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date: 24 May 2017

The Creek Confederacy

Summary and Keywords

The Creek Confederacy was a loose coalition of ethnically and linguistically diverse Native American towns that slowly coalesced as a political entity in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Its towns existed in Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida, and for most of its preremoval history, these towns operated as autonomous entities. Several Creek leaders tried to consolidate power and create a more centralized polity, but these attempts at nation building largely failed. Instead, a fragile and informal confederacy connected the towns together for various cultural rituals as well as for purposes of diplomacy and trade. Disputes over centralization, as well as a host of other connected issues, ultimately led to the Creek War of 1813–1814. In the 1830s, the United States forced most members of the Creek Confederacy to vacate their eastern lands and relocate their nation to Indian Territory. Today, their western descendants are known as the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. Those who remained in the east include members of the federally recognized Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who live in Alabama.

Keywords: Creek Confederacy, Creek Indians, civilization plan, Muskogee, Indian slave trade, deerskin trade, Indian removal, Native South, Creek War of 1813–1814 (or Red Stick War), Mississippians, Alexander McGillivray

The Creek Confederacy was a loose coalition of ethnically and linguistically diverse Native American towns that slowly coalesced as a political entity in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Its towns existed in Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida, and for most of its preremoval history, these towns operated as autonomous entities. Several Creek leaders tried to consolidate power and create a more centralized polity, but these attempts at nation building largely failed. Instead, a fragile and informal confederacy connected the towns together for various cultural rituals as well as for purposes of diplomacy and trade. Disputes over centralization, as well as a host of other connected issues, ultimately led to the Creek War of 1813–1814. In the 1830s, the United States forced most members of the Creek Confederacy to vacate their eastern lands and relocate their nation in Indian Territory. Today, their western descendants are known as the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. Those who remained in the east include members of the federally recognized Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Poarch Band of Creek Indians who live in Alabama.

Origins

The Creek Confederacy slowly formed out of the chaos and disruptions of the 16th and 17th centuries. Although Creek Indians (also called Muscogees) had cultural and social roots in the ancient world, they did not become a people until after the arrival of Europeans to the southeast. Instead, large hierarchical Mississippian communities filled the ancient southeast. These communities organized their towns around plazas and sustained themselves with an economy and cosmology built around corn horticulture. Paramount chiefs obtained power through their connections to the supernatural world, and these leaders received tribute in the form of agricultural surpluses and labor that helped them sustain their power. Such labor built the large earthen mounds that proliferated in the region and often served as platforms for temples and the homes of the most powerful leaders. The predominance of these enduring and distinctive architectural forms led many scholars to label the Mississippian Indians as the “Mound Builders.”1

The ancient Mississippian world collapsed as a result of European colonialism. In the century before the Spanish arrived, some of the region’s largest chiefdoms suffered from political instability, and its peoples reorganized into smaller polities. Until recently, scholars imagined that this disruption occurred shortly after Hernando de Soto’s entradas (1539–1542) and the introduction and then spread of European diseases throughout the region. Without immunity to smallpox, measles, and influenza, Native American communities suffered tremendously from “virgin soil epidemics” and the region’s population plummeted 90 to 95 percent in short order. Survivors of this ecological disaster regrouped and formed the Creeks and other new Native American nations. But recent scholars have reassessed the timing of the collapse and rebirth of the Native South and the emergence of the Creeks. Although epidemics ravaged coastal communities, especially in Florida, recent scholarship emphasizes how the interior chiefdoms survived for much longer than previously imagined. Aggressive slave raiding in the 17th century allowed smallpox to spread into the interior, and as a result, the first region-wide smallpox epidemic may not have occurred until 1696. A series of aftershocks continued to destabilize and ultimately “shatter” the Mississippian world, leaving survivors to create new communities with many of the social and cultural building blocks of their pasts.2

Survivors of the shattered chiefdoms formed dozens of small towns (talwas) along the waterways of the southeast. The towns reflected the diversity of the Mississippian world. Some chiefdoms—or at least those that survived the shattering—regrouped in new towns that directly reflected their ethnic roots. Abhika, one of the four foundational towns of the Creek confederacy, likely began as a remnant group of residents of the Coosa chiefdom. The other three foundational towns—Coweta, Cussita, and Tuckebatchee—also had distinct ties to communities in the ancient Mississippian world. Politically, these towns operated rather differently than the hierarchical chiefdoms that were often based on generations of accumulated power. Each town had its own micco (chief), heniha (vice chief), yaholas (singers or spokesmen), hillis harjos (medicine men), and tustunnuggees (warriors). These and other forms of leadership tended to be contingent positions, as they acknowledged earlier success or good guidance rather than extend permanently as a birthright or for a set amount of time. Members of a town would simply turn to alternative leaders when their hillis harjo struggled to heal or their micco made poor decisions.3

Other forms of heterogeneity endured as part of Creek society, even as the distinctions became less clear over time. Creeks, for example, spoke many languages and dialects throughout the preremoval era. These languages—which included Muskogee, Alabama, Natchez, Shawnee, and Hitchiti—were often mutually unintelligible from one another. However, by the late 18th century, a Creek dialect of Muskogee served as the lingua franca for the Confederacy as a whole. Nonetheless, linguistic diversity distinguished towns from one another, leading some towns to employ interpreters to speak to their neighbors. The diversity of the ancient past persisted in Creek society, even as the towns hesitatingly became a homogenous and centralized community. For example, even as most Creeks came from matrilineal backgrounds, some brought and retained their patrilineal norms for several generations. Towns similarly brought distinctive and competing stories, dances, and medicines into their communities.4

