ETHNONYMS: Muskogee, Muscogee, Muskoke, Mvskoke Creeks, Coweta, Caveta, Talapoosa, Tallapusa, Talaposa, Apihka, Abehka, Arbeka, Coosa, Cosa, Alabama
Identification and Location. The Creek are a multiethnic American Indian nation living primarily in central Oklahoma, with a small remnant population in Alabama. The name "Creek" derives from the eighteenth century British usage 'Ocheesee Creek Indians, " referring to those Creeks then resident on the Ocheesee (now Ocmulgee) River. They call themselves "Muskogee" or "Muskoke, " which is of foreign origin and unknown meaning. The tribal government prefers Mvskoke Creek in the twenty-first century. Important tribal divisions are referred to as the Lower and Upper Creeks, by British and American sources, or Coweta (Kawita), Cosa (Kusa), Talapusa, and Alabama by the Spanish and the people themselves.
The Creeks aboriginally claimed most of the modern state of Georgia and the eastern portions of current Alabama in the southeastern United States. This territory largely lay in the Appalachian piedmont between 30° to 35° N and 82° to 87° W.
Demography. No reliable overall population estimates exist from the early contact period (c. 1540) for the groups who later constituted the Creek Confederacy. Based on the fragmentary evidence, their number was at least ten times as high as during the eighteenth century. In 1715 the Creeks numbered about 8, 500 persons and reached their nadir in the 1720s and 1730s with only about 4,000-5,000 people. By 1764, their population rebounded to about l0,500. By 1798 there were about l6,000 Creeks and they numbered 21,792 just prior to removal in 1832. In 1859, their population had declined to 13,573. In 1890, the Creek population stood at 9,639 Indians and 4,203 freed slaves. In 2001, the tribal enrollment had grown to 51, 152 persons.
Linguistic Affiliation. The Creeks spoke several related languages of the Muskogean language family, mostly belonging to the Eastern Branch. Upper Creeks living on the Tallapoosa and Coosa rivers and a few Lower Creek towns spoke Muskogee proper, the dominant language of the Creek Confederacy. About ten thousand people in Oklahoma spoke this language as of the beginning of the twenty-first century. Most Lower Creek towns spoke Hichiti, also of the Eastern Branch of the Muskogean language family, but this language became extinct in the early twentieth century. The Alabamas and Koasatis spoke different dialects of Alabama, related to Choctaw, belonging to the Western Branch of the Muskogean language family. Both dialects were nearly extinct in Oklahoma in the late twentieth century. Several towns incorporated into the Creeks originally spoke other poorly known languages belonging to the Eastern Branch of the Muskogean language family, including Yamasee, Guale, Apalachee, Chacto, Oconee, and Apalachicola, but all became extinct in the eighteenth century. The Creek Confederacy also incorporated several Yuchi towns in the seventeenth century, who spoke their own language, an isolate. Only a few elders spoke this language at the beginning of the twenty-first century. A number of Algonquian-speaking Shawnees also merged into the Creeks during the eighteenth century, but quickly lost their language.
History and Cultural Regions
The Creek Confederacy emerged from the political and social chaos precipitated by the collapse of the earlier paramount chiefdoms in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Four regional confederacies or chiefdoms emerged in eastern Alabama and western Georgia by 1680: the Kusa, the Talapusa, the Alabama, and the Kawita. These groups also absorbed remnants of the Apalachee, Chacto, Pensacola, Mobila, Yamasee, and Oconee during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In the early eighteenth century, these four groups forged an alliance, creating the Creek Confederacy. Originally a military alliance, designed primarily to deal with the European colonial powers, the Confederacy grew in power and significance over the course of the century. Each of the groups remained internally self-governing and often pursued independent foreign policies in regard to other Indian tribes during much of the eighteenth century.
The Creeks became actively involved in the deerskin and Indian slave trades after the founding of Charleston in 1680. They also had routine contacts with the Spanish in Florida and with the French in Louisiana. The Creeks used their position to play each against the others and maintain their independence, dominating the balance of power for most of the century.
Relations with the Americans after the Revolution remained strained. The nativist Red Stick movement precipitated a crisis, resulting in the Red Stick War of 1813-1814 with the United States and extensive land cessions. In 1832, the Creeks acquiesced to American pressure and signed a removal treaty, exchanging their lands in the east for land in Indian Territory and emigrated there in 1836-1837.
The Creeks reestablished their towns in Indian Territory and enjoyed relative prosperity until the outbreak of the American Civil War. The Creeks participated in the war, which divided the nation. The restoration treaty with the United States in 1866 forced the tribe to cede the western half of their reservation. After the war, the Creeks again reestablished their lives and prosperity until the United States forced the tribe to accept allotment and the dissolution of the tribal government after 1898. In 1907, the state of Oklahoma was established and the Creeks became citizens of the state.
The Creeks occupied permanent nucleated villages strung along rivers and streams during the eighteenth century and earlier. At contact, large vacant buffer zones separated chiefdoms and some buffering between regional groupings continued through the eighteenth century. Within groups, 1-5 miles (1. 6 to 8 kilometers) typically separated villages, though out-settlements on tributary streams might be more isolated. Rivers connected settlements, as did an intricate network of trails. The central village of each italwa (group of villages) served as a capital and contained the chief's residence and a central ceremonial plaza and rotunda, which served as the center of political and ritual activity for all of the villages of the italwa, as well as a chunky yard and ball field.
The number of villages varied through time, with about thirty to forty in the early eighteenth century and over eighty at the end of the century. The Kawitas and Kusas contained the most villages, with about a dozen each early in the eighteenth century and over thirty each later. The Alabamas only had about four to six villages throughout the century. The Talapusas numbered eight to fifteen villages at this time. Towns varied between thirty and three hundred early, averaging about one hundred to two hundred. In the 1790s, they ranged between seventy and one thousand, with most between two hundred and three hundred. Houses consisted of two to four rectangular wattle and daub buildings arranged around a central yard. The suppression of warfare after the American Revolution led to a greater dispersal of the population into more but smaller villages.
After Removal to Indian Territory, the Creeks reestablished their towns, with most Lower Creek towns settling along the Arkansas River and the Upper Creek towns along the Canadian, North Canadian, and Deep Fork Rivers to the west. The Creeks maintained forty-eight tribal towns in Oklahoma during the nineteenth century. Log cabins replaced older structures by mid-century. They also developed several Euro-American style towns such Muskogee, Okmulgee, and Holdenville. During the latter nineteenth century, the Creeks adopted a more dispersed settlement pattern, with more isolated homesteads, but continued the central towns with its square ground or later, church. All tribal towns were broken up in the early twentieth century, though dispersed rural communities remain in some areas. Large numbers of Creeks now live in the white towns and cities of Oklahoma.
Subsistence. The Creeks were farmers raising maize, beans, squashes, and other crops by intensively farming the river levies, supplemented by hunting, fishing, and gathering. Several varieties of each of the major crops were raised. The Creeks maintained an in-field/out-field system, with small garden plots near the houses and large town fields some distance away along the river levies. The women of each house-hold individually farmed their in-fields. The town fields, which contained individual plots for each household, were worked by communally organized work gangs of men under the command of the town chief.
