Oconaluftee River, which is the Anglicization of Creek words that mean “Oconee People – Cut Off (massacred).
The Oconeechi People of northern North Carolina and southwestern Virginia have been officially classified by anthropologists as “Southern Siouan.” There is a problem though. The word literally means “Descendants of the Oconee” and has no meaning in any known Siouan language.
The Itsate Creeks stated that their ancestors came by water from the south. Itsate is also what the Itza Mayas called themselves. Their first towns were near a great lake (probably Lake Okeechobee, but possibly farther north.) They then moved into a wetland covered by reeds (probably the Everglades, but possibly the South Atlantic tidal marshes). When invaders arrived in Florida, the Itsate then paddled by water until they arrived where Savannah, GA is now located. One band of Itsate paddled up the Savannah River and settled in the Appalachian Mountains and the Upper Chattahoochee River. Another band paddled up the Ocmulgee River and settled where Ocmulgee Mounds is today.
The Koweta Creeks believed that they had once lived near the Mississippi River, but began migrating eastward when food became scarce in their homeland. A magic stick with a fish on top pointed the way eastward. This fish may have contained magnets. The Koweta first settled in the Appalachian Mountains and then spread southwestward as vassals of the Apalache. High king Chikili told officials in Savannah that Parasi (Palache) could be used as their name instead of Koweta
The Georgia Apalache stated that the people in northern Florida that the Spanish call Apalache, do not call themselves that, but rather Tulahiwalsee . . . which means “Highland Towns.” A great Apalache queen ordered that a wide road be built to connect the high mountains (Smoky Mountains) with the Gulf of Mexico. Then it was called the Nene Hvtke Rakko (Great White Path) but today is US 129 highway. Many people came across the water from the south to settle among the Tulahiwalsee. Over time, the newcomers changed their language so much that it was unintelligible to the Apalache. However, the two peoples remained allies and trading partners.
The Kashita (Kusate) Creeks were the last branch of the Creek Confederacy to arrive in the Southeast. They originated on the flanks of the Orizaba Volcano in western Vera Cruz. Persecution by several, more advanced civilizations caused them to wander back and forth along the Bloody (Jamapo) River until they followed the Great White Path along the Gulf Coast to what is now the Mississippi River Valley. They did not like the environs of the Mississippi River and so soon traveled eastward until they were allowed to settle in the province of the Kusa. This is how they got their name
Today, the Kashita no longer remember their original name. Kusate (actually Kvsete) indicates that they were originally vassals of the Kaushe (Kusa) elite. Their name was possibly Takesta. Aztec chronicles tell of a tall people, named the Takesteca in Nahua, who were more primitive that their Toltec kin. They lived at the foot of the Orizaba Volcano, until driven out of Mexico by the Aztecs around 1400 AD. One period of pottery found at Hiwasee Island, TN is unlike any other in the Southeast, but identical to the pottery made along the mountainous border between Vera Cruz and Oaxaca States, Mexico.
Oklahoma Mvskoke focused research
The most recent (Muskogee-dominated) Creek Confederacy was founded in 1717. Most of the Creeks, still affiliated with it, were forced to relocate 500-900 miles away between 1827 and1836. In the +/- 186 years since then, the Muskogee-Creek people in Oklahoma have continued to evolve, heavily influenced by intermarriage and interaction with other tribes in the Southern Plains.
Since much of the research into Muskogean history and linguistics occurs in Oklahoma, professors assume that Muskogee was THE Creek language and that ALL the Muskogees were major players in the mound-building business. They appear not to know that Highland Apalache and several dialects of Itsate (Hitchiti) were originally the dominate Creek languages. No academicians seem to know that Apalasikora (Apalachicola) is a South American word that has no meaning in Muskogee.
Muskogee was only adopted as the official trade & parliamentary language in 1717, because it was spoken by Koweta, then the dominant province. However, until around 1785, more people spoke Hitchiti in Georgia than English!
According to Creek leaders in the early 1700s, the original Creek Confederacy did not include Muskogee speakers and in fact, Muskogee speakers were the primary enemies of this alliance. The original Creek Confederacy in the 1600s was composed of the Alabama, Chickasaw, Kusate and Apike.
