Clarke County and Its Surroundings From 1540 To 1877
INDIANS OF THE SOUTH-EAST
SOME of the authorities in regard to these Indians are the following :
1. Le Moyne’s Florida published in 1591. Jacob Le Moyne, a Frenchman, and an admirable painter, accompanied a French expedition to Florida in 1564. He made many excursions along the coast and into the interior, and made nice “drawings of the Indians, their houses, farms, graves, amusements, manners, customs, and religious ceremonies.” Forty-two plates of his drawings were published.
2. Gen. Milfortss Creek Indians, published in 1802 at Paris, written by Le Clere Milfort, a well educated Frenchman, who spent among the Muscogees the years from 1776 to 1796, marrying the sister of Col. Alexander McGillivray, the noted Creek chieftain. From the old men among the Creeks he obtained their history and traditions. Their memories were assisted by strands of pearl which “constituted their archives.”
3. Bartram’s Travels, not published entire, written by William Bartram, the English botanist, who travelled among these Indians before the Revolutionary War, and whose statements concerning them are very minute and believed to be accurate.
4. Adair’s American Indians, written by James Adair, a learned Englishman, whose intercourse with some of these tribes commenced in 1735 and who resided thirty years among the Chickasaws, from 1744 to 1774. His large work of about five hundred pages was published at London in 1775. He endeavored in his work to prove that the Indians were a part of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. He reasoned from “their division into tribes — worship of Jehovah — notions of a theocracy — belief in the ministration of angels — language and dialects — manner of computing time — their Prophets and High Priests — festivals, feasts, and religious rites — daily sacrifices — ablutions and anointings — laws of uncleanliness — abstinence from unclean things — marriages, divorces, and punishments for adultery — other punishments — their towns of refuge” — and other particulars including their burial of the dead, their mourning for the dead, and their own traditions.
5. Du Pratz’s Louisiana, written by an intelligent Frenchman, Le Page Du Pratz, who came over in 1718 and resided among the Indians sixteen years, and returning to France published his work as above named.
6. Roman’s Florida, written by Barnard Roman, a captain in the British army, who in 1771 made a journey through the Choctaw and Chickasaw territory.
These are but a few of the authorities existing concerning the Indians of the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries.
The plan of this work makes it needful to condense into a single chapter facts and conjectures concerning the Indian tribes of the South-East which would be sufficient to fill a volume.
Nothing is known concerning the origin of the first native inhabitants, called the aborigines, of North America. It is conjectured that they came from Asia, and there are two island routes across the Pacific by which, without much difficulty, adventurers might have passed. The one is along the Aleutian or Fox Islands, across a narrow part of the North Pacific. The other is along groups of islands near the line of the Tropic of Cancer. Nearly all the islands of Oceanica are inhabited. Traditions, remaining among some of them, declare, that the ancestors of the present inhabitants came many years ago in canoes. If inhabitants, having their origin on the continent of Asia, reached by successive migrations that multitude of islands in the South Pacific, there is no improbability in supposing that some stragglers, or some explorers, or some storm-driven voyagers, landed finally on the coasts of America. If the different members of the wide spread human family have had a common origin, it becomes certain that from the westward or the eastward the first Indians came.
The Spaniards found in Mexico and in Peru large empires and traces and existing evidences of no slight advance in civilization. From what source came their knowledge and improvement ? A number of thoughtful students of history have diligently explored the existing sources of information concerning the kingdom of Mexico some four hundred years ago, and these are a few of the conclusions.
The ancient Toltecs, although but little is known concerning them, were probably the originators of Mexican civilization. They are said to have come from the northward, and Prescott says, “probably before the close of the seventh century.” Their written records, for such they seem to have had, have perished. They understood agriculture, and many mechanical arts, worked metals, erected large buildings; and after remaining some four hundred years, went southward, perhaps, into Central America.
The Aztecs or Mexicans came also from some distant North, according to the traditions generally received. The date of 1325 is assigned by the best authorities for their commencement of the city of Mexico. The Aztecs began to conquer, and just before the Spaniards arrived, when the sixteenth century began, they ruled a broad extent of what is now known as Mexico, from the Mexican Sea to the Pacific Ocean.
The Mexicans had introduced the horrible custom of offering human sacrifices and also of feasting on human flesh, of which their more enlightened predecessors, the Toltecs, are declared guiltless.