The chief game animals were the white-tailed deer, raccoons, and turkeys. Men hunted primarily during the late fall and winter (October-March), with both communal drives and smaller parties. Men often left the villages for weeks or months at this time. Meat from these hunts was dried and smoked for future use. Men only hunted close to the villages during the agricultural season.
Commercial Activities. During the eighteenth century, the Creeks adopted cattle, horses, hogs, and chickens from the Europeans, along with a number of vegetable and fruit crops. They also became heavily involved in the European deerskin trade at this time and grew increasingly dependent on European manufactures, particularly edged tools, cloth, and firearms. The trade collapsed at the end of the eighteenth century and some Creeks shifted to selling cattle and working in intensive, commercial agriculture.
After Removal, most Creeks continued their earlier patterns in Oklahoma, though livestock became increasingly more important, while hunting declined. Some expanded their commercial farming and cattle raising operations during the nineteenth century. Later in the century, the Creeks moved to more dispersed individual fields, though some communal labor continued until the early twentieth century. After allotment, most large operators went out of business, though many Creeks continued to practice diversified subsistence agriculture until after World War II. Few Creeks farm today, though many maintain gardens and a few livestock, mostly hogs and chickens. Most Creeks rely on cash incomes from wage labor, leasing, and government assistance. Unemployment is high and employment tends to be concentrated in the service industry, oil field related industries, and construction.
Industrial Arts. Aboriginal crafts included metalworking in copper and later brass and silver, shell working, ground and chipped stone, and wood working by men. Creek women spun cordage and wove cloth, made baskets and mats from split cane and hickory, and made pottery. Weaving, shell working, and much of the stone industries largely died out during the eighteenth centuries when European trade goods replaced native manufactures. Only a little finger weaving of sashes and some traditional woodworking remain in the twenty-first century.
Trade. Extensive trade networks linked the Creeks to much of the continent prior to contact and large chiefdoms emerged to control the flow of goods. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this aboriginal trade was highly disrupted and trade with Europeans was not well developed. After the founding of Charleston in 1680, the deerskin trade became central to the Creek economy. During the nineteenth century, trade shifted to livestock and agricultural produce and the Creeks became major exporters throughout the century.
Division of Labor. Traditionally, men hunted, fished, farmed the town fields, and traded; they also produced most stone, bone, wooden, and metal implements. Women gardened, gathered wild plants, assisted in communal fishing and cultivation, processed all foods and textiles, prepared hides, and manufactured pottery, basketry, and mats, and cloth and clothing. Women also had primary childcare responsibilities. Men heavily dominated ritual and medicinal activities, and politics and warfare were exclusively male activities. In the eighteenth century, women also tended fruit orchards and raised hogs and chickens. Men primarily herded the cattle and horses, though a few women also owned these animals. In the late eighteenth century, some women also began selling food, agricultural produce, and manufactures to resident traders, but women's trade generally remained a minor activity. While many Creek women in the twenty-first century remain at home, poverty dictates that many must seek employment, primarily in the service industry.
Land Tenure. Aboriginally, each town maintained a separate territory and all land belonged to the town. Allied towns often shared hunting territories. The chief apportioned agricultural lands among the clans, which then distributed them to their members. Clans and households retained use rights to these lands so long as they were used and rights to land passed through women. Owing to pressure from whites to cede lands, the Creeks passed laws in the early nineteenth century vesting title to all lands in the national government and making unauthorized sales treason. Between 1900 and 1906, the federal government allotted the Creek lands in Oklahoma and most passed into white ownership. The tribe retains a few scattered acreages and some individuals also retain allotted lands, all of which is held in trust by the federal government.
Kin Groups and Descent. More than fifty nonlocalized, exogamous matrilineal clans are reported for the Creeks. Not all clans were present in all towns and a single town rarely had more than twelve. The most clans recorded for a single town was twenty-eight. All localized clan segments contained unnamed lineages and some had named sub-clans. The clans were grouped into exogamous phratries of variable composition, typically with six to eight per town. Clans further were grouped into two moieties (Hathakaki and Cilokaki), which served primarily ritual functions in the nineteenth century. Other than establishing mutual obligations of hospitality and regulating marriage, clans had no corporate identity outside of the individual towns. All local descent groups were internally ranked on the basis of seniority. Local clan segments and phratries also had formal leadership consisting of the senior man from the senior internal segment. Clans regulated marriage and served as political and jural units within the towns. Clans remain ritually significant to the Creeks and most still know their clans.
Kinship Terminology. The Creeks kinship terms traditionally followed the Crow system.
Marriage. The Creeks traditionally prohibited marriage within one's own clan or phratry and one's father's clan. Parents or clan elders normally arranged first and sometimes subsequent marriages, giving their children only the right of refusal. Older individuals might exercise greater choice of mates. Little ceremony, other than nominal gift exchange, marked marriage. Newlyweds typically lived with the wife's parents for the first year or two, after which a separate house was constructed nearby. Adultery was severely punished and women could be beaten and have their hair and ears or noses cropped and men could be beaten senseless by their wives' female relatives. At the death of a spouse, the survivor entered a period of mourning during which he or she remained largely secluded and unkempt, cared for by the deceased's female relatives. This period lasted four months for men and four years for women, though the deceased spouse's female relatives could shorten that period. At the end of the mourning period the clan of the deceased was expected to provide a replacement spouse, who could be refused by either men or women. Divorce was common and could be initiated by either party. Men became free immediately, but women had to wait until the next Green Corn Ceremony. No stigma was attached to divorced persons, except in cases of adultery. These practices continued into the early twentieth century, but were subsequently abandoned, though a preference for matrilocality still exists among social conservatives.
Domestic Unit. Traditionally Creeks lived in nuclear family houses comprising two to four buildings around an interior courtyard. Houses were arranged in matrilocal extended family clusters and clan wards. Each household was economically independent, though some labor pooling and resource sharing existed within the extended family and clan. During the twentieth century the economic and social conditions produced trends toward dispersed nuclear family households. Some extended family clusters characterize more conservative rural communities and three generational families are common, owing to poverty and the prevalence of single mothers since the late twentieth century.
Inheritance. Aboriginally inheritance passed from mother to daughter and mother's brother to sister's son, though fathers could bequeath some limited property to their own children by public declaration. During the nineteenth century the Creek Nation permitted general patrilineal inheritance, but required public testament. Matrilineal inheritance remained the default rule until the twentieth century and the conflicting rules provided a major source of legal disputes. Since 1907, Oklahoma statutes governing intestate inheritance have prevailed, though there is some tendency to ultimogeniture in actual practice.
Socialization. Aboriginally mothers had primary responsibility for socializing children, aided by their brothers and clan elders. These latter also supervised the education of boys from about five or six. Socialization was and is generally permissive, with ridicule and ostracism used to discipline the children. Clan uncles punished more severe or repeated infractions by scratching the arms or legs with a gar tooth or sewing needle. Since the 1930s, fathers have assumed a more active role in socializing children along with other trends toward Euro-American practices. Maternal uncles often retain an active interest in socially conservative families.
