(This is a transcription of a letter from Gen. Thomas Simpson Woodward to editor J. J. Hooper, Esq. in 1858 about Alabama Indians)
WINN PARISH, LA.
Jan. 10, 1858. TO J. J. HOOPER, Esq.:
Gen. Thomas Simpson Woodward
I wrote to you some time back some sketches relative to the Creek Indians, which no doubt you found too long, too tedious, and too uninteresting to publish. In that I sent you I made mention of a family arrangement among the Creeks that differed from all other tribes that I know or have traveled among. The Creeks are laid off in families, viz: Bears, Tigers, Wolves, Foxes, Deers, and almost all the animals that were known to them. All these families had certain privileges, and every one of a family knew to what family he belonged and what privileges were allowed.
The Wind Family
There was also what they termed the Wind family, which was allowed more privileges than all the rest. For instance, when an offender escaped from justice, all the families were permitted to pursue a certain number of days, and no more, except the Wind family, which had the right to pursue and arrest at any time — there was no limit to their privileges in bringing an offender to justice.
There was nothing to prevent blood relations from marrying with each other, but a woman of the Bear family was at liberty to take a husband in any family except a Bear; so it was with all the other families, but none were permitted to marry in the same family; for instance, if a man of the Wolf family marry a woman of the Fox family, the children would all be Foxes. Such has been the custom among the Creeks from the earliest history I have had of them, though their intercourse with the whites has changed many of their old habits and customs even since my time.
Names and pronunciation changed
In fact, I know a number of words in their languages and names of things and places that are not spoken or pronounced as they were when I first knew them. This has been occasioned by whites not being able to give the Indian pronunciation, and the Indians in many cases have conformed to that of the whites. A horse, for instance, is now called Chelocko by the whites who speak Indian, and by most of the Indians; but originally it was Echo Tlocko, signifying a Big Deer — Echo is a deer and Thlocko is something large. The first horses the Creeks ever saw were those introduced by the Spaniards, and they called them big deer, as they resembled that animal more than any other they knew — this is their tradition, and I am satisfied that it is correct.
There is the Indian town above Montgomery, Coowersartda, that is called by the whites Coosada; also the town ThIeawalla, where Soto fought the Creeks, it is called by the whites Cuwally, and many of the Indians raised of late years call it as the whites do, and do not know what its original name was, nor what its meaning is. Thela is an arrow or bullet, and Walla is to roll; the proper name is Rolling Bullet; and many other such alterations have been made that have come within my knowledge.
Indians learned our language quicker
Indians in almost every instance learn our language quicker than we learn theirs, particularly our pronunciation. An Indian, if he speaks our language at all, almost invariably pronounces it as those do from whom he learns it. If he learns it from a white man that speaks it well, the Indian does the same; if he learns it from a negro he pronounces as the negro does. You may take the best educated European that lives, that does not speak our language, and an Indian that does not speak it; let both learn it; if the Indian does not learn so much, he will always speak what he does learn more distinctly than the European. This will no doubt be disputed by many, but I know it to be true from actual observation, and I do not pretend to account for why it is so, unless it is intended that at some time Americans shall all be Americans.
James McQueen was very intelligent
I believe I mentioned the name of James McQueen before. This man came amongst the Creeks as early as 1716 and lived among them until 1811. He was said to be, by those who knew him well, very intelligent, and had taken great pains to make himself acquainted with the history of the Creeks. From the early day in which he came among them, and they knowing at that time but little of the whites, their traditions were, no doubt, much more reliable than anything that can now be obtained from them.
From what I have learned from this man, or from those who learned it from him, the Muscogees, or as they were originally known to the other tribes, Musquas, and all the little towns or bands that composed the Creek Confederacy, was a Confederacy before they crossed to the east of Mississippi river. From what I have been able to learn, Musqua, or Muscogee, signified Independent.
