Paleo Indian Culture Painting
Paleo Indian Period

Dean Quigley

Paleo Indian Period (17,000 BCE - 9,600 BCE)

Ice Age hunters arrived in the Southeast and left their distinctive "Clovis" spear points on the Macon Plateau. The best diagnostic archaeological evidence for these early Paleo Indian bands is long, fluted, chipped stone projectile (likely spear) points. These early points are named "Clovis" after the Clovis, New Mexico archaeological site where the point type was first recognized in association with Late Pleistocene fauna. Within only a few hundred years after 14,000 years ago (12,000 BCE), the Paleo Indians appear to have occupied most of the North American continent and the Southeast. Excavations at Paleo Indian sites, better dating techniques, and study of the distribution of Paleo Indian point types and the Late Pleistocene environment have led archaeologists to develop new models for Paleo Indian occupation in the Southeast, now broken down into three sub periods between 11,500 and 9,600 BCE. People adjusted to gradually warming weather as the glaciers melt and many Ice Age mammals become extinct.

Archaic Period Painting
Archaic Period

Dean Quigley

Archaic Period (9,600 BCE - 1,000 BCE)

Like the Late Paleo Indian subperiod, archaeologists presume that the Early Archaic culture consisted of small mobile bands exploiting defined territories, but the increase in the number of sites and the recovery of non-local chert tend to support an increase in population resulting in larger numbers of bands that traded resources with each other. The range of lithic tools included knives, drills, choppers, flake knives and scrapers, gouges, and hammer stones. In addition, wet sites produced exceptionally well-preserved organic materials that have enlarged this inventory to include bone points, atlatl hooks, barbed points, fish hooks, pins, shell adzes, wooden stakes and canoes, and fragments of cloth and woven bags. This new information on the Early Archaic has contributed to a view of a residential, stable hunting-and-gathering band society that seasonally occupied base camps along major water courses and exploited lithic and food resources within individual stream drainages.

The Middle Archaic appears to involve a generalized resource exploitation strategy that included the hunting of a variety of animals and the gathering of wild plants such as nuts, fruits, berries, and seeds. This period demonstrated the first occurrence of shellfish-collecting within river valleys and along the seacoast. Excavations of these "base" camps revealed storage pits, remains of house floors, and prepared burials at certain sites. Recent radiocarbon samples in Louisiana provided considerable evidence of a mound-building tradition in Louisiana at least by 5,900 years ago. Artifacts indicate a moderate increase in the amount of trade in non-local chert materials supposedly due to a continued growth in prehistoric population. Trade networks that focused on specialized resources developed when people began to live in sedentary base camps.

Woodland Period Painting
Woodland Period

Dean Quigley

Woodland Period (1,000 BCE - 900 CE)

The Woodland Indians made several crucial advancements in their society thathelped them flourish from 1,000 BCE – 900 CE. One major advancement was creating permanent settlements. The Woodland Indians were able to successfully sustain horticulture, allowing them to have a more reliable source of food in one location. The plants that they planted were starchy seed plants such as grasses and sunflowers. This huge step in civilization allowed the Woodland Indians to create more permanent tools, buildings, and art, along with developing an extensive trading system that spread from the southeast westward as far as the Rocky Mountains and north as far as the Great Lakes.

Woodland Indians discovered that if they tempered their pots with sand or grit, the pottery became much stronger and more reliable for long-term use. Since clay was much easier to shape than stone, the Woodland Indians were able to create pots and other tools much easier than previous time periods. This new technology originated in Georgia and rapidly spread north into the Carolinas and south into Florida during the Woodland Period. Another important invention invented during this time period was the bow and arrow – a very useful tool for hunting small game and swift deer. The Woodland culture thrived here until 900 CE, when newcomers known as the Mississippians came and built their villages here.

Mississippian Period Painting
Mississippian Period

Dean Quigley

Mississippian Period (900 CE - 1600 CE)

A new way of life, believed to have originated in the Mississippi River area, appeared on the Macon Plateau. These people, whose pottery was different from that made by the Woodland cultures in the area, constructed a large ceremonial center with huge earthen temple / burial / domiciliary mounds and earth lodges, which served as formal council chambers. Their economy was supported by agriculture; with corn, beans, squash and other crops planted in the rich river floodplain. Around 1250 CE the Mississippians abandoned the village here at Ocmulgee for about 100 years; for what reason, we do not know. Around 1350 they came back to this area and built a village two miles downstream on the Ocmulgee River from the previous village known as Lamar. The Lamar Culture, named for the Lamar Mounds and Village Unit of Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park, became widespread in the Southeast. It consisted of chiefdoms marked by smaller, more numerous, often stockaded villages with a ceremonial center marked by one or two mounds; a combination of the both Woodland and Mississippian elements. In 1540, chroniclers of Hernando de Soto's expedition into the interior of North America wrote the first descriptions of the Lamar. De Soto was the first and last person to see the mound-builder culture in 1540. He brought European diseases the Natives had no immunity to; it's estimated 3/4ths of the Mississippians died from disease.

