Object: Creek Pottery Jar

Figure 1  Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

Figure 1 Creek Pottery Jar from the Ethnology Collection at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History

E/1947/3/26
Pottery Jar
Creek (Muskogee)
North America: Southeast
Mid 1800’s
Materials: Clay

This Creek clay pot is almost entirely undecorated except for a few minor incisions along the mouth. Approximately 10 inches high, and 8.5 inches in diameter, the jar has a globular body with a relatively short neck upon which are 46 incisions, slightly marred by a broken shard on one portion of the neck. The mouth of the pot is 5.88 inches wide. The pot is predominately brownish-gray with a large number “3” painted in red on the outside, most likely by the donor rather than the original potter. The pot has striations all along the outside, suggesting that it was roughened in the traditional Creek style, most likely accomplished through brushing with grass or corn cobs[1]. The pot was likely made in the mid-19th century, somewhere around the 1840’s.

Donated as part of an extensive collection upon the death of Robert B. Selvidge, a translator for the Muskogee Creeks and a long-time resident of Oklahoma, this pot and its sister piece were acquired in 1948 by the University of Oklahoma. Selvidge himself claimed to have moved to what was then Indian Territory in 1882 with his parents when he was young and wrote that they “settled among the full-blood Muskogee Indians…I was nine or ten years old before I can remember playing with a white child outside of my own brothers and sisters” thus having the opportunity to learn “the Indian language right along with the English language.”[2] Due to his interactions with numerous Native Americans during his job as a court translator for the Creeks, Selvidge acquired his extensive collection of Native American objects.

 

Figure 2   Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt's article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Figure 2 Two Creek pots from the Selvidge Collection in 1950, soon after their acquirement by OU from Selvidge’s estate in Eufala, OK. The one primarily discussed in this post is on the left in this image, figure A. Taken from Schmitt’s article. Figure B, a close-up picture found between the two images of the pots, demonstrates the brush-marks, striations, found on the exterior of both of these pots.

Selvidge claimed that this pot was made in Alabama in the late 1830s or early 1840s and brought to Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, by the Creeks during the Indian Removal. While it is quite common to hear claims of objects being brought to Oklahoma during the Indian Removal of the late 1836-1837, these claims are nearly impossible to verify. Despite Selvidge’s assertion about this pot, it seems more likely that it was created in Oklahoma after the Removal. Making this distinction can be complex, as, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, the types of Creek pottery made in Oklahoma, in general, “are indistinguishable from Okmulgree Fields Plain and Chattahoochee Brushed”, the two categories of pottery found in the historic Georgia homeland of the Creeks before the 1830s.[3] Despite this complexity in identification, an early analysis by Karl Schmitt of the particular Creek pots acquired by OU suggests similarities with two categories of Chickasaw pottery from south-central Oklahoma, developed in the 1840s and 1850s.[4] These two categories, Rock Creek Brushed and White Brushed, have similar tempers to that of this Creek pot, consisting of sandstone and fine-grained sand, and possess similar brushed surfaces to the two pots in the Selvidge collection. It is significantly more likely that the Selvidge pot was created in Oklahoma by Creeks who had traveled from Alabama and Georgia and thereafter intermingled with the Chickasaw and other Native American tribes, learning some of their pottery-making techniques.

While the Creeks understand themselves to be the descendants of a culture which spanned across almost the entire Southeastern United States before 1500 A.D. and the arrival of European settlers, their traditional homeland lies primarily along the river banks of parts of Alabama, George, Florida, and South Carolina.[5] The Creek are often mistakenly considered to be a single, unified tribe, when in fact they can be better understood as a union of several different tribes, a confederacy of sorts, in which each town, or talwa in Muscogee[6], consisted of members of similar kinship and cultural backgrounds which exercised relatively autonomous political authority[7]. Adding to European misconceptions, the very name “Creek” was given to the confederacy by English traders as a convenient label for the residents of the various towns.[8]

