The Creek People

By David Rinehart, Library Assistant, Special Collections and Archives

When I started working here in March of 2020, I had only been in Ireland for a little over a year and a half. I moved from my birthplace, the Sunshine State, home to Disney World (and a not-so-pleasant – to put it incredibly mildly – golf enthusiast and his golf resort) – Florida.

Photo of alligator in Paynes Prairie courtesy of Florida State Parks

I began my position as Library Assistant here at the Maynooth University Special Collections and Archives Department at the start of the first lockdown. I neither had the opportunity to finish my last day at my previous job nor begin my first day in person for my new job. Months later, after many virtual meetings and hundreds of emails, lockdown restrictions began to ease, and I finally had the opportunity to go physically into the workspace and to meet colleagues in person. I was thrilled to get out of the house and to finally step foot into the Russell Library .

I specifically recall a serendipitous exchange with Susan that forms the majority of the content for this blog post. She was showing me around the reading room, selecting extraordinary books with beautiful and vibrant images and fascinating content from many of the large wooden shelves. She laid out several books from topics such as gardening to a 15th century Book of Hours.

One book in particular caught my attention, History of the Indian Tribes of North America with Biographical Sketches and Anecdotes of the Principal Chiefs. Background on the production of the book, the 50 portraits throughout the two volumes, and the author Thomas L. McKenney are depicted by Susan in her blog post.

Susan, seemingly excited to show her new American colleague a work depicting an important, yet deeply tragic element of American history, opened the book to a random location. The serendipity comes with the page that the book opened to. It was the image of the chief of the Creek Nation whose territory extended to the land from which I hail – Alachua County, Florida.

Image of Paynes Prairie, courtesy Florida State Parks, in Alachua County home to the Timucuan Civilization and later the Creek People.

The Creek nation lived on the lands of Georgia and Northern Florida. General McIntosh was a chief of the Creek nation in the early 19th century, born to a white Scottish father and a Creek mother.

This chapter on McIntosh details the malevolent ways in which the state of Georgia, and the nearly ambivalent attitude of the federal government under President Monroe, took every bit of land from the Creek people. They were soon pushed into the state of Alabama, where shortly after they were once again forced out. This violent thieving of land and indigenous peoples’ forced migration Westward is known as the Trail of Tears. The Trail of Tears is a story of genocide as many indigenous people died from the trek, disease, and slaughter.

The Secretary of War, Mr. Calhoun, [answered] that no treaty would be respected unless made with the chiefs of the nation…When the proposition was made by the commissioners, to purchase their country, that chief rose and said: “You asked us to sell you more lands at Broken Arrow; we told you we had none to spare. I told McIntosh then, that he knew no land could be sold except in full council, and by consent of the nation… We have met here at a very short notice – only a few chiefs are present from the upper towns and many are absent from the lower towns… that’s all the talk I have to make and I shall go home.”

Regardless of this powerful dissent of the proposal, General McIntosh, Tustennuggee and several lower ranked leaders agreed and made the deal to sell the land to the state of Georgia.

Though McIntosh had attended the meeting to sell the country, he is said, at this point, to have wavered. He looked round among the Indians, but saw no chief of influence, except Etomie Tustennuggee… The [Georgia] commissioners, however, intent upon the treaty, calmed the fears of McIntosh by a promise of protection from the United States. The treaty which had been prepared was read and signed by the commissioners, by “William McIntosh, head chief of the Conetas” – next by Etomie Tustennuggee, by his X, and thirteen others, who, though chiefs, were of inferior rank…

This treaty was executed at the Indian Springs, on the 12th of February, 1825, and on the 2d of March following, reached Washington. The very speed by which it had been transmitted indicated the fears entertained by the commissioners, and by Georgia, that the nation would protest against it, and cause its rejection.

The Creek people did indeed protest the treaty and, having failed to stop the treaty from passing the senate, sought vengeance against those who had betrayed them.

The house was fired; the two victims [Tustennuggee and McIntosh], forced by the flames, appeared at the door, where they were received by a shower of bullets, and instantly killed… Menawa was careful to give out that the white people should not be molested; that the Creek nation meant only to punish those who had violated their law.

This is a history of my neck of the woods that I, embarrassingly, knew little about. It is unfortunately common for this history across the United States to be white washed and purposefully forgotten. It is increasingly important for this history to be brought to the forefront. Further, Western Civilization must face its past, learn from and atone for its mistakes, and recognize how this history has influenced the present.

Photo of bison grazing at Paynes Prairie, outside of my hometown of Gainesville, Florida. Photo credit to Nichter Photography Plus

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