Indians of the Southern States

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We shall not undertake to assign definite boundaries to the several tracts of country occupied by the extensive tribes of the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Catawbas, Uchees, &c., nor to pursue their history, separately. There are no sufficient distinctions in their general habits and character to render such a detail necessary, and as they were nearly all more or less affected by the same political events and changes, they can be best considered collectively. The name of Creeks (an English term, taken from the character of the country they inhabited,) has been applied to all the tribes above mentioned.

James Adair, a trader and resident among the Southern Indians for forty years, in his History of the American Indians, published in 1775, gives the most Complete ac count of these races to be found in the early writers. The principal portion of his book is devoted to a labored disquisition upon the origin of the red men, and arguments to prove their descent from the Jews: the rest consists of separate details of the manners and history of the southern tribes, with observations and anecdotes connected with the race in general.

Of the Catawbas

He commences with the Catawbas, who then dwelt between the Carolinas and the country of the Cherokees. By intercourse with the whites, they had become more degraded than the other nations of which we are now to speak, and drunkenness, indolence, and poverty were obviously prevalent. They were a numerous and warlike people when South Carolina was first settled, mustering about fifteen hundred warriors; but small-pox and the use of ardent spirits had, at this time, reduced them to less than one-tenth of their former numbers.

They were old enemies of the Iroquois, with whom they had waged long and savage wars: with the English they had generally been upon good terms. Adair describes an old waste field, seven miles in extent, as one of the evidences of their former prosperity, when they could “cultivate so much land with their dull stone-axes.” Of these, as of other Indians, he says: “By some fatality they are much addicted to excessive drinking; and spirituous liquors distract them so exceedingly, that they will even eat live coals of fire.”

Of the Upper and Lower Cherokees

The Upper Cherokees inhabited the high and mountainous region of the Appalachian range, and that upon the upper portions of the Tennessee. The Lower tribe occupied the country around the head waters of the Savannah and Chatahoochee, to the northward of the Muscogees or Creeks proper. When Adair first became acquainted with the Cherokees, about the year 1735, they were computed by old traders to number six thousand fighting men. They had sixty-four populous towns. In 1738, nearly half of them perished by the small-pox.

Like all the other untaught nations of America, they were driven to perfect desperation by the ravages of this disease. The cause to which they ascribed it, and the strange remedies and enchantments used to stay its progress, are alike remarkable. One course was to plunge the patients into cold running water (it is elsewhere mentioned that those afflicted will frequently leap into the river themselves to allay the fever and torment) the result of which operation was speedily fatal. “A great many killed themselves; for, being naturally proud, they are always peeping into their looking-glasses. By which means, seeing themselves disfigured, without hope of re gaining their former beauty, some shot themselves, others cut their throats, some stabbed themselves with knives, and others with sharp-pointed canes; many threw themselves with sullen madness into the fire, and there slowly expired, as if they had been utterly divested of the native power of feeling pain.” One of them, when his friends had restrained these frantic efforts, and deprived him of his weapons, went out, and taking ” a thick and round hoe-helve, fixed one end of it in the ground, and repeatedly threw himself on it till he forced it down his throat! when he immediately expired.”

These tribes were formerly continually at war with the Six Nations, at the north, and with the Muscogees at the south; but previous to their war with the English colonies they had been for some time comparatively at peace, and were in a thriving and prosperous condition. They were excellently well supplied with horses, and were skilful jockies, and nice in their choice.”

Of the Muscogees or Creeks

The lower settlement of the Muscogees or Creeks was in the country watered by the Chatahoochee and Flint; the upper Creeks dwelt about the headwaters of the Mobile and Alabama rivers. Their neighbors, on the west, were the Choctaws and Chickasaws.

The Creeks were a nation formed by the union of a number of minor tribes with the Muscogees, who constituted the nucleus of the combination. About the middle of the eighteenth century, they were computed to number no less than three thousand five hundred men capable of bearing arms. They had learned the necessity of secluding those infected with the small-pox, so as to avoid the spread of the contagion, and their general habits and usages were such that they were fast increasing, instead of diminishing, like all the surrounding tribes.

While the Floridas were in the possession of Spain, the Creeks were surrounded by belligerent powers, both native and European, and they appear to have adopted a very shrewd and artful policy in their intercourse with each. There was a French garrison in their country; the English settlements lay to the north and east, and those of the Spaniards to the south; and the old sages of the tribe ” being long informed by the opposite parties of the different views and intrigues of those foreign powers, who paid them annual tribute under the vague appellation of presents, were become surprisingly crafty in every turn of low politics.” The French were very successful in their efforts to conciliate the good will of the Muscogees, and in alienating them from the English.

Of the Choctaws

The country of the Choctaws extended from that of the Muscogees to the Mississippi, reaching northward to the boundaries of the Chickasaws: their lower towns on the river were about two hundred miles north of New Orleans. Adair gives these people a very bad character, as being treacherous, dishonest, ungrateful, and unscrupulous; but he bears witness to their admirable readiness of speech. They were “ready-witted, and endued with a surprising flow of smooth, artful language on every subject within the reach of their ideas.”

The strange custom of flattening the head, prevalent among some other American tribes, obtained with the Choctaws. The operation was performed by the weight of a bag of sand kept upon the foreheads of the infants before the skull had hardened. This process not improbably affected the powers of the mind: at all events, Adair says: “their features and mind exactly correspond together; for, except the intense love they bear to their native country, and their utter contempt of any kind of danger in defense of it, I know no other virtue they are possessed of: the general observation of the traders among them is just, who affirm them to be divested of every property of a human being, except shape and language.”

