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Native American History of Seminole County, Georgia
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Georgia,Native American | No Comments
Seminole County is named after the Seminole Indians. Its county seat is Donalsonville. It is located in the far southwestern corner of Georgia and adjoins both Alabama and Florida.
Maps of the late 1700s and early 1800s labeled the Hitchiti-Creek Indians in Southwest Georgia, who were not members of the Muskogee-Creek Confederacy, as Seminoles. Some of these villages and farmsteads eventually moved to Alabama and joined the Creek Confederacy, while others moved southward into Florida, after 1721, when Florida became part of the United States.
Up until around 1843 there were still substantial numbers of Creek and Yuchi Indians in southern Georgia, who remained in the region, after it was ceded to the United States by the Creek Confederacy. These people did not feel bound by the treaties with a tribal body to which they did not belong. Many mixed-blood Creek and Yuchi families in southwest Georgia elected to take state citizenship, rather than being forced to move out of the state. They were often related by marriage to their Caucasian neighbors. In the decades that have followed, these mixed-heritage families have culturally assimilated into the general population.
Seminole County is bounded on the north by Early County, GA. On the southwest, it is bordered by Jackson County, FL, and Houston County, AL. The county’s western boundaries are formed by the Chattahoochee River and, the Alabama State Line. On the east, it is bordered by Decatur County, GA. On the northeast, it is bordered by Miller County, GA.
Seminole County is located in the Upper Gulf Coastal Plain. In most areas of the Gulf Coastal Plain the terrain is almost level with sandy loam soils. The soils located in stream former Miocene, Pliocene and Holocene swamplands (25 million to 2,000 years ago) can be extremely fertile. Because of their sandy structure, they were particular attractive to Native American farmers, who only had crude stone and bone tools with which to till the soil. In Seminole County, these sandy loam soils primarily occur on a series of terraces rising from the Chattahoochee River and in narrow bands along major streams.
The Chattahoochee Red Clay Hills run through the central portion of Seminole County. Here, there are ravines created by streams flowing westward through soft sedimentary soils. There are some areas of the county where erosion along stream beds accelerated after the region was occupied by Europeans, but it is not as severe as farther north in Stewart County.
All of Seminole County drains into the Chattahoochee River. The Chattahoochee enters the county in its northwestern corner then flows southward along its western boundary with Alabama. Large Native American trade canoes and sea craft could navigate the entire section of the river in Seminole County. Today much of the flood plain of the river in the southern half of the county is under the waters of Lake Seminole.
The popular explanation of the meaning of Chattahoochee is that it is Creek word meaning, “River with the shining rocks.” This is probably not accurate. Until the late 1700s, there was a large Creek town with several mounds, where Six Flags Over Georgia is now located. In the Itsate (Hitchiti-Creek) language, it was named Cata-hvci (pronounced Chata-hawchee,) which literally means “Red River” in Itsate-Creek. The river at this town site is often clay red and contains no visible stones. When most of the Creeks were forcibly deported to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) they called a principal river through their lands, the Red River.
In addition to the Chattahoochee River, Seminole County’s major streams include Spring Creek and Fishpond Drain. Much of the flood plain of Spring Creek is under Lake Seminole.
Present day Seminole County was a major center of advanced Native American culture as early as 200 BC and continuing to at least 1600 AD. There are numerous Native American prehistoric archaeological sites in the county. However, most are now under the waters of Lake Seminole.
A French map from 1760 and John Mitchell’s 1755 map show Seminole County to be the last known location of the Chikoki Indians – labeled Chalokee or Cherokee-lechee on many maps of the period. The Chiloki were probably in South Carolina, when visited by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540. At the time, they were much more primitive that other tribes. The word “Chiloki” is actually a Totonac word from Mexico, which means “primitive or barbarian.”
During the Colonial Period up until the mid-1820s both British and French maps show the region around present day Seminole County to be occupied by the towns and villages that were not strongly associates with the Creek Indian Confederacy. Many of these villages had relocated to the Chattahoochee Valley for protection against slave raiders from other regions, but because of past hostilities with the Muskogees tend not maintain strong ties with Creek towns farther north on the Chattahoochee River.