Hernando de Soto

Hernado de Soto (1496 CE - 1542 CE)

In 1539 Hernando de Soto, a veteran of the Spanish conquest in Peru, landed on the Flordia coast. Traveling with him were 600 men, 300 horses, a herd of pigs, some mules, bloodhounds, and many weapons. His goal was to conquer and settle the territory of the Gulf States as well as find gold to enrich himself and his king. Near the end of March, they reached the vicinity of present-day Macon, Georgia, possibly near the Lamar site. One native guide, named Perico, told the Spanish to travel four days east to find gold. Local Indians warned de Soto that to the east he would risk starvation on a large patch of uninhabited land. De Soto, lured by the promise of finding gold, chose to follow Perico's advice. Just as they had been warned, they found no people, food, or gold. The expedition traveled north and westward through South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The crippled expedition continued west, but now faced almost continuous harassment from the Indians, who attacked swiftly in the night before retreating into the landscape they knew so well. De Soto grew despondent as his futile search for gold dragged on and his resources dwindled. On the western side of the Mississippi River, he caught a fever and died. His soldiers, fearing desecration by the Indians, plunged his body into the river's gloomy depths. In the expedition's aftermath, many southeastern towns were left with little, if any, food. Old world diseases, such as small pox and influenza, decimated their populations. Contact with a foreign culture caused disruptions, which altered the Indian's way of life forever. The narratives recorded by the survivors of the expedition provide intriguing glimpses of Late Mississippian life in the southeast and the initial clash of two very different cultures.These accounts are few and slanted; still, they are the earliest snapshots of a doomed way of life.

Chief Mistippee
Chief Mistippee

NPS Painting

Muscogee (Creek) Nation (1600 CE - Present)

In 1690 a British trading post was constructed on Ochese Creek (present-day Ocmulgee River, at the site now protected within Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park). A number of Muscogee towns moved from the Chattahoochee River to this vicinity to be near the English. At that time, the Ocmulgee River was called Ochese-hatchee or Ochisi-hatchi (various spellings). The towns were known as the Ochese Creek Nation. The British eventually referred to them simply as the "Creeks." They spoke variations of the Muscogean language, but their confederacy incorporated other groups, such as the Yuchi, who spoke different languages. The Creeks acquired horses from Spanish Florida and guns from the British. Their culture and dress were modified by use of trade goods such as iron pots, steel knives, and cotton cloth.

In 1715, the Yamassee War erupted in protest against British indignities related to the fur trade, including the taking of Indians shipped as slaves to work in Carribean sugar plantations. Many traders in Indian territory were killed. In retaliation, the British burned Ocmulgee Town on Ochese Creek. The Creek towns withdrew to the Chattahoochee River, and the Yuchis moved with them. The people were known as the Lower Creeks. The Upper Creeks were centered on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers to the northeast.

In 1805, the first Treaty of Washington ceded the remainder of the land between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers, excluding a 3x5-mile strip known as the Old Ocmulgee Fields Reserve at present-day Macon, which the Muscogee (Creek) people refused to give up. The treaty allowed the United states to construct a road across the Creek Nation to the Alabama River and facilities for public accommodations along this road. Much of this "Federal Road" followed the ancient Lower Creek Trading Path and eventually stretched from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. The treaty also provided for a United States military fort on the Reserve to guard the frontier along the Ocmulgee River. This outpost was called Fort Hawkins in honor of Benjamin Hawkins, U.S. Indian Agent to the Creeks and friend of George Washington.

In 1821, the Creeks gave up the lands between the Ocmulgee River and the Flint River.

In 1823, the Creek Council passed a law providing the death penalty for anyone ceding land without the authority of the Council. Pressures for Indian removal continued to increase. Some Creeks, including William McIntosh, believed removal was inevitable.

In 1825, the Treaty of Indian Springs ceding the last Creek lands in Georgia was signed by Chief William McIntosh. His cousin was the governor of Georgia. He sold the Creek lands and was consequently assassinated by his own people. The treaty was declared illegal by the federal government, but Georgia authorities disagreed. They pressed harder for removal. In 1826, the second Treaty of Washington officially surrendered the last Creek lands in Georgia. Some of the Creeks joined the Seminole in Florida, others moved into Alabama. About 1,300, mostly members of the McIntosh faction, resettled to the valley of the Arkansas River in "Indian Territory," now the state of Oklahoma, on lands given to them under the government's voluntary removal program.