The Spaniards who entered Florida found, according to Spanish, Portuguese, and Peruvian writings, all depending upon Spanish testimony, quite an advanced state of Indian society in the South-East. And the interesting question arises. When or how did it originate ? Spanish testimony being accepted, the South Eastern Indians were superior to those found elsewhere in the present limits of the United States. But allowing even that the Peruvian Inca and the Portuguese historians have colored to some extent their narrations, the Indians living here one hundred years ago were superior to most of the North American tribes, and their descendants are “the civilized tribes ” as reported from the Indian Bureau for the year 1877. Their names and population are given thus :
Chickasaws …… 5,600
Seminoles …… 2 ,443
And what is the present condition of these tribes ? The Cherokees are reported to be well advanced in civilization, to be intelligent, temperate, and industrious; having seventy-five common schools well furnished, and two seminaries. They have also twenty- four stores, sixty-five smith shops, and twenty-two mills. The Creeks have twenty-eight public schools; the Choctaws have fifty-four and a boarding and a manual labor school; and the Chickasaws and Seminoles have made good provision for the instruction of their children. Among these tribes are two hundred churches and ten thousand church members.
So far as these tribes are concerned it is no longer a question. Can the Indians become civilized ?
A few Choctaw families did not remove to the Indian Territory. They remained on the Pearl and Pascagoula rivers. These refused to become civilized, preferring to live by hunting and selling berries and kindling wood to the whites. One of these furnishes an illustration as to the capabilities and qualities of the modern Choctaws. However ignorant and degraded now these men may be, their women are said to be proverbially modest and virtuous. Indeed Dale says. Gen. Dale, one of the border men of Clarke, who will soon be introduced to the reader, whom Meek calls the Daniel Boone of Alabama ; and who had abundant opportunity to study the Indian character, “An Indian maid, when a warrior approaches, bends her head like a drooping leaf. It is only in the deepest recesses, when no others are near, that her lover sees the whole luster of her eyes, or even the blushes that mantle on her cheek. They love intensely, and make the most faithful wives and the tenderest of mothers.” The illustration now to be presented showing the qualities of a Choctaw maiden is given on the authority of Judge Meek. It appears that these Pascagoula Indians were accustomed to visit Mobile to dispose of their berries and their pine wood. Among a party of these Choctaws in the winter of 1846 was a young girl about seventeen, “of unusual beauty and attractiveness.” She is represented as having been “tall, round-limbed, straight, and graceful, a very model of feminine form.” On account of her singular beauty she was a belle in her own community, and was called the Wild Fawn of Pascagoula. She had fawn-like eyes, ” coal black hair, neatly plaited in massive folds,” small feet, an erect carriage, and attracted the attention of all beholders on the streets of the town by her native beauty. She supported herself and an aged mother by selling berries and lightwood. She was very successful in selling, and especially to the young men of Mobile. One of these, a young lawyer, of elegant manners and fine personal appearance, concluded to experiment with the young Fawn and see if she had an ordinary girl heart. He paid her little attentions for months, and one morning when, as usual, she had brought up her load of pine to his room, he ventured to bestow upon her lips a kiss and spoke warmly to her of love. She listened to him for a few moments; but when he was about to present another kiss she rapidly crossed the room and said “Stand off.” ” Me good friend to kind gentleman, but no love ! The Fawn must marry her own people. She love young warrior up on Pascagoula.
He have heart and skin the same color. Mobile men not good for Choctaw girl. Me go to mv home — to Choctaw Chiefs cabin — tomorrow. Good-bye ! Me love you much, you so kind, but no wife.” And drawing her red blanket proudly around her proud form she passed from the door. And the young lawyer stood motionless, gazing at the door through which the vision of beauty had departed, fully satisfied, it is said, not to experiment any farther with Choctaw maidens, soliloquizing to himself thus : “This Fawn of Pascagoula has for months taken all my presents and delicate attentions with the timidity of a nun, and now has given me the sack as completely as it could have been done by any fashionable coquette in a gilded saloon by the light of a chandelier.” Discreet, modest, beautiful Choctaw maiden !
One other illustration, a Choctaw man, will also show Indian capability.
