Six Towns Held by River Spirit

Dear Readers,
The last time we were on the Road to Oklahoma together was  November.  I’d been struggling to make the gorgets come out right and had decided to focus on another part of the journey. I set about finding the probable town(s) that my Great Great Great Grandfather Pahos Harjo had lived in prior to Removal to Indian Territory.

I ordered a print copy of the Creek census of 1832/1833, which has come to be called the Parsons and Abbott Roll, from Mountain Press.  It is the most comprehensive pre-Removal document, as it was the result of a village-to-village trek on the part of the census-takers, and contains the names of all the heads of households arranged by Creek towns.

By a treaty of March 24, 1832, the Creek Indians ceded to the United States all of their land east of the Mississippi River. Heads of families were entitled to tracts of land, which, if possible, were to include their improvements. In 1833 Benjamin S. Parsons and Thomas J. Abbott prepared a census of Creek Indian heads of families, which gave their names and the number of males, females, and slaves in each family. The entries were arranged by town and numbered; these numbers were used for identification in later records.

A big issue here is that Creek men were not the ‘heads of the family’, the women were.  But this is part of yet another story of patriarchal values being thrust upon Indigenous people.

All of this information is online, but I get fuddled when switching between multiple tabs, and it’s difficult to search through long lists on a screen.  I had a go about four years ago, but it is so much easier to look through sheets of paper.  Information on the internet, great resource that it is, has an ephemeral quality.

My print copy has been transcribed and typed, but here is a glimpse of the original handwritten document.

creek census image

I went through the lists of all of the Upper and Lower Creek towns to identify my Great Great Great Grandfather’s name – Pahos (Pow Hose or Par Hose) Harjo.   Another problem is that the Mvskoke language was not a written language, so there were approximations made when recording people’s names and place names.

I identified about a dozen towns with something close to his name.  Six were in Upper Creek territory and about five were in Lower Creek territory.   The Upper Creeks, unlike the Lower Creeks, resisted colonization in every manner that they could and held as fast as they could to their traditional ways.  They supported traditional Muscogee leadership and culture, including the preservation of communal land for cultivation and hunting and opposed assimilation to the United States culture.   I have several good reasons for knowing that my ancestors are Upper Creeks.

First of all, I know that my ancestors settled first in Tuskegee Town soon after they arrived in Indian territory after they were Removed.  The emigrants tended to settle together and named the new towns in the West after the towns they left behind.   In our homelands, Taskigi was  located in the triangle formed by the convergence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers.  I found this information on the Dawes Roll (more on this another time).

Second, my Great Great Grandfather was named Tecumseh, after the great Shawnee leader who had encouraged the Upper Creeks to fight against the encroaching United States government into their territory.  In 1811, Tecumseh had begun a pan-Indian movement to throw the Americans out of Native American territories. This led to the Red Stick War in 1813 in which the Upper Creek Muscogee went to war against the Lower Creek Muscogee (who were allied with the white Americans).

Third, my Great Grandmother Malindy Phillips who  was born in Indian Territory in 1878 never learned to speak English, keeping fast to the old ways and retaining her Native language.

So I felt very confident when I identified six possible Upper Creek towns that my ancestors came from.  Still, sometimes I’m often afraid that it is all a mistake.  That I don’t have any connection to the Muscogee.  I think that this comes from the years of shame, secrecy, ambivalence and feeling ‘other and outcast’ about being ‘part-Indian’.  All of those feeling passed to me from my Dad, along with the fact of my Muscogee ancestry.

When I got the font, the font size, the color of ink and the paper just right, I printed off the six towns:  Clewalla,  Fish Pond, Hatchet Creek, Kialege, Oelarneby, Ottise.

Then I broke half in two.  The tears came.  It is true.  We were there and we had to leave it all behind.

I made an altar to hold all of this.

I placed the town names along with some shell squares onto a reproduction of a map from 1816 that the Mvskoke had taken to a treaty meeting.   I encircled them with the red thread of my River Spirit necklace.  I placed a black and a white feather, a paper clay mask and my Dad’s cremation disc on all four sides.  Then l lit a candle.

