Prior to the early 18th Century, most of Georgia was home to American Indians belonging to a southeastern alliance known as the Creek Confederacy. Today’s Creek Nation, also known as the Muskogee, were the major tribe in that alliance.
According to Creek traditions, the Confederacy migrated to the southeastern United States from the Southwest. The confederacy was probably formed as a defense against other large groups to the north. The name “Creek” came from the shortening of “Ocheese Creek” Indians — a name given by the English to the native people living along the Ocheese Creek (or Ocmulgee River). In time, the name was applied to all groups of the confederacy.
Most of the groups of the Creek Confederacy shared the same language family (Muskogean), the same types of ceremonies, and village lay-out. The Creek people lived in large permanent towns, or italwa, with smaller outlying villages, or Talofa, that were associated with the larger town. Italwas were centered around plazas (pascova) used for dancing, religious ceremonies and games. It was here that the Sacred Fire was rekindled annually at the Green Corn Festival (Busk).
Plazas in the towns also contained a rotunda — a round building made of poles and mud used for council meetings — and an open-air summer council house. The people in the villages attended ceremonies in the towns with which they were associated. Surrounding the plaza area were the family homes. Towns were governed by a Chief, or “Mico”, an assistant chief, and a “Mico Apokta”, who acted as speaker for the Chief, announcing his decisions to the people.
These characteristics are very similar to what is known about the prehistoric Mississippian Culture who occupied the Etowah Mounds village. The people of the Etowah Mounds are believed to be the ancestors of the Creeks who controlled the area until the early 1500’s.
The Spanish incursions into the Southeast in the sixteenth century devastated these peoples. European diseases such as smallpox may have killed 90 percent or more of the native population. But by the end of the 1600s Southeastern Indians began to recover.
This description of the Creek culture and society is based on the writings of Benjamin Hawkins, “Indian Agent” to the Creek Nation.
When a Creek town reached a population of about 400-600 people they would split, with about half moving to a new, nearby location. The new town would build its ceremonial center and develop its own villages, but would also retain a “mother-daughter” relationship with its original town. This is how the confederacies were formed.
Creek legends tell of palisaded, compact towns. By the 1700’s Creek towns began to spread out, reflecting a move to an agrarian lifestyle. At the end of this century it was not uncommon for each town to have outlying homes separated by a mile or more of crops. The Creek adopted the plow and ax and raised livestock. While most Creek still lived in traditional huts (not teepees) roofed with wood shingles or grass, some began to build log homes with chimneys. By the end of the century Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins described the Creek towns as being “well fenced, with fine stocks of cattle, horses and hogs surrounded by fields of corn, rice and potatoes.”
The Muscogee were the first Native Americans considered to be “civilized” under George Washington’s civilization plan. In the 19th century, the Muscogee were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes“, because they had integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their more recent European American neighbors.
Influenced by their prophetic interpretations of the 1811 comet and earthquake, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, began to resist European-American encroachment. Internal divisions with the Lower Towns led to the Red Stick War (Creek War, 1813–1814), begun as a civil war within the Muscogee Nation, it enmeshed them in the War of 1812 against the United States.
The modern capitol of the Creek Nation is in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Today Muscogee people live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. They once also lived in Tennesee.
Their primary language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Muscogee branch of the Muscogean language family. Tribes in the Creek Confederacy also spoke several other related Muskogean languages. Hitchiti was the most widely spoken in present-day Georgia; Hitchiti speakers were the first to be displaced by white settlers, and the language died out. Muskogee was spoken from the Chattahoochee to the Alabama River. Koasati (Coushatta) and Alibamu were spoken in the upper Alabama River basin and along parts of the Tennessee River.
The most important leader in Muscogee society was the mico or village chief. Micos led warriors in battle and represented their villages, but held authority only insofar as they could persuade others to agree with their decisions. Micos ruled with the assistance of micalgi or lesser chiefs, and various advisors, including a second in charge called the heniha, respected village elders, medicine men, and a tustunnuggee or ranking warrior, the principal military advisor. The yahola or medicine man officiated at various rituals, including providing black drink, used in purification ceremonies.
The most important social unit was the clan. Clans organized hunts, distributed lands, arranged marriages, and punished lawbreakers. The authority of the micos was complemented by the clan mothers, mostly elderly women. Clan membership is matrilineal. The Wind Clan is the first of the clans. The majority of micos have belonged to this clan
Alabama– Their territory was centered on the upper Alabama River, which like the state through which it runs, was named after them. The Alabama were strong allies of the French, whom they allowed to build Fort Toulouse in their territory. When the French lost their American holdings after the French and Indian War, most of the Alabama retreated into French Louisiana. After that was purchased and settled by the United States, they retreated farther into Texas, where they now have a reservation with the Coushatta. Their languge still exists in Texas. Other Alabama were exiled to Oklahoma with the Creeks in the 1830’s.
Tribes of the Creek Confederacy
Blount Band of Apalachicola Creek Indians (Unrecognized)
Chehaw (Chiaha) – A lower Creek village in Southwest Georgia which was removed to Oklahoma.
