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The Migration of Alabama and Muscogee Indians East
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It has been seen that the Indians living in that part of Alabama through which De Soto passed, were the Coosas, inhabiting the territory embraced in the present counties of Benton, Talladega, Coosa, and a portion of Cherokee; the Tallases, living upon the Tallapoosa and its tributary streams; the Mobilians extending from near the present city of Montgomery to the commercial emporium which now bears their name; the Pafallayas or Choctaws, inhabiting the territory of the modern counties of Green, Marengo, Tuscaloosa, Sumpter and Pickens; and, in the present State of Mississippi, the Chickasaws, in the valley of the Yalobusha; and the Alabamas, upon the Yazoo.
1541 April: It will, also, be recollected, that this remarkable Spaniard overrun the rich province of Chiaha, the territory of the present northwestern Georgia, and that he there found the Chalaques, which all writers upon aboriginal history decide to be the original name of the Cherokees.
The invasion of De Soto resulted in the destruction of an immense Indian population, in all the territory through which he passed, except that of Georgia, where he fought no battles.
The European diseases, which the natives inherited from the Spaniards, served, also, to thin their population. Again, the constant bloody wars in which they were engaged afterwards, among each other, still further reduced their numbers. And while the bloody Spaniards were wandering over this beautiful country, the Muscogees were living upon the Ohio.1 They heard of the desolation of Alabama, and after a long time came to occupy and re-people it. The remarkable migration of this powerful tribe, and that of the Alabamas, will now, for the first time, be related, and that, too, upon the authority of a reliable person, who must here be introduced to the reader.
Le Clerc Milfort, a young, handsome, and well educated Frenchman, left his native country, sailed across the Atlantic, made the tour of the New England States, and came, at length, to Savannah. A love of adventure led him to the Creek nation, and in May 1776, he arrived at the great town of Coweta, situated on the Chattahoochee river, two miles below the present city of Columbus. There he became acquainted with Colonel McGillivray, the great Chieftain of the nation, and accompanied him to the Hickory Ground, upon the banks of the Coosa. Fascinated with the society of this great man, the hospitality of the Indians, and the wide field afforded for exciting enterprise, Milfort resolved to become a permanent inmate of McGillivray’s house, then situated at Little Tallase, four miles above Wetumpka. He married his sister, was created Tustenuggee, or Grand Chief of War, and often led Indian expeditions against the Whig population of Georgia, during the American Revolution.
May 1780: A fine writer, and much of an antiquarian, he employed some of his leisure hours in preparing a history of the Creeks. Remaining in the nation twenty years, he resolved to return to France. In 1796 he sailed from Philadelphia, and it was not long before he was among the gay people from whom he had so long been absent. Bonaparte, at length, heard of this adventurous man, and honored him with an audience. He desired to engage his services in forming alliances with the Alabama and Mississippi Indians, for the purpose of strengthening his Louisiana possessions. But, finally giving up these possessions, and turning his whole attention to the wars in which he was deeply engaged with the allied powers, he still retained Milfort, conferring upon him the pay and rank of General of Brigade, but without active employment. In the meantime, General Milfort had published his work upon the Creek Indians.2 In 1814 his home was attacked by a party of Russians, who had heard of his daring exploits in assisting to repel the allied invaders. He barricaded it, and defended himself with desperation. His French wife assisted him to load his guns. At length he was rescued by a troop of grenadiers. Shortly after this General Milfort closed, by death, a career which had been full of event in the savage as well as the civilized world. His wife, at an advanced age, was recently burned to death in her own house at Rheims.3
When Milfort arrived among the Creeks, the old men often spoke of their ancestors, and they exhibited to him strands of pearls which contained their history and constituted their archives. Upon their arrangement depended their signification, and only principal events were thus preserved. One of their chaplets sometimes related the history of thirty years. Each year was rapidly distinguished by those who understood them. The old men, therefore, with the assistance of these singular records and strong memories, were enabled to impart to Milfort a correct tradition, the substance of which we give.4