It hurts, I hurt.    I want to be mistaken so I don’t have to feel the loss.  Loss is too inadequate a word.  It is a tear, we have been torn.  Ripped open and ripped apart.  It hurts to rip it back open and it feels clean.  It feels quiet and still.  It can heal now.

It can heal now.

River Spirit holds the towns and the ancestors left behind and our journey.
River Spirit washes away the pain.
River Spirit cleanses the wound.

For my exhibition, I made a mixed media piece comprising all of these elements.

Six Towns Held by River Spirit, mixed media, 30 x 40cm

By the way, I did not use my River Spirit necklace in this piece.  We went for a walk in early February, along the river which flows just outside of Moretonhampstead.

I gathered several piece of river drifted wood and used one of them for Six Towns.

 

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Locv – Earth Diver

Creation Story of the Muscogee (Creek) Indians

The first thing that happened,
Hesaketamese dreamed the world.

First World II, oil pastel

Hesaketamese drew a deep breath.
Hesaketamese exhaled
and breathed the world into being.
The world was nice enough and very round.

First World I, acrylic

Hesaketamese made Locv, the turtle.
She was first made and wise.


Locv could stand on the land.
She could go down into the water,
She could burrow into the earth with her strong legs,
She could disappear into her shell.

Locv – Earth Diver, acrylic, chalk and oil pastel

Hesaketamese made more animals and birds and insects.
But Hesaketamese was young and inexperienced.
There were too many creatures to fit upon the land.
Being first made, Locv helped the others
and let some of them ride on her back.
The animals and birds always had to find land
to stand upon.

They always had to move from place to place.
The water was very rude.
When the birds and creatures found a place to stand,
water came and they all had to go somewhere else.
The other thing was that the sky was
very misty and foggy and cloudy.
The sun shown above the haze
but the animals and birds and insects
couldn’t see clearly and bumped into one another
and kept getting lost

Locv helped the birds and animals and insects.
She carried some of them on her back.
Locv dove beneath the water.  She gathered mud
and swam back to the surface of the water.

Locv gave some mud to all of the birds
and animals and insects.
All of the creatures put their mud together
and made enough land
so that everybody had  place to stand.
All of the creatures knew where they belonged.

But it was still very foggy.
The animals and insects and the birds
could still not see.
The birds flew up above the fog and clouds.
They saw the sun and the clear blue sky.
The birds flew back down beneath the fog and clouds.
All of the birds flapped their wings.
They made a breeze which became a big wind.
The wind blew all of the fog and clouds away.
The wind dried the mud until it became the earth.

All of the birds and animals and insects
knew where they belonged.
Everyone found their place.
Bear, deer, turtle, bird, wind, rabbit.
Everyone knew their clan and their kinfolk.
The water knew where to flow and later on,
when the people came, they knew their clan.
They knew who they clinged to.

‘ēme aossetv emēkvnv’ (they came out from the earth) mushroom compost & pastel, 40 x 60 cm

All of the people built their villages
along the rivers that flowed through the land.

Six Towns Held by River Spirit, Needlefelt

 

Franz Kline would know those marks

We’ve had a snowy couple of weekends here on Dartmoor.  We mostly stayed indoors in the warmth, looking out onto the snowy street and rooftops and beyond to what we could see of the hills.

We ventured out once to see if The Guardian had been delivered to Moretonhampstead.  Steve had the chance to wear his new Panama Jack snow boots, purchased a few years ago the last time we had snow.

One evening at dusk, I was lured out by mist from the Wray Valley spreading up out of the river valley and settling down over the fields outside of town.

Magpie

I stayed out until it was too cold to hold my camera, entranced by tire tracks.  Signs of people navigating their way in the snowy landscape.

I posted some of my photos on Facebook and my artist friend John Behm
wrote ‘Franz Kline would know those marks’.

