Migration Legends Of The Creek Tribes

The following legends of the Creek Indians are the only ones I have been able to obtain, although it may be taken for certain, that every one of the larger centers of the Creek nation had its own story about this. The legend in Urlsperger and in Hawkins are both from Kasi’hta. Milfort’s was probably given to him at Odshi-apófa, and a fragment of the Tukabatchi legend is inserted under Tukabatchi, p. 147.

Migration Legend as recounted to Col. Benj. Hawkins
by Taskáya Miko, of Apatá-i, a branch village of Kasi’hta.
“Sketch ” of B. Hawkins, pp. 81-83.

“There are in the forks (akáska) of Red River or U-i tcháti, west of Mississippi River, U-i ukúfki, two mounds of earth. At this place the Kasiχta, Kawita and Chicasa found themselves, and were at a loss for fire. They were here visited by the hayoyálgi, four men who came from the corners of the world. One of them asked the Indians, where they would have their fire (tútka). They pointed to a spot; it was made and they sat down around it. The hayoyálgi directed that they should pay particular attention to the fire, that it would preserve them and let Isákita imíssi, the holder of breath, know their wants. One of the visitors took them to show them the pā’ssa, another showed them the míko huyanī’dsha, then the cedar or átchina and the sweet-bay or tola. (One or two plants were not recollected, and each of these seven plants was to belong to a particular tribe, imaläíkita. 1 After this, the four visitors disappeared in a cloud, going in the direction whence they came.

“The three towns then appointed their rulers. The Kasiχta chose the bear gens or nukusálgi to be their míkalgi, and the ístanalgi 2 to be their íniha-‘lákalgi or men second in command. The Kawita chose the lá’loalgi or fish gens to be their míkalgi.

“After these arrangements, some other Indians came from the west, met them, and had a great wrestle with the three towns; they made ballsticks and played with them, with bows and arrows, and with the átassa, the war club. They fell out, fought, and killed each other. After this warring, the three towns moved eastwardly, and met the Abika on Coosa River. There they agreed to go to war for four years against their first enemy; they made shields, tupĕlúkso 3 , of buffalo hides and it was agreed, that the warriors of each town should dry and bring forward the íka hálui or scalps of the enemy and pile them; the Abika had a small pile, the Chicasa were above them, the Kawita above them, and the Kasiχta above all. The two last towns raised the itu tcháti, red or scalp-pole, and do not surfer any other town to raise it. Kasiχta is first in rank.

“After this, they settled the rank of the four towns among themselves. Kasiχta called Abika and Chicasa tchatchúsi, my younger brothers. Chicasa and Abika called Kasiχta and Kawita tcha’láha, my elder brothers. Ábika called Chicasa ama hmáya or my elders, my superiors, and Chicasa some times uses the same term to Abika.

“This being done they commenced their settlements on Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, and crossing the falls of Tallapoosa, above Tukabatchi, they visited the Chatahutchi River, and found a race of people with flat heads in possession of the mounds in the Kasiχta fields. These people used bows and arrows, with strings made of sinews. The alíktchalgi or great physic makers sent some rats in the night-time, which gnawed the strings, and in the morning they attacked and defeated the flat-heads. They crossed the river at the island, near the mound, and took possession of the country. After this they spread out eastwardly to Otchísi-hatchi or Okmulgi River, to Okoni River, to Ogītchi or How-ge-chuh River, to Chíska tálofa hátchi or Savannah River, called some times Sawanógi. They met the white people on the seacoast, who drove them back to their present situation.

“Kasiχta and Chicasa consider themselves as people of one fire, tútk-itka hámkushi 4 from the earliest account of their origin. Kasiχta appointed the first miko for the Chicasa, directed him to settle in the large field (sit down in the big savanna), where they now are, and govern them. Some of the Chicasa straggled off and settled near Augusta, from whence they returned and settled near Kasiχta, and thence rejoined their own people. Kasiχta and Chicasa have remained friends ever since their first acquaintance.”