Hernando Cortez, with some Spanish troops, landed at Vera Cruz in 1519. He fought his way thence to the City of Mexico. In the meantime, Montezuma had assembled his forces from all parts of his empire to exterminate the invaders. The Muscogees then formed a separate republic on the northwest of Mexico. Hitherto invincible in war, they now rallied to his aid, engaging in the defense of that greatest of aboriginal cities. At length Cortez was successful–Montezuma was killed, his government overthrown, and thousands of his subjects put to the sword. Having lost many of their own warriors, and unwilling to live in a country conquered by foreign assassins, the Muscogees determined to seek some other land. The whole tribe took up the line of march, and continued eastward until they struck the sources of the Red river. The route lay over vast prairies, abounding with wild animals and fruits, which afforded them all the means of subsistence. In journeying down the banks of the Red river, they discovered salt lakes and ponds, which were covered with fowl of every description. Consuming months upon the journey, they finally reached a large forest, in which they encamped. The young men, sent in advance to explore the country, returned in a month, and announced the discovery of a forest on the banks of the Red river, in which were beautiful subterranean habituations. Marching thither, they found these caves had been made by buffaloes and other animals, who came there to lick the earth, which was impregnated with salt. A town was here laid out, houses constructed, an extensive field enclosed, and corn, which they had brought with them, planted. Subsisting by the chase and the products of the earth, they passed here several years in health and tranquility.
But even in this remote retreat they eventually found those who would molest them. The Alabamas, who seem also to have been wandering from the west, attacked a party of Muscogees, who were hunting, and killed several of them. Probably in 1527: The Muscogees abandoned their town, which they believed did not afford them sufficient protection from the buffalo and human foes. They resumed their march in the direction of the camps of the Alabamas, upon whom they had resolved to be avenged. Traversing immense plains, they reached a grove on the Missouri river, having shaped their course in a northern direction from their last settlement. Here they came upon the footprints of the Alabamas. The most aristocratic among the Muscogees, called the Family of the Wind, passed the muddy river first. They were followed by the Family of the Bear; then by that of the Tiger; and thus, till the humblest of the tribe had crossed over. Resuming the march, young warriors and the Chiefs formed the advance guard; the old men were placed in the rear, and those of an age less advanced on the flanks, while the women and children occupied the centre. Coming within the neighborhood of the enemy, the main party halted, while the Tustenuggee, or Grand Chief of War, at the head of the young warriors, advanced to the attack. The Alabamas, temporarily dwelling in subterranean habituations, were taken by surprise, and many of them slain. Forced to abandon this place, and retreat from the victors, they did not rally again until they had fled a great distance down on the eastern side of the Missouri. After a time they were overtaken, when several bloody engagements ensued. The Muscogees were triumphant, and the vanquished retreated in terror and dismay to the banks of the Mississippi. The enemy again coming upon them with invincible charges, precipitated many of them into the river. Thus, alternately fighting, constructed new towns, and again breaking up their last establishments, these two war like tribes gradually reached the Ohio river, and proceeded along its banks almost to the Wabash.5 Here, for along time, the Muscogees resided, and lost sight of the Alabamas, who had established themselves upon the Yazoo, and were there living when De Soto attacked their fortress.6 1520 to 1535: The Muscogees abandoned their home in the northwestern province of Mexico about the period of 1520, had consumed fifteen years in reaching the to Ohio, and were there residing when the Spanish invasion occurred. How long they occupied that country Milfort does not inform us; but he states that they finally crossed the Ohio and Tennessee, and settled upon the Yazoo — thus continuing to pursue the unfortunate Alabamas. Delighted with the genial climate, the abundance of fruit and game with which it abounded, they established towns upon the Yazoo, constructed subterranean habituations, and for some years passed their time most agreeably. It is probable the Alabamas had fled before their arrival, for the Spaniards had so thinned the number of the latter that it was folly to resist the Muscogees, who had conquered them when they were much stronger.
Milfort states that the Alabamas finally advanced to the river which now bears their name. Here, finding a region charming in climate, rich in soil, convenient in navigation, and remote from the country of their enemies, they made permanent establishments, from the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa some distance down the Alabama.
