The Muscogee, also known as the Muskogee, Muscogee Creek, Creek, Mvskokvlke, or the Muscogee Creek Confederacy (pronounced [məskógəlgi]) in the Muscogee language, are a related group of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands. Their original homelands are in what now comprises southern Tennessee, all of Alabama, western Georgia and part of northern Florida.
Like the Cherokees in northeastern Alabama, most of the Muscogee people were forcibly relocated from their original lands in the 1830s during the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Some Muscogee fled European encroachment in 1797 and 1804 to establish two small tribal territories that continue to exist today in Louisiana and Texas. Another small branch of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy managed to remain in Alabama and is now known as the Poarch Band of Creek Indians.
A large population of Muscogee people moved into Florida between roughly 1767 and 1821 and these people intermarried with local tribes to become the Seminole people, thereby establishing a separate identity from the Creek Confederacy. Muscogee people in these waves of migration into Florida were fleeing conflict and encroachment by European settlers. The great majority of Seminoles were also later forcibly relocated to Oklahoma, where they reside today, although the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida remain in Florida.
The respective languages of all of these modern day branches, bands and tribes, except one, are all closely related variants called Muscogee, Mvskoke and Hitchiti-Mikasuki, all of which belong to the Eastern Muskogean branch of the Muscogean language family. All of these languages are, for the most part, mutually intelligible. The Yuchi people today are part of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation but their Yuchi language is a linguistic isolate, unrelated to any other language.
The ancestors of the Muscogee people were part of the Mississippian Ideological Interaction Sphere, who between AD 800 and AD 1600 built complex cities and surrounding networks of satellite towns (suburbs) centered around massive earthwork mounds, some of which had physical footprints larger than the Egyptian pyramids. Some Mississippian city populations may have been larger than later colonial European-American cities. Muscogee Creeks are associated with multi-mound centers such as the Ocmulgee, Etowah Indian Mounds, and Moundville sites. Mississippian societies were based on organized agriculture, transcontinental trade, copper metalwork, artisanship, hunting, and religion. Early Spanish explorers encountered ancestors of the Muscogee when they visited Mississippian-culture chiefdoms in the Southeast in the mid-16th century.
The Muscogee were the first Native Americans officially considered by the early United States government to be "civilized" under George Washington's civilization plan. In the 19th century, the Muscogee were known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes", because they were said to have integrated numerous cultural and technological practices of their more recent European American neighbors. In fact, Muscogee confederated town networks were already based on an (at minimum) 900-year-old history of complex and well-organized farming and town layouts.
Influenced by Tenskwatawa's interpretations of the 1811 comet and the New Madrid earthquakes, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, actively resisted European-American encroachment. Internal divisions with the Lower Towns led to the Red Stick War (Creek War, 1813–1814). Begun as a civil war within Muscogee factions, it enmeshed the Northern Creek Bands in the War of 1812 against the United States while the Southern Creeks remained US allies. General Andrew Jackson then seized the opportunity to use the rebellion as an excuse to make war against all Muscogee people once the northern Creek rebellion had been put down with the aid of the Southern Creeks. The result was a weakening of the Muscogee Creek Confederacy and the forced cession of Muscogee lands to the US.
During the 1830s Indian Removal, most of the Muscogee Confederacy were forcibly relocated to Indian Territory. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation, Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town, Kialegee Tribal Town, and Thlopthlocco Tribal Town, all based in Oklahoma, are federally recognized tribes, as are the Poarch Band of Creek Indians of Alabama, the Coushatta Tribe of Louisiana, and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas. Seminole people today are part of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.
At least 12,000 years ago, Native Americans or Paleo-Indians lived in what is today the Southern United States. Paleo-Indians in the Southeast were hunter-gatherers who pursued a wide range of animals, including the megafauna, which became extinct following the end of the Pleistocene age. During the time known as the Woodland period, from 1000 BC to 1000 AD, locals developed pottery and small-scale horticulture of the Eastern Agricultural Complex.
The Mississippian culture arose as the cultivation of maize from Mesoamerica led to population growth. Increased population density gave rise to urban centers and regional chiefdoms. Stratified societies developed, with hereditary religious and political elites, and flourished in what is now the Midwestern, Eastern, and Southeastern United States from 800 to 1500 AD.
The early historic Muscogee were descendants of the mound builders of the Mississippian culture along the Tennessee River in modern Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama. They may have been related to the Tama of central Georgia. Oral traditions passed down by the ancestors of the Creeks have alleged that their nation migrated eastward from places West of the Mississippi River, eventually settling on the east bank of the Ocmulgee River. It was here that they waged war with other bands of Native American Indians, as the Savannas, Ogeeches, Wapoos, Santees, Yamafees, Utinas, Icofans, Paticans and others, until at length they had extirpated them.
At the time the Spanish made their first forays inland from the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, many political centers of the Mississippians were already in decline, or abandoned. The region is best described as a collection of moderately sized native chiefdoms (such as the Coosa chiefdom on the Coosa River) interspersed with completely autonomous villages and tribal groups. The late Mississippian culture is what the earliest Spanish explorers encountered, beginning on April 2, 1513, with Juan Ponce de León's Florida landing and the 1526 Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón expedition in South Carolina.
Precontact Muscogees did not have the concept of private property; everything was shared. Similarly, they did not have a structured government; decisions were made by consensus. Both of these gradually vanished, the first because the Native Americans wished items the Europeans had to sell, such as muskets, or alcohol. They got money because Europeans would buy deer hides. The second disappeared partly because the Spanish pressed them to say whom they could negotiate with; government by consensus was unknown in Europe at that time.:19–37
Spanish expedition (1540–1543)
After Cabeza de Vaca, a castaway who survived the ill-fated Narváez expedition, returned to Spain in 1537, he told the Court that Hernando de Soto said that America was the "richest country in the world". Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer and conquistador who led the first expedition into the interior of the North American continent. De Soto, convinced of the "riches", wanted Cabeza de Vaca to go on the expedition, but de Vaca declined his offer because of a payment dispute. From 1540 to 1543, de Soto explored through present-day Florida and Georgia, and then westward into the Alabama and Mississippi area. The areas were inhabited by historic Muscogee Native Americans. De Soto brought with him a well-equipped army. He attracted many recruits from a variety of backgrounds who joined his quest for riches in the Americas. As the de Soto expedition's brutalities became known to the indigenous peoples, they decided to defend their territory. The Battle of Mabila was a turning point for the de Soto venture; the battle "broke the back" of the Spanish campaign, and the expedition never fully recovered.