Underneath this internal diversity, ancient norms helped structure the formation of the Creek Confederacy. Creeks largely shared a cosmology that divided the world into three—an ordered and balanced Upper World, a chaotic Under World, and the human occupied This World that stood in between. Creeks sought to maintain balance and purity in this cosmic order, and they followed the guidance of the Breath Maker (Hesaketvmese) in this campaign. Creeks followed a strict set of rules to limit pollution and restore balance. Each year, Creek towns came together for the Green Corn Ceremony (Posketv). This several-day event continued the ancient tradition of celebrating the new harvest at the start of each summer. Entire communities danced, fasted, and feasted with one another in a symbolic celebration of rebirth and renewal. They relit the ceremonial fire and used it to relight the fires in each household, forgave men and women for offenses committed in the past year, received new names to reflect achievements and the coming of age, and took medicines to restore one’s individual and community purity. Participants in the Green Corn Ceremony typically drank of a heavily caffeinated tea known as Black Drink (Asi), one of several purification rituals that took place throughout the year. They also participated in various forms of tattooing and ritualized scratching.5

A system of extended matrilineal clans structured daily life in Creek towns. Each talwa contained a dozen or more of these extended families that were primarily named for animals or other natural entities. Deer and wind were two of the most prominent clans in the colonial era, but other clan families included bear, bird, beaver, alligator, turtle, and panther. Clan members lived, farmed, and hunted with one another; they camped and danced with one another; and they raised their families together. Clans and clan leaders helped mediate human interactions between each another and otherwise worked to maintain balance in and out of the community. Households formed around extended networks of a clan, with multiple generations often living in close proximity and often under one roof. Marriages were exogamous and matrilocal, with a husband joining his wife’s household and the members of her extended family. Clans similarly reflected the importance that gender had in creating balance in Creek society. Women controlled most of the activities that occurred within households and towns. They controlled the agricultural fields and the harvests of corn, beans, squash, and other produce. As farmers, they enjoyed the authority that followed the sustaining power of corn. Men lived as outsiders to their households but controlled what occurred outside of the towns. They hunted deer and other animals, waged war and made peace, traded with outsiders, and negotiated all other forms of diplomacy.6

Coalescence

As the modern southeast emerged from the shattering of the Mississippian southeast, the loosely connected Creek Confederacy developed into one of the most powerful forces in the region. During most of the colonial era the Creeks outnumbered and controlled more land than Georgia’s combined white and black population. Their location north of Spanish Florida and south of British Carolina helped the Creeks achieve this distinction. It allowed them to play the European powers against one another, forge advantageous economic and diplomatic alliances, and avoid many of the costs associated with closer proximity to the European settlements. Their willingness to incorporate ethnic outsiders into their towns and form alliances with communities of equally distinct backgrounds also helped the Creeks emerge as a regional power. Many Creek towns also welcomed African Americans into their communities. Although Creeks treated some as chattel property, most African Americans in Creek communities became residents rather than outsiders. Over time, many Creeks voiced strong opposition to the system of chattel slavery that emerged in European (and to a lesser degree southeastern Indian) society. Creeks also incorporated European outsiders into their communities, often through marriages arranged to augment trade relations.7

As the Creek Confederacy gradually and informally coalesced, Europeans frequently overstated the coherence of the Creek people. This served several functions. Europeans, who often had difficulty discerning the distinctions between towns, found it easier to trade or make treaties with organized nations rather than with decentralized towns. British observers typically ignored the names that the Creeks called themselves and sometimes expanded the meaning of a local name to denote all of the region’s indigenous inhabitants. They ultimately attached the name “Creek” to the Native peoples of Georgia. This moniker served as a shorthand phrase for the Native Americans who lived on Ochese Creek and reflected the tendency of southeastern Indians to build towns alongside the various waterways of the southeast. The term Creek ultimately stuck in its utility, providing a singular name that overstated both their coherence as a people and their dependence on the water. Although they were often more attuned to town distinctions, the Spanish in Florida similarly united the diverse Creek Indians into a single group.8

The English perception of a Creek Confederacy was rooted in a reality that the independent Creek towns largely lived at peace with one another. Refraining from war, though, did not necessarily mean working together. For most of their preremoval history, the Creek Confederacy reflected the tensions between political leaders who wanted to forge alliances with neighboring towns and town-based political structures that privileged local authority. The first notable act of coalition building began early in the 18th century. The first pan-Creek diplomatic alliance—dubbed the “Coweta Resolution” by historian Steven Hahn—likely occurred in March 1718. This orchestrated alliance of neutrality united leaders from across the Chattahoochee and lower Tallapoosa valleys. Brims, the micco of the Coweta town, created the alliance by leveraging his prestige and kinship ties with other town leaders. In the years that followed, other Creek towns largely refrained from siding with the Spanish, English, or French. Despite its success, the path of neutrality prevailed only most of the time for Creek towns. As much as the English called him “Emperor Brims,” the Coweta chief struggled to maintain the allegiance of many town leaders who pursued advantages for their individual towns in separate agreements with individual colonies.

