Description of the customs of the Creek Nation, and of the various nations of which it is composed
IN MY FIRST PART I have treated my departure from France, and my arrival in the United States of America, my going from there into the Creek Nation, and my travels among the various peoples who compose this nation. I shall now deal with the character of the peoples whom I visited, anecdotes which will make known their customs and their manner of living, rivers, lands, and their different products.
I have already said that I had left France some time during January 1775, and that I had landed at New London in the month of April of the same year. This town offered nothing of interest to me; its inhabitants have had little schooling, but they are rather hardworking; they cultivate gardens on the lands in the vicinity of the town. There is a large number of apple trees and of pear trees, with whose fruit they make a rather good cider, which they sell in Virginia, the two Carolinas, Georgia, the Bahamas, and even as far as Santo Domingo. I did not remain very long in this town; and, since I shall have little opportunity to speak of it elsewhere, I am going to relate an anecdote which happened in 1786, and which gives proof of the ignorance and the simple-mindedness of its inhabitants.
A large part of the inhabitants of New London practice the religion of the Illuminati. A sea captain, finding himself out of work, had himself instructed in this sect. The preachers who were responsible for teaching him their catechism had informed him in the instructions that they gave him to enable him to reach the heights of sublime prayer, that if the strength of his faith obtained this perfection for him, the gates of the new Jerusalem would be opened to him, and that having attained in this world the perfection of the saints, he would no longer be subject to the resurrection and to the last judgment, but that he would enjoy forthwith heavenly bliss.
This man, who probably did not know the allegorical meaning, fancied that all that which had been pictured to him was material, and resolved to enter immediately into the new Jerusalem. With this end in view he proposed to several Illuminati, as credulous and as ignorant as he, to build a good sailing vessel in which he would take them to the new Jerusalem; that, by this means, he would spare them the unpleasantness of dying and of waiting for the resurrection. Each of them believed in what he promised, and they clubbed together in order to raise the necessary sum for the construction of the vessel. The women gave their rings, their ear pendants and other pieces of jewelry, and those who did not have any went into the forests to cut down the timber required for the construction and brought it in. When the ship was finished and ready to set sail, the captain was greatly perplexed over what direction to take. In order to get out of this awkward situation, he thought of telling the travelers that since the way was long, it would be wise and even indispensable for their safety to test the ship beforehand. All the partners, yielding to the soundness of this reasoning, decided to make up a cargo of cabbages, carrots, onions, cider, and other products of the country, that the captain took to Cap-Francais and from which they made considerable profit. This voyage lasted three months, at the end of which he brought back, in exchange for the cargo, tafia and molasses which greatly pleased the ship owners, who are very fond of both. The captain, on his return, announced to them that during his voyage, he had learned that the new Jerusalem was imaginary and chimerical and that he could not, for this reason, undertaketo lead them there. At the same time he presented to them his new cargo, which, by greatly humoring their taste, easily consoled them for being thus frustrated in their hopes. They agreed to let the captain have the vessel, on the condition that he go and get molasses for them from time to time.
I did not witness these happenings because I was then in the Creek Nation, but I read about them in an American gazette which was being published at that time.
I left New Orleans to go to Noraige, the birthplace of an American named Arnel, who, at the beginning of the American wars, created some stir. I shall not proceed with this article without giving some particulars about his conduct which was the cause of the death of Major Andre.
When the American Revolution began, Arnel was a horse dealer in the United States; he was, at the same time, captain in the militia. He performed several fine exploits at the beginning of the war for freedom which won for him a reputation, with the help of which he hoped to have himself appointed commander-in-chief. When he saw that Washington was preferred to him, he became so jealous that he formed then and there the plan to avenge himself. In order to attain his ends, he entered into correspondence with the English General Clintown, and promised to surrender to him the fort which defended the entrance of the state of New Jersey. When he had made this promise, the English general sent Major Andre to him to reconnoiter the place, and to take with him the steps that would be necessary for the success of the plan.
The major, believing that Arnel had taken all the necessary precautions to conceal his designs, went to his house in complete safety; but he was arrested when he left. Arnel took flight immediately, and reached a river where some sailors were waiting for him, and had himself taken to New York to the English general, who, to reward him for his treason, and make use of the knowledge that Arnel had of the Americans' means of defense, made him a general in the service of the king of England, whereas Major Andre paid with his life for the confidence he had had in Arnel.
