An excerpt of Andrew Ramsey’s Narrative in “Voices of the Apalachicola”; Compiled and Edited by Faith Eidse in 2006
Creek Chief Ramsey: Walking Softly in Two Worlds
Chief Andrew Boggs Ramsey is large, well over 6 feet tall. He wears glasses and has a Ph.D. in education. Chief in one culture, educator in another, he nonetheless walks softly in two worlds. His name appears on a bilingual Muskogee-Creek/English historical marker at the Blountstown Courthouse as the last in an unbroken line of titled chiefs. Born in 1932, he is a direct descendant of the original permanent settlers of Blountstown—Creeks forced out of Alabama by wars in 1810.
A former reigning matriarch married to the tribal chief, Polly Parot was his great-great-great-grandmother. Ramsey prepared adults for General Education Development exams; served as an elementary school principal for eight years; earned a Ph.D. in 1970; and was promoted to the Calhoun County office as teacher trainer and project planner. His project plan was one of only seven funded in the state. Chief Dr. Andrew told his story on May 24, 2001, at his ancestral home on Blountstown’s Central Avenue.
“My grandfather never wore shoes, but he always had that pair of new shoes. He’d get dressed and pick up his pair of new shoes, take them to the store, put ’em on the shelf. Wagons would just go through the back of [that trading post], and they would load there. When he left that night, he’d pickup his shoes [and] walk home barefoot. Indian people didn’t wear shoes,” Ramsey said simply, though his grandfather apparently didn’t want to be judged for lacking them. “The big house used to be right here in front of this one. It burned in1938.”
Ramsey presented a map with a large communal house on what is now his front yard. “Yeah, the big house had a room in the middle of it that would [sleep] two hundred people. I was born there, and my mother was born there. “That little brick house [in the front yard] is my grandmother’s. And when they rebuilt, she still lived outside. She never did move in and live inside, ’cept for sleepin’. She cooked outside, she sat outside, she did all of her work outside. Everything was outside. “You’re right in the middle of a [former] Indian village. When they put this road through, they cut it right in half.
“At that time it was Blunt-em-tvlofa. Blunt—his—town. The . . . Muskogee alphabet’s sounds are different [t is d, c is j]. Moravian missionaries put it into writing, and so we use the [same] letter symbols [as] in English, but they have different sounds.” Ramsey, and I’m Wind Clan. My wife is Bird Clan.” He added in English: “all our children are Bird Clan. See, we’re a matriarchal society, and you get your clan from your mother. Our grandchildren, they’re their mother’s clan. I have one set of grandchildren that are Deer Clan and one set that are Snake Clan. “It’s incest to marry into your own clan. So when you see a pretty girl, you ask her what [her] clan is, and if she says ‘Wind,’ you just walk on. She says ‘Bird,’”—the chief nudged his wife—”you get busy. “Your father’s people’re not kin to you, really. See, your father rears his sister’s children. I was taught how to fish by my mother’s brothers. In fact , my Uncle Bert was medicine man at Pigpen Square—that’s a religious square.
And that’s almost at old Horse town about five minutes by canoe down the river. It was all on the Apalachicola Reservation. But the river changed course, and that put Horse town on Old River. And that created an island called Fanning Island between Old River and where the new channel was.” Ramsey selected a copy of the 1831 J. D. Clements Survey of Blunt’s and Tuskigee’s Reservation. “Here’s Fanning Island right here. This was the Clements survey when they sold the reservation, but they didn’t remove. All these people were gone by 1838. Tuskie Haco [also Tuski hajo] died in 1832. Haco [is] a title that means ‘Zealous Warrior’ or ‘Crazy Warrior.’
“ My ancestors lived at Cochrane town here,” Ramsey continued. “And you see it’s right on the edge of the reservation? They wanted all the Indians on that reservation—and they used his house to make sure it was on the reservation.“ You know, when they sold this reservation,” Ramsey added, “the Polly Parot band, or the Bogot people—Bogot means place of last refuge; last people and their last refuge. They went to Boggs Pond, which is on the other side of the Chipola River, right inside Jackson County.