Brims’s diplomatic ambitions continued in Coweta and elsewhere. A decade and a half after the Coweta Resolution, in 1733, Malatchi again sought to invent a Creek nation in his dealings with the newly formed British colony of Georgia. By convincing the British of their unity, Malatchi and other Creek leaders hoped to restrain the region’s European newcomers. Other leaders pursued similar nationalist ambitions in the colonial era, occasionally with their own interests at heart. Mary Musgrove, or Coosaponakeesa, for example, proclaimed herself to be a princess or empress of the Creeks during Georgia’s earliest years. Musgrove and husband Reverend Thomas Bosomworth attached themselves with Georgia Governor James Oglethorpe at the colony’s founding. Also from Coweta, Musgrove served as liaison and interpreter for Oglethorpe and otherwise pursued an advantageous relationship with the British. These attempts at nation building, however, were more successful at convincing Europeans of a centralized Creek people than actually creating one.9

The early attempts at nation building reflected the importance of social ties in the Native southeast. Brims, Malatchi, and Musgrove all drew power from the extensive connections of the wind clan—one of the most widespread families in the southeast and one with extensive connections to European traders. They also drew upon a web of reciprocal social and economic relationships that connected themselves to town leaders across the region. These connections expanded due to the practice of exogamous marriages that led many men to leave their birth towns for much of the year, while periodically returning home to teach matrilineal nephews to hunt or participate in ceremonial life. They reinforced the clusters of intertown relationships that were also augmented by trade and diplomacy. Just as importunately, the kinship connections between them also helped convince the British of the false idea that the Creek had a stable form of inherited power, akin to a royal family.10

The clusters of alliances in Creek society reflected geographic proximity—with loose political connections linking Upper Creeks and Lower Creeks. These alliances resulted from a combination of proximity and the Creek reliance on dugout canoes for long-distance and local travel. Living along the same river systems encouraged repeated informal connections between traders and diplomats, and these personal connections helped Creek towns forge alliances along the waterways of the lower South. Connections through the overland trails were also essential to the development of the Confederacy, but they took much longer to be forged. The Upper Creeks resided along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers, with around twenty towns in 1732 and forty in 1832. These rivers generally ran north to south in what is now Alabama. The Lower Creeks lived toward the east along the lower Chatahoochee, Flint, and Ocmulgee rivers. Another alliance of Creeks, who Bernard Romans called “allies” and would subsequently be called Seminoles, lived along the St. Johns River in what is now St. Augustine. For most of the colonial era, Florida attracted many Native migrants from Georgia and elsewhere who hoped to attain the resources of the underpopulated peninsula or escape the nationalist ambitions of Indian leaders in Georgia. These divisions may have also been shaped by diplomatic and trade connections with—and aversions to—the European colonies in the region.11

Slave and Skin Trade

Economic ambitions consistently shaped the diplomatic relationships between Creeks and their European neighbors. Although some colonists sought to settle illegally on indigenous lands, Native American and European diplomats worried more about access to trade goods and diplomatic allies in the colonial period. Creek hunters pursued alliances with European powers in order to obtain reliable access to guns and other European goods at reasonable prices. Merchants in Carolina—who craved Indian slaves and deerskins—attracted most of the Creek trade. British guns helped Creek warriors repel the slaving raids of the Iroquois and other Native warriors, and firearms proved essential on Creek raids into Florida. In turn, British, Spanish, and French officials encouraged, regulated, and sometimes subsidized the trade. This imperial competition helped Creek towns refrain from becoming overly reliant or dependent on any European power. As for Europeans, peace with the Creeks and other southeastern Indians proved essential to their larger colonial ambitions. As British agent John Stuart acknowledged: “The first and main step toward the right governing of Indians and bringing them under some police will be having Good men Traders in the different Nations subjected to good and wholesome regulations.”12 European officials frequently hoped that Native American allies would provide warriors to raid their mutual enemies and ensure that their respective crowns would enjoy the profits of the trade.13

The importance of Indian slaves dominated the trade in the 17th and early 18th centuries. British merchants from Carolina expected indigenous hunters to use Indian slaves to pay for guns and ammunition. Opting out of the trade was not an option. Throughout the South, Native Americans faced the perilous choice of either trading and raiding or suffering at the hands of their neighbors who were armed with British guns. Therefore, many Creek hunters marched into Florida and targeted the Native inhabitants who lived in the Spanish missions. The Spanish struggled to either provide guns or offer protection for the Apalachee and other peoples under their supervision. Although most raids focused on the concentrated populations in the Florida panhandle, Creek slavers traveled deep into the peninsula to obtain human capital. These devastating raids helped lead to the collapse of Spain’s mission system in the southeast. Slaving also led many Native Americans to migrate and for towns to consolidate in order to secure their position in the region. Indian slaving continued for decades, but it peaked by the early 1700s.14

The deerskin trade (also known as the “Indian trade”) seamlessly replaced the economic and diplomatic importance of the Indian slave trade. British traders from Carolina and then Georgia dominated this market—one where the Creeks provided tens of thousands of skins per year and the British provided various trade goods that included guns, ammunition, knives, needles, kettles, alcohol, and bolts of cloth. Some Creek hunters sought better prices in Spanish Florida, but the desire for British supplies limited this market. Some Native Americans welcomed and profited from the trade good more than others, but European goods became ubiquitous throughout Creek country. Perhaps more importantly, the Indian trade transformed the rhythms and structure of many Native American communities. When trade goods became seen as necessities rather than luxuries, hunting parties left their towns for longer periods of time, and winter hunts were augmented by summer hunts. Some women also chose to travel with the hunting groups in order to dress the skins in the field, leaving less time for the planting of corn and other agricultural necessities. As a result, the balance of power shifted in many Creek households as agricultural independence gave way to a male-dominated trade.15