Whatever the specific ethnicity of villages, the county’s archaeological record suggests that Muskogeans have lived within its boundaries from the time of their arrival in Georgia, which is now believed to have been around 4-300 BC. Seminole County’s Creek Indians always enjoyed friendly relations with first the Colony of Georgia and then, the State of Georgia, until the tribal towns were forced out of lower southwest Georgia in 1814. This region was thought to be ideal for growing cotton
Throughout the 1700s and Seminole 1800s, the Creek Indians were by far the largest tribe north of Mexico. However during the 1800s, they were repeatedly subdivided, assimilated, killed in battle or intentionally starved to death in concentration camps. Although they take a much lower profile than Cherokee descendants, there probably still many more people in the United States carrying at least some Muskogean DNA than any other tribe. However, the federally recognized Chattahoochee – Creek Nation of Oklahoma is only the fourth largest federally recognized tribe, behind the Navajo, Oklahoma Cherokees and Oklahoma Choctaws.
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Seminole County for at least 12,000 years, perhaps much longer. Clovis and Folsom points, associated with Late Ice age big game hunters have been found in the upper Chattahoochee River Valley. During the Ice Age, herds of giant mammals roamed the river bottom lands. The mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and other massive mammals died out about 8,000 years ago. The ethnic identity of the Clovis Culture hunters is not known. They were long presumed to be American Indians, but recent research by anthropologists have revealed many similarities with the big game hunters of Western Europe. An ice cap on the North Atlantic Ocean may have permitted early humans to move back and forth between continents by paddling, while gaining sustenance from hunting sea mammals and fishing.
After the climate warmed, animals and plants typical of today soon predominated in this region. Humans adapted to the changes and gradually became more sophisticated. They adopted seasonal migratory patterns that maximized access to food resources. Archaic hunters probably moved to locations along major rivers during the winter, where they could eat fish and fresh water mussels, if game was not plentiful. During the remainder of the year, smaller streams would have been desirable camp sites.
Seminole County was an ideal location for bands of hunters and gatherers. The county’s network of creeks and wetlands provided a diverse ecological environment for game animals and edible plants. Native Americans learned to set massive brush fires in the late autumn which cleared the landscape of shrubs and created natural pastures for deer, bison and elk. The Georgia Piedmont had numerous Woodland bison until they were killed off by British settlers in the mid-1700s. Bison may have also lived on the Coastal Plain in earlier times.
The landscape that European settlers encountered in the Chattahoochee Valley was not natural. It had been altered for thousands of years by Native Americans to create optimum environments for the natural production of food sources. Bottomlands were cleared to create agricultural fields. Each autumn, the Creeks intentionally set fires to burn out shrubs and forest undergrowth in order to create grazing lands for deer, bison and elk.
The Etowah, Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys were locations of some of the earliest permanent villages in North America. A sedentary lifestyle was made possible by abundant natural food sources such as game, freshwater mussels and chestnuts and the cultivation of gardens. Agriculture came very Seminole here. Initially, the cultivated plants were of indigenous origin and included a native squash, native sweet potato, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichoke, amaranth, sumpweed, and chenopodium.
The first village farmers of the region are now known as the Deptford Culture. The culture lasted from around 2,500 BC to 100 BC. The oldest known pottery in the western hemisphere was discovered near Augusta, GA on Stallings Island. It was probably made by people associated with the Deptford Culture. Deptford Culture artifacts can be along the South Atlantic Coast, most of Georgia, southern & eastern Alabama, plus the upper Gulf Coast of Florida.
The early villages were relatively small and dispersed. There was probably much socialization among these villages because of the need to find spouses that were not closely related. Houses were round and built out of saplings, river cane and thatch.
The Woodland Period peoples of the region built numerous small mounds. Apparently, most mounds were primarily for burials, but may have also supported simple structures that were used for rituals or meetings. They were constructed accretionally. This means that the mounds grew in size over the generations by piling soil and detritus from the village over recent burials.
