Though their population was, at one time, the largest in the Southeast, the Creek Indians could not really be considered a unified tribe or nation of tribes, but more of a confederacy of tribes – each living independently and roaming nomadically across the region from present day Florida, north to present day Tennessee and west to present day Alabama.
Despite this seemingly vast area, the Creek land claims were, in some ways, specific, and, in other ways, just general understandings with regard to borders. But they did live in the area now known as Peachtree Corners, as well as in the surrounding areas, including Johns Creek, Norcross, Duluth and Alpharetta - and for a period of time, so did the Cherokee.
For that reason, the Cherokee and the Creek clashed for centuries. The problem began around the mid-1400s, when the Cherokee nation began to encroach into what had traditionally been Creek lands. As the encroachments became more prevalent and went deeper into the land claimed by the Creek, it was inevitable that this problem would come to a head, especially when outside politics were added to the mix.
Both the Creek and the Cherokee were known to make agreements and even form alliances with a variety of settlers and explorers; be they French, Spanish or English. Add those European cultures and their goals for conquests to the pot and you have the makings of major confrontations.
However, many historians believe the war that ultimately decided the future for the two enemies reached a boiling point in 1715, when the Cherokee invited the leaders of their arch nemesis to a meeting near present day Toccoa. The conference was supposedly meant to discuss hunting rights - with the goal of deciding the dispute that had kept the two factions fighting off and on for so many generations. But during the night, the Cherokee killed their rivals as they slept, inciting a war that raged for 40 years.
Finally, in 1755, Creek and Cherokee warriors squared off in present day Ball Ground, engaging in a relentless and brutal confrontation that became known as the Battle of Taliwa.
Over the course of the battle, the Creek staged five successful attacks, nearly destroying the Cherokee warriors. But when a Cherokee warrior named Kingfisher was killed, his teenage wife picked up his weapon, rallied the Cherokee and advanced on the Creek. The advance that was led by the young woman – whom the Cherokee called Nan'yehi and is known today as Nancy Ward - turned the tide of the battle.
In what became the most fierce and decisive fight of the entire 40 year war, Nan'yehi and the Cherokee warriors drove the Creek all the way back across North Georgia and across the Chattahoochee River. From that day on the Creek remained south of the river and Cherokee would claim the land north of the river. The understanding between the Creek and the Cherokee was that any Creek found north of the Chattahoochee would be killed – which is something to think about the next time you drive across the Chattahoochee River on Medlock Bridge Road into Johns Creek.
After her display of courage and leadership at the Battle of Taliwa, Nan'yehi earned the name “Ghigau” or “Beloved Woman.” As a Ghigua she could sit in councils and make decisions.
She believed in a peaceful coexistence with the European settlers and their governments and worked to those ends during her life.
During the American Revolutionary War, Nan'yehi warned the colonists of an impending attack by the leader of a dissident band of Cherokee, known as Dragging Canoe. The act made her a Patriot of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
Still, the story would not end well for either the Creek or the Cherokee.
The Creek would live an uncertain existence for the last half of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th century. Diseases like smallpox, brought to the new world by the Europeans, had already taken a devastating toll on the Creek population. But during the American Revolution, many of the Creek tribes sided with the British, sustaining heavy losses. In 1782, as Creek Indians were attempting to relieve the British in Savannah, Creek Chief Emistesigo was killed.
As the years went by, the Creek lost their land to officials who would negotiate treaties that required the Creek to relinquish their land or, in many cases, the officals would simple take the lands through “official” edicts.
In February 1825, Creek Chief William McIntosh sealed the fate of the Creek. The son of an American Revolutionary War hero and a Creek woman, McIntosh signed away virtually all of the remaining Creek land in Georgia with the Treaty of Indian Springs.
In exchange, McIntosh received a plantation on the Chattahoochee River - but he wouldn't be able to enjoy it very long. Just two months later, McIntosh was executed by the Creek for trading Creek land to the State of Georgia without the consent of the tribal council.
By the mid 1830s, most of the Creek were gone.
The Cherokee, on the other hand, seemed to propser - at first. Often taking on the European-American style of dress, they built businesses, established towns and even carved out succesful plantations that rivaled those of the white planters. It appeared that the Cherokee had adapted well to the white man's "civilized" world.
But when gold was discovered in Dahlonega in 1828, the Cherokee Nation was caught in the middle of legal and political disputes over land and the rights of the Cherokee. Laws were changed, rights were blatantly violated and, by 1838, it was all over.
Officals seized the Cherokee lands across North Georgia and elsewhere. Troops rounded up the Cherokee and marched them west for relocation along what became the infamous "Trail of Tears." The State of Georgia then parceled out the land to white settlers through a land lottery.
The two proud Native American nations would never return to North Georgia, the place the Cherokee called “The Enchanted Land.”