Revolutionary Era

Most towns and Creeks attempted to stay on the sidelines during the American Revolution. Although a few towns and prominent leaders sought to maintain their trading relationships through alliances with the British or United States, the Creeks played a minor role in the war. This frustrated British officials who presumed that a unified Creek front could serve as decisive advantage in the south. Most Creeks, though, remained town-oriented, as matrilineal clans and towns identities continued to shape daily and diplomatic lives. As the naturalist Bernard Romans observed in 1775, the Creeks were still “a mixture of the remains of the Cawittas, Talepoosas, Coosas, Apalchias, Conshacs or Coosades, Oakmulgis, Oconis, Okchoys, Alibamons, Natchez, Weetumkus, Pakanas, Taënsas, Chacsihoomas, Abékas and some other tribes whose names I do not recollect.”16 As a result, intertown alliances eluded the few attempts to create a pan-Creek alliance, and the Creeks largely avoided getting involved in the Revolutionary War.

When the war ended, the Creeks found themselves in a precarious and new diplomatic situation. As an expansionist United States solidified its power, Creek leader Alexander McGillivray attempted to create a unified nation of his own. McGillivray took full advantage of his connections with the British and Spanish worlds, as well as the kinship networks born of his wind clan mother and prominent Scottish father. McGillivray obtained tremendous personal benefits through a series of nationalist reforms that also served the diplomatic interests of the Creek. He signed treaties with European neighbors and then used his economic and diplomatic connections to enforce them within Creek borders. He arranged more regular meetings of a national council and expanded the towns that were represented at it. McGillivray used diplomacy to prove the utility of these reforms. Throughout the 1780s and 1790s, McGillivray protected the sovereignty of the Creeks against the United States. Immediately after the war, he led the diplomatic response to the state of Georgia that hoped to claim 3 million acres of Creek lands. This led him to secure an alliance with Spain in the Treaty of Pensacola. By securing protection for Creek lands in Florida as well as access to the Panton, Leslie and Company trading firm, the Creeks obtained enough leverage to end Georgia’s scheme to steal Creek lands. In 1790, McGillivray similarly used his leverage to secure the Treaty of New York with the United States. In it, President George Washington recognized McGillivray as the legitimate principal chief of a Creek Nation and recognized the sovereignty of the Creek people.17

Despite these successes, McGillivray still struggled to build a Creek nation. McGillivray obtained much of his power through Panton, Leslie and Company and the monopoly on trade relations it provided. Through the company, McGillivray had connections to and leverage over political leaders throughout Creek society. A national council of town leaders met to discuss issues in common, and on some occasions the council performed functions of justice in the name of diplomatic relations. These reforms often did more to alienate towns than to unite them. Clan and town leaders consistently opposed McGillivray’s initiatives and the economic advantages that these reforms provided him. As much as McGillivray acted on behalf of the Creek nation, he could not command a consistent national following.18

When McGillivray died, his “nation” disintegrated. His coalition of supporters did not maintain itself in his absence. The United States tried to fill the power vacuum with leaders of its own, but this proved remarkably ineffective. Instead, Panton, Leslie and Company and other external forms of authority became seen as threats to Creek sovereignty. William Augustus Bowles, a white loyalist from Maryland who had married a Creek woman, provided some of the strongest opposition to the continued attempts to centralize Creek society. Bowles used his connections with Great Britain and trade relations in the Bahamas to undermine Panton, Leslie and Company’s stranglehold on the Creek polity and the increasing influence of U.S. traders. Bowles took refuge in Florida, where he became the leader of a group of Indians and dispossessed Africans and Europeans who challenged Spain’s control of Florida. Under the banner of the “State of Muskogee,” Bowles destroyed several trading posts connected to Panton, Leslie and Company, but he could not quite convince the British that his polity or campaign was legitimate. Without sufficient resources, his forces could not muster sufficient resistance to Panton, Leslie and Company, and Spanish forces ultimately captured him in 1803.19

Early Republic and Civilization

McGillivray’s death and Bowles’s arrest occurred at a time of great transformation within Creek society. By the late 18th century, Creek lands had replaced Creek labor as the new source of value and trade in the southeast. Where their ability to harvest deerskins for the lucrative Atlantic marketplace once provided the Creek with a semblance of power, the spread of cotton and slavery curtailed such power. The Creek’s diplomatic position was also weakened by the decline of the whitetail deer that resulted from decades of extensive hunting and the transformation of the deer’s habitat due to the newly formed cotton farms and cattle herds. Native hunters thereby accumulated tremendous debt that traders tried to convert into lands while American diplomats struggled to control the citizens who illegally claimed Indian territory as their own. As a result, American speculators, squatters, and herders became known as Ecunnaunuxulgee, which loosely translated into “people greedily grasping after their lands.”20

In 1796, the United States began a program to address the American desire for land without waging a war against the Creeks or betraying an American sense of virtue. Authorized by President Thomas Jefferson and orchestrated by Benjamin Hawkins, the “plan of civilization” sought to transform the Creeks into independent yeoman farmers who could live side by side with their white neighbors. Modernized Creeks, the plan presumed, would use land more efficiently and therefore would cede their common lands to allow for the expansion of cotton and slavery. From a Creek Agency in the heart of Indian country, Hawkins tried to regulate the deerskin trade, end the abuses caused by squatters, and prevent violence initiated by unauthorized cattle herders. He also adjudicated disputes on the frontier and otherwise tried to curtail the conflicts between white settlers and Creek Indians.21