James L. McDonald was the English name of a Choctaw boy, who was adopted when about fourteen years of age by Colonel Thomas L. McKeeney, chief of the bureau of Indian affairs at Washington. This young Choctaw, who possessed much personal beauty, was graceful in every movement, and endowed with excellent qualities of mind and heart, shared the same advantages as Colonel McKeeney’s own son. He studied diligently and learned rapidly. Said his teacher, “He comes to school with his lessons all so well digested, and with more Latin, and Greek, and mathematics in one of them, than his class can get through in a week; so I have been obliged to put him in a class by himself.” After completing his academic studies he commenced the study of law; and in about one-half the usual time for gaining a knowledge of that department of professional life, “he was ready for the bar.” He had felt however, while thus preparing himself for active civilized life, that all his attainments would be of no avail. He had said to his benefactor, “I am an Indian.” “My race is degraded, trodden upon, despised.” He then presented a letter which he had received from his brother, a lieutenant in the United States army, which contained, as a result of his brother’s experience, the following words: “There is only one of two things for you to do; either throw away all that belongs to the white men, and turn Indian, or quit being Indian, and turn white man. The first you can do; the latter is not in your power to do. The white man hates the Indian, and will never permit him to come into close fellowship with him, or to be a participator in any of his high prerogatives or distinguished advantages.” This must have been written between 1820 and 1830, and however true it might have been then, the time has come when no gifted, or cultivated, or even civilized Indian, ought to be made to feel that the white man hates him. The manifestation of such a feeling is a poor proof of superiority on the part of any white man. Young McDonald, although depressed in spirits, after acquiring the knowledge which would fit him for practice at the bar, returned to his nation to visit his mother, went to Washington city as a delegate, with other Choctaws, on business for his tribe, astonished John C. Calhoun and other public men by his skill in business, his promptness, and competency, returned home and opened a law office with flattering prospects, in Jackson, Mississippi. Here terminates the illustration as to Choctaw capability. The end of this gifted Indian was tragic and sad. He formed an attachment for a white girl, who would, he had fondly hoped, secure to him domestic happiness. His suit was rejected, as he thought, with scorn. Smarting under a feeling of degradation because he was an Indian, he gave up life’s battle in despair, rushed to the river, and white man like, drowned himself in the dark waters.
Not so discreet and wise as the Fawn of Pascagoula. She lived among her own people, and with her own color only would she marry. So should the red man do. Has not his tribe many maidens fair ? So should the white man do. Are there not white maidens good and kind and true ? And so, too, should the black man do; marry in his own division of the great family of man. Surely there are colored maidens who will prove to him to be good and true.
Returning to the native children of these ancient wilds, De Soto found the third grade of Indian civilization, in the whole New World, among the Indian tribes of the South-East, Peru presenting the first, and Mexico the second. Proofs of that advance in, or rather toward, civilization, are the following particulars. These Indians, to quite a fair extent, cultivated the soil. Along the Tallapoosa in the summer of 1540 extensive fields of maize lay on both sides of the river, and among the Coosas were “many sown fields” reaching from one Indian village to another, while at the same time “barns” were full of corn, the growth of a former year. Near Maubila. where so much blood was shed, were “many populous towns, well stored with corn, beans, pumpkins, and other provisions.”
An Indian chief east of the Tallapoosa presented De Soto in the month of June with “twenty barns full’* of the best which the country afforded. Peas and squashes are also mentioned. Additional proof of cultivation need not be offered.
It is some advance beyond ordinary savage life to depend for food upon the cultivation of the earth. These Indians erected larger and better buildings than the other Indians found in the United States. The large houses of Maubila have been already mentioned. The town of Coosa contained five hundred houses. Upon the Florida coast ” the houses were built of timber, covered with palm leaves, and thatched with straw.” Further inland they were covered with reeds put on like tiles, and had very neat walls. Yet further northward each family had a winter house plastered inside and out with clay, and an open summer house, and a crib and kitchen near by. The houses of the chiefs were much larger than the ordinary Indian house, and had piazzas in front and cane benches for seats. The house of one chief is mentioned expressly as being “built in the form of a large pavilion, upward of one hundred and twenty feet in length by forty in width, with a number of small buildings connected like offices.” Their temples were quite large. One on the Savannah river was more than one hundred feet in length and forty in width. The walls were high and the roof steep, covered with mats of split cane compactly interwoven.
The architecture of these Indians did not approach very near to the skill of the old Peruvians; but these Indians evidently had some ideas in regard to building.
They also understood the use of copper and made various implements and utensils of copper, and wood, and stone.
One of their temples is described as entered by three gates, and at each gate were gigantic wooden statues, presenting fierce and menacing attitudes. Some of them were armed with clubs, maces, canoe-paddles, and copper hatchets, and others with draw-bows and long pikes. All these implements were ornamented with rings of pearls and bands of copper.” Within this temple were chests tilled with valuable pearls, others filled with various colored deer skins, and yet others containing clothing in large quantities made of various kinds of fur. A store house adjoining the temple, having eight apartments, contained long copper pikes, clubs, maces, wooden swords, paddles, arrows, quivers, bows, round wooden shields,” and shields made of buffalo hide ; all these being decorated with rings of pearl. Hoes for planting corn were made of fishbones, and mortars were made in which they pounded their corn. Superior canoes, barges, and what are called sedan-chairs, were also among their articles of workmanship.
The barge of the Savannah queen “had a tilted top at the stern ” was handsome in its construction, and under that protection the queen was seated “upon soft cushions.”‘
Such are some proofs of the progress these Indians of 1540 had made toward civilization.
