And instead embrace their world-class cultural heritage . . . after taking the time to learn about it. Their ancestors remembered very little of their sophisticated past, when they arrived in the Indian Territory two centuries ago.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
People of One Fire Youtube Channel
Native American Heritage Month Editorial
Architectural Rendering Above: The ancestors of the Creek People built oval mounds and oval plazas for 3,000+ years until switching to the choko-rakko or “Creek square” in the mid-to-late 1700s. Itza Mayas, Sokees and Kaushetes, immigrating into the Southeast from Mexico in several waves, introduced four and five-sided earthen pyramids, plus rectangular plazas, however, these were no longer built after around 1375 AD.
General James Edward Oglethorpe was “right on target,” when he sent a cover letter to King George II for a wooden chest of priceless ethnological reports, which were shipped on July 7, 1735. Among other things he stated, “The Creek People are unlike any Natives that the British have encountered in North America. They are obviously the descendants of ancient civilizations and should be treated as equals in all matters.”
1658 engraving of the Apalachen (Creek) Confederacy capital in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia. The engraving is based on the sketches of English explorer, Richard Brigstock in 1653. Dutch artist, Arnout Leers, portrayed the stone buildings in European styles, but I have found the stone ruins of these large structures. They really did exist.
The Upper Creek capital of Kusa had over 3,000 houses in 1540 AD.
In September 2003, six members of the Muscogee Creek Nation approached me at Ocmulgee’s Southeastern American Indian Festival. Their spokesman first stated, “Richard, you are obviously Creek. Any possibility of becoming a Muskogee-Creek citizen?”
I told him, “Probably not. I have third and fourth cousins in the Nation, but that is from my grandmother’s oldest half-brother, by 28 years. He took a Creek allotment in 1905, but never signed the Dawes Rolls. My only direct ancestor on the Dawes Rolls is Tiger Bone, the famous leader of the Creek Lighthorse before the Civil War. However, all of his offspring were enrolled as Choctaws, despite being mixed Uchee-Creek.”
The council members then told me that their people in Oklahoma are very ignorant of their rich heritage in Georgia. Many Creek leaders were convinced that white academicians had intentionally “dumbed down” their past. They needed an Eastern Creek with my educational and professional background to carry out scientific, architectural research. They asked me if I would be willing to devote five years of my life to studying my ancestors’ heritage. I said yes.
It was an extraordinary experience for me to be paid fair architectural fees to do basic research, study dozens of archaeological sites, build seven large models and create dozens of sophisticated virtual reality, computer-generated architectural renderings. All of the renderings were placed on a CD and distributed for free to all Muscogee Creek Nation citizens.
Wahasi – A Proto-Creek town on the Upper Savannah River
My architectural research here in northern Georgia has confirmed the findings of four great archaeologists of the 20th century, Robert Wauchope, Arthur Kelly, Lewis Lawson and Joseph Caldwell. Creek heritage begins with some of the earliest farmers, villages and mounds in the Americas, but is much more complex than a single ethnic group developing over time. What we discovered was one group of immigrants after another arriving at cultural incubation zones, such as here in the Nacoochee Valley and blending their heritage with that of the previous arrivals.
*By the way, my first mentor in Native American history was Dr. Arthur Kelly! My second mentor was Dr. Román Piña Chan, later Director of the Institutio Nacional de Antropologia E Historia de México. Dr. Piña Chan was ½ Maya. I am about 10% Maya and Soque from Mexico. The balance of my Asiatic DNA is Panoan from Peru, Polynesian and Sami from Lapland. That gives you a hint of the diversity of Creek heritage!
The Nacoochee Valley – at the bottom of the Nacoochee mound is a stone sarcophagus, containing artifacts typical of central Mexico around 1000 AD.
Check online references and you will learn that the Nacoochee Valley, where I live now, is the largest and most densely occupied archaeological zone in North America. It has been inhabited from the Ice Age onward. While spending a year here in 1939, Robert Wauchope identified several village sites that had been first permanently occupied around 1200-1000 BC then continually occupied until the late 1600s. Waves of immigrants from many parts of the Americas arrived in the Nacoochee Valley then blended their heritage with those who came before them. The end result was the Creek People.