And this band hid out there. The reason why it came back: timber. They opened this country to timber. “There’s still a group of Creek Indians that live unto themselves in Jackson County,” said Wisa, “and they do not associate with other Creeks or the whites. Except whatever they have to do to earn a living or buy groceries.”
“And the McClellans, which were war Indians from Mossy Head in Walton County, moved here, and then this became an Indian town, and their daughter married my granddaddy, and that’s how the Apalachicolas got back to Blountstown. “Polly Parot and them did not go [West]. Polly Parot was a bought wife. But you could only have a second wife with permission of your principal wife, and [Tuskie Haco’s] principal wife was old Chief Blount’s sister. Wives that were bought were lower social standing. So why would they live out there [in Texas] to [be ill-treated]? “The only way Polly is mentioned in the archives is that when the Seminoles captured John Blount’s wife and children, Polly was with him.
They found out she was from Horse town [and] let her go, but they killed Blount’s wife and children. “Now, why did they let [her] go? Because we are really the Miccosukee clan that was left behind. My great-great-grandmother [Mary Musgroove] was Miccosukee, and Andrew Jackson destroyed Miccosukee in 1817. And they fled over [here]. And she married John Boggs. He was born here in1810. “This was hunting grounds back then. The first permanent [Creek] settlement here was 1815. The result of that being a refuge town [was that] when they found out she was from Horse town they let her go.”
Chief Ramsey presented copies of census papers. “My great-grandfather was born here in 1840 [and] died in 1917. [The form] said: ‘Who was your father?’ ‘John Boggs.’ They weren’t schooled, and they didn’t speak English. So down here when it said, ‘Who was his mother?’ he thought they were talking about his daddy’s mother, so my great-great-great-grandmother Polly Parot’s name is on that death certificate. “The river was the lifeline and the highway. And you know where Montgomery, Alabama, is today? That’s where the Apalachicolas originally came from. And the Indian town there was Tukabahtchee. The Apalachicolas were chased out of their homes. “There was a little town outside of Tukabahtchee called Peach Tree.
Dalofa Bagana. And when they moved to Texas, they called them the Bagana Muskogees. [In Texas it’s] the Alabama Cosetta Reservation. One of them married a Frenchman, and he moved the whole group out on that ranch. “The reason why [Chief Blount] went to the Alabama Cosetta Reservation to start with is that Red Shoes, chief of the Alabama Cosetta, was John Blount’s uncle. But their dialect was so different they didn’t understand each other.“
Most of the Seminoles down south, except for those around Okeechobee, are Hitchiti people, and they don’t even speak Muskogee; they speak Miccosukee. Miccosukee is a Hitchiti language. You take verbs and you make nouns out of them,” Ramsey explained. “Like ‘Wewahitchka.’ ‘Wewa’ is the Apalachicola name for water. ‘Hitch’ is ‘see.’ ‘Ka’ makes place. So it’s a place where you see water. “They call it ‘Stiff-n-ugly’ right there in Liberty County, but it’s ‘este-een funga.’‘Este’ is ‘person’; and ‘een’ is ‘his’ or ‘her’; ‘funga’ is ‘skeleton.’ ‘Ga’ on the end makes that a place, a place where human bones were found. Ramsey touched the shell medallions around his neck. “These are the Muskogee nation in Florida. [It] has one renowned artist [Dan Townsend in Crawfordville].
And these are old Creek designs out of Lake Jackson mounds. Mangazeit,”he said, referring to a carved humming bird. Patchwork is sewn with diamond shapes for Seminoles, rounded shapes for Creeks. A photo showed Ramsey in head dress and blue and red patchwork outfit. “That’s kind of a pow-wow type thing, which is white in origin. We don’t use drums. Creek dancing is what you call stomp. And it’s always [with] singing.”“[Wisa’s] family lived on the Aucilla River when the white people burned it,” Ramsey said. “They didn’t keep up with their history like we did Florida passed a law saying the only way you could live here as an Indian was to live as white people. “Now my great-grandfather on my daddy’s side, name was Letga Hajo [Letkv Haco]. And when they had to make livings, he just picked out of the air ‘Honest John Ramsey’ and started a rolling store, on a wagon. A lot of Indians say, ‘You can’t use Ramsey; that’s not Indian.’ But the name Ramsey here means Haco.