These Indians wore mantles, sometimes made of fur, more commonly of the inner bark of trees interwoven with a species of flax. Their chiefs wore lofty plumes made of the feathers of eagles and other kingly or beautiful birds. At a battle which De Soto had in middle Florida “ten thousand warriors appeared in this native head dress.” These forest children were fond of display.
“Indian grandees were often seen promenading, of an evening,* enveloped in beautiful mantles of deer skins, and of the martin, trailing behind them, and often held up bv attendants.”
* The word evening, as here used, means after dinner, or in the afternoon.
Can modern civilization excel such a trail? The whole picture that is presented through Spanish eyes, of the natives of Clarke, and its surroundings, when they were first seen by Europeans, is very different from the ordinary representation given of the early naked American savages.
These Indians were actual mound-builders. They erected large mounds, from forty to ninety feet in height, and some of them, at the base, eighteen hundred feet in circumference. On the top of these mounds were the chief’s houses, from ten to twenty in number, and at the base was laid out a public square with the houses of the prominent Indians built around it, while the smaller cabins were on the other side of the mound. One flight of steps, sometimes two or three, led up to the flat top of this artificial eminence. Sometimes these mounds were constructed in the form of an ellipse.
They also made smaller burial mounds. These “are usually from five to ten feet high, from fifteen to sixty feet in circumference at the base, and of conical forms, resembling hay stacks. Where they have been excavated, they have, invariably, been found to contain human bones, various stone ornaments, weapons, pieces of pottery, and sometimes ornaments of copper and silver, but of a rude manufacture, clearly indicating Indian origin. Layers of ashes and charcoal are also found in these mounds.” Mounds of this class were to be found a few years ago “in almost every field upon the rivers Tennessee, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Alabama, Cahaba, Warrior, and Tombigby.” The Spaniards of 1540 found in the various temples the dead laid away in wooden boxes or in blankets. These, it was afterward ascertained, they would remove every few years and bury in the earth, thus forming these numerous burial mounds.
As late as 1733 the French found that some Indians had within the two previous years, “erected mounds and embankments for defense, which covered an area of four hundred acres.”
In 1847 there was still in existence a large sacrificial mound seventy feet high and six hundred in circumference.
A description or even an enumeration of the immense number of burial mounds, of the many sacrificial and building mounds, and of the remains of fortifications, of ancient ditches, of rock houses, and of implements of stone workmanship found in the South East, cannot be introduced here, but sufficient evidence exists to lead to the conclusion that the early Indians were the workmen who have left all these proofs of their existence and their skill.
If then, the Indians of 1540 were the mound-builders of the South-East, the probability appears that they were the descendants or remnants of those ancient Mound- builders who some thousand years ago occupied the northern portion of the great Mississippi Valley, and who have left their traces from the copper mines of Lake Superior to the Mexican Gulf. These early inhabitants, to whom no other name is given but Mound- builders, of whom it has been supposed all records were lost, and whose origin, modes of life, and disappearance, have been so fully shrouded in mystery, are supposed, by some historians, to have been closely related to the ancient Aztecs, whose descendants were the inhabitants of central Mexico only four hundred years ago. It is suggested here that the Maubilians and other South-eastern Indians, of three hundred and thirty-seven years ago, were the actual descendants and representatives of the Northern Mound-builders, were also related to the Aztecs, and that all their knowledge and civilization, running back of even the ancient Toltecs, must be traced to immigrations upon the shores of the distant North-West, from old centers of Asiatic civilization and knowledge and art.
But all Indian civilization, in both North and South America, seems to have withered at the touch of the white man. The Indians of the South-East, desolated by war, and swept off by diseases which they received from the Spaniards, never regained their former prosperity after that Spanish invasion; and when the French went among them great changes had taken place, new tribes had entered upon regions left desolate, and lower forms of fierce savage life were found.
A brief view of the Indians of the eighteenth century will now be given.
The five principal tribes have been already named.
One large tribe, called the Natchez, were nearly destroyed by the French. They came from the south- western part of the Mexican Empire and settled on the east side of the Mississippi. They were sun-worshipers.
Their chiefs were called Suns, and their Grand Chief was termed the Grand Sun. In their temple tire was perpetually burning, claimed to be sacred fire. Once, through negligence it had gone out, and profane fire was substituted. But dreadful calamities in consequence came upon the tribe.
The French found some small tribes near Mobile, and also above the union of the two rivers, called Mobilians, still existing, a remnant of the old and powerful Maubilians. All these the French sometimes called by the general name of Mobile Indians. These became incorporated into the larger tribes.