Social Organization. Hereditary ranking and seniority played a central role in aboriginal social organization. All of the descent groups were ranked, with the Hathakaki superior to the Cilokaki. One clan within each phratry and one lineage within each clan acted as "elder brother" or "mother's brother, " providing group leadership. Despite matrilineality and matrilocality, marked male dominance characterized gender relations, though women retained important property rights and unmarried women enjoyed complete sexual freedom. Interaction and intermarriage with white traders led to the emergence of a new mercantile class in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which came to dominate the tribal government. This class adopted many elements of Euro-American culture and became distinct from the mass of the people.
Political Organization. The town or italwa, which comprised one or more villages (talofa), was the primary sociopolitical unit. Each town was a quasi-independent political, ritual, and social unit and one village served as the capital with a ceremonial plaza or square ground where public political discussion took place. A hereditary chief or mikko, advised by a council of hereditary and appointive officials, clan heads, and other prominent men, governed each town. Each town also had a military organization, subordinate to the civil authorities, headed by the tastanakaki or war chiefs. Town membership was inherited matrilineally, but individuals could be adopted in with the mikko's permission.
Towns were grouped into four named regional groups organized as confederacies of paramount chiefdoms, each with a council of town officials and a paramount chief. In the early eighteenth century, these region groups joined together to form the Creek Confederacy under the leadership of Coweta. By the late eighteenth century, the Coosas, Talapusas, and Alabamas had merged to form a single "Upper Creek" council and the Confederacy had evolved into a true national government. Separate Upper Creek and Lower Creek (Coweta) councils continued until after the American Civil War. The Creek Nation adopted written laws in 1840 and a written constitution in 1859. Under the constitution, the government consisted of the "principal chief from Coweta, a "second chief' from the Upper Creeks, and National Council consisting of the mikkos (the House of Kings) and the head warriors (House of Warriors) of all the towns. A new constitution after the Civil War provided for elected officials, but the Lower Creeks continued to provide most principal chiefs and hereditary officials continued to represent many of the towns. The tribal government was dissolved in 1906 by the federal government following allotment and antecedent to creating the state of Oklahoma, but was reestablished in 1971, under provisions of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act. The current tribal government consists of a principal chief and second chief, elected at large, and a council of representatives of each of eight districts.
Social Control. Much behavior was regulated by gossip or by fear of divine retribution for violations of sacred law. Clans also regulated the conduct of their members and elders could punish members for infractions, typically by fines or scratching. Clans also sought direct remedies for personal injury to the members by beatings, confiscation of property, or by retaliatory killing for homicide. The mikko could intervene and adjudicate conflicts between clans within the towns. The tastanaki enforced his edicts by fines or whippings. The national government settled disputes between towns, and the national council served as a court of appeals in the nineteenth century. The tribal courts were dissolved along with the tribal government and the Creeks placed under federal and state courts.
Conflict. During the eighteenth century, the regional groups often pursued independent policies. In the late eighteenth century, a new mercantile class, mostly of mixed ancestry, emerged, dividing the nation. In the 1820s conflicts between Lower Creek members of this class and conservatives erupted over removal. Conflicts between the Lower Creeks, dominated by the mercantile class, and the more conservative Upper Creeks characterized the nation after removal, culminating in the civil split. These conflicts continued until allotment. In the twentieth century, conflicts emerged between Christians and traditionalists, as well as between social conservatives and more assimilated tribal members.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Aboriginal religion is polytheistic, with several gods who reside above, and a multitude of spirits, who primarily reside under the earth. They also believe in a pervasive spiritual power (hiliswa) that permeates the universe and inheres to varying degrees in persons, places, and objects. Ritual and political office derives from possession of this power, which is inherited, primarily in the female line. Animate beings possess two souls: the vital force (hisakita or breath) which dissipates at death and the eternal spiritual soul (poyifikca). Even inanimate objects may possess this soul. Individuals can capture the soul of another, including those of under-earth spirits, and harness its power for their own use. The creator, Hisakita Imissi (Master of Breath) heads the pantheon, followed by the Sun and the Sacred Fire. The latter is the tutelary deity of the town and the creator's representative. Other deities include the Moon, Thunder, Corn, and the Four Winds.
While about 20-25 percent of the Creeks still follow the traditional religion, most are Christians, primarily of the Baptist or, less commonly, Methodist denominations. The Creek Baptists and Methodists maintain their own churches with a native clergy and native language services, which are associated with the tribal towns. The Baptists are totally independent of other church associations and heavily influenced by native belief and practice.
Religious Practitioners. Native priests supervised most ritual activity and all public celebrations. Candidates were chosen on the basis of inherent sacred power and served a prolonged apprenticeship that was required to memorize the ceremonies. Some candidates only completed part of the training or only took specialized courses. Those who completed the full course helped conduct the public ceremonies and became eligible to succeed as head priest of the town. The Creeks also had specialized diviners and a separate war priesthood. Ordination of native preachers played an important role in converting Creeks to Christianity. Native Baptist preachers often function in a similar manner to native priests.
Ceremonies. The Creek ceremonial cycle focused on four calendrical ceremonies marking the agricultural cycle. Each town held its own ceremonies. A planting ceremony in late April or early May opened the ceremonial season. Following at approximately monthly intervals came Little Green Corn and Green Corn or Apuskita. This latter was the most important and marked the new year, with the rekindling of the sacred fire and general world renewal. The harvest ceremony occurred between late August and early October, depending on the town. Some towns continue to celebrate this ceremonial cycle, but most Creeks have converted to Christianity.
Arts. The Creeks once had a highly developed decorative art tradition in several media, but most has disappeared. Only a small amount of finger weaving of sashes remains. Sewing of ribbon shirts, decorative vests, and special women's dresses and blouses emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Music, central to native religious practice, remains a vital tradition. In addition to sacred and secular songs in the native tradition, there is also a Western-derived gospel music tradition in the native language.
Medicine. No real separation existed between religion and medicine in the native system and most curers were priests or had received some priestly training. Disease derived from violations of sacred law or spiritual pollution or from the malevolent actions of another. Curing consisted of ritual purification and driving out of evil influences. Witches and animal spirits were commonly cited as causes of disease and some diseases were associated with particular animal species. Herbalists also practiced and most people knew curing rituals for minor afflictions. Native Christian preachers and deacons also often work as curers in this native tradition. Most Creeks now receive Western clinical treatment, but many also rely on the native curers who are numerous in many areas.
Death and Afterlife. In native belief the afterlife generally resembles earthly life, but without suffering. At death, the life force dissipates and the soul travels to the land of the dead in the west along the Milky Way. The soul remains around the grave for four days after death and may return to it at various times. Both traditionalist and Christian Creeks maintain low grave houses over the graves for the use of the returning souls. Some classes of the dead, such as women who died in childbirth or unavenged murder victims, were considered unable to complete the journey and to wander lost or become malevolent ghosts at the site of their death. The body is buried with personal possessions and food offerings for the journey and monthly offerings are left at the grave for the first year. The spirits of the dead are believed to appear in dreams to advise the living. Dead bodies were considered polluting and only members of the immediate families traditionally touched them. Among traditionalists, no one who has attended a funeral can participate in the ceremonies.