In my Indian society, I’ll introduce myself as ‘Ndola [Vntold] Haco.’ ‘Ndola’ means Andrew.” Indians did not achieve civil rights until 1964, Ramsey said. “Essentially right out here, my grandfather established [Boggs Cemetery] so Indians would have a place to be buried. There’s a lot of white people in it now. The white cemetery was up at Meadow Ridge. “Indians were slaves too. Did you know that when they first imported slaves into this country, they had Indians in slavery already? “Now, going back to the river—Leedja Hajo’s wife was named Cedar Woman. The Creeks had fertility people, and she was that person. Cedar tea was a fertility drink. And there used to be a lily that grew on the Apalachicola River that she made into a tea and that would keep you from getting pregnant. It doesn’t grow around here anymore.
“Wisa had tumors, and the doctor told her she most likely would never have any children. And we came home [from] school [where we taught]—and Wisa had the cramps. And my grandmother [Boggs] said, ‘I can stop those cramps.’ And she steeped a tea out of cedar bark, and those cramps went away just like that.“ And Wisa said, ‘Thank you, Granny. That’s the most wonderful drink I ever took.’ [Grandmother] laughed, and she said: ‘I don’t know if you’re gonna think it’s so wonderful. You’re gonna be pregnant in four to six weeks.’ And Wisa laughed and said, ‘Granny, the doctor said I can’t have any children.’ In four weeks, we were expecting our first child.” Wisa added, “That’s his picture up at the top on the wall.” Two more sons followed; the youngest would commit suicide at age thirty-four, tortured by alienation and the pain of not belonging perfectly anywhere. “The biggest tragedy of the modern-day Indian is suicide,” said Ramsey.
“My wife’s granddaddy committed suicide, and my wife’s daddy committed
suicide, and then we had our son commit suicide. It seems that people don’t realize how bad depression can be and especially if you don’t fit in your [culture].I had two uncles that ruined themselves with alcohol, so I suffered from that; saw my grandmother suffer from it. And obesity. You look, I’m suffering from obesity and diabetes. We all have diabetes. We call it the beginning of death. In the olden times, we went through periods of starvation, and so Indian people’s metabolism is more efficient than Nordic metabolism. So it really takes less food for us. “We live in two cultures,” Ramsey added. “When we’re around white people, we live white culture; when we’re around Indian people, we live Indian culture. Partly the two cultures don’t overlap. They’re too separate. “When I was a boy, my grandmothers used to meet—and each would carry a piece of wood. Because you always had a fire.
It could be 100 degrees and you’d have a fire. ’Cause you had your coffeepot and your [food].“Most [living, quilting, meeting] was outside,” Ramsey said. “It’s just according to how much Indian you have in you; what part of you lived more a white lifestyle and Indian lifestyle. “The Seminole chairman is trying to help uswith federalization,” Ramsey added, explaining that he wants the tribe recognized to receive federal subsidies. “The Creeks are not federalized in north Florida, though they are recognized. I’ve been working on this for twenty-three years. It’s slow. There’s a lack of unity.” Andrew was grand marshal in the 1995 Springtime Tallahassee parade, where he was assailed by those protesting the prominent figure dressed as Andrew Jackson accompanying him in the parade.
“That’s the first time I knew what it was like to be called a name,” said Ramsey sadly. Yet he has sixteen Florida pioneer certificates. “If you had ancestors that lived in Florida before it became a state, then you could get a Florida pioneer certificate. All [twenty] of my ancestors were born and reared and died in Florida. “That’s a picture of the square ground,” Ramsey added, selecting a picture of a cleared square of ground with benches on four sides, shaded by thatched roofs. “We have a four-arbor town. That’s me; the chief and head people sit in the west. That’s the west arbor. And the east arbor, you have the women, children, and visitors. And then all the old warriors are in the north, and the young warriors are in the south.”