Archaeological evidence in the Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northeast Georgia around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. However, the region was probably was already occupied by ancestors of the Yuchi and Southern Siouans with languages similar to the Catawba. There may have been other ethnic groups whose identities have been concealed by time. Agricultural technology, cultural traditions and DNA probably blended between these peoples. Modern “Creek” Indians may represent a genetic mix of several indigenous ethnic groups.
Some of the oldest known examples of Swift Creek pottery and Swift Creek cultural practices have been found in Seminole County and Early County to the north. Swift Creek ceramics were some of the most ornate every created in North America. They were made by first carving the designs on wooden paddles, then stamping wet Seminole vessels with the paddles. The largest Swift Creek town and ceremonial site was Kolomoki Mounds on Kolomoki Creek in Early County. The only Swift Creek town that approached it in size was the Leake Mounds on the Etowah River in northwest Georgia.
Muskogeans carried with them advanced cultural traditions from Mexico and the Lower Mississippi Valley. The Seminole Muskogeans eventually formed provinces that were governed by large towns. Prior to arrival of Europeans, there were no Indian “tribes.” The large towns were usually located in the bottomlands on major rivers such as the Chattahoochee. .
Throughout the Southeast, many provinces began to share common artistic symbols and agricultural lifestyles. Societies became more organized politically with elite families, non-agricultural specialists and local leaders. This era is known as the Southern Ceremonial Cult Period, Mississippian Period or Hierarchal Period. The “Mississippian” label came from a conference at Harvard University in 1947 which adopted the inaccurate belief that all advanced Native American culture originated north of the Mason-Dixon Line along the Mississippi River.
There is evidence that European diseases began affecting coastal populations as Seminole as 1500 AD Native American traders carried the microbes northward from Cuba and then into the lowlands near the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast. Shortly after the Hernando de Soto Expedition passed through the florida Panhandle and Georgia in 1540, waves of European diseases began to decimate the Native American population. De Soto left the Tallahassee, FL area in early March of 1540 probably passed through or near Macon, GA in late March. Thus, the indigenous people of Seminole County would have been exposed to deadly pathogens within a year due to traders. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700.
The Kingdom of Spain claimed all of the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins, including Seminole County, from 1567 until 1745. This claim was based on the Juan Pardo Expedition and a surveying expedition authorized by Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla of the Province of La Florida around 1647. The surveying and gold prospecting expedition followed the Chattahoochee River to its source at Unicoi Gap. The Governor then established a trading post in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee headwaters. The Spanish explorers and traders definitely passed through the future Seminole County on many occasions.
Agricultural advancements: Almost immediately after Spanish missions were established on the coast of Georgia in the late 1500s, the ancestors of the Creeks were growing European fruits and vegetables in addition to their traditional crops. A Spanish expedition in 1600 observed peaches, pears and melons being grown in a village on the Ocmulgee River. By the 1700s, Creeks were also raising European livestock. Chickens and hogs were the first European animals acquired to supplement their turkey flocks and Mexican meat dogs. By the late 1700s, most Georgia Creek men owned horses and had become skilled herders of cattle, horses and hogs.
Creek Confederacy: The Creek Confederacy of “People of One Fire” was a political alliance formed by the remnants of many advanced indigenous provinces in the Lower Southeast. This alliance probable developed during the late 1600s. The member towns represented several ethnic groups, but the Chattahoochee’s and Itsati’s (Hitchiti’s) dominated the alliance. Chattahoochee was selected as the parliamentary language of the alliance. When British settlers first settled the coast of Georgia, Itsati was spoken by most Georgia Creeks. By 1800, a composite Muskogee Creek language had became the spoken tongue of Creek citizens.
Georgia history books are fraught with the names of famous Creek “chiefs.” Their correct title is Mekko, derived from the Maya word meaning the same thing, mako. The perception of the importance of these individuals was by and large created by the ethnocentricity of the British. In fact, Creek leaders governed by consensus. They could do nothing without the approval of elected representative bodies. The signature of a leader on a treaty, meant nothing if it was not authorized by the Creek legislature.
