History of the Muskogee Indians

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Little has been written respecting the history of the Muskogee Indians.  The wild and extravagant relations respecting a powerful people, who are described as residing in Florida in the 16th century, under the name of Apalachites, appear to be better suited to the purposes of romance than history.1

The following traditions and opinions of their origin, early history, and customs, are from the lips of Se-ko-pe-chi, (Perseverance) one of the oldest Creeks, now living in their new location west of the Mississippi. They were taken down from his narration, by Mr. D. W. Eakins, who was for some time a resident of the territory now occupied by them west of the state of Arkansas, and have been communicated in reply to the printed inquiries issued in 1847, respecting the History, Present Condition, and Future Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. (Vide Appendix.)

There is a general reluctance, on the part of the Creeks, to enter at all upon subjects of this character, owing in a measure to their superstitious notions, and more, perhaps, to their innate disposition to secrecy, and the general spirit of concealment.

The admission of an inter-tribal rank, in ancient days, inferior to the ancient Lenno Lenápi, and their concurrence in the general title of Grandfather, ascribed by the North Atlantic tribes to that important branch of the Algonquin stock, denotes a more recent origin to their nationality than has been supposed to exist; and adds but another proof to the many we have had before, of the limited character of the Indian traditions, and the recent date of their entire tribal relations.

There is nothing in these reminiscences of Se-ko-pe-chi, which can be employed to sustain an opinion that the Muskogees are, in anywise, to be deemed as having founded their nationality on pre-existing tribes, of any known historical era, who were semi-civilized.

The advance of the masses in this tribe, the late years, has not kept pace with that of the families of their chieftains. The authority of the latter, founded on ancient distinctions and the force of descents, appears to commend itself, very generally, to continued respect and adherence.

It is necessary, in the following inquiries, to conceive the Muskogee chronicler, Se-ko-pe-chi, as the respondent. The views of Mr. Eakin, where they are given as independent opinions, will be readily distinguished, and are evidently molded, in some instances, on the queries before him. The true grounds of the interrogatories are, however, seldom, if ever, misconceived by him, unless it be in the policy to cede surplus territories when they have become denuded of game, and, perhaps, the true extent of the civil power of the chiefs.

History of the Muskogee Indians

1. The origin of the Alabama Indians, as handed down by oral tradition, is, that they sprang out of the ground, between the Cahawba and Alabama Rivers.

2. The Muskogees formerly called themselves Alabamians, but other tribes called them Oke-choy-atte, (life). The earliest migration recollected, as handed down by oral tradition, is, that they emigrated from the Cahawba and Alabama Rivers, to the junction of the Tuscaloosa and Coosa Rivers. Their numbers, at that period, were not known. The extent of the territory occupied at that time was indefinite. At the point formed by the junction of the Tuscaloosa and Coosa Rivers, the tribe sojourned for the space of two years. After which, their location was at the junction of the Coosa and Alabama Rivers, on the west side of what was subsequently the site of Fort Jackson. It is supposed that at this time they numbered fifty effective men. They claimed the country from Fort Jackson to New Orleans, for their hunting grounds.

3. They are of the opinion that the Great Spirit brought them from the ground, and that they are of right possessors of this soil. Before the settlement of what is now known as New Orleans, they discovered, at that place, two Mexicans; and at a subsequent period, during a visit, they met with a large number of whites. The first sale of lands by treaty took place in New York: the date is not recollected.2 They first became acquainted with the use of fire-arms, clothing, &c., through the Spaniards. Ardent spirits have been in use among the tribe, beyond the recollection of the oldest citizens. Their first places of trade were at Mobile and New Orleans.

4. They believe that before the Creation there existed a great body of water. Two pigeons were sent forth in search of land, and found excrements of the earth worm; but on going forth the second time, they procured a blade of grass, after which, the waters subsided, and the land appeared. They do not believe that their ancestors occupied any other lands, but always had their locality in North America. They believe that domestic animals were introduced by the whites. They have no knowledge of the land being pre-occupied by the whites, or a more civilized people than themselves. But they do believe that the land was pre-occupied by a people of whom they have no definite knowledge.

5. The only name they have for America is, The Land of the INDIANS. They call it the land of the Red people. They have no other oral tradition of any other name for America.

6. In the reminiscences of their former condition they state, that they enjoyed a greater degree of peace, before the discovery of the continent by the whites, than they did afterwards. They had no treaties, no alliances, or leagues, previous to the discovery. They erected breast-works, of a circular shape, for the protection of their families. These mounds had no existence previous to their arrival.