On leaving Noraige, I proceeded to Providence, to Newport, and from there to Boston. I have said, in the first part of my memoirs, that there exists a great enmity between the people who live in the North and those who live in the South of this country. There is indeed, a remarkably strong jealousy between them, and I think that its primary cause is found in the religion of the Quakers, which forbids them to employ Negroes in the farming of their lands; which greatly reduces the benefits that they could derive from them. As they are very miserly, they feel great jealousy toward those of their nation who increase their wealth by the work of the Negroes. The Quakers have a kind of hog of astonishing size; it is equal to that of our European donkeys. They raise a very large number of them as well as oxen whose meat they cure and sell in the West Indies.
I went from there to Long Island, of which New Yorck is the capital. The inhabitants of this island, nearly all of whom are of Dutch descent, are very affable and hospitable. They welcome strangers, but the Europeans having so often deceived them during the American war, they have gotten the idea of being themselves deceitful; so that one must today be on guard when dealing with them.
I have noticed that nearly all the land of North America, situated along the coast, is rapidly exhausted. Toward the west, this early exhausted soil extends as far as fifty or sixty leagues in depth. It is for this reason that the Americans never have enough land, and that the inhabitants who find themselves in this vast expanse abandon their land and go to the west to drive out the savages and take theirs. On my arrival in this country, Quintock had only four inhabitants, who were living in huts similar to those of our charcoal-burners; but they have increased so much through the immigration of which I have just spoken, that today they are able to raise an army of sixty thousand men. Quintock adjoins Cumberland, which became populated in the same way, and almost in the same proportion. These two new states of the United States tolerate their union with the Anglo-Americans reluctantly; and as they form a separate entity themselves, they are only waiting for a favorable time to separate entirely from the Congress. They already choose their governors without the intervention of Congress, nor of the Senate. They possess excellent soil which offers them inexhaustible resources. I spent only a few days in New Yorck, from where I went to Baltimore, passing through Philadelphia on the way, and traveling through immense stretches of land covered with wheat. I went on board a ship at Baltimore, for Yorkton in Virginia,* where I remained only a short time, and I went on into the two Carolinas. North Carolina is very sandy; they grow rice, corn, and a great many potatoes there from which the inhabitants make a kind of tafia which they call whiskey. This liquor, that they distill badly, usually has a smoky taste. One also finds there a large number of peach trees, with the fruit of which they make a rather good brandy. When it is made carefully, and when it has aged in the cellar for four or five years, it is as good and fine as the best French brandy. They also gather in Indigo plants but of a poor quality. The products of South Carolina, whose capital is Charlestown and where I remained only a few days, are about the same, and of a slightly superior quality.
* I have noticed that in this country tobacco needs a change of soil every year in order not to degenerate; and the Virginians pay no heed to this which takes a great deal away from the value of this tobacco.
From Charlestown, I went on to Savanha in Georgia. On going up the river by this name, about ten leagues, one finds very large rice plantations. On my arrival in this state, I did not find it populated; but it is very populous today.
This is how its population was rapidly and considerably increased.
In I 784, at the time of the American peace, and American independence, there was in the United States a very large number of vagrant and dishonest people, inevitable result of a revolution which gives birth to them and with which they must disappear. Peace taking away from them the means of subsistence that they found in devastation and corrupt practices which are inseparable from war, the result was that the peaceful men and the landlords were easily endangered either in their persons or their property. In order to rid themselves of this scourge, they united and declared a war to the death on all these vagabonds, who could not give up the habit of pillaging. Seeing themselves eagerly pursued, they found themselves compelled to seek another refuge. They withdrew to Georgia, where they have remained in peace; but as they still remember their old habit of stealing, they often go into the hinterland of the two Carolinas and of Virginia and take away from the unfortunate inhabitants all the horses that they can catch.
Such are the causes of the rapid population of Georgia, which, as you can see, is not a very pleasant neighborhood.
I went up the Savanha River as far as Augusta, which was then only a very small village, and which is today a rather large city. I crossed this river to go to Orangeburg, situated in the hinterland of South Carolina, and from there I went in a westerly direction as far as Tougoulou, of which I have spoken in the first part of my memoirs.