Another tribe also, called the Alabamas, coming from the distant “West, had at length reached the Alabama river, where they thought to find a peaceful home, but they also were compelled to unite with other tribes.
As the Seminoles, so called, were in fact a part of the great Creek Nation, it will be needful now to notice only the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, and the Creeks.
The Cherokees, unlike the other tribes of this region, came originally from the North-East.
At the beginning of the eighteenth century their nation comprised sixty-four towns. They were reduced by wars and by the smallpox so that at the close of 1740 they numbered only about four thousand warriors. They occupied Eastern Tennessee and a part of North Carolina, North Georgia, and North-eastern Alabama. The men were large and robust ; the women tall, slender, delicate in form, with small and “exquisitely shaped” hands and feet, and with features, it is said, of perfect symmetry. They spent more time than the other Indians in dancing, and were, from the salubrity of their territory, longer lived. In their ball plays, green-corn dances, apparel mode of warfare, and other respects, they closely resembled the Creeks. They had great endurance, were very proud, implacable in enmity, but gentle and amiable friends. They differed from the other tribes in having no laws against adultery, and marriage among them was usually temporary. They were removed across the Mississippi in 1838, and seem to be now the first of the civilized tribes.
The Chickasaws, and also the Choctaws, are said to have descended from some early inhabitants of the Mexican empire, called Chick-emi-caws. These two tribes, in company with the Choccomaws, crossed the Mississippi with ten thousand warriors. The Chickasaws established themselves in what is now the north- eastern part of Mississippi and spread eastward into Alabama. They are said to have been the most fierce, haughty, insolent, and cruel of all the Southern tribes. They were very brave, but great robbers, making predatory excursions and conveying off slaves and everything of value. They were called the most expert in tracking of all the American Indians. They disdained to kill beaver, but delighted to pursue the deer and elk. The men were well formed and athletic ; the women cleanly in their habits and good-looking. All were excellent swimmers.
They resided in 1771 upon a prairie, their houses occupying a space one mile and a half in length. Here they kept cattle and had large droves of horses.
At different times their land was ceded to the United States, and in 1834 they were removed beyond the Mississippi.
The Choctaws, who with the former tribe, are said to have come from the West, settled along the Tombigbee and westward, extending northward to the boundary of the Chickasaws.
They occupied a part of the territory of the old Maubilians, and, if not the same people, with them the modern Mobilians became identified. They are supposed by Pickett to have been the Pafallayas of the Warrior river, the brave allies of Tuskaloosa in 1540, and would naturally inhabit a part of his dominions. These Choctaws were the owners of the larger part of Clarke, the friendly Indians with whom the early settlers were familiar.
They are described as being more slender in build than the other tribes, but well formed, the features of the women being lively and agreeable. The men were exceedingly agile, none excelling them in ball playing, none running as fast on level ground. In their persons they were not cleanly, and few of them, it is said, were able to swim. This singular fact is asserted by all early travellers among them; and, possessing as they did such a finely watered region, it seems unaccountably strange. They are called, nevertheless, very agreeable Indians, “invariably cheerful, witty, and cunning.” They were very hospitable, and excelled in hunting bears, panthers, and wildcats in the “immense cane swamps with which their country abounded.” They were not equal to the Chickasaws in pursuing the deer. As native orators they excelled. The use of well chosen and beautiful metaphors, characterized their concise and forcible speeches. Said one of their orators, alluding to one of the traditions of the origin of their tribe, ” Like the leaves of the sycamore when the wind is blowing the Indians are passing away, and the white people will soon know no more of them, than they do of those deep caves out of which they had their origin.” Orators, like poets, must be born, for how else could the uncultured Choctaws be able to utter such words of beauty and fire as yet remain on record in the speeches of their chiefs?
The men, unlike those of the other tribes, helped the women perform the needful work ; but they are charged with being inclined to an excessive indulgence of bodily appetites. They were not inclined to invade an enemy’s territory, but fought bravely in defense of their own homes.
They were not accustomed to torture prisoners, and were more reliable allies than most other Indians. Their great enemies were the Creeks. A war between these two neighboring tribes commencing in August, 1765, the year of the noted British Stamp Act, ten years before the commencement of the War of the Revolution, was waged with fearful severity for six years. In 1771 they numbered between four and five thousand warriors.
They were the friends and associates of the early settlers along the Tombigbee, and aided them in their own bloody Creek War, in 1813. They left their native hunting grounds, ceding all that remained to them in Alabama and Mississippi at the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in September, 1830; and these brave warriors, representatives of those who had followed the lilies of St. Denys on the banner of France, under the Governor Bienville, who had seen the lion of St. George on the British standard wave over them, and last of all had fought under the flag of the American Union, beside border men and disciplined troops, now under the protection of that new power, also retire westward of the Father of Waters.
