Competing interests, technology and defense
OKMULGEE, Oklahoma — During the colonial period, a broad spectrum of political interests and nations coordinated, disagreed and angled to advance their interests leading up to the solidification of American government dominance in the late 18th century.
Among these groups was the Muscogee confederacy that leveraged its geographical and military advantages in trade, alliance and war with other tribes and European powers.
This all led up to the inward shift towards and escalation of disagreement between the Upper and Lower Creek Tribal Towns around a final showdown with the U.S. years after its victory in the Revolutionary War against the British.
Later, the American government conducted the Trail of Tears removal of Muscogee from their original homelands to modern-day Oklahoma along with the other nations that made up the Five Civilized Tribes.
There, Muscogee groups were caught up in America’s own internal dispute during the Civil War that saw the tribe split again, this time into those siding with the Confederacy or Union, while others fled in attempt to stay out of the conflict.
Spain, France and Britain
Before the Revolution, the major players in Europe during the colonial period were the Spanish that had perhaps the earliest recorded encounter with the tribe, the French who were their go-to fallback partner when trade terms were not favorable with their favorite ally, the British.
“So if they had a dispute with the French they could always go trade with the British and vice versa.
“And if they had a dispute with the Spanish, they could trade with the French and that meant that there was not a time at least until later in the 18th century when they were dependent on a single trading partner,” University of Georgia History Department Head and Professor Claudio Saunt said.
The British remained their only convenient option after they prevailed in the Seven Years’ War (also known as the French and Indian War in America) over the other European nations in 1763.
“Eventually, by the middle of the 18th century the British are by far the most important trading partner and then obliviously post-Revolution they are trading with the United States,” Saunt said.
Early on, the Spanish were largely focused on mission work and hesitant to sell arms to the Muscogee, which they steadfastly sought for advantages in trade, hunting and war.
“The Spanish didn’t want to give them guns because they were afraid they’d use them against them,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Historic and Cultural Preservation Department Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act Officer Emman Spain said.
The French and British were happy to oblige, but the British had a more consistent supply chain and quality product.
To regain their competitive advantages after the Seven Years’ War, some Muscogee made a bid to re-establish trade with the Spanish when they were more open to supplying them with arms after losing the conflict.
“And the Creeks recognized that this was really disadvantageous to them so they could only trade with the British and they actually sailed to Cuba to meet with their old trading partners, the Spanish and they tried to re-establish that old trading relationship,” Saunt said.
Later, another group of Muscogee acquired arms through the Spanish leading up to a foreseen conflict with the American government but this arrangement was short-lived.
They also made unsuccessful efforts to reestablish trade with the British after the U.S. became the major power in North America.
The Muscogee confederacy had major inter-tribal relationships with the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw.
A territory dispute with the Choctaw around 1765 disrupted hunting enough to be a factor in the ultimate southward migration of a Muscogee Lower Town group, which eventually became the Seminole, according to ‘Deerskins and Duffels: Creek Indian Trade with Anglo American.’
Other tribes were absorbed into the confederacy through Muscogee dominance or by seeking asylum like the Yuchi, who were pushed out of Tennessee by British expansion that included the incorporation of Cherokee military efforts.
“So at that time, they came and asked the Muscogee confederacy if they could get some land and move down to where they were and we said yeah so that’s when they pretty much left eastern Tennessee,” Emman Spain said.
He said the Muscogee groups in Tennessee had left before the Yuchi.
MCN HCP Manager RaeLynn Butler said the Creek and Cherokee also fought over other areas.
“I mean we didn’t get along with the Cherokees very well at all, especially when they were trying to come into the more north Georgia area and even other battles with some folks from Florida,” she said.
The British attempted to incorporate the help of any tribe that served their interests in the moment like during the Yamasee War mentioned previously in this Mvskoke Media series.