Figure 3    Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

Figure 3 Names taken from the Creek tradition for county and city names demonstrate the continued importance of the Creeks in what is today their territory, just south of Tulsa. Taken from the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

The Indian Removal Act of Andrew Jackson was enforced for the Creeks through a removal treaty, signed in 1832, which moved approximately 20,000 Creek Indians between 1836 and 1837 from their historic homelands in Georgia and Alabama to the newly established Indian Territory in what would become Oklahoma.[9] During this forced migration, the tribes known as the Lower Creeks, who had been significantly more Europeanized due to their proximity to English peoples, established farms and plantations along the Arkansas and Verdigris Rivers while the two provincial groups known as the Upper Creeks established smaller towns along the Canadian River and its northern branches, most prominently along the Deep Fork area.[10]

For Native Americans during the Removal period, pottery was a dying art, but there remains evidence that the Creeks were among the only three tribes in Oklahoma which continued to make pottery in what is known as the “historic period”, after the arrival of the Europeans: the Chickasaw, Creek, and the Choctaw.[11] These three tribes continue to make pottery today. The pot from the Selvidge collection was, almost certainly, used for cooking and food storage rather than artifice or sale, considering its lack of decoration. While it is almost impossible to know the definite origin of the Selvidge pot, the most likely explanation is that it was created in the 1840s after the Creek’s arrival in Oklahoma. Despite the lack of decoration on the pot, it remains a fascinating piece in the collection due to its age and obviously utility.

[Sarah Miles]

Notes:

[1] Karl Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

[2] Robert B. Selvidge, Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

[3] Marshall Gettys, “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culturewww.okhistory.org. Accessed March 20, 2015.

[4] Schmitt “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma”: 6.

[5] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, http://www.muscogeenation-nsn.gov/index.html. Accessed March 18, 2015.

[6] Steven C. Hahn “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007, http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1088. Accessed March 22, 2015.

[7] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[8] Hahn “Creeks in Alabama.”

[9] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[10] “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website.

[11] Gettys “Pottery, American Indian.”

 

Works Consulted:

1. “Ceramics” Mississippi Archeology Trails, Mississippi Department of Archives and History. http://trails.mdah.ms.gov/ceramics.htm. Accessed March 5, 2015.

2.  Foster II, H. Thomas. “Evidence of Historic Creek Indian Migration from a Regional and Direct Historic Analysis of Ceramic Types” Southeastern Archaeology 23, no. 1 (Summer 2004): 65.

3.  Gettys, Marshall. “Pottery, American Indian,” Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org. Accessed March 20, 2015.

4. Hahn, Steven C. “Creeks in Alabama,” Encyclopedia of Alabama, March 8, 2007,             http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-1088. Accessed March 22, 2015.

5. Hopper, E.C. E.C. Hopper to J. Willis Stovall, Eufala, OK, April 8, 1948.

6. “Muscogee (Creek) Nation History,” Muscogee (Creek) Nation Official Website, 2013, http://www.muscogeenation-nsn.gov/index.html. Accessed March 18, 2015.

7. “Oklahoma Lakes, Rivers, and Water Resources,” published by Geology.com. http://geology.com/lakes-rivers-water/oklahoma.shtml. Accessed March 20, 2015.

8. “Our Nation: Geographic Information” Chickasaw Nation Official Website, updated February 10, 2015. https://www.chickasaw.net/Our-Nation/Government/Geographic-Information.aspx. Accessed March 22, 2015.

9. Quimby, George I. and Alexander Spoehr “Historic Creek Pottery from Oklahoma” American Antiquity 15, no. 3 (January 1950): 249

10. Selvidge, Robert B. Untitled Text accompanying collection likely written some in the early 1940s.

11. Schmitt, Karl. “Two Creek Vessels from Oklahoma” The Florida Anthropologist 3, no. 1-2 (May 1950): 4.

12. Stovall, J. Willis. J. Willis Stovall to E. C. Hopper, Norman, OK, February 25, 1947.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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