The Creek Indians alone remain to be noticed. The founders of the Creek nation were called Muscogees. In 1520 when Hernando Cortes invaded Mexico, these Muscogees, forming then a separate government on the north-west of Mexico, aided Montezuma in his contest against the Spaniards. Cortes and his followers conquered, and the .Muscogees determined to migrate. Leaving their old hunting grounds, which, according to this account as given in Milfort’s Creek Indians, must have been in the present territory of Arizona, they started eastward, crossed vast prairies, a part probably of the great Staked Plain of Texas, afterward included in Mexico, they reached the head waters of Red river, and followed that stream till they reached a large forest. Having been on the march for months they here encamped, laid out a town, built houses and planted corn, having taken seed along with them. Here they remained several years in a buffalo range, enjoying peace and abundance. At length, alarmed by the approach of other Indians, called the Alabamas, also migrating from that great West, they turned northward and after crossing immense plains reached the Missouri river. Crossing this mighty current they came upon the Alabama Indians, who had killed some of their hunters on Red river, and these they now in turn attacked and defeated. The Alabamas fled down the eastern bank of the Missouri. The Muscogees pursued, and again overtook and routed them. They reached and crossed the Mississippi river, and after making various encampments they came to the Ohio river and proceeded up that stream nearly to the Wabash.
Leaving Mexico in 1520 and having spent fifteen years in reaching the Ohio, the Muscogees remained there for a number of years, while the Alabamas went southward and settled upon the Yazoo, where De Soto found them in 1541. At length the roving Muscogees followed the Alabamas to the Yazoo, the latter retreating and reaching the beautiful region along that river south of the Coosa and Tallapoosa which now bears their name. Here they had hoped to find a permanent place of rest, but before many years had passed, the Muscogees, hearing of that delightful and broad region still eastward, came again upon them. The Alabamas fled and sought refuge among neighboring tribes. The Muscogees took possession of the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Alabama river lands. This is supposed to have been in the year 1620, the year in which the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock and commenced the settlement of New England, and one hundred years after the Muscogees left their earlier homes in Mexico.
It is to be remembered that during this seventeenth century, at least until after the settlement at Charleston in 1670, few whites had intercourse with the Indians of the South-East, and also that the account given above of the migration of the Muscogees rests upon Indian tradition which is not so certain as written records. It may, it may not, be very accurate. That account further states that this roving tribe, gaining a firm possession along the rivers named, and increasing in population spread eastward to the Ocmulgee, the Oconee and to the Ogechee, and also established a town upon the Savannah. This account, whether correct or colored, was confirmed in 1822 by the head chief of the Creek nation, styled the Big Warrior, in his conversations with a missionary sent into his confederacy from South Carolina. The Big Warrior furthermore declared that their ancestors came from Asia, crossing the Pacific Ocean. This had probably been suggested to him previously by some white man. Of this however there is no doubt, that in 1700, and as far back as the whites had any real knowledge, the Muscogees were a powerful people in possession of that broad extent of country from the Alabama to the Oconee and even to the ocean.
In 1702, in the presence of Governor Bienville at old Mobile, chiefs of the Alabamas and Muscogees made terms of peace, and the Alabamas returned to the banks of their own river and became a part of the Creek confederacy. Remnants of another tribe from the distant Ohio, seeking a home, were soon after admitted also as members of the same confederacy. These were called Tookabatchas and they settled upon the Tallapoosa. The Tuscogees also, the Uchees, a remnant of the Natchez Indians, and other feeble tribes obtained homes among the powerful Muscogees, and thus this tribe became the head of a large Indian confederacy called the Creek nation. The name was taken from the little streams with which their country abounded.
The Creek or Muscogee warriors were tall, often exceeding six feet in height, well formed, graceful, brave, proud, ambitious, restless; possessing large endurance, and were great travellers.
The Creek women were short, well built, with features generally regular, having small hands and feet, the former said to have been ” exquisitely shaped.” Their brows were high and arched, their eyes large and black, their appearance indicating diffidence and modesty. Their hair was black and long, and was worn “plaited in wreaths.” They wore many silver ornaments, and also beads, feathers, porcupine quills, wampum, and earrings. They obtained various articles of dress, linen, calico, and broadcloth, from the traders. Their original native dress is probably unknown. It must have been made of coarse cloth, feathers, furs, and leather. They were fond of dancing and music. ‘ In varieties of dancing steps they excelled.
The native game of the Creeks was the noted Indian “ball play,” a very different game from the American “base ball.” Their great festival was called the Green Corn Dance. The festival was held in July or August, being held eight days in the larger towns and only four in towns of less note.
