Historical Outline of the Five Civilized Tribes

The Five Civilized Tribes of Indian Territory are of two stocks: the Cherokees of Iroquoian and the Creeks, Seminoles, Choctaws, and Chickasaws of Muskhogean stock. Originally they inhabited contiguous portions of the Atlantic coast in and below Virginia, and claimed westward to the Mississippi river. They present many tribal features peculiar to themselves, and it is to be regretted that not one of these Five Tribes has a written history of any extent. Neither Indian nor white man has been found to preserve a full record of these people, who, since the advent of the whites, have met the conditions of war or requirements of peace with dignity and ability. A vast collection of written material and legend is at hand, and many old Indians of these tribes even now can be found speaking aboriginal languages only, who could contribute much of value in relation to their people.

The local traditions and names of places in the states which were their former homes contain mach to aid a historian. No history of any of the states they originally occupied can be written without ample reference to them. The mountain chains, valleys, rivers, and towns of the southeast bear their names and -will preserve their memory. Pioneer life in the region named was a terror, owing to their warlike raids, and their resistance to encroaching white life and their gradual withdrawal before it have been carried in story and in song and live in the history of the United States. No force of Whites was too strong for them to attack, no distance too great to travel for battle. In the meantime they were noted for keeping their word when once passed, and famous for hospitality when not invaded by armed force. Osceola, Billy Bowlegs, Big Dutch, and their warriors within a century will always be famous. Take in illustration the Creek war of 1813-1814. The Creeks had adopted many of the arts of civilization, when Tecumseh, the Shawnee chief, went among them and urged them to join the northwestern confederation and abandon civilized life. With his great eloquence he pictured the restraints of civilization and the beauties of unrestrained wild life, which they enjoyed prior to the advent of the whites. This war resulted in a loss to the whites of 689 killed and wounded, while 1,300 Creek Indians were killed and thousands wounded. This war broke the back of the Creek confederacy and afterward they were at peace.

The Seminole war of 1835-1842 is an illustration of the prowess of this people. It required an army of 41,000 whites, under such generals as Scott, Taylor, Gaines, Clinch, and Worth, to subdue this handful of people, who from everglade or forest poured upon them an almost incessant fire. It cost more than $10,000,000. This war was caused by the refusal of the Seminoles to abandon their homes in Florida and remove to lands west of the Mississippi river. The whites suffered a total loss of 765 killed and wounded. Five hundred and forty Indians were killed out of a tribe estimated then at 1,000 all told.

The descendants of those fierce warriors of The Five Tribes are now the best of Indian citizens, and compare favorably with the whites about them in Indian Territory, not showing a trace of their former warlike propensities.

The tribal history, legends, beliefs, customs, and myths of The Five Civilized Tribes would fill volumes. Their traditions of heroes and warriors show the highest human courage and devotion to tribe and country. Their legends, interwoven with descriptions of the beautiful country they occupied, are classic in detail and round out into epics. Their customs were peculiar. Their form of tribal government in many features was entirely original, while useful and bringing contentment to their, people. Their myths, almost oriental in their richness of coloring, exceeded the usual aboriginal imagination.


Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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