Rise of the Muscogee Confederacy
De Soto's expedition, especially the new infectious diseases carried by the Europeans, caused a high rate of fatalities among the indigenous peoples. These losses were exacerbated by the Indian slave trade that flourished in the Southeast during the 17th and 18th centuries. As the survivors and descendants regrouped, the Muscogee or Creek Confederacy arose, which was a loose alliance of Muskogee-speaking peoples.
The Muscogee lived in autonomous villages in river valleys throughout present-day Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, speaking several related Muskogean languages. Hitchiti was the most widely spoken in present-day Georgia; Hitchiti speakers were the first to be displaced by white settlers, and the language died out.
Muskogee was spoken from the Chattahoochee to the Alabama River. Koasati (Coushatta) and Alibamu were spoken in the upper Alabama River basin and along parts of the Tennessee River. The Muscogee were a confederacy of tribes consisting of Yuchi, Koasati, Alabama, Coosa, Tuskeegee, Coweta, Cusseta, Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Tuckabatchee, , and many others.
The basic social unit was the town (idalwa). Abihka, Coosa, Tuckabutche, and Coweta are the four "mother towns" of the Muscogee Confederacy. Traditionally, the Cusseta and Coweta bands are considered the earliest members of the Muscogee Nation. The Lower Towns, along the Chattahoochee, Flint, and Apalachicola rivers, and further east along the Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers, were Coweta, Cusseta (Kasihta, Cofitachiqui), Upper Chehaw (Chiaha), Hitchiti, Oconee, Ocmulgee, Okawaigi, Apalachee, Yamasee (Altamaha), Ocfuskee, Sawokli, and Tamali.
The Upper Towns, located on the Coosa, Tallapoosa and Alabama rivers, were Tuckabatchee, Abhika, Coosa (Kusa; the dominant people of East Tennessee and North Georgia during the Spanish explorations), Itawa (original inhabitants of the Etowah Indian Mounds), Hothliwahi (Ullibahali), Hilibi, Eufaula, Wakokai, Atasi, Alibamu, Coushatta (Koasati; they had absorbed the Kaski/Casqui and the Tali), and Tuskegee ("Napochi" in the de Luna chronicles).
The most important leader in Muscogee society was the mico or village chief. Micos led warriors in battle and represented their villages, but held authority only insofar as they could persuade others to agree with their decisions. Micos ruled with the assistance of micalgi or lesser chiefs, and various advisers, including a second-in-charge called the heniha, respected village elders, medicine men, and a tustunnuggee or ranking warrior, the principal military adviser. The yahola or medicine man officiated at various rituals, including providing black drink, used in purification ceremonies.
The most important social unit was the clan. Clans organized hunts, distributed lands, arranged marriages, and punished lawbreakers. The authority of the micos was complemented by the clan mothers, mostly women elders. The Muscogee had a matrilineal kinship system, with children considered born into their mother's clan, and inheritance was through the maternal line. The Wind Clan is the first of the clans. The majority of micos have belonged to this clan.
British, French, and Spanish expansion
Britain, France, and Spain all established colonies in the present-day Southeastern woodlands. Spain established Jesuit missions and related settlements to influence Native Americans. The British and the French opted for trade over conversion. In the 17th century, Franciscan friars in Spanish Florida built missions along Apalachee Bay. In 1670 English settlers from Barbados founded Charles Town (Charleston), capital of the new Province of Carolina. Traders from Carolina went to Muscogee settlements to exchange flintlocks, gunpowder, axes, glass beads, cloth and West Indian rum for white-tailed deer pelts for the English leather industry, and Indian slaves for Caribbean sugar plantations. The Spanish and their "mission Indians" burned most of the towns along the Chattahoochee after they welcomed Scottish explorer Henry Woodward in 1685. In 1690, the English built a trading post on the Ocmulgee River, known as Ochese-hatchee (creek), where a dozen towns relocated to escape the Spanish and acquire English trade-goods. The name "Creek" most likely derived from and broadly applies to all of the Muscogee Confederacy, including the Yuchi and Natchez.
In 1704–06, Carolina Governor Col. James Moore led colonial militia and Ochese Creek and Yamasee warriors in raids that destroyed the Spanish missions of the Florida interior. They captured some 10,000 unarmed "mission Indians", the Timucua and Apalachee, and sold them into slavery. With Florida depopulated, English traders paid other tribes to attack and enslave the Yamasee, leading to the Yamassee War of 1715–17.
The Ochese Creeks joined the Yamasee, burning trading posts, and raiding back-country settlers, but the revolt ran low on gunpowder and was put down by Carolinian militia and their Cherokee allies. The Yamasee took refuge in Spanish Florida, the Ochese Creeks fled west to the Chattahoochee. French Canadian explorers founded Mobile as the first capital of Louisiana in 1702, and took advantage of the war to build Fort Toulouse at the confluence of the Tallapoosa and Coosa in 1717, trading with the Alabama and Coushatta. Fearing they would come under French influence, the British reopened the deerskin trade with the Lower Creeks, antagonizing the Yamasee, now allies of Spain. The French instigated the Upper Creeks to raid the Lower Creeks. In May 1718, the shrewd Emperor Brim, mico of the powerful Coweta band, invited representatives of Britain, France, and Spain to his village and, in council with Upper and Lower Creek leaders, declared a policy of Muscogee neutrality in their colonial rivalry. That year, the Spaniards built the presidio of San Marcos de Apalache on Apalachee Bay. In 1721, the British built Fort King George at the mouth of the Altamaha River. As the three European imperial powers established themselves along the borders of Muscogee lands, the latter's strategy of neutrality allowed them to hold the balance of power.
