Creek Freedmen are African American people who were former slaves of Muscogee Creek tribal members before 1866; they were freed (emancipated) by the 1866 treaty with the United States and granted citizenship in the Creek Nation. The Creek Freedmen had lived and worked the land in Indian Territory prior to the American Civil War. The term also includes their descendants. Many have been of partial Creek descent by blood.
Most of the Freedmen were former slaves of tribal members who had lived in both upper and lower Creek territories in the Southeast. In some villages, Creek citizens married enslaved men or women, and had mixed-race children with them. Interracial marriages were common during this time, and many Creek Freedmen were partly of Creek Indian ancestry.
Because the Muscogee (Creek) Nation mostly allied with the Confederacy, after the Union victory in the Civil War, the United States in 1866 required a new treaty with the Creek Nation. It required the emancipation of slaves and the inclusion of Freedmen as full citizens of the Creek nation, eligible for voting rights and shares of annuities and land settlements. The treaty called for the setting aside of the western half of the territory (thereafter called Unassigned Lands) for the United States to use for the settlement of freedmen and other American Indian tribes. The Creek were forced to cede 3,250,560 acres (13,154.5 km2), for which the United States agreed to pay the sum of thirty (30) cents per acre, amounting to $975,165 USD. The 1866 U.S. treaty article 4 said the US would conduct a census of the Creek tribe, to include the Freedmen.
In 1893, the United States Dawes Commission under the direction of Henry L. Dawes was established by an act of Congress. The Dawes Act, in a continuing effort at assimilation of American Indians, directed the break-up of communal tribal lands and the allotment of plots to individual households. All members of each tribe had to be registered for land allotment. The change to communal lands was an attempt to force the Native Americans to assimilate and adopt European-American methods of land use. In 1898, the US officials created the Dawes Rolls to document the tribal membership for such allotments, including the Creek Freedmen citizens, in the Creek nation. The enrollment for the Dawes rolls lasted until April 26, 1906. The final Dawes rolls constitute a record of the documented ancestors of Creek Freedmen.
The Dawes Rolls have assumed great importance as tribes have increasingly relied on them as records of ancestors for determining ssues of descent and tribal membership for land claims and other benefits. Critics charge that many mistakes were made in how individuals were recorded. For instance, although many Freedmen were of Creek descent, they were included only on Freedmen rolls, which reduced their qualification for tribal membership in later years. The peace treaty of 1866 granted them full citizenship and rights regardless of proportion of Creek or Indian ancestry. Since the changes in Creek code in 2001, changing the rules for membership in the Nation, the issues have become more controversial.
Most of the Creek Freedmen were farmers. They cultivated the land and some owned bees and made honey, such as Tartar Grayson, known as the "Great Bee Man." The children of Creek Freedmen attended racially segregated schools but lived on Creek territory as citizens of the Creek nation.
- Muskogee County Indian Journal, Local Happenings, 22 June 1876