7. In their names and events as helps to history, they pride themselves most upon killing their enemies, and by memorializing these events with their hieroglyphics, and decorating themselves. Their greatest source of grief was the death of a son, brother, father, or mother. They conquered a people who wended their way south. There have been subsequent conquests. They had never been conquered until their conflicts with the whites. They have never suffered from wild-beasts, floods, diseases, or sudden attacks, from which they had no deliverance.

8. The present rulers of the nation consist of a first and second chief, who, in connection with the town chiefs, administer the affairs of the nation in general council. The present principal chief, General Roly McIntosh, is of Scotch descent. The second chief, Benjamin Marshall, is of Irish descent: “both the friends of the white man. The former fought, under General Andrew Jackson, against the hostile Indians. The tribe, at present, is in a very prosperous condition, and rapidly increasing. The Creeks first commenced immigrating to their new country, west of the Mississippi, in parties, in 1828, from which period until 1837 the principal part of the immigration took place. Small bodies of Creeks, however, still continue to arrive in their new country up to the present time. The circumstances under which they reached their present location were the treaty with the United States, and an unwillingness to fall under the State laws of Georgia and Alabama. This feeling still exists among them: they have their doubts about being prepared to take part in deliberate assemblies. The south-western tribes occupy different stages in civilization, some being nearly wholly civilized, others partially so; and others, again, retaining the wandering habits of their forefathers, may, with propriety, be termed hunter tribes.

9. All the southwestern tribes speak different languages; except, perhaps, the Choctaws and Chickasaws, and the Creeks and Seminoles, which languages have a strong affinity to each other.3 The different tribes do not understand each other. There is no community of interest among them; for that which promotes the interest of the hunters induces the agriculturists to idle away their time, and neglect their farms. Nor is there any commercial intercourse, worth speaking of, among them; and, indeed, there is but little intercourse of any kind, if we except the traffic in stolen horses. Their opinions and customs, in many respects, are different; that which is regarded as a virtue by the civilized Indians, is considered as a weakness by the hunters; and those actions which are regarded as manly and heroic by the wandering tribes, are looked upon as vices when practiced among the semi-civilized. There can be no system of judiciary established among them in which all these tribes could unite.

The Muskogees speak six different dialects, viz., Mus-ko-gee, Hitch-i-tee, Nau-chee, Euchee, Alabama, and Aquas-saw-tee. The Creeks, although speaking these different dialects, understand, generally, the received language of the nation, which is the Mus-ko-gee or Creek language; and consequently the business with the government requires but one interpreter. There are several aged persons who can state their traditions, but they are reluctant to do so.

10. International Rank and Relations. The rank and relationship which this tribe bears to the other tribes, is that of Grandchild to the Delawares and Senecas. Their traditions assign them a medium position in the political scale of the tribes. Whether this relationship is sanctioned by the tradition of all other tribes is not known; but by some it is. Discordant pretensions to original rank and affinities of blood have never occurred among the Mus-ko-gees. They have no method by which blood affinities can be settled in cases of difficulties. The kindredship of the tribe is denoted by terms taken from the vocabulary of the family ties. The Mus-co-gees call the Delawares Grandfather.

11. The monumental proofs of their intercourse with other tribes, such as alliances, leagues, and treaties of friendship, are testified to by wampums, pipes, and belts.

12. The clans are made up of families; each clan adopting its own peculiar badge; such as Crocodile, Bear, Bird, &c. It is supposed that these badges do denote rank or relationship.

13. Geographical features, within the memory of tradition, are not looked upon as a cause of the multiplication of the tribes. The Comanches have an immense country over which they range, but it is not known that it contributes to their increase. This is also the case with the Osages; but for some years past both these tribes have been on the decrease. And this must continue to be the case, so long as their women are compelled to undergo the severe corporeal labor which the men exact from them. The tribes that are progressing most rapidly are those who are making advances in civilization and religion. When the female gains her rightful position as an equal, and is no longer looked upon as an inferior, then will we have the true solution of the problem in regard to the multiplication of the tribes. This solution is true in regard to the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Muskogees. Magnitude and resources of territory are not generally conceded as entering in as the cause of the multiplication of the tribes. Magnitude is generally looked upon as a detriment. Dissensions have sometimes driven individuals to other tribes; but there are no instances within the recollection of the oldest citizens in which these dissensions have led to the formation of new tribes or dialects.

14. In their traditions of the original rank and movements of the tribe, there is no mention of rivers or mountains. The general track of their migrations was from the West.

15. Geography. Of the shape of the globe and its natural divisions, they have no definite idea. They generally entertain the belief, however, that the earth is a square figure, and entirely surrounded by water; and by going to the verge of the plain, they could step off.

