Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
You really could have a Creek princess in your family tree!
However, she was not quite the same princess that you had in mind.
The chronicles of 16th and 17th century European explorers in the Lower Southeast repeatedly describe hereditary elites governing provinces that were ancestral to the Creek Indians. The elites typically lived in separate villages, wore more elaborate clothing (yes, clothing, not skins!) and even spoke different languages than the commoners. These societies were organized identically to those of Mesoamerica, but were democratic, constitutional monarchies, not despotic kingdoms.
Yes, in contrast to Mesoamerica and most North American indigenous societies, all women in both classes of citizenship could vote. Elite women could be elected to any political office except military command. Proto-Creek priestesses are also documented in their art. This gorget was excavated from Mound C at Etowah Mounds in Cartersville, GA. The dancer is wearing the headdress of a Maya priestess of the god, Kulkulkan, better known by his Nahuatl name of Quetzalcoatl.
It was quite common for elite women to hold positions of power in Proto-Creek provinces. However, even though commoner women had the right to vote for candidates for provincial offices, they typically only served as clan officials. The top clan leaders were members of the lower legislative body in a Creek province.
The quickest ticket to the top for commoner girls was to win the equivalent of the Miss America Contest. The Creek version of a beauty pageant was based far more on intelligence and social skills than looks, since early white traders described the Creek lasses as almost always being quite attractive and trim figured.
The British labeled the winners of these contests, “Trade Girls,” but a more accurate term would be Foreign Relations Representative or Career Princess. These indigenous versions of State Department officials embarked on an intensive education into becoming fluent in foreign languages (both indigenous and European); learning tribal and regional history; learning how to create and wear the latest in Muskogean fashions, plus how to please a man in every way.
That’s right. In that sense, they were the equivalent of geisha girls, except that they enjoyed extremely high social and political status. Princesses carried messages to other Native provinces and European colonial officials. While being “eye candy” to European men, they were actually skilled espionage agents. They had powerful oral and visual memories that recorded in detail everything around them.
European men typically assumed all these female diplomats to be mindless entertainers for their pleasure, who didn’t fully understand the events and words sweeping around them. They were wrong!
The princesses would report back to their Great Sun immediately upon arriving home and inform key leaders everything that they had seen and heard. As translators and “CIA agents” they were important participants in council meetings, often sitting or standing near the Great Sun or sitting with the council members.
Among the progenitors of the Creeks, there was nothing at all immoral about premarital sex. In fact, parents encouraged their sons and daughters to date around for as long as 10 years prior to marriage, so they wouldn’t have wanderlust when married. Adultery was illegal and severely punished. Creek women, both single and married, used several types of herbal birth control. They typically waited to about the ages of 23 to 25 to have their first child.
In order to get dates, single men and women attended weekly sock hops on the town square or in the chokopa (chukufa) when the weather was inclement. That is why the Creeks are the only indigenous people in the Americas, who have numerous social dances that involve men and women holding hands. As is the case today, one should hold hands before moving on to other things.
Once the princess was ready to settle down to one man and have children, she was guarantied the cream of the crop in her choice of husbands. He would be a highly respected peacetime leader or warrior. Alternatively, in the colonial period, he could be a white trader, who could lavish European goods on her.
Thus, if your female Creek ancestor was significant enough to have her name remembered, it is highly likely that she enjoyed a glamorous celebrity career as an international call girl, CIA agent, skilled artist, powerful government official and fashion diva, before settling down to birth the child that became your ancestor. She was not the docile White Buffalo Calf Women portrayed by Hollywood.
Descriptions in the Colonial Archives
The earliest clear description we have of a hierarchal indigenous society in the Southeast comes from the chronicles of the De Soto Expedition in the summer of 1540. The Spaniards first entered the elite compound in the center of the great town of Kausha (Kvsv ~ Kusa ~ Coça in Castilian). A Muskogean “V” or Itza Maya “AA” was written by Castilians as either o, u or au. A Muskogean and Itza Maya “S” is pronounced as either sh or jzh sound, which Castilian writers recorded as a “ç”.
The Spaniards were invited to stay in the elite compound, but De Soto camped out most of his troops on a rocky hill to the east of the compound. He was concerned that they could be trapped in the palisaded compound. (See drawing below.)
A commoners village was established on the north side of the confluence of the Coosawattee River and Talking Rock Creek around 1325 AD. Shortly after the sacking of Etula (Etowah Mounds) about 27 miles to the south around 1375 AD, a royal village was established on the south side of Talking Rock Creek.
The Spanish chroniclers stated that the royal village contained the members of the governing elite, plus leaders of the standing army. The elite village also contained temples, warehouses, communal buildings and a plaza exclusively used by the elite. On the north side of the main temple was a large plaza that was where the commoners could enter the royal village to hear speeches by its leaders and participate in grand festivals. According to the Spanish, the elite village contained about 500 houses. The Spanish counted over 3,000 houses in all seven villages or neighborhoods in Kausha.
Caucasian anthropologists and archaeologists in the Southeast have generally made minimal efforts to translate Native American words prior to describing the cultures that used those words. University textbooks will tell you that there was no connection between the Kusa in northwest Georgia and Kusabo Indians on the coast of South Carolina. That ill-researched presumption turned out to be false.
As early as the fall of 2013, Marilyn Rae and I had identified proof of a South American cultural presence in the Southeast. It took us awhile to figure out what that presence was and when it arrived. The big break came with the discovery of the box containing the Creek Migration Legends in April 2015. These handwritten English documents were the minutes of translations of Apalache-Creek written documents made by that famous Creek lady, Princess Kvsapvnvkesa. You know her as Mary Musgrove!
It soon became obvious that many the commoners of the Kausha state, known as Kaushi-te or Cusseta, had originated in northern Vera Cruz State, Mexico, near the Orizaba Volcano. They are the “stars” of the most famous Creek Migration Legend. Other commoners and vassals living near them were Koasati, Uchee, Tanasi, Chiaha (Itza Mayas) and Talasee. The Talasee were descendants of the town of Etula, now called Etowah Mounds.
The original Kausha or Kaushi were of Peruvian origin, The Kaushi immigrated to NW Georgia from the coast of South Carolina. While living on the coast, they had mixed with Itza Maya immigrants. The coastal people called themselves the Kaushabo, which means “Place where the Kaushi People live.” Kaushi means “strong or brave” in the Panaon language of Peru. British colonists changed that name to Cusabo, but there is still a Kaushibo tribe in eastern Peru.
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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