The Creek War of 1813 and 1814 is remarkable from the fact that all the branches of what ethnologists style the Choctaw-Muscogee stock of Indians were involved therein and took a part, on one side or the other, of that bloody conflict. As these tribes acted a prominent part in the early history of the Gulf States, a brief notice of their topographic location and ethnic affinities may, perhaps, be of interest to the general reader.
From incontrovertible linguistic evidence, it is certain that the habitat of the tribes composing the Choctaw-Muscogee family was much the same in the days of De Soto, in 1540, as it was in more recent historical times. If the Creeks, or any or all their congeners, ever migrated from Mexico, it must have been centuries before the advent of the Spanish invader. Whatever may be thought of Le Clerc Milfort's migration legend, the fact stands that De Soto found towns bearing Muscogee names in Alabama. Dr. A. S. Gatschet, the distinguished Indianologist, after a thorough study of the dialects of the Choctaw-Muscogee tribes, has subdivided the family into four branches.
The first and most prominent of these branches is the Creeks or Muscogees proper, whose settlements were upon the Coosa, the Tallapoosa, and the Chattahoochee. During the entire existence of the Creek Confederacy in Alabama, those living on the Coosa and Tallapoosa bore the appellation of Upper Creeks, whilst those on the Chattahoochee were known as Lower Creeks. The Seminoles of Florida are only a body of seceded Muscogees.
The second branch is the Hitchitees, whose towns were on the Chattahoochee, and who, living nearer the Lower Creeks, were assigned to that political division of the Creek Confederacy. The Mickasukees of Leon county, Florida, are an offshoot of the Hitchitees and speak the same language. The Apalachees, who were a numerous and powerful people in Florida in the days of De Narvaez and De Soto, spoke a language closely related to that of the Hitchitees. The last remnant of the Apalachees were living in Louisiana, in 1830, numbering forty six souls--perhaps, now, all extinct.
The third branch is the Alibamos and Coshattees, (less correct form Coosawdas) whose homes were mostly situated on the Alabama River, just below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. Politically, these two tribes belonged to the Upper Creeks. When the French abandoned Fort Toulouse, in 1763, many of the Alibamos followed them across the Mississippi into Louisiana. These seceders eventually settled in Polk county, Texas, where they have a settlement to this day. Towards the close of the eighteenth century, many of the Coshattees also emigrated west and finally settled near the Alibamos. The language of both tribes is substantially the same. The Alibamos that remained in their native seats occupied, at the outbreak of the war of 1813, six villages, viz: Wetumka, situated on the Coosa, Muklasa, on the Tallapoosa, Ecunchattee, now a part of the city of Montgomery, Towassa on the same side of the river, three miles below Ecunchattee, Pawoktee, two miles below Towassa, and Autaugee, four miles below Pawoktee, but on the north bank of the river and near the mouth of a creek of the same name. The language of the Alibamos approximates nearer to the Choctaw than to the Muscogee, and their tribal name is undoubtedly of Choctaw origin and signifies Vegetation gatherers, i.e. gathers of vegetation in clearing land for agricultural purposes. Alba, vegetation, amo, gather. From this tribe, the Alabama River received its name, and the state, from the river. Alibamo is the correct form of the word, having, as noted above, the prosaic signification of vegetation-gatherer; for modern research has forever annihilated the romance of Here we rest. The Coshattees, the kinsfolk of the Alibamos, lived, in 1813, on the northern bank of the Alabama River, three miles below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. The present American town of Coosauda occupies the site of the old Caoshattee town.
The fourth or western branch of the Choctaw-Muscogee stock of Indians are the Choctaws and Chickasaws, whose homes were mostly in the present state of Mississippi, the Choctaws occupying the central and southern, and the Chickasaws, the northern part. Both tribes speak the same language. The country between the Tombikbee and the Black Warrior, from time immemorial, had been disputed territory between the Choctaws and the Creeks, though Choctaw settlements, more or less transitory, always existed on the east side of the Tombigbee.
There is no doubt but the territory of the Choctaws, in the days of De Soto, extended farther to the east than in more recent times. The people of the town of Mauvila, destroyed by De Soto, were of Choctaw lineage, as is evidenced by the name of their chief, Tascalusa, Black Warrior. Mauvila, too, may be the Choctaw Moelih, a plural of action, signifying to row, to paddle, to scull, and the inhabitants of the town, as we may conjecture, may have received this name, the rowers, in consequence of their riparian situation, which necessitated a constant use of boats in navigating the river. Mobile, a French abbreviated corruption of Mauvila, is called by the modern Choctaws, Mo-il-la, a form bearing a close resemblance to both Mauvila and Moelih.* [* In Moelih oe must not be considered a diphthong. Both vowels must be separately and distinctly pronounced. H.S.H.] The people of the province of Pafallaya were also Choctaws-- a fact attested by the name itself--Pafallaya, by elision from Pashfallaya, the long-haired.
The Chickasaws, who occupied not only North Mississippi, but also a part of Northwest Alabama, were a more martial people than their Choctaw kindred. No enemy, white or red, ever defeated them in battle. They made a fierce resistance to the invasion of De Soto and their subsequent wars with the French have added a luminous chapter to the annals of the Southwest.
But not all the peoples living within the territorial bounds of the Choctaw-Muscogee tribes were of kindred blood. Living within and forming a component part of the Creek Confederacy were some allophylic elements. The Uchees, who claim to be the most ancient inhabitants of the country and whose language has no affinity with any other American tongue, were, in the eighteenth century, incorporated into the confederacy and enrolled as Lower Creeks. In like manner, among the Upper Creeks, were enrolled many Shawnees, a people of the Algonquin stock. Sawanogee, on the Tallapoosa, was a Shawnee town, subject to the Creek laws. A remnant of the celebrated Natchez tribe also lived among the Upper Creeks, having a village on Tallahatchee Creek, a tributary of the Coosa.
Of the Choctaw-Muscogee tribes, the Creeks, or Muscogees proper, stood pre-eminent over all the others, not only for prowess in war, but for political sagacity. The beginning of their famous Confederacy is lost in the depths of antiquity. The Muscogees, it seems, having gained, in ancient times, a supremacy over the contiguous tribes, adopted the custom of receiving into a political system tribes that they had subjugated in war, or else, broken or fugitive tribes that applied to them for protection. A district was forthwith assigned to the new allies, who were allowed to retain the use of their own language and customs, but were required to furnish aid for the maintenance and defense of the Confederacy. Towards the close of the eighteenth century a tradition was current among the Creeks that the Alibamos were the first tribe received into the confederacy, then the Coshattees, then the Natchez, and last, the Uchees and Shawnees.
When the French first came in contact with the Southern Indians, early in the eighteenth century the Creek Confederacy already had a vigorous existence. Its power continually strengthened, until, in the early years of the nineteenth century, it stood forth, able to confront, for near ten months, the trained armies of the Federal Government and to threaten even the very existence of the numerous American communities within the present states of Mississippi and Alabama.