Creek (people)

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Opothleyahola, Muscogee Creek Chief, 1830s
Total population
Regions with significant populations
United States (Oklahoma, Alabama)
English, Creek
Protestantism, other
Related ethnic groups
Muskogean peoples: Alabama, Coushatta, Miccosukee, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole

The Creek are an American Indian people originally from the southeastern United States, not to be confused with the Cree who are found in Canada and northern United States from Minnesota westward. The Creek are also known by their original name Muscogee (or Muskogee). Their language, Mvskoke, is a member of the Creek branch of the Muskogean language family.

Together with the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Seminole the Creek were considered the Five Civilized Tribes. Despite their efforts to cooperate with settlers, and the efforts of those such as Benjamin Hawkins to ensure peaceful relations and support for the Creek, a civil war erupted among the Creek which soon broadened to include United States forces. After their defeat they signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson, ceding large portions of their homelands to the United States. They were then relocated to Indian Territory following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, walking the Trail of Tears, suffering greatly and losing a substantial portion of their population.

Modern Creeks live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. Despite their tragic past, generally, the Creek are well integrated into contemporary society, involved in all the professions and contributing in many ways, such as to the larger society of the state of Oklahoma. However, they maintain their identity with pride, and continue to practice a number of their traditional ways, including their most significant ceremony, the Green Corn Ceremony, a festival of renewal and forgiveness held annually.


The Creek people received their name from English settlers because they lived in woodland areas along small rivers or creeks. They are also known by their original name Muscogee (or Muskogee). Mvskoke is their name in traditional spelling.

This name is derived from Is-te-cm-us-suk-c-kee, abbreviated to Mus-ko-kee, or Muskogee, which means the "People of the Holly Leaf Confederacy," referring to a shrub found in the Southern States near the Gulf coast known as the "Gulf Holly" (Gregory 1905). The gulf holly leaf was a medicine used by them to purify their bodies during religious ceremonies of the feasts, fasts, and festivals of the first fruits, known as the "Green Corn Ceremony."


Selocta (or Shelocta) was a Muscogee chief.

The early historic Creeks were probably descendants of the mound builders of the Mississippian culture along the Tennessee River in modern Tennessee and Alabama (Finger 2001. They were possibly related to the Utinahica of southern Georgia. More of a loose confederacy than a single tribe, the Muscogee lived in autonomous villages in river valleys throughout what are today the states of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, and consisted of many ethnic groups speaking several distinct languages, such as the Hitchiti, Alabama, and Coushatta.

The Creeks' first European encounters were with Hernando de Soto, the Spanish explorer, who passed through their territory on his expedition of 1839-1840. Later, British traders called those who lived along the Ocmulgee River called "Creek Indians." Eventually the name was applied to all of the various inhabitants of Creek towns, which were divided into the Lower Towns of the Georgia frontier on the Chattahoochee River, Ocmulgee River, and Flint River, and the Upper Towns of the Alabama River Valley.

The Lower Towns included Coweta, Cusseta (Kasihta, Cofitachiqui), Upper Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Oconee, Ocmulgee, Okawaigi, Apalachee, Yamasee (Altamaha), Ocfuskee, Sawokli, and Tamali. The Upper Towns included Tuckabatchee, Abhika, Coosa (Kusa; the dominant people of East Tennessee and North Georgia during the Spanish explorations), Itawa (original inhabitants of the Etowah Indian Mounds), Hothliwahi (Ullibahali), Hilibi, Eufaula, Wakokai, Atasi, Alibamu, Coushatta (Koasati; they had absorbed the Kaski/Casqui and the Tali), and Tuskegee ("Napochi" in the de Luna chronicles). Cusseta (Kasihta) and Coweta are still the two principal towns of the Creek Nation.

"Oglethorpe and the Indians"—James Oglethorpe, who founded the colony of Georgia and became its first governor, is shown making peace on the site of Savannah with the chief of the Muskogee Indians, who presents a buffalo skin decorated with an eagle, symbol of love and protection.

James Oglethorpe (December 22, 1696–June 30, 1785) a British general, founded the colony of Georgia in 1733. He sailed for 88 days, arriving in Charleston, South Carolina on the ship Anne, in late 1732, and settled near the present site of Savannah, Georgia on February 12, 1733. He negotiated with the Creek for land and established a series of defensive forts, most notably Fort Frederica, of which substantial remains can still be visited.