The colony of Georgia was created in 1732; its first settlement, Savannah, was founded the following year, on a river bluff where the Yamacraw, a Yamasee band that remained allies of England, allowed John Musgrove to establish a fur-trading post. His wife Mary Musgrove was the daughter of an English trader and a Muscogee woman from the powerful Wind Clan, half-sister of 'Emperor' Brim. She was the principal interpreter for Georgia's founder and first Governor Gen. James Oglethorpe, using her connections to foster peace between the Creek Indians and the new colony. The deerskin trade grew, and by the 1750s, Savannah exported up to 50,000 deerskins a year.
In 1736, Spanish and British officials established a neutral zone from the Altamaha to the St. Johns River in present-day Florida, guaranteeing Native hunting grounds for the deerskin trade and protecting Spanish Florida from further British encroachment. Ca.1750 a group of Ochese moved to the neutral zone, after clashing with the Muskogee-speaking towns of the Chattahoochee, where they had fled after the Yamasee War.
Led by Chief Secoffee (Cowkeeper), they became the center of a new tribal confederacy, the Seminole, which grew to include earlier refugees from the Yamasee War, remnants of the 'mission Indians,' and escaped African slaves. Their name comes from the Spanish word cimarrones, which originally referred to a domestic animal that had reverted to the wild. Cimarrones was used by the Spanish and Portuguese to refer to fugitive slaves—"maroon" emerges linguistically from this root as well—and American Indians who fled European invaders. In the Hitchiti language, which lacked an 'r' sound, it became simanoli, and eventually Seminole.
Many Muscogee Creek leaders, after contact with Europeans began, have British names: Alexander McGillivray, Josiah Francis, William McIntosh, Peter McQueen, William Weatherford, , and others. These reflect Muscogee women having children with British colonists. For instance, Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins married a Muscogee woman.:9 In Muscogee culture, unmarried Muscogee women had great freedom over their own sexuality compared to European and European-American counterparts.:161–162 Under the customs of Muscogee matrilineal society, their children belonged to their mother's clan. With the exception of McGillivray, mixed-raced Muscogee people did against Muscogee Creek interests, as they understood them[clarification needed]; to the contrary, in many cases, they spearheaded resistance to the British and then American expansion. That they usually spoke English as well as Creek, and knew European customs as well, made them community leaders; they "dominated Muskogee politics".:236 n. 7 As put by Claudio Saunt:
These offspring of mixed marriages occupied a different position in the economy of the Deep South than did most Creeks and Seminoles. They worked as traders and factors. ... By virtue of their ancestry and upbringing, they had greater cultural, social, linguistic, and geographic ties to the colonial settlements, traveling periodically to Pensacola and the Georgia trading posts to unload their skins and pick up more trade goods.:54
As Andrew Frank writes, "Terms such as mixed-blood and half-breed, which imply racial categories and partial Indianness, betray the ways in which Native peoples determined kinship and identity in the eighteenth- and early-nineteen-century southeast."
American Revolutionary War
With the end of the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years' War) in 1763, France lost its North American empire, and British-American settlers moved inland. Indian discontent led to raids against back-country settlers, and the perception that the royal government favored the Indians and the deerskin trade led many back-country white settlers to join the Sons of Liberty. Fears of land-hungry settlers and need for European manufactured goods led the Muscogee to side with the British, but like many tribes, they were divided by factionalism, and, in general, avoided sustained fighting, preferring to protect their sovereignty through cautious participation.
During the American Revolution, the Upper Creeks sided with the British, fighting alongside the Chickamauga (Lower Cherokee) warriors of Dragging Canoe, in the Cherokee–American wars, against white settlers in present-day Tennessee. This alliance was orchestrated by the Coushatta chief Alexander McGillivray, son of Lachlan McGillivray, a wealthy Scottish Loyalist fur-trader and planter, whose properties were confiscated by Georgia. His ex-partner, Scots-Irish Patriot George Galphin, initially persuaded the Lower Creeks to remain neutral, but Loyalist Capt. William McIntosh led a group of pro-British Hitchiti, and most of the Lower Creeks nominally allied with Britain after the 1779 Capture of Savannah. Muscogee warriors fought on behalf of Britain during the Mobile and Pensacola campaigns of 1780–81, where Spain re-conquered British West Florida. Loyalist leader Thomas Brown raised a division of King's Rangers to contest Patriot control over the Georgia and Carolina interior and instigated Cherokee raids against the North Carolina back-country after the Battle of King's Mountain. He seized Augusta in March 1780, with the aid of an Upper Creek war-party, but reinforcements from the Lower Creeks and local white Loyalists never came, and Georgia militia led by Elijah Clarke retook Augusta in 1781. The next year an Upper Creek war-party trying to relieve the British garrison at Savannah was routed by Continental Army troops under Gen. 'Mad' Anthony Wayne.
After the war ended in 1783, the Muscogee learned that Britain had ceded their lands to the now independent United States. That year, two Lower Creek chiefs, Hopoithle Miko (Tame King) and Eneah Miko (Fat King), ceded 800 square miles (2,100 km2) of land to the state of Georgia. Alexander McGillivray led pan-Indian resistance to white encroachment, receiving arms from the Spanish in Florida to fight trespassers. The bilingual and bicultural McGillivray worked to create a sense of Muscogee nationalism and centralize political authority, struggling against village leaders who individually sold land to the United States. He also became a wealthy landowner and merchant, owning as many as sixty black slaves.
In 1784, he negotiated the with Spain, recognizing Muscogee control over 3,000,000 acres (12,000 km2) of land claimed by Georgia, and guaranteeing access to the British firm Panton, Leslie & Co. which controlled the deerskin trade, while making himself an official representative of Spain. In 1786, a council in Tuckabatchee decided to wage war against white settlers on Muscogee lands. War parties attacked settlers along the Oconee River, and Georgia mobilized its militia. McGillivray refused to negotiate with the state that had confiscated his father's plantations, but President George Washington sent a special emissary, Col. Marinus Willet, who persuaded him to travel to New York City, then the capital of the U.S., and deal directly with the federal government. In the summer of 1790, McGillivray and 29 other Muscogee chiefs signed the Treaty of New York, on behalf of the 'Upper, Middle and Lower Creek and Seminole composing the Creek nation of Indians,' ceding a large portion of their lands to the federal government and promising to return fugitive slaves, in return for federal recognition of Muscogee sovereignty and promises to evict white settlers. McGillivray died in 1793, and with the invention of the cotton gin white settlers on the Southwestern frontier who hoped to become cotton planters clamored for Indian lands. In 1795, Elijah Clarke and several hundred followers defied the Treaty of New York and established the short-lived Trans-Oconee Republic.
