The Name Maskoki: Its Use and Signification

Maskóki, Maskógi, isti Maskóki, designates a single person of the Creek tribe, and forms, as a collective plural, Masko-kálgi, the Creek community, the Creek people, the Creek Indians. English authors write this name Muscogee, Muskh-ogee, and its plural Muscogulgee. The first syllable, as pronounced by the Creek Indians, contains a clear, short a, and that the name was written Muscogee and not Mascogee, is not to be wondered at, for the English language, with its surd, indistinct and strongly modified vocalization, will convert the clearest a into a u. Whether the name Maskoki was given to the Creeks before or after the incorporation of the towns speaking other languages than theirs, we are unable to tell, but the name figures in some of the oldest documents on this people. The accent is usually laid on the middle syllable: Maskoki, Maskógi. None of the tribes are able to explain the name from their own language.

The Cheroki call a Creek Indian Kúsa, the nation Anikúsa, probably because Kúsa was the first Creek town they met, when coming from their country along Coosa River, Alabama. But why did the English colonists call them Creek Indians? Because, when the English traders entered the Maskoki country from Charleston or Savannah, they had to cross a number of streams and creeks, especially between the Chatahuchi and Savannah rivers. Gallatin thought it probable that the inhabitants of the country adjacent to Savannah River were called Creeks from an early time (Synopsis, p. 94). The French settlers rendered the term Lower Creeks by “Basses-Rivieres.”

The Wendát or Hurons call the Creek people Ku-û’sha, having obtained the name from the Cheroki. The Foxes or Utagami call one Creek man U’mashgo ánene-u, the people U’mashgohak. B. S. Barton, New Views (1798), Appendix p. 8, stages that the Delawares call the Creeks Masquachki: “swampland”.

Caleb Swan, who wrote a report on the Creek people in 1791, mentions (Schoolcraft V, 259) a tradition current among them, that they incorporated the Alibamu first, then the Koassáti, then the Naktche, and finally the Shawano. In his time the Shawano had four towns on the Tallapoosa River, and other Shawano (from the northwest) increased their population every year by large numbers. One of these towns was called Sawanógi, another Kanhatki. A Muscogee creek is near Columbus, running into Chatahuchi River from the east. “Muskhogans ” inhabited the tract north of Pensacola.

The term is not derived from any known Maskoki word. If oki water formed a component part of it, it would stand first, as in the Hitchiti geographic terms Okĕlákni “yellow water” Okifenóke “wavering, shaking waters” Okmúlgi “bubbling water,” Okitchóbi “river,” lit. “large river.” We are therefore entitled to look out for a Shawano origin of the tribal name, and remember the fact that the Creek Indians called the Shawano and the Lenape (Delawares) their grand fathers. It will be appropriate to consult also the other Algonkin languages for proper names comparable with the one which occupies our attention.

The Sháwano call a Creek person Humásko, the Creek people Humaskógi. Here the hu- is the predicative prefix: he is, she is, they are, and appears often as ho-, hui-, ku-. Thus Humaskógi means “they are Masko”, the suffix -gi, -ki being the plural ending of the animate order of substantives in Shawano. A word masko is not traceable at present in that language, but muskiégui means lake, pond, m’skiegu-pki or muskiégu-pki timbered swamp, musk’hánui nepí the water (nepí) rises up to, surrounds, but does not cover up. Miskekopke in Caleb Atwater’s vocabulary (Archaeol. Americ. I, p. 290), signifies wet ground, swamp. Rev. Lacombe’s Cree or Knisteno Dictionary gives: maskek marsh, swamp, trembling ground unsafe to walk upon; Maske-kowiyiniw the Maskegons or Bogmen, a tribe of Crees, also called Maskekowok, who were formerly Odshibwē Indians, but left Lake Superior to join the Crees; their name forms a striking parallel to our southern Maskoki. Rev. Watkins Cree Dictionary, with its English, unscientific orthography, has muskāg, muskāk swamp, marsh; Muskāgoo Swampy Indian, Maskegon; Muskāgoowew he is a Swampy Indian. Here the predicative suffix -wew is placed after the noun, while hu- of Shawano stands before it. The Odshibwē Dictionary of Bishop Baraga has máshkig, plur. máskigon swamp, marsh; Mashki sibi Bad River; a corrupt form standing for Mashkigi sibi Swamp River. In Abnaki we have meguä’k fresh water marsh, maskehegat fetid water.

The Shawano word for creek, brook, branch of river is methtékui; Shawano often has th where the northern dialects have s (thípi river, in Potawat. and Sauk: sibe, in Odshibwē: sibi) and hence the radix meth- is probably identical with mas- in maskek.

The country inhabited by the Maskoki proper abounds in creek bottoms overflowed in the rainy season, as the country around Opelika ” swamp- site” (from Creek: opilua, apilua swamp, läíkita to be stretched out), Opil-‘láko “great swamp,” west of the above (Hawkins, p. 50) and many other places rendered uninhabitable by the moisture of the ground. The countries of the Cha’hta and Chicasa also formed a succession of swamps, low grounds and marshes. In view of the fact that no other general name for the whole Creek nation was known to exist save Maskoki, and that the legend and the chroniclers of de Soto s expedition speak of single tribes only, we are entitled to assume this foreign origin for the name until a better one is presented. Another instance of an Algonkin name of an Indian nationality adopted by the Maskoki is that of isti Natuági, or the “enemies creeping up stealthily,” lit., “snake-men,” by which the Iroquois, or Five Nations, are meant. 1

In this publication I call the Maskoki proper by the name of Creeks only, and have used their name on account of the central location and commanding position of the Maskoki proper, to whom this appellation properly belongs, to designate the whole Cha’hta- Maskoki family of Indians.

It will also be remembered that several of the larger communities of American Indians are known to the white population exclusively through names borrowed from other languages than their own, as, for instance, the Kalapúya of Oregon, who call themselves Amē’nmei, Kalapúya (anciently Kala-púyua) being of Chinook origin, and the Pani, whose name is, according to J. H. Trumbull, taken from an Algonkin dialect, and means lungy, not bellicose, inferior, while their own name is Tsaríksi tsáriks “men of men.” 2 Foreign names have also been given to the smaller tribes of the Shetimasha and Atákapa, names which are of Cha’’hta origin; v. supra. The Patagonian and Argentinian tribes are mostly known to us under Chilian names, and the Aimboré or Nkrä’kmun of Brazil we know only under the Portuguese name Botocudos.Citations:

  1. By this same name the Algonkins designated many other Indians hostile to them; it appears in Nottoway, Nadouessioux, etc.[]
  2. Prof. J. B. Dunbar, who composed an interesting ethnologic article on this tribe, thinks that Pani is a true Pani word: páriki horn, meaning their scalp lock; Magazine of American History, 1880 (April number), p. 245.[]


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

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top