The Muskogee Peoples

NOTE: This article was originally published in the Nene Hutke 2012 Muskogee Calendar and has been reprinted here as a reference. To learn more about the Nene Hutke Calendar, visit the For Sale area of our website.

In 1918 John Reed Swanton, an employee of the Bureau of American Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, submits over 10 years of his extensive research on the Muskogee peoples to the U.S. Government. Four years later, in 1922, this research is published in a book entitled Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. In total, he submits over 200 detailed research works on Native Americans.

Swanton reviewed records maintained by missionaries living among these tribes, Indian Agent records, maps and all types of historical documents. He also visited individuals from each tribe and tried to learn first-hand what had been passed down to tribal members. His research became the undisputed authority on the original tribes of the Southeastern United States and Creek Confederacy.

By reviewing the similarities between the languages currently spoken by each tribe AND the words/languages recorded by the earliest explorers (such as DeSoto and other Spanish, French, and English explorers and missionaries) he identified primary cultural groups, each with a distinct dialect of the Muskogee language.

Map of Desoto's travels

Map showing the path believed traveled by Hernando DeSoto. In May 1539 he landed in Florida with over 620 men and 220 horses. They wintered in the Florida Panhandle and traveled through Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi during 1540. During 1541 they travel west through Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. In May 1542 DeSoto dies in Arkansas and his men return to the Gulf. Many remain in the New World settling in Mexico, Peru, Cuba and other Spanish colonies. This map was contributed by an unknown source/author and made available through the Open Source License via Wikimedia

Studies by Karen Booker, Mary Haas, Pamela Munro, Lyle Campbell, and others further attempt to document and classify natives by language and cultural groups. Most agree the Southeastern US languages show a common root (much like Latin is a root language for Italian, French, Spanish, etc.), with Choctaw being the extreme on the western side of the region and the Guale/Yamasee Dialect the extreme on the eastern side.

When studying the original tribes and cultures, it is important to realize the changes these people experienced during the 100 years following DeSoto’s exploration. It is now believed towns he visited and wrote about were decimated by smallpox and/or other European diseases. Some now estimate one out of every six Native Americans died during the epidemic.

Swanton’s research identified some of the following Muskogee-speaking groups: