“Experience is the wisest teacher, and history does not furnish
an example of a forced civilization being permanent and real.”
Pleasant Porter, 1973
The Muscogee (or Muskogee), also known as the Creeks, are a Native American people traditionally from the southeastern woodlands. Mvskoke is their name in traditional spelling. Today Muscogee people live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Their language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Muscogee branch of the Muscogean language family.
The Muscogee are descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who built earthwork mounds at their regional chiefdoms located throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. The historian Walter Williams and others believe the early Spanish explorers encountered ancestors of the Muscogee when they visited Mississippian-culture chiefdoms in the Southeast in the mid-16th century.
The Muscogee were the first Native Americans considered to be “civilized” under George Washington’s civilization plan. In the 19th century, the Muscogee were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes”, because they had integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their more recent European American neighbors. Influenced by their prophetic interpretations of the 1811 comet and earthquake, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, began to resist European-American encroachment. Internal divisions with the Lower Towns led to the Red Stick War (Creek War, 1813–1814), begun as a civil war within the Muscogee Nation, it enmeshed them in the War of 1812 against the United States.
During the Indian Removal of the 1830s, most of the Muscogee Confederacy were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Kialegee Tribal Town, and Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, all based in Oklahoma, are federally recognized, as are the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas.
Menawa, also called Hothlepoya, was war chief of the Upper Towns Creek. Born in the 1780s, he had earned the title “Crazy War Hunter” for his exploits in battle, including his bravery at the battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. He fervently hated the white man and refused to join Chief William McIntosh’s conciliatory efforts. After watching his tribe cede its land piecemeal for a decade, culminating in a treaty which forced the Creek to relocate, Menawa led a raiding party which killed McIntosh in 1825. The act did not stop white incursion onto Creek land, however, and Menawa himself was forced to accede to white territorial demands the following year in a treaty concluded with Secretary of War James Barbour.
In the early 1700’s, the Creek tribe was the most cooperative with the British settlers in the Georgia Territory. With the active assistance of Creek leaders like Tomochichi (shown here with his nephew), Georgia was rapidly and peacefully settled by British colonists. In return for massive land grants, the Creek were accorded privileges, such as protection under the British law and liberal trading rights. Tomochichi was praised for his peacemaking efforts, and in 1734 was rewarded with a trip to England with his family. He remained a friend to the British for the rest of his life
The Muskokee (Creek) became a combined Muskokee (Creek) Confederacy of most nations of the southeastern states who thrived as early as de Soto’s time in the early 1500s. Two strong geographical groups, the Upper Muskokee (Creek) and Lower Muskokee (Creek), each possessed many interesting nations that gradually increased in size and spread throughout Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and the Carolinas. As white people spread southward along coastal areas, Muskokee (Creek) were driven to the interior areas, especially along the Chattahoochee and Ocmulgee rivers. In the 1700s and 1800s bands of the Muskokee (Creek) nation migrated northward, infiltrating nations of the central, plains, and southwestern areas.
After the world was made, some of the animals wanted the day to last all the time. Others preferred that it be night all the time. They quarrelled about this and could come to no agreement. After a while they decided to hold a meeting, and they asked Nokosi the Bear to preside.
Nokosi proposed that they vote to have night all the time, but Chew-thlock-chew the Ground Squirrel said: “I see that Wotko the Raccoon has rings on his tail divided equally, first a dark colour then a light colour. I think day and night ought to be divided like the rings on Wotko’s tail.”
The animals were surprised at the wisdom of Chew-thlock-chew. They voted for his plan and divided day and night like the dark and light rings on Wotko the Raccoon’s tail, succeeding each other in regular order.
But Nokosi the Bear was so angry at Chew-thlock-chew for rejecting his advice that he thrust out a paw and scratched the Squirrel’s back with his sharp claws. This is what caused the thirteen stripes on the backs of all his descendants, the Ground Squirrels.
In the beginning there was no fire and the earth was cold. Then the Thunderbirds sent their lightning to a sycamore tree on an island where the Weasels lived. The Weasels were the only ones who had fire and they would not give any of it away.
The people knew that there was fire on the island because they could see smoke coming from the sycamore, but the water was too deep for anyone to cross. When winter came the people suffered so much from the cold that they called a council to find some way of obtaining fire from the Weasels. They invited all the animals who could swim.
“How shall we obtain fire?” the people asked.
Most of the animals were afraid of the Weasels because they were bloodthirsty and ate mice and moles and fish and birds. Rabbit was the only one who was brave enough to try to steal fire from them. “I can run and swim faster than the Weasels,” he said. “I am also a good dancer. Every night the Weasels build a big fire and dance around it. Tonight I will swim across and join in the dancing. I will run away with some fire.”
He considered the matter for a while and then decided how he would do it. Before the sun set he rubbed his head with pine tar so as to make his hair stand up. Then, as darkness was falling, he swam across to the island.
