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Monday, July 20, 2015

Colonial Period Creek Indian Towns

The research for what will be the final novel of my Restoration Chronicles Trilogy, Witch: 1790 has included learning about the Creek Indians. My Georgia Gold Series featured some late Cherokee history, but until I moved out of the foothills to the Georgia Piedmont, I knew little about that area of the state's early residents. In a series of articles I'm sharing my findings; today's will relate something of the structure of a Creek Indian town during the Colonial period.

Naturalist William Bartram was an observer at the land cessation meeting that occurred in 1773 in Augusta between the white colonists and the Creek and Cherokee Indians. His journal of his travels from the coast to middle Georgia provide much of the information about the Creek Indians during that period. He described 60 towns, 30 of which spoke the Muscogulge tongue and could converse with Natchez, Chickasaws and Choctaws with the aid of white interpreters. The five clans were Panther, Bear, Wind, Bird and Snake.

In each town, white clay, paste or chalk was used to draw plants, flowers, trees on the red clay houses, especially those creating the Public Square. On white walls, colored chalks were used. Each family would have a round winter or a rectangular summer house. In 1790, Caleb Swan described these as being between 12 and 20 feet long and 10 to 15 feet wide constructed with poles stuck in the ground, walls lathed with canes and filled with clay, roofs pitched from a ridge pole and covered with large tufts of bark and four to five layers of shingles. The huts had one door and a chimney and would last only a couple of years.

A - Rotunda, B - Square, C - Chunky Yard
The town council was held every forenoon in the Public Square, presided over by the Mico, with the war chief on his left and the second head-man on the right. The Mico or king received great respect at the Great Rotunda or winter council-house, but outside important meetings, he dressed and was treated the same as the others, hunting and working the fields with his family. He was, however, entitled to the first fruits of harvest and use of the national granary.  Should a king or Mico also be war chief or high priest (in charge of guarding the eternal fire in the Great Rotunda) he would indeed have great power.

The game of "Tchung-kee" or Chunky
Between the public square and rotunda of each town was the chunky-yard, chunky being a game which involved rolling a small disk and shooting arrows or spears at the spot it would land. The yard itself was a large, sunken ground with what was known as the chunky-pole, four square pine pillars rising to an obtuse point. At the top the Indians could fasten an object to shoot at with bows and arrows and rifles. Near each corner of the lower and further end of yard was a lesser, 12-foot high pole, but a more fearful sight than the chunky pole, as it was decorated with the scalps of enemies and crowned by a grinning enemy skull.  Here in the days before Bartram’s arrival captives could have been forced to run the gauntlet or tortured by fire to their deaths. Thankfully for him, that practice had been abandoned by then, and Bartram was full of praise for the hospitality of his hosts.
Bartram indicated some Lower Creek towns may not have been composed of rotunda, square and chunky yard, but by this many suppose he meant the towns of the Hitchiti-speaking Creeks.
Each family in town had a lot bounded by poles and including a garden spot where corn, rice, squash, etc. were raised. A portion of everything went to the aforementioned public granary, which was for the use of guests of the tribe or families which fell on hard times. Bartram observed that the Creek were very given to sharing and loaning. A man could clear and settle as much land as desired within his tribe. Occasionally, a Creek Indian would own an independent plantation and would live like princes in their villas, wealthy from trade with whites.

Denise Weimer is one of our newest CQ contributors. Her website is www.deniseweimerbooks.webs.com

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