16. The chief rivers occupied by the tribe are the Arkansas, Verdigris, Canadian, North Fork of the Canadian, and Red Fork. The Arkansas is navigable as high as the mouth of the Verdigris about one-half of the year; this depends altogether upon the state of the season; it is about 1000 miles in length. Grand River is supposed to be navigable for about 100 miles, but it has not yet been attempted. The Verdigris is obstructed by a fall near the mouth. North Fork is navigable a short distance. Red Fork is not generally believed to be navigable; the mouth of it is about seventy-five miles above the navigable portion of the Arkansas; the Arkansas is about one-quarter of a mile wide; Verdigris and Grand Rivers about one-eighth; the others probably about the same. Goods are landed at all the principal points between the mouth and Creek Agency on the Arkansas; the Grand and Verdigris Rivers have each but one landing near their mouth; the first at Fort Gibson, the latter at the Creek Agency. All these are tributaries of the Arkansas. The surface of the country, generally, is level; abounding in prairies, with a goodly portion of bottomland. There is an abundance of timber; such as oak, cotton-wood, and black-walnut; but little cedar, and still less pine. Attention is being directed to the cultivation of fruit; the peach, however, is already found in great abundance.

17. The springs, throughout the nation, are quite numerous, but not large. There is a lake on the Verdigris River, about eight miles from its mouth. The outlet is suppose- 1 to be into the Verdigris. It is fresh water, and about two miles in length, and half a mile in breadth. There are no lakes that can be navigated by steamers. There are no springs that afford sufficient waterpower for practical purposes.

18. The general surface of the country is level; and also fertile. Sufficiency of wood and water. Abounding in meadows and prairies. They raise corn, some wheat, potatoes, turnips, &c. There are no natural vegetable productions.

19. The facilities for grazing are very good. Cattle and stock are easily raised on the extensive prairies, and in the bottom lands. The woods afford some spontaneous herbage. Wells of water are obtained at moderate depths, where there are no springs. There is always a practicable market for the surplus grain and stock at Fort Gibson and Fort Smith.

20. The practice of firing the prairies has the effect of retarding the growth of timber. Prairie lands that were settled years ago are now surrounded with timber, which is accounted for, by the fire being kept off.

21. There are no wastelands that offer any great obstacle to the construction of roads. There are marshy places along the Arkansas that are considered unhealthy; in some cases these marshes are formed by the springs, and not by the rivers.

22. The volcanic tracts are not extensive, and they afford a supply of herbage for stock.

23. The climate is generally of a medium character. The heat is distributed very similar to that of the Middle States. The south winds prevail. The streams sometimes overflow their banks, which is generally attributable to the melting of the snows upon the mountains. Tornadoes have seldom, if ever, occurred.

24. Salt springs are found on the south side of the Arkansas, above the mouth of Grand River.

25. Coal has been found in abundance along the Arkansas River. Other mineral? doubtless are to be found in the nation.

26. Nearly all the wild animals have disappeared, except the wolf and deer. The fur trade has had the effect to diminish the value of the country for hunting.

27. The bones of a mastodon were found in the Arkansas River.

30. The horse, with other domestic animals, they suppose to have been introduced by the whites.

31. They are not expert in drawing maps or charts. I have never seen any specimens.

32. Antiquities. There are two stones with foot-prints on them, but whether or not they are the result of human industry is not known

47. Astronomy. Their amount of knowledge on this subject is very limited. They believe the earth to be a plane, and that it is stationary, and also that it is some animate substance. They believe that below us are a succession of planes, and that inhabitants are dwelling upon them. The sun, moon, and some of the stars, they believe revolve around the earth; but some of the stars are stationary, and stuck upon the sky. They believe the sun is a hot substance; that the moon is inhabited by a man and a dog. As to the stars, they know nothing of their nature. They do not believe the planets to be other worlds. They say the white people came from the water, where they dwelt in ships.

48. They believe that God, or the Great Spirit, created the universe, and all things just as they exist.

49. They believe the sun to be a large body of heat, and that it revolves around the earth. Some believe it is a ball of fire. They do not comprehend the revolution of the earth around the sun. They suppose that the sun literally rises and sets. They think our present theory an invention of the white man, and that he is not sincere, when he says the earth moves around the sun.

50. They believe the sky to be a material mass of some kind, to which the stars are appended. They believe that it is of a half-circular form, but that its truncations do not touch the earth. They do not believe the sky to be circumscribed.

51. They account for eclipses by the big dog swallowing the sun; but they have no idea where the big dog comes from. They do not believe that intervening objects are the causes of the eclipses. The “dead-sun” is accounted for, from the fogs going up from the earth; and they suppose that this fog is created by the smoke of fire, and sometimes that it arises from the rivers.

52. They compute the year from the budding of the trees. The year they suppose consists of some indefinite number of moons. They have no astronomical knowledge of the length of the year. The Creeks generally have no definite knowledge on this subject.