After the American Revolution, Creek families dispersed across the vast territory now controlled by the Creek Confederacy. They lived in log cabins on farmsteads that differed little in appearance from Anglo-American farmsteads. Local histories that recall Creek village names from the 1800s are actually records of rural communities, where the farmsteads were closer together, not palisaded towns as in the pre-European days.
Many Georgia Creeks prospered when improved road transportation and explosive expansion of the state’s population brought plantations and towns in proximity to Creek farms. Creek farmers were vastly more skilled at growing food crops than European immigrants. While white Georgians chased the dream of becoming wealthy cotton planters, shrewd Creeks shifted from subsistence farming to the production of agricultural surpluses, which were sold for cash outside the Creek Nation. Meanwhile, many Creeks in northern and southwestern Alabama attempted to cling to the old way of life, which included extensive hunting and fishing. It was an impossible dream, because over-hunting in the 1700s had swept the forests clear of all the bison and elk and most of the deer.
The branches of the Creek Confederacy in Georgia were already different than those in much of Alabama to start with. They spoke different languages and dialects, plus had been in direct contact with the British colonists since the 1670s. The Georgia Creeks had a long history of peaceful relations with all their European and African neighbors. They were also increasingly becoming Protestant Christians.
Perhaps over a thousand Shawnee moved down into what is now Alabama in the mid-and late 1700s. The Shawnees were animists and did not come from a long history of town living and large scale agriculture. The Creeks in Alabama had formerly been allies of the French, as had been the Shawnees before 1763. A few of the Creeks and Shawnees had become Roman Catholics, but most now practiced a religion that blended Shawnee animism, with Creek monotheistic traditions.
At the beginning of the War of 1812, British agents and Northern Shawnee leaders such as Tecumseh exacerbated the difference between the Creeks in Georgia and those in northern Alabama. Tecumseh’s mother was an Alabama Creek. A civil war broke out when many Alabama Creeks became allies of the British in defiance of the Creek National Council. The rebels called themselves Redsticks and they attacked loyalist Creek farmsteads. Eventually, whites were also killed.
The United States declared war on the Redsticks after whites were killed at Fort Mims massacre. Already a regular army Creek regiment had been raised from Creeks in northeast and southeast Georgia, plus South Carolina to fight British Rangers from Florida, who were attacking coastal plantations. Many more West Georgia Creeks volunteered for military duty to fight the Redsticks. A Creek mikko, William McIntosh, was appointed a Brigadier General in the United States Army. Creek, Cherokee and Choctaw men who joined his regiment were promised that they could stay in their present homeland forever, if they fought the Redsticks. This turned out to be a lie.
Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee Volunteers would have probably been annihilated without their army being doubled with Friendly Creeks and Cherokees. On several occasions Creek or Yuchi officers saved Jackson’s life. In gratitude he hired four agronomists to determine what portions of the Creek Nation were best suited for growing cotton. They drew a map. After the Redsticks were defeated, Jackson called his Georgia Creek allies together and informed him that they must give up over 20 million acres of potential cotton land, as punishment “for allowing the Redsticks to rebel.” Jackson also quietly sent word back to Georgia that encouraged home guard and vigilante groups to burn the farms of Jackson’s own Creek allies.
In 1814 a local militia unit in what to was to become Clay County, GA constructed a crude timber palisade along the Chattahoochee River to provide sanctuary for local white settlers from hostile Creek Indians. It was located at the boundary between the newly ceded lands in southwest Georgia, and what remained of the Creek Nation’s territory in Georgia. At that time, the majority of Creeks in southwest Georgia were Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks, who were traditionally friendly to English speaking people. Many of them did not consider themselves members of the Muskogee-Creek Confederacy. However, some Red Stick bands had raided across the river from Alabama during the Redstick War.