For the original article on the Creek, see Volume 1, North America.
Crane, Verner (1929). The Southern Colonial Frontier, 1670-1732. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Debo, Angie (1972). And Still the Waters Run. New edition. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
—— (1941). The Road to Disappearance: A History of the Creek Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Green, Michael D. (1982). The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
Hudson, Charles, and Carmen Chaves Tesser, eds. (1994). The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521-1704. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Swanton, John R. (1928). "Social Organization and Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy." Bureau of American Ethnology, Annual Report 42: 23-472.
—— (1928). "Religious Beliefs and Medical Practices of the Creek Indians." Bureau of American Ethnology, nnual Report 42: 474-672.
Thomas, David Hurst, ed. (1990). Columbian Consequences, vol. 2: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives on the Spanish Borderlands East. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.
RICHARD A. SATTLER
Creek. The Muscogee (as they called themselves) were named “Creek” by the British because they lived along the fertile creeks of Alabama and Georgia. The term Muscogee identifies them with land that is wet or likely to flood.
The early Creek, a union of several tribes, lived on lands in present-day Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. By 1832 the U.S. government pressured the tribes to move west of the Mississippi River. While some of the people remained in Alabama (and live there in modern times as the Poarch Creek Band), many eventually settled in Oklahoma, where members of the largest group, called the Muscogee Nation, now reside.
There were about ten thousand Creek in the early 1700s. In the 1990 U.S. Census, 44,168 people identified themselves as members of the Creek tribe. The 2000 census showed that 40,487 Creek resided in the United States. In 2001 the Bureau of Indian Affairs recorded a total tribal enrollment of 52,169.
Origins and group affiliations
The early Creek may have been descendants of prehistoric people of what is now the southeast United States. The original Creek Confederacy was made up of the Alibamu, Coushatta, Muscogee, and other groups. Modern Creek live in Alabama, and are scattered around the southeast. Oklahoma is home to four main groups of Creek.
The Creek were one of the “Five Civilized Tribes,” a name the Europeans gave to the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole (see entries) because they established many institutions valued by Europeans. The Creek were farmers and traders and were once one of the dominant tribes in the mid-south. The Creek Confederacy, an alliance of independent tribes, was established to resist attacks by other northern tribes. The size of the alliance changed constantly as tribes entered or left it. Because of this, historians cannot make general statements about a “typical” Creek tribe. It is known that Creek society was balanced and harmonious, and members had a large degree of personal freedom.
Settling in the Southeast
Old legends of the Creek tell of ancestors who migrated to the Southeast from the Southwest. Many archaeologists (people who study ancient cultures by looking at the things that were left behind) believe that the Creek are descendants of people who moved into North America thousands of years ago. They may have been Maya Indians from Mexico and Central America who merged peacefully with other Native American people already living in what would become the United States.
The first contact with Europeans took place about 1539, when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto (c. 1496–1542) came to their region. Disagreements arose between the Spaniards and the Natives. Chief Tuscaloosa of the Choctaw, a member of the Creek confederacy, organized an ambush. Even though it ended in a defeat for the Natives, it dealt a severe blow to the Europeans.
1539: The Creek’s first encounter with Europeans ends in defeat.
1775: Many Creek support the British during the American Revolution.
1814: With the end of the Red Stick War, the Creek lose much of their remaining land.
1830: The Indian Removal Act authorizes the U.S. government to move the Creek off their land.
1971: Muscogee (Creek) Nation conducts its first federally recognized principal chief election in the twentieth century.
1984: Poarch Band of Creek Indians receives federal recognition.
Creek lands reduced
In time the Creek found themselves in the midst of territories claimed by the Spanish, the French, and the British. British traders frequently married Creek women, and their wives taught them Native customs and language. The children of these mixed marriages, who understood both cultures, often rose to positions of leadership in the tribe.
Because some of the Creek became British allies during the American Revolution (1775–83; the American colonists’ fight for independence from England), the new U.S. government demanded the tribe give up some of their land. They appointed an agent to influence the Native Americans to adapt the white lifestyle and become “civilized.” A violent split developed between the Creek factions who were willing to cooperate and those who were not. The Red Stick War (1812–14) between the Creek and the whites turned into a Creek civil war, waged between those tribes who opposed the U.S. “civilization” program and those who supported it. The war ended with the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. In that conflict some Creek joined American forces and defeated the Creek who opposed assimilation, or the adoption of white culture. In the peace treaty that followed the Creek gave up 23 million acres of land, two-thirds of what they possessed.
Creek people move west
Treaties signed by the Creek in 1832 and 1836 gave the United States possession of virtually all Creek lands. In exchange the Creek were given lands in present-day Oklahoma in what was then called Indian Territory. Once again Creek opinion was divided. Some people refused to leave their homes, while others, believing they had no choice, voluntarily left the Southeast. Finally, in 1836 and 1837, the U.S. Army oversaw forced relocation of most of the remaining Creek. Dressed in clothing that was inadequate for the winter weather, the Creek walked hundreds of miles. Thousands died—some on the journey and some during the first few months in their new home. Eventually they learned how to adapt to the unfamiliar weather and lived peacefully beside the Plains Indians.
Muscogee adopt constitution
Historically, Creek communities had been divided geographically into upper and lower towns. The Creek lower towns in Oklahoma were located closer to Euro-American settlements. Greater interaction with the newcomers led the people of the lower town to become more open to changes in traditional ways. The upper town Creek remained more loyal to the old ways.
Opothleyaholo (c. 1798–1862), an Upper Creek chief, worked hard to make the removal process to Oklahoma as successful as possible for his people. The American Civil War (1861–65; a war between the Union [the North], who were opposed to slavery, and the Confederacy [the South], who were in favor of slavery) interrupted the settling-in process. Although Opothleyaholo spoke up for neutrality (non-involvement), attacks by the Confederate Army against his people forced the Creeks to become involved. Once again the Creek were divided. Most lower towns allied themselves with the South, while the upper towns generally supported the North. After the war the Creek were forced to give up half of their land in Indian Territory for supporting the Confederacy.
Tribal land broken up
Two pieces of legislation by the U.S. Government disrupted Creek society. The General Allotment Act of 1887 (also known as the Dawes Act) required shared tribal land to be allotted, or divided into lots owned by individuals, a departure from traditional Creek practice of owning land in common. The Curtis Act in 1898 dismantled the tribal government in Oklahoma. This act enforced allotment, did away with tribal courts, and required that all laws passed by tribal governments be approved by the president of the United States.
