The Maskoki Family of Tribes

Among the various nationalities of the Gulf territories the Maskoki family of tribes occupied a central and commanding position. Not only the large extent of territory held by them, but also their numbers, their prowess in war, and a certain degree of mental culture and self-esteem made of the Maskoki one of the most important groups in Indian history. From their ethnologic condition of later times, we infer that these tribes have extended for many centuries back in time, from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and beyond that river, and from the Apalachian ridge to the Gulf of Mexico. With short intermissions they kept up warfare with all the circumiacent Indian communities, and also among each other. All the various dispositions of the human mind are represented in the Maskoki tribes. We have the cruel and lurking Chicasa, the powerful and ingenious but treacherous and corruptible Cha’hta, the magnanimous and hospitable, proud and revengeful Creek, the aggressive Alibamu, the quarrel some Yamassi, and the self-willed, independent Seminole, jealous of the enjoyment of his savage freedom in the swamps and everglades of the semi-tropical peninsula.

The irresolute and egotistic policy of these tribes often caused serious difficulties to the government of the English and French colonies, and some of them constantly wavered in their adhesion between the French and the English cause. The American government overcame their opposition easily whenever a conflict presented itself (the Seminole war forms an exception), because, like all the Indians, they never knew how to unite against a common foe.

The two main branches of the stock, the Creek and the Cha’hta Indians, were constantly at war, and the remembrance of their deadly conflicts has now passed to their descendants in the form of folklore. The two differ anthropologically in their exterior, the people of the western or Cha’hta branch being thick-set and heavy, that of the eastern or Creek connection more lithe and tall. Pragmatism is not frequent among them, and the complexion of both is a rather dark cinnamon, with the southern olive tinge. The general intelligence of this gifted race renders it susceptible for civilization, endows it with eloquence, but does not always restrain it from the outbursts of the wildest passion.

Among the tribes of the Maskoki family, we notice the following ethnographic practices: the use of the red and white colors as symbols of war and peace, an extensive system of totemic gentes, the use of the Ilex cassine for the manufacture of the black drink, the erection of artificial mounds, the belief in a deity called “Master of Life,” and original sun-worship. The eastern tribes all had an annual festival in the town square, called a fast (púskita in Creek), and some traces of it may be found also among the western connection. In the eastern and western branch (also among the Naktche people) the children belong to the gens of the mother, a custom which differs from that of the Yuchi and dates from high antiquity. No instances of anthropophagy are recorded, but the custom of scalping seems to have been indigenous among them. The early Timucua scalped their enemies and dried the scalps over their campfires. The artificial flattening of the foreheads of male infants seems to have prevailed in the western branch only, but some kind of skull deformation could be observed throughout the Gulf territories. The re-interment of dead bodies, after cleaning their bones from the adhering muscles several months after death, is recorded more especially for the western branch, but was probably observed among all tribes in various modifications.

None of the customs just enumerated was peculiar to the Maskoki tribes, but common throughout the south, many of them being found in the north also. They were mentioned here only, to give in their totality a fair ethnographic picture of the Maskoki nationality.

The genealogy of the Maskoki tribes cannot be established on anthropological that is racial, characteristics; these Indians formerly incorporated so many alien elements into their towns, and have become so largely mixed with half-castes in the nineteenth century, that a division on racial grounds has become almost impossible.

Hence, the only characteristic by which a subdivision of the family can be attempted, is that of language. Following their ancient topographic location from east to west, we obtain the following synopsis:

First branch, or Maskoki proper. The Creek, Maskokálgi or Maskoki proper, settled on Coosa, Tallapoosa, Upper and Middle Chatahuchi rivers. From these branched off by segmentation the Creek portion of the Seminoles, of the Yamassi and of the little Yamacraw community.

Second, or Apalachian branch. This southeastern division, which may be called also a parte potiori the Hitchiti connection, anciently comprised the tribes on the Lower Chatahuchi river and, east from there, the extinct Apalachi, the Mikasuki, and the Hitchiti portion of the Seminoles, Yamassi and Yamacraws.

Third, or Alibamu branch comprised the Alibamu villages on the river of that name; to them belonged the Koassáti and Witumka on Coosa River, its northern affluent.

Fourth, Western or Cha’hta branch. From the main people, the Cha’hta, settled in the middle portions of the State of Mississippi, the Chicasa, Pascagoula, Biloxi, Huma and other tribes once became separated through segmentation.

The strongest evidence for a community of origin of the Maskoki tribes is furnished by the fact that their dialects belong to one linguistic family. The numerous incorporations of foreign elements have not been able to alter the purity of their language; the number of intrusive words is very small, and the grammar has repelled every foreign intrusion. This is the inference we draw from their best studied dialects, for with some of them, as with Abika, we are not acquainted at all, and with others very imperfectly. The principal dialects of the family greatly differ from each other; Cha’hta, for instance, is unintelligible to the Creek, Koassáti and Hitchiti people, and the speech of each of these three tribes is not understood by the two others. When Albert Gallatin published his vocabularies of Cha’hta and Creek, he was uncertain at first whether they were related to each other or not. On the other side, the difference between Cha’hta and Chicasa, and between Creek and Seminole, is so insignificant that these dialects may be considered as practically identical. The degree of dialectic difference points approximately to the date of the separation of the respective communities, and untold centuries must have elapsed since the two main branches of the family were torn asunder, for Cha’hta differs about as much from Creek as the literary German does from Icelandic.

The Tribal Divisions Of The Maskoki Family:

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

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