As the title of the program implied, Hawkins pushed the Creeks toward what was commonly understood as “civilization.” Hawkins attempted to convince Creeks to establish small family farms, plant cotton and other cash crops, become cattle herders, and rely on the market for their survival. This required the overturning of gender norms, as it pushed men to work in the fields rather than hunt deer, and for clan and town leaders to cede power to nuclear families and centralized councils. Hawkins empowered the Creek national council and gave individuals gifts and guidance to loyal Creeks to encourage this change. Under his guidance, the Creek national council wrote laws that protected private property, centralized justice, and otherwise took the power traditionally afforded to town leaders. Hawkins also distributed to his Creek allies the annual payments required by earlier treaties (the annuity), provided them with blacksmithing skills, and gave them lucrative responsibilities in the trade and at the agency. He also provided Creeks with cattle, hogs, cotton seed, spinning wheels, cotton looms, and other gifts to usher in a transformation of Creek society.22

Most Creeks opposed the civilization plan, even as they incorporated elements of the marketplace into their daily lives. In particular, the decline of the deerskin trade, their reliance on trade goods, and demands that they repay debts all led Creeks to seek the resources of the civilization plan. Creeks hoped that specific elements of the civilization plan would provide them with control over their future. Hawkins understood it differently. He saw the transformation of Creek culture as the means to the ends; it would result in the loss of Native lands and sovereignty followed by the expansion of American law and territory. While Creeks may have been willing to embrace parts of the civilization plan, most rejected American efforts to deprive them of their right to regulate what occurred inside their communities. As Hawkins and his allies punished Creeks for breaking laws and signed treaties that ceded lands to the United States, dissent became louder in Creek society. Such was the case after controversial land sales through the treaties of Fort Wilkinson (1802) and Washington (1805). In both cases, Hawkins obtained thousands of acres of Creek land by working with McIntosh and other allies he obtained through the civilization plan. In the latter treaty, the United States also obtained the right to run a road through the Creek nation and extend its justice system along the route.23

Frustrations over the actions of the national council and costs of the civilization plan ultimately resulted in the Creek War (1813–1814). At first, the dispute (also known as the Red Stick War) was solely between Creeks, as dissenters sought to physically and symbolically regain the sovereignty that was lost through the plan of civilization. Guided by a nativist philosophy, Red Stick Creeks sought to revitalize their society and obtain control over their community’s future. Red Sticks (named for the traditional war club that they used) burned cotton fields, broke looms and spinning wheels, slaughtered cattle, and destroyed “civilized” property across the region. Hawkins fled, and many others connected with the agency and deerskin trade found refuge at the home of Samuel Mims. There, they fortified themselves in what became known as Fort Mims. On August 30, 1813, the Red Sticks attacked and destroyed the home and killed most of those who sought safety there. This led Andrew Jackson—the hero of New Orleans who repelled the British invasion, and one who suspected an alliance between the Red Sticks and British—to march east. The entrance of the United States turned the tide of the conflict in favor of the so-called “friendly Creeks.” During the final battle at Horseshoe Bend (Tehopeka) in Alabama on March 27, 1814, Jackson and chief McIntosh directed the killing of 800 enemy warriors.24

After the official fighting ended, the frustrations and conditions that led to the Red Stick War were magnified. The Treaty of Fort Jackson (1814) fundamentally eliminated the Creek presence in Georgia by mandating the Creek cede 22 million acres to the United States. At the same time, the national council and a centralized police force called “law menders” punished the Red Sticks, turning the cane breaks of lower Alabama into killing fields. Many Red Sticks were forced to flee into Florida, where they joined others in an amorphous group widely known as Seminoles. Many of the Red Sticks ultimately became part of the Cow Creek community near Lake Okeechobee. Today, this community is the Brighton Reservation of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.25

With less land, mounting debts, and a weakened military, the Creeks struggled to resist attempts by the United States to push them west. The national council, led by McIntosh, forged a series of alliances with the United States that strengthened the council at the expense of Creek sovereignty. However, the council and its leaders became increasingly beholden to the United States, whose resources provided the council with much of its power. In return for financial and other interests, the council ceded lands, aided in the construction of the federal road, relinquished legal power to the United States, and continued to initiate the reforms that Hawkins began a generation earlier. The council created written laws, enforced policies with its “law menders,” and used the two together to protect the propertied interests in Creek society.26

In 1825, McIntosh and some of his supporters signed the Treaty of Indian Springs and relinquished most of the Creek lands in Georgia and much of the lands east of the Mississippi. In exchange, McIntosh received financial considerations and the Creeks received various promises for their resettlement in the west. The law menders executed McIntosh for treason; ironically, it was in accordance with a Creek law that McIntosh had enacted that prohibited ceding land to foreign governments. The U.S. Senate rejected the treaty on account of its illegality, but the United States quickly convinced the Creeks to relinquish their lands in the Treaty of Washington in 1826. As many Creeks moved to Indian Territory, the United States continued to push for additional cessions. In 1832, two years after the Indian Removal Act, the Creeks agreed to another removal treaty. Once again, land speculators weakened the position of the Creeks by illegally purchasing Creek lands and then making their claims legitimate by facilitating a Second Creek War with the United States. Although Creek families continued to migrate west in the 1840s and 1850s, most of the Creeks had moved west by the end of 1836.27

Discussion of the Literature

Scholars’ understanding of the Creek Confederacy has undergone a significant transformation in the last two decades. Although there are many debates, a few overlapping issues are paramount. Scholars disagree over the origins of Creek society, the balance between town autonomy and the national council, the causes of the Red Stick War, and the nature of cultural change in Creek society.

