Special Series for celebrating the Creek New Year – 2021
“Lies that your Anthropology or History professor told you”
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
In the second year of the American Revolution, the self-proclaimed Emperor of the Creek Confederacy, Tory Alexander McGillivray, moved the Creek Capital to Pensacola, West Florida and launched raids by pro-British Upper Creeks against the Pro-United States Creeks living in Northeast Georgia. The relocation of the capital to the extreme southwestern corner of Creek territory made it difficult to reach by traditional leaders in Georgia. This treachery permanently severed ties between the much more culturally advanced Creeks in northeast Georgia, east-central Georgia Southwest Georgia and South Carolina (descendants of the Apalachete, Itsate, Chickasaw and Uchee) and the more conservative provinces in Alabama.
Until the late 1780s, more people spoke Itsate Creek (Hitchiti) in Georgia than English. McGillivray’s treachery changed all that. The estranged Creek majority in Georgia and South Carolina had two options, either cast their lots with the better educated white settlers or else head south and join the Seminole Creeks . . . who were establishing a government, separate from that headed by McGillivray.
Keep in mind that by “government” we don’t mean Hollywood Indians. The Creeks had established their own gunboat navy to patrol the Gulf Coast and navigable rivers for pirates. They had a mounted police force, the Lighthorse, which became the inspiration for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. They had built light houses, harbors, docks and wagon roads.
Those Creek communities in Georgia, who had mixed their sophisticated agricultural traditions with the animal husbandry of Europeans were prospering. The conservative Creeks, farther west, who were clinging to old traditions, whereby the women farmed and the men hunted, were experiencing hard times. There were very few game animals left in the woods . . . certainly not enough to maintain adequate protein in their diets.
The majority of Creeks in Northeast Georgia decided to invite better-educated white families to live near their villages and intentionally intermarry with them. Thus, if the hostile Upper Creeks or Chickamauga Cherokees attack their communities, they would also be attacking white families. Soon white and Creek families were building and manning forts together along the frontier. My Creek ggg-grandfather served at Fort James and then Fort Clarke with Bryant Ward, the husband of Nancy Ward. More about Nancy in a subsequent article.
In 1785, a delegation of Muskogee-speaking Creek leaders from western regions signed a treaty, they thought only gave away the Itsate-speaking part of Georgia east of the Oconee River. This treaty contained tricky wording, which then enabled the United States to give the Upper Creek, Uchee, Elate and Chickasaw lands west of the Chattahoochee River (north-central & northwest Georgia) to the Cherokees as a hunting ground . . . in a separate treaty with the Cherokees that the Creeks never saw. The officially ceded track included the most sacred shrine of the Georgia Creeks and Chickasaws, Yamacutah. Among my ancestors were mikkos (village chiefs) who had signed the Treaty of 1773, but refused to sign the 1784 Augusta treaty, because they knew English well enough to smell a rat.
Yamacutah [Excerpt from Nodoroc and the Bohurons by Richard Thornton & Marilyn Ray}
In 1784 Jordan Clark and Jacob Bankston, two land surveyors from Virginia, were traveling to the planned site of Athens, GA, where they were to help lay out the future University of Georgia. In what is now Hart County, they met with a roving band of Chickasaw Indians who told them of a strange old camping-ground, which they called Yamacutah. They said it was located on the banks of Etoho (Oconee) river, some two days’ journey toward the setting sun; that the Master of Life once lived there; and that since his depature, Creek pilgrims went to the place to walk the paths which a strange man came down from the sky then hastened away.
A carved stone statue at the center of the shrine marked the spot where a stranded extraterrestrial traveler was magically raised back into a mother ship. While living among the Creeks, he had taught the Creeks a 10-based numerical system (which included the concept of a zero), advanced mathematics, land surveying, a writing system and the true appearance of the universe.
Clark and Bankston at once resolved to sidetrack to this location and see if the Chickasaws had told them the truth. Late on the afternoon of April 22, 1784, they reached a series of river shoals, which they immediately recognized as Yamacutah. The natural surroundings were awe-inspiring. Trees of enormous dimensions interlocked their branches. The acorns and chestnuts of the previous year literally covered the ground. Yet, within the sacred area, a grass meadow grew as if regularly maintained by caretakers.
Distant some twenty yards, a large black bear was perched in the fork of a tree. As he moved his forepaws with the evident intention of descending, a ball from Clark’s rifle penetrated his head. The bear’s life was the first ever known to be taken at or near Yamacutah. Creek law forbade the shedding of either human or animal blood within one Creek mile (2.1 English miles). The penalty for breaking this law was death. After a “delightful supper of broiled bear ham,” as the adventurers described it, they slept by turns, through most of the night, and with the rising sun began a careful examination of their surroundings.
Creeks living on the west side of the Oconee River observed the bear being killed and butchered on sacred ground. After discussing the situation with a community leader, they decided that it would require a large party of vigilantes to execute the blood-letters without risking harm to themselves. Killing the otherwise innocent white man would likely provoke a war. That was the last thing that they wanted at this time . . . with the bloody Chickamauga Cherokee War blazing to the north in Tennessee and North Carolina.
About seventy-five yards from the west end of the natural rock dam they discovered a curious upright statue a little over four feet high. It was made of a soft talcose rock, 13 inches square at the bottom; but the top, from the shoulders up, was a fair representation of a human figure. The shoulders were rudimentary, but he head was well formed. The neck was unduly long and slender. The chin and forehead were retreating.
The eyes were finely executed, and looked anxiously to the east. It stood at the center of an earth mound seventeen feet in circumference and six feet high. Around it were many other mysteries, which will never be fully explained.
Four paths, doubtless the ones the Chickasaws mentioned, led, with mathematical precision, from the base of the mound to the cardinal points of the compass. Though it seemed that no other part of the forest had been trodden by human feet, these paths were as smooth and clean as a parlor floor. The dwarf river cane, which seemed to have been planted by design along their margins, was as neatly trimmed as if the work had been done by a professional gardener.
The statue was in the center of an exact circle about one hundred and fifty yards in diameter. Its boundary was plainly marked by holes in the ground three feet apart. The holes to which the path ran in a straight line from the center were much larger than the intervening ones; and before them, inside the circle, were what seemed to be stone altars of varying dimensions.
At the end of the path running to the north was a single triangular stone; at the east were five square stones and four steps; at the west, four stones and three steps; at the south, three stones and two steps. Upon the upper surface of all the stones except that at the north the effect of fire was plainly visible.
All the paths terminated at the altars except the one running to the east. At this the trail parted, and, uniting beyond it, continued a short distance and then, much like an ascending column of smoke, disappeared, gradually. The account given by the Choctaws was verified. On the smooth surfaces of these stones were deeply cut both three and five-pointed half moons, whose horns turned different ways.
A good representation of the rising sun and an unknown writing system were deeply cut on the eastern altar. Outside the circle were many ash heaps, beaten hard by the heavy hand of time, and over some of them were growing gigantic oaks and towering pines, as if to mark the grave of the dead past. Having studied these and other features of the vicinity, the adventurers went back to their starting point with a determination to return and make a permanent settlement at Yamacutah.
British officials laughed at the Creeks, when they told them that there were almost an infinite number of inhabited planets in the universe and that the basic building block of the universe was a spiral galaxy. The spiral galaxy appears on the gorget of the Creek Wind Clan.
The day without sunshine
Beginning in 1783, two massive volcanoes in Iceland began spewing ash and smoke into the atmosphere. Half the livestock and 20% of the people in Iceland died of starvation as a result. The year 1786 had no summer in Europe and was one of the coldest on record in New England. However, a dense cloud of Icelandic volcanic dust arrived in Georgia on the eve of November 23, 1786. The skies remained dark the next morning. Throughout the day-turned-into-night, bands of Eastern Creeks came by wagon, horse and foot to pray on the outer circle of the shrine until there were over a thousand people. The worshipers included several of my ancestors.
These were Apalachete Creeks, Chickasaws and Itsate-speaking Creeks, who were living on Revolutionary War veteran reserves, had taken state citizenship or who were married to whites. They thought that the Master of Life had cursed the earth because McGillivray had given away the sacred Yamacutah Shrine. They continued to pray to her* to return the sun back to the heavens until the next day, when some light began to peek through the sky.
*Until convinced by missionaries in the Indian Territory otherwise, the Creeks believed that the Master of Life (God) was female . . . because only a mother could love her human children, despite their many flaws!
Of course, there is no mention of this very real event in the Georgia History textbook. Real Native American history is quite a bit different than the Hollywood movies, isn’t it?
Happy Creek New Year!
The Summer Solstice