53. They have no definite idea of the length of the summer or winter.

54. They have no cycle, or fixed or stated period, at the end of which they believe the world will come to a close. But they say it will be destroyed by fire; and when this period arrives, the earth will be filled with war; and a body of people will appear among the Indians, and they will be destroyed; and then the Great Spirit will destroy the earth, to keep others from getting possession of it. They do not believe that the Indian priests cause its renewal.

55. They have no name for the year but the two general divisions, winter and summer. They have no week. They consider all days alike. The month and week are divisions unknown to them generally. The day is not divided into hours, or any other sub-portion of time.

56. They have but the one general name for all the stars. They are not able to particularize.

57. They have nothing corresponding to the signs of the zodiac. They do not attach any importance or influence to the stars. The shooting stars, however, are exceptions; which they suppose to be excrements cast upon the earth, and this they mix with their medicine; and which, when thus prepared, they consider very efficacious. They do not believe that the moon has any influence upon men, plants, or animals. Corn is planted by the particular periods of the moon. There is nothing known of the moon influencing the growth of corn.

58. The Aurora Borealis, they suppose, indicates changes in the weather, and always for the worse. The milky-way, they believe to be the paths of the spirits; but the spirits of whom, or what, they do not know. They have no theory in regard to rain, hail, clouds, &c. They know nothing of meteors. Comets, they believe, indicate war, but of their nature they know nothing. The phenomena of falling stars they explain by the consideration that the falling body is” efficacious in medicinal purposes. They cannot account for the rainbow; they believe it indicates fair weather.

59. There are coincidences among them similar to the oriental system of computing time. They have an annual “busk,” which formerly embraced a period of eight days, but now a period of four days; this time is devoted to thanksgiving and fasting. It resembles very much the year of Jubilee among the Hebrews. At the return of this festival, all offences are cancelled. This festival commences at the ripening of the new crops, at which time a general purgation and cleansing takes place. At intervals, singing and dancing are introduced. On the first day of the “busketau,” there is a general feast prepared, from the old crop, to which feast all contribute.

Attendance is obligatory. Sacred fires are built, upon which four pieces of green oak wood are arranged, in positions according to the four cardinal points of the compass. Their tales and allegories must be referred to, for information on this and like subjects.

60. They say their paradise, or happy hunting grounds, is above; but where, they have no definite idea.

61. Arithmetic. The tribe does count by decimals. None of the clans among the Creeks are in the habit of counting by fives. They can compute numbers as high as millions. Beyond ten, the digits are used in connection with the decimals; and this same method is used to any extent. They are carried on with certainty to a million.

62. Neither the wampum nor any form of seashells is used to represent numbers, or constitute a standard of exchange. The Creeks never had a currency, nor have they now anything of the nature of a currency, aside from the currency of the United States. The seawan, peag, or wampum, the Creeks never introduced into their computations, as auxiliaries to their digits and decimals. They do understand Federal money.

63. Previous to about the year 1800, there were no accounts to keep. They are now kept similar to those of the people of the United States. All valuable skins, muskrats, beavers, and otters, are sold by weight. The buffalo and deerskins are sold by quality.

64. Signs or pictorial devices are not used to any extent in accounts, or in commerce, neither are their pictorial records.

65. Each perpendicular stroke always did stand for one, and each additional stroke marked an additional number. The ages of deceased persons or number of scalps taken by them, or war parties which they have headed, are recorded on their grave-posts by this system of strokes. The sign of the cross represents ten. The dot, and comma, never stood as a sign for a day, or a moon, or a month, or a year. The chronological marks that were and are in present use, are a small number of sticks, made, generally, of cane. Another plan, sometimes in use, was to make small holes in a board, in which a peg was inserted, to keep the days of the week.

66. Medicine. They use herbs and incantations in their general practice. They are careful and tender of their sick, as a general thing. There is no perceptible difference in their attention to the sick.

67. Their doctors and practitioners have no knowledge of anatomy; neither of the circulation of the blood; nor of the pathology of diseases.

68. Treatment Of Complaints. For fevers, they use the redroot; for pleurisy, they use sassafras; for consumption, they have no definite treatment. For many complaints they have no herbs. The roots and herbs they were accustomed to use in the ” old nation ” they have not yet been able to discover in their new country, west of the Mississippi.

69. The big prairie-weed is used as an emetic, taken as a tea. For cathartics they have a number of roots and weeds, prepared as a tea. They dig their herbs and roots when needed.

70. They do not bleed in fevers. The Indian lancet is used in cases of pain. The cupping is generally efficacious: and a vacuum is produced by exhausting the air by the aid of the mouth.

