Monday, August 1, 2011
Creek Indian Tribe
D. C. Heath & Co., Publishers
Boston, New York, Chicago
The Creeks or Muskoki were one of the strongest tribes of the southern states. To them were related in language a number of important tribes—the Apalachi, Alibamu, Choctaw, Chicasaw, and others. Several of these tribes were united with the Creeks into a so-called confederacy. This union was not to be compared with that of [pg 129]the Iroquois or the Aztecs, but was a loose combination against foes.
The Creeks and their kindred tribes present a number of points of rather peculiar interest. In the olden time there were two kinds of Creek towns—white towns and red towns. The red towns were war towns, governed by warriors. The white or peace towns were governed by civil chiefs. It is said by some of the early writers that the white towns were “cities of refuge” to which those who were being pursued for some crime or unfortunate accident could flee. The red towns could be known as such as soon as a stranger entered the public square, as the posts of the “great house” were painted red.
Warriors were the most honored of men among the Creeks. Until a young man was successful in battle he was treated hardly different from a servant. The Creek boys had a pretty hard time. They were made to swim in the coldest weather; they were scratched with broken glass or fish teeth, from head to foot till the blood ran; these things were intended to toughen them to the endurance of pain. When the boy was fifteen to seventeen years old he was put through a test, after which he was no longer a boy, but a man. At the proper time he gathered an intoxicating plant. He ate the bitter root of it for a whole day, and drank a tea made of its leaves. When night came he ate a little pounded corn. He kept this up for four days. For four months he ate only pounded maize, [pg 130]which could only be cooked for him by a little girl. After that his food might be cooked by any one. For twelve months from the time of his first fast he ate no venison from young bucks, no turkeys nor hens, no peas nor salt; nor was he permitted to pick his ears or scratch his head with his fingers, but used a splinter of wood for the purpose. At the time of new moon he fasted four days, excepting that he ate a little pounded maize at night. When the last month of his twelve months' test came, he kept four days' fast, then burned some corncobs and rubbed his body with the ashes. At the end of that month, he took a heavy sweat and then plunged into cold water.
Men who wished to become great warriors selected some old conjurer to give them instruction. Four months were spent with him alone. The person desiring to learn fasted, ate bitter herbs, and suffered many hardships. After he had learned all the old conjurer could teach him, it was believed that he could disarm the enemy even at a distance, and if they were far away, could bring them near, so that he might capture them.
In the center of every large Creek town there was a public square. In this square there were three interesting things,—the great house, the council house, and the playground. The great house consisted of four one-story buildings, each about thirty feet long; they were arranged about a square upon which all faced. The side of these [pg 131]which opened on the central square was entirely open. Each of the four houses was divided into three rooms or compartments by low partitions of clay. At the back of each compartment were three platforms or seats, the lowest two feet high, the second several feet higher, the third as much higher than the second. These were covered with cane matting, as if for carpeting. New mats were put in each year, but the old ones were not removed. Each of these four buildings was a gathering-place for a different class of persons. The one facing east was for the mikoand people of high rank; the northern building was for warriors; the southern was for “the beloved men”; and the eastern for the young people. In the great house were kept the weapons, scalps, and other trophies. Upon the supporting posts and timbers were painted horned warriors, horned alligators, horned rattlesnakes, etc. The central court of the great house was dedicated ground, and no woman might set foot in it. In the center of it burned a perpetual fire of four logs.
The council house was at the northeast corner of the great house. It stood upon a circular mound. It consisted of a great conical roof supported on an octagonal frame about twelve feet high. It was from twenty-five to thirty feet in diameter. Its walls were made of posts set upright and daubed with clay. A broad seat ran around the house inside and was covered with cane mats. A little hillock at the center formed [pg 132]a fireplace. The fire kept burning upon this was fed with dry cane or finely split pine wood which was curiously arranged in a spiral line.
The council house was used as a gathering or meeting place, much as the great house, but it was chiefly for bad weather, especially for winter. Here, too, private meetings of importance were held at all times. Here young men prepared for war-parties, spending four days in drinking war-drink, and counseling with the conjurers. This council house was also the place for sweat baths. Stones were heated very hot; water was thrown upon them to give steam. Those desiring the bath danced around this fire and then plunged into cold water.
The playground was in the northwest corner of the public square; it was marked off by low embankments. In the center, on a low, circular mound, stood a four-sided pole, sometimes as much as forty feet high. A mark at the top served as a target for practice with the bow and arrow. The floor of this yard was beaten hard and level. The chief game played here was called Chunkey. It was played with neatly polished stone disks. These were set rolling along on the ground, and the players hurled darts or shafts at them to make the disk fall. (Compare with the wheel game of the Blackfeet.) Ball games and sometimes dances were also held upon this playground.
The great celebration of the Creeks was the [pg 133]annual busk. They called it puskita, or fast. The ceremony was chiefly held at the great house. The time was determined by the condition of the new corn and of a plant named cassine. The ceremony lasted eight days and included many details. Among them we can mention a few. On the first day a spark of new fire was made by rubbing two pieces of wood together. With this a four days' fire was kindled; four logs of wood were brought in and arranged so that one end of each met one end of the others at the middle, and the four formed a cross, the arms of which pointed to the cardinal points; these were fired with the spark of new fire. Bits of new fire, at some time during the four days, were set outside where the women could take them to kindle fresh fires on their home hearths.
At noon of the second day, the men took ashes from the new fire and rubbed them over their chin, neck, and body; they then ran and plunged themselves into cold water. On their return, they took the new corn of the year and rubbed it between their hands and over their bodies. They then feasted upon the new corn. On the last, eighth day, of the busk, a medicinal liquid was made from fourteen (or fifteen) different plants, each of which had medicinal power; they were steeped in water in two pots and were vigorously stirred and beaten. The conjurers blew into the liquid through a reed. The men all drank some of this liquid and rubbed it over their joints.[pg 134]
They did other curious things during this day. When night came, all went to the river. “Old man's tobacco” was thrown into the stream by each person, and then all the men plunged into the river and picked up four stones from the bottom. With these they crossed themselves over the breast four times, each time throwing back one stone into the river.
Mr. Gatschet thinks that much good resulted from the busk. After it all quarrels were forgotten; crimes, except murder, were forgiven; old utensils were broken and new ones procured. Every one seemed to leave the past behind and begin anew.
Albert S. Gatschet.—A Swiss, living in America: linguist, ethnologist. Connected with Bureau of American Ethnology. Edited A Migration Legend of the Creeks.