The massive Kenimer Mound, about three miles from my house, was constructed by Itza Maya immigrants around 600 AD and dedicated to their Sun God. The Maya Highlands and northern Georgia are the only locations in the world, where one finds pentagonal, earthen pyramids. It is so large that archaeologist Robert Wauchope thought is was a large hill! As you will see in my three videos on the Mexican State of Campeche in the People of One Fire Youtube Channel , I have re-examined my journal and color slides from the fellowship in Mexico, and figured out that these ancestors of the Creeks came from Campeche. Other waves of Mesoamerican immigrants came later from Tabasco, Chiapas (Chiaha Creeks), Tabasco (Tamale and Soque), southern Veracruz and northwestern Yucatan. Etula (Etowah) and Itzasi (Ichesee on the Ocmulgee River) were founded by commoner refugees from Chichen Itza around 990 AD. In recent years, Mexican archaeologists have found inscriptions, which also describe visits by the ancestors of the Creeks to Chichen Itza! Bet you didn’t know that! The so-called Creek Migration Legend is actually about the Kaushete (the Upper Creeks), Their homeland was on the slopes of the massive Orizaba Volcano in Veracruz State.
A disturbing shift in the wrong direction
In 2021, someone within the bureaucracy of the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma sent out a national press release that had some very inaccurate history and disturbing political strategy. It stated that Creek Squares had been built for thousands of years. It then tried to put a guilt trip on non-Native American readers, by expounding on the very real horrors of the Trail of Tears Period. It seemed to be a re-write of the type stuff that is constantly put out by Cherokee tribes. People are told that the Creeks are due freebies and A’s in school, when they really made a C, because of the Trail of Tears. First of all . . .
The rotunda and Creek Square of the town of Tuckabatchee . . . as they appeared in 1776.
- Archaeologists have never found the footprints of a Creek Square in any archaeological site, predating the mid-1700s.
The evolution of the Creek People from being the largest and most powerful indigenous ethnic group in North America in the late 1700s, then being scattered to the winds in the 1830s is not a simple one and certainly should not be used as political blackmail to persuade people in Alabama and Georgia to preserve Creek archaeological sites.
Oklahoma Creeks seem unaware that Native American slavery preceded and ran concurrent with African slavery in the Southeast until 1752. Virginia and Carolina planters intentionally captured young Creek women in South Carolina and Georgia to breed to African males. The Mustees, as their offspring were called, were far more resistant to cold weather and European diseases. It’s hard to find a nominally African-American person in rural areas of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, who does not have significant Creek ancestry.
The Mustees became the house servants and foremen. They were the most likely to become literate and after the Civil War became the African-American Upper Class. Coretta Scott King’s family considered themselves to be Creek until she married a famous Black preacher, destined to become the scion of the Civil Rights movement.
Oklahoma Creeks also seem unaware that both British and Creek leaders encouraged the intermarriage of the two peoples to create a hybrid population in Georgia. Both peoples benefited from the mixing of genes and talents. This only stopped when greedy planters in the early 1800s wanted free Creek land in order to get wealthy from the labor of African slaves. Nevertheless, a huge percentage of people in the eastern (Colonial) part of Georgia have significant Creek or Uchee ancestry.
- South Carolina Creeks were never forced to leave South Carolina
- The mixed blood Creek intelligentsia in Georgia, particularly eastern Georgia, found ways to avoid being moved to either Alabama or the Indian Territory. They were often on Revolutionary War, Cherokee War or War of 1812 veteran’s reserves, which were immune to being deported westward.
- In 2006, a Trail of Tears Association researcher went through the census records and found that over 20,000 Creek adults remained in Georgia after all Creek lands were ceded.
- She also discovered that of the 3,000+ Creeks living in the Cherokee Nation, at least 2,200 avoided deportation from Georgia. They more or less “blended into the scenery.”
The Creek town of Patauli in western Georgia
Native American history is America’s history
From my biased perspective, the cultural achievements of the Creek people are far more significant than Jamestown. After all, most of what is called Southern Cuisine, is actually Creek cuisine. Georgia would not have even survived had not the people of the fledgling colony joined forces with the Creek Confederacy to defeat the Spanish.
That is the mentality that the Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma should be carrying as they increase their contacts with the Southeastern states. The message should be . . . your river names, your food, your historic landmarks, your DNA . . . we ARE your heritage.