Revolutionary War era

Like many Native American groups east of the Mississippi and Louisiana Rivers, the Creeks were divided in the American Revolutionary War. The Lower Creeks remained neutral; the Upper Creeks allied with the British and fought the American Patriots.

After the war ended in 1783, the Creeks discovered that Britain had ceded Creek lands to the now independent United States. Georgia began to expand into Creek territory. Creek statesman Alexander McGillivray rose to prominence as he organized pan-Indian resistance to this encroachment and received arms from the Spanish in Florida to fight trespassers. McGillivray worked to create a sense of Creek nationalism and centralize Creek authority. He struggled against village leaders who individually sold land to the United States. By the Treaty of New York in 1790, McGillivray ceded a significant portion of the Creek lands to the United States under President George Washington in return for federal recognition of Creek sovereignty within the remainder. However, when McGillivray died in 1793 Georgia continued to expand into Creek territory.

First to civilize

George Washington, the first U.S. President, and Henry Knox, the first U.S. Secretary of War, proposed a cultural transformation of the Native Americans (Perdue 2003). Washington believed that Native Americans were equals, but that their society was inferior. He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process, and it was continued under President Thomas Jefferson. Noted historian Robert Remini wrote "they presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans" (Remini 1998). Washington's six-point plan included impartial justice toward Indians; regulated buying of Indian lands; promotion of commerce; promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Indian society; presidential authority to give presents; and punishing those who violated Indian rights (Miller 1994).

The Creeks would be the first Native Americans to be civilized under Washington's six-point plan. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole soon followed the Creeks' efforts to benefit under Washington's new policy of civilization. Together, they become known as the Five Civilized Tribes.

Benjamin Hawkins, seen on his plantation in this 1805 painting, teaches Creeks to use European technology.

In 1796, Washington appointed Benjamin Hawkins as General Superintendent of Indian Affairs dealing with all tribes south of the Ohio River. He personally assumed the role of principal agent to the Creeks. He moved to the area that is now Crawford County in Georgia. He began to teach agricultural practices to the tribe, starting a farm at his home on the Flint River. In time, he brought in slaves and workers, cleared several hundred acres and established mills and a trading post as well as his farm.

For years, he would meet with chiefs on his porch and discuss matters. He was responsible for the longest period of peace between the settlers and the tribe, overseeing 19 years of peace. When a fort was built, in 1806, to protect expanding settlements, just east of modern Macon, Georgia, it was named Fort Benjamin Hawkins.

Hawkins was dis-heartened and shocked with the Creek War which destroyed his life work of improving Creek Native Americans quality of life. Hawkins saw much of his work toward building a peace destroyed in 1812. A group of Creeks, led by Tecumseh were encouraged by British agents to resistance against increasing settlement by whites. Although he personally was never attacked, he was forced to watch an internal civil war among the Creeks, the war with a faction known as the Red Sticks, and their eventual defeat by Andrew Jackson.

Red Stick War

Menawa visited Washington, D.C. in 1826 to protest the Treaty of Indian Springs. Painted by Charles Bird King.

The Creek War of 1813-1814, also known as the Red Stick War, began as a civil war within the Creek Nation, only to become enmeshed within the War of 1812. Inspired by the fiery eloquence of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and their own religious leaders, Creeks from the Upper Towns, known to the Americans as Red Sticks, sought to aggressively resist white immigration and the "civilizing programs" administered by U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. Red Stick leaders William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa violently clashed with the Lower Creeks led by William McIntosh, who were allied with the Americans.

On August 30, 1813, Red Sticks led by Red Eagle attacked the American outpost of Fort Mims near Mobile, Alabama, where white settlers and their Indian allies had gathered. The Red Sticks captured the fort by surprise, and a massacre ensued, as prisoners—including women and children—were killed. Nearly 250 died, and panic spread across the American southwestern frontier.

Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory sent militia units deep into Creek territory. Although outnumbered and poorly armed, the Red Sticks put up a desperate fight from their strongholds. On March 27, 1814, General Andrew Jackson's Tennessee militia, aided by the 39th U.S. Infantry Regiment plus Cherokee and Creek allies, finally crushed the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. Red Eagle surrendered personally to Andrew Jackson, announcing himself as William Weatherford.