The conflict ended in 1717 with a stalemate due to the Cherokee’s decision to choose them over the Muscogee in this conflict. The Chickasaw were also willing to help due to their reliance on British arms, according to ‘Deerskins and Duffels.’
“I think it goes back to the trade. Once the trade started getting into the different tribes and the different peoples, it just started competition and we wanted more than the Cherokee and we all wanted to establish a good relationship with the trading people because they had goods that we wanted,” former MCN HCP Cultural Advisor David Proctor said.
Tensions continued to increase a century later within the Muscogee confederacy.
Upper Towns were growing impatient with further white encroachment on their land and traditions, and felt the Lower Towns were being a party to this.
“I mean if you go back to the early traders, you know that’s what their items did for Creeks that made things more convenient,” Proctor said. “You didn’t have to work so hard to make a knife or haul water or make pottery or cooking utensils, things like that.”
This caused an increase in calls for rebellion, which escalated to overt warfare after a 1811 visit from the Shawnee prophet Tecumseh, who had traveled to various tribes to organize a pan-Indian uprising against European encroachment.
During his appeal to the Muscogee he told them they would soon see a sign of power.
Shortly after his departure, The Great Comet of 1811 graced the sky and was followed by a powerful series of earthquakes that shook the Midwest and South, according to www.nps.gov.
This spurred the traditional disillusioned Muscogee into action and a group known as Red Sticks conducted a raid on Ft. Mims in 1813, which officially started the Creek War against America.
In retaliation, then Gen. Andrew Jackson cornered the rebels at Horseshoe Bend in modern day Alabama, defeated the group with the help of Lower Creeks and Cherokees and forced the cessation of the largest portion of Muscogee land in history.
This set the stage for his approval of the Trail of Tears years later as president.
Colonies, Europe and America
The Creek War followed Jackson’s success in the Battle of New Orleans, which occurred due to a miscommunication that the War of 1812 had ended with a treaty in Belgium the month before, according to www.history.com.
His victory during the Creek War and slaughter of a superior British force in New Orleans raised him to prominence in the country.
While he helped secure the earlier insurgent efforts of the colonists against Britain, he later became an insurgent himself after winning the presidency.
Jackson rallied a populist movement among American citizens against the political establishment during his second attempt at the presidency.
He blamed his previous loss to John Adams in 1824 on a political conspiracy to push him out and squash the will of the people, according to the University of Virginia website.
Problems within the colonies such as trade abuses towards the tribes leading to violence, and between the settlers and their monarchs in Europe were common throughout the days surround the founding of America.
“So I think there were many different factions and groups of people and it wasn’t peoples goal to try and get permission from everybody in the Creek Nation or the main people in the government but just to make quick deals with folks,” Butler said.
Some French colonies had a hard time getting supplies from France, according to ‘Indians, Settlers and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy.’
This led to difficulty in more firmly securing loyalty from the Muscogee.
Britain also had more competence in adequately observing tribal customs such as gift-giving and marrying of merchants to the relatives of tribal leaders for securing long-term trade and diplomatic relationships, according to ‘Deerskins and Duffels.’
However, Britain’s own issues with its colonies led to full-scale rebellion through the Revolutionary War.
They became impatient with attempts by Crown officials to regulate trade and this boiled over when they were ordered not to deal with the tribes directly through the Proclamation of 1763.
“Britain in the 1760s is intent to tell Washington and other local people, colonists, ‘we don’t want you to cause a war because then we have to pay for it. We have other imperial interests around the world,’ ” Saunt said.
Perhaps the biggest point of contention was provisions that forbade them from coordinating land cessations to settle tribal trade debts as stated in previous coverage.
“I think after the Revolution the colonies saw that they needed land and they started passing laws and getting together, like Emman was saying they started trading and putting us in debt,” Proctor said.
Ironically, Britain’s stance in-part motivated then Gen. George Washington to lead a war against the source of this perspective despite the Crown’s correct observation that the colonies’ land interests would lead to conflict with the tribes.