What is the difference between the tribal names, “Creek” and “Muskogee?”

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

There is a great deal of confusion . . . on both sides of the Mississippi River . . . concerning this question. This is mainly due to the fact that 20th century Caucasian academicians didn’t do their homework. When churning out books and academic papers on the Southeastern Indians, they cited the speculations of their peers rather than research eyewitness accounts from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Later in the autumn of 2022, after finishing the Mesolithic Period in eastern North America, we will provide a detailed chronology of the cultural histories of the tribes in the Lower Southeast, but below is a brief summary.

Creek Indians

The generic label “Ochesee Creek” or “Creek” developed during the late 1600s in the Colony of Carolina to describe the culturally-advanced, agriculturalist tribes of what is now most of South Carolina, Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. They shared cultural traditions that originated in southern Mesoamerica and eastern Peru. “Swift Creek” style stamped pottery, the stomp dance and the Sacred Black Drink (yaupon tea) are all ancient traditions of the Panoan tribes of eastern Peru!

“Creek” in British English, even today, means a tidal stream on the coast or a slow moving, deep, river within the interior. That term would be a bayou in French and a pantano in Spanish. Ochesee Creek was the original name of the Ocmulgee River. In the 1600s and 1700s, Ocmulgee Bottoms at present-day Macon, GA was essentially a bayou running through a swamp.

Thus, the generic name Creek seems to be derived from those towns along the Ocmulgee River. However, the ethnic name Creek could be used by anyone descended from the culturally advanced tribes, practicing Mesoamerican and Panoan traditions in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Florida . . . whether or not they were ever members of the current Creek Confederacy, which was formed in 1717.

When Charleston was founded in 1671, there were no Cherokees in western North Carolina or southeastern Tennessee. In fact, a word like Cherokee does not appear on any European map of lower Southeast until 1715. Late 17th century Carolina archives clearly state that Creek men from the coastal region were used as guides and translators throughout the Southern Appalachian region of present-day Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee.

The Lower Cherokees were actually Itsate Creeks, who preferred to be allies of the Cherokees in NE Tennessee rather than the Creeks in present-day Georgia. That is the reason that I have no trouble translating any Lower Cherokee village name or word, while Cherokee scholars tell you than Lower Cherokee is an extinct language that cannot be translated.

1706 Map – By the late 1600s, the Creek province, composing the Georgia Piedmont, was called Bemarin. It was originally a Sephardic Jewish family name, which was altered to a French form, when the French Protestants gave sanctuary to Sephardim in France. Most Bemarin families in France today are Protestants. Creeks in the Georgia Mountains and Piedmont still called themselves Apalache or Palache, when the Colony of Georgia was founded in 1733. English speakers shortened the family name, Bemarin, to “Brim.”

Muskogee or Muscogee

Muskogee is the Anglicization of the hybrid ethnic name, Mvskoki. It first appeared around 1748 after Malachi became High King of what British colonists called the “Creek Confederacy” but the Creeks called “The People of One Fire.” The word is composed of the Sephardic Jewish root, masko, which means “Mixed Ethnicity” with the ancient Northwest European word for people or tribe, ke. The “ke” sound is pronounced so gutturally in both the Creek and Gaelic languages, English speakers typically write the “k” sound in Muskogee and Irish/Scottish Gaelic as a “g.”

Why is a Ladino (Spanish Sephardic Jewish) word used for the name of one of the largest federally-recognized tribes? A handful of French Protestant survivors of Fort Caroline were allowed to settle in the Kingdom of Apalache (northeast Georgia) in autumn of 1565, if they agreed to marry Apalachete women. As you can see below, marrying Creek gals has never been an obstacle for most men. The Apalachen elite converted to Protestant Christianity within a few years.

Apparently, one of those refugees was named Bemarin. His marriage to member of the royal family produced a high king in the 1600s. Obviously, the mixed blood Bemarins also passed on their Sephardic traditions and cultural knowledge. High King Malachi had a Hebrew name, When coining a non-English name for members of the Creek Confederacy, he chose a Sephardic word, paired with a Muskogee language – Gaelic suffix. The Creek Commoners would have assumed that Masko was a mysterious Creek word, unknown to commoners.

Strictly speaking, a Muskogee Creek would be any Creek, whose ancestors spoke the Muskogee language. There are significant genetic differences between Muskogee Creeks and Itstate, the language of my Creek ancestors. I have no North American Indian DNA. All of my Asiatic DNA is from southern Mexico, eastern Peru, Lapland or southeast Asia. Oklahoma Creeks would be surprised to learn that Itstate Creek was the most spoken language in Georgia until the 1790s. English was second, followed by Muskogee, Chickasaw and Uchee. Only when the Creeks were forced into Alabama did Muskogee become predominant. However, in the 1820s and 1830s at least 20,000 Creeks, mostly Itsate or Uchee stayed in Georgia or moved to either Texas or Florida.

The first official map of Georgia in 1785 labels Creek tribal lands, “The territory of the Muskoghe Confederacy.” Therefore, one could also say that they are a Muskogee Creek, if their ancestors were in the Creek Confederacy during the late 1700s and early 1800s. None of the South Carolina tribes were members of the “Muskoghe” Confederacy.

Bubba Mountain Lion’s Believe or Not!

The last known High King (Parakusa) of the Kingdom of Apalache was named Mahdo, which is written Mvto in Muskogee. He apparently died in the 1696 smallpox epidemic and was buried in a mountainside tomb in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia. Today, mvto is the Muskogee word for “thank you!”

You are most welcome!

All single adult Europeans and Africans, immigrating into the Kingdom of Apalache, were required to marry Apalachete spouses. That law did not prove to be an obstacle to immigration.

7 Comments

  1. That could well be! The Jews, who took refuge from the Spanish Inquisition in the Southern Appalachians and Georgia Piedmont did not have a choice about marrying non-Jews. It was either play or not stay. I find it interesting that virtually all families in North Georgia, who claim to be part Cherokee, show up with no or almost no Native American DNA, but lots of Semitic and Iberian DNA.

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  2. Another reference to the forced migrations in 1820sand1830s that affected the tullis/ tullous I have all the genetics that Thornton has plus apache and more Mexican Indian Lots of intermarriage Lots of creeks,Choctaw, Cherokee migration to Texas in early 1820s and 1830s

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    1. Yes, many Cherokees and Creeks migrated to East Texas. We found that out when I was doing research for Roger Kennedy’s final book (Greek Revival America) just before he died of cancer. The difference is that the Creeks fought with the Tejanos and became founding families of the Republic of Texas. The Cherokees collaborated with General Santa Ana. Most of the Cherokees were driven out of Texas as a result. The book and TV movie series, “True Women” was the factual story of Creek migration to East Texas. It’s a good, historically accurate movie, starring Angelina Jolie, Dana Delaney, Anabeth Gish and Michael York.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks! Keep up the good work regarding true history of American Indians You are doing the same thing Alan Wilson is doing for British history!

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