71. They have no healing or drawing plasters; bandages and lints are applied in many cases.

72. The success with which they treat gunshot wounds, cuts, &c., is generally attributed to the care of the physician.

73. The Creeks never amputate. They are skilful in the use of splints. For removing the wounded, they use the litter.

74. They use roots and herbs altogether. They have efficacious remedies for female complaints. They do not use, intelligently, metallic medicines. They do not under stand the nature of an oxide. They do not always use their compounds in such a manner as to insure efficacy and success.

75. They have two modes of treating eruptions of the skin: First, the external application of a decoction of herbs; and, Secondly, by steaming with the same decoction. The cause of their known and general failure to treat smallpox, or varioloid, is, First, their limited knowledge of the nature of the disease; and, Secondly, their belief that it is contagious prevents their administering for its cure. In no cases, whatever, do men assist in parturition. After parturition, they use a simple root or weed. For paralysis, their treatment is not, in all cases, successful, which is generally by roots or herbs. They use the vapor-bath efficaciously.

76. Internal Constitution of the Tribe. The Creek nation is divided into two districts; the Arkansas and the Canadian districts. The officers consist of a principal and a second chief, who are chosen by the general council; in addition, each district has two principal chiefs, chosen in the same manner as the two principal chiefs of the nation. Each district is governed by the same laws. Every hundred persons has a right to elect a chief, who represents them in general council. The tribe is divided into several clans, viz., The Tiger, Wind, Bear, Wolf, Bird, Fox, Root, Alligator, Deer; all denoting strength. The tribe appears, originally, to have been organized on the Totemic plan; each clan bearing the name of some bird or animal.

77. The only utility of the divisions into clans appears to be, to denote those objects in which they take the greatest delight. They are indicative of the original families, and also distinguished chiefs of the tribe. Clans are a sign of kindred. The devices were not their names. There is pre-eminence given to the clans. The clans are not governed by distinct chiefs. (See above.)

78. The chiefs were not originally hereditary. The descent was in the female line. This custom has become extinct. The chiefs are now chosen by the council.

79. The general council of the Creek Indians consists of a representation from the whole tribe, as divided into towns. This council, composed of the chiefs, is vested with plenary power, to act for the whole tribe. Their verbal summons or decisions, have all the force of a written document; these decisions are announced in general council; and also recorded by the clerk. Their authority, (as among the principal chiefs,) is often assumed. Their authority is delegated to them, (in many cases,) by virtue of their standing and influence. They are at all times open to popular opinion, and are the mere exponents of it. The power of the chiefs in council is unlimited. Their decisions are absolute.

80. The principal chiefs are chosen by the general council; and now, are not chosen so much for their renowned deeds, as their civil and popular qualifications. Their term of office continues during good behavior. The disapproval of the body of the people is an effective bar to the exercise of their powers and functions.

81. The chiefs, in public council, speak the opinions and sentiments of the warriors. They consult the priests, old men, and young men composing the tribe, in local matters. Sometimes they are subject to be influenced by extraneous opinions. In many cases they pursue the interests of the people with shrewdness and intensity. In their councils, their decisions are generally determined by the opinions of the leading chiefs; their dictum generally influences the mass. The right to sit in council is, nominally, equivalent to giving a vote. The ayes and noes, if counted, would be by the clerk. Casting the vote, however, has not been introduced among the Creeks. The opinions of the leading chiefs generally regulate the decisions of the council. Powers are sometimes exercised by the chiefs, in advance of public opinion; but anything gross or outrageous would be indignantly repelled.

82. The public or general councils are opened with a good deal of ceremony. The principal chiefs first enter and take their seats. The next in order then enter, and addressing themselves to the whole body, ask: ” Are you all present, my friends?” They then take their seats. The principal chief, rising from his seat, presents to the second chief, his tobacco; and this interchange takes place throughout the whole assembly. These interchanges having been gone through with, they next speak about their domestic affairs. Then local matters; after which they proceed to business. Their business is conducted irregularly, daily, and generally, by the position of the sun. The principal chief adjourns the council to the appointed time next day. Before the close of their deliberations, the two bodies agree upon a day of adjournment. At the appointed time for adjournment, the two bodies come together. The second chiefs, rising first, address themselves to the first chiefs, telling them “they are going to leave them.” They then seat themselves, the whole council following in regular order, according to their grade. The principal chiefs, then rising, say, ” We return home.” There is still some respect paid to ancient ceremonies. Regard is paid to the weather in their deliberations. They have two national clerks; and one United States, and one national interpreter. All questions are considered with more or less deliberation. Decisions are sometimes made upon the principle of majorities, and sometimes forced by the opinions of the leading chiefs. There are no cases that require absolute unanimity. There may be cases in which the voice of a leading chief might be taken as the will of the tribe.

