We give honor to the generation, born in the early 20th century, who made our present achievements in the Southeast possible.
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
It is a little known fact that the majority of former Creek Confederacy members did not move westward into Alabama and then again to what is now called Oklahoma. In 2006, Trail of Tears Association officer, Leslie Thomas, examined the 1820 and 1830 Georgia census reports. This is when the Creek Confederacy ceded all of its remaining lands in Georgia. Over 20,000 Creek adults, who signed the 1820 census, were still living in Georgia in 1830! This did not include the hundreds or over a thousand Creeks, Uchees, “Towns County Indians”, Okefenokee Indians and Chickasaws, living in remote locations outside the boundaries of the Creek Nation, who were not tallied by either census.
South Carolina NEVER tried to deport its 2000+ Creeks, Uchees, Apalachee and Chickasaws. Leslie discovered that of the 3,000+ Upper Creeks living in the Cherokee Nation in 1832, only about 800 were arrested by federal troops and forced to accompany the Cherokees. The remainder stayed in Georgia. Their tall, lanky descendants still live in the northwest and north-central Georgia Mountain counties. Many “Friendly” Creeks also moved into northern Florida. They were outside the boundaries of the Creek Nation, but not associated with the Seminoles. Their descendants still live in Florida.
In 1800, the Creeks, Seminoles and Uchees composed the largest indigenous ethnic group in North America. Being descendants of ancient civilizations, they were a definite threat to “whites only” political power in the United States. Meanwhile, the US War Department applied genocidal policies to the Creeks in Alabama and later in the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A third of the population of the Creek Nation in Oklahoma was killed in the American Civil War. Most of the deaths were of Pro-Union Creeks, who were intentionally starved to death by order of a U. S. Army general in concentration camps, located in Kansas!
At the completion of the removal of Cherokees in 1838, there were still dozens of Creek and Uchee communities in Georgia. Mostly located along rivers, the Okefenokee Swamp and the Cohutta Mountains, they were theoretically citizens of the State of Georgia, but had no civil rights. At least a dozen of these communities remained until after World War II, but most were soon swept away by the construction of reservoirs by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
In 1937, the Federal Court Creek Docket recognized several of these communities as legitimate tribal towns, dating back to the 1700s. My family’s community was one of them. My mother used her reparations check from the federal government to buy cloth to make clothes for going off to college. These tribal towns could have petitioned for formal federal recognition by Congress and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, but didn’t. Then it was too late. The US Army Corps of Engineers was forcibly buying their lands and the families were being scattered to the winds.
If the Muscogee-Creek Nation of Oklahoma now has 70,000 citizens, there must now be at least a half-million Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole and Uchee descendants in the Southeast. We are going to tell their story.
The shoals of the Broad River
Introduction to a Eastern Creek Princess
She carried in her blood the DNA of Itza Maya and Zoque ancestors in southern Mexico, who, a thousand years ago, had paddled and walked from southern Mexico to northern Georgia to escape bloodthirsty invaders from Central Mexico, who were sacrificing and eating their children. The Uchee side of her family could remember when in 1736, the Rev. John Wesley (a founder of the Methodist church) preached to their town of Parachikora. The family also incorrectly remembered that they had become Methodists at that time, but the Methodist Church would not even exist for another 50 years. Her ancestors actually had modified their traditional monotheism a century earlier after befriending French Huguenot Protestants. Three of her ancestors were Creek Mikkos (kings) of the Wind Clan, who signed the 1773 Treaty of Augusta. She was descended from royalty.
Her ggg-grandfather was a neighbor and friend of the famous patriot, Nancy Hart. Like him, many of her ancestors fought valiantly for Great Britain in the wars with Spain and the Cherokees then for the United States in the American Revolution, the Chickamauga Cherokee War and the War of 1812. During the War of 1812, they served in the First Creek Regular Army Regiment, which fought British Rangers on the coast of Georgia. These veterans were all given reserves of prime bottom land in gratitude for their protection of white settlers on the frontier and plantations on the coast.
Several of her great-grandfathers and even her grandfather* served in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War, even though they didn’t own slaves and disdained slavery. Most were in Cobb’s Legion, which was featured in the movie, “Gods and Generals.” The battle flag of Cobb’s Legion is now the flag of the State of Georgia.