When Shaman Charles Daniels-Sakim established Pine Arbor Square Grounds, Ramsey added, “it was very similar to what I remembered [from boyhood], except we always kept a pot of the black drink there. And it’s really for our time of purification. It’s made out of evergreen yaupon leaves, and it’s really high in caffeine.“ Tribes from the interior traveled to the river each spring to partake of this tonic. It grows wild here. The children gather the leaves, [and] you parch[them].
“Sakim is a maker of medicine,” Ramsey added, indicating a bottle of colored liquid. “It’s a redbone. It’s really good for arthritis. It was made from the medicine plant. There isn’t anyone in the United States that has more knowledge than Sakim. You can believe him. “But our cultures, until the civil rights law, you know—you really kept them separate. I was the first in the state that listed Indian in the position of supervisor. I was training teachers here in Calhoun County. “I started wearing shoes and underwear at twelve,” Ramsey added. “I mean, I had a pair of Sunday school shoes. But we always went barefoot. I could walk on a hot pavement in midsummer and not feel it. Now I can hardly walk across the floor over the rug.
“After I got my [Ph.D.], I bagged groceries and I served gas. I worked at the Piggly Wiggly for sixty-four years. And you know how I got my first [professional] job? One of [my customers] that worked for the superintendent said, ‘They’re closing down the Calhoun Adult School today.’ And I said, ‘If I get me up a class will you all maybe not close it down and let me have a job?’ The superintendent said, ‘If you have a class load of people there, and you keep them, then you can have that job.’“
So the next night I had all my kinfolk there, and they stayed for six months.
[No one else wanted] ‘an old Indian teaching my child.’ I had to
have a higher degree than most people to get a job, to get promotions.
“My grandmother never went to school. Indian people weren’t allowed to go to school back then. My grandfather was smart enough that he taught himself to read and write English. And then he taught her to read and write English.
“The Indian religion is positive. You take what is, and you make something good out of it. You don’t hold a grudge; you don’t lose your temper. Ifyou upset anything, you go to the quicken post and you beat the post andyou throw it in the fire and you forgive. And according to the old Creek religion, unlimited. And so when you find that people have any big, bad grudges, you know right off the bat that they were not reared Indian.”Wisa—which means “sassafras”—called Ramsey and me to a lunch of chicken, boiled potatoes, corn, and okra. Chief Ramsey sang a prayer in Muskogee that seemed to unite religious traditions: “Our creator who lives above all things, but you’re everywhere all the time; our creator, you made the earth and everything that we need on it. We thank you for this food. In Jesus Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
“See, all my great uncles were killed,” Ramsey said, passing the chicken.“ The last ones were killed at Sweetwater Creek over in Liberty County ’cause Liberty County was the empty spot, and they were workin’ themselves south. And if you go to Sycamore, just north of Bristol—there’s a grave in the back of the cemetery says, ‘These are the last three people killed by Creek Indians. ’And I don’t know for sure, but [those Creeks were] prob’ly the Haco people coming down. But that was the time of the war when people are trying to’spel [expel] you from your home. “My first memory,” Ramsey said, “was crawling on [Granny’s shoulders].Mother would drop them off at [her friend] Rena’s house, and you would have to walk 4 or 5 miles to get where they fished in the swamp. And I’d crawl up on her shoulders. And they’d come across a slough [and] just wade right on through. And I can still see Granny’s nose just above the water and me on her shoulders. And we’d fish, and my job was to clean [fish]. No matter how young you were, Creek children had responsibilities. And they’d always carry cheesecloth with coffee in it. I’d just dip the water out of the river or sloughs, right here off the Apalachicola River. I wouldn’t do it today,” Ramsey added. “And then we’d wash the fish in river water,” Ramsey laughed. “I wouldn’t wash fish in river water now.”
