Review of The Creeks

The Creeks, by Michael D. Green (Chelsea House Publishers, 1990)

Both the strengths and the weaknesses of this short overview of Mvskoke history are illustrated on its front cover.

A color photograph shows an attractive beaded velvet cap made in the 1820s by an unnamed Mvskoke, which was presented to a U.S. Army general who had visited the Muscogee Nation on a diplomatic mission. This book includes a number of excellent photographs and other graphic illustrations that add a great deal to the historical narrative.

Unfortunately, the author has focused his attention on events of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, providing readers with very little information about Mvskoke life since Oklahoma statehood.

Green begins his overview of Mvskoke history by quoting from a traditional origin account recorded in 1735, the oldest documented version of Mvskoke origins. He then suggests how archaeological research can be used to gain additional insights on what scholars call the “Mississippian” culture of the Southeast. Information about early Mvskoke culture can also be found in records left by Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who led his army through Mvskoke territory in 1539-40.

Mvskokes had little interaction with other Europeans until 1670, when the English founded Charles Town as the capital of their Carolina colony. This marked the beginning of a period of extensive trade between English merchants and the people they called “Creek” Indians, who were known for building their towns next to rivers and streams. Mvskoke communities gradually became part of an expanding global market in deerskins–and of a commercial agricultural economy that relied on slave labor.

Mvskoke society prospered under these circumstances, but the power of the English, French and Spanish also grew as trade flourished and immigration increased. In 1720, tribal town leaders formed a National Council in hopes that a unified policy toward the colonists would help protect Mvskoke interests.

It became harder for the Muscogee Nation to maintain political power after England drove France and Spain out of North America in 1763, and international relations grew even more difficult after the Revolutionary War established U.S. independence two decades later. England and the United States were unable or unwilling to control their own citizens, who repeatedly encroached on Mvskoke territory.

Muscogee citizen Alexander McGillivray rose to prominence during this challenging period. He encouraged tribal town leaders to strengthen the National Council and to negotiate treaties protecting Mvskoke interests. But McGillivray’s untimely death left a political vacuum, which allowed tribal factions to grow, weakening the Muscogee Nation.

These political factions contributed to the losses suffered by Mvskokes during the Red Stick War, the Removal era, and the Civil War.

Green devotes more than half of this book to events of the nineteenth century. Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins spent two decades working to change Mvskoke political and cultural traditions, introducing legislative districts and mission schools. Traditional leaders opposed these changes and the Red Stick War ensued (1813-14), which gave frontier settlers an excuse to invade the Muscogee Nation. General Andrew Jackson led the attack; later elected President, he also led the effort to drive the Mvskokes out of their southeastern homeland (1836-37).

Those who survived Removal reestablished their tribal towns in Indian Territory. The National Council reconvened in 1840 and the Mvskoke people were soon prospering.

But by 1861, the War between the States had divided the Muscogee Nation again. Some Mvskokes supported the Confederates, while others fled north with Opothle Yoholo. After the war ended, Mvskoke leaders attempted to unify their people by drafting a written constitution and legal code.

Mvskokes quickly rebuilt their towns and farms. But by the end of the nineteenth century, their lives were increasingly disrupted by the railroads, cattle, and non-citizen intruders pouring into Indian Territory.

The Curtis Act of 1898 forced the Muscogee Nation to accept allotment of its lands, and the Dawes Commission began compiling an official citizenship roll. Chitto Harjo led a group of Mvskokes opposed to these changes in establishing a traditional government at Hickory Ground. Pleasant Porter led other tribal governments in proposing to organize Indian Territory as a new state called Sequoyah. Neither effort was successful, and Oklahoma was admitted to the Union in 1907.

Green describes the widespread fraud committed against Mvskokes following allotment and briefly mentions a few other twentieth-century developments, but he is clearly not as interested in contemporary Mvskoke life as he is in the past. This bias is understandable, since Green is a professor of history at the University of Kentucky and the author of The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis (University of Nebraska Press, 1982). Yet this book would have been improved by including more information about recent events in the Muscogee Nation and by incorporating some living Mvskoke voices.

Overall, Green’s book is a good basic introduction to Mvskoke history and culture. It was written for young adult readers but would be an appropriate starting point for anyone wanting to learn more about the Muscogee Nation. The book ends with a short bibliography and a glossary that includes some Mvskoke-language terms.

The book’s strongest feature is its extensive use of graphic illustrations–paintings, photographs, maps–including several pages of color photos of traditional Mvskoke textiles.

The Creeks is one volume in a series of books on “Indians of North America.” The back cover mentions that three books in the series were written by American Indians, but this hardly seems like a statistic worth bragging about since there are sixty-three volumes in the series. Perhaps it is time for more Mvskoke writers to step forward and tell our people’s story.

Muscogee Nation News, August 1997

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