The Weasels received Rabbit gladly because they had heard of his fame as a dancer. Soon they had a big fire blazing and all began dancing around it. As the Weasels danced, they approached nearer and nearer the fire in the centre of the circle. They would bow to the fire and then dance backwards away from it.
When Rabbit entered the dancing circle, the Weasels shouted to him: “Lead us, Rabbit!” He danced ahead of them, coming closer and closer to the fire. He bowed to the fire, bringing his head lower and lower as if he were going to take hold of it. While the Weasels were dancing faster and faster, trying to keep up with him, Rabbit suddenly bowed very low so that the pine tar in his hair caught fire in a flash of flame.
He ran off with his head ablaze, and the angry Weasels pursued him, crying, “Catch him! Catch him! He has stolen our sacred fire! Catch him, and throw him down!”
But Rabbit outran them and plunged into the water, leaving the Weasels on the shore. He swam across the water with the flames still blazing from his hair.
The Weasels now called on the Thunderbirds to make it rain so as to extinguish the fire stolen by Rabbit. For three days rain poured down upon the earth, and the Weasels were sure that no fire was left burning except in their sycamore tree.
Rabbit, however, had built a fire in a hollow tree, and when the rain stopped and the sun shone, he came out and gave fire to all the people. After that whenever it rained, they kept fires in their shelters, and that is how Rabbit brought fire to the people.
Long ago, the Creek nation lived mostly in the area of Georgia and Florida. Tribal storytellers loved to relate the following legend over and over to their young people, who loved to hear it again and again.
When the animals talked with each other just like people do today, a very handsome alligator lay sunning himself luxuriously on a log in which we now call the Florida Everglades. Then along came Mr. Rabbit, who said to him, “Mr. Handsome Alligator, have you ever seen the devil?”
“No, Mr. Rabbit, but I am not afraid of the devil. Are you?” replied Mr. Alligator.
“Well now, Mr. A., I did see the devil. Do you know what he said about you?” asked Rabbit.
“Now, just what did the devil have to say about me?” Alligator replied.
“The devil said that you are afraid of him,” said Rabbit. “Besides, he said you would not even look at him.”
“Rubbish,” said Alligator. “I know that I am not afraid of the devil and I am not afraid to look at him. Please tell him so for me the next time you see him.”
“I do not think you are willing to crawl up the hill the day after tomorrow and allow me to introduce you to the devil himself,” said Rabbit.
“Oh, yes, I am willing and ready to go with you,” replied Alligator. “Let us go tomorrow.”
“That is just fine with me,” replied Rabbit. “But Mr. A., when you see some smoke rising somewhere, do not be afraid. It is a sign that the devil is moving about and will soon be on his way.”
“You do not have to worry about me,” said Alligator. “I told you I am not afraid of the devil.”
“When you see the friendly birds flying about, and the deer running at a gallop, do not be afraid,” said Rabbit.
“Don’t you be concerned, because I will not be afraid,” repeated Alligator.
“If you hear some fire crackling and its comes closer to you, do not be scared,” said Rabbit. “If the grasses near you begin to smoke, do not be scared. The devil is only wandering about. Then is the time for you to get a good look at him when the heat is hottest.”
After Rabbit’s final words of wisdom, he left Alligator sunning himself.
Next day, Rabbit returned and asked Alligator to crawl up the hill, following him. Rabbit led him to the very top and directed him to lie in the tallest grass. Then Rabbit left Alligator, laughing to himself all the way down the hill, because he had led Alligator to the farthest place away from his home in the water.
On his way, Rabbit came to a smoldering stump. He picked up a piece, carrying it back to the high grass, where he made a fire so the wind blew it toward Alligator.
Soon the fire surrounded the place, burning closer and closer to Alligator. Rabbit then ran to a sandy knoll and sat down to watch the fun, chuckling over the trick he had played on Mr. Alligator.
Only a short time passed when the smoke rose in thick spirals, and the birds flew upward and away. Other animals ran for their lives across the field.
Alligator cried out, “Oh, Mr. Rabbit, where are you?”
“You just lie there quietly,” replied Rabbit. “It’s only the devil prowling about.”
The fire began to roar and spread rapidly. “Oh, Mr. Rabbit, what is that I hear?” asked Alligator.
“That’s just the devil breathing hard,” replied Rabbit. “Do not be scared. You will see him soon!”
Rabbit became so amused that he rolled and rolled on the sandy knoll and kicked his heels up in the air with glee.
Soon the grass surrounding Alligator caught fire and began to burn beneath him. Alligator rolled and twisted with pain from his burns.
“Do not be afraid now, Mr. Alligator,” called Rabbit. “Just be quiet for a little while longer, and the devil will be there for you to get a firsthand look at him.”