*Grandpa Jack Bone was 78, when he married her grandmother, who was 28!
Then, during Reconstruction, carpetbaggers arrived on the scene and seized their veterans reserves. There were state laws still on the books, but primarily aimed at Cherokees, which said that Indians could not own land or testify in court on their own behalf. The Savannah River Creeks were left penniless and almost landless. They had to start all over again.
Wilma Pauline Kidd was born 101 years ago this month in a log house on a large farm, overlooking the shoals of the Broad River in Elbert County, GA. The river’s earlier name had been Creek words . . . Soquehatchee . . . which mean “Zoque – shallow river” in the Itza Maya language. Undoubtedly, she had Zoque ancestors, who always lived nearby, but their names had been forgotten.
The Eastern Creeks and Uchees were not even considered citizens of the United States until three years after her birth. The State of Georgia was forced to allow Native American children to attend public schools at that time. Hers was the first generation to attend public schools. Yet . . . she went on to be valedictorian of her high school senior class . . . be awarded a full scholarship to the University of Georgia at a time when few Southern white girls went to college . . . graduate Summa Cum Laude . . . in later years earn a Masters Degree and Pre-Doctoral Six Year Degree . . . be named Teacher of the Year for the State of Georgia . . . Mother of the Year of the State of Georgia . . . and ultimately be named Alumnus of the Year at West Georgia University, where she received her post-graduate degrees. Oh, did I mention that she was MY mother?
She had an older brother, Doyle and a younger brother, Hal. Doyle looked like the Hillabee Creek side of the family. As was the case with Wilma, Hal looked like the Itsate-Apalachete Creek side of the family. Hal was the most interested in their Native heritage. During his career in the U.S. Air Force, he was ultimately promoted to being responsible for the welfare of all Native American Airmen in the Southeastern District of the U. S. Air Force.
Her father, Obie, was from a family of mixed Scottish and Hillabee Creek Indian ancestry, who had moved to Georgia from South Carolina after the American Revolution. He had blue eyes and skin pigmentation, approaching that of a farmer’s tan, so he could attend public schools. He only went to the eighth grade, however. His muscles were needed on the family farm.
Papa Obie knew very little about his Native heritage, but it was enough that he was willing to marry Mahala, back when most white Georgia boys would have considered the prospect almost as repugnant as marrying a “Colored girl.” Throughout the 1800s and early 1900s, most mixed-blood Native Americans in Georgia married mixed-blood Native Americans . . . whereas during the Colonial days. mixing of the Creek, Uchee, Chickasaw, English, Scottish, Irish and French occupants of Georgia was heavily encouraged by both Colonial and Tribal authorities.
In addition to being a master farmer and astute general store owner, Papa Obie was highly skilled in the carving of tree logs into large wooden bowls and various forms of Creek art. He also made traditional Creek brooms out of broom sage.
Legacies from my grandparents
Wilma’s mother was named Mahala at birth in 1898, which means “teacher” in Itsate. One girl in each generation, since the mid-1700s, had been given that name. However, throughout life, she went by the nickname of Ruby. As a teenage girl she made traditional pottery and wove textiles, but by the time I came along, she only occasionally wove baskets from vines, growing on the edges of cultivated fields.
She came from the Bone Family, which preserved its memories of their cultural heritage more than most families in the area. They celebrated the Green Corn Festival each June. The specific date was set the date based on the phase of the moon and when the “roasting ears” would be ripe.
Related Bone Families on the lower Savannah River still today look like almost full blood Uchees, but the Middle Savannah Bones intermarried so much with Itsate Creeks that they looked like Highland Mayas.
In Mama Ruby’s office desk was a shoebox full of old photographs of ancestors and relatives in the late 1800s and early 1900s. However, throughout most of her life, however, Mama Ruby refused to respond to requests from her children or grandchildren to tell us more about our American Indian heritage. Her face would express anger and then she would utter:
“I don’t want to talk about it. They treated worse than the Coloreds!”