Muscogee and Choctaw land dispute (1790)
In 1790, the Muscogee and Choctaw were in conflict over land near the Noxubee River. The two nations agreed to settle the dispute by ball-play. With nearly 10,000 players and bystanders, the two nations prepared for nearly three months. After a long daylong struggle, the Muscogee won the game. A fight broke out and the two nations fought until sundown with nearly 500 dead and many more wounded.
State of Muskogee and William Bowles
William Augustus Bowles was born into a wealthy Maryland Tory family, enlisting with the Maryland Loyalists Battalion at age 14 and becoming an ensign in the Royal Navy by age 15. Cashiered for dereliction of duty after returning too late to his ship at Pensacola, Bowles escaped north and found refuge among the Lower Creek towns of the Chattahoochee basin. He married two wives, one Cherokee and the other a daughter of the Hitchiti Muscogee chieftain , and later used this union as the basis for his claim to exert political influence among the Creeks. In 1781, a 17-year-old Bowles led Muscogee forces at the Battle of Pensacola. After seeking refuge in the Bahamas, he travelled to London. He was received by King George III as 'Chief of the Embassy for Creek and Cherokee Nations'; it was with British backing that he returned to train the Muscogee as pirates to attack Spanish ships.
In 1799, Bowles formed the State of Muskogee, with the support of the Chattahoochee Creeks and the Seminoles. He established his capital at Miccosuki, a village on the shores of Lake Miccosukee near present-day Tallahassee. It was ruled by Mico Kanache, his father-in-law and strongest ally. Bowles envisioned the State of Muskogee, with its capital at Miccosuki, encompassing large portions of present-day Florida, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and incorporating the Cherokee, Upper and Lower Creeks, Chickasaw and Choctaw. Bowles' first act was declaring the 1796 Second Treaty of San Ildefonso, which drew the boundary between the U.S. and West Florida, null and void, because the Indians were not consulted.
He denounced the treaties Alexander McGillivray had negotiated with Spain and the U.S., threatening to declare war on the United States unless it returned Muscogee lands, and issuing a death sentence against George Washington's Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins, who won the loyalty of the Lower Creeks. He built a tiny navy, and raided Spanish ships in the Gulf of Mexico, and, in 1800, declared war on Spain, briefly capturing the presidio and trading post of San Marcos de Apalache before being forced to retreat. Although a Spanish force that set out to destroy Mikosuki got lost in the swamps, a second attempt to take San Marcos ended in disaster. After a European armistice led to the loss of British support, Bowles was discredited. The Seminole signed a peace treaty with Spain. The following year, he was betrayed by Lower Creek supporters of Hawkins at a tribal council. They turned Bowles over to the Spanish, and he died in prison in Havana, Cuba two years later.
Pre-removal (late 18th–early 19th centuries)
George Washington, the first U.S. President, and Henry Knox, the first U.S. Secretary of War, proposed a cultural transformation of the Native Americans. Washington believed that Native Americans were equals as individuals but that their society was inferior. He formulated a policy to encourage the "civilizing" process, and it was continued under President Thomas Jefferson. Noted historian Robert Remini wrote, "[T]hey presumed that once the Indians adopted the practice of private property, built homes, farmed, educated their children, and embraced Christianity, these Native Americans would win acceptance from white Americans." Washington's six-point plan included impartial justice toward Indians; regulated buying of Indian lands; promotion of commerce; promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Indian society; presidential authority to give presents; and punishing those who violated Indian rights. The Muscogee would be the first Native Americans to be "civilized" under Washington's six-point plan. The Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole would follow the Muscogee efforts to implement Washington's new policy of civilization.
In 1796, Washington appointed Benjamin Hawkins as General Superintendent of Indian Affairs dealing with all tribes south of the Ohio River. He personally assumed the role of principal agent to the Muscogee. He moved to the area that is now Crawford County in Georgia. He began to teach agricultural practices to the tribe, starting a farm at his home on the Flint River. In time, he brought in slaves and workers, cleared several hundred acres, and established mills and a trading post as well as his farm.
For years, Hawkins met with chiefs on his porch to discuss matters. He was responsible for the longest period of peace between the settlers and the tribe, overseeing 19 years of peace. In 1805, the Lower Creeks ceded their lands east of the Ocmulgee to Georgia, with the exception of the sacred burial mounds of the Ocmulgee Old Fields. They allowed a Federal Road linking New Orleans to Washington, D.C. to be built through their territory. A number of Muscogee chiefs acquired slaves and created cotton plantations, grist mills and businesses along the Federal Road. In 1806, Fort Benjamin Hawkins was built on a hill overlooking the Ocmulgee Old Fields, to protect expanding settlements and serve as a reminder of U.S. rule.
Hawkins was disheartened and shocked by the outbreak of the Creek War, which destroyed his life work of improving the Muscogee quality of life. Hawkins saw much of his work toward building a peace destroyed in 1812. A faction of Muscogee joined the Pan-American Indian movement of Tenskwatawa and Tecumseh, rejecting accommodation with white settlers and adaptation of European-American culture. Although Hawkins personally was never attacked, he was forced to watch an internal civil war among the Muscogee develop into a war with the United States.
A comet, earthquakes, and Tecumseh (1811)
A comet appeared in March 1811. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whose name meant "shooting star", traveled to Tuckabatchee, where he told the Muscogee that the comet signaled his coming. McKenney reported that Tecumseh would prove that the Great Spirit had sent him by giving the Muscogee a sign. Shortly after Tecumseh left the Southeast, the sign arrived as promised in the form of an earthquake.