I also said in the first part of my memoirs, that while visiting Tougoulou, Franklin, and other places situated in the hinterland of the United States, I had found some Anglo-Americans of a peculiar sort, called Crakeurs or Gaugeurs, who are nearly all one-eyed. I wanted to know the reason for this. The reader will perhaps not be displeased if I give an account at this time of what I learned about this on the spot.
The reader will remember that I said above that the inhabitants of North Carolina harvested a large quantity of potatoes, with which they made a kind of tafia which they call whiskey. These Crakeurs are very fond of this liquor; when they drink some of it, since they are by nature quarrelsome and mean, they quarrel among themselves, and agree to fight on the day they appoint. Their fights are very much like English pugilism or boxing, except that they are more murderous. When the Crakeurs have agreed on the day and the hour when they are supposed to fight, they gather as many spectators as they can; they form them in a circle and stand in the center, and at a signal given by the oldest among the spectators, the fight begins.
It is interesting to note that these men are very careful, from their infancy on, never to cut their fingernails which they simply let grow. In order to make them very tough, they smear them with tallow and then hold them in front of the fire; the tallow, as it melts, penetrates the pores of the nail and makes it extremely hard when it has dried. I have seen some which were as hard and as dangerous as the claws of a lion. Not satisfied with this weapon, they even arm their heels with spurs, which they never take off, not even to go to bed, and whose rosette is a very sharp pointed spike. It is with such weapons that they present themselves for the fight; it is easy to imagine how deadly they are.
When the elder among them has given the signal for the fight, by saying: Any thing is allowed, then the two antagonists attack each other with their teeth, spurs and fingernails, which they use very skilfully. When one of the two succumbs, the other makes the most of his advantage, and inhumanly tears him to pieces, and easily succeeds in tearing out one of his eyes. Until then the onlookers watch the fight with the greatest calmness; it is only at this time that they put an end to the fight; and if they do not do it quickly, it happens sometimes that both eyes are torn out. Then the victor climbs up on the stump of a tree, a great number of which are cut approximately three feet above ground; and there, all covered with blood, he crows over his victory; he insults the assembly, challenges all the spectators one after the other, by telling them that there is not among them a man his equal. Anger excites his imagination to such an extent, that when no one presents himself to avenge his insults, he defies the Creator to descend from the heavens to try his strength with him. When he has finished all his provocations, he comes down from the tree stump and every one applauds and proclaims him the victor. Since these fights occur often, it follows that you meet in this nation few men who do not have one eye put out in this manner.
These men are very wicked and do not wish to submit to any government; for the most part they live, more often than not, only by hunting. They plant a little tobacco which they carry, during the winter, to seaboard towns, and which they barter for wisky, firearms, and gunpowder. Although I remained only a few days among them, I had the opportunity of being invited to a meal which amused me a great deal by its singularity, although the food was very bad. This is how it was:
One of these men, having recognized me as a stranger, invited me to have dinner at his house with several of his friends; his wife, who had heard that in well-bred company it was proper to serve tea, asked her husband to get some in exchange for tobacco; he brought her half a bushel of it. She put it all in a cooking-pot and added to it a large ham; she boiled the whole lot until the ham was cooked. The guests having arrived, she took the ham out on an earthenware dish, threw away the liquor, and placed the tea leaves on another dish, and served the whole on the table. I saw all the faces light up at the sight of an inviting dish about which they were building up high hopes, and every one was getting ready to have a real treat. I observed, without saying a word, not being in a hurry to be the first one to give an opinion on food that I knew was not fit to eat; and I watched each one chew with all his might the tea leaves which no longer had any agreeable taste, when suddenly the wife flew into a great rage against her husband, at whose head she threw her plate, reproaching him for having brought her inferior tea, and for having used the money, which good tea would have cost, to buy whiskey for himself. This comical scene made me laugh a great deal; but it was not without difficulty that I succeeded in making the woman listen to reason, and in making her understand that it was not the tea leaves which were used, but instead their infusion, mixed with a little sugar.
Since I had not eaten anything, and was very hungry, I decided to taste the ham which I found rather good, and to which the tea had given an excellent flavor. I ate a great deal of it, since it constituted the whole dinner.