Capt. John S. Porter visited California
Besides I knew a Capt. John S. Porter, formerly of the U. S. Army, who, some thirty years ago, with a few Creeks of the McIntosh party in Arkansas, visited California and went up the Pacific coast to the Columbia river, and returned by the way of Salt Lake, and on his return to Arkansas he wrote to me, giving an account of his travels. The writing covered some three or four sheets of paper; a great deal of it was very interesting.
I do not now recollect whether I loaned it to George Stiggins, or a Mr. Whitaker, of Charleston, S. C. But I recollect among the many accounts of his travels, that on the head waters, or at least the waters of the Colorado of the West, he found a small remnant of the original Musqua. They spoke mostly a broken Spanish dialect, but still retained much of their old language and old family customs. They gave pretty much the same account of being driven from their old homes that I have learned from the Creeks.
Creek Indian History: A Historical Narrative of the Genealogy, Traditions and Downfall of the Ispocoga or Creek Indian Tribe of Indians by One of the Tribe, George Stiggins (1788-1845)
These people informed Capt. Porter that their nation was once strong, and they had many languages; that they inhabited the country between the Rio del Norte and Mississippi river, or Owea Coafka, or river of cane. They also gave him the original Indian name of the Del Norte, but I forget it; but Owea Coafka is what the Creeks call the Mississippi river.
They also stated to him that they lived near the Gulf, on what they called Owea Thlocko Marhe, signifying the largest water. They say they were driven off by the Echo Thlock Ulgees, or horsemen, or what the Creeks in our language would call the big deer men. Echothlock is a big deer, as I stated before, and the proper name of the horse Echothlock; Ulgee means horsemen.
They also stated that long after they left their old homes, and horses had become plenty, that the Indians learned the use of them, and that a number of the little tribes that once lived on the rivers and Gulf had taken to the prairies. They also gave Capt. Porter an account of a long war with some tribes high up on the Rio del Norte, and that one of the most warlike tribes had gone east. They called them as the present Creeks do, Hopungieasaw, and what are now known to the whites as Pyankeshaws. I recollect two women that Tuskenea carried to the Creek nation, of the Pyankeshaws, as the whites called them, but the Creeks call them Hopungieasaw, or dancing Indians.
Differ with Col. Pickett as to early settlement of the Creek Indians
You see that I differ with Col. Pickett as to the early settlement of the Creek Indians in Alabama; and should I be correct, it need not matter with the Colonel, for you know most people believe a history whether it be correct or not. I have not seen his History of Alabama, and all I have seen or heard from him, was his answer to Mr. Hobbs’ inquiry; and I have no idea that he has written anything but he felt authorized to do from the sources that he received his information. But authors sometimes may err, and others wilfully (sic) misrepresent. When that is the case, we have to judge from circumstances.
The Colonel says that Soto passed Alabama before the Muscogees reached that country. The Indians say they were there and fought him: and from the number of copper shields, with a small brass swivel, (that an old man by the name of Tooley worked up into bells,) would go to show and to prove that the Indians were correct. I have often seen the copper plates or shields, and a piece of the swivel, and from the cuttings or carvings on it, it was evidently of Spanish make.
And it was only some twenty years after Cortez conquered Mexico, that Soto commenced his march from Tampa Bay, and had too few men to sacrifice them in storming a strong work, when it could effect nothing, for an Indian Fort in a remote wilderness could have interfered but little with his march westward. And how could the Alabamas have known that he intended passing that way?
It seems to me that a people so illy(sic) prepared to build forts; having no axes, spades nor any implement of the sort, would have found it much easier to have concealed themselves, had it been necessary, in some of those large swamps which abound in the Yazoo country; and from what I know of Indians, they would not give one swamp or cane brake for forty forts. And as to the Muscogees ever having been subjects of the great Mexican empire, it is very doubtful, for Mexico was the name of the City itself, and applied to the town only. It was the city or town where the principal chiefs or body of the Aztecs, Anahuacs, or as the other Indians called them, Auchinang resided.