The general council of the nation was held in May, in the large public square of the principal town. Around this square were twelve houses, each large enough to hold sixty persons. Each large town had also its own square and public buildings where frequent assemblies were held for regulating their local affaii’s.
The town of Auttose contained a great council house, a “conical building,” which would accommodate many hundred people. In this, besides transacting public business, the inhabitants would assemble to take their black drink. When this peculiar drink, called “cacinatra,” was passed round m large shells, tobacco and pipes were also distributed among the assembly.
Lengthy descriptions of the Indian ball play have been given by different authorities. A few are still living in Clarke who have witnessed this exciting game. It must suffice here to say, that eighty or a hundred warriors were chosen upon each side. The ground was previously prepared, in the center of which were two poles between which poles the ball must pass to count one. The players were distant from the poles about one hundred and fifty yards, each furnished with two rackets having wooden handles about three feet long and furnished with a kind of hoop net, the netting made of strips of raw hide or some animal tendons. When the ball, which was covered with buckskin, was thrown into the air, the players rushed to catch it between their rackets, and he who caught it ran and hurled it into the air, to get it near the poles. While so doing he might be tripped, seized hold of and the ball wrested from him, or any means adopted to prevent his making a successful throw. Thus the ball might pass from one to another, he who caught it and those who came near, of the opposing sides, exposed alike to the danger of being thrown to the ground, trampled upon, and severely injured, in the fearful struggle that would at once take place. When at length the ball passed the two poles the side from which it came was declared the winning side.
From twelve, usually, to twenty times the ball must thus pass the poles, and the game would last for hours. The women in the meantime were watching with their gourds of water to refresh their favorite players. Ponies, jewels, wearing apparel, would be staked upon the issue of the game. These Indians would gamble on the strength and endurance of Indian muscle, as their civilized white brothers gamble on the speed and endurance of horseflesh. This Indian ball play, dangerous as it must have been, suited well the peculiar training of Indian warriors, and is said to have been “the most exciting and interesting game imaginable, * * * the admiration of all the curious and learned travellers who witnessed it.”
The Green Corn Dance seems to have been in some sort religious. On the first day new fire is obtained by means of friction. On the second day the men having rubbed themselves on different parts of the body with ashes from the new fire and bathed in the river, take the new corn which the women have prepared, rub it between their hands, on their faces, and on their breasts, and then feast. On the fourth day the women take of the new fire and kindle upon clean hearths their own household fires. On the last day peculiar and lengthy ceremonies are observed with ashes obtained from corncobs and pine burs, clay, and flowers of tobacco ; and then follow curious ceremonies at the river where they wash at set of sun. Col. Benjamin Hawkins who as American Agent, spent much time among the Creeks, says at the close of a minute description of this festival, “it is a general amnesty, which not only absolves the Indians from all crimes, murder excepted, but seems to bring guilt itself into oblivion.”
This Creek nation after a bloody and decisive contest with American troops under Generals Claiborne, Coffey, Jackson, and Pinckney, at length ceded their lands to the United States in 1832, and after an occupancy of some two hundred and twelve years retired to that Indian Territory near the place where their town is said to have been in the sixteenth century.
Although these tribes have all passed away toward the setting sun, back toward that region from whence according to traditions most of them formerly came, yet we may well say,
” Though their bright canoes have vanished From ofl’ the crested wave ; Though mid the forests whore they roved, There rings no hunter’s shout, — Yet their names are on our waters, And we may not wash them out.”
Of their “dialect of yore ” which our everlasting waters speak, beautifully has an Alabama poet said:
” ‘Tis heard where Chattahoochee pours
His yellow tide along; It sounds on Tallapoosa’s shores.
And Coos swells the song; Where lordly Alabama sweeps.
The symphony remains ; And young Cahawba proudly keeps,
The echo of its strains ; Where Tuscaloosa’s waters glide.
From stream and town ’tis heard, And dark Tombeckbee’s winding tide
Repeats the olden word; Afar where nature brightly wreathed
Fit Edens (or the Free, Along Tuscumbia’s bank ’tis breathed,
By stately Tennessee; And south, where, from Conecuh’s springs,
Escambia’s waters steal, The ancient melody still rings, —
From Tensaw and Mobile!”
