Page 1 from the Migration Legend

Gatschet’s Translation of the Migration Legend of the Creek People

A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians title page
A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians

In 1884, Albert Samuel Gatschet published a translation of the Creek Migration Legend in his infamous “A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians.” The Creek and Hitchiti text that came with the same manuscript were then translated from Gatschet’s translation back into Hitchiti and Creek, his translation did not emanate from those. Where then did he get his translation from? A translation from the English had been preserved in a German book of the period, and the style of this piece showed it to be an “authentic and comparatively accurate rendering of the original”. The German book referred to is a collection of pamphlets treating of colonial affairs, and published from 1735 to 1741; its first volume bears the title: Ausfuehrliche Nachricht von den Saltzburg-ischen Emigranten, die sick in America niedergelassen haben. Worin, etc. etc., Herausgegeben von Samuel Urlsperger, Halle, MDCCXXXV, The legend occupies pp. 869 to 876 of this first volume, and forms chapter six of the “Journal” of von Reck, the title of which is as follows: Herrn Philipp Georg Friederichs von Reck Diarium von Seiner Reise nach Georgien im Jahr 1735. F. von Reck was the commissary of those German-Protestant emigrants whom religious persecution had expelled from Salzburg, in Styria, their native city.

So what follows is an English translation from the German translation of the presumed English translation of the original “Migration Legend of the Creek People.”


What Chekilli, The Head-Chief of the Upper and Lower Creeks said, in a Talk Held at Savannah,

Anno, 1735, and which was handed over by the interpreter, written upon a buffalo-skin, was, word for word, as follows:

Speech, which, in the year 1735, was delivered at Savannah, in Georgia, by Chekilli, Emperor of the “Upper and Lower Creeks; Antiche, highest Chief “of the town of the Cowetas, Eliche, King; Ousta, Head Chief of the Cussitaws, Tomechaw, War King; Wali, War Captain of the Palachucolas, Poepiche, King; Tomehuichi, Dog King of the Euchitaws; Mittakawye, Head War Chief of the Okonees, Tuwechiche, King; Whoyauni, Head War Chief of the Chehaws and of the Hokmulge Nation; Stimelacoweche, King of the Osoches; Opithli, King of the Jawocolos; Ewenauki, King; Tahmokmi, War Captain of the Eusantees; and thirty other Warriors.

At a certain time, the Earth opened in the West, where its mouth is. The earth opened and the Cussitaws came out of its mouth, and settled near by. But the earth became angry and ate up their children; therefore, they moved further West. A part of them, however, turned back, and came again to the same place where they had been, and settled there. The greater number remained behind, because they thought it best to do so.

Their children, nevertheless, were eaten by the Earth, so that, full of dissatisfaction, they journeyed toward the sunrise.

They came to a thick, muddy, slimy river, came there, camped there, rested there, and stayed over night there.

The next day, they continued their journey and came, in one day, to a red, bloody river. They lived by this river, and ate of its fishes for two years; but there were low springs there; and it did not please them to remain. They went toward the end of this bloody river, and heard a noise as of thunder. They approached to see whence the noise came. At first, they perceived a red smoke, and then a mountain which thundered; and on the mountain, was a sound as of singing. They sent to see what this was; and it was a great fire which blazed upward, and made this singing noise. This mountain they named the King of Mountains. It thunders to this day; and men are very much afraid of it.

They here met a people of three different Nations. They had taken and saved some of the fire from the mountain; and, at this place, they also obtained a knowledge of herbs and of many other things.

From the East, a white fire came to them; which, however, they would not use.

From Wahalle, came a fire which was blue; neither did they use it.

From the West, came a fire which was black; nor would they use it.

At last, came a fire from the North, which was red and yellow. This they mingled with the fire they had taken from the mountain; and this is the fire they use today; and this, too, sometimes sings.

On the mountain was a pole which was very restless and made a noise, nor could any one say how it could be quieted. At length, they took a motherless child, and struck it against the pole; and thus killed the child. They then took the pole, and carry it with them when they go to war. It was like a wooden tomahawk, such as they now use, and of the same wood. Here, they also found four herbs or roots, which sang and disclosed their virtues: First, Pasaw, the rattle-snake root; Second, Micoweanochaw, red-root; Third, Sowatchko, which grows like wild fennel; and Fourth, Eschalapootchke, little tobacco.

These herbs, especially the first and third, they use as the best medicine to purify themselves at their Busk.

At this Busk, which is held yearly, they fast, and make offerings of the first-fruits.

Since they learned the virtues of these herbs, their women, at certain times, have a separate fire, and remain apart from the men five, six, and seven days, for the sake of purification. If they neglect this, the power of the herbs would depart; and the women would not be healthy.

About that time a dispute arose, as to which was the oldest and which should rule; and they agreed, as they were four Nations, they would set up four poles, and make them red with clay, which is yellow at first, but becomes red by burning. They would then go to war; and whichever Nation should first cover its pole, from top to bottom, with the scalps of their enemies, should be the oldest.

They all tried, but the Cussitaws covered their pole first, and so thickly that it was hidden from sight. Therefore, they were looked upon, by the whole Nation, as the oldest.

The Chickasaws covered their pole next; then the Atilamas; but the Obikaws did not cover their pole higher than the knee.