On December 16, 1811, the New Madrid earthquake shook the Muscogee lands and the Midwest. While the interpretation of this event varied from tribe to tribe, one consensus was universally accepted: the powerful earthquake had to have meant something. The earthquake and its aftershocks helped the Tecumseh resistance movement by convincing, not only the Muscogee, but other Native American tribes as well, that the Shawnee must be supported.
The Indians were filled with great terror ... the trees and wigwams shook exceedingly; the ice which skirted the margin of the Arkansas river was broken into pieces; and most of the Indians thought that the Great Spirit, angry with the human race, was about to destroy the world.— Roger L. Nichols, The American Indian
The Muscogee who joined Tecumseh's confederation were known as the Red Sticks. Stories of the origin of the Red Stick name varies, but one is that they were named for the Muscogee tradition of carrying a bundle of sticks that mark the days until an event occurs. Sticks painted red symbolize war.
Red Stick rebellion
The Creek War of 1813–1814, also known as the Red Stick War, began as a civil war within the Muscogee Nation, only to become enmeshed within the War of 1812. Inspired by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh (to whom nineteenth-century writers attributed fiery speeches that he "must have said") and their own religious leaders, and encouraged by British traders, Red Stick leaders such as William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and Menawa won the support of the Upper Creek towns. Allied with the British, they opposed white encroachment on Muscogee lands and the "civilizing programs" administered by Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins, and clashed with many of the leading chiefs of the Muscogee Nation, most notably the Lower Creek Mico William McIntosh, Hawkins' most powerful ally. Their opponents, who sought peaceful relations with white settlers, were known as the White Sticks. Before the Muscogee Civil War began, the Red Sticks attempted to keep their activities secret from the old chiefs. They were emboldened when Tecumseh rallied his followers and joined with a British invasion to capture Fort Detroit in August 1812.
In February 1813, a small party of Red Sticks, led by Little Warrior, was returning from Detroit when they killed two families of settlers along the Duck River, near Nashville. Hawkins demanded that the Muscogees turn over Little Warrior and his six companions. Instead of handing the marauders over to the federal agents, Big Warrior and the old chiefs decided to execute the war party. This decision was the spark which ignited the civil war among the Muscogee.
The first clashes between Red Sticks and the American whites took place on July 21, 1813, when a group of American soldiers from Fort Mims (north of Mobile, Alabama) stopped a party of Red Sticks who were returning from West Florida, where they had bought munitions from the Spanish governor at Pensacola. The Red Sticks fled the scene, and the U.S. soldiers looted what they found, allowing the Red Sticks to regroup and retaliate with a surprise attack that forced the Americans to retreat. The Battle of Burnt Corn, as the exchange became known, broadened the Creek Civil War to include American forces, and was interpreted as a good omen, showing that in fact the Creeks could defeat the whites.
On August 30, 1813, Red Sticks led by Red Eagle William Weatherford attacked Fort Mims, where white settlers and their Indian allies had gathered. The Red Sticks captured the fort by surprise, and carried out a massacre, killing men, women, and children. They spared only the black slaves whom they took as captured booty. After the Indians killed nearly 250–500 at the fort, settlers across the American southwestern frontier were in a panic. Although the Red Sticks won the battle, they had lost the war.
On the morning of August 30, 1813, few of Fort Mims' defenders stirred in the steaming heat. In the forested shade, the Creeks watched and waited. The fort's main gate, located on the east side of the stockade, had not been closed by the garrison troops ... No sentries occupied the blockhouse.— A Short History of the Ft. Mims Massacre of 1813 during the Creek Indian War
The Fort Mims Massacre was followed two days later by the smaller Kimbell-James Massacre.
The only explanation of this catastrophic event is that the Upper Creek leaders thought that fighting the United States was like fighting another Creek tribe, and taking Fort Mims was an even bigger victory than the Battle of Burnt Corn had been.
The Red Stick victory spread panic throughout the southeastern United States, and the cry "Remember Fort Mims!" was popular among the public wanting revenge. With Federal troops tied up on the northern front against the British in Canada, the Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory militias were commissioned and invaded the Upper Creek towns. They were joined by Indian allies, the Lower Creek under William McIntosh and the Cherokee under Major Ridge. Outnumbered and poorly armed, much too far from Canada or the Gulf Coast to receive British aid, the Red Sticks put up a desperate fight. On March 27, 1814, General Andrew Jackson's Tennessee militia, aided by the 39th U. S. Infantry Regiment and Cherokee and Lower Creek warriors, crushed the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River. Though the Red Sticks had been soundly defeated and about 3,000 Upper Muscogee died in the war, the remnants held out several months longer.
Muscogee diaspora (1814)
In August 1814, the Red Sticks surrendered to Jackson at Wetumpka (near the present city of Montgomery, Alabama). On August 9, 1814, the Muscogee nation was forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson. It ended the war and required the tribe to cede some 20 million acres (81,000 km2) of land— more than half of their ancestral territorial holdings— to the United States. Even those who had fought alongside Jackson were compelled to cede land, since Jackson held them responsible for allowing the Red Sticks to revolt. The state of Alabama was created largely from the Red Sticks' domain and was admitted to the United States in 1819.
WHEREAS an unprovoked, inhuman, and sanguinary war, waged by the hostile Creeks against the United States, hath been repelled, prosecuted and determined, successfully, on the part of the said States, in conformity with principles of national justice and honorable warfare-- And whereas consideration is due to the rectitude of proceeding dictated by instructions relating to the re-establishment of peace: Be it remembered, that prior to the conquest of that part of the Creek nation hostile to the United States, numberless aggressions had been committed against the peace, the property, and the lives of citizens of the United States ...— Treaty of Fort Jackson, 1814
The Red Stick refugees who arrived in Florida after the Creek War tripled the Seminole population, and strengthened the tribe's Muscogee characteristics. In 1814, British forces landed in West Florida and began arming the Seminoles. The British had built a strong fort on the Apalachicola River at Prospect Bluff, and in 1815, after the end of the War of 1812, offered it, with all its ordnance (muskets, cannons, powder, shot, cannonballs) to the locals: Seminoles and maroons (escaped slaves). A few hundred maroons constituted a uniformed Corps of Colonial Marines, who had had military training, however rudimentary, and discipline (but whose English officers had departed). The Seminole only wanted to return to their villages, so the maroons became owners of the Fort. It soon came to be called the 'Negro Fort' by Southern planters, and it was widely known among enslaved blacks by word of mouth – a place nearby where blacks were free and had guns, as in Haiti. The white pro-slave holding planters correctly felt its simple existence inspired escape or rebellion by the oppressed African-Americans, and they complained to the US government. The maroons had not received training in how to aim the Fort's cannons. After notifying the Spanish governor, who had very limited resources, and who said he had no orders to take action, U.S. General Andrew Jackson quickly destroyed the Fort, in a famous and picturesque, though tragic, incident in 1816 that has been called "the deadliest cannon shot in American history" (see Battle of Negro Fort).