These men go around almost naked. They are addicted to idleness and drunkenness to such an extent that it is the women who are obliged to do everything. They are somewhat better dressed than the men. In winter, they spin cotton and flax which they mix together; from this they make a cloth which serves for all their clothes, even for shirts. These women are as hard-working as the men are lazy.
The farther one goes into the hinterlands of the United States, which are nearly all inhabited by the same kind of men, the more dangerous and mean one finds them. They often murder travelers to rob them. Their closest neighbors are scarcely any safer; they go to the homes of those whom they believe to have some wealth; and when they have succeeded in getting into a house, they kill all those they find there, lead away the cattle, and carry away all the goods which they sell afterwards in another state. These thieves wear their hair cut very close to their heads, and paint their bodies and faces with different colors in the manner of the savages; so that their appearance is truly frightful.
There is in each state of the United States a governor who, once in office, looks upon himself as an absolute sovereign. He uses all means which are in his power to secure the devotion of the persons under his administration; impunity is one of those which he uses with the greatest success. Thus it is most difficult to obtain restitution of the stolen goods from the thieves of whom I have just spoken, and who are placed under the protection of one of these governors. The request for the restitution of goods is often made without success.
I have traveled through the sixteen states of the United States of America, and everywhere I have met deceitful and hypocritical men who are proud and haughty in success, and vile and base in adversity. Americans consider themselves the foremost people in the world; they are so dishonest that it may happen that they sell to several persons at the same time lands which do not belong to them. I witnessed that in the hinterland of Georgia where I saw several buyers appear with equal claim to take possession of the same land.
I have said in the first part of my memoirs that the Anglo-Americans flatter themselves with the idea of soon being powerful enough to make themselves the sole masters of all the American continent. It is certain that the expansion which they have known in a very short time must attract the eyes of Europe, which cannot set bounds to their ambition too soon.
I left the vicinity of Tougoulou to go to the Creek Nation; I went through immense forests, and sometimes through territory which appeared very fertile to me. The greater part of these lands was covered with trees of an extraordinary size. Many of them bore fruit which I did not dare taste, because it was unknown to me, and because having supplies with me, I was not bothered by hunger, as I was later.
After a march of a few days, I came to a river which I have since learned bears the name of Oguichet; I crossed it with my horses; and when I had reached the other bank, I found a sandy soil and a forest of fir trees, some of which were resinous, others of a white wood of poor quality, others finally of a yellow wood, excellent for masts. I continued my way always in the southwesterly direction with the help of my compass.
It was, as I have said in the first part of my memoirs, after traveling for about thirty-five days, that I arrived at the town of Coetas just at the moment of the grand assembly of the nation.
I am going to give the reader an idea of the assemblies of the savages, and a short description of the place where they hold them.
When the savages gather together for any reason whatever, they have the habit, before entering into any matter, of beginning by smoking their pipe, and by taking drink which they make from the leaves of a tree which is very common in their country, and which is claimed to be a wild tea tree. It very much resembles that of China, except that the leaf is much smaller. This tree is green all year; they pick its leaves only when they are about to use them. When the savages want to use them, they roast them like coffee. When they prepare this liquor to be drunk in an assembly, they go about it in this way. They put a quantity of these tea leaves in an earthenware vessel which they place on the fire; when they are suitably dry, they add water in proportion to the quantity of leaves, and boil the whole thing. When they think that the infusion is strong enough, they filter it through a basket resembling a strainer, and leave it in large earthenware pots intended to catch it and to let it cool. When it has cooled to the natural warmth of milk, then one of the old men intrusted with this ceremony has it put in gourds, at the top of which there is an opening of about two inches in diameter. It is in one of these gourds that it is offered to be drunk; and they pass them in succession to each of the members of the assembly.
When I was led for the first time to one of these assemblies, my status as a foreigner caused me to be one of the first to be presented a gourd and invited to drink. Although I knew absolutely nothing about what such a ceremony meant and what the drink that they were offering me was, I dared not show any distrust, and I tasted it; finding in it the taste of tea without sugar, I drank a great deal of it. Shortly after all the assembly had drunk of this liquor, I noticed that the savages were vomiting it very easily and with no effort. This sight, which was moreover very sickening, made me uneasy, and I began to fear that it might be a medicine of which I had doubtless taken a very big dose. McGillivray, perceiving my astonishment, asked me in English why I did not imitate the assembly; I answered him that I did not yet feel any symptom of vomiting; that without doubt the remedy would work through a more natural way. He informed the assembly of my remark which caused a great burst of laughter.