This is reinforced by my own family traditions. I did not realize that the Muskogees were Creeks until I was in my early 20s. Growing up, the Muskogees were remembered as the aggressive enemies of the Creeks and far more dangerous than the Cherokees. According to this family lore, an alliance of Creek and Uchee tribes in eastern Georgia and South Carolina fought the invading Muskogee-speakers to a standstill in a great battle in the center of Georgia. Afterward, a second Creek Confederacy was formed with Itchesi (Ochesee) as the capital and Hitchiti as its official language. However, the Chickasaw, Kusate and Muskogee speakers were included in this alliance.
The majority of Hitchiti-speaking Creeks dropped out of the Creek Confederacy after the American Revolution, when the British Tory, Alexander McGillivray moved the capital to Pensacola. They either assimilated with their Anglo-American neighbors or moved to southern Georgia and northern Florida. Their descendants became the Seminole and Miccosukee Peoples.
The Hitchiti and Apalachicola were staunch allies of the Patriots and later, the United States government, until Muskogee-speakers, William McIntosh and William Weatherford signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814. It gave away all Hitchiti and Apalachicola lands in Georgia and Alabama, but kept the Muskogee lands in Georgia under the control of McIntosh. This event is what spawned the creation of a distinct Seminole tribe.
Linguists in la-la land
Unless they read People of One Fire, Southeastern academicians still hold to a mythology created by a handful of linguists in the 1970s that chose to make a Muskogean language as the topic of their dissertation. Very few ever developed intellectually past their dissertation. All assumed that a language very similar to modern Choctaw was spoken by all the ancestors of the Chickasaws, Apalachee, Miccosukees, Muskogees, Seminoles, Alabamas and Koasatis 3,500 years ago. They then used mathematical formulas to estimate the length of time back in history when each one of the Muskogean languages “separated” from each other.
The presumption was that individual bands of Muskogeans moved east and instantly cut all communication with anybody else in the Southeast. In that isolation the original Choctaw words evolved at a mathematically calculated rate. Even to this day, many archaeologists believe that “trade” in the Southeast consisted of the bartering of a few “prestige goods” from neighbor to neighbor. From those calculations, they said that the “Creeks” moved to Georgia around 1500 BC. Horse manure!
None of these academicians seemed to be the least aware that the individual provinces of the Creek Confederacy originally spoke languages as different as those in the nations of Western Europe. Yet, in Eastern Tennessee and Northern Georgia, the Kusate Creeks and the Chickasaws built their towns adjacent to each other. Archaeologists called them the Dallas and Mouse Creek Cultures. Further south the Oconee Creeks and Uchee Water Clan built their towns adjacent to each other. The elite of the Apalache Creeks lived in different towns and spoke a different language than Apalache Commoners.
Apparently, in 2005, I became the first person in history to place Creek and Mesoamerican dictionaries on the same table together and compare words. I was an architect, merely doing the ancillary type of research we always do in historic preservation. At the time, I was curious why the houses in the suburbs of Chichen Itza in 1000 AD were identical to the houses in Etowah Mounds in 1000 AD. The Totonacs of northern Vera Cruz, the Itza Mayas of Southern Mexico and the Hitchiti Creeks of the Southeast all use the same word for house – chiki.
In the decade since then, POOF members have found many, many words in the Muskogean languages that were borrowed from peoples in Mesoamerica and South America. In the case of the Creeks, that process probably occurred via intermarriage of immigrants with previous immigrants into the Southeast. When a language such as Itsate or Mvskoke is a hybrid of many languages, rather than a language isolate as presumed by academicians, the mathematical formulas used by the linguists to time the arrival of Muskogean immigrants become poppycock.
No matter how much “professional” ethnologists and archaeologists posture their image before the media; wriggle to avoid accountability for the stupid public statements they’ve made; or in their minds make grand alliances with the Tribal Cultural Preservation Office of federally-recognized tribes, the fact is that their failure to translate the recorded words of the indigenous people, who still are very much alive today, represents a gross incompetence.
