by Denise Weimer
|Creek Chief Ledagie wearing popular silver gorgot|
While researching for the third novel in my Restoration trilogy, Witch: 1790, which will have a modern main story and a Colonial-period back story uncovered during the restoration of a log cabin, learning more about the Creek Indians who occupied my area of Middle Georgia fascinated me. Today’s article focuses on the physical appearance of these native peoples as described first hand by naturalist William Bartram and Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins.
Bartram was present at the 1773 Augusta, Georgia, land cessation meeting where Creek and Cherokee Indians ceded land to white settlers in repayment of debt. He also followed the surveying party through the wilderness. On this journey he described the Creek Indians as armed with guns in their left hand and tomahawks in their right, loud speakers, evening pipe smokers, and late sleepers. He later visited many of their villages, where he found them to welcome visitors and the men to be tender toward their women and children. Bartram said the Creek men were nearly as tall as the Cherokee, with fine features and aquiline noses. However, the women, with their large, high-arched brows, were sometimes little more than half the size of the men. The chests and muscular arms of the ancient chiefs (micos) were blue with puncture-based, lead or indigo paintings depicting the sun, moon and planets on the chest with scrolling or belts around the trunk, arms, thighs and legs. Sometimes sections were divided up for artwork of animals, landscapes and battle scenes. Settlers and soldiers under attack by Creek braves reported that the braves painted their faces half-and-half in black and red war paint.
In 1795, Benjamin Hawkins arrived in Crawford County, Central Georgia, as U.S. Indian Agent to the Creek Nation. His diaries provide even more details of how these people looked. He described the clothing of Cherokee women as possibly consisting of stillapica (moccasins) without stockings, a hoonau (short petticoat), iocoofcuttau (shift), and hutscotalcau (ear bobs). Women did not cut their hair and wore it braided and bound, either clubbed with tucullowau (red binding) or, on ceremonial days, with silver broaches or silk ribbons hanging down to the ground. Men shaved their entire head or else left portions with strips to grow in tails which could be braided and decorated with feathers, beads, pendant silver quills, and leather. This strip was often a narrow crest beginning at the crown of the head and widening to the back. Copper, shells, gems and teeth were signs of leadership. For long trips, especially during the winter, they stuffed their tall deerskin moccasins, a single deerskin wrapped with throngs, with hair or dry leaves. For treaties and talks with white men, the Creek Indians were known to mix native traditional and European clothing. They loved military jackets with brass buttons and would pair them with blousy shirts and Indian leggings. For common activities on warm weather days, the men might wear only a loincloth.
Hawkins expanded on the face painting rituals by stating that chiefs would circle both eyes in red with two-inch bars of alternating blue and yellow. Deer hunters dabbed red ocher from the red root plant on their cheeks. No doubt the early white settlers greatly preferred that type of red to the half-red, half-black war paint, which many of them did indeed encounter during the hair-raising Oconee Wars, which I’ll address in my next post.