Remembering how often they had been surprised by the Muscogees, and how insecure from the attacks was even a distant retreat, the Alabamas sent forth young warriors westward, to see if their foes were still wandering upon their heels. It happened that a party of the latter were reconnoitering eastward. They met, fought, and some of the Muscogees were killed. In the meantime, the latter tribe had learned what a delightful country was occupied by the Alabamas, and this new outrage, coupled with a possession of the lands upon the Alabama, and also those upon the Coosa and Tallapoosa. Supposed to be in 1620: The Alabamas fled in all directions, seeking asylum among the Choctaws and other tribes.
Gaining a firm footing in the new region, enjoying good health, and increasing in population, the Muscogees advanced to the Ocmulgee, Oconee, and Ogechee, and even established a town where now reposes the beautiful city of Augusta. With the Indians of the present State of Georgia, they had combats, but overcame them. Pushing on their conquests, they reduced a warlike tribe called the Uchees, lower down upon the Savannah, and brought the prisoners in slavery to the Chattahoochie.7 In 1822, Big Warrior, who then ruled the Creek confederacy, confirmed this tradition, even going further back than Milfort, taking the Muscogees from Asia, bringing them over the Pacific, landing them near the Isthmus of Darien, and conducting them from thence to this country. “My ancestors were a mighty people. After they reached the waters of the Alabama and took possession of all this country, they went further — conquered the tribes along the Chattahoochie, and upon all the rivers from thence to the Savannah — yes, and even whipped the Indians then living in the territory of South Carolina, and wrestled much of their country from them.” The Big Warrior concluded this sentence with great exultation, when Mr. Compere, to whom he was speaking, interposed an unfortunate question: — “If this is the way your ancestors acquired all the territory now lying in Georgia, how can you blame the American population in that State for endeavoring to take it from you?” Never after that could the worthy missionary extract a solitary item from the Chieftain, in relation to the history of his people.8
Sometimes after these conquests, the French established themselves at Mobile. The Alabamas, scattered as we have seen, and made to flee before superior numbers, became desirous to place themselves under their protection. Anxious to cultivate a good understanding with all the Indian tribes, and to heal old animosities existing among them, the French caused an interview between the Chiefs of the Alabamas and those of the Muscogees, at Mobile. 1702: In the presence of M. Bienville, the Commandant of that place, a peace was made, which has not since been violated. The Alabamas returned to their towns, upon the river of that name, which were called Cossawda, Econchate, Pauwocte, Towassau and Autauga, situated on both sides of the river, and embracing a country from the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, for forty miles down. They consented to become members of the Muscogee confederacy, and to observe their national laws, but stipulated to retain their ancient manners and customs.
Not long afterwards, the Tookabatchas, who had nearly been destroyed by the Iroquois and Hurons, wandered from the Ohio country, and obtained permission from the Muscogees to form a part of their nation. They were willingly received by the cunning Muscogees, who were anxious to gain all the strength they could, to prevent the encroachments of the English from South Carolina. Upon the ruins of the western Tallase, where De Soto encamped twenty days, the Tookabatchas built a town and gave it their name.9
The Tookabatchas brought with them to the Tallapoosa some curious brass plates, the origin and objects of which have much puzzled the Americans of our day, who have seen them. 1759 Such information respecting them as has fallen into our possession, will be given. On the 27th July 1759, at the Tookabatcha Square, William Balsolver, a British trader, made inquiries concerning their ancient relics, of an old Indian Chief, named Bracket, near a hundred years of age. There were two plates of brass and five of copper. The Indians esteemed them so much they were preserved in a private place, known only to a few Chiefs, to whom they were annually entrusted. They were never brought to light but once in a year, and that was upon the occasion of the Green Corn Celebration, when on the fourth day, they were introduced in, what was termed the “brass plate dance”. Then one of the high Prophets carried one before him, under his arm, ahead of the dancers — next to him the head warrior carried another, and then others followed with the remainder, bearing aloft, at the same time white canes, with the feathers of a swan at the tops.
