The Muscogee people - called "Creek" by British settlers - are direct descedents of the great mound builders of what are today the southeastern states of Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. As the culture of their ancestors dissolved in the wake of and new diseases and chaos brought on by the Spanish conquistadors, groups of survivors spread out and formed their own tribes.
The Muscogee were comprised of not just a single tribe, but a union of several, forming the Muscogee confederacy. Individual tribal towns shared common cultural traits while maintaining their own individual political power. Growth of the confederacy was a combination of population growth, conquering and absorbing other tribes, and taking in refugees from tribes destroyed by European encroachment.
Much as the lives of their ancestors were forever changed by the Spanish conquistadors, the Muscogee faced challenges brought on by the colonial European powers (Spain, England, and France) in the 1600's and early 1700's, in addition to the newly independent Americans in the late 1700's into the 1800's. The English called the Muscogee the "Creek", probably due to the large amount of rivers, creeks, and streams in their lands.The English further divided the Muscogee into the Upper Creek (living along the Coosa and the Tallapoosa rivers) and the Lower Creeks (living along the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers).
The Lower Creek tribes were closer to the English settlments, and thus greatly influenced by English culture, technologies, and ways of thought. The Upper Creek tribes, through the benefit of distance from Europeans, were able to maintain more traditional ways of life. Neither distance nor familiarity with the Europeans and Americans would save the Muscogee from losing their lands and traditional ways of life.
President George Washington believed Native Americans to be equals as people, but inferior in the ways of their society. He developed a plan (which was continued under President Thomas Jefferson) to assist the Native Americans in taking on the European/American practices of private property ownership and homesteads, farming, education, and religion with the presumption that once they were "civilized", they would be accepted by the American people as equals. The Muscogee were the first to adopt these practices, becoming the first of what became known as the "Five Civilized Tribes".
A 19 year period of peace between the Muskogee people and the American government led to the ceding of Lower Creek lands in eastern Georgia to the United States, a federal road leading from New Orleans to Washington, D.C., and the adoption and success of cotton plantations, businesses, and slavery among the Muskogee. The construction of Fort Benjamin Hawkins (in modern day Macon, Georgia) served the dual purpose of protecting the Muscogee from the expansion of settlers, while also acting as a reminder to the Muscogee of U.S. rule.
A rise in the desire to return to traditional ways across the American frontier with Native American lands set into motion a permanent change to the Muscogee confederacy. Tired of broken treaties and the loss of sacred lands and traditional beliefs, the Shawnee leader Tecumseh began forming a confederacy of his own with the goal of putting aside tribal and cultural differences and putting up a united front against American, English, and French encroachment. Tecumseh, along with his healer/religious prophet brother Lalawethika (later to be called Tenskawatawa), told various tribes that the willful sale/cessation of land and the turning of their backs on traditional ways had angered their gods.
In March of 1811, before a visit by Tecumseh to Tuckabatchee (one of the four Muscogee mother towns), a comet appeared. Tecumseh, whose name means "Shooting Star", told the Muscogee that the comet signaled his coming, that he was sent by the Great Sprit, and that the Muscogee would be given a sign. After Tecumseh left, the sign appeared in the form of an earthquake. This earthquake helped convince the Muscogee and other tribes that Tecumseh's cause was to be supported.
The Red Stick War (also known as the Creek War of 1813-1814) began as a civil war within the Muscogee nation. Encouraged by the British, who were already involved with the United States in the War of 1812, the Red Sticks (the name derives from the red-painted war clubs some Muscogee tribes used) were mostly from the Upper Creek towns, who mostly stayed true to traditional Muscogee practices rather than adopting those of the Lower Creeks who had closer contact with the Europeans and Americans and sought peace. A small party of Red Sticks killed two families of white settlers near Nashville and the American government demanded the Red Sticks involved be turned over. Instead, older chiefs had the Red Sticks executed, a decision which sent the Muscogee into civil war.
The Red Sticks success at battles such as the Battle of Burnt Corn, the Fort Mims Massacre, and the Kimbell-James Massacre caused panic throughout the southeastern United States. Federal soldiers were committed to fighting the British and unavailable to face this new southern threat. Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi sent out the call to raise a militia, Joining with Lower Creek Muscogee and Cherokee warriors, General Andrew Jackson's Tennessee militia fought and pursued the Red Sticks through eastern Alabama, culminating in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend (March 27, 1814) and the defeat of the Red Sticks.
Remnants of the Red Sticks continued to fight through August, but ultimately surrendered on August 9, 1814, The history and stories of the Red Sticks, the Lower Creek Muscogee, the Cherokee, and the American soldiers are preserved to this day for visitors at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park, two hours south of Little River Canyon National Preserve.
The Muscogee on both sides of the conflict ultimately paid the price in losing 20 million acres of their ancestral lands - the Red Sticks because of their hostility against the United States, and the Lower Creek Muscogee because, according to General Andrew Jackson, they allowed the Red Sticks to revolt. The lands surrendered by the Red Sticks largely makes up the state of Alabama, which was admitted to the union in 1819.
Many of the Upper Creek Muscogee refused to surrender and escaped into Spanish Florida, where they allied themselves with other remnant tribes forming the Seminole tribe.
What small lands remained for the Muscogee in central Alabama was not to last. Settlers in Georgia poured into Native American lands in large part due to the discovery of gold in northern Georgia. Seeing the writing on the wall, many of the remaining Lower Creek chiefs ceded their lands to the United States government in exchange for $200,000 and lands in Arkansas. Muscogee who refused to accept the new treaty were forcefully evicted without compensation.
When Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1829, U.S. policy towards Native Americans would change rapidly. No longer would different Native American tribes be treated as separate nations, they were seen all as one, and his plan was to move all tribes east of the Mississippi River to Oklahoma.
The Indian Removal Act was signed into law on June 30, 1830. In 1832, the Creek National Council signed the Treaty of Cusseta, ceding the remainder of their lands east of the Mississippi to the U.S. and accepted relocation to Oklahoma. While some Muscogee left Alabama early, the majority were removed during the Trail of Tears in 1834. Learn about the Trail of Tears online or in-person by visiting the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.
Last updated: May 24, 2021