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.
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.