Until the rise of “modern Indian history” in the 1970s, most scholars imagined that the Creeks existed as an ancient indigenous tribe who confronted the earliest European newcomers who came to the southeast. John Reed Swanton and other anthropologists explained how the Creeks suffered at the hands of Spanish conquistadors and how an unbroken history connected them with the ancient past.28 As historians became more comfortable with archaeology and Spanish archives, this understanding of Creek origins quickly gave way to seeing the Creeks as a descendant group of the ancient Mississippians. The debate then turned to the timing of the collapse of the chiefdoms. Following Alfred Crosby’s “Virgin Soil Epidemics” thesis, scholars in the 1990s and early 2000s largely emphasized a rapid disease-induced decline of the Mississippians and the quick emergence of the Creeks in the 1700s. Recently, scholars like Paul Kelton and Robbie Ethridge have overturned interpretations that treat disease as an unintended consequence of contact. Instead, they emphasize the durability of the ancient world. Instead, the English slave trade, capitalism, and European colonialism led to the decline of the Mississippian world and the coalescence of the Creek people in the late 1700s.29

As scholars abandoned the idea that the Creeks extended from the ancient past, they reexamined the political structure of the Creek Confederacy. Few, if any, scholars argue that a centralized nation emerged before the early American republic, even if a “national council” met decades earlier. Michael Green and Steven Hahn contend that this institution began in the early 18th century; while Kathryn Braund and others contend that these changes did not take place until much later. Braund additionally argues that these meetings occurred only informally and that the council members collectively asserted little to no power. Without a council or a legitimate form of centralized authority, historians offer different rationales for why the Creeks embraced what appeared to be a unified approach to their neighbors. Whereas Hahn emphasizes a shared doctrine of neutrality, Patricia Galloway and others emphasize the importance of “play-off diplomacy,” while Michael Green and others have stressed the internal factionalism within and between Creek towns. Joshua Piker’s Okfuskee, on the other hand, exemplifies the scholarly trend that downplays the importance of the council by emphasizing the autonomy of towns.30

The Red Stick War has also attracted a lively debate among scholars. In rough terms, scholars disagree over whether to understand the war as an internal debate among Creeks or as part of Tecumseh’s larger pan-Indian nativist movement. Historians also differ over the religious or economic causes of the divisions within Creek society. Claudio Saunt explains the emergence of the Red Stick opposition as an attempt to curtail a market-oriented group of mestizo Creek elites who sought personal gains at the expense of traditional society. Others have rejected the strict bifurcation and have demonstrated how the Red Sticks and their Creek enemy shared both racial and cultural characteristics. In contrast, Joel Martin and Gregory Evans Dowd interpret the debate as part of Tecumseh’s religious campaign to reorder North American Indian society. Gregory Waselkov splits the difference, to some extent, by contending that Tecumseh’s message of revitalization had its greatest reception among those whose lives were devastated by the economic and cultural changes that transformed Creek society.31

Primary Sources

Researchers interested in the Creek Confederacy and Creek history should consult several important collections. A good starting point is the collected writings of Benjamin Hawkins. The most complete collection is C. L. Grant’s Benjamin Hawkins: Letters, Journals and Writings. It contains both official correspondence and a daily journal that contains ethnographic details about Creek society as well as the details about the deerskin trade, the civilization plan, and American diplomacy. Other essential and widely available published collections include the American State Papers, Indian Affairs, John Walton Caughey’s McGillivray of the Creeks, and Thomas Simpson Woodward’s Reminiscences.32 Various treaties are also available in Charles J. Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (7 vols.); and Alden T. Vaughan, ed., Early American Indian Documents: Treaties and Laws, 1607–1789 (20 vols.).

The records at the National Archives offer a great starting point for archival research. A guide to the collection on Native Americans is available, but a few microfilm collections from the Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs deserve special mention.33 These include the Letter Book of the Creek Trading House, 1795–1816, the Letters Received and Sent by the Office of the Secretary of War Relating to Indian Affairs, 1800–1823, and the Letters Sent by the Superintendent of Indian Trade, 1807–1823.34 Serious researchers will also want to consult the resources at the University of Georgia and Georgia Department of Archives and History (GDAH). Both contain several important collections related to Creek history. Many of the records from the University of Georgia are available online, but scholars will want to explore the Governor’s Letters and collections of Creek Letters at the GDAH.

Researchers, especially those interested in the 18th century, will want to consult the Public Records Office, Colonial Office (originals in London), and the Archivo General de Los Indias, Papeles de Cuba (originals in Seville). Both of these extensive collections contain diplomatic and economic records that reveal British and Spanish interactions with the Creeks. Fortunately for researchers, extensive copies of these collections have been published and collected by archives in the United States. Documents from the Public Records Office have been republished as The Colonial Records of Georgia, and additional materials exist on microfilm at most research libraries in the United States. The P.K. Yonge Library at the University of Florida houses an extensive microfilm collection of the Papeles de Cuba. The East Florida Papers and the Lockey Collection and Stetson Collection at the University of Florida are similarly essential to exploring Creek history. They all contain official correspondence that relates to the Creek experience in Florida and to a lesser extent in Georgia. Some of these resources have been further collected as part of the Panton, Leslie and Company papers. The full collection is held at the University of West Florida with extensive selections on microfilm at various institutions.