Though the Red Sticks had been soundly defeated and around 3,000 Upper Creeks died in the war, the remnants held out several months longer. In August 1814, exhausted and starving, they surrendered to Jackson at Wetumpka (near the present city of Montgomery, Alabama). On August 9, 1814, the Creek nation was forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which ended the war and required them to cede some 20 million acres (81,000 km²) of land—more than half of their ancestral territorial holdings—to the United States. Even those who had fought alongside Jackson were compelled to cede land, since Jackson held them responsible for allowing the Red Sticks to revolt. The state of Alabama was carved largely out of their domain and was admitted to the United States in 1819.

Many Creeks refused to surrender and escaped to Florida. Some allied themselves with Florida Indians (who eventually become collectively called the Seminoles) and with the British against the Americans. They were involved on both sides of the Seminole War in Florida.


Members of the Creek Nation in Oklahoma around 1877. Notice the European and African ancestry members.

After the Treaty of Fort Jackson, the Creek expected to be able to stay on their remaining homelands. However, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, signed by Andrew Jackson now president, was soon applied to them. In 1836, all Creeks in Georgia and Alabama were rounded up and forced to march to Indian Territory, walking what has become known as the Trail of Tears. Together with the other Five Civilized Tribes all of whom had made great efforts to cooperate with the settlers and the American government, large numbers of the Creek died on the journey from exposure, hunger, and disease. When they arrived, their suffering continued as the territory was vastly different from their homeland, and they had to adapt to a new lifestyle once more.

Although Indian Territory was intended as a permanent home for all displaced American Indians, in 1907 a large part of it became the state of Oklahoma. The Creek and others were relegated to much smaller reservations.


The Creek were typical of the Southeast Woodland culture, and are thought to be descended from the Mound builders of prehistoric times. Their traditional lifestyle was agricultural, with the cultivation of corn, beans, and squash—known as the Three Sisters of Native American agriculture—as well as other vegetables and fruits. They practiced division of labor, with the women responsible for the farming and the men for hunting and defense.

Creek towns were divided into "red" and "white" categories, for war and peace ceremonies respectively. The warriors lived in the "red towns" who launched raids and performed war dances. In the "white towns" lived the peacemakers who kept track of alliances, gave sanctuary to refugees, and held treaty signings there (Waldman 2006).

Houses were built of pole frames and mud walls, for insulation, and bark-covered pitched roofs with smoke holes at the gables. Each family also had a granary. Each village had a central square with earthen banks where people could sit and watch ceremonies and games. There was also a circular ceremonial lodge and a shelter for the old and homeless (Waldman 2006).

Creek elected a council of elders, the "Beloved Men," to make decisions for the community. The leader, Mikko Hese, had no absolute power and was was not guaranteed the position for life. If war was declared, the conduct of the war was controlled by the war leader and the house of warriors (Thornton 2008).


The Creek language, also known as Muscogee (Mvskoke in Creek), is a Muskogean language spoken by the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and Seminole Indians in Oklahoma, Florida, and (to a lesser extent) Alabama and Georgia.

The traditional Creek alphabet was adopted by the tribe in the late 1800s (Innes 2004). There are 20 letters. Although it is based on the Latin alphabet, some of the sounds are vastly different from those in English—in particular those represented by c, e, i, r, and v (Martin and Mauldin 2000).


A digital illustration of a Southeastern Ceremonial Complex Falcon Dancer by the artist Herb Roe, based on a whelk shell engraving from Spiro, Oklahoma.
Several Southeastern Ceremonial Complex motifs on a ceremonial stone palette found at the Moundville Archaeological Site in Moundville, Alabama

At the time of first contact with Europeans, the Creek practiced a monotheistic religion with a single invisible and omnipotent creator (Thornton 2008). According to their beliefs, the world was originally entirely underwater. The only land was a hill, called Nunne Chaha, and on the hill was a house, wherein lived Esaugetuh Emissee (also Hisagita-imisi, Hisakitaimisi) meaning "preserver of breath" or "master of breath." He was the supreme god, a solar deity. He is also called Ibofanga ("the one who is sitting above (us)"). He created humanity from the clay on the hill.