Chitto Harjo and the Snake Rebellion
Tribal spokesperson Chitto Harjo (pronounced Chit-to Ha-cho; 1846–1911) was outraged at the notion that an external organization could dissolve his nation. Demanding that the federal government honor the Treaty of 1832 that promised the Creek a specified amount of land and self-government in Oklahoma, Harjo became part of a movement to organize an alternative government. The Snake Rebellion (named after an English translation of the name Chitto ) was an effort to resist further encroachment by white settlers. Several years of turmoil followed, during which Harjo presented his opposition directly to a U.S. Senate select committee. Tensions, however, mounted until Harjo’s death in 1911.
During the mid-1930s the federal government did away with some of its policies designed to dissolve Native American tribes. A 1970 law opened the way for adoption of a new Creek Nation constitution in 1979. The Creek people were divided between those who supported the 1979 constitution and those who wanted to keep the 1867 constitution. Supporters of the new constitution won.
In modern times the Creek are thriving, though many leave the reservation for work. The social services the tribe provides to its members are described by the Bureau of Indian Affairs as “the best in the nation.”
The Creek religion centered on a single god known as the Master of Breath. All creations (such as the Sun, Moon, and planets) and living creatures were considered different forms of this Great Spirit. The Creek believed that living a good life would be rewarded. They had special prophets who conferred with the gods to diagnose disease and predict the future. Daily bathing in a nearby stream was an important part of their religious rites.
After Europeans arrived, missionaries of various denominations tried to convert the Creek to Christianity. Many of those who converted during the eighteenth century either concealed their conversion or left the community to escape punishment by people who honored the old ways. Eventually some Creek towns accepted Christianity. At that point the church replaced the town square as the focal point of activity, and the Christian town preacher replaced the town chief. In modern times Creek are still divided between those following their ancestral religion and those who have adopted Christianity. Most Christian Creek are members of the Baptist, Methodist, or Presbyterian churches.
The Creek language is part of the Muskogean group, which includes the languages of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Tuskegee, Alabama, Natchez, Miccosukee, and Seminole tribes. It was the most common tongue among members of the Creek confederacy. Early European traders had to learn the melodious language, for most Creek showed no interest in speaking English. Early Creek words had few vowels and most contained the letter “k.” During the early eighteenth century some Creek stopped speaking their language. To be recognized as Native American meant being forced to leave their homes; therefore some tried to hide their Native American identities.
Missionaries devised a system for writing the Creek language in the 1840s. The first published works were the Bible and other religious books. The Creek started a cooperative publishing company that prints a periodical called Indian Journal that addresses the tribes’ viewpoints on current events. Most of the Poarch Creek in Alabama no longer speak the Muscogee language, but some groups in Oklahoma continue to speak it.
For centuries Creek towns were governed by a chief. His duties included greeting official visitors, overseeing the storage of the food supply, and representing the town before other groups. A council made up of older men assisted the chief in ceremonies and helped him make decisions about warfare.
In 1867 the Muscogee (Creek) Nation adopted a new constitution. The government consisted of an executive branch headed by the principal chief, a legislative branch composed of a House of Kings and a House of Warriors, and a judicial branch.
In 1971 the Muscogee Nation elected a principal chief who was recognized by the U.S. government (that is, the federal government agreed to have dealings with him). In 1979 they ratified a new constitution. The principal and second chief are elected every four years. Members of the national council are elected every two years. A judicial branch of the council operates the tribal court system. Mound Building, a unique modern structure built into the earth to resemble those of the ancient Mound Builders (see entry), is the Tribal headquarters and houses the National Council Offices and Judicial Offices.
The Poarch Bank of Creek Indians adopted their constitution in 1985. They elect a nine-member council, who, in turn, choose the Chief Executive Officer of the tribe. The tribal court handles all cases except major criminal offenses, which are the jurisdiction (authority) of the U.S. government.
Creek Population: 2000 Census
There are four main groups of Muscogee in Oklahoma. The largest group of Creek, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is a non-reservation tribe whose people are located in eleven counties across the state. The other three are the Alabama Quassarte Tribal Town, the Kialegee Tribal Town, and the Thlopthlocco Tribal Town. The Poarch Creek Indians are descendants of the original Creek who remained in the southeast. The Poarch Reservation is located in Porch, Alabama. Other small groups are located throughout the southeast.
In the 2000 U.S. Census no statistics were available for the Alabama Quassarte, Thlopthlocco, or Principal Creek Indian Nation, who had reported 180, 102, and 56 members respectively in the 1990 census. The 2000 census, however, did not record separate tribal information for groups with fewer than fifty members. Other members of the various Creek tribes identified themselves this way:
|Muscogee (Creek) Nation||36,734|
|MaChis Lower Creek Indian||187|
“2000 Census of Population and Housing. Matrix 7: American Indian and Alaskan Native summary file.” Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, Data User Services Division, American FactFinder, 2004.
From the early days the Creek considered the labor of men and women equally important. Women worked in the fields, tilling the soil with sharp sticks and hoes fitted with points made of stone or sharpened bone. Children helped the women gather berries, roots, nuts, herbs, and plants. Men caught fish with bows and arrows. They also trapped fish, sometimes stunning them with a special poison. Groups of men also hunted in the forests for deer, bear, and rabbit. During the seventeenth century the Creek began to trade deerskins for guns, ammunition, cloth, metal pots, and other items.
Since the 1990s one of the major sources of employment and money within the Muscogee Creek Nation has been from its four bingo halls. Profits have provided the people with college funds, programs for the elderly, and youth activities. By 2004 the Nation operated about 600 acres of farmland, raising mostly alfalfa. Tribal grazing lands of 1,970 acres feed about 70 cattle and a herd of buffalo. The tribal government is the largest employer.
The Muscogee Nation has also undertaken such economic development projects as operating a real-estate development office, a travel plaza, smoke shops, a museum, and tourist/recreation facilities. The federally recognized Poarch Band of Creek Indians community opened Creek Indian Enterprises (CIE) in 1988 to develop and manage tribal businesses. In the mid-2000s CIE oversaw metalworks, farmland, a wildlife reserve, a motel and service center, and three gaming centers. The farmland included crops, pecan orchards, cattle, and a catfish pond along with additional acreage they leased out to others.
Families, who lived together in groups of buildings called compounds, all belonged to the same clan (a group of related families). Creek clans included the Wind, Bird, Alligator, and Bear clans. Creek traced their family lines through the mother. Children were counted as part of their mother’s clan. They were considered related to her relatives, but not to the relatives of their father.
The duties in Creek families were assigned by gender. Women performed household chores and made cooking utensils, storage vessels, and clothing. Men built houses, provided materials for clothing, and performed military functions. Women raised the children, but fathers maintained an emotional tie to their children. Hide and fur trading was a cooperative effort, with men hunting the animals and women tanning and dressing the skins.
An open square formed the heart of every Creek town. Known as the “stomp grounds.”, it was the site of warm-weather meetings of the town council, the Green Corn Ceremony, and other ceremonial dances. In winter town council meetings were held in a circular structure about 40 feet (12 meters) in diameter with a cone-shaped roof that rose 25 feet (7.6 meters) into the air. It served as a social gathering place during bad weather and a shelter for the aged and homeless. Each town had a 200- to 300-yard-long playing field where a lacrosse-style game was played. (Lacrosse is a game of Native American origin played on a field by two teams of ten players each. Participants use a long-handled stick with a webbed pouch to put a ball into the opposing team’s goal.) The games were also used as a way of settling disputes between towns. A pole about 40 feet (12 meters) tall stood in the center of the game field. A target on the top was used for spear or archery practice.