The contact, for a hundred years, of white men with the Indian tribes has had its influence upon all these tribes. They are no longer simple, unsuspecting natives, the hospitable, generous friends that De Soto found; no longer are they around their spacious temples, or on cushioned mattings, ornamented with strings of pearls. But they still have their ball plays, their prophets and medicine men, and are children yet of the forest and the wild. Horses are no fierce monsters to them now. They can curb the fiery coursers with the daring of the ancient Spaniards. They now understand the use of iron, of powder, and of guns. A mixture of the white blood has given to them many dar- ing leaders wily chieftains, powerful warriors. A thousand whites can no longer conquer ten thousand of their bravest, proudest warriors. They have had, too, during these hundred years zealous missionaries, Jesuit missionaries, Baptist missionaries, among them to instruct them in Christianity, and lead them to adopt its principles and carry out its precepts; but these have met with very slight success. The Indians of 1812 are for the most part Pagan still; if not idolaters, blind worshippers of the Great Spirit whom, as children of nature, they very imperfectly know. Surely if ” the world by wisdom knew not God,” how through ignorance could any be expected to find Him out?
The Indians had some belief in a future existence, but that belief had little effect upon their lives. They were superstitious, credulous in respect to the claims of their prophets and medicine men; they were fierce warriors, often cruel, revengeful, and yet could be pleasant, peaceful, and magnanimous.
Such were the Indians with whom these early settlers were to come in conflict, whose deeds of savage cruelty and blood they were soon to learn amid the beautiful Alabama forests. Before, however, entering upon these conflicts it seems desirable to examine briefly the general topography, and also the animals and the vegetable productions of these wilds, amid which are now the peaceful homes of Clarke.
S. Berney says that the Choctaws were removed in 1830; the Chickasaws in 1834; the Cherokees in 1836, and the Creeks in 1837.
Brewer says that the Chickasaws ceded their lands in 1816 and 1832; that the Choctaws ceded their territory at the treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in September 1830; that the Creeks ceded to the United States “all their land east of the Mississippi river” at the treaty of Cusseta in 1832, and that the Cherokees ceded all their lands in Alabama at the treaty of New Echota in December, 1835, agreeing to remove within two years, and receiving $5,000,000 ” and 7,000,000 acres of land in the West.”
From “Footprints of Time,” by Chas. Bancroft:
1832 — April 2, the Creek Indians sell all their lands east of the Mississippi river to the United States.
1833 — September 30, the presence of the Indians in Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida produces so much conflict and so frequent a necessity for chastising them that they are in danger of total extermination. Gen. Jackson persuades Congress and the Indians to arrange for their removal to lands west of the Mississippi. Some of the Indians quietly remove this year. Many resist, but all are finally persuaded to this course by Gen. Scott and others, except the Seminoles, of Florida.
1834 — October 28, a conditional treaty with the Seminoles at Payne’s Landing May 9, 1832, for their removal to the Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi, was afterward confirmed by the chiefs, but rejected by the people. Gen. Thompson was sent, at this time, by President Jackson to insist on their carrying out the treaty. December 28, a council of the Indians called by Gen. Thompson, seemingly accept the terms of the President.
1835 — May 13, a treaty with the Cherokees purchases all their lands east of the Mississippi for $5,262,251, and ample lands in exchange in the Indian Territory.
June 3, Osceola, a Seminole chief, imprisoned by Gen. Thompson.
December 28, the Seminoles killed their chief, Mathla, who had been prominent in making the obnoxious treaty, and suddenly attack a United States force under Gen. Dade. The same day Gen. Thompson and others were surprised and massacred.
1836 — Early in this year the Indians laid waste the whole country, burning the buildings, and killing all who had not taken refuge in the forts.
February 11, Gen. Gaines lands an army at Tampa Bay. Indians remove their families and effects into the impenetrable swamps of the interior.
May, the Creeks commence hostilities in their usual fierce and barbarous manner. Gen. Scott and the State authorities of Georgia subdue them early in the summer.
1837 — December 25, the battle of Okeechobee fought with the Seminoles in the swamps of Florida by Col. Z. Taylor. Indians defeated.
1838 — The Cherokees complete their emigration to Indian Territory this year.
1839 — Gen. Macomb makes a treaty early in this year with the Seminoles, which they very imperfectly kept.
From Ridpath’s History:
The years 1837-38 were occupied by the final transfer of the Cherokees to their homes in the West.
1839 — The Seminole chiefs sent in their submission and signed a treaty, but their removal to the West was made with much reluctance and delay.
B. J. Lossing says:
“The Mobilians, or (as they were sometimes called) the Floridian Indians, with whom as well as the lichees, De Soto came in contact toward the middle of the sixteenth century, occupied a domain next in extent to the Algonquins.”
“The nation was divided into three confederacies * * * * known respectively as the Muscogee or Creek, the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw.”
One can hardly examine the authorities named at the beginning of this chapter, or weigh carefully the statements of the different writers, and note the differences between the Choctaws and the Creeks, and consider the fierce conflicts waged between them, and study the accounts of De Soto’s expedition, and rest satisfied with the statements of Lossing in regard to these Indians of the South-East.