The Creeks are a Native American people originally from the southeastern United States, also known by their original name Muscogee or Muskogee (in traditional spelling Mvskoke), the name they use to identify themselves today. Modern Mvskoke live primarily in Oklahoma, Alabama, and Florida. Mvskoke is a member of the Creek branch of the Muskogean language family. The Seminole are close kin to the Mvskoke and speak a Creek language as well. The Creeks are one of the Five Civilized Tribes.
The early historic Creek were probably descendants of the mound builders of the Mississippian culture. More of a loose confederacy than a single tribe, the Creek lived in autonomous villages in river valleys throughout what are today the states of Georgia and Alabama and consisted of many ethnic groups speaking several distinct languages. Those who lived along the Ocmulgee River were called "Creek Indians" by British traders from South Carolina; eventually the name was applied to all of the various natives of the region.
Creeks engaged in trade with their new British neighbors, receiving European trade goods in exchange for deerskins and Indian slaves captured in Florida. In the eighteenth century, Creeks began to intermarry with British traders as well as runaway African slaves. Differences in geography and interaction with Europeans eventually led to the Creek towns becoming increasingly divided between the Lower Towns of the Georgia frontier (on the Chattahoochee, Ocmulgee and Flint Rivers), and the Upper Towns of the Alabama River Valley.
Like many Native American groups east of the Mississippi River, the Creeks were divided over which side to take in the American Revolutionary War. The Lower Creek remained neutral; the Upper Creek allied with the British and fought the colonial rebels.
After the rebellion officially ended in 1783, the Creek discovered Great Britain had ceded Creek lands to the new United States. The State of Georgia began to expand into Creek territory. Creek statesman Alexander McGillivray rose to prominence as he organized pan-Indian resistance to this encroachment and received arms from the Spanish in Florida to fight trespassing Georgians. McGillivray worked to create a sense of Creek nationalism and to centralize Creek authority, struggling against village leaders who individually sold land to the United States. With the Treaty of New York in 1790, McGillivray ceded a significant portion of Creek lands to the United States under the administration of George Washington in exchange for federal recognition of Creek sovereignty within the remaining territory. However, McGillivray died in 1793 and Georgia continued to expand into Creek territory.
The Creek War of 1813-1814, also known as the Red Stick War, began as a civil war within the Creek Nation, only to become enmeshed within the War of 1812. Inspired by the fiery eloquence of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh and their own religious leaders, Creeks from the Upper Towns, known to whites as Red Sticks, sought to aggressively resist white encroachment and the "civilizing" programs administered by U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. Red Stick leaders William Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen and Menawa violently clashed with the Lower Creeks led by William McIntosh, who were allied with the Americans.
On August 30, 1813, Red Sticks led by Red Eagle attacked the American outpost of Fort Mims near Mobile, Alabama, where white Americans and their Indian allies had gathered. The Red Sticks took the fort and a horrifying massacre ensued, as prisoners — including women and children — were butchered. Nearly 250 people were killed, spreading panic throughout the American southwestern frontier.
In response to the massacre at Fort Mims, Tennessee, Georgia, and the Mississippi Territory sent armies deep into Creek country. Outnumbered and poorly armed, the Red Sticks put up a desperate fight from their wilderness strongholds. On March 27, 1814 General Andrew Jackson's Tennessee militia, aided by the 39th U. S. Infantry Regiment and Cherokee and Creek allies, finally crushed Red Stick resistance at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River.
Though the Red Sticks had been crushed — altogether, about 3000 Upper Creek died in the war — the remnants of the Upper Creek resistance held out for several months. In August 1814, exhausted and starving, they surrendered to Jackson at Wetumpka (near the present city of Montgomery, Alabama). On August 9, 1814, the Creek were forced to sign the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which ended the conflict and required the Creek 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 Creek who had fought alongside Jackson were compelled to cede territory, as Jackson held them responsible for allowing the Red Sticks to rise up. The State of Alabama was carved out of this domain and admitted to the United States in 1819.
After the War of 1812, some Creek leaders such as William McIntosh signed a number of treaties that ceded more and more land to Georgia. Eventually, the Creek Confederacy enacted a law that made further land cessions a capital offense. Nevertheless, on February 12, 1825, McIntosh and other chiefs signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, which gave up most of the remaining Creek lands in Georgia.
McIntosh was a cousin of Georgia governor George Troup, who saw the Creeks as a threat to white expansion in the region, and had been elected for the Democratic party on a platform of Indian removal. McIntosh's motives have been variously interpreted. Some believed he had been bribed to sell out his people; others insisted he had realized that the Creeks were going to lose their lands eventually, and that he got the best possible deal for them. After the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, McIntosh was assassinated (31 May 1825) by Creeks led by Menawa. (Major Ridge of the Cherokees later made the same choices as McIntosh, and paid the same price.)
The Creek National Council, led by Opothle Yohola, protested to the United States that the Treaty of Indian Springs was fraudulent. President John Quincy Adams was sympathetic, and eventually the treaty was nullified in a new agreement, the Treaty of Washington (1826). Writes historian R. Douglas Hurt: "The Creeks had accomplished what no Indian nation had ever done or would do again — achieve the annulment of a ratified treaty."
However, Governor Troup of Georgia ignored the new treaty and began to forcibly remove the Indians under the terms of the earlier treaty. At first, President Adams attempted to intervene with federal troops, but Troup called out the militia, and Adams, fearful of a civil war, conceded. As he explained to his intimates, "The Indians are not worth going to war over."
Although the Creeks had been forced from Georgia, with many Lower Creeks moving to the Indian Territory, there were still about 20,000 Upper Creeks living in Alabama. However, the state moved to abolish tribal governments and extend state laws over the Creeks. Opothle Yoholo appealed to the administration of President Andrew Jackson for protection from Alabama; when none was forthcoming, the Treaty of Cusseta was signed on 24 March 1832, which divided up Creek lands into individual allotments. Creeks could either sell their allotments and received funds to remove to the west, or stay in Alabama and submit to state laws. Land speculators and squatters began to defraud Creeks out of their allotments, and violence broke out, leading to the so-called "Creek War of 1836." Secretary of War Lewis Cass dispatched General Winfield Scott to end the violence by forcibly removing the Creeks to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.
The official website of the Muscogees describes the next phase in their history:
In the new nation the Lower Muscogees located their farms and plantations on the Arkansas and Verdigris rivers. The Upper Muscogees re-established their ancient towns on the Canadian River and its northern branches. The tribal towns of both groups continued to send representatives to a National Council which met near High Springs. The Muscogee Nation as a whole began to experience a new prosperity.
Most Mvskoke were removed to Indian Territory, although some remained behind. There are a number of Creek in Alabama living near Poarch Creek Reservation in Atmore (northeast of Mobile), as well as a number of Creek in essentially undocumented ethnic towns in Florida. Additionally, Mvskoke descendants of varying degrees of acculturation live throughout the southeastern United States. The reservation includes a bingo hall and holds an annual powwow on Thanksgiving.
Though the Creek Confederacy was one of the largest Native groups, their unpopularity after the Creek War may have made them more likely to attempt assimilation into other tribes and white culture.