Member of an American Indian people who lived in the southeastern USA (parts of Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, and Tennessee); they are thought to be descendants of the prehistoric Moundbuilders. The Seminole are an offshoot of the Creek, and they share Muskogean linguistic traditions. The Creek were known as one of the Five Civilized Tribes and inhabited large permanent farming settlements. Most Creek now live in Oklahoma, although some remain in Alabama, having escaped relocation in 1832. Many Creek continue to speak their native language and maintain a number of cultural traditions, such as the green corn ceremony. Their population numbers about 40,220 (2002).
Traditionally the Creek set up their towns along riverbanks and grew maize (corn), beans, and squash (pumpkin), supplementing their diet with wild plants and game. They lived in rectangular thatched mud houses arranged around a central community square, where ceremonies were held. Some tribal townships were known as ‘red’, or warring, while others were ‘white’, or peaceful. Their most important religious ceremony, the busk or green corn ceremony, celebrated renewal and the ripening of the last corn of the season. In 1540 they were encountered by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, who noted their colourful dress.
In the early 1700s the Creek attacked Spanish settlements in a series of raids and organized a Creek Confederacy, which included Natchez and Shawnee, to oppose both their American Indian and European enemies. However, the confederacy was a failure. During the War of 1812 they allied themselves with the British and on 30 August 1813 a ‘Red Stick’ faction of the Creek massacred about 400 settlers at Fort Mims in Alabama. In retaliation, General Andrew Jackson and 5,000 US soldiers wiped out several Creek villages and, on 27 March 1814, killed over 800 Creek warriors at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. The Creek were subsequently forced to cede over 9.2 million/23 million acres – about half of Alabama and much of southern Georgia – to the US. In the 1830s they were forcibly relocated to a reservation in Indian Territory, where they became known as one of the ‘Five Civilized Tribes’. They instituted a governmental system based on that of the USA. The Creek Nation was dissolved in 1906 when Indian Territory became the state of Oklahoma.
Today, many Creeks in Oklahoma still maintain the traditional tribal organization of an elected general council and live in the traditional Creek towns. The Creek language is still spoken by many and a number of their cultural traditions, such as the green corn ceremony, are maintained, although most are Christian. The few Creek remaining in Alabama, descendants of those who escaped relocation, have lost their culture and language.