83. Decisions made by the chiefs in council are carried into effect implicitly. In cases of capital punishment, the executioner is selected from a body of men called “the Light Horse.” He uses neither tomahawk, club, nor arrow. The gun is gene rally selected as the instrument of execution. If the culprit has no choice of place for execution, the executioner may appoint the place, which is generally selected with reference to a convenience for burial. In case of the restoration of property, a messenger is sent to the parties. There is, however, no regularity on this subject.

84. In case of a vacancy by death or otherwise, the office is filled by the selection of the General Council. Sometimes the vacancy is filled by the town to which the chief belonged, and then brought before the General Council for sanction. In case of a vacancy among the leading chiefs, the vacancy is filled by the General Council. The chiefs may be deposed from office for gross outrage. The custom of wearing medals is an ancient one, but is gradually growing into disuse. There are but few that wear them. The medals received from the United States are valued and preserved, but not worn.

85. The priesthood or physic-makers do not constitute a distinct power in the government. They do not sit in the council as priesthood; and their advice in political matters is not resorted to. Sometimes, however, in local matters, their conjurations have influence. The weather, about the time of the distribution of the annuity, in some parts of the nation, falls under the scrutiny of the physic-makers. Among the Creeks there is no such thing as selling or ceding of lands. “It is for me, for thee, and for all.” Sometimes, however, improvements are disposed of.

86. The powers of a civil and a war chief are often united in the same person. The distinction between war chiefs and civil chief is scarcely known. There is a limit when a young man may express his opinion; this is at the age of twenty-one.

87. The matrons have no rights whatever in council. They have no separate seat in council. They have no prescriptive right of being heard by an official person, who bears the character of a messenger from the women. The widows of distinguished chiefs, or those of acknowledged wisdom, are never admitted to sit in council.

87. There is no definite understanding among the tribes in regard to this matter. The Creeks have a right to summon a general council of the tribes. These councils may be called for any purpose, and by any of the tribes. A general council of the tribes was held at Tahlequah, Cherokee Nation, about the year 1843. Nothing of any importance was transacted at it. There is at present an effort being made to summon a general council of the tribes some time during the next summer.

89. Formerly the brother of the deceased avenged the murder; if there was no brother, then the nearest relative. Among the Creeks, now, however, the murderer undergoes a regular trial before some of the leading chiefs of the nation, and is dealt with according to their decision. If an Indian should murder a Negro, the law is satisfied with the value of the Negro being paid to the owner. The intervention of time and the fleeing of the murderer, generally allay resentment and lead to compromises. After the annual ” busk,” all offences are cancelled. There is no distinction made in the estimate of life between the male and female. Debts of licensed traders are sometimes brought before the council for adjudication. The chiefs generally have a sufficient knowledge of numbers to enable them to act with prudence. A message accompanied with wampum is never sent in case of private disputes or controversies among the tribes.

90. There are no game laws in existence among the Creeks. Families have no particular tracts as their exclusive hunting ground.

91. As to individual boundaries, there are none laid down. National boundaries are no barriers to the citizens of one nation settling in the limits of another. The hunting-grounds are not parceled out to families.

92. Cases of local intrusion do not arise. Injury done to property is redressed by law. The forfeiture of life is not often the result of continued intrusion; and the seizure of furs still less.

93. Each hunting party makes its own regulations for the distribution of the game. The person who starts an animal and wounds it, is entitled to the skin. The meat is divided according to agreement. Each one bags his own game. In cases of thefts from traps, the offenders are punished by law.

94. The tribes permit each other to hunt on their respective limits. There is seldom any difficulty on this subject.

95. Indian Trade. What are the principal facts necessary to be known, to regulate the Indian trade and commerce, and to preserve peaceful relations on the frontiers? Commercial intercourse has, in some respects, promoted the general cause of Indian civilization. The traffic in furs and skins is reduced to a regular system of barter. The difficulties and risks attending it, are the dangers from bugs and worms. The general chances of profit and loss depend upon the state of the markets abroad. The annuity sent to the Indians by the United States Government, especially that part in the shape of goods, does not escape the ordeal of speculation, in the Indian Territory. The Indians, in a great many cases, sell their claims to these goods, to their own people engaged in trade among them, for about one-half their actual first cost. The consequence is, that when the goods arrive, those most in need of them have the sad satisfaction of seeing them pass into the hands of their own people engaged in speculation among them. The intercourse law forbids white people to embark in this speculation. This part of the intercourse law is generally evaded by the Indian taking into partnership with him the white man: thus dividing the turkey between them, while the poor Indians, for whom these things were intended, must content themselves with the buzzard.