Alligator could not stand any more toasting! He started to crawl as fast as he could down the hillside toward the water. He wriggled through the burning grass, snapping his jaws, rolling in pain, and choking from the smoke.
Rabbit, upon his sandy knoll, laughed and laughed, jumping up and down with delight at the trick he had played on Alligator.
“Wait a minute, Mr. A. Don’t be in such a hurry. You said you were not afraid of the devil,” called Rabbit.
By that time Alligator had reached his home in the water, tumbling in to stop the pain of his roasted skin.
Never again did Mr. Handsome Alligator trust that trickster, Mr. Rabbit, or any of his family, ever!
Two pretty girls lived not far from Rabbit and Wolf. One day Rabbit called upon Wolf and said, “Let’s go and visit those pretty girls up the road.”
“All right,” Wolf said, and they started off.
When they got to the girls’ house, they were invited in, but both girls took a great liking to Wolf and paid all their attention to him while Rabbit had to sit by and look on. Rabbit of course was not pleased by this, and he soon said, “We had better be going back.”
“Let’s wait a while longer,” Wolf replied, and they remained until late in the day. Before they left, Rabbit found a chance to speak to one of the girls so that Wolf could not overhear and he said, “The one you’ve been having so much fun with is my old horse.”
“I think you are lying,” the girl replied.
“No, I am not. You shall see me ride him up here tomorrow.”
“If we see you ride him up here,” the girl said with a laugh, “we’ll believe he’s only your old horse.”
When the two left the house, the girls said, “Well, call again.”
Next morning Wolf was up early, knocking on Rabbit’s door. “It’s time to visit those girls again,” he announced.
Rabbit groaned. “Oh, I was sick all night,” he answered, “and I hardly feel able to go.”
Wolf kept urging him, and finally Rabbit said, “If you will let me ride you, I might go along to keep you company.”
Wolf agreed to carry him astride of his back. But then Rabbit said, “I would like to put a saddle on you so as to brace myself” When Wolf agreed to this, Rabbit added: “I believe it would be better if I should also bridle you.”
Although Wolf objected at first to being bridled, he gave in when Rabbit said he did not think he could hold on and manage to get as far as the girls’ house without a bridle. Finally Rabbit wanted to put on spurs.
“I am too ticklish,” Wolf protested.
“I will not spur you with them,” Rabbit promised. “I will hold them away from you, but it would be nicer to have them on.”
At last Wolf agreed to this, but he repeated: “I am very ticklish. You must not spur me.”
“When we get near the girls’ house,” Rabbit said, “we will take everything off you and walk the rest of the way.”
And so they started up the road, Rabbit proudly riding upon Wolf’s back. When they were nearly in sight of the house, Rabbit raked his spurs into Wolf’s sides and Wolf galloped full speed right by the house.
“Those girls have seen you now,” Rabbit said. “I will tie you here and go up to see them and try to explain everything. I’ll come back after a while and get you.”
And so Rabbit went back to the house and said to the girls: “You both saw me riding my old horse, did you not?”
“Yes,” they answered, and he sat down and had a good time with them.
After a while Rabbit thought he ought to untie Wolf, and he started back to the place where he was fastened. He knew that Wolf must be very angry with him by this time, and he thought up a way to untie him and get rid of him without any danger to himself. He found a thin hollow log and began beating upon it as if it were a drum. Then he ran up to Wolf as fast as he could go, crying out: “The soldiers are hunting for you! You heard their drum. The soldiers are after you.”
Wolf was very much frightened of soldiers. “Let me go, let me go!” he shouted.
Rabbit was purposely slow in untying him and had barely freed him when Wolf broke away and ran as fast as he could into the woods. Then Rabbit returned home, laughing to himself over how he had fooled Wolf, and feeling satisfied that he could have the girls to himself for a while.
Near the girls’ house was a large peach orchard, and one day they asked Rabbit to shake the peaches off the tree for them. They went to the orchard together and he climbed up into a tree to shake the peaches off. While he was there Wolf suddenly appeared and called out: “Rabbit, old fellow, I’m going to even the score with you. I’m not going to leave you alone until I do.”
Rabbit raised his head and pretended to be looking at some people off in the distance. Then he shouted from the treetop: “Here is that fellow, Wolf, you’ve been hunting for!” At this, Wolf took fright and ran away again.
Some time after this, Rabbit was resting against a tree-trunk that leaned toward the ground. When he saw Wolf coming along toward him, he stood up so that the bent tree-trunk pressed against his shoulder.
“I have you now,” said Wolf, but Rabbit quickly replied: “Some people told me that if I would hold this tree up with the great power I have they would bring me four hogs in payment. Now, I don’t like hog meat as well as you do, so if you take my place they’ll give the hogs to you.”
