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The Creek Confederacy
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The Creek confederacy, or “league of the Muscogulgee” was a purely political organization connecting the various and disparate elements, which composed it, for common action against external aggression. It had no direct influence on the social organization of the tribes, and the most appropriate term for this, and other Indian confederacies as well, is that of war-confederacy, war-league or symmachy. In Creek the Maskoki confederacy is called ísti Maskoki imiti-halátka.
To call this loose assemblage of towns and tribes a military democracy, in the sense that the majority of the votes decided a question brought before the people in a manner that was binding for the citizens, is entirely wrong and misleading, for Indians regard their actions subject to their own decisions only, or, at the utmost, to those of their individual gens. Every Creek town or individual could go on the warpath or stay at home, in spite of any wish or decree issued by the chiefs or assembled warriors. The young warriors, anxious to obtain fame and war-titles, joined the war parties on the call of a leader. In questions of war unanimity was seldom attained in the council of a town, much less in the whole nation; “it is not recollected by the oldest man, that more than one-half of the nation went to war at the same time or took the war-talk.”
“When the míko and his councilors are of opinion that the town has been injured, the Great Warrior lifts the war-hatchet, átăsi, against the offending nation. But as soon as it is taken up, the míko and his council may interpose, and by their prudent counsels stop it, and proceed to adjust the misunderstanding by negotiation. If the Great Warrior persists and goes out he is followed by all who are for war.”
These words, quoted from the “Sketch” of the United States agent, B. Hawkins, plainly show, that the initiative for war rested with the civil authority, and not with the military. But it is possible that Hawkins speaks of white or peace-towns only, and not of the red towns. He continues as follows:
“Peace is always determined on and concluded by the míko and councilors, and peace-talks are always addressed to the cabin of the míko. In some cases, where the resentment of the warriors has run high, the míko and council have been much embarrassed.”
All this proves that every town had the privilege to begin warfare for itself, independent of the confederacy, provided that the civil government consented to the undertaking. This fact plainly shows the perfect independence of the Indian tribe from the war-confederacy, and forms a striking contrast to our ideas of a centralized state power. In some instances the Creek towns left their defensive position to act on the offensive principle, but they were not sustained then by the Maskoki confederacy.
The chief of the confederacy had to advise only, and not to command; he was of influence only when endowed with superior talent and political ability. The chief and principal warriors had annual meetings in the public square of some central town, on public affairs; they drank ássi, exchanged tobacco, and then proceeded to debate. Time and place of these conventions were fixed by a chief, and the space of time between warning and that of assembly was called ” broken days.” Major C. Swan, after whose report this passage is quoted (Schoolcraft V, 279) states that the title of the chief of the confederacy was the great beloved man, while Milfort, who was himself invested with the charge of great warrior of the nation, styles him ” Le Tastanégy ou grand chef de guerre,” adding, however, that in his time he was the highest authority in civil and military affairs (Memoire, Note to p. 237). The English, French and Spaniards frequently called him the Emperor of the Upper and Lower Creeks, a term which is not entirely misapplied when taken in its original sense of “military commander,” the imperator of the Romans.
At a later period the meeting of the confederacy usually took place at Tukabatchi, which had become the largest community. From the above it results, however, that the Creeks had no capital town in the sense as we use this term. Col. B. Hawkins, who attempted to introduce some unity among the towns for the purpose of facilitating the transaction of business of the nation, and their intercourse with the United States Government, proposed various measures, as the classing of the towns into nine districts; these were adopted at Tukabatchi by the chiefs of the nation, on November 27th, 1799.1
The small degree of respect which the Creek towns paid to international treaties (sitimfátchita) or other solemn engagements made with the whites, as sales of territory, etc., is another proof for the looseness of the “powerful Creek confederacy.” After giving a list of six influential headmen of different towns, Major C. Swan declares that a treaty made with these chiefs would probably be communicated to all the people of the country, and be believed and relied upon (Schoolcraft V, 263). Subsequent events have shown this to be founded on a misapprehension of the Indian character, which is that of the most outspoken individuality.
Major C. Swan, who only traveled through the country to leave it again, makes the following interesting statement concerning the political and social status of the disparate tribes composing the Creek confederacy (1791; in Schoolcraft V, 259. 260):
“Their numbers have increased faster by the acquisition of foreign subjects than by the increase of the original stock. It appears long to have been a maxim of their policy to give equal liberty and protection to tribes conquered by themselves, as well as to those vanquished by others, although many individuals taken in war are slaves among them, and their children are called of the slave race, and cannot arrive to much honorary distinction in the country, on that account.”
f. his Sketch, pp. 51. 52. 67. 68. ↩
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