At that time, there was a bird of large size, blue in color, with a long tail, and swifter than an eagle, which came every day and killed and ate their people. They made an image, in the shape of a woman, and placed it in the way of this bird. The bird carried it off, and kept it a long time, and then brought it back. They left it alone, hoping it would bring something forth. After a long time, a red rat came forth from it, and they believe the bird was the father of the rat.

They took council with the rat, how to destroy its father. Now the bird had a bow and arrows; and the rat gnawed the bowstring, so that the bird could not defend itself; and the people killed it. They called this bird the King of Birds. They think the eagle is also a great King; and they carry its feathers when they go to War or make Peace: the red mean War, the white, Peace. If an enemy approaches with white feathers and a white mouth, and cries like an eagle, they dare not kill him.

After this, they left that place, and came to a white foot-path. The grass and everything around were white; and they plainly perceived that people had been there. They crossed the path, and slept near there. Afterward, they turned back to see what sort of path that was, and who the people were who had been there, in the belief that it might be better for them to follow that path. They went along it, to a creek, called Coloosehutche, that is Coloose-creek, because it was rocky there and smoked.

They crossed it, going toward the sunrise, and came to a people and a town named Coosaw. Here they remained four years. The Coosaws complained that they were preyed upon by a wild beast, which they called man-eater or lion, which lived in a rock.

The Cussitaws said they would try to kill the beast. They digged a pit and stretched over it a net made of hickory-bark. They then laid a number of branches, crosswise, so that the lion could not follow them, and going to the place where he lay, they threw a rattle into his den. The lion rushed forth, in great anger, and pursued them through the branches. Then they thought it better that one should die rather than all, so they took a motherless child, and threw it before the lion, as he came near the pit. The lion rushed at it, and fell in the pit, over which they threw the net, and killed him with blazing pinewood. His bones, however, they keep to this day; on one side, they are red, on the other, blue.

The lion used to come every seventh day to kill the people. Therefore, they remained there seven days after they had killed him. In remembrance of him, when they prepare for War, they fast six days and start on the seventh. If they take his bones with them, they have good fortune.

After four years, they left the Coosaws, and came to a River which they called Nowphawpe, now Callasihutche. There, they tarried two years; and as they had no corn, they lived on roots and fishes, and made bows, pointing the arrows with beaver teeth and flint-stones, and for knives they used split canes.

They left this place, and came to a creek, called Wattoolahawka hutche, Whooping-creek, so called from the whooping of cranes, a great many being there. They slept there one night.

“They next came to a River, in which there was a waterfall; this they named the Owatuaka River.
The next day, they reached another River, which they called the Aphoosa pheeskaw.

The following day, they crossed it, and came to a high mountain, where were people who, they believed, were the same who made the white path. They, therefore, made white arrows and shot them, to see if they were good people. But the people took their white arrows, painted them red, and shot them back. When they showed these to their Chief, he said that was not a good sign; if the arrows returned had been white, they could have gone there and brought food for their children, but as they were red they must not go. Nevertheless, some of them went to see what sort of people they were; and found their houses deserted. They also saw a trail which led into the River; and as they could not see the trail on the opposite bank, they believed that the people had gone into the River, ” and would not again come forth.

At that place, is a mountain, called Moterell, which makes a noise like beating on a drum; and they think this people live there. They hear this noise on all sides, when they go to War.

They went along the River, till they came to a waterfall, where they saw great rocks; and on the rocks were bows lying; and they believed the people who made the white path had been there.

They always have, on their journeys, two scouts who go before the main body. These scouts ascended a high mountain and saw a town. They shot white arrows into the town; but the people of the town shot back red arrows.

Then the Cussitaws became angry, and determined to attack the town, and each one have a house when it was captured.

They threw stones into the River, until they could cross it, and took the town (the people had flattened heads), and killed all but two persons. In pursuing these, they found a white dog, which they slew. They followed the two who escaped, until they came again to the white path, and saw the smoke of a town, and thought that this must be the people they had so long been seeking. This is the place where now the tribe of Palachucolas live, from whom Tomochichi is descended.

“The Cussitaws continued bloody-minded; but the Palachucolas gave them black drink, as a sign of friendship, and said to them: Our hearts are white, and yours must be white, and you must lay down the bloody tomahawk, and show your bodies, as. a proof that they shall be white.

Nevertheless, they were for the tomahawk; but the Palachucolas got it by persuasion, and buried it under their beds. The Palachucolas likewise gave them white feathers; and asked to have a Chief in common. Since then they have always lived together.

Some settled on one side of the River, some on the other. Those on one side are called Cussetaws, those on the other, Cowetas; yet they are one people, and the principal towns of the Upper and Lower Creeks.

Nevertheless, as the Cussetaws first saw the red smoke and the red fire, and make bloody towns, they cannot yet leave their red hearts, which are, however, white on one side and red on the other.

They now know that the white path was the best for them. For, although Tomochichi was a stranger, they see he has done them good; because he went to see the great King with Esquire Oglethorpe, and hear him talk, and had related it to them, and they had listened to it, and believed it.

Savannah Georgia,

Gatschet, Albert S. A Migration Legend of the Creek Indians. Pub. D.G. Brinton, Philadelphia, 1884.

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