Failure of anthropologists to learn the languages of a living people being studied would be totally unacceptable in any other nation in the world. Can you imagine the brouhaha that would occur, if Canadian archaeologists unearthed an Algonquian village in Quebec, without first translating the Native names and words, recorded by a French explorer, who visited that village and placed it on a map? That is the current situation in the Creek Homeland.
The oldest known pottery in North America, Stallings Island, is found in the Lower Savannah River Basin and dates from about 2350 BC . . . the exact time that there were massive floods in Ireland, which forced the complete evacuation of the island. The oldest shell mounds on the coasts of southern South Carolina and Georgia coincide with the appearance of Stallings Island pottery.
Obviously, the circumstantial evidence suggests that pottery was introduced by refugees from Western Europe. In fact, as POOF has mentioned before, Savannah River Uchee, Mvskoke and the aboriginal (Pre-Gaelic) language of Ireland, western Scotland, Ireland and western France all used the same word for water . . . “ue” or “we”. There was a tradition on the western edge of building shell mounds prior to the Great Flood between 2065 BC and 2045 BC.
However, this does not mean that such immigrants were Indo-Europeans (Caucasians). Geneticists have recent discovered that the same regions that originally used “ue” for water also have a high level of Haplogroup C6 DNA. C6 DNA was formerly assumed to be typical of Asia.
The proto-Creek ceramic tradition began around 1200 BC in the same region. It is called Deptford Style pottery, after the English name of a mound in Savannah, GA. The Deptford Culture spread outward from Savannah to eventually occupy much of the lower Southeast. The fact that it began in Savannah negates a proto-Choctaw (aka Muskogean) origin. Yet the Uchee, Apalache and Itsate all have migration legends that they arrived in North America by water and landed at or near Savannah. So a sizable portion of the Creek Confederacy’s members were not originally of Muskogean ancestry.
During the Middle Woodland Period, the aboriginal Deptford ceramic tradition was partially replaced by artistic traditions from eastern Peru, Swift Creek and Napier. In the Late Woodland Period and early Southeastern Ceremonial Cult Period, shell-tempered and Redware pottery was introduced from either Mesoamerica or the Caribbean Basin.
Maya commoners were required to only make shell-tempered Redware. This is because the shell particles reduce the amount of heat required to fire pottery. Wood was scarce near Maya cities.
Several years ago, University of Alabama doctoral candidates studied the chronology of shell-tempered pottery. They found that the earliest appearance of shell-tempered Redware was on the Gulf Coast between the Mobile and Chattahoochee River. The appearance of shell-tempered Redware has traditionally been considered by archaeologists to mark the arrival of newcomers at Ocmulgee. However, as explained below, this assumption is not quite accurate.
The earliest known and most ornate Swift Creek pottery is found at the southern edge of its territory, the Mandeville site on the Chattahoochee River. However, archaeologist Arthur Kelly found in 1961 that some pottery of earlier styles were always made at Mandeville. There was no abrupt change from one style to another. Thus, it is highly unlikely that any particular ethnic group replaced another.
A similar discovery was made by archaeologist Dan Bigman in 2011 at Ocmulgee National Monument. Bigman was surprised to learn that Woodland Period pottery styles and “Mississippian Culture” pottery styles were being made at the same time. Individual neighborhoods within Ocmulgee’s acropolis contained varying proportions of up to six styles of pottery.
While living in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia, ancestors of the Chickasaw made several types of pottery that differed little from their neighbors. Those Chickasaw, who moved westward into northern Alabama gradually evolved their own pottery styles during the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult Period.
There is no specific point in time, in which one can say, “This is a pottery style introduced by Choctaw (i.e. Pure Muskogean) immigrants arriving from the west.” In fact, there does not appear to be ANY cultural influence coming from the Mississippi River Basin, where the Choctaws lived, despite the labeling of the most advanced cultural period being “Mississippian”. In contrast, several Muskogean migration legends describe a people that originally lived where the Choctaws live and then traveling eastward.
