field notes ➤ Blue Clark, 2009

❝ Muscogee (Creek)

“Muscogee” is of unknown origin in spite of being the name for the widely used Muskhogean linguistic family spoken throughout the historic Southeast. Nineteenth-century ethnographer Albert Gatschet proposed that it derived from a Shawnee word for “wet ground” or “swamp” or “marsh” as a description of their surroundings for their Tuckabatchee town hosts. Perhaps because the Muscogee Confederacy was made up of a complex mix of tribal towns, the label was adopted. Gatschet’s reasoning is now doubtful, leaving the derivation unknown even though it is their self-designation. There are numerous variations of the spelling (Muscogee, Muskogee, Maskogee, Mvskoke). “Mvskoke” is now preferred for the language, “Muscogee” for the nation. Some prefer Mvskoke Etvlwv, “Muscogee town” or “community.” Muscogee people usually also refer to themselves according to their tribal town or tribal community, church, or ceremonial ground (such as Okfuskee, Hanna, or Abeka), then their clan, and finally their family connection or genealogy. “Creek” derived from British traders who referred to local Indians living along the Ocmulgee and Ochesee rivers in Georgia as “Ochesee Creek Indians.” It was shortened to “Creek” in everyday usage. (“Ochesee” or “Ochisi” or “Otchisi” is itself a Hitchiti Indian word to designate those who do not speak Hitchiti.) “Creek” is still sometimes used to designate the Mvskokulke, “all the Muscogee people.” The word “Creek” was heavily used in the nineteenth century . . . .

The “Muscogee (Creek) Nation” headquarters is situated just north of Okmulgee in Creek County. The population is heavily centered in the counties of McIntosh, Tulsa, Creek, and Hughes. The legislative chamber meets in a domed building recalling their ancestral culture, called the Mound. The name of the capital town invokes the Ocmulgee Mississippian mound site in Macon, Georgia, the former ancient capital of the Creeks there. Muscogee Nation tribal towns and communities are scattered throughout eleven counties in the east-central portion of Oklahoma. . . .

Linguistic affinity connects the Muscogee Nation’s citizens with many ancient and contemporary residents of the southeastern United States. Muscogees are distantly related by language to Choctaws and Chickasaws as well as others. Muscogee ancestors resided in a series of Mississippian-period temple mound centers and satellite communities throughout present-day Georgia and Alabama. Oral tradition recounted a long migration from the Far West, perhaps the Rocky Mountains, crossing a giant river and finally settling in the southeastern portion of what is now the United States. Oral stories also tell of four major foundational towns: Cusseta, Coweta, Abeka, and Tuckabatchee (which is credited with origination of the annual Green Corn Ceremony). Tuckabatchee and Coweta are considered paramount towns. Linguists like Jack Martin contend that the tribal language stock Mvskoke spread eastward out of the Louisiana region in prehistoric times. Archeologists point to local development and link several late Woodland sites like Kolomoki in Georgia to the Proto-Creeks. Tribespeople also assert an ancestral claim to the Mississippian sites of Etowah and Ocmulgee National Monument in the same vicinity (“Ocmulgee” means “bubbling water” in Hitchiti). ❞

Indian Tribes of Oklahoma: A Guide
by Blue Clark
(University of Oklahoma Press, 2009)

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