Further Reading

Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685–1815. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Braund, Kathryn E. Holland, ed. Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Champagne, Duane. Social Order and Political Change: Constitutional Governments Among the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Creek. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992.Find this resource:

Chaudhuri, Jean, and Joyotpaul Chaudhuri. A Sacred Path: The Way of the Muscogee Creeks. Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2001.Find this resource:

Ellisor, John T. The Second Creek War: Interethnic Conflict and Collusion on the Collapsing Frontier. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Ethridge, Robbie. Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Ethridge, Robbie, and Sheri M. Shuck-Hall, eds. Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Frank, Andrew K. Creeks and Southerners: Biculturalism on the Early American Frontier. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Grantham, Bill. Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002.Find this resource:

Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.Find this resource:

Hahn, Steven C. The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004.Find this resource:

Hahn, Steven C. The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012.Find this resource:

Hall, Joseph M., Jr. Zamumo’s Gifts: Indian-European Exchange in the Colonial Southeast. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.Find this resource:

Hudson, Angela Pulley. Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Kelton, Paul. Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Martin, Joel. Sacred Revolt: The Muskogee Struggle for a New World. Boston: Beacon Press, 1991.Find this resource:

Piker, Joshua. Okfuskee: A Creek Indian Town in Colonial America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006.Find this resource:

Piker, Joshua. The Four Deaths of Acorn Whistler: Telling Stories in Colonial America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013.Find this resource:

Saunt, Claudio. A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.Find this resource:

Snyder, Christina. Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010.Find this resource:

Sweet, Julie Anne. Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733–1752. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Wasellkov, Gregory. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009.Find this resource:

Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. Creeks and Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.Find this resource:

Zellar, Gary. African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) Timothy R. Pauketat, Cahokia: Ancient America’s Great City on the Mississippi (New York: Viking, 2009); George R. Milner, The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America (New York: Thames and Hudson, 2004); and Marvin T. Smith, Coosa: The Rise and Fall of a Southeastern Mississippian Chiefdom (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000).

(2.) Paul Kelton, Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007); Ned J. Jenkins, “Tracing the Origins of the Early Creeks, 1050–1700 CE,” in Robbie Ethridge and Sheri M. Shuck-Hall, eds., Mapping the Mississippian Shatter Zone: The Colonial Indian Slave Trade and Regional Instability in the American South (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009), 188–249; Vernon Knight, “The Formation of the Creeks,” in Charles M. Hudson and Carmen Chaves Tesser, eds., The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521–1704 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1993), 373–392; and Robin Beck, Chiefdoms, Collapse, and Coalescence in the Early American South (Cambridge University Press, 2013), 213–221, 232–234, 241. See also Alfred W. Crosby, Jr., “Virgin Soil Epidemics as a Factor in the Aboriginal Depopulation in America,” William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 33 (1976): 289–299.

(3.) Joshua Piker, Okfuskee: A Creek Indian Town in Colonial America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 9–10; Robbie Ethridge, Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 19–20, 96–102; Claudio Saunt, A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733–1816 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 11–37; and Albert S. Gatschet, A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: D.G. Brinton, 1886), 244–251.

(4.) Andrew K. Frank, Creeks and Southerners: Biculturalism on the Early American Frontier (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 11–25; and Bill Grantham, Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2002).

(5.) Ethridge, Creek Country, 25–26, 229; David Lewis Jr. and Ann T. Jordan, Creek Indian Medicine Ways: The Enduring Power of Mvskoke Religion (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2002); and Jean Chaudhuri and Joyotpaul Chaudhuri, A Sacred Path: The Way of the Muscogee Creeks (Los Angeles: UCLA American Indian Studies Center, 2001), 15.

(6.) Kathryn E. Holland Braund, “Guardians of Tradition and Handmaidens to Change: Women’s Roles in Creek Economic and Social Life During the Eighteenth Century,” American Indian Quarterly 14 (June 1990): 239–258; and Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 3–6.

(7.) David H. Corkan, The Creek Frontier, 1540–1783 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967), 229–325; Gary Zellar, African Creeks: Estelvste and the Creek Nation (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007), 3–40; Christina Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010), 101–126; and Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 11–25.

(8.) Verner W. Crane, “The Origin of the Name of the Creek Indians,” Mississippi Valley Historical Review 5 (December 1918): 339–342; Joel Martin, Sacred Revolt: The Muskogee Struggle for a New World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), 6–10; and Angela Pulley Hudson, Creek Paths and Federal Roads: Indians, Settlers, and Slaves and the Making of the American South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010), 8–9.

(9.) Hahn, Invention of the Creek Nation, 211–218; Steven C. Hahn, The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2012), 30, 66; and Julie Anne Sweet, Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733–1752 (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2005), 114–127.

(10.) Hahn, Invention of the Creek Nation, 71–73, 195–201; and Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 35.

(11.) Hudson, Creek Paths and Federal Roads, 12; Ethridge, Creek Country, 27–33; Bernard Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (New York: For the Author, 1775), 91; and Brent Weisman, Like Beads on a String: A Cultural History of the Seminole Indians in Northern Peninsular Florida (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 7.

(12.) John Stuart, quoted in Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685–1815 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), 110–111.

(13.) Alan Gallay, Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003); and Joseph M. Hall Jr., Zamumo’s Gifts: Indian-European Exchange in the Colonial Southeast (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012). The best overview of the Indian trade remains Braund, Deerskins and Duffels.