The French had acquired great influence over the Choctaws, as, indeed, over nearly every tribe in North America with whom they had maintained friendly intercourse. Adair enlarges upon the artful policy with which they conciliated and bribed the leaders and orators of the nation. Besides this, he says: “the masterly skill of the French enabled them to do more with those savages, with trifles, than all our experienced managers of Indian affairs have been able to effect by the great quantities of valuable goods they gave them with a very profuse hand. The former bestowed their small favors with exquisite wisdom; and their value was exceedingly enhanced by the external kindly behavior and well-adapted smooth address of the giver.”

Of the Chickasaws

The nation of the Chickasaws, at the time of which we are speaking, was settled near the sources of the Tombigbee, a few miles eastward of the head waters of the Tallahache. They numbered about four hundred and fifty warriors, but were greatly reduced since their ancient emigration from the west. They were said to have formerly constituted one family with the Choctaws, and to have been able to bring one thousand men into the field at the time of their removal. Due allowance must of course be made for mistake and exaggeration in these early traditions.

The Chickasaws were ever inimical to the French and friendly to the English colonists. It was by their efforts that the neighboring tribe of the Natchez was stirred up to attack the French settlements, in 1729. The French had, unadvisedly, imposed a species of tax upon the Natchez, demanding a dressed buckskin from each man of the tribe, without rendering any return; but, as some of that people afterwards reported to Adair, “the warriors hearts grew very cross, and loved the deer-skins.”

French War with the Natchez and Chickasaws

The Chickasaws were not slow to foment a disturbance upon intelligence of this proceeding, and sent messengers, with presents of pipes and tobacco, to counsel an attack upon the exercisers of such tyranny. Nothing so strongly excites an Indian’s indignation as any attempt at taxation, and the Natchez were easily persuaded that the French had resolved to crush and enslave them. It took about a year to ripen the plot, as the Indians are “slow in their councils on things of great importance, though equally close and intent.”

It was in the month of November, (1729,) that the Indians fell upon the French settlement. The commandant had received some intimation of the intended attack from a woman of the tribe, but did not place sufficient dependence upon it to take any efficient steps for the protection of his charge. The whole colony was massacred: men, women, and children, to the number of over seven hundred Adair says fifteen hundred perished by the weapons of the savages. The triumph of the Natchez was, however, but of short duration. The French came upon them in the following summer with a large army, consisting of two thousand of their own soldiers and a great array of their Choctaw allies. The Natchez were posted at a strong fort near a lake communicating with the Bayou D Argent, and received the assailants with great resolution and courage. They made a vigorous sally, as the enemy approached, but were driven within their defenses, and “bombarded with three mortars, which forced them to fly off different ways.” The Choctaws took many prisoners, some of whom were tortured to death, and the rest shipped to the West Indies as slaves.

The remnant of the Natchez fled for safety to the Chickasaws. This brought about a war between the French and the last-mentioned tribe, in which, if we may believe Adair, the Indians had decidedly the advantage. He tells of one engagement, in which the French and their Indian allies had surrounded the Chickasaw settlements in the night, with the exception of one, which stood at some distance from the rest, called Amalahta. The besiegers beset every house, and killed all who came out: “but at the dawn of day, when they were capering and using those flourishes that are peculiar to that volatile nation, the other town drew round them, stark naked, and painted all over red and black; thus they attacked them, killed numbers on the spot, released their brethren, who joined them like enraged lions.” The Indians belonging to the French party fled, but the whites were all killed except two, “an officer, and a Negro, who faithfully held his horse till he mounted, and then ran along side of him. A couple of swift runners were sent after them, who soon came up with them, and told them to live and go home, and inform their people, that as the Chickasaw hogs had now a plenty of ugly French carcasses to feed on till next year, they hoped then to have another visit from them and their red friends; and that, as messengers, they wished them safe home.”

On another occasion, the same historian informs us that the French approached the Chickasaw stockade, strangely disguised, and protected from the balls of the enemy by paddings of wool. The Indians were to the last degree astonished both at their appearance and invulnerability, and were about to desist from active resistance, and resort to the skill of their own necromancers to oppose what they thought must be “wizards, or old Frenchmen carrying the ark of war against them.” As the enemy approached, and began to throw hand-grenades into the fort, they were quickly undeceived, and set in earnest about the work of defense. They pulled the matches out of the grenades, or threw them back among the French; and, sallying forth, directed an effective fire at the legs of the enemy, who were speedily driven off. “I have two of these shells,” says Adair, ” which I keep with veneration, as speaking trophies over the boasting Monsieurs and their bloody schemes.”


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MLA Source Citation:

Brownell, Charles De Wolf. Indian Races of North and South America: Comprising an account of the principal aboriginal races; a description of their national customs, mythology, and religious ceremonies, the history of their most powerful tribes, and of their most celebrated chiefs and warriors; their intercourse and wars with the European settlers; and a great variety of anecdote and description, illustrative of personal and national character. Hartford, Conn., Chicago,E. B. & R.C. Treat; [etc., etc.]: Hurlbut, Scranton & Co. 1864. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 20 September 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/alabama/early-location-character-and-numbers-of-indians-of-the-southern-states.htm - Last updated on Jan 31st, 2013


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