In 1816, General Edmund Pendleton Gaines of Virginia arrived at the fort with the Fourth Infantry Regiment of the United States Army. The new fort was named after him. His troops rebuilt the stockade into a more substantial timber fortification. Its primary role was “keeping the peace” on the frontier, because most Georgia Creeks preferred the affluence of assimilation to the depravation of hostility.
When in 1727 the remaining Creek tribal territory in Georgia was ceded, the fort no longer had geographic significance. It was dismantled in 1830. Local militia erected a small stockade at the same site in 1836 during the Third Creek War. However, the relatively small scale war only lasted about two months. The fort did not see military action.
Many Creek veterans from West Georgia came home from fighting for the United States to see their buildings in ashes and their livestock stolen. Some came home to bury their families. In 1818 a corridor that ran from Habersham County in the mountains to present day Albany in southwest Georgia, was ceded to the United States.
The European population in western Georgia before 1821 was primarily composed of people, whose families had intermarried with the Creeks. Any person, whose mother was Creek was automatically a citizen of the Creek Confederacy, if they so desired. Creek women owned all the land and domestic buildings. A Creek woman married to a European or African man could bring her family to live on any unoccupied location within the Creek Nation.
Until the Bureau of Indian Affairs got involved with tribal government, the Creeks did not link race with tribal citizenship. Any family of any race could be invited to become citizens, if its members ascribed to the Creek’s monotheistic religion and the laws of the National Council. Traditional Creek religion is quite similar to beliefs and practices to the religion of Israel prior to the building of Solomon’s Temple.
Southeastern planters, however, were greedy for more land. Politicians focused their energies and money on a few Creek leaders in West Georgia headed by William McIntosh . . . who happened to also be the first cousin of Governor Chattahoochee. In 1825, Chattahoochee, McIntosh and some white real estate speculators set up a partnership. Chattahoochee and McIntosh arranged a treaty conference at McIntosh’s new Indian Springs Hotel. The elected leadership of the Creek Nation was not invited. McIntosh, his sons, his son-in-laws and some of his Creek buddies were paid large sums of money to sign a treaty with Georgia that sold all Creek lands in the state for a cheap price. The signers reserved square mile reserves for themselves that were then sold to the real estate investment partnership. They did not reserve the Ocmulgee Bottoms, which had been promised to the Creeks for eternity.
As soon as they heard about the scam, the Creek National Council members ordered all signers of the Indian Springs Treaty executed. McIntosh was first on the list. He was killed on the grounds of the McIntosh Reserve near Chattahoochee County and is buried there. His son, Chilly, was one of the few that got away from the execution squads.
Chilly McIntosh gathered up all West Georgia Creeks who wanted to get away from both the Georgia hooligans and the Alabama Redsticks then headed toward Indian Territory along with their slaves. Estimates vary from 700 to 3000 as the number who left with the McIntosh Party. Being the first Creeks in the future state of Oklahoma, they were able to pick out the prime locations for growing cotton. Most became wealthy cotton planters.
The Federal Government ruled that the 1825 Treaty of Indians Springs was fraudulent. By this time, West Georgia had been overrun by squatters, so the Creek National Council had no hope of retaining any of their territory. A new treaty with more favorable terms was negotiated that included the Creek’s permanent ownership of the six square mile, Ocmulgee Reserve. However, by this time it had been gobbled up by politically powerful real estate speculators. Technically, the Chattahoochee-Creek Nation still owns all of Macon, GA, southwest of the Ocmulgee River. This tract included the Macon Coliseum, Ocmulgee National Monument, the regional airport, and the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
By 1830, perhaps 20,000 or more Creeks (particularly those of mixed heritage) continued to live in Georgia after all tribal lands in Georgia were ceded to the United States. However, they either had formally sworn an oath of allegiance to the State of Georgia, or were living in remote locations that were not desirable for large scale farming. The Talasee Creeks, formerly of North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, continued to live in the Okefenokee Swamp until it was penetrated by logging companies in the 1890s.