This ceremony, which appears only ridiculous at first, has nonetheless a very wise basis, and which would not always be out of place in the assemblies of civilized peoples. Here is what it is.
It has been seen that the savages threw up this drink with a great deal of ease by the same way that they took it. The purpose of this disgusting ceremony is to assure the chief of the assembly that each of the members who compose it has a stomach free of food and consequently a clear head,* and that all the deliberations will take place dispassionately; that strong liquors will not influence the decisions.
* The savages like strong liquors very much, and it is to make sure of their sobriety that the use of this tea was prescribed. mof tafia from which we had a little drink; and he then hid it among my belongings for fear that the other savages should see it.*
* I have already said that the savages are extremely fond of strong drink- if one of those who compose an assembly has any liquor, whatsoever, he is obliged to share it with all, or to hide it, so that they will not steal it from him.
This truth will be clearly shown in the description I shall give of these assemblies.
The reader no doubt recalls that, when I was encountered by the savage who brought me into the Creek Nation, I was so pressed by hunger that I was about to kill one of my horses to eat it, and that this old man, far from giving me something to satisfy my appetite, had simply given me a slice of watermelon, and had then led me into an assembly which was gathering at the time I arrived at his home.
I did not remain long in this assembly, which at that time held no interest for me. My host led me back to his home, and offered me about an ounce of bread, as much roast meat, with a glass of water, and made me understand that it was all that he wished to give me for the moment. One can easily imagine that, as hungry as I was, it did not take me long to eat what he had given me. As twilight was falling the old man thought that I might need rest; he led me into a small private house where they had placed my belongings, and showed me a room in which I found a bearskin spread out; he made me understand that it was my bed, and left.
Although I had not eaten according to my appetite, I was in an appreciably better condition; and as I needed rest as much as food, I was not long in falling asleep.
It is rather common that the things which have occupied our minds most during the day, recur to the mind during sleep. Since I had been greatly beset by hunger, and since I had gone to bed with an appetite which was by no means satisfied, I dreamed only of meals and feasts to which I was doing great justice. I was thus delightfully occupied when my host came to me, to inquire how I had spent the night; he very secretly brought with him a bottle.
I got up and he requested me to follow him. We went for a second time to the assembly in the large cabin, where I occupied the seat which had been designated to me the day before. The whole assembly, recalling my fear of the liquor I had drunk, laughed a great deal more over it.
Before proceeding further, I think it necessary at this point to give an idea of the manner in which the savages hold their assemblies, and a short description of the place where they hold them.
The assemblies of the nation are usually held in the principal town. In the center of this town a very large and perfect square is drawn; in each angle of this square three cabins of different sizes are built, forming in all twelve cabins. This square has four openings leading to its center, and all the cabins are so close together that from any one of them one can see into all the others. They can hold from forty to sixty persons.
That of the great chief of the nation faces the rising sun, to indicate that he must always watch over the interest of the nation. Next to this cabin, and in the same angle, is the one called the grand cabin where the general assemblies of the nation are held.
In the opposite angle are three other cabins; these belong to the old men, and face the setting sun, to indicate that they are in their declining years, and that they must no longer go to battle. In the two other corners are the cabins of the different chiefs of the nation; they are larger or smaller according to their rank and the services they have rendered.
All these cabins are painted red, with the exception of the three facing the setting sun, which are always painted white as a symbol of virtue and old age.
In time of war, the cabins painted red are provided with several pieces of wood as a decoration, and which support a kind of short chain made of wooden rings. This is a sign of sadness, which informs the warriors that their country needs them, and that they should be prepared to march at the first signal. In time of peace, these links are replaced by garlands of ivy leaves.
The three cabins of the old men are at all times ornamented with these garlands interwoven with flowers.
As the square in which all these cabins are located is very large, the center is very large also, and this space has a purpose which we shall see presently.
