Every family of mankind refers fondly to a Golden Age, when peace and innocence reigned on earth. The lost paradise is no monopoly of the Christian, of the Greek or even of the Old World, since the Inca and the Aztec were equally confident in the truth of his traditions describing it. When Columbus compared the happy conditions he observed in the islands to which he came, with those of Europe, he declared the inhabitants were close to the angels in disposition as well as in geography, and he confidently looked for his Blessed Mountain in all his wanderings. When the French came into the mouth of the St. Johns, and were hospitably entertained, Ribault says : “We entered and explored their country hereabouts, which is the fairest fruitfulest and pleasantest of all the world, abounding in honey, venison, wild game, forests, woods of all sorts and vines with grapes. And the sight of the fair meadows is a pleasure inexpressible.” Moreover, the inhabitants seemed hospitable and kind beyond all experience, while in dignity and fair speech they were “both courtier-like and wise.”
Yet the first act of these visitors was to build a fort for fear of these people, and they learned by experience that men might starve in a land so overflowing with food that the inhabitants freely gave of their abundance! Those who seemed “‘like unto angels” came to be denounced as savages, and to be suspected of witchcraftas idolaters and necromancers, they were to be exterminated unless they could be used as slaves! So we are Drone to pass from one extreme to another; if the Floridians of that day were disposed to be hospitable and kind, they were yet men who took offense when robbed and knew how to repel injury by hostility.
Study and observation have taught us to reject the theories which marked off the eras in human history as Ages of Gold and Silver and Bronze, until coming to our own time, which we called that of Iron, because general happiness seemed to have fled with Astrea to the stars! Instead of these divisions we know that in every age are people of every condition; today we can study the manners of the people of the Ages of Stone, because we can now mingle with tribes in like circumstances; even in the New World, there were, or had been but lately, palaces of stone, though yet savages of the most brutal characteristics roamed the interior, while some gentler than their visitors could be found on the Southern coasts.
The great mistake made by the Europeans was the assumption that these savages were rising from barbarism, as their ancestors in England and Germany and France and Spain had lately risen, as they would have said, “By the grace of God.” But the truth was, as now held, that a process of declension was going on; such condition as followed the downfall of the Roman Empire in Europe from which these observers were struggling to rise. The difference was that the American had been isolated, while in Europe successive waves of migration had brought advancement and compelled progress. Science agrees with inspiration that human life began in Central Asia and flowed outward to Europe. The first man of whom science finds the trace is the Pithecanthropus Erectus-barely human in shape and little more than animal in mind. But the first European is an improvement on the original, and is known as the Piltsdown or Neanderthal ; certainly he possessed the land for centuries from the Thames to the Danube. With him roamed animals of like shape to those we know-not the monstrous forms we are digging from the rocks of our land. Against these he fought for life with flint-headed spears and clubs ; the flints being first the forms he chose from accidental breakage, but finally rudely shaped by hand. Lands rose and sunk ; climates varied and animals wandered north or south to escape the cold or to follow the invitation of renewed pasturage ; man lived as best he might. Next, coming from the east, appeared a superior race before whose strength and cunning and superior weapons the Neanderthal vanished ; the Cro-Magnon gave graceful forms and a fine surface to his stone implements ; he began to fish, and so lived with less labor, and he drew forms and painted colors on the walls of the caves in which he dwelt, for the proof of his presence; he held Europe for 25,000 years. Then came the ancestor of the races known to us-the Etruscans of Italy and the Latins who conquered them, while the forests of France and Germany were still held by barbarians not so docile or kind as the Indians discovered in America.
Thus in Europe there was always movement; in America the immigration was confined to short distances. Before Britain was separated from the continent except by a river, and while Africa was joined to Europe by more than one natural bridge, variations of climate and arrangements of land and water may have opened the way in those remote times to a wave of immigration to America, but the date was at least too distant to admit of proof. The Nahua journeyed from Central America; and the Aztec set up a kingdom in Mexico ; the Inca conquered to the north and south of Cuzco, but there was no exchanges of population from continent to continent. Cities were built in South America and Central America with which England and Germany and France of the same period had nothing to compare, but the builders were content to stay at home and had no dreams of assimilating and educating any beyond their immediate neighborhood.
Yet our own territory had but lately been the seat of a wide empire, and its disintegration did not long precede the arrival of the Spaniards at Tampa, and the Frenchmen at the mouth of the St. Johns. Of this empire the kindred families of the Muscogees were members, although the headship seems to have been vested in the Natchez on the Mississippi River. Of their wide domains the mounds are still the monuments and the witnesses ; the people of Florida and Georgia still used mounds and built them when DeSoto passed through their country. Practically, this race possessed the Southern States when the white man came; the Algonquins of New England and Virginia were being driven by the fiercer Iroquois, while the Cherokee mountaineers were stoutly holding their own.
