Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: The Muskogee

With the arrival of the Spanish and other Europeans came new infectious diseases which ravaged the indigenous peoples and contributed to the depopulation and collapse of the Mississippian culture. As survivors and descendants regrouped, the Muskogee (or Creek) Confederacy arose. The Muskogee were the first group of Native Americans to be “civilized” or “assimilated” under George Washington’s civilization plan. The Muskogee were known as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole) because they embraced a number of cultural and technological practices of the Anglo-European settlers during the colonial and early federal period. What we know as Creeks were not a single tribe, but a loose alliance of Muskogee-speaking peoples, that likely aligned in order to guard against other tribes that posed a threat of conquest. The “Creek” name seems to have resulted from the common practice of English colonists to designate tribes based upon their geographical location, in this case, from a shortening of the name given to tribes living along the Ocmulgee River, (or Ocheese Creek) in Georgia. What became known as the Creek Nation (or Creek Confederation) was not always a unified body. The union was in constant flux, with its numbers and land possessions ever-changing as small bands joined and withdrew from the alliance.

civil tribes

            The Muskogee lived in autonomous villages in river valleys throughout present-day Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, speaking several related Muskogean languages. Muskogee was spoken from the Chattahoochee to the Alabama. Koasati (Coushatta) and Alibamu were spoken in the upper Alabama basin and parts of the Tennessee River.

The most important social unit was the clan. Clan membership and hierarchical power in the tribe was matrilineal. Clan leaders were typically older women, respectfully termed “mother” or “grandmother”. Clans organized hunts, distributed lands, arranged marriages, and punished lawbreakers. In the Muskogee culture, the Wind Clan was considered the highest-ranking of the clans and the majority of village chiefs (micos) belonged to this Clan. It was commonplace for romantic relationships to occur between Creeks and settlers (either white or black), resulting in children of mixed heritage. These children, (or métis) were accepted freely into Creek society. Since many of the children had a Creek mother, their right of inheritance or succession was unabated.

The basic social unit was the town (talwa). The Upper Towns, located on the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Alabama rivers, were Tuckabatchee, Abhika, Coosa, Itawa, Hilibi, Eufaula, Wakokai, Atasi, Alibamu, Coushatta (Koasati; they had absorbed the Kaski/Casqui and the Tali), and Tuskegee (“Napochi”).

The most important leader in Muskogee society was the mico or village chief. Micos led warriors in battle and represented their villages, but held authority only insofar as they could persuade others to agree with their decisions. The authority of the micos was greatly limited by clan leaders. Micos ruled with the assistance of micalgi or lesser chiefs, and various advisors, including a second in charge called the heniha, respected village elders, medicine men, and a tustunnuggee or ranking warrior, the principal military advisor. The yahola or medicine man officiated at various rituals, especially administering the “black drink” (a ritual beverage consisting of roasted leaves of the Yaupon Holly, which contained caffeine), and engaged in purification ceremonies.

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This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

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