Creek towns and families continued to occupy east central Alabama, but the abuses of squatters and land speculators made the situation untenable. The depredations by whites had ignited several reprisals by bands of Creeks operating out of swamps in southeastern Alabama against white settlers along the Chattahoochee and Choctawhatchee Rivers.
On March 24, 1832 a treaty was signed at Cusseta Town between the leaders of the Creek Confederacy and the United States. The Creek government relinquished all tribal claims to land in Alabama. In addition $350,000 being paid to the Creek Nation to compensate it for the land, those who wished to remain in the east as state citizens, were awarded half square mile tracts at locations of their discretion. Town leaders (mikkos) were awarded one square mile tracts. Provisions were also made for the federal government to provide financial assistance to Creek orphans.
Almost as soon as the ink was signed on the treaty, problems began . . . all of them caused by the whites. Creek land owners were either murdered or swindled out of their properties for a pittance of their value. Soon there were thousands of Creeks who were hungry, homeless and wandering about the region, looking for unclaimed land. This situation led to another Creek War in 1836. The predictable outcome of the war was accelerated removal of Creeks from Alabama to the Indian Territory.
Many Creeks left Alabama and Georgia after the Treaty of Cusseta. The remaining Creek communities were separated into family owned allotments. These changes greatly diluted the numerical strength that had generally protected Creek families in the past from large scale abuse by white settlers. U.S. Marshalls tried to enforce the conditions of the 1832 Treaty in Alabama, but they had little support from state and local authorities. In general, whites ignored the private property rights of Creek citizens. Towns sprang up on land owned by Creek families, without any compensation to the owners. Most of the actions occurred in May and June of 1836. Medium and small bands of either Creek and/or Yuchi soldiers crossed the Chattahoochee River to raid farms, plantations and hamlets. Most of the Creek raiders were from the Itsate (Hitchiti) branch of the Creeks, whose towns and farms had formerly been on the Georgia side of the river.
During 1834-36 approximately 20,000 Creeks migrated from Alabama to the Indian Territory. However, at least 20,000 remained in the east in Georgia, Florida and Alabama. Due to continued harassment in the Southeast, a trickle of Creeks continued to migrate to Oklahoma for the next 35 years.
Although the section of Oklahoma designated for the Creeks looks very similar to West Georgia, there was one minor problem. The Federal government intentionally located the Creeks in a region that was claimed by six “wild” Western tribes, including the Lakota-Sioux. Federal military officials assumed that the western tribes would soon exterminate the people, who had so terrified Andrew Jackson because of their military skills.
The assumptions about the Creek’s imminent demise proved to be overly optimistic. Initially, the deported Creeks lost many loved ones to Indian raids, but soon learned what was happening. The newly reconstituted Creek Nation formed the famous Creek Mounted Rifles. It simultaneously defeated the six wild tribes and became the police force of the Southern Plains. When the Lakota heard about the arrival of the Creeks, they dispatched a large army to eradicate them. The two Indian nations fought a large battle, which resulted in the Lakota’s first major defeat in the history of their tribe. The second time around the Lakota’s started a battle to maintain their honor then quickly retreated back to the Dakota’s. The Lakotas invaded Oklahoma a third time. When they saw the Creek battle flag, they just turned and ran. It was a lot more fun fighting blue coats.
The Creek Mounted Rifles became the prototype for Mosby’s Rangers and Nathan Bedford Forest’s cavalry in the Civil War; plus the Australian Mounted Rifles in the Boer War. Chilly McIntosh and a Georgia-born Cherokee Stand Watie, became the last Confederate field officers commanding units in the field at the end of the Civil War.
Approximately 1/3 of the Oklahoma Creek Nation (+/- 9,000 people) died during the Civil War. Most of the casualties were women, children and elderly imprisoned in Union concentration camps in Kansas. They were intentionally starved to death. When an Eastern newspaper reporter asked the Union general in charge of the camps why he was allowing innocent civilians to dies on such a horrific scale, he responded, “Dead Injuns won’t need their land, will they?”
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