Each Creek family home was made up of a cluster of buildings. They may have included a kitchen, a granary/storehouse, a building for sleeping during the summer, and another for sleeping during the winter. Some had a separate warehouse. Vertical poles supported the building’s peaked roof, which was made of grass or cypress bark shingles. Walls were sometimes added by weaving split saplings (young trees) between the poles and coating this framework with several inches of plaster made from clay and straw. Beginning in the late eighteenth century, the Creek began building log cabins.
Clothing and adornment
Because of the warm climate, the Creek generally did not wear much clothing. Even in winter they kept their windowless houses so warm with their hearth fires that there was little need for additional garments. The men wore breechcloths (deerskin pieces that hung from thin rawhide belts). They might add grass blankets or deerskin leggings in colder weather. Women wore shawls and skirts made from grass, deerskin, or bark, and sometimes added fur blankets in winter. Most children wore no clothing until they reached puberty. After seeing European products brought by traders, the Creek quickly added cotton, linen, and wool textiles to their wardrobes. They also learned to weave and dye cloth.
Although their clothing was simple, the Creek used a great deal of body ornamentation. Both men and women used porcupine needles dipped in dark blue dye to tattoo designs over most of their bodies. They also liked to paint their faces and bodies. Men removed facial hair by plucking; some also plucked hairs from their head, leaving a long lock down the middle that they braided with feathers or other decorations. Deerskin turbans were also popular among men. Women wore their long hair wrapped around the head, fastened with silver jewelry. Neck ornaments and earrings for both genders were fashioned from shell, coral, bones, silver, and copper. They added beads, silk ribbons, bells, and lace obtained from European traders to clothing, moccasins, and hair arrangements.
Most Creek families had their own small gardens. They grew crops in shared fields, with each family receiving the harvest from its assigned section. Both men and women helped with the communal farming. A portion of the community harvest was set aside to provide for visitors and needy families. Originally the Creek grew, gathered, and hunted only what they needed for their own use. As trade with the Europeans developed, they became commercial hunters, selling the Europeans deerskins and furs.
Corn, eaten fresh or dried, was the main Creek crop. Sofkey, a sour broth made of crushed corn and sometimes flavored with deer meat, was also a staple of their diet. They also raised beans, squash, pumpkins, melons, peppers, peas, cucumbers, rice, and sweet potatoes. Creek women gathered wild foods, including berries, peaches, apples, herbs, roots, hickory nuts, and acorns. They boiled mashed nuts and skimmed off the oil to make cooking oil. Deer was the most popular meat, but the Creek ate wild hogs and such small game as squirrel, opossum, and turkey. Fishermen also caught catfish and sturgeon. They preserved meat by drying or smoking it.
Abuskee, a drink made of roasted corn, was a popular beverage. People also enjoyed ah-gee-chum-buh-gee, a combination of boiled cornmeal, dried fruits, and brown sugar, served in cornhusk packets like dumplings.
A Sweet and Nutty Finish to Dinner
Wild foods such as hickory nuts were a Creek staple. Author E. Barrie Kavasch offered this recipe for a custard-like dessert. She concocted it based on the recollections of a noted Creek artist, Acee Blue Eagle, and others.
- Simi Chumbo
- 1 pint whole milk
- 4 heaping Tablespoons fine yellow cornmeal
- 2 Tablespoons honey or maple syrup
- 1 cup hickory nuts, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and allspice
- 2 Tablespoons sweet [unsalted] butter or walnut oil
- 3 large eggs, well beaten [with a fork]
Place the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring almost to a boil. Sprinkle the cornmeal over the top; stir it in well. Add the honey, nut meats, seasonings, and butter or oil. Simmer, stirring, until it thickens, about 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool.
Whisk in the well-beaten eggs. Pour this mixture into a 10x10x3-inch buttered baking dish. Bake in a preheated oven at 350°F for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly. Cut into squares or bars and serve. This is good with pecan or maple-nut ice creams or fresh whipped cream and seasonal berries like Juneberries and strawberries.
Serves 4 to 6.
Kavasch, E. Barrie. Enduring Harvests: Native American Foods and Festivals for Every Season. Old Saybrook, Connecticut: Globe Pequot Press, 1995, pp. 259–60.
Traditionally a woman’s brothers educated and counseled her male children in hunting, fishing, and building boats and houses. Young boys were taught a game called chunkey to sharpen their skills at spear throwing. One player pushed a stone disk that rolled down the field. Other players chased it with a long stick that curved at one end. They hurled their sticks to the point where they thought the disk would stop. Sometimes whole families played the game together.
Girls were taught by their mothers, their mother’s sisters, and their grandmothers. They learned to cook, weave baskets, and sew and to sing songs as they searched for edible plants.
Although the Muscogee Creek Nation now operates the Eufaula Indian Boarding School, many children attend local public schools, vocational schools, and community colleges. During the 1990s the Muscogee Nation undertook development of a Mvskoke (Creek language) program for its elementary school students.
The tribe also opened a college that offers several majors and promotes language development. Meetings and other events are conducted in traditional Mvskoke. In an interview on the local television news station KOTV in 2007, Muscogee Creek Nation College board of regents chairwoman Ramona Mason explained their reasons for structuring the school around tribal traditions and values: “Of all the Native Americans that enroll in higher education, only 2 percent graduate.… But if they go to a tribal college, it goes up to 67, 70 percent.”
Creek doctors used parts of many different plants to make medicine. They believed tobacco to be powerful and used it for healing and in ceremonies. For example, tobacco mixed with boiled red sumac was smoked to treat head and chest ailments. Mixed with water, it was both drunk and rubbed on the body to cure stomach cramps. Other items used as medicines were roots, tobacco blossoms, bark, milkweed, spider web, and charred coals. Medicine men concocted teas and ointments to treat burns, insect bites, fever, indigestion, diarrhea, and other ailments. Some of these potions contained morphine and salicylic acid (the active ingredient in aspirin). Doctors also helped people deal with emotional distress.
The Native Americans had no immunity or medicine to deal with diseases brought by Europeans, such as smallpox, measles, cholera, and malaria. Many people died during epidemics (uncontrolled outbreaks of disease). Alcohol abuse became another European-introduced problem, as many Creek had no physical tolerance to drinking. When the Native Americans lost their original lands, it disrupted their usual food supply. Diet-related health problems, like diabetes, became more common.
During the latter part of twentieth century attempts were made to improve the health of the Creek; the Muscogee Nation now manages its own hospital and a group of clinics.
Creek women learned a special type of weaving technique called finger weaving. Bands of fabric were created by weaving braided multiple strands of yarn with the fingers, sometimes with beads attached. They often left the ends unbraided to form tassels. Because they did not use looms, the women could make only those garments that could be fashioned from narrow fabric strips. These included scarves, sashes and other types of clothing.