Beginning in the 1890s, many of the “lower class” whites in Northeast Georgia ceased to view their Creek and Uchee neighbors as the heroes, who had protected the frontier against Cherokee attacks . . . had chased the Tories back to Savannah . . . had stopped an entire Yankee division in its tracks at the Battle of Antietam and then wiped out the Iron Brigade at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Instead, they had become threats to “white Christian society,”
By the early 20th century, kids in nearby Elberton began throwing mud and manure at the Bone kids, when they road the mule wagon into town. She was forbidden from going to Elberton after then. The ultimate straw was just before World War I, when Ruby’s pretty 16 year old sister was raped by a group of white thugs, hired by a wealthy landowner then hung from a tree at the edge of Ruckers Bottom.
Georgia Crackers had been doing this to young Creek women since the 1820s. Creek girls were often prettier than their white counterparts, so killing them in such a vile way worsened the terroristic impact. The motive was to drive the Bone family off their fertile bottomland fields. The Bones didn’t leave their land, but the men did begin attacking KKK rallies, pretty much driving the KKK out of Elbert County. They became contemptuous of all strangers, who appeared to be what they called, “No good, edge-of-towner, white trash,”
In retrospect, I think these bitter memories are what drove my mother to strive toward out-achieving the wealthy white girls at the university. My mother scored 100 on almost every exam that she took at the University of Georgia. The racist bitterness disappeared, though, when she began teaching school at a one room schoolhouse in Comer, GA. She was no longer forced to have social contact with the children of sharecroppers, KKK members and bootleggers.
Seeing clones in Mesoamerica
While on the Barrett Fellowship from Georgia Tech, I was walking though a Highland Maya village in Guatemala. I was stunned to see an elderly Maya woman, weaving in a hut, who looked just like my Grandma Ruby. How could that be?
Until then, I assumed that I only had a bit of Native American blood, even though the US Navy had unilaterally changed my racial type from white to American Indian, after I had taken my Navy physical. Our family just didn’t look like the Italian and Semitic actors, used by Hollywood to portray American Indians out west.
A couple of weeks later I was posing as a student reporter for the Great Speckled Bird (hippie) newspaper in Atlanta and visiting an FLN (Zapatista) guerilla training camp in eastern Chiapas State, Mexico. Naval Intelligence wanted to know the political ideology of this then little known new force in Central America’s turmoil. Well, they were pro-United States, Jeffersonian Democrats, who despised the Cuban and Soviet Communists! I totally sympathized with them then and am delighted to see that they won. The current president of Mexico is a member of the political party, which spun off from the Zapatistas. The Zapatistas now control most of Chiapas. They love North Americans and it is the safest place in Mexico for a tourist to visit.
I was assigned a full-blood Itza Maya schoolteacher as my 24/7 companion to make sure that I was not a bad guy. Call it being a spy with benefits. She was almost identical to one of my Bone second cousins. She was teaching the teenagers English and the basics of Maya archaeology, so they could get good-paying jobs as tour guides. The combined experiences of seeing clones of my grandmother and a cousin seemed implausible, but it set the stage for the research I was to do in the 21st century.
The log house seemed to have dated from the early 1800s. It was more than a rudimentary cabin . . . really just a Federal style house constructed from logs. Like most Southern farmhouses of the 1800s, the first floor ranged from 32″ to 36″ (81-91 cm) above the ground. This crawl space was completely open-sided . . . which helped cool the house in the summer, but made it a miserable place to be in, when cold winter winds blew up through the gaps in the plank floor. The turkeys and meat chickens lived under the house. Egg-laying hens had private quarters and a much higher quality diet in the hen house.
Grass lawns were unheard of in rural areas of the Southeast until the late 20th century. People had sand yards with islands of flower beds in them. Grass yards around farmhouses didn’t become the norm in Georgia until the 1970s, when people started having enough money to buy a lawn mower.
The kitchen was connected to the rest of the house via an covered porch. The dining room, next to the porch was accessed from the porch and kitchen, but not the main part of the house. To reach the well about 30 feet from the house, one had to go down wooden steps, which are now missing. This was quite a dangerous process in the winter, when it was 15 F. and snowing! Someone purchased the logs in the main part of the house decades ago.
Of course, there was no plumbing or electrical wiring. The only source of light was a kerosene lantern . . . which really gives off very little light. Flashlights were invented in World War I, but were not generally available or affordable to rural folks in the South. Looking out a window on a moonless night, one would see pitch black. Once the sun set, the Kidd family did their best to stay indoors behind locked doors.