Cher-O-Creek Intra Tribal Indians (State Recognized)
Coosa – Coosa was one of the four mother towns of the Muscogee Creek confederacy. It was associated with a series of communities in Georgia which were inhabited from about 1300AD- 1600AD. As a modern archaeological site it is known as “Little Egypt”, and had a large plaza and three platform mounds, as well as residential dwellings. Researchers have found various Mississippian culture pottery types, the most substantial of which reflect the site’s Middle and Late South Appalachinian Mississippian culture (a regional variation of the Mississippian culture). Archeologists have defined these as the Dallas, Lamar, and Mouse Creek phases of pottery. These type variations could indicate that the chiefdom underwent three archaeological phases and changes in culture, each with distinct pottery and artifact styles. Only one other village had a mound; the others associated with the chiefdom had only residential dwellings.
Hernando de Soto and his expedition entered the Coosa chiefdom in 1540. Chroniclers recorded that the chiefdom then consisted of eight villages. Archaeologists have identified the remains of seven of these, including the capital. The population of the Coosa is thought to have been between about 2,500 to 4,650 people. The chief of Coosa ruled over a significantly wider confederation of other chiefdoms, whose territory spread 400 miles along the Appalachian Mountains across northern Georgia into eastern Tennessee and central Alabama, and whose populations totaled in the tens of thousands. This paramount chiefdom consisted of seven or more smaller chiefdoms, representing about 50,000 people.
Following contact with Europeans and the associated introduction of Old World diseases, the populations of the Coosa and other local chiefdoms suffered extensive fatalities; the societies went into precipitous decline. By the close of the 16th century, most of the core area of the Coosa was abandoned. The surviving population withdrew to a few villages along the Coosa River in Alabama.
Coushatta (Koasati, Quassarte) (Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee) – Their territory lay between the Coos and Tallapoosa Rivers where they join the Alabama. When the French lost their holdings in the southeast, the Coushatta tended to remain with the Alabama. Some fled as far west as Texas, where they now share a reservation with the Alabama. Others that remained in Alabama, were forced to move to Oklahoma, and are now found there near the town of Kinder. Others are members of the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana.
Coweta (Koweta) – The Coweta were the second great Muskogee tribe among the Lower Creeks, and they headed the war side while the Kasihta headed the peace side. As the principal body of Muskogee in Georgia, aside from the Kasihta, it is possible that these are the Chisi, Ichisi, or Achese of the De Soto chroniclers.
Coweta and its chief, McIntosh, played a conspicuous part in the removal of the Creek Indians to the west. McIntosh was the leader of that party which favored removal and was killed by the conservative element in consequence. After the emigration Coweta and its branches settled in the northern part of the new country on the Arkansas, where most of their descendants still live.
Cusseta (Kashita) – Cusseta, also known as Kasihta was a peace town of the Lower Creeks, a division of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy. It was located in what is now the state of Georgia. After the Yamasee War, the people of Cussetta moved from the Chattahoochee River and rebuilt their town on Ocmulgee River. Until the 1830s forced removal of the Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama, Cusseta was one of the oldest and most significant Creek towns.
Hitchiti – They were formerly situated along the Ocmulgee River in Georgia where De Soto, who called them Ocute, encountered them. The city of Macon, Georgia, is founded on the site of a Hitchiti town. In the 1700s, they associated themselves with the Lower Creeks. At this time their numbers fell so low that they had nearly gone extinct, but by 1832 their population had risen to 381.
Many of this tribe united with members of the related Creek nation to form the Seminole tribe. Most of the Seminoles spoke Creek, but those who spoke Hitchiti were known as the “Hitchiti-Mikasuki Seminole“. The Hitchiti speaking tribes founded the towns of Hitchiti and Mikasuki in Florida as parts of this tribe. However, because of their linguistic differences from the rest of the Seminole, they tended to be somewhat isolated from the Creek speaking Seminole towns.
The Mikasuki speak a slightly different dialect of Hitchiti, but the two tribes find their languages mutually intelligible. Among the Seminole they lived in log cabins spaced 50-100 yards apart and each family cultivated its own fields. The Georgia and Alabama Hitchiti were moved along with the Creeks to Oklahoma, where the town of Hichita preserves their name.
Muscogee Creek Nation (Oklahoma)
Oakfuskee – Was located on the Tallapoosa River in present-day Alabama. The site is now covered by the lower part of Lake Martin, created by a dam. People of this village were removed to Indian Territory in Oklahoma in the 1830s.
Ochese Creeks – British name for the Muscogee Creek Nation
Poarch Band of Creeks (Alabama)
Prinicipal Creek Indian Nation E. of the Mississippi (Unrecognized)
Seminole Nation of Oklahoma
Seminole Tribe of Florida (Florida)
Star Clan of Muscogee Creeks (Alabama) (State Recognized)
Thlopthlocco Tribal Town(Oklahoma)
Yuchi (Tennessee) – (Euchee, Uchee) — The Yuchi call themselves Coyaha or Tsoyaha, which means, “Children of the Sun.” In the 1600s, they lived in northern Alabama, Georgia, and in South Carolina; but previously, they had a homeland in the Tennessee River area of east Tennessee. One of their major towns in Tennessee was Chestowee, which was attacked and destroyed in 1714 by their enemies, the Cherokee. They suffered significant depopulation due to the spread of diseases from the Europeans. In the 1830’s they were removed along with the Creeks to Oklahoma, where they founded the towns of Duck Creek, Polecat, and Sand Creek. Some Yuchi joined the Seminole nation. One of their major ceremonies, the Green Corn Ceremony, is still practiced today in midsummer. Their language is unique, but by 2011 they were reduced to just five speakers. However, a language program is being conducted among children to keep the language alive.
and many other tribes.