I have already said that the chiefs of the nation must assemble every year in the month of May, to hold the grand council to consider everything which can be of importance to the nation, both internally and externally. When they are all at the place of meeting, called the grand cabin, of which I have just spoken, the assembly is formed; and, when it is formed, none of those who compose it can leave its compass until all the public business is concluded. The president alone can absent himself for a few moments; but as all the others, he is obliged to spend the days and nights in the assembly, and to be present at all the deliberations.
During the session of the assembly, no one can go nearer than twenty paces to the grand cabin. Only the chiefs of the warriors are admitted there; the subordinate chiefs who are present are intended to serve the others but have no voice in the deliberations. The women have the duty of preparing the necessary food and drink for the assembly; they bring and place everything at the distance marked out; the subordinate chiefs go get the provisions and place them in the grand cabin for the members of the assembly.
In the center of the square formed by the cabin, a fire is lighted which burns continuously. At sunset the young people of both sexes assemble and come and dance around this fire until the appointed time; during this time the assembly breaks up and each member goes, if it suits him, to the cabin which is assigned to the rank he has attained; or he remains in the grand cabin, and there enjoys the dance and the amusements of the young people, but without being able to go outside of the compass of the square, so long as the business is not entirely completed. When the dances, which are to last for only a limited time, are over, if the business of the assembly is not too urgent, each of the members rests in the cabin which belongs to his class, but as soon as the sun appears above the horizon, a drum calls all the chiefs to the assembly, which remains in session until the sun goes down.
On entering the assembly, to which I had been admitted only because I was a stranger and French (I shall tell further on why the fact that I was a Frenchman gave me so much prestige in the minds of these people), I had indeed noticed that McGillivray was the president of it, but I did not assume that he had any other title; so that I asked him several times where the king of the nation was, and if he would come to the meeting. My question made him laugh; and to satisfy my curiosity, he pointed out to me the three white cabins of which I have spoken, which were filled with old men and said to me: "There are our kings." Then, taking me by the hand, he led me into their midst. The latter, who were informed of my arrival in the nation, received me with kindness, and had me take a seat among them, saying to me:
"Frenchman, welcome, we are happy to see you; being very old we calmly await death. The great Master of Breath did not permit it to come until our wishes were granted; for, since the departure of the French from this country, you are the only one who has come among us, although we have always had a great desire to see them again. The great Master of Breath gives us, by your presence, the greatest possible happiness."
After this speech, which was explained to me by McGillivray, there was a great silence; an orator came and placed himself in front of me and made a speech which lasted almost an hour. I often heard the word foulantche mentioned, which, in the Creek tongue means Frenchman; and every time the orator paused, the whole assembly would say ka, which means yes. When he had finished his speech, the entire assembly said mado, which means very well. Afterwards, all the old men placed themselves in a line, and marched in procession past me, shook my hand as a sign of friendship, and presented their tobacco pouches so that I might take a pinch of tobacco. Having repeeated this ceremony with each one of them, I found myself with a rather large quantity of tobacco that I had been obliged to put in my hat. When the procession was ended, one of the old men approached me and presented me with a tobacco pouch made of swanskin.
It is well to note that, among these peoples, nearly everything that is used in such ceremonies is emblematic. The pouch that he gave me was white; he made me understand that it was a sign of peace and friendship; and proof of their wish that the red men might not soil their hands with the blood of a Frenchman, the compatriot of those whom they had formerly chosen as their friends, and that they had not forgotten that they were the first white men they had seen in this part of the world. All of this was repeated to me in English by McGillivray, for I did not understand a word of the language; but, what was reassuring for me and even extremely pleasing was that I could not be mistaken about the marks of interest and friendship that I was receiving, and which appeared to me all the more agreeable and surprising, because I was far from expecting them after the opinions given me by the Georgians and the Crakeurs, who had depicted these men as cannibals.