96. The chiefs and hunters are shrewd, cautious, and exact in their dealings; and pometimes make their purchases with judgment; and, as a general thing, pay up their debts faithfully. Many are sober, moral, and discreet. Many, at the present time, do not entirely rely upon memory in keeping their accounts. They are not aided by hieroglyphics of any kind. In keeping their accounts, they confide mostly to the honesty of the merchant. They are every year becoming more exact. The fidelity of the Creek Indian does not depend upon the hunting. The credits are freely renewed, but they are upon the faith of the annuity.

98. The tariff of exchanges, generally, is sufficient to protect the trader from loss. It is generally just and fair. Nothing definite can be stated in regard to limitation bad or lost.

99. Commerce has, since the discovery of the continent, had the effect to stimulate the hunters to increased exertions, and thus to hasten the diminution of the races of animals whose furs are caught.

100. The different races of animals have declined rapidly, since the prosecution of the trade. The buffalo and beaver diminish in the highest ratio. Do not know which flee first.

101. The lands, when denuded of furs, are of no great value to the Indians, while they remain in the hunter-state. The sale of such hunted lands is not beneficial to them, but very detrimental. For, when debarred of their hunting grounds, they turn their attention to agriculture. The sale of them is, then, in the highest degree injurious to the Indians, and should not, in cases where it can be avoided, be resorted to. The proceeds of the sales are a source of continued feuds among them; as among the Cherokees.

102. Not known.

103. The failure of the game, upon which many of the roving tribes depend almost exclusively for subsistence, will prove one of the most effectual causes to induce them to exchange their migratory for the more settled agricultural and mechanic life. It is a question, whether the goods furnished by the annuities have contributed to the industry, happiness, and comfort of the native Indian. Forty years ago, the Creeks were an industrious people; they spun considerable cloth, and also manufactured blankets. But now, they are departing from these good old habits of days gone by, and are depending upon the importations of the merchants. Even the “bustle,” an accompaniment of dress in civilized life, may occasionally be met with in the Creek nation.

104. The evil effects of the Indian trade have been, in too many instances, that the Indian has imbibed all the vices of the white man, while the good has been left entirely out of view. Forty years ago, the Creeks were moral, sober, and virtuous. The traffic in ardent spirits has been a cause of undoubted injury, and, it is to be feared, of depopulation among the tribes. The introduction of gunpowder and firearms has contributed greatly to the rapid diminution of the game. Formerly, the game was sought after, exclusively, as a means of actual subsistence. Latterly, it is sought more for traffic. The introduction of fire-arms can scarcely be said to have exerted any decided influence in favor either of peace or war. The roving tribes understand very distinctly the deadly power of the rifle; and, whenever compelled to oppose the arrow against its dreaded effects, contend beyond rifle-shot; and only hope for success by taking some unforeseen advantage, such as during the intervals of loading, or a skirmish in the woods, where the trees form a convenient breastwork. The principal cause of discord on the frontiers is scarcely attributable to the introduction of firearms and their accompaniments. But, on the other hand, it has arisen from the introduction of ardent spirits and the transactions of unprincipled white men. Years ago, when the laws in regard to the introduction of ardent spirits were very lax, it was very little in use, compared with the present consumption. Moral sentiment among the Indians themselves, will do more to check the traffic and use of it, than the most stringent laws that can possibly be enacted. Industry will make them sober and happy. Introduce the mechanic arts, and a happy era will have commenced throughout the Indian territory. Introduce the apprenticeship system among them, and a benefit will have been conferred upon the Indian that will make him industrious and happy. The conclusion in regard to intemperance and the introduction of ardent spirits among the Indians, is this: remedy the evil at home, and there will be no cause of complaint among our red brethren.

105. Problem of Civilization. Whatever doubts have existed, heretofore, in regard to the satisfactory solution of this question, they must now give way before the cheering results that have attended the philanthropic efforts that have from time to time been made, and are at present going on among the Cherokees, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Creeks. These tribes yielded their country east of the Mississippi, rendered dear to them by the associations of youth, their traditions, and the graves of their fathers. They had learned the great truths of Christianity, and the arts of agriculture and civilized life; yet they gave up all, and sought a new home in the far-off wilderness, and have made in that wilderness fruitful and rich farms and flourishing villages. Some of their schools are of a high order. The gospel ministry is well attended. Some of their constitutions are purely republican. The people are increasing in numbers. Peace dwells within their limits, and plenteousness within their borders; civilization upon Christian principles; agriculture and the mechanic arts; and schools. With these primary and fundamental principles of human happiness, civilization among them is no longer problematical.

106. Legislation of Congress. The intercourse laws, as they exist, are, in the main, very good. The great difficulty is their not being carried into effect by those whose duty it is to administer them. It is scarcely practicable that all the difficulties that arise between the tribes can be provided for.