The Creek confederacy was made up of people from a variety of backgrounds who joined either for military protection or because they had been conquered by the Creek. Each group was an individual community. As a result, traditions and ceremonies varied among the towns. The customs described below, however, were fairly common.
The Creek held “stomp dances” to celebrate special occasions, such as planting season, hunting season, weddings, and the approach of medicine men. Stomp dances are still held in modern times. A leader begins the dance by moving around the fire counter-clockwise. Dancers form a circle with men and women alternating; they chant as they follow the leader. Women wear pebble-filled turtle shells around their calves. Their shuffling feet set the rhythm for the dance. One of the tribe’s most well-known stomp dance locations is Tallahasee Grounds.
Summer’s Green Corn Ceremony, which lasted eight days, celebrated the ripening of the corn and signaled the beginning of a new year. People sang, danced, and played games. A special feature was the Ribbon Dance, which women still perform at Green Corn Ceremonies. Three or four women are selected for life to perform this function. The women fast before the dance. Then, wearing rattles and shells fastened to their legs, they wave special sticks in a certain rhythm, and male singers and gourd players accompany them.
The tribe prepared special fires holding sacred power for the ceremony. Adults drank a black herb potion that purified their bodies, and they fasted before tasting the new corn. Dances and feasting followed. In the spirit of renewal, they forgave any person who had not yet been punished for an offense (except murder) committed during the past year.
The Creek National Festival and Rodeo takes place annually on the third weekend in June at the Creek Nation Complex. Events include stomp and other dances, a parade, a rodeo, sporting events, and a fine arts and crafts festival. Native American food is in great abundance. The Eufaula Powwow takes place each year over Labor Day Weekend. A powwow is a celebration at which the main activities are traditional singing and dancing. In modern times, the singers and dancers at powwows come from many different tribes.
A Creek man’s first name identified his town or clan, while the second name described some personal characteristic. For example, the name of the famous historical figure Chitto Harjo came from the facts that he was a member of the Snake clan (chitto means “snake”) and harjo that he was “recklessly brave.”
Before the the Europeans arrived the Creek hunted deer for food and clothing. They painted their cheeks with ocher (dirt containing iron deposits) because they thought it improved their vision. They also sang special songs to bring the deer closer. Then they attacked them with bows and arrows, wooden spears, and blowguns.
Courtship and marriage
When a Creek man wanted to marry, he or his female relatives proposed to a woman’s mother and aunts. Before the bride-to-be could accept, she needed approval from her clan elders. The wedding could not take place until the man proved his abilities by building a house and killing a deer. Likewise the woman had to prove she could cook. The couple lived together for a year before deciding whether to make the marriage permanent. After that time divorce was possible but it was rare among families with children. If his wife gave her permission, a man could marry other women. He had to provide separate homes for each of them.
The Creek punished people who were unfaithful to their spouses with severe beatings or by cutting off their ears or noses. Offenders who remained hidden until the annual Green Corn Ceremony period of forgiveness, however, could escape this penalty.
Burials took place on the floor of the deceased’s home. The Creek wrapped the body in a blanket and placed it in a circular pit in a sitting position. Later they dug graves outside near the family home. They kept the body in the home for a four-day period, which ended with an all-night wake. Family members put the deceased person’s favorite clothing into the casket, along with bits of food and tobacco. After they lowered the casket into the ground, they built a fire at the head of the grave and tended it for four days, until the soul began its passage to the sky. After the burial, family members washed themselves with an herbal compound prepared by a medicine man to ease the pain of their loss. Creek Christians abandoned most of these funeral customs, although they still held an all-night service in the church before a burial.
Current tribal issues
Most Creek are members of the Muscogee Nation in Oklahoma. The early groups that made up the Creek were diverse, though, and a few groups desired to be separate from the Muscogee Nation.
The Creek are trying to retain their cultural heritage, especially their language and customs. They are also trying to maintain economic independence and gain access to ancestral lands that hold spiritual significance, but are located away from tribal property.
In 2007 one issue that stirred tribal protests was legislation (a bill proposing a new law) to make English the official language of the United States. The bill required all business transactions and meetings to be conducted in English. Although the bill would not prevent publications in other languages, the Creek, as well as other tribes and many ethnic groups, felt that the proposed law did not take into account the cultural diversity in the United States. The bill failed to win approval in Congress and did not become law.
Chitto Harjo (1846–1911), called “Crazy Snake” by white settlers, formed a group of Creek known as the Snakes. The Snakes believed that the Creek Treaty of 1832 guaranteed the Creek self-government, and they refused to recognize U.S. authority. In resisting U.S. troops, Harjo was seriously injured and died from his wounds; afterwards, the Snake movement quickly weakened.
Opothle Yoholo (c. 1780–1863), a skilled Creek orator, negotiated land agreements with President John Quincy Adams, and later with President Andrew Jackson. For a time he resisted the government’s enforced removal of the Creek, but he finally accepted relocation. In 1836 he led 2,700 people to Indian Territory. He became head chief and tried to preserve the traditions of his ancestors.
Libal, Autumn. North American Indians Today: Creek. Philadelphia, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2004.
Newman, Shirlee P. The Creek. New York: Franklin Watts, 1996.
Sonneborn, Liz. The Creek. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 2007.
Stone, Amy M. Creek. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Publishing, 2005.
Swanton, John R. Creek Religion and Medicine. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
Swanton, John R. Early History of the Creek Indians. Reprint. Greenville, SC: Southern Historical Press, 2006.
Wilds, Mary C. The Creek. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 2005.
Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma. (accessed on September 2, 2007).
“Muscogee Creek Nation College Opens Its Doors.” KOTV. May 4, 2007. (accessed on September 26, 2007).
Poarch Creek Indians. (accessed on September 2, 2007).
“Sequoyah Research Center.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock. (accessed on September 2, 2007).
George Cornell, Ph.D.; Associate Professor, History and American Studies, Michigan State University; Director, Native American Institute
John H. Moore, Ph.D., Anthropology Department University of Florida, Gainesville
CREEK. The Creek Nation is centered in Muskogee, Oklahoma, but its early history rests in the Southeast. In the sixteenth century, long before a Creek people existed, Old World diseases, especially smallpox, decimated Natives in the Southeast, destroying towns and forcing survivors into refugee communities. By the end of the 1600s, some of these survivors, scattered in thirty to forty towns along Georgia and Alabama rivers, joined together in an
Their residents, numbering about ten thousand, spoke a number of languages, including Muskogee, Alabama, and Hitchiti. But despite their varying ethnic origins, they presented a united front to Spanish, French, and English colonists. South Carolina colonists were soon calling these allied peoples "Creeks," a shorthand for Indians living on Ochese Creek in Georgia.
alliance. In the late seventeenth century, the Creeks established an active trade with French, Spanish, and English colonists. The Creeks traded Indian slaves and deerskins in exchange for textiles, kettles, and guns. The slave trade declined after the Yamasee War of 1715, when South Carolina determined that the risk of enslaving Indians was too great. The deerskin trade continued to flourish, however, especially after English colonists established the Georgia colony in 1733. In the 1750s, Savannah exported over sixty thousand skins annually. In Creek towns the profits of the trade, including cloth, kettles, guns, and rum, eased the labor of Creeks but also introduced new conflicts among men and women and rich and poor.