Formerly, the Tookabatcha tribe had many more of these relics, of different sizes and shapes, with letters and inscriptions upon them, which were given to their ancestors by the Great Spirit, who instructed them that they were only to be handled by particular men, who must at the moment be engaged in fasting, and that no unclean woman must be suffered to come near them or the place where they were deposited. July 27, 1759: Bracket further related, that several of these plates were then buried under the Micco’s cabin in Tookabatcha, and had lain there ever since the first settlement of the town; that formerly it was the custom to place one or more of them in the grave by the side of a deceased Chief of pure Tookabatcha blood, and that no other Indians in the whole Creek nation had much sacred relics.10 Similar accounts of these plates were obtained from four other British traders, “at the most eminent trading house of all English America.”11 The town of Tookabatcha became, in later times, the capital of the Creek nation; and many reliable citizens of Alabama have seen these mysterious pieces at the Green Corn Dances, upon which occasions they were used precisely as in the more ancient days.12 When the inhabitants of this town, in the autumn of 1836, took up the line of march for their present home in the Arkansas Territory, these plates were transported thence by six Indians, remarkable for their sobriety and moral character, at the head of whom was the Chief, Spoke-Oak, Micco. Medicine, made expressly for their safe transportation, was carried along by these warriors. Each one had a plate strapped behind his back, enveloped nicely in buckskin. They carried nothing else, but marched on, marched on, one before the other, the whole distance to Arkansas, neither communicating nor conversing with a soul but themselves, although several thousands were emigrating in company; and walking, with a solemn religious air, one mile in advance of the others.13 How much their march resembled that of the ancient Trojans, bearing off their household gods! Another tradition is, that the Shawnees gave these plates to the Tookabatchas, as tokens of their friendship, with an injunction that they would annually introduce them in their religious observances of the new corn season. But the opinion of Opothleoholo, one of the most gifted Chiefs of the modern Creeks, went to corroborate the general tradition that they were gifts from the Great Spirit.14 It will be recollected that our aborigines, in the time of De Soto, undertook the use of copper, and that hatchets and ornaments were made of that metal. The ancient Indians may have made them, and engraved upon their faces hieroglyphics, which were supposed to be Roman characters. An intelligent New Englander, names Barent Dubois, who had long lived among the Tookabatchas, believed that these plates originally formed some portion of the armor or musical instruments of De Soto, and that the Indians stole them, as they did the shields, in the Talladega country, and hence he accounts for the Roman letters on them. We give an opinion, but leave the reader to determine for himself — having discharged our duty by placing all the available evidence before him.
The reputation which the Muscogees had acquired for strength and a warlike spirit, induced other tribes who had become weak to seek an asylum among them. The Tuskegees wandered down into East Alabama, were received with open arms, and permitted to occupy the territory immediately in the fork of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. Upon the east bank of the former a town was erected and called after the name of the tribe. Some time after this the French fort, Toulouse, was built here; and, one hundred years afterwards, Fort Jackson was placed upon the same foundation by the Americans.
A tribe of the Ozeailles came at the same time, and were located eighteen miles above, on a beautiful plain, through which meandered a fine creek.15 1700: A large tribe of Uchees, made prisoners and brought to Cusseta, upon the Chattahoochie, not long afterwards, were liberated and assigned residences upon the Creeks, which bear their name, flowing through the eastern portion of the county of Russell. Or, upon the authority of Col. Hawkins, the Uchees, formerly living upon the Savannah in small villages at Ponpon, Saltketchers and Silver Bluff, and also upon the Ogeechee, were continually at war with the Creeks, Cherokees and Cataubas; but in 1729 an old Chief of Cusseta, called Captain Ellick, married three Uchee women and brought them to Cusseta, which greatly displeased his friends. Their opposition determined him to move from Cusseta. With three of his brothers, two of whom also had Uchee wives, he settled upon the Uchee creek. Afterwards he collected all that tribe, and with them formed there a discreet community, which, however, became amenable, nationally, to the government of the Muscogees.16
In 1729, the Natchez massacred the French at Fort Rosalie, now the site of the city of Natchez, and were in turn overpowered, and many of them made slaves, while others escaped to the Coosa. In the Talladega country they built two towns, one called Natche and the other Abecouche. Thus a branch of the Natchez also became members of the Muscogee confederacy. 1783: At the close of the Revolutionary War, a party of Savannahs came from that river in company with some Shawnees, from Florida, and formed a town on the east side of the Tallapoosa, called Souvanogee; upon the ruins of which the Americans, in 1819, established the village of Augusta–no remains of which now exist. Souvanogee was laid out in conformity with their usages and habits, which they retained; but they willingly came under the national government of the confederacy.17
Thus did the Muscogee confederacy gain strength, from time to time, by the migration of broken tribes. When the English began to explore their country, and to transport goods into all parts of it, they gave all the inhabitants, collectively, the name of the “Creeks,” on account of the many beautiful rivers and streams which flowed through their extensive domain.18 By that name they will, in the future pages of this history, be called.