Extract from: “History of the Moskoquis, called today Creeks;” a chapter in “Memoire” of Milfort, pp. 229-265:

Everybody knows, that when the Spaniards conquered Mexico, they experienced but little difficulty in subduing the peaceable nation inhabiting those southwestern countries by means of their firearms, which proved to be far superior to the bows and arrows of their opponents, and against which courage availed almost nothing. The ruler Montezuma saw the impossibility of resisting, and called to his aid the neighboring tribes. At that epoch the Moskoquis formed a powerful separate republic in the northwest of Mexico; they succored him with a numerous body of warriors, but were frightfully decimated by the Spaniards, who dismembered Montezuma’s domain, and almost completely depopulated it. The conquerors also extended their sceptre over the territory of the Moskoquis, who, disdaining abject slavery, preferred to leave their native country to regain their former independence.

They directed their steps to the north, and having marched about one hundred leagues reached the headwaters of Red river in fifteen days. From there they followed its course through immense plains, blooming with flowers and verdure and stocked with game, for eight days. Innumerable flocks of aquatic and other birds congregated around the salt ponds of the prairie and on the waters of Red River. Encountering clumps of trees upon their way, they stopped their march. Scouting parties were dispatched to explore the surroundings; they returned in a month, having discovered a forest, the borders of which were situated on Red river, and contained ample subterranean dwellings. The Moskoquis went on, and on reaching the spot, discovered that these dwellings were hollows made in the soft ground by buffaloes and other animals, which had been attracted by the salty taste of the earth. The tribe concluded to settle at this quiet place and began to sow the grains of maize which they had brought from their Mexican home. Being in want of other tools, they managed to cut and trim pieces of wood with sharp-edged stones; these wooden sticks were then charred and hardened in the fire, to serve as agricultural implements. Thereupon they fenced in the fields selected for planting by means of rails and pickets, so as to prevent the wild animals from eating the maize-crop, and apportioned some of the land to each family 5 in the tribe. While the young people of both sexes were occupied at the agricultural work, the old ones were smoking their calumets. Thus many years were passed in happy retirement and abundance of material riches.

But soon their destinies took a downward turn, and forced them to expatriate themselves for a second time. A number of their men were killed by the Albamo or Alibamu, and the young men sent after them were unable to meet the hostiles and to chastise them. The míkos attributed this to the want of unity in their military organization, and as a remedy for it instituted the charge of Great Warrior or tustenúggi’láko. His authority lasted at first only during the war-expedition commanded by him, but within that time his power was unlimited, and he could not be called to any account.

Led by a tustenúggi of their choice, they pursued the Alibamu, and finally caught up with them near a forest on the banks of the Missouri river. The war-chief ordered the wind gens, to which he belonged, to cross the river first, then followed the bear gens, then the tiger gens, and so forth. On their march the vanguard was formed by the young braves, the rear-guard by the old men, and the non-combatants were placed in the centre. They surprised the Alibamu, who then inhabited subterranean dwellings (souterrains), and massacred a large number of them; then these retreated in haste along the Missouri river, descending on its right or southern banks. When again closely pressed by the pursuing Moskoquis, who had defeated them more than once, the Alibamu crossed over to the left side of the river; but this did not save them from pursuit, for the Moskoquis followed them to the opposite side, defeated them in a sharp encounter, and drove them in the direction of Mississippi River, in which many found a watery grave in their hasty flight.

The two belligerent tribes now crossed Mississippi River, and the Alibamu, having an advance of eight days over their pursuers, fled before them into the interior parts to the east. The Moskoquis discovered their tracks and followed them to the Ohio River, north shore, thence to the influx of Wabash River, then crossed Ohio river into what is now Kentucky, continued their march in a southern direction, and finally arrived in the Yazoo country, where they stayed for several years. The caves in which they lived exist to the present day; some of them were excavated by themselves, while others were found ready for occupation.

In the meantime the Alibamu had remained in the fertile tracts along Coosa River. Their warriors cut off and scalped some of the Moskoqui scouts, who had come to ascertain their whereabouts. This deed so embittered the injured tribe, that their míkos resolved to dispossess the enemy of their territory for the third time. They crossed Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, followed Coosa River in marching along its banks from south to north, 6 but were too late for the Alibamu, who had previously left the country, partly for Mobile, partly for the tracts held by Cha’hta Indians.

The Moskoquis then quietly occupied the country which they had conquered and spread out along the rivers Coosa, Tallapoosa, Chatahutchi, Flint, Okmulgi, Great and Little Okoni and Ogitchi, till they reached Savannah river at the place where Augusta is now standing.