The Seminole continued to welcome fugitive black slaves and raid American settlers, leading the U.S. to declare war in 1817. The following year, General Andrew Jackson invaded Florida with an army that included more than 1,000 Lower Creek warriors; they destroyed Seminole towns and captured Pensacola. Jackson's victory forced Spain to sign the Adams–Onís Treaty in 1819, ceding Florida to the U.S. In 1823, a delegation of Seminole chiefs met with the new U.S. governor of Florida, expressing their opposition to proposals that would reunite them with the Upper and Lower Creek, partly because the latter tribes intended to enslave the Black Seminoles. Instead, the Seminoles agreed to move onto a reservation in inland central Florida.
Treaties of Indian Springs
Mico William McIntosh led the Lower Creek warriors who fought alongside the U.S. in the Creek War and the First Seminole War. The son of the Loyalist officer of the same name who had recruited a band of Hitchiti to the British cause, McIntosh never knew his white father. He had family ties to some of Georgia's planter elite, and after the wars became a wealthy cotton-planter. Through his mother, he was born into the prominent Wind Clan of the Creek; as the Creek had a matrilineal system of descent and inheritance, he achieved his chieftainship because of her. He was also related to Alexander McGillivray and William Weatherford, both mixed-race Creek.
In the late 1810s and early 1820s, McIntosh helped create a centralized police force called 'Law Menders,' establish written laws, and form a National Creek Council. Later in the decade, he came to view relocation as inevitable. In 1821, McIntosh and several other chiefs signed away Lower Creek lands east of the Flint River at the first Treaty of Indian Springs. As a reward, McIntosh was granted 1,000 acres (4 km2) at the treaty site, where he built a hotel to attract tourists to local hot springs.
The responded by prescribing the death penalty for tribesmen who surrendered additional land. Georgian settlers continued to pour into Indian lands, particularly after the discovery of gold in northern Georgia. in 1825 McIntosh and his first cousin, Georgia Governor George Troup, a leading advocate of Indian removal, signed the second Treaty of Indian Springs at his hotel. Signed by six other Lower Creek chiefs, the treaty ceded the last Lower Creek lands to Georgia, and allocated substantial sums to relocate the Muscogee to the Arkansas River. It provided for an equally large payment directly to McIntosh.
In April, the old Red Stick Menawa led about 200 Law Menders to execute McIntosh according to their law. They burned his upper Chattahoochee plantation. A delegation of the Creek National Council, led by the speaker Opothleyahola, traveled to Washington D.C. to protest the 1825 treaty. They convinced President John Quincy Adams that the treaty was invalid, and negotiated the more favorable Treaty of Washington (1826). The tribe ceded their lands to Georgia in return for $200,000, although they were not required to move west. Troup ignored the new treaty and ordered the eviction of the Muscogee from their remaining lands in Georgia without compensation, mobilizing state militia when Adams threatened federal intervention.
Andrew Jackson was inaugurated president of the United States in 1829, and with his inauguration the government stance toward Indians turned harsher. Jackson abandoned the policy of his predecessors of treating different Indian groups as separate nations. Instead, he aggressively pursued plans to move all Indian tribes living east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma.
Friends and Brothers – By permission of the Great Spirit above, and the voice of the people, I have been made President of the United States, and now speak to you as your Father and friend, and request you to listen. Your warriors have known me long You know I love my white and red children, and always speak with a straight, and not with a forked tongue; that I have always told you the truth ... Where you now are, you and my white children are too near to each other to live in harmony and peace. Your game is destroyed, and many of your people will not work and till the earth. Beyond the great River Mississippi, where a part of your nation has gone, your Father has provided a country large enough for all of you, and he advises you to remove to it. There your white brothers will not trouble you; they will have no claim to the land, and you can live upon it you and all your children, as long as the grass grows or the water runs, in peace and plenty. It will be yours forever. For the improvements in the country where you now live, and for all the stock which you cannot take with you, your Father will pay you a fair price ...— President Andrew Jackson addressing the Creeks, 1829
At Jackson's request, the United States Congress opened a fierce debate on an Indian Removal Bill. In the end, the bill passed, but the vote was close. The Senate passed the measure 28 to 19, while in the House it squeaked by, 102 to 97. Jackson signed the legislation into law June 30, 1830.
Following the Indian Removal Act, in 1832 the Creek National Council signed the Treaty of Cusseta, ceding their remaining lands east of the Mississippi to the U.S., and accepting relocation to the Indian Territory. Most Muscogee were removed to Indian Territory during the Trail of Tears in 1834, although some remained behind.
Some Muscogee in Alabama live near the federally recognized Poarch Creek Reservation in Atmore (northeast of Mobile), and Muscogee live in essentially undocumented ethnic towns in Florida. The Alabama reservation includes a casino and 16-story hotel. The Creek tribe holds an annual powwow on Thanksgiving. Additionally, Muscogee descendants of varying degrees of acculturation live throughout the southeastern United States.