Wolf’s greed was excited by this, and he said he was willing to hold up the tree. He squeezed in beside Rabbit, who said, “You must hold it tight or it will fall down.” Rabbit then ran off, and Wolf stood with his back pressed hard against the bent tree- trunk until he finally decidedhe could stand it no longer. He jumped away quickly so the tree would not fall upon him. Then he saw that it was only a leaning tree rooted in the earth. “That Rabbit is the biggest liar,” he cried. “If I can catch him I’ll certainly fix him.”
After that, Wolf hunted for Rabbit every day until he found him lying in a nice grassy place. He was about to spring upon him when Rabbit said, “My friend, I’ve been waiting to see you again. I have something good for you to eat. Somebody killed a pony out there in the road. If you wish I’ll help you drag it out of the road to a place where you can make a feast off it.”
“All right,” Wolf said, and he followed Rabbit out to the road where a pony was lying asleep.
“I’m not strong enough to move the pony by myself,” said Rabbit, “so I’ll tie its tail to yours and help you by pushing.”
Rabbit tied their tails together carefully so as not to awaken the pony. Then he grabbed the pony by the ears as if he were going to lift it up. The pony woke up, jumped to its feet, and ran away, dragging Wolf behind. Wolf struggled frantically to free his tail, but all he could do was scratch on the ground with his claws.
“Pull with all your might,” Rabbit shouted after him.
“How can I pull with all my might,” Wolf cried, “when I’m not standing on the ground?”
By and by, however, Wolf got loose, and then Rabbit had to go into hiding for a long, long time.
The birds challenged the four-footed animals to play them in a ball game. Each group agreed that all creatures that had teeth should play on the side of the animals, and all those that had feathers should play on the side of the birds.
They chose a suitable day, cleared a playing field, erected poles, and obtained balls from the medicine men.
When the players gathered, all that had teeth went on one side and those that had feathers went on the other. When the Bat came, he joined the animals that had teeth.
“No,” the animals said to Bat. “You have wings. You must play with the birds.”
Bat went over to the side of the birds, but they said: “No, you have teeth. You must play with the animals.” They drove him away, saying: “You are so small, you could do us no good anyway.
And so Bat went back to the animals, begging them to let him play with them. At last they agreed: “You are too small to help us, but as you have teeth we will let you remain on our side.”
The game began, and the birds quickly took the lead because they could catch the ball in the air where the four-footed animals could not reach it. The Crane was the best player, and he caught the ball so often that it looked as if the birds were going to win the game. As none of the animals could fly, they were in despair.
The little bat now entered the game, flying into the air and catching the ball while the Crane was flapping slowly along. Again and again Bat caught the ball, and he won the game for the four-footed animals.
They agreed that even though Bat was very small and had Wings he should always be classed with the animals having teeth.
A long time ago in western Georgia, among the Southeastern Creek Hitchiti Indians, lived Walnut-Cracker. His name was given him because he spent most of his time gathering, cracking, and eating walnuts in the same spot.
He always placed walnuts on a large stone and cracked them open, using a smaller stone. For the rest of the day and evening he ate walnuts. This was how Walnut-Cracker lived for many years. When he died, his people buried him at the place where the walnuts grew.
Some time later, a Creek hunter passed that very place and found a large mound of walnuts. As he was hungry, he cracked some and ate the good meat. Later that same evening the hunter returned. He sat down and cracked many walnuts on the large stone.
While the hunter was busy cracking and eating walnuts, a man came out of his nearby lodge. He heard someone at the place where Walnut-Cracker had lived. He listened and plainly heard the cracking noise. Looking closely through the darkness, he saw what looked like a person sitting where Walnut-Cracker always sat.
The man went back into his lodge announcing, “Walnut-Cracker, who died and was buried, now sits at his same place, cracking walnuts on the large stone! Do you think it is his ghost?”
All of the man’s family came outside quietly, looking toward Walnut-Cracker’s place. There they saw someone cracking walnuts on the large stone, who surely looked like Walnut-Cracker himself.
One of the family was a Lame Man, a good friend of Walnut- Cracker.
“Take me along on your back,” he pleaded. “I want to see him again.” So he was carried on the back of another who walked quietly toward the ghost.
That is what they thought, and they stopped in fear. But Lame Man whispered, “Please, take me a little farther.” His companion took him a little way, then stopped. The hunter did not hear them, because he was cracking walnuts.
“Please take me a little farther,” again asked Lame Man. The hunter looked up and saw the people through the shadows. He jumped up, seized his bow and arrows, and ran away!
When the ghost moved, the people ran back to their lodge. The one carrying the Lame Man became frightened and dropped him and left, running back to the lodge. Lame Man, too, jumped up and ran to his people. He was no longer a lame man!
Tribal storytellers say, “He outran the others, beating them to the lodge. He walked perfectly ever after.”
As for Walnut-Cracker, no one saw his ghost again!