It was about noon, and I saw the chiefs served roast meat, bread, and sagamite, a drink which they use a great deal.* As I had not lost any of my appetite, this sight pleased me extremely; I expected to be invited to participate after the welcome which had been given me, and I was prepared to play my part well when I saw my host come and take me by the hand to lead me away with him. I confess that this disappointment distressed me a great deal; and I was beginning to believe that this man had a plan to make me die of hunger. I could not however refuse to obey him. I followed him therefore, although reluctantly. When we were in his cabin, he offered me a glass of tafia which I drank; but he did not take any, which irritated me: I even experienced some anxiety because he had not done what he did the day before. I was enduring with much impatience the pains of hunger, when I noticed a table on which was laid out bread, rice, potatoes fried in oil, fowl, deer venison, beef, and an excellent roasted turkey hen. Such a large number of dishes made me believe that my host was expecting much company, and I was vexed because I still did not see anyone, when he told me in his tongue, and made me understand by signs that I should sit down and drink and eat everything if I desired; that I could be without fear of the effects. He likewise made me understand that the fasting which he had forced upon me was founded on his fear that since I had not eaten for a long time, the first nourishment might hurt me if it were not taken cautiously; that now his entire house was at my disposal for as much time as I should like to stay there; that he had given orders to this effect.
* Sagamite is a fermentation of corn meal, which, after having been boiled, retains a rather pleasant ciderlike taste.
I availed myself of the generous arrangements of this good savage, and I remained at his house for a week to rest from the fatigue of the long and arduous journey that I had just made, and which I would not have undertaken, if I had known of the difficulties. At the end of this time, McGillivray and I left to go, as I have said, to his settlement, situated near the old Fort Toulouse. It was as we went along that he induced me to settle in the nation, where I remained continually happy for a period of twenty years. I am now going to give the reader an idea of the character and manners of the Creek Nation.
The Creek Nation is composed of a large number of other nations which have come to unite with it, and which it has adopted, but of which the greater number retain their customs and their particular tongue. I shall speak here only of the main part of this nation.
The Creeks are of medium stature, of copper-red color; they are very strong and robust, and easily bear fatigue. They are very great walkers, and sometimes make excursions of three to four hundred leagues to go hunting. Formerly they were mean and cruel; but today they are brave and mild-mannered when they are not forced out of their peacefulness. They do not have a well defined religion; although they recognize the great Master of Breath, they have no religious ceremonies. Each year, in the month of August, they assemble by settlements to celebrate the harvest festival; then they replace everything they have used in the course of the year which has just expired; the women break and shatter everything which makes up their household goods and furnish their homes anew. It is on this same day that they eat new corn for the first time, and that the priest or medicine man of the canton lights a new fire, and distributes to all the men present the new war medicine.* The savages are such strict observers of this ceremony that whoever among them might not have any old corn to live on until this time would sooner eat roots than touch the new corn. This is also the time when they forget and forgive all the causes of quarrels. A savage who, after the festival, would recall an old quarrel would be blamed by all the others.
* I shall describe this medicine later on in this work.
When they go to war, they observe a very rigorous discipline. When they draw near the enemy, they walk in single file, the chief of the party at their head, and all manage to step in the footprints of the leader. The last man sometimes even conceals the footprints with grass. In this way they prevent the enemy from knowing their number. When they stop for a while or when they camp, they form a circle, and leave only one opening large enough for one man to pass through. They sit with legs crossed, and each one has his gun by his side. The chief is opposite the opening in the circle, which no soldier can leave without his permission. When it is time to sleep, he gives the signal, and then no one budges. The awakening also takes place at a signal.
It is usually the head chief who assigns the positions, and who has the sentinels entrusted with watching over the safety of the army posted. He always has a large number of scouts out in front and to the rear; so that it is very seldom that the army is surprised. On the contrary, the savages wage war of surprise on the Europeans, and it is very dangerous for those who are not familiar with it.
When I arrived among the Creeks, they still had the horrible custom of burning their prisoners at the stake. I easily made them realize that such a custom made them hateful to all civilized peoples, and that there was a more humane and more profitable way of using these prisoners. I proposed to them to lay down the rule that a prisoner be worth three scalps,* and that he would belong to the one who had captured him, until he was exchanged or ransomed. This counsel was approved and agreed to by all the chiefs of the nation. It was with such men, so easy to influence although they were fearless warriors, that I marched against the enemies of the native land, and that I often terrified the Anglo-Americans.
* I shall tell elsewhere what these scalps are, and what value the savages set upon them.
I have said that it was in the month of May 1780, the time of the general assembly of the nation, that the war chiefs of the Creeks had recommended me to fill the position of tastanegy or great war chief, which had been refused by McGillivray.
When I had been proclaimed great war chief, the assembly, before breaking up, devoted its attention to my reception, which was an extremely long and very extraordinary ceremony. I am going to acquaint the reader with it.
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