In the underworld, there was only chaos and odd creatures. The Master of Breath created Brother Moon and Sister Sun, as well as the four directions to hold up the world. The first people were the offspring of Sister Sun and the Horned Serpent. These first two Creeks were Lucky Hunter and Corn Woman, denoting their respective roles in Creek Society.

Creek shamans, called Alektca, were their religious leaders.

The Creek buried their dead, at least their elite, under special houses constructed for this purpose. Grave goods were included. Access was forbidden after the burial ceremony was completed. Sometimes an entire village was constructed of these grave houses—a necropolis (Thornton 2008).

The most important religious ceremony was the Green corn ceremony, a practice common among tribes of the region.

Green corn ceremony

Posketv the "Ceremonial Fast," commonly referred to as “Green Corn” in English is the central and most festive holiday of the traditional Muskogee people. It represents not only the renewal of the annual cycle, but of the community’s social and spiritual life as a whole. This is symbolically associated with the return of summer and the ripening of the new corn. Green corn festivals are also known to have been practiced by the Mississippian Mound builders as part of their Southeastern Ceremonial Complex.

In the Muskogee tradition of the Southeastern Creek and Seminole peoples, the Green Corn festival is called Posketv (Bus-get-uh) which means "to Fast." This ceremony is celebrated as the new year of the Stomp dance society and takes place on the central ceremonial Square Ground which is an elevated square platform with the flat edges of the square facing the cardinal directions. Arbors are constructed upon the flat edges of the square in which the men sit facing one of the four directions. This is encircled by a ring-mound of earth outside of which are constructed the clan houses. In the center of this is the ceremonial fire, which is referred to by many names including "Grandfather" fire. Ceremonially, this fire is the focus of the songs and prayers of the people. The whole general ceremony centers on the relighting of this ceremonial fire.

The Posketv is the New Year. At this time all offenses are forgiven save for rape and murder which were executable or banishable offenses. Historically nearly everything would be torn down and replaced within the tribal town.

The first day of the Posketv is the Ribbon or "Ladies" Dance in which the women of the community perform a purifying dance to prepare the ceremonial ground for the renewal ceremony. Following this there is a family meal and by midnight all the men of the community begin fasting. They drink a ceremonial drink for purification.

The men rise before dawn on the second day and remove the previous year’s fire and clean the ceremonial area from all coals and ash. There are numerous dances and rites that are performed throughout the day as the men continue to fast in the hot southern summer. During this time the women clean out their cook-fires as the central ceremonial fire is relit and nurtured with a special medicine made by the Hillis Hiya. Many Creeks still practice the sapi or ceremonial scratches, a type of bloodletting in the mid afternoon. Then the head woman of each family camp comes to the ceremonial circle where they are handed some hot coals from the newly established ceremonial fire, which they take back to their camp and start their cook fires.

During this time, men who have earned the right to a war-name are named and the Feather Dance is performed. This dance is a blessing of the area and a rite of passage for youths becoming men. It consists of 16 different performances including a display of war-party tactics and virility.

The fasting usually ends by supper-time after the word is given by the women that the food is prepared, at which time the men march in single-file formation down to a body of water, typically a flowing creek or river for a ceremonial dip in the water and private men’s meeting. They then return to the ceremonial square and perform a single Stomp Dance before retiring to their home camps for a feast. During this time, the participants in the medicine rites are not allowed to sleep, as part of their fast. At midnight a Stomp Dance ceremony is held, which includes fasting and continues on through the night. This ceremony usually ends shortly after dawn; the participants in the previous day’s rites do not sleep till mid-day.

Contemporary Creek

A Creek U.S. Army soldier preparing frybread during a 2004 pow-wow in Iraq.

Most Muscogees were removed to Indian Territory, although some remained behind. There are Muscogees in Alabama living near Poarch Creek Reservation in Atmore (northeast of Mobile), as well as Creeks in essentially undocumented ethnic towns in Florida. The Alabama reservation includes a bingo hall and holds an annual powwow on Thanksgiving. Additionally, Muscogee descendants of varying degrees of acculturation live throughout the southeastern United States.