By 1836, when extensive Creek removal was underway, Eneah Emathala emerged as leader of the Lower Creeks ... their desire was only to be left alone in their homeland ... Gen. Winfield Scott was ordered to capture Eneah Emathala ... Captured with Emathala were some one thousand other person ... their [racial] colors were black, red, and white ...— Burt & Ferguson- Indians of the Southeast: Then and Now
American Civil War (1861)
At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Opothleyahola refused to form an alliance with the Confederacy, unlike many other tribes, including many of the Lower Creeks. Runaway slaves, free blacks, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians began gathering at Opothleyahola's plantation, where they hoped to remain neutral in the conflict between the North and South. On August 15, 1861, Opothleyahola and tribal chief Micco Hutko contacted President Abraham Lincoln to request help for the Union loyalists. On September 10, they received a positive response, stating the United States government would assist them. The letter directed Opothleyahola to move his people to Fort Row in Wilson County, Kansas, where they would receive asylum and aid. They became known as Loyalists, and many were members of the traditional Snake band in the latter part of the century.
Because many Muscogee Creek people did support the Confederacy during the Civil War, the US government required a new treaty with the nation in 1866 to define peace after the war. It required the Creek to emancipate their slaves and to admit them as full members and citizens of the Creek Nation, equal to the Creek in receiving annuities and land benefits. They were then known as Creek Freedmen. The US government required setting aside part of the Creek reservation land to be assigned to the freedmen. Many of the tribe resisted these changes. The loss of lands contributed to problems for the nation in the late 19th century.
The Loyalists among the Creek tended to be traditionalists. They formed the core of a band that became known as the Snakes, which also included many Creek Freedmen. At the end of the century, they resisted the extinguishing of tribal government and break-up of communal tribal lands enacted by the US Congress with the Dawes Commission of 1892. These efforts were part of the US government's attempt to impose assimilation on the tribes, to introduce household ownership of land, and to remove legal barriers to the Indian Territory's achieving statehood. Members of the Creek Nation were registered as individuals on the Dawes Rolls; the Commission separately registered intermarried whites and Creek Freedmen, whether or not they had any Creek ancestry. This ruined their claims to Creek membership later, even for people who had parents or other relative who were Creek. The Dawes Rolls have been used as the basis for many tribes to establish membership descent. European-American settlers had moved into the area and pressed for statehood and access to some of the tribal lands for settlement.
Muscogee culture has greatly evolved over the centuries, combining mostly European-American influences; however, interaction with Spain, France, and England greatly shaped it as well. They were known for their rapid incorporation of modernity, developing a written language, transitioning to yeoman farming methods, and accepting European-Americans and African-Americans into their society. Muscogee people continue to preserve chaya and share a vibrant tribal identity through events such as annual festivals, stick ball games, and language classes. The Stomp Dance and Green Corn Ceremony are revered gatherings and rituals.
While families include people who are directly related to each other, clans are composed of all people who are descendants of the same ancestral clan grouping. Like many Native American nations, the Muscogee Creek are matrilineal; each person belongs to the clan of his or her mother, who belongs to the clan of her mother. Inheritance and property are passed through the maternal line. Hereditary chiefs were born into certain clans.
Biological fathers are important within the family system but must come from another clan than the mother. But, within the clan, it is the mother's brother (the mother's nearest blood relation) who functions as the primary teacher, protector, disciplinarian and role model for children, especially for boys. Clan members do not claim "blood relation" but consider each other as family due to their membership in the same clan. This is expressed by their using the same kinship titles for both family and clan relations. For example, clan members of approximately the same age consider each other "brother" and "sister", even if they have never met before.
Because of this system, the Muscogee Creek children born of European fathers belonged to their mother's clans and were part of part of their tribal communities. High-ranking daughters of chiefs often found it advantageous to marry European traders, who could provide their families with goods. Muscogee Creek believed young men who became educated in European ways could help them manage under the new conditions related to colonialism, while preserving important Muscogee Creek cultural institutions.
Muscogee clans are as follows:
- Bear Clan (Muklasalgi, Nokosalgi),
- Beaver Clan (Itamalgi, Isfanalgi, Itchhasuaigi),
- Bird Clan (Fusualgi),
- Bog Potato Clan (Ahalakalgi),
- Cane Clan (Kohasalki),
- Deer Clan (Itchualgi),
- Fish Clan (Hlahloalgi),
- Fox Clan (Tsulalgi),
- Hickory-Nut Clan (Odshisalgi),
- Maize Clan (Aktayatsalgi, Atchialgi),
- Mole Clan (Takusalgi),
- Otter Clan (Osanalgi),
- Panther Clan (Chukotalgi, Katsalg),
- Raccoon Clan (Wahlakalgi, Wotkalgi),
- Salt Clan (Okilisa, Oktchunualgi),
- Skunk Clan (Kunipalgi),
- Toad Clan (Pahosalgi, Sopaktalgi),
- Turtle Clan (Locvlke) – related to Wind Clan
- Wild-Cat Clan (Koakotsalgi),
- Wind Clan (Hutalgalgi),
- Wolf Clan (Yahalgi) – related to Bear Clan.
Ancestral Muscogee peoples wore clothing made of woven plant materials or animal hides, depending upon the climate. During the summer, they preferred lightweight fabrics woven from tree bark, grasses, or reeds. During the harsh winters, they used animal skins and fur for warmth.
During the 17th century, the Muscogee adopted some elements of European fashion and materials. Cloth was lighter and more colorful than deer hide, it quickly became a popular trade item throughout the region. Trade cloth in a variety of patterns and textures enabled Muscogee women to develop new styles of clothing, which they made for both men, women, and children. They incorporated European trade items such as bells, silk ribbons, glass beads, and pieces of mirror into the clothing.
The Muscogee language is a member of the Muskogean family and was well known among the frontiersmen, such as Gideon Lincecum, of the early 19th century. The language is related to the Choctaw language, with some words being identical in pronunciation. The following table is an example of Muscogee text and its translation:
|Mvskoke: Fayet aresasvtēs. Mont fayēpat vrēpēt omvtēs, hopvyēn. Momēt vrēpēt omvtētan, nake punvttv tat pvsvtēpet, momet hvtvm efvn sulkēn omvtēs. Momet mv efv tat efv fayvlket omekv, nak punvttuce tayen pvsvtēpēt omvtēs. Mont aret omvtētan, efv tat estvn nak wohēcēto vtēkat, nake punvttvn oken mv efv-pucase enkerrēt omvtēs.|
English: Someone was hunting. He went hunting in far away places. He went continually, killing small game, and he had many dogs. And the dogs were hunting dogs, so he had killed many animals. When hunting, he always knew his dogs had an animal trapped by the sound of their barking.