The architectural history of the Choctaws began at least by 3400 BC with the construction of Watson Brake Earthworks in northeastern Louisiana. It consisted of a circular earthwork with hemispherical mounds on top. This architectural theme continued for the next 5,200 years until the Choctaws and their neighbors ceased building mounds.
The Choctaw architectural tradition is NOT seen at any site east of Moundville, AL. Moundville consists of a necklace of mounds around a U-shaped plaza, with a large principal mound near the center. So it is not certain that even Moundville’s architecture evolved from Choctaw traditions.
Mound-building in the Creek homeland began slightly earlier than in the Mississippi Basin. Should we be surprised that the oldest known mound in North America is the Bilbo Mound in Savannah? It was begun around 3,550 BC and was oval shaped.
Although almost perfectly circular shell rings were erected on the South Atlantic Coast from around 2,300 BC to 1,800 BC, mounds in the Creek Homeland were oval until around 0 AD when the construction of pyramidal rectangular mounds began. Pyramidal mounds were constructed between around 200 BC and 1250 AD. However, some oval mound continued to be erected until around 1600 AD.
Beginning around 750 AD or slightly earlier the five sided Kenimer Mound was constructed in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia. Prior to that time, the only pentagonal mounds were in the highlands of Chiapas, Guatemala and Belize. Between around 1250 and 1375 AD the principal mounds in Proto-Creek towns were pentagonal. Their construction continued on the Lower Chattahoochee River until around 1600 AD or later. From 1375 AD until 1650 AD almost all new mounds in Georgia, East Tennessee and Western North Carolina were oval . . . shaped almost identically to the mounds built 1500 to 2000 years later.
Spiral mounds can be found in Central Mexico and in Georgia. Those in Mexico are slightly older. The ones in Georgia have not been thoroughly radiocarbon dated, but probably were built in the period from 1200 AD to 1600 AD.
During the same general era that the Kenimer Mound was constructed, a village was developed immediately to the west, which contained all the elements of the Chickasaw architectural traditions. These include oval houses with off-center doors and hearths, oval plazas, modest oval burial mounds and two rectangular mounds of modest size. On top of one of the mounds were public building – perhaps a temple and the king’s house. During the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult Period, the pairing of major public buildings or of mounds became a common theme of towns in eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. In front of the mounds was a large public building, identical to Chickasaw council houses to this day. It had a large central wooden column and four smaller wood posts.
Some Chickasaws always lived in North Georgia and Southwest Georgia until the late 1700s. However, but the main concentration of their population shifted westward into northern Alabama and southeastern Tennessee around 1200 AD.
The oval mounds in the Southeast were indigenous. The rectangular pyramidal mounds apparently came from Peru. The square and pentagonal pyramidal mounds came from Mesoamerica. The tradition, post-ditch, prefabricated Creek chiki definitely came from the Totonacs or Itza Mayas. It is again a case of there being no evidence of movement of population from the Mississippi River Basin to the Southeast.
Earliest probable date of Muskogean immigration
There is no solid evidence of an ethnic Muskogean people . . . that is, Choctaw or Chickasaw . . . being in the region east of the state of Mississippi before the Late Woodland Period (600 AD-900 AD). The ancestors of the Chickasaw possibly entered Northern Alabama at a slightly earlier date, but there is at this time, no genetic or architectural evidence to prove an earlier migration.
The abandonment of many Swift Creek towns and villages on the western edge of Georgia between 450 AD and 650 AD may represent an invasion from the west by Chickasaws. These abandonments may also represent the arrival of another ethnic group from the south or may be environmental in nature. So far, nothing has been found to prove that the people, who replace the Swift Creek culture were Muskogeans. The Sweet Potato Village (site 9FU14) on the Chattahoochee River near Six Flags Over Georgia was abandoned around 450 AD.
The large Leake town site on the Etowah River near Cartersville, GA is the most likely candidate for the impact of Muskogean invaders. Its abandonment date is very close to the appearance of a people in the Nacoochee Valley and on the Upper Savannah River, who were definitely the ancestors of the modern Chickasaw People . . . and ultimately through intermarriage and cultural assimilation the many branches of Creek Confederacy.
The truth is out there somewhere!
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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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