Until evidence was found of the decadence of the Muscogees, Maskokis or Creeks, from a more complicated social and political condition, the facts observed by travelers and traders who lived among them were too marvelous to be credited. How could a people only beginning to rise above the rudest of savage conditions have adopted such relations with each other? We are the heirs of a gradual process of development reaching beyond the Christian era, yet these earliest inhabitants of our country enjoyed some advantages to which we are only beginning to aspire. In much their social and political organizations resembled ours, but the grades of rank were more carefully marked, the line of descent was regarded with greater pride on the one part and deference on the other; the laws of marriage and the family, for instance, were at once more absolute and more free. Let us examine into some of these facts. Usually we have the savage - scarcely to be distinguished from the brute, then the hunter, then the shepherd and next the agriculturist. When we know the Southern Indian maize was the staple food, and this grain had been developed from an inferior plant found only in Guatemala; would mere savages have watched this plant into usefulness and have preserved the seed for generations uncounted? Nomads do not accomplish such results; the Indian who plants remains to reap, and he who has fields to till holds to his native land. No expressions of patriotism can be found in Creek literature that the orators of the Creeks have left us in our comparatively short acquaintance with them before their extermination or degradation. While the Indian is responsible for the existence of maize as we know it, we must see that the maize is largely responsible also for the Indian at his best.
INDIAN MARRIAGE PROCESSIONS
When a Creek warrior wished to marry, he sent his mother or his sister to consult the relations of the girl he had chosen. If his proposals were favorably received, he sent presents to her female relations; when those were not returned the two were considered betrothed. Then he built a house and planted a crop; when the harvest was ready he brought meat from the hunt, and she came as his wife to take possession. Either party could demand a divorce, but the woman could not marry again till after the next green corn dance, which was never more than a year since it was an annual festival. The children were entirely under the guidance of the wife ; in case of divorce, she took them to her famiIy, and they always belonged to her gens. All the household goods were the property of the wife; she could send the husband out of the house at will. All the men and women of the town joined in clearing the field for planting; the chief divided this common field into lots for each family. After the harvest each family contributed of its crop to the share of the family of the chief, and this was guarded to entertain visitors and strangers, for the support of the fighting bands, and as a reserve against a period of scarcity. Of this the chief could give a share to the needs of the European settlers, but when this was exhausted, he refused to give more; the supplies from private stocks were soon exhausted, then force was used by Europeans to extort more.
Each town was a separate community, and each sent a delegation to the national council. Each town had pub--lic buildings set about a square so as to form a tetragon; the government was administered by a Micco and his Old Men, or cabinet; but they were bound to observe customs and precedents which were accepted as laws. Over the national government council presided one chief in time of peace ; on a declaration of war he was automatically displaced for some war chief; might not this arrangement prove a valuable hint to us, in view of our experience with presidents who are warriors, but not statesmen, and politicians who are not warriors; only Washington of all our presidents has been first in war and first in peace. All differences between the towns, which were in much like our States, were submitted to a body composed of the Peace Chief and the Ancients, which might have suggested our Supreme Court to Jefferson, had he known of the Indian institution, of which there is no proof; but the Muscogees preceded him in the only, feature of our government that was original; since it is not the same as the old Greek Areopagus. But our constitution-makers are justly lauded throughout civilization, though they had knowledge of experiments of peoples of whom the Muscogees had never heard ; many of them were scholars as well as statesmen, and all of them had the inheritance of centuries of regular government under the English law; what shall be said of the men who set up the Muscogee system?
In practice, the matrons of the Creek nation had the deciding voice in questions of peace and war; practically they could interpose a veto when a decision for war had been rendered. Have we gone so far as this? Do the suffragettes even demand so much? We have heaps of volumes of law enacted for the preservation of fish and game; these needed no protection from the Indians, although the woods and waters furnished the tables of the inhabitants of the country. There were no beggars among the Muscogees, because each man or woman had tasks which must be done, and for these food and clothing were paid unfailingly; while one family had a surplus there could be no hunger. There were no prisons ; for all offenses except murder punishment was prescribed, but if the offender chose to absent himself till after the occurrence of the annual festival, no mention of the offense was permitted. If a murderer took himself out of the country his absence was accepted as sufficient; if he returned he met the executioner. Thus the public was relieved of the most burdensome taxes of our systems ; the Creeks had no policemen, no prisoners or prison-keepers; a judge was honored when the parties to a difference accepted him as arbiter and made no charge, but he was not compelled to serve nor the disputants expected to pay for his services. If scandal arose because of the talk of a woman, the matrons investigated the case and punished the guilty party in case the charges were not proved. If a man made the charge the warriors investigated and punished. Before he had been degraded by contact with the white man, the Indian was provident in proportion to his needs; it was more honorable to give freely than to amass property, as it is among the Arabs of the desert. He did not consider himself bound in honor to give his enemy a fair show; he proposed to kill when he went to war, and did not desire to be killed. In contrast to the habits of the Iroquois, the Muscogees were kind in peace and placable in war; a tribe that felt itself too weak to fight would be admitted into the Confederacy on equal terms, and it was by such accessions that the Muscogees increased in number, while their kindred, the Chickasaws and Choctaws, declined. Bartram, Duval, Pickett, Milfort, and all the other observers report that the Muscogees. were tall and straight, athletic and handsome. Certainly they were devoted parents, as are the Seminoles today. It is often said that the Indian was treacherous and cruel to his enemies; the charge may be admitted if it is allowed that we treated them worse than they treated us. The Muscogee was an agriculturist and not a simple hunter. We doubt if a like population of white people would be able to feed a wandering body of five hundred men, as the Muscogees fed the army of DeSoto. Time and time again we find such remarks as this in October and other harvest months: “‘Thenceforward the country was well inhabited, producing much corn, the day leading by many habitations like villages.” “The Indians never lacked meat. With arrows they got abundance of deer, turkeys, conies (hares) and other animals, being very skillful in killing game, which the Christians were not.” “The country was delightful and fertile, having good interval land upon the streams ; the forest was open with abundance of walnut and mulberry trees.” “There was abundance of lard in calabashes (great gourds) drawn like olive oil which the inhabitants said was the fat of bears. There was likewise much oil of walnuts which; like the lard, was clear and of good taste, and also a honeycomb which the Christians had never seen before, nor Saw afterwards, nor honey, nor bees, in all the country.” Yet honey was soon found to be a staple article of trade.