One miserable, stinking little outhouse served the whole family. A small room off of the kitchen held a bath tub, which was filled with water from the well, mixed with boiling water from the wood stove in the kitchen. One had to empty the tub by one bucket at a time. Baths were a rare event in the rural South during that era. Of course, by the 1920s, virtually all houses in Southern towns and cities had indoor plumbing and electrical service. Most of farms, where our family held its annual celebration of the Green Corn Festival and family reunion still only had a well as a water source and an outhouse for a toilet in the late 1960s!
Oh those outhouses. I hated them. In the warm months, they stunk to high heaven, plus were swarming with maggot flies and yellow jackets. In the winter? My God. If it was below 45 and the wind blowing, answering the call of nature was the ultimate torture.
Beds were much higher off the floor back then. That was so chamber pots could be stored underneath . . . one for urine – one for feces. The prospect of trotting off into the pitch black darkness of a electricity-less world was not very enticing. Remember you had to make down six slippery wood steps, just to reach solid ground.
This iron-framed bed in the guest quarters of the Danby House in Alexandria, VA (The Shenandoah Chronicles) was identical to the ones that Wilma’s grandparents slept in their entire lives. However, their beds didn’t have the cloth side slip to conceal the chamber pots!
Despite all this, The Kidd Family thought of themselves as being well off because they owned a farm large and fertile enough to put a variety of nutritious meals on the table year round. Many rural Southerners in that era were tenant farmers or share croppers, whose precarious lives always lived with the possibility of having nothing to eat other than small game that might be hunted in woods. The truth was, however, that my mother seldom even saw money during the first 17 years of her life. At age 16, she attended her first movie theater. Their only means of transportation was a mule wagon. They couldn’t afford to feed fancy riding horses.
A classic subsistence farm
The farm produced most of the food they ate, including a full range of vegetables grown in a large garden and all manner of temperate climate fruits grown in an orchard and berry patches. Each year, they grew both wheat and corn. The kernels were taken to a nearby King Hall Mill, a water-powered grist mill, to be ground into flour, corn meal and grits. The miller kept part of the grains as a payment for his services.
They cultivated cotton and raised sheep. Some of the cotton was traded for cotton cloth, which the women made into clothes. The rest of the cotton sales provided cash to pay the doctor and the taxes, plus purchase farm supplies such as seeds, fertilizer, lime and pesticides. Wool was traded directly for wool cloth to make winter clothes.
The family raised chickens, turkeys, pigs, lambs and beef cattle for meat. Her father maintained fish and turtle traps in the shoals of the Broad River and possum traps in the woods. Wilma’s mother was famous for her Southern fried turtle and baked possum and taters. The possums were caught in traps then fed cornbread and buttermilk for two weeks before being butchered. Wilma’s father and brothers also hunted deer, bears, rabbits, quails, ducks, squirrels and ground hogs to ensure a variety of meats on the dinner table.
- All plowing was done with a mule-pulled, hand-held plow. All seed planting, weeding, fertilizing, applications of insecticides and harvesting was done by hand – solely by members of the family.
The farm had a blacksmith’s shed. It was used for fitting horse shoes, repairing broken metal parts, plus creating hand and cultivating tools.
Was it a “good” life?
There is no doubt that the locally-grown, unprocessed food that the Kidd Family ate was far better for humans that the tasteless glops of chemicals that we now consume and call food. Notice that none of these old photos portray sprawling waistlines that typify modern Americans. LOL
But then . . . there was the incessant, dawn to dusk physical work that was required in operating a subsistence farm without electricity, plumbing or motorized vehicles. My mother especially hated the requirement to hoe cotton, corn and beans during the late summer to prevent weeds from taking over. She counted the days until she was off in college and had no intent of every living on a farm or having a vegetable garden again. She was going to be “Modern Wilma.”
She never walked in a cotton field again, but soon after marriage was spending more and more time as possible outdoors growing vegetables and flowers. Well, that was fun! Working in a hot cotton field was not fun and never will be.
In Part Two, we will look at the complex and stark socio-economic changes that took place in the Southeast during the mid-20th century.