The Southern Families Of Indians

The early explorers of the Gulf territories have left to posterity a large amount of information concerning the natives whom they met as friends or fought as enemies. They have described their picturesque attire, their curious, sometimes awkward, habits and customs, their dwellings and plantations, their government in times of peace and war, as exhaustively as they could do, or thought fit to do. They distinguished tribes from confederacies, and called the latter kingdoms and empires, governed by princes, kings and emperors. But the characteristics of race and language, which are the most important for ethnology, because they are the most ancient in their origin, are not often alluded to by them, and when the modern sciences of anthropology and ethnology had been established on solid principles many of these southern races had already disappeared or intermingled, and scientific inquiry came too late for their investigation.

A full elucidation of the history and antiquities of the subject of our inquiries, the Creeks, is possible only after having obtained an exhaustive knowledge of the tribes and nations living around them. The more populous among them have preserved their language and remember many of their ancestors customs and habits, so that active exploration in the field can still be helpful to us in many respects in tracing and rediscovering their ancient condition. Three centuries ago the tribes of the Maskoki family must have predominated in power over all their neighbors, as they do even now in numbers, and had formed confederacies uniting distant tribes. Whether they ever crossed the Mississippi river or not, the Indians of this family are as thoroughly southern as their neighbors, and seem to have inhabited southern lands for times immemorial. The scientists who now claim that they descend from the mound builders, do so only on the belief that they must have dwelt for uncounted centuries in the fertile tracts where Hernando de Soto found them, and where they have remained up to a recent epoch. In the territory once occupied by their tribes no topographic name appears to point to an earlier and alien population; and as to their exterior, the peculiar olive admixture to their cinnamon complexion is a characteristic which they have in common with all other southern tribes.

My introduction to the Kasi?hta national legend proposes to assign to the Creeks: (i) their proper position in the Maskoki family and among their other neighbors; and (2) to describe some of their ethnologic characteristics. The material has been divided in several chapters, which I have in their logical sequence arranged as follows:

  1. Linguistic families traceable within the Gulf States.
  2. The Maskoki group; its historic subdivisions.
  3. The Creek Indians; tribal topography, historic and ethno graphic notices, sketch of their language.

Linguistic Groups Of The Gulf States

In the history of the Creeks, and in their legends of migration, many references occur to the tribes around them, with whom they came in contact. These contacts were chiefly of a hostile character, for the normal state of barbaric tribes is to live in almost permanent mutual conflicts. What follows is an attempt to enumerate and sketch them, the sketch to be of a prevalently topographic nature. We are not thoroughly acquainted with the racial or anthropological peculiarities of the nations surrounding the Maskoki proper on all sides, but in their languages we possess an excellent help for classifying them. Language is not an absolute indicator of race, but it is more so in America than elsewhere, for the large number of linguistic families in the western hemisphere proves that the populations speaking their dialects have suffered less than in the eastern by encroachment, foreign admixture, forcible alteration or entire destruction.

Beginning at the southeast, we first meet the historic Timucua family, the tribes of which are extinct at the present time; and after describing the Indians of the Floridian Peninsula, southern extremity, we pass over to the Yuchi, on Savannah river, to the Naktche, Taensa and the other stocks once settled along and beyond the mighty Uk?hina, or “water road” of the Mississippi river.

The enumeration of the southern linguistic stocks winds up with the Atákapa; but it comprises only the families the existence of which is proved by vocabularies. Tonica and the recently discovered Taensa furnish the proof that the Gulf States may have harbored, or still harbor, allophylic tribes speaking languages unknown to us. The areas of the southern languages being usually small, they could easily escape discovery, insomuch as the attention of the explorers and colonists was directed more toward ethnography than toward aboriginal linguistics.


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

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