A few years ago I posted a series of articles from the now-defunct Tampa Times newspaper, about the strange genesis of the very odd eastern Creek Indian groups. With some of these groups once again seeking federal recognition, I think it is time again to bring these articles to light, and be reminded of who these people are. In my opinion, none are worthy of federal recognition.
The T-Times newspaper no longer exists, and the rolls of microfilm of their back issues were tossed in the dump, so it is almost impossible to find a copy of their paper from the past. Libraries do not even have it in their archive collection. I have reprinted the articles here, and recently came across another Xerox copy of the articles, so I am adding the photos.
I would encourage anyone to follow their ancestor’s culture and family traditions, but these groups are not even doing that—they are just making it up. And there are traditional families who carry on the old ways and traditions, but interestingly enough they are not seeking federal recognition and just want to be left alone.
His title is ceremonial
Creek chief dresses for TV
By Jim Seale
Times Staff Writer
Photo: Gary Rings/Tampa Times
He’s a Plains dresser
[Sorry, don't have this photo. Page was missing from the article I got the photos from.]
The Paunchy, self-proclaimed chief of the Florida Creek Nation, Wesley Thomley, poses in his Plains Indian headdress with his wife, Ruth Billie, and Phlecia Partain, the young winner of a Creek beauty pageant. While few Creeks recognize Thomley’s claim to the throne, Thomley is probably the most photographed of all Creek leaders.
Wesley Thomley clings fast to his purely ceremonial title of chief of the Creek nation in Florida even in the middle of one of the worst civil wars in the tribe’s history.
Tomley, a paunchy, 51-year-old paper mill worker form the Pensacola area, is recognized by few Florida Creeks as their leader. Florida’s Creek descendants are having trouble deciding which tribal group they recognize as being official, with Pensacola being the battle grounds for five warring Creek “clans.”
What Thomley lacks in support from his tribes, he makes up for in sheer media appeal. More than any other Florida Creek leader, he is most often pictured in newspapers across the Southeast—usually in colorful Plains Indian headdress.
Ancestral intermarriage has bred some of the Creek blood out of Thomley, and he said if he didn’t dress as a Plains Indian no one would recognize his prominence.
“Up at a festival one time they asked us to wear traditional Creek costumes. I wore mine the first day and I didn’t have a single person come up and talk to me,” Thomley said.
“You see, you dress for TV,” added his wife, Ruth Billie, helping her husband into his headgear of dyed feathers.
Thomley and his wife recently talked to a Times reporter in their home about the tribulations of being Creek leaders these days. During the interview, the chief posed in costume for a Times photographer while Mrs. Thomley occasionally fired orders to their black housemaid.
Thomley was born and raised in the dirt farming country of Monroe County, Ala., where he said he never encountered prejudice even though neighbors knew of his Creek lineage.
“Will you come in here and hit this thing on the head?” shouted Mrs. Thomley to the maid, as a large cockroach raced out from under the legs of her chair and stopped inches from her ankles.
Thomley explained that he became active in the recent Creek movement “for the purpose of helping the Indians.”
“That AIM group—the radical American Indian Movement—I think they had a good point in what they were asking for,” a costumed Thomley said while sitting on his front porch. “But the way they went about it, I don’t agree with that.”
“Wesley, you better get your comb out and comb your hair,” Mrs. Thomley interrupted, before telling the maid “go down to the corner and bring up something to drink.”
Thomley can’t speak the native Creek tongue, but said because he was brought up as a white he never had the chance to learn.
While Thomley keeps a firm grasp on his crown, three other men make competing claims to the big title—chief of the Creek nation east of the Mississippi.
The claimants include:
• Houston McGhee, a middle-aged, carpet factory worker in Atmore, Ala., and the handpicked successor of his father, the late Calvin McGhee, who founded the modern Creek movement and the closest thing to a universally recognized chief the eastern Creeks ever had