“And the last time those two women went fishing, I carried [Granny] in piggyback. She was eighty-one when she died,” Ramsey added. “She converted to Christian Science. Christian Science and Creek has a lot alike. Mind over body. But it killed her because she was diabetic. “We always caught a lot of fish,” Ramsey added. “Like during December, January, February, and March is when red horse suckers ran. And you’d fence in part of the creek, and then you’d go gig ’em out and slash those bones. And then sometimes at the old square ground at Creek Bend they would net gar fish, but they wouldn’t scale them. They would cut them open and take the entrails out. They would start a smoldering fire, and then they’d put those gar fish and cover [them] with leaves and dirt. After a pretty good while, they would dig ’em up, and they’d use the scales as a bowl, and they would dip the meat out.
“I have some jewelry that have gar fish scales, and they give you power. They used them most on jewelry and to cut with; they’re real sharp. As a warrior, you had to have something like gar fish scales. “My first job in the grocery store was to keep the pigs and the cows out of the grocery store. I was six,” Ramsey said. “When I was a boy, pigs and cows roamed down the street. [Not] until Fuller Warren, you know, became governor in ’48 did he outlaw animals from roaming on the road. Going to Tallahassee, you stopped fifteen times to get the cows out of the road “There was a big change from the time I was little. You had a ferry that crossed this river, and it’d take you about an hour and a half to get to Bristol. You’d go down to the landing, and you’d wait for the ferry, and then it would hold three cars. The road from there to Bristol was just a rut for each tire. So if you got all the way to Bristol and you met a car, one of you was going to have to back up for a mile. “I should be embarrassed to tell this. I was in the honor society. And you know Maclay Gardens [Tallahassee]? Miss Maclay invited us over, and she served hot water with tea bags. We had never seen a tea bag in our lives.
“A cousin whispered, ‘I bet you tear that tea bag open.’ So everybody tore their tea bag open, and Ms. Maclay came: ‘Oh, my goodness, I must have bought a box of defective tea bags.’ “She was a short Scottish woman, and she was not a little woman, and she said, ‘Let me give you another one and you just put it in the cup, and it’ll suck out.’ “Listen, I misspelled one word in my school career,” said Ramsey, “and that was ‘separate.’
I was in third grade, and I just cried. Even when my mother went to school, [taught by] a Cherokee Indian, now, they swept all the schools in Calhoun County free of Creek Indians and sent ’em to the black school. Except for my granddaddy’s children—my mother and them—because my granddaddy cashed [teachers’ pay] vouchers. “When you’re in the minority like that, it’s important for you to do better. But even then, when I was in school here, your worst group of students was your Creek Indian students. That was the worst-achieving group,” Ramsey said.
“It’s because the values were different. They’re not used to sitting still in a restricted [space], and one of the things I had to learn to do was to have high eye contact. In our culture, it was an insult to even look anybody right straight in the eye. “I have white characteristics; I could adapt to white society, but none of my three children could. Creek Indian people are not very talkative. When you first meet Indian people you say, ‘Those are the most unfriendly people I’ve ever seen.’ They take being silent for being sullen.
“But the river was a highway, and it was a place where you got food. Indian people would travel great distances at times, but they would travel sofar, and they would stay there a month or so. Because Polly Parot’s husband, John Boggs Jr., was Cherokee. They were on the Tahlequah Land Payments [Oklahoma]. So they had to be up there sometime, even though she was Creek.“When I was growing, we were isolated here. I mean, we had nowhere to go. In fact, we all look alike. Of the Miccosukee group that was left behind, there’s only about forty of us. We have a lot more kinfolks than that, but a lot of people don’t want to be Indian. That’s the reason why Indian populations are shrinking so, and it’s because they marry white, and the children get lighter, and they want to be white. ’Cause all the important people are white.
And you want to be part of what’s important. “I belong to the church I was born into, which is the First Baptist here.