The Moskoquis, after taking possession of this wide extent of territory, sent their warriors down Mobile River in pursuit of the Alibamu, who had placed themselves under the protec tion of the French. The French commander sought to prevent a war between the two bodies of Indians, and succeeded in arranging a truce of six months and in determining with accuracy the hunting grounds of both. Leaders and warriors of the Moskoquis then descended the river and concluded a lasting peace with the hostile tribe in the presence of the French commander. They even invited the Alibamu to join their confederacy by offering them a tract of land on what is now Alabama River, with the privilege of preserving their own customs. The Alibamu accepted the offer, settled on the land, built a town on it, called Coussehaté, and since then form an integral part of the Moskoqui people, which now assumed the name of Creeks.

As a sequel to his wonderful story of the pursuit of the Alibamu by the Creeks and the final peaceable settling down of both, Milfort adds some points on the early doings and warrings of the Creeks, which had occurred but a limited number of years before his stay in the tribe, and were re counted to him by one of the míkos from their memorial beads, like the legendary migration:

About the time of Coussehate’s foundation an Indian tribe dismembered by the Iroquois and Hurons, the Tukabatchi, fled to the Creeks, and asked for shelter. Lands were as signed and the fugitives built on it a town, which they named after themselves, and where the general assemblies of the entire people are sometimes meeting. This kind reception encouraged the Taskigi and the Oxiailles (Oktchayi) who were also annoyed by their warlike neighbors, to seek a place of safety among the Creeks. Their request was granted also. The former settled at the confluence of Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, the Oxiailles ten leagues to the north of them, in a beautiful prairie near a rivulet.

Shortly after this event, the small tribe of the Yuchi (la petite nation des Udgis), partly dismembered by the British, also fled to the Creek towns and were given a territory on Chatahutchi river. Likewise did a part of the Chicasa apply for help; they were assigned seats on Yazoo River, “at the head of Loup River. 7 and soon extended their habitations up to the Cheroki boundaries. A few years after, the unhappy Naktche took refuge among the Chicasa, who by protecting them underwent the displeasure of the French colonists. They attacked the Chicasa and in spite of their superior artillery were disastrously beaten near Loup river. A second attack of theirs was warded off by the tribe, by acceding to the peace arrangements proposed by the French. The Naktche then passed over to the Creeks and obtained lands on Coosa River; they built there the towns of Natchez and of Abikudshi, near two high mountains having the appearance of sugar-loaves. The headmen of the Creeks went to New Orleans in order to arrange matters amicably with the French and permitted them to erect a fort at Taskigi, subsequently called Fort Toulouse, and the tribes were help ful in erecting it.

Jealous of the erection of this advanced trade-post by their hereditary enemy, the British asked for permission to build a fort on Ogītchi River, twenty miles west of Augusta, Georgia, but were roundly, and in unmistakable terms, refused by the Creek towns. After the loss of the Canadian provinces, Fort Toulouse was evacuated by the French. The Creeks, much dismayed at the departure of their friends, and filled with aversion against the British and Spaniards, were compelled to open their towns to the English traders, to obtain the needed articles of European manufacture.

Follows the recital of the incorporation of some families of Apalachicola, Shawano and Cheroki Indians into the community of the Creeks (Mem., pp. 276-285). Unfortunately the statement concerning the immigration of the Cheroki is without any details, and therefore is of no avail in localizing the Cheroki towns or colonies within the Creek territory (p. 285). The author states that the immigration was caused by the pressure exercised upon the tribe by the English and Americans; it was therefore of a quite modern date, if Milfort can be trusted.

In 1781, on the ist of February, Milfort, great war-chief of the Creeks, left his home at Little Talassi, half a league above the ancient Fort Toulouse, at the head of two hundred young braves, to visit the legendary caves on Red river, from which the nation had issued in bygone times. They crossed the territories held by the Upper Cha’hta, passed through Mobile, the confluence of Iberville bayou with Mississippi river, St. Bernard bay on the coast, and following a northern direction, finally reached a forest on Red river, about 450 leagues above its junction with Mississippi river. They crossed these woods, which were situated on an eminence on the river side, and stood in face of the caves (cavernes), the objective point of the expedition.