Land was the most valuable asset, which the Native Americans held in collective stewardship. The southern English colonies, US government and settlers systematically obtained Muscogee land through treaties, legislation, and warfare. Some treaties, such as the Treaty of San Lorenzo, indirectly affected the Muscogee. The treaties were:
|Treaty||Year||Signed with||Where||Purpose||Ceded Land|
|Treaty of Savannah||1733||Colony of Georgia||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Coweta Town||1739||Colony of Georgia||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Savannah||1757||Colony of Georgia||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Shoulder-bone Creek||1786||State of Georgia||Sparta, Georgia||Land cession||All lands east of the Oconee River|
|Treaty of New York||1790||United States||New York City||Boundaries defined, Civilization of Creek, Animosities to cease||?|
|Treaty of Colerain||1796||United States||Colerain (Camden County, Georgia)||Boundary lines, Animosities to cease||?|
|Treaty of Fort Wilkinson||1802||United States||Fort Wilkinson||Land cession||?|
|Treaty of Fort Jackson||1814||United States||Fort Jackson near Wetumpka, Alabama||Land cession||23 million acres (93,000 km2)|
|Treaty of the Creek Agency||1818||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty of the Indian Spring||1821||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Indian Springs||1825||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Washington||1826||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty of the Creek Indian Agency||1827||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty of Cusseta||1832||United States||Washington City||create allotments|
|Treaty with the Creeks||1833||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty with the Creeks||1838||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty with the Creeks And Seminole||1845||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty with the Creeks||1854||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty with the Creeks, Etc.,||1856||?||?||?||?|
|Treaty with the Creeks||1866||?||?||?||?|
Indian Appropriations Act of 1871
In 1871, Congress added a rider to the Indian Appropriations Act to end the United States' recognizing additional Indian tribes or nations, and prohibiting additional treaties.
That hereafter no Indian nation or tribe within the territory of the United States shall be acknowledged or recognized as an independent nation, tribe, or power with whom the United States may contract by treaty: Provided, further, that nothing herein contained shall be construed to invalidate or impair the obligation of any treaty heretofore lawfully made and ratified with any such Indian nation or tribe.— Indian Appropriations Act of 1871
Muscogee tribes today
Federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma
Three Muscogee tribal towns are federally recognized tribes: Alabama-Quassarte, Kialegee, and Thlopthlocco. Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town is headquartered is Wetumka, Oklahoma and its chief is Tarpie Yargee. Kialegee Tribal Town is headquartered in Wetumka, and Jeremiah Hoia is the current mekko or chief. The Thlopthlocco Tribal Town is headquartered in Okemah, Oklahoma. George Scott is the mekko.
Federally recognized tribes in Alabama
Eddie L. Tullis led the Poarch Band of Creek Indians in their petitioning the United States government to recognize a government-to-government relationship. On August 11, 1984, these efforts culminated in the United States Government, Department of Interior, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs acknowledging that the Poarch Band of Creek Indians existed as an "Indian Tribe". The tribe is the only federally recognized tribe in the state of Alabama. On November 21, 1984, the US government took 231.54 acres (0.9370 km2) of land into trust for the tribe as a communal holding. On April 12, 1985, 229.54 acres (0.9289 km2) were declared a reservation.
Muscogee diaspora (today)
Many Muscogee moved out of their tribal nation in Oklahoma to the nearest cities (Tulsa and Oklahoma City), and to other states like California, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee in the second half of the 20th century.
Expansion of reservation
The United States Supreme Court issued their ruling for McGirt v. Oklahoma on July 9, 2020. The Court recognized a large part of eastern Oklahoma as part of the state's Muscogee (Creek) Nation reservation. The ruling also opened the possibility for Native Americans to have more power to regulate alcohol and casino gambling.
- Fred Beaver (1911–1980), Muscogee/Seminole painter and muralist
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- Samuel Benton Callahan (1833–1911), represented the Creek and Seminole nations in the Second Confederate Congress
- Ernest Childers (1918–2005), lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army during World War II and the first Native American to be awarded a Medal of Honor during that war
- Chitto Harjo (1846–1911), orator, veteran, and traditionalist
- Eddie Chuculate (born 1972), Muscogee/Cherokee author and journalist
- Thomas Gilcrease (1890–1962), oilman, founder of the Gilcrease Museum
- Joy Harjo (born 1959), Muscogee/Cherokee poet and jazz musician
- Suzan Shown Harjo (born 1945), Muscogee/Cheyenne activist, policymaker, journalist, and poet
- Joan Hill (born 1930), Muscogee/Cherokee artist
- Jack Jacobs (1919–1974), football player
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- Jim Pepper (1941–1992), Muscogee/Kaw jazz musician
- Grant-Lee Phillips (born 1963), Alternative-Americana artist and founder-songwriter of Grant Lee Buffalo, enrolled in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation
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- Winn, William W. (2015). The Triumph of Ecunnau-Nuxulgee: Land Speculators, George M. Troup, State Rights, and the Removal of the Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama, 1825–38. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press.
- Worth, John E. (2000). "The Lower Creeks: Origins and Early History," in Bonnie G. McEwan (ed.), Indians of the Greater Southeast: Historical Archaeology and Ethnohistory. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida. Pages 265–298.
- Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma, official site
- Poarch Band of Creek Indians, official site
- Creek Nation Indian Territory Project
- Creek (Muskogee) by Kenneth W. McIntosh – Encyclopedia of North American Indians
- History of the Creek Indians in Georgia
- Comprehensive Creek Language materials online
- Southeastern Native American Documents, 1763–1842.
- New Georgia Encyclopedia entry
- Encyclopedia of Alabama article
- Creek (Mvskoke), Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture
- Seven Chestnuts historical marker
- Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. .
- Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911. .