But I am a Square Ground Creek too. I attend all the religious ceremonies out at the square. You have a lead singer, and the ones following it are the chorus, and that’s part of the stomp dancing.“ Usually you start off around the fire; the fire is like an altar in the church. A lot of people think Creek worship fire, but they don’t. But the [mound]
out here begins with the bird world. See, you have different levels scattered
And this is the only mound out here that has a Bible in it. Yes,
my grandmother’s Bible. Sakim thought it was important for me to have it in. “And that fire is continuous. It never goes out. You take that fire with you in a lantern, and you have a fire keeper, and then he lights the next fire.
“My minia (grandmother) out here and my anida [great-grandmother], they used to attend a square ground at Boggs Pond [west of the Chipola River in Jackson County]. People would come in at Boggs Pond and stay two months in the fall, and that ended up with Harvest Busk. They’d gather the [wild Spanish] cows up and the hogs out of the woods, and they’d cure the beef jerky and cure that pork, and my granddaddy would divide it out among the different families.
“Creek Indian women do all the work. Those men get out and gather [game] up, and they would kill it. Then the women would take over. The women would skin it and everything else. And there’d be one group that’d go down to Port St. Joe and stay a month getting a year’s supply of salt. And it’d take a week getting to Port St. Joe; wagon and walking. “And they took muck out of the bottom of Boggs Pond and spread it over
that sand, to be able to grow anything. Those are sand ridges on that side of Chipola River.
“When they dredged the river, they blocked those [fishing] sloughs. So where we used to fish, you can’t even fish anymore. [The sand] filled them up. And that’s where a lot of the fish beds were. And now there’re no fish down here ’cause ’bout the time the fish get on a bed, the water drops out and leaves all the beds. We’ve not had good fishing since that dam went in [at] Chattahoochee. They have wonderful fishing behind the dam, but they ruined all of it down here. You have to work at it,” Ramsey said. “I love to fish.
“I like big fish, and it takes eight big fish for me and my wife, and I have to spend all afternoon catching [them]. I put the rest back. But you have to be real careful; you have to wet your hands. We never heard of this disease when I was young, but now they have a fungus that will attack those scales and make sores on the fish. And I’ve caught warmouths with sores that big around.” The size of a saucer. “And when you touch them with dry hands, it[disrupts] the slime, and that disease can get ’em. You had that same thing up the river about two years ago—where they were catching fish with sores on them. It always happens sometime when the water was very low and stagnant.
“When I was a boy, I’d never think about trying to walk across the Apalachicola, and in recent years, it’s been so dry you could walk across. It’s awfully hard down here for any of the natural systems to keep going. “Why does [Atlanta] want to get so large? I never have decided that. I’ve always ranged chickens. But I’ve put a few chickens in a pen. They just get along so well and lay and everything. But I don’t crowd that pen, or they’d
start eating each other, and I feel that’s the way people are.
Everybody has to have a certain amount of space. “All this land used to be open. You could go hunting anywhere you wanted to. You could go fishing anywhere you wanted to. But now somebody from Ohio comes here and they buy land; the first thing they do is put a fence as high as this house and just dare you to put one toe in it.
And hunting clubs rent all this river land, and you can’t even hunt or get into the river except for public ramps. I grew up with the forest being everybody’s, the river being everybody’s. “And I don’t believe in gambling. I think there’re too many other things that Indian people could go into to make money. You don’t see the reservations putting up grocery stores; they have Safeway or Krogers come in.” Chief Ramsey led me past two larger-than-life paintings of himself, first in Muskogee, then in Miccosukee ceremonial dress, as he ushered me out to the bird yard. Chickens clucked in a roomy pen; geese, peacocks, and a large black swan ranged under hanging baskets of vibrant pink and purple impatiens. There was no person better suited to welcome me to this basin that had once been everybody’s.
“Voices of the Apalachicola”, Compiled and Edited by Faith Eidse
An excerpt of Andrew Ramsey’s Narrative