(14.) Ethridge, Creek Country, 23–26; and Jerald T. Milanich, Laboring in the Fields of the Lord: Spanish Missions and Southeastern Indians (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999).

(15.) Braund, Deerskins and Duffels, 81–102; Ethridge, Creek Country, 9–11; and Duane Champagne, Social Order and Political Change: Constitutional Governments Among the Choctaw, the Chickasaw and the Creek (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 50–67.

(16.) Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, 90; and J. Leitch Wright Jr., Creeks and Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986).

(17.) Saunt, New Order of Things, 67–89; and John Walton Caughey, McGillivray of the Creeks (Norman: University of Oklahoma, 1938).

(18.) Saunt, New Order of Things, 76–79.

(19.) J. Leitch Wright, William Augustus Bowles: Director General of the Creek Nation (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1967); Saunt, New Order of Things; 86–88, 207–209; and William S. Coker and Thomas D. Watson, Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands: Panton, Leslie & Company and John Forbes & Company, 1783–1847 (Pensacola: University of West Florida Press, 1986).

(20.) Benjamin Hawkins, Letters of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796–1806, Collections of the Georgia Historical Society, Vol. 9 (Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1916), 252; Braund, Deerskins and Duffels, 164–188; and Martin, Sacred Revolt, 87–113.

(21.) Saunt, New Order of Things, 139; Ethridge, Creek Country, 13–16, 144–149; and Merritt B. Pound, Benjamin Hawkins: Indian Agent (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1951).

(22.) Ethridge, Creek Country, 193–194, 160, 173; and Creek Paths, 34–35.

(23.) Henry deLeon Southerland Jr. and Jerry Elijah Brown, The Federal Road Through Georgia, the Creek Nation, and Alabama, 1806–1836 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989); Saunt, New Order of Things, 216–217; Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 98–102; and Hudson, Creek Paths, 112–113.

(24.) Gregory Wasellkov, A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813–1814 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2009); Frank L. Owsley Jr., Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands: The Creek War and the Battle of New Orleans, 1812–1815 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1981); Martin, Sacred Revolt, 171–186; and Saunt, New Order of Things, 249–272. See also the essays in Kathryn E. Holland Braund, ed.,Tohopeka: Rethinking the Creek War and the War of 1812 (Tuscaoloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2013).

(25.) “Treaty with the Creeks, 1818,” in Charles J. Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1904), 155–156.

(26.) Michael D. Green, The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982), 54–68, 84, 96; Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 96–113; and Benjamin W. Griffith Jr., McIntosh and Weatherford: Creek Indian Leaders (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1988).

(27.) Green, Politics of Indian Removal, 69–125; Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 96–113; John T. Ellisor, The Second Creek War: Interethnic Conflict and Collusion on the Collapsing Frontier (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 201date isoDate="00"0); and Christopher D. Haveman, “Final Resistance: Creek Removal from the Alabama Homeland,” Alabama Heritage 89 (Summer 2008): 9–19. See also Christopher D. Haveman, Rivers of Sand: Creek Indian Emigration, Relocation, and Ethnic Cleansing in the American South (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Forthcoming 2016).

(28.) John Reed Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922); and Verner W. Crane, Southern Frontier, 1670–1732 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1928).

(29.) Crosby, “Virgin Soil Epidemics,” 289–299; Kelton, Epidemics and Enslavement; Robbie Ethridge, From Chicaza to Chickasaw: The European Invasion and the Transformation of the Mississippian World, 1540–1715 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010). See also Knight, “The Formation of the Creeks”; Jenkins, “Tracing the Origins of the Early Creeks”; and Snyder, Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

(30.) Green, Politics of Indian Removal, 22; Hahn, Invention of the Creek Nation, 241–243; Braund, Deerskins and Duffels, 140; Patricia Galloway, “Colonial Period Transformations in the Mississippi Valley: Dis-integration, Alliance, Confederation, Playoff,” in Robbie Ethridge and Charles Hudson, eds., The Transformation of the Southeastern Indians, 1540–1760 (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 225–247; Piker, Okfuskee, 55–56; and Sidney L. Harring, “Crazy Snake and the Creek Struggle for Sovereignty: The Native American Legal Culture and American Law,” American Journal of Legal History 34 (October 1990): 365–380.

(31.) Martin, Sacred Revolt, 142; Saunt, New Order of Things, 249–272; Braund, Tohopeka; Wasellkov, A Conquering Spirit, 97–102; and Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 114–128. See also Owsley, Struggle for the Gulf Borderlands.

(32.) C. L. Grant, ed., Benjamin Hawkins: Letters, Journals and Writings, 2 vols. (Savannah, GA: Beehive Press, 1980); and Thomas Simpson Woodward, Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek or Muscogee Indians: Contained in Letters to Friends in Georgia and Alabama (Montgomery, AL: Barrett & Wimbish, 1859).

(33.) American Indians: A Select Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1984).

(34.) Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letter Book, Creek Trading House, 1795–1816, Microcopy 4; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letters Received by the Office of the Secretary of War Relating to Indian Affairs, 1800–1823, Microcopy 271; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Correspondence of the Office of Indian Affairs (Central Office) and Related Records, Letters Received, 1824–1881, Microcopy 234; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letters Sent by the Office of Indian Affairs, 1824–1881, Microcopy 21; Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letters Sent by the Secretary of War Relating to Indian Affairs, 1800–1824, Microcopy 15; and Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Letters Sent by the Superintendent of Indian Trade, 1807–1823, Microcopy 16.