The Creek Indian Legacy in Georgia – Part 2
|The Neyaka story: In the picture above, Jack Bodeker, a Creek Indian Historian (on the right) is explaining the Neyaka story to Sam Proctor. Muskogee Creek elder from OK. The picture was taken in 2012 at the Chehaw Creek Indian Village site near Leesburg, Ga. Photo by Don Wells|
The Achilles heel of the Creek Indian Confederacy
By Don & Diane Wells
After the Revolutionary War, the newly formed U.S. government accelerated its demands for more land to support the thousands of immigrants that were pouring into the country. Treaties with the Creeks and the Seminoles began in earnest in 1790 with the Treaty of New York, then in 1796 with the Treaty of Colerain, 1802 with the Treaty of Fort Wilkinson and finally the Treaty of Washington in 1805.
With the treaty in 1805, the state of Georgia moved its frontier to the Ocmulgee River near Macon, Ga.
The New Yorkers (Creek Word – Neyaka)
We mentioned in Part 1 that the chiefs from each Creek Confederacy group had to be present for the negotiations and signing of any treaty. When visiting the Chehaw (Chiaha) Creek Indian Village site in Leesburg Ga. in 2012, we were told the story of the Neyaka’s (New Yorkers) by Creek Indian historian Jack Bodeker.
The 1790 Treaty of New York required the Creek Indians chiefs to travel to New York, which at the time was the capital of the United States. The chiefs were transported by ship from St. Mary’s, Ga. to New York for the treaty deliberations. That meant all of the chiefs had to make their way from the far reaches of Alabama and Georgia to St. Mary’s. This travel took many of them along an Indian Trail which passed through the Chehaw Village. The Creek Indian chiefs spent a considerable time in New York where they were entertained and given many gifts as part of the treaty negotiations. They were returned to St. Mary’s, and began their trek back home on the Indian Trails. Nearing Chehaw the chiefs stopped and put on all their fancy colorful gifts. Proudly showing off their newly acquired finery, they strutted into the village. The Chehaw Indians laughed and made fun of them calling them the Neyakas. Neyaka became a Creek word. Today there is, in Creek territory, in Oklahoma a small town called Neyaka.
The Authorization of the Federal Road—the Achilles Heel
With each treaty, the president of the United States was granted the right to have military posts or garrisons on the borders of the Creek and US property line in order to maintain peaceful relations between the settlers and the Indians. However, it was the agreeing to Article II of the 1805 Treaty that eventually caused the downfall and removal of the Creek Indians to Oklahoma. Article II stipulated that:
“It is hereby stipulated and agreed, on the part of the Creek nation that the government of the United States shall forever hereafter have a right to a horse path [our emphasis] through the Creek country, from the Ocmulgee to the Mobile, And the citizens of said States, shall at all times have a right to pass peaceably on said path, under such regulations and restrictions, as the government of the United States shall from time to time direct; and the Creek chiefs will have boats kept at the several rivers for the conveyance of men and horses, and houses of entertainment established at suitable places on said path for the accommodation of travelers; and the respective ferriages and prices of entertainment for men and horses, shall be regulated by the present agent, Col. Hawkins, or by his successor in office, or as is usual among white people.”
Indian elders we have interviewed about Indian trails normally refer to foot paths and horse paths as two foot and four foot paths. They are not improved roads or wagon trails as the United States government came to interpret this treaty provision. In fact, the path authorized in the 1805 Treaty had the stated purpose of being a mail route to allow mail to travel to New Orleans, which had become a part of the U.S. as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Indian Agent for the area called this path Chelucconeneauhassee. The Creek word for horse is Chelucco, nene means path and hassee means old—the old horse path. It was also known as the Lower Creek Trading Path.
This old path was usually one horse wide. In the 1805 Report of the Postmaster General, Postmaster General Granger described the path as a four- to six-foot path to be used as a post route between Athens Georgia and New Orleans. He later amended that report interpretation to just a four-foot path. After the government became painfully aware that the swampy land of southern Alabama and Mississippi made travel difficult, the Natchez Trace running from Nashville to New Orleans became the preferred route.
Even though the Federal Road (Lower Creek Trading Path) was fraught with problems for mail riders the pioneer settlers enthusiastically chose to test fate and, following the Old Horse Path, they headed west. With their worldly possessions in wagons, they made their way toward the land in southwest Alabama and southern Mississippi that had been ceded to the U.S. by the Choctaws. Because they were traveling in Creek territory, legally a foreign land, they were required to have a passport issued by the Indian Agent. Some did; many didn’t. Had these early travelers on the Federal Road gone all the way to these new territories, perhaps the Creek Indians would not have been as upset with the travel along the route. However, many of these people did not go all the way. They found good farming land along the route and stopped even though they had no rights to this Indian Territory.
One might assume that since the U.S. had appointed an Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins, to represent the U.S. Government and to administer Creek Indian and U.S. relationships associated with its treaties, that people who had occupied Indian Territory without authority would have been summarily challenged for breaking the law and removed forthwith to the U.S. frontier. However, by 1812-13 the government and the settlers were treating the Federal Road as U.S. Territory even though the legal border of the United States was still on the Ocmulgee River in Central Ga. This encroachment on Creek Indians Territory by white settlers eventually became the single largest issue between the Upper Creeks and the U.S. leading to the U.S. and Creek War in 1813-14.
In Part 3, we will begin the discussion of the period from 1798 to 1813 that led up the Cheek Indian War.