107. Difficulties and wars arise from local causes in many cases that are unforeseen. The Negroes that were brought in, under General Jessup’s Proclamation, during the Seminole war, threaten difficulty between the Creeks and Seminoles.

108. The faithful application of these laws would do a great deal to secure more effectually the rights or welfare of the Indian.

109. Any modification of the provisions respecting the payment or distribution of annuities that would place them in the hands of the Indians themselves, or prevent their annuities being bartered away, would be a charity and good work for the Indians. Their treaty funds, if applied to small neighborhood schools, and the introduction of the mechanic arts by the apprenticeship system, would do a great deal for their comfort and civilization.

110. Their present location requires the introduction of mills; and the mechanic arts that would enable them to live more comfortably.

111. The non-manufacture of ardent spirits at home would tend most effectually to shield the tribes from the introduction of it into their territories, and from the pressure of lawless or illicit traffic.

112. The tribes could be as well treated with in the forest as they could be at the seat of government. The expenses on the frontier, for subsistence, are heavy. An interview with the Executive Head of Government is beneficial; but Commissioners of the right stamp, sent among them, would be better, thus bringing the mass of the people into view with the Government.

113. It is seldom that emigrating bands abide for long periods on their territories. We have not heard complaints of such trespasses.

114. The Cherokees are sufficiently advanced to have their funds paid to a treasurer, to be kept by him, and disbursed by him, agreeably to the laws of their local legislature.

115. The payment of annuities, to separate heads of families, is most beneficial.

Under no circumstances whatever should the principal of an Indian fund be paid to the Indians. Very few are capable of the wise or prudent application of money.

116. New Indian Governments West of the Mississippi. The elective franchise is open for all who have reached the age of twenty-one years. Some of the tribes have written constitutions, which are decidedly of a republican character. This is peculiarly the case with the Cherokees and Choctaws. The Creeks are still without any permanent written constitution, but we believe the time is not far distant, when they will be prepared to be governed by one. The elections among the Creeks are by general council and towns. General officers are elected by the towns. The influence which some of the leading chiefs assume, without being questioned by the people, is the only point that wants guarding, to prevent the abuse of the elective franchise. There are no property qualifications necessary to the exercise of the elective franchise. The young men exercise this right at eighteen years of age. There are no rights surrendered as a boon or equivalent for the general security of life, liberty, and property.

117. The practical working of these governments has been very beneficial. From time to time, modifications and changes and new laws are enacted, as the wants of the people seem to demand.

118. What is the present state, &c? These governments are as prosperous as reasonably could be expected, with every prospect of continuing so. Laws for the enforcement of public order have been adopted. Offenses are tried, debts collected, by law. Clanships and sectional divisions are being amalgamated, and many of their superstitions are giving way.

119. Property. What ideas have the Indians of Property? They believe private rights accrued to them from the Great Spirit. From the earliest times, the Indians have professed very correct ideas of private rights. In war, all spoils taken from the enemy became the property of the individual captor; and the property thus acquired, as well as all other, descended in the female line. They have also very correct views of the legal ideas of property. Some believe that rights formerly came from war and hunting. Might, it is believed, has sometimes constituted right with the Indian. In the incursions of one tribe against another, the weaker retired from before the stronger: restitution was never given. They have always recognized the right to take every advantage of the enemy in battle.

120. Right was originally obtained by the first occupancy of the territory: and this right was considered valid, unless forfeited in war. They have no clear views on the remainder.

121. The descent of property is fixed. It is willed as the parents please. But if no will has been made, the property reverts to the children. But in case of marriage with a widow, with children, her property reverts to her children by her first husband. The eldest son is entitled only to an equal portion with the rest. A written will is binding. A verbal will, established by two responsible persons, is valid also. If there has been no other disposition made of the medal, it goes to the eldest son. In former times, all relics were taken possession of by the deceased sister s eldest son. But now they are the subject of legacy as other property.

122. Obligations, in regard to debt, are considered binding. Time does not diminish these obligations among the Creeks. The Indian does not consider ill-luck in hunting, as exonerating him from paying his debts. They are not prone to sink individuality, after a time, into nationality, and to seek to provide for them in that manner. The Creeks are punctual in the payment of their debts. They set a high value on real property, exacting for it its real worth, nor do they part with it readily, nor for inadequate sums. There have been instances of making more than one conveyance of property, but these cases do not often arise now.

Footnotes

  1. Vide Davis Caribees. London, 1666. 34 

  2. 1790. Indian Treaties, page 29. 

  3. The question of language will be hereafter examined. 



MLA Source Citation:

Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 19 December 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/history-of-the-muskogee-indians.htm - Last updated on Nov 13th, 2014


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