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The Thousand Mile Journey without a map - Part 6

1000milejourney
Although the Creek Indians traveled the inland route to New York City and a sea route to St. Marys, Ga., the chiefs followed Indian trails across Georgia and Alabama to go home.

By Diane and Don Wells, Eddie Lanham
Henry Knox, secretary of war, appointed Maj. Caleb Swan to accompany the Creek chiefs back to their homelands. Although the Creek Indians traveled the inland route to New York City and a sea route to St. Marys, Ga., the chiefs followed Indian trails across Georgia and Alabama to go home.

  wells
  “The Thousand-Mile Journey . . . without a map” is the collaborative work of Don & Diane Wells (left) and Eddie Lanham.

In three days, they crossed the Flint River. Fresh horses, no rain, light provisions and a better terrain made it easier to follow the St. Marys Path 90 miles to the Chehaw Creek Indian village.

Secretary of War Henry Knox was suspicious of Andrew McGillivray, The Principle Chief of the Creek Indians, who had been an ally of the British and Spanish during the Revolutionary War.

While negotiations for the Treaty of New York were underway between President George Washington and the Creek Indian Chiefs, McGillivray was contacted by Spanish officials. He assured them by letters that he was taking care of their interests and later met with Spanish officials who traveled to New York City to voice their concern.

Knox, learning McGillivray had been in contact with Spanish officials, asked Swan to be alert for suspicious meetings or actions.

On the journey back to the Indians’ homeland Swan kept a detailed daily journal account. This concerned McGillivray who worried Swan was a spy collecting information about what he and the chiefs were doing, especially about his contacts with the Spanish on the journey back home.

The Chehaw village was located in current Lee County, Ga. Writing in his journal, Swan said, “They found the Indians assembled in great numbers to hear the tidings from their chief, whom they had given up for lost.”

  Jack and Sam at Chehaw
  The Chehaw Creek Indian Village site in Lee County, Ga. just north of Leesburg, Ga. Sam Proctor, elder of the Muskogee-Creek Nation (on left) and Jack Boedecker (now deceased), was a Creek Indian historian in South Georgia. This is the village site where the Neyak story takes place and where the party crossed through on their way home.

The Neyaka Story
According to the late Creek historian Jack Boedeker, the returning Creek Chiefs stopped outside of the Chehaw village to dress in the new finery they received in New York City then marched into town to greet their assembled people.

 “The villagers laughed at the chiefs with all the decorations on their bodies,” said Boedeker. “They called them Neyakas—the Creek Indian name for New Yorkers.”

Today, the Indian Path at the village site is buried under a paved road aptly named New York Road. There is also a small town still called Neyaka in part of Oklahoma’s Muscogee-Creek Reservation.

With their provisions resupplied, they left the next day and traveled 30 miles north to Jack (John) Kinnard’s(Kennard) Preserve. Jack Kinnard, also known as Timpoochee Kinnard, was a half breed Scot trader who had extensive property holdings along the Flint River.

In the 1821 Treaty with the Creek Indians, land was set aside for members of the Kinnard family in Flint, indicating the family’s importance in the Creek Nation. The Kinnard Preserve was located between present day Oglethorpe and Montezuma, Ga. on the Flint River in Macon County.

  chehaw sign
  The monument placed at the site by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1912.

Maj. Swan wrote a journal about his experience on the trip. It was found about 180 years later and published in 1972. The account of his journey is entitled, “Journal of Maj. Caleb Swan, U.S.A. 1790, An Early Visitor to Talladega County, Life and Customs of the Creek Indians.” Today, there few copies of this journal are in circulation.

Swan’s description of Kinnard is not flattering. He said, “He accumulated his property entirely by plunder and freebooting during the American War and the late Georgia quarrel. He cannot read or write. He is addicted to excessive drunkenness, and like all half-breeds, is very proud of being white-blooded. He is a despot, shoots his Negros when he pleases, and cut off the ears of one of his favorite wives, with his own hands, in a drunken fit of suspicion.”

Last Leg of the Journey
Swan noted that the distance from Kinnard’s place to the crossing point on the Chattahoochee River was about 80 miles; however, it’s closer to 55 miles. They followed the Indian Trail going west from Kinnard’s to several Creek villages on the Chattahoochee River including Hitchitee, Osuchu, Uchee and Broken Arrow.

They crossed over the Chattahoochee River at Broken Arrow on October 5. Researchers do not agree about the exact location of Broken Arrow but Swan wrote it was about 12 miles south of the Creek villages of Coweta and Cussuta, located near present day Columbus Ga. Swan noted that the river was about 495-feet wide but said nothing about their means of crossing. Likely they used a ferry.

After crossing the Chattahoochee, they traveled the Indian path westward crossing over the Tallapoosa River above the falls and arriving at Tuckabatchee on October 7.

The 51-day journey
The route back to McGillivray’s home would have taken the chiefs northwest from Chehaw. Swan said, “Here McGillivray made some further communication to the people who were assembled to hear his talk.” The next day their 51-day adventure ended as they arrived at Little Tallasee, home of McGillivray.

Swan notes in his journal that not all of the Creek Indians were pleased with the Treaty of New York. He said that on October 20 he attended a meeting called by Mad Dog, king of the Tuckabatchees, where McGillivray made further communications to the gathered people. Swan reported: “Some were pleased; others threw their tobacco into the fire in disgust.”

  territorial map 1783
  Territorial map circa 1783

Swan’s return home delayed
Having completed his assignment to bring the Creek Chiefs back to their homelands, Swan planned to return to New York City and report to Knox. On Nov. 26, 1790, Swan received a letter from Knox asking Swan to remain with the Creeks for awhile to learn as much as he could about their customs and way of life.

By the time the party reached McGillivray’s home, the fear of Swan being a spy seems to have been forgotten and he was treated as a friend. Swan remained in the Creek territory for four months learning about their customs and way of life.

As a guest of McGillivray he had free rein to wander about the Lower and Upper Creek Nation recording his observations.

In one letter, Swan wrote: “It is the custom of McGillivray to spend his winters on the sea-coast among the Spaniards, leaving his wife, servants, and horses at a plantation he has near Tensau, with the borders of West Florida, about 180 miles down the Alabama River.”

Swan’s writings contain one of the best descriptions of the Creek customs and way of life ever published. His writings contain detailed observations of topographical observations; origins of the Muscogee’s or Creek Indians; the Seminoles; population and military strengths in 1790; ceremonies, customs and opinions; courtship and marriage; opinions of the Deity; manner of burying the dead; diseases and remedies; habits, manners and customs; personal appearance; counting time; public amusements; mode of government and more.

Swan began his journey north on December 22 and, crossing over the Oconee River, left the Creek territory on Jan. 17, 1791.  On March 18, 1791 he reached Philadelphia. His report of observations and findings was sent by letter to Knox on April 29 1791.

Interestingly, Swan wrote in his letter that, “Fortunately no disaster happened on our voyage to St. Mary’s River, or on our journey by land through the country.” Surely he had not forgotten going aground near Cumberland Island, struggling through swamps overflowing from 10 days of rain, running very low on provisions and having to swim a river full of alligators.  

Coming in July: The years following the treaty signing and the beginning of broken promises.

The Thousand Mile Journey without a map - Part 6

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