Alexander McGillivray, whose blood was Scotch, French, and Indian, who was made a Colonel in the British service, afterwards a Spanish Commissary with the rank and pay of Colonel, then a Brigadier General by Washington, with full pay — a man of towering intellect and vast information, and who ruled Creek country for a quarter of a century — obtained the information that the Creeks were living upon the Ohio when De Soto was here in 1540. He was informed, upon the best traditional authority, that the Creek Indians then heard of De Soto, and the strange people with him; and that, like those whom they had seen in Mexico, they had “hair over their bodies, and carried thunder and lightning in their hands.” See: Biography of General Alexander McGillivray. ↩
Memoire ou coup d’ceil rapide sur mes differens voyages et mon sejour dans la nation Crëck, by Le Clerc Milfort, Tastanegry ou Grand Chef de Guerre de la nation Crëck et General de Brigade ou service de la Republique Francaise. A Paris. 1802. ↩
Extract from a Paris paper, published by Galignani. ↩
Milfort, p. 47. ↩
Milfort, pp. 234-259. ↩
Other Indian traditions in my possession. ↩
Milfort, pp. 269-263. Bartram’s Travels in Florida, pp. 53, 54, 464. Also traditional MSS. notes in my possession. ↩
Rev. Lee Compere’s MS. notes in my possession. This gentleman was born in England on Nov. 3, 1790. He came to South Carolina in 1817. The Baptist Missionary Board and that of the General Convention sent him as a missionary to the Creek nation in 1822. He and his wife, who was an English lady, resided at Tookabatcha (the capital) six years. Mr. Campere made but little progress towards the conversion of the Creeks, owing to the opposition of the Chiefs to the abolition of the primitive customs. He was a much learned man and a respectable writer. He furnished the Indian Bureau, at Washington, with a complete vocabulary of the Muscogee language and also the Lord’s Prayer, all of which is published in the 11th vol. of “Translations of the American Antiquarian Society”, Cambridge, 1836, pp. 381-422. In 1821, I often heard Mr. Campere and his wife sing beautiful hymns in the Creek tongue. He lives in the State of Mississippi. ↩
Milfort, pp. 263-266. ↩
Adair’s “American Indians,” pp. 178-179. ↩
Adair’s “American Indians” p. 179. ↩
Conversations with Barent Dubois, Abraham Mordecai, James Moore, Capt. William Walker, Lacklan Durant, Mrs. Sophia McComb, and other persons who stated that these plates had Roman characters upon them, as well as they could determine from the rapid glances which they could occasionally bestow upon them, while they were being used in the “brass plate dance.” ↩
Conversations with Barent Dubois. ↩
Conversations with Opothleoholo in 1833. ↩
Milfort, p 267 ↩
Sketch of the Creek Country in 1798-99,” by Benjamin Hawkins, pp. 61, 62, 63. Also, manuscript traditional notes in my possession, taken from the lips of aged Indian countrymen. ↩
Milfort, pp. 282-283. “Sketch of the Creek Country,” by Hawkins, p. 34. Also Conversations with Indian countrymen. ↩
Hawkins, p 19. ↩
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