The Creeks or Muscogees, the Iroquois or Six Nations, were all the Indians that I have known or heard of forming themselves into anything like a confederacy. The balance, as far as my information extends, have been separate tribes, with a separate language, with their own peculiar customs, except in a few instances where two or more tribes would unite in case of a war.
The Creeks, as I mentioned before, originally inhabited the skirts of timbered country bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, and between the Del Norte and Mississippi rivers. When the Muscogees, Nitches, Choctaws and Chickasaws crossed to the east of the Mississippi river, a town of Indians yet among the Creeks, the Autisees or Itisees, has for ages been called Red Stick. They settled at Baton Rouge, and no doubt it was from that tribe or town that the early French settlers gave it its present name.
Eto-chatty, signifies red tree or red wood; but ask an Indian that is acquainted with the original names and customs, what a Red Stick Warrior, is, and he will tell you it is an Autisee or Otisee. I have taken great pains, in times passed, to have these things explained to me by the oldest and most sensible Indians and Indian countrymen.
Muscogees made a short stay on the Mississippi
The Muscogees, from their own account, made but a short stay on the Mississippi or its waters. They emigrated to Alabama and Georgia, and settled mostly on the large creeks and rivers and near the falls and shoals, for the purpose of fishing. The Indians who inhabited the Gulf coast, and that of the Atlantic as far east as Beaufort, S. C., and the rivers as far back as latitude 33¡ north, previous to the settlement of the Muscogees in the country, were known as Paspagolas, Baluxies, Movilas, Apilaches, Hichetas, Uchys, Yemacraws, Wimosas, Sowanokas or Shawneys. Sowanoka Hatchy is the original name of Savannah river; that is, the river of the glades.
The Seminoles is a mixed race of almost all the tribes
The Seminoles is a mixed race of almost all the tribes I have mentioned, but mostly Hitchetas and Creeks. The Hitchetas have by the whites been looked upon as being originally Muscogees, but they were not. They had an entirely different language of their own, and were in the country when the Creeks first entered it. Seminole, in the Creek language, signifies wild, or runaway, or outlaw.
Conflicting accounts about John Ferdinand Soto
There have many conflicting accounts about John Ferdinand Soto — when, where and how he died, and where buried. According to McQueen’s account, and that of the oldest Indians in the nation when he came to it, Soto died in what is called Natchitoches parish, in this State, at the last fort he built, called the Azadyze; and the oldest Spanish settlers of this country have corroborated McQueen’s account. There are yet to be found among the people of this country, some of the descendants of Soto’s men, and some of his name.
All the Indian traditions, and those of the early Spanish settlers, say he died and was buried at Azadyze. It is now 142 years since McQueen first came to the Creek country, and Indians that were then living even at the age of 75 years, could give a very correct tradition of things that had happened only 80 or 100 years before.
Indians are very particular in their relations of circumstances and events, and not half so apt to embellish as the whites, and the march of Soto through their country, and his fights with them, were affairs not likely to be forgotten by them, and would be handed down for a generation or two at least, very correct, no doubt. Even in my time, I have heard the old Indians, in their conversations, allude to the white warrior, or Tustanugga Hatke, as they called Soto.
You see I write, spell and dictate badly, but have given you what I heard from others who were best calculated to inform me upon such subjects. If there is anything in this that you have not seen or heard before, and you think it worth publishing, do so; if not, let it pass: for I assure you that I am not desirous to become conspicuous as a writer in a newspaper, or anything else — though I doubt much if the man lives that has seen as much of old Indian times, and heard as much of the early history of the Creeks, as I have. I would like to be where I could sit and tell it over to you; I could make you understand it much better.
May you live long and die rich.
T. S. W.
Check out genealogy and novels by Donna R. Causey
is a collection of lost and forgotten stories about the people who discovered and initially settled in Alabama.
Some stories include:
- The true story of the first Mardi Gras in America and where it took place
- The Mississippi Bubble Burst – how it affected the settlers
- Did you know that many people devoted to the Crown settled in Alabama –
- Sophia McGillivray- what she did when she was nine months pregnant
- Alabama had its first Interstate in the early days of settlement
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