The noise of a few gun-shots brought out of these spacious cavities a large number of bison’s, wild oxen and wild horses, which ran, frightened as they were by the unusual explosions, head over heels, over precipices of more than eighty feet of perpendicular height into the slimy waters of Red river. The only description Milfort gives of these caves goes to show that there were several or many of them, situated in close vicinity to each other, and that those seen could easily contain fifteen to twenty thousand families. The party concluded to pass the inclement season in these grottoes, which they had reached about Christmas time. Here they hunted, fished and danced until the end of March 1782, then started for the Missouri, and subsequently for home, well supplied with the products of the chase.

Remarks on Taskáya Míkos Kasi’hta Legend

A closer study of this legend reveals many points of importance for the better understanding of Tchikilli’s narrative, as both have evidently been derived from the same original report.

The locality where the tribes of the Kasiχta, Kawita and Chicasa came from is placed here in the same point of the compass as in Tchikilli’s story, in the west. Whether the forks of the Red river were supposed to coincide with the “mouth of the earth” in the legend can be decided only when we shall have a better knowledge of Creek folklore. If Hawkins informant used the passive form of hídshäs to see, when speaking of the appearance of the Kasiχta, it would be more appropriate to say originated, were born than the expression we find in the text: “found themselves.” The subterranean dwellings, mentioned and visited by Milfort as being the legendary home of the “Moskoquis,” are not mentioned here; and in French colonial times the “Forks of Red River” designated the confluence of Washita and Red Rivers.

The hayoyálgi, coming from the four corners of the world to light the sacred fire, the symbol of the sun, are the winds fanning it to a higher flame, and the purpose of the story is to make an oracular power of the sacred flame, by which the Holder of Breath, or Great Spirit, could be placed in communication with his Indian wards, and enabled to take care of them.

The notice that each of the seven plants distributed to the Indians belonged, or was the emblem of a certain gens or division of people, is gathered from this passage only, and probably refers to the ingredients of some war-physic, which only a limited number of the gentes may have been entitled to contribute to the annual puskita. The precedence of some favored gentes before others in regard to offices of peace or war is frequently observed among Northern as well as Southern tribes of Indians 8 The number four is conspicuous here as well as in the legend related by Tchikilli; we have four hayoyálgi, four principal chieftaincies, four years of warfare, etc.

The cause of the warring, or the pretense for it, against “some other Indians from the west” is curiously similar to the rivalry in athletic sports, which took place between the western Iroquois and their subdivisions, and finally led to the destruction of the Erie or Ká’hkwa Indians (Cusick, Johnson). The names of “brothers, cousins, elders,” which occur here, are terms of intertribal courtesy, which we find also, perhaps in a more pronounced manner, among the New York Iroquois. The Creeks called the Delaware and Shawano Indians grandfathers, because they regard their customs and practices as older and more venerable than their own; others state, because they occupied their countries further back in time than the Creeks did theirs.

The facts subsequently related are given without such chronological dates as we find with the previous ones, but the narrator evidently tried to condense into the space of a few years what it took generations to accomplish. This is very frequently observed in legendary tales. The spreading out of the people from the Tallapoosa river to the Chatahutchi and from there to the Savannah must have involved a warfare, struggling, migration and settling down of several centuries, for the advance of the Maskoki proper in this direction was tantamount to the formation of the Maskoki confederacy by subduing or incorporating the tribes standing in their way, and to the still more lengthy process of settling among them. What nation the flat-heads or aborigines of the country may have belonged to, will be discussed in the remarks to Tchikillis’ tale. That there were Creek-speaking Indians on the Atlantic coast as early as 1564, has been shown conclusively in the article Yamassi; but their expulsion from there by the white colonists occurred but one hundred and fifty years later.

A certain objective purpose is inherent in these legends, which is more of a practical than of a historical character; it intends to trace the tribal friendship existing between the Kasiχta and the Chicasa, or a portion of the latter, to remote ages. It must be remembered, that both speak different languages intelligible to each other only in a limited number of words. An alliance comparable to this also exists between the Pima and Maricopa tribes of Arizona; the languages spoken by these even belong to different families.

The period when the Chicasa settlement near Kasiχta was broken up by the return of the inmates to the old Chicasa country is not definitely known, but may be approximately set down in the beginning of the eighteenth century. Later on, a war broke out between the Creeks and Chicasa. Kasiχta town refused to march against the old allies, and “when the Creeks offered to make peace their offers were rejected, till the Kasiχta interposed their good offices. These had the desired effect, and produced peace” (Hawkins, p. 83).

