Creek Marriage

When a man was considered by his clansmen entitled to a wife a conference was held by the elder men of the clan. The prospective groom must, however, have the following virtues. He must be a good hunter, a brave warrior, and an athlete. Having decided that he was old enough and fully callable of becoming the parent of children, a decision which gave him adult status, the elder men conferred with the elder women of the clan, saying to them in substance: “Our young man,” giving his name and qualifications, “should now have a wife. He is now a man. He should have the orderly opportunity of having offspring and strengthening our people the thereby.”

They and the women debated the question seriously and in the best possible spirit, and the women took the matter under advisement. It was naturally supposed that the women knew the qualifications of the marriageable women of other clans better than the men.

They selected some family in a clan which had a cousin relationship with their own and could intermarry with theirs and in which there were marriageable woman.

They asked this cousin clan to give them a wife for one of their men. At once the members of the cousin clan took the matter under consideration, the elder women consulting with the elder men, saying; “Our cousin clan so-and-so asks us to give them a wife from among our young unmarried women. What do you think of this request?” The men thereupon considered the matter carefully, and if they concluded that the young man was worthy of one of their daughters they permitted the women to return on their behalf an indefinite answer but nevertheless one of encouragement. Thereupon the young man was privileged to make a present to the clan of his prospective bride. It was not necessary to send the present directly to her very house, because the suitor was not supposed to know, and usually did not know, the woman who had been chosen as his spouse. If the clan elders accepted the present they sent it to the woman’s house. The suitor was notified and was then privileged to visit in that house. The woman’s maternal uncles then talked with him confidentially but frankly. Finally they told him to return to his own home and say that when they were satisfied that he was the right kind of man they would send for him. That meant that he had been accepted.

On the appointed day they harangued him at length, telling of the duties he was about to assume in his new relation as husband. They made him understand the customs peculiar to the clan in which his children would be brought up, and they made him understand what position he would occupy with regard to the people of their clan. Finally they said: “You will find your wife in that house,” or “You will find your bed yonder;” indicating it with a gesture. She had purposely been placed there already.

In former times it was customary to give away the oldest girl in the family first, however undesirable she might be, especially if the suitor was not considered a very desirable husband, but if he was liked she might be passed over. Sometimes a young man of great force of character would circumvent all the finesse of matchmaking and would manage his case so adroitly as to obtain the girl of his own choice. It depended upon his strategy. After that, being a married man, he could go and come whenever he pleased.

The groom was expected to leave his wife’s house before sunrise every morning until his wife became pregnant. He might then remain, but he must suspend sexual relations with her. In the interval before the birth of the child he was expected to build a house for himself, that is, if the house of her mother was not big enough to accommodate another family. He might erect it near the home of his parents-in-law or some distance away, depending upon his inclinations. Just before the child’s birth the young husband was expected to go off on a hunting trip. He was not supposed to be at home on that occasion. But each clan had customs that were peculiar to itself.

If the betrothed woman eloped, and was not retaken before the next annual busk when all offenses except murder were forgiven, she was free. But if she was recaptured within that time the penalty imposed was very heavy. If the offence was committed within the same clan it was not forgiven and meant death for both man and woman.

When fornication occurred between individuals of different clans the matter was compounded by the clans concerned. Certain demands were made for the loss of the woman and these must be satisfied, but the abductor seldom gave the woman up. Generally the penalty was a heavy fine as an equivalent for the loss of the woman and breach of the common law of marriage. The clan of the offender must pay for the offense.

If adultery had been committed and the guilty pair were captured, they were severely punished. The people of the man’s clan were called together to exact the penalty. The offenders were beaten with rods until they were insensible, and then the end of the nose was cut off or it was slit lengthwise, or one of the ears of each culprit was cut off or it was sawed with a dull knife, so that no one would be attracted by either in future. Mr. Perryman says that for the first offense both ears were cut off and for the second the nose.

In reply to a question regarding the punishment for the violation of a widow, Mr. Porter said that the violator of a widow was punished exactly as though her husband were living. She belonged to his clan.

After the death of a married man the clan elders assembled and, after consultation, chose someone from their clan who was in duty bound under clan custom to marry the widow. If he did not wish to marry her he must nevertheless take her as his wife for one night, after which his claim to her was extinguished. Then the clan elders chose another man. One member of the clan had the right to select him. Although the man chosen already had a wife, clan law nevertheless required him to take the widow. The old men said that the man who did not intend to marry a widow took her to his home and kept her there for a single night without having sexual relations with her. That would have been unjust, they said, if he had intended to turn her away immediately afterwards. Still, he could have such relations with her and then release her.

When a man married a woman who had a sister or sisters younger than herself, he might claim the right to marry them, and if he had done well by the first he was entitled to the others, but he had nothing to say about giving them away.


Hewitt, J. N. B. Notes on the Creek Indians. Edited by John R. Swanton. Anthropological Papers, No. 10. Bulletin 123, BAE. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1939.

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