In 1828, the Old Ocmulgee Fields Reserve, including Fort Hawkins and the mounds, was surveyed and laid off into land lots incorporated into the city of Macon. Roger and Eliazar McCall purchased a portion of the Old Fields and established a successful flatboat manufacturing enterprise. Of the mound area, the local newspaper reported: "The site is romantic in the extreme;that, with the burial mounds adjacent, have long been favorite haunts of our village beaux and belles, and objects of curiosity to strangers. We should regret to see these monuments of antiquity and of our history leveled by the sordid plow - we could wish that they might always remain as present, sacred to solitude, to reflection and inspiration."

In 1836, the Creek War of 1836 ended when about 2,500 people, including several hundred warriors in chains, were marched on foot to Montgomery, Alabama, and crowded onto barges during the extreme heat of July. They were carried by steamboats down the Alabama River, beginning their forced removal to Indian Territory. During the summer and winter of 1836-early 1837, over 14,000 Creeks made the three-month journey to Oklahoma, a trip of over 800 land miles and another 400 by water. Most left with only what they could carry.

Three Creeks That Shaped Georgia's History

Tomochichi (1644? - 1739)

Tomochichi was a chief of the Yamacraw Indians and played an important role in Georgia’s creation. The Yamacraw Indian tribe was an assortment of Creeks created by Tomochichi. The tribe consisted of about 200 people who lived near the Savannah River. When James Oglethorpe arrived in 1733, Oglethorpe wanted to create good relations with the Natives, so he created trade between the Yamacraw. After a year of Oglethorpe’s arrival to America, Tomochichi accompanied Oglethorpe back to England to meet English dignitaries. Tomochichi asked for education and fair trade for his people. After returning to the United States, Tomochichi and Oglethorpe joined together in a mission to determine the southern boundaries of Georgia and to create better relations with the Spanish. In 1739, Tomochichi fell ill and passed away in his nineties. He left his wife and nephew in charge of his small tribe.

Mary Musgrove (1700 - 1760s)

Mary was the daughter of an English trader and a Creek mother of the Wind Clan. She lived in the Creek village of Coweta (Lower Creek town) and in the colony of South Carolina. Mary spoke both Muscogee and English. In 1717 she married an English trader named John Musgrove and established a trading post on the Savannah River. Mary was also James Oglethorpe’s interpreter during the establishment Georgia. When John Musgrove died in 1735, Mary moved the trading post to the Yamacraw Bluff. The post became a center of trade between the English and Indians. In 1737 Mary married Jacob Matthew and they establish another trading post at Mount Venture on the Altamaha River. Just five years later, Matthew died and Mary married Reverend Thomas Bosomworth. Bosomworth was a Christian missionary, and together they traveled into Creek villages with messages from James Oglethorpe and the English king and brought back speeches from Creek leaders. They occasionally taught Christian missionaries in the Muscogee language, trying to create better relations between the English and the Creeks. Mary died on St. Catherine’s Island, Georgia sometime after 1763.

William McIntosh (1778 - 1825)

William was born in Coweta (Lower Creek town) to Captain William McIntosh, a Scotsman, and Senoya, a Creek woman of the Wind Clan. He was raised among the Creeks but spent time in Savannah, Georgia, where he learned English. McIntosh supported the idea of “civilizing” the Creeks through supporting the English way of life instead of keeping their traditional way of life. He supported General Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-1814. McIntosh helped with the United States victory at the Battle of Horsebend in Alabama where the Lower Creeks fought against the “Red Sticks.” The result of the victory forced both the Lower and Upper Creeks to sign a treaty to cede 22 million acres of land in Alabama and South Georgia to the government. By 1825 the government wanted all the Creek land in Georgia. McIntosh participated in the drafting and signing of the Treaty of Indian Springs of 1825. Unfortunately this led to his execution by a contingent of the Upper Creeks led by Chief Menawa.

bartram (1)

William Bartram (1739 - 1823)

In 1774, William Bartram, naturalist and botanist, followed the Lower Creek Trading Path from Augusta through this area. In his journal, he recorded this account of the Ocmulgee Old Fields: "On the heights of these low grounds are yet visible monuments, or traces, of an ancient town, such as artificial mounts or terraces, squares and banks, encircling considerable areas. Their old fields and planting land extend up and down the river, fifteen or twenty miles from this site. If we are to give credit to the account the Creeks give of themselves, this place is remarkable for being the first town or settlement, when they sat down (as they term it) or established themselves, after their emigration from the west..."

William Bartram observed that the Muscogee (Creek) households consisted of up to four structures arranged around four sides of a square courtyard. The town square was at the center of the Muscogee (Creek) social, political, and religious life. The town square consisted of four arbors, and in the middle was the sacred fire with four logs. The ceremonies were held near the sacred fire in the town square ground. One of the major ceremonies that took place annually was the "Busk" or Green Corn Ceremony. The ceremony was to renew purity and balance in the Muscogee (Creek) spiritual life. The sacred fire is prominent witness to all things. The Green Corn New Fire restores order and balance from the chaos developed in the past year.

Last updated: March 26, 2021

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