Franz Kline, American Abstract Artist, 1910 – 1962

Mahoning, oil & paper on canvas, 1956, 204.2 × 255.3 cm

 

 

How I learned to be Indian

The first time I exhibited my art work about my Muscogee (Creek) heritage, I was shocked when someone said to me ‘You are so lucky to be part-Indian’.  I wish that I had the wherewithal to ask just what she meant.  The history of all indigenous people in the United States is marked by physical and cultural genocide, and land theft and we have all inherited a legacy of Historical Trauma and Unresolved Grief.

I grew up in the 1960s and 70s with a father who felt very ashamed about his Muscogee ancestry.  My dad Frank was born in 1919 to my Muscogee grandmother Mattie Davis.  His father Ted Schwakhofer was of Austrian-American heritage.  Both of my grandparents were 16 years old.  My grandfather had nothing to do with his son or the mother of his child.  All that my dad received from him was his surname.

My dad said that he could understand the Muskogee language, but never learned to speak it.  The White kids called him a ‘Half Breed’ and the Muscogee kids didn’t like him because he was part White.  From 1920 onward, Native American children in Oklahoma were educated in the mainstream school system, where they and all of the other pupils learned that Indians were ‘savages’, although my dad used to argue with his teachers about this.  My grandmother Mattie would have gone to a residential school where students were actively discouraged from speaking their native tongue by having their mouths washed out with soap, or worse.

My brother, sister and I grew up knowing we’re part-Indian, but not much more than that.  My dad used to get The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house and letters from distant relatives in Oklahoma, but by and large, he’d cut himself off from his ancestry.  I grew up wearing my Muscogee heritage like a cloak of shame.

I’ve come back to working with fibre and textiles in the past several months.   I’ve been studying an inspiring book by textile artist Rosie James.   I took the plunge into a machine sewn portrait of my dad onto paper printed with the front page of The Muscogee Nation news from 1978.

I made a line drawing from a photograph and printed off some text to make a layout of the piece.

Then I put the front page into Photoshop and added some text directly onto the page.  It is too fine to embroider onto the paper.  I used a glue stick to attach a piece of cotton organdie to the back of the paper to stabilize it and keep it from ripping when I stitched the portrait.  Then I machine stitched directly onto the front of the paper.

This is how it looks from the back.  I had originally thought about stitching through the fabric onto the front of the paper so had traced the picture onto the cloth.  It gives an interesting effect which I may explore in later work.

Back

My Dad used to have The Muscogee Nation News delivered to our house in West Covina, California and kept them in a drawer.   He’d read them at the dining table, drinking a beer,  He’d say: “We’re part-Indian.  We’re Creek.  We’re one of the Five Civilized Tribes.”

Little Soft Thing

I’ve become a little soft thing over the past few weeks.  The last time I checked in to Inspiraculum, I was in the middle of my Yuletide hibernation.   Then in mid January I came down with a very persistent version of the flu.  I haven’t felt like doing much of anything and stayed in for much of the last month.

I did gently re-organize my studio.  No major changes, but I bought some new task lamps and shifted things around for more work surfaces and more efficient storage.

I also brought harmony to my threads, paper, art supplies, buttons and beads, which was most satisfying.  Not only the results, but I often found  the process very meditative and relaxing.

Before

After

Last night I returned to my Pilates class for the first time since December.   My instructor Candice has a lovely voice and interesting turns of phrase.  We are asked to be like ‘little clams’ or ‘a bird spreading it’s wings’.   We also use a ‘little soft thing’ to rest our heads upon.  I used my fleece jacket in the first few sessions, then went out and bought a small cushion once I knew that I would be continuing the class.

I made a cover for it on Sunday night.  I love birds and used some fabric that I had left over from making a clothes peg bag .

It feels good to be returning to the outside world once again.  On Sunday morning Steve and I went for a walk.  I felt the softening of Winter’s hold and the first balmy hints of Springtime.

Of course this is the time when the earth quickens with life.

There has been a lot stirring and coming to life deep within.  I am certainly looking forward to new growth and all that this year will bring.