July 21, 2018: Jeff Bishop, a local historian who served for five years as the executive director for the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society, presented a talk on the history of the Creek Indians in west Georgia and at McIntosh Reserve. Mr. Bishop is currently the director of the Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University. His articles on Chief McIntosh and other topics of local historic interest have appeared regularly in the Newnan-Coweta and West Georgia Living Magazines. As part of a public history project, Mr. Bishop partnered with the National Park Service to develop wayside exhibits that interpret the Trail of Tears in Georgia. A new Georgia Trail of Tears map and brochure are now available in welcome centers all over the nation. Visit wjeffbishop.com.
In his talk, Mr. Bishop began with the 1540 arrival by Hernando DeSoto to claim land and gold for Spain. To aid their conquests, the Spaniards took from native villages vital food, slaves and women as they progressed across the southeast. Because the native populations had no resistance to European diseases that had been transmitted back and forth between humans and livestock and evolved over generations, it is estimated that 90 to 95 percent of the native population was wiped out. The Native Americans, like the Europeans of the time, had little knowledge of how diseases were spread. In some cases the priestly caste was blamed for failing to protect them, and many were killed. Since the priests were entrusted to pass on much of the culture through stories and oral communications, much of the Creek cultural memory was lost by 1600. This tearing of the fabric of the society led to disparate, fragmented groups within the area. The Creek Confederacy was formed in an effort to band together and survive. In many cases these groups did not even speak the same languages.
When Oglethorpe arrived from England to establish Georgia as a colony he encountered the Creek Confederacy. Those seeking to develop Georgia as a colony wanted to befriend the Indians as an alliance against the Spanish, to help them get land and to know how to maneuver within the landscape. As part of this endeavor, Scottish mercenaries were armed to help England in its efforts to displace the Spanish.
One of the Scottish mercenaries was the ancestor of Chief William McIntosh who rose to prominence after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. William was made Brigadier General and became the highest ranking Native American in the military. Eventually, he became Chief of the Lower Creeks, and served as speaker of the Creek Confederation. He was considered #5 in the Creek Nation.
Mr. Bishop went on to describe the conflicts between the upper and lower Creeks that led to the murder or assassination of Chief William McIntosh, at what is now McIntosh Reserve, by a group of Upper Creeks led by Chief Menawa of the Hillabee Creeks.
Resistance to the loss of their land and heritage continued for the next few years, as the State of Georgia sought to secure dominance and control. After the passage of Pres. dent Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830, serious negotiations to relocate the Southeastern tribes to Indian territory west of the Mississippi began. Following the final Creek resistance of 1836 in Alabama, the Trail of Tears began in earnest.