Bartram testifies that in a residence of several months in an Indian town, he never heard a man speak angrily to a woman ; he never heard of a man cruelly treating a child ; he never heard of a family contention about children or property. Others have testified that in a Muscogee Village theft was unknown; a trader’s property was entirely safe if left exposed to public view, exactly as our show windows are used for advertisement, There was no hunger; there was no overwork. If it be true that the Indians were never afflicted with consumption and other diseases of kindred character, there is a disease of the feet caused by intrusion of a germ, due to lack of sanitation, but the germ was imported from Africa and was never heard of in aboriginal America. Smallpox is a filth disease; America never heard of it till a negro in the train of Narvaez brought it to Mexico. One other instance: The water at Hot Springs in Arkansas is a specific for certain diseases; the government of the United States obtained possession of the springs and admitted all to them, but those who cannot pay must take the refuse after the rich have had the benefit. All aboriginal America had the free use of such waters, in Arkansas and at Saratoga and in Virginia; doubtless in North Carolina also. Members of tribes at war with those about these springs could pass freely with their families and were allowed to remain as long as they desired, the friends of the diseased hunting freely while taking the treatment. There was no ownership of such provisions for health, just as there was only tribal ownership of lands ; the man who could not support a family under such conditions must be worthless indeed. Age was honored - the public holding that a support was amply repaid in the advice given by the experienced. Let it not be understood that all the tribes were living under these conditions ; we speak only of the Muscogees, who were the Apalachees of Florida; not even their kindred, the Choctaws and the Chickasaws, were so happy in all respects. But if there were inferior peoples among the aboriginees of America, there were others deserving to rank with the Creeks - men of ability and virtue came from each of the principal stocks. Let us not lightly estimate warriors who went down before greater numbers and better weapons; the orators whose eloquence was not taught by other civilizations, nor the statesmen who could organize confederacies of independent populations and gain the ends without force, which in Europe must be imposed by the swords of knights and the armies of retainers on unwilling subjects. On the original inhabitants of continental Europe the Romans forced the lessons they derived from the Greeks, who had drawn upon the deeper springs of Egyptian thought; after the Romans came the Northern nations, and from the resulting mixtures the men who discovered America found the strength to overcome the Indians, who had no such advantages of diverse thought, manners and organizations. Remains the charge that the native races of America were cruel. Today who can accuse them of superiority in this particular without reckoning the advantages of Christianity for the Europeans now slaughtering each other? Still, they are accused of worshipping the powers of nature only; if their conquerors were better taught, to what influence should credit be given? What were the Celtic and Teutonic Races before they were baptised into a faith drawn from Asia? What sort of religion animated the minds of those who exterminated the populations of the New World?
Spaniard and Puritan accused the Indians of being enchanters; witches and warlocks, children of the devil, and predestined to eternal punishment; read the accusation and be convinced that the accused were better than their defamers. Were they thriftless? What need for flocks and herds, had the people for whom nature provided parks and game, that must be defended against a starving peasantry by the aristocracy of Europe? Is it not better to sustain a community without beggars or prisoners than one in which the suffering outnumber the millionaires and the comfortable or prosperous? Is not the child without clothes, a better proof of paternal care than one condemned to slavery in a factory, before body or mind is mature? Is not the sufficient meat and bread of the savage better than the kickshaws of civilization, which leave the stomach craving? Is not the free forest better than the little parks of the city, plastered with notices to keep off the grass? Might not the mind and body be healthier with the teaching which made theft and falsehood unknown, than one that had collected the vices along with the wisdom of books? Perhaps we might do well to admit it were well if we had tried to learn something from the Indian instead of demanding that he learn from us or die.
[Source: Vol III, July 1924, No. 1, Florida Historical Society Quarterly - Sub. by K.T.]