By 1800, the deer population had plummeted, and white Americans began seeking Creek lands rather than Creek deerskins. Under compulsion, Creeks ceded vast amounts of territory. At the same time, U.S. Indian agents pressured them to adopt American economic and religious practices. Grassroots resistance to these changes built until a civil conflict known as the Red Stick War erupted within the tribe in 1813. U.S. troops led by Andrew Jackson soon entered the fray on the side of the friendly Creek leadership. The rebels were defeated, and the Creek Nation lay in ruins. Removal followed swiftly, despite Creek resistance. In 1832, the Creeks agreed to cede their remaining southeastern lands, and U.S. troops hastened the process by rounding them up at gunpoint in the Creek War of 1836.
By 1837, more than 23,000 Creeks had left their southeastern homelands for Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), where they suffered terrible floods, droughts, and epidemics. The population fell almost by half to 14,000 in the space of twenty years. Yet some Creeks fared well, particularly plantation owners who exploited slave labor. The Civil War dealt yet another blow to the Creeks. It freed roughly 2,000 slaves held in the Creek Nation but devastated the land, destroying crops, buildings, and equipment. Although Creeks rebuilt their nation, at the end of the nineteenth century the Curtis Act (1898) dissolved the Creek Nation. Despite resistance organized in 1900 by Chitto Harjo, or Crazy Snake, the United States divided Creek lands into individual allotments and unilaterally dissolved the Creek government.
The Creeks lost millions of acres of land, and their government nearly ceased functioning until 1971. In that year, the Creek Nation elected a principal chief for the first time since 1899. In 2001, the revitalized Creek Nation counted more than 50,000 citizens.
Debo, Angie. The Road to Disappearance. A History of the Creek Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1941.
Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
ETHNONYMS: Muscogee, Muskogee
Prior to European settlement, the Creek were a confederacy of tribes who lived in about fifty villages mainly in central Georgia and in other locations from the Atlantic coast to central Alabama. Included in the confederacy were the Kawita (Coweta), Kasihta, Abihka, Hilibi, Kusa (Coosa), Wakokai, and Huhliwahli. The groups spoke six languages—Muskogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Yuchi, Natchez, and Shawnee. The Creeks were so named by the English because of the large number of streams and creeks in the region. When met by Hernando De Soto in 1540, the confederacy had already been formed as a means of defense against attacks from powerful northern groups.
Between 1836 and 1840 nearly twenty thousand Creeks were removed from their homeland and settled in the Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). Today, there are four main groups of Creeks in Oklahoma—the Creek Nation, the Alabama-Quassarte (Coushatta), the Kialegee, and the Thopthlocco Creek, each governed by a tribal council. Together, they form the modern Creek Confederacy, with about fifty thousand members. There is also a small community near Atmore, Alabama.
Traditional villages in the Southeast contained irregular clusters of four to eight houses each, with as many as twenty-five different matriclans represented in a village. Subsistence was based on the cultivation of maize, beans, and squash Supplemented by hunting and gathering. Each tribe or village was governed by an elected chief (miko ), subchief, and a Council. The military was under civilian control, with war chiefs leading war parties while governing was left to the chiefs who were chosen for their wisdom and skills. The major religious Ceremony was the Busk or Green Corn Dance (puskita ) held in midsummer to celebrate the ripening of the new maize crop. The lighting of the new fire and drinking of the ritual black drink as well as the forgiving of all grudges and most offenses were important accompaniments.
Green, Donald E. (1973). The Creek People. Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series.
Swanton, John R. (1928). Social Organization and Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy. U.S. Bureau of American Ethnology, 42nd Annual Report (1924-1925), 23—472. Washington, D.C.
Creek, Native North American confederacy. The peoples forming it were mostly of the Muskogean branch of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic stock (see Native American languages). The Creek received their name from early white traders because so many of their villages were located at rivers and creeks. They lived primarily in Alabama and Georgia and were settled, agricultural people. There were more than 50 towns, generally called tribes, in the confederacy, which was formed chiefly for protection against the tribes to the north. Certain villages were set aside for war ceremonies, others for peace celebrations. Each had its annual green corn dance. This festival was a time for renewing social ties and was a period of amnesty for criminals, except murderers. The Creek Confederacy was not ruled by a permanent central government. The structure was a combination of democratic and communal principles. Decisions by the national council were not binding on towns or individuals who wished to dissent. Nevertheless, civil strife was almost unknown among them. Private ownership of land was unknown, but crops were privately owned to a degree. Each owner was required to contribute a certain portion for public use.
The Creek impressed the first European explorers (Hernando De Soto saw them in 1540) by their height, their proud bearing, and their love of ornament. They were hostile to the Spanish and therefore friendly to the British in colonial days, but, frightened by white encroachment and fired by the teachings of the Shawnee chief Tecumseh, they rebelled in the Creek War of 1813–14. They massacred a large number of American settlers at Fort Mims, and Andrew Jackson won part of his reputation by defeating them at the battle of Horseshoe Bend. By a treaty signed in 1814 the Creek ceded approximately two thirds of their land to the United States, and subsequent cessions further reduced their holdings. Eventually they were moved to the Indian Territory, where they became one of the Five Civilized Tribes. A treaty signed by the confederacy in 1889 permitted white settlement of their lands, and there was great bitterness among the Creek. In 1990 there were over 45,000 Creek, most of them living in Oklahoma.
See J. R. Swanton, The Early History of the Creek Indians (1922) and Social Origins and Social Usages of the Indians of the Creek Confederacy (1928, repr. 1970); G. Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes (new ed. 1953, repr. 1966); D. H. Corkran, The Creek Frontier, 1540–1783 (1967).
creek / krēk; krik/ • n. a stream, brook, or minor tributary of a river. ∎ an inlet in a shoreline, a channel in a marsh, or another narrow, sheltered waterway. PHRASES: be up the creek inf. (also be up the creek without a paddle) be in severe difficulty or trouble. be up shit creeksee shit.
Creek / krēk/ • n. (pl. same) 1. a member of a confederacy of native peoples of the southeastern U.S. in the 16th to 19th centuries whose descendants now live mainly in Oklahoma. 2. the Muskogean language of this confederacy. • adj. of, relating to, or denoting this confederacy.
A. narrow inlet in a coast XIII; arm or branch of a river (esp. in non-British use) XVI;
B. chink, corner, nook XIII.
i. ME. crike — ON. kriki chink, nook (in handarkriki armpit), whence also (O)F. crique, which may be partly a source of the Eng. word;
ii. ME. crēke, either — MDu. crēke (Du. kreek creek, bay), or by lengthening of ī in crike; ult. orig. unkn. (a stem with ī occurs in ON. krikar m. pl. groin).