Remarks to Milfort’s Legend

Milfort’s “History of the Moskoquis,” as given above in an extract, is a singular mixture of recent fabrications and distortions of real historic events, with some points traceable to genuine aboriginal folklore.

Nobody who has the slightest knowledge of the general history of America will credit the statement that the Creeks ever lived in the northwestern part of Mexico at Montezuma s and Cortez time, since H. de Soto found them, twenty years later, on the Coosa river; and much less the other statement, that they succored Montezuma against the invader s army 9 That they met the Alibamu on the west side of Mississippi River is not impossible, but that they pursued them for nearly a thousand miles up that river to the Missouri, and then down again on the other or eastern side of Mississippi, is incredible to anybody acquainted with Indian customs and warfare. The narrative of the Alibamu tribal origin given under: Alibamu, p. 86, locates the place where they issued from the ground between the Cahawba and the Alabama Rivers. That the Creeks arrived in Northern Alabama in or after the time of the French colonization of the Lower Mississippi lands, is another impossibility, and the erection of Fort Toulouse preceded the second French war against the Chicasa by more than twenty years, whereas Milfort represents it as having been a consequence of that war.

It is singular and puzzling that Maskoki legends make so frequent mention of caves as the former abodes of their own or of cognate tribes. Milfort relates, that the Alibamu, when in the Yazoo country, lived in caves. This may refer to the Cha’hta country around “Yazoo Old Village” (p. 108), in Neshoba county, Mississippi; but if it points to the Yazoo river, we may think of the chief Alimamu (whose name stands for the tribe itself), met with by H. de Soto, west of Chicaça, and beyond Chocchechuma. A part of the Cheroki anciently dwelt in caves; and concerning the caverns from which the Creeks claim to have issued, James Adair gives the following interesting disclosure: ” It is worthy of notice, that the Muskohgeh cave, out of which one of their politicians persuaded them their ancestors formerly ascended to their present terrestrial abode, lies in the Nanne Hamgeh old town, inhabited by the Mississippi-Nachee Indians, 10 which is one of the most western parts of their old-inhabited country.” The idea that their forefathers issued from caves was so deeply engrafted in the minds of these Indians, that some of them took any conspicuous cave or any country rich in caves to be the primordial habitat of their race. This is also confirmed by a conjurer s tricky story alluded to by Adair, History, pp. 195. 196.

A notion constantly recurring in the Maskoki migrations is that they journeyed east. This, of course, only points to the general direction of their march in regard to their starting point. As they were addicted to heliolatry, it may be suggested that their conjurers advised them to travel, for luck, to the east only, because the east was the rising place of the sun, their protector and benefactor. Cosmologic ideas, like this, we find among the Aztecs, Mayas, Chibchas and many other American nations, but the direction of migrations is determined by physical causes and not by visionary schemes. Wealth and plunder prompted the German barbarians, at the beginning of the mediaeval epoch of history, to migrate to the south of Europe; here, in the Gulf territories, the inducement lay more especially in the quest of a country more productive in grains, edible roots, fish and game. It may be observed here, that from the moving of the heavenly bodies from east to west the Pani Indians deduced the superstition that they should never move directly east in their travels. 11 This, however, they rarely observed in actual life at the expense of convenience.Citations:

  1. aläíkita means totemic gens, imaläíkita one’s own gens, or its particular gens,[]
  2. No such gens or division exists among the Creeks now.[]
  3. The present Creek word for shield is masanágita. The tupĕlúkso consisted of a round frame, over which hides were stretched.[]
  4. Tútk-itka hámkushi: of one town, belonging to one tribe; literally: “of one burning fire:” tútka fire, itkis it burns, hámkin one, -ushi, suffix: belonging to, being of.[]
  5. Family is probably meant for gens, or totem-clan.[]
  6. p. 262: ” dans la direction du nord” Perhaps we have to add the words: “au sud.”[]
  7. Better known as Neshoba River, State of Mississippi; neshóba, Cha’hta term for gray wolf.[]
  8. Cf, what is said of the wind gens in Milfort’s migration legend.[]
  9. A Chicasa migration from Mexico to the Kappa or Ugáχpa settlements, on Arkansas River, is mentioned by Adair, History, p. 195. 16[]
  10. Cf. Abiku’dshi, p. 125. Adair, History, p. 195.[]
  11. John B. Dunbar, The Pawnees; in Mag. of American History, 1882, (3d Article) 10.[]

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

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