The tribal government operates a budget in excess of $106 million, has over 2,400 employees, and maintains tribal facilities and programs in eight administrative districts. The nation operates several significant tribal enterprises, including the Muscogee Document Imaging Company; travel plazas in Okmulgee, Muskogee and Cromwell, Oklahoma; construction, technology and staffing services; and major casinos in Tulsa and Okmulgee. The tribal population is fully integrated into the larger culture and economy of Oklahoma, with Muscogee Nation citizens making significant contributions in every field of endeavor, while continuing to preserve and share a vibrant tribal identity through events such as annual festivals, ball-games, and language classes. The Nation's historic old Council House, built in 1878 and located in downtown Okmulgee, was completely restored in the 1990s and now serves as a museum of tribal history.

Green corn ceremonies are still practiced today by many different native peoples of the Southeastern Woodland Culture, including the Creek. The ceremony is marked with dancing, feasting, fasting and religious observations. The Stomp Dance and Green Corn Ceremony are both highly revered gatherings and rituals that have largely remained non public.

Famous Creek people

  • Lt. Col. Ernest Childers, First American Indian to Receive World War II Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • William McIntosh, also known as "White Warrior," was the son of Captain William McIntosh, a member of a prominent Savannah, Georgia family. Raised as a Creek by his mother, a Creek named Senoya, a member of the Wind Clan, he was sent into the Creek Nation to recruit them to fight for the British during the Revolutionary War
  • Acee Blue Eagle, artist
  • Joy Harjo, Native American poet
  • Suzan Shown Harjo, poet, writer, and lecturer, also a well-known Native American activist
  • Jim Pepper, jazz musician
  • Will Sampson, film actor, noted for his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
  • Jack Jacobs, football player known as "Indian Jack"
  • Cynthia Leitich Smith, book author for children and young adults
  • Thomas Francis Meagher, Jr. (cousin of Brig. Gen. Thomas Francis Meagher) Creek Historian, Rough Rider.
  • William Harjo LoneFight, noted Native American author, entrepreneur, and nationally known expert in the revitalization of Native American languages and cultural traditions

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Braund, Kathryn E. Holland. 1996. Deerskins & Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803261268.
  • Ethridge, Robbie. 2003. Creek Country: The Creek Indians and Their World. The University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0807854956.
  • Finger, John R. 2001. Tennessee Frontiers: Three Regions in Transition. Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253339855.
  • Fogelson, Raymond D., and William Sturtevant (eds.). 2004. Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 14: Southeast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution. ISBN 0160723000.
  • Gregory, James Roane (Barbara Cox (ed.). 1905. Early Creek History. Sturm's Statehood Magazine 86-87, Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  • Howard, James H., and Willie Lena. 1990. Oklahoma Seminoles, Medicines, Magic and Religion. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0806122382.
  • Hudson, Charles M. 1976. The Southeastern Indians. University of Tennessee. ISBN 0870492489.
  • Jackson, Harvey H. 1995. Rivers of History-Life on the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Cahaba and Alabama. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0817307710.
  • Lewis, David Lewis Jr., and Ann T. Jordan. 2008. Creek Indian Medicine Ways: The Enduring Power of Mvskoke Religion. Albuquerque, NM: University of New Mexico Press. ISBN 978-0826323682.
  • Martin, Jack B., and Margaret McKane Mauldin. 2000. A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803283024.
  • McEwan, Bonnie G. (ed.). 2001. Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0813017785.
  • Miller, Eric. 1994. Washington and the Northwest War, Part One. George Washington And Indians. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  • Perdue, Theda. 2003. Mixed Blood Indians: Racial Construction in the Early South. The University of Georgia Press. ISBN 082032731X.
  • Remini, Robert V. 1998. Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom, 1822-1832. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0801859123.
  • Swanton, John R. [1922] 2008. Early History of the Creek Indians and their Neighbors. Kessinger Publishing. ISBN 978-1437007992.
  • Thornton, Richard L. 2008. Hierarchal Muskogean Societies from a Muskogee Perspective. Native Paths Muscogee Creek Cultural Heritage and Resource Projects, Perdido Bay Tribe. Retrieved November 24, 2008.
  • Waldman, Carl. 2006. Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes. New York, NY: Checkmark Books. ISBN 978-0816062744.
  • Weisman, Brent Richards. 1999. Unconquered People: Florida's Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. ISBN 0813016630.
  • Wright, J. Leitch, Jr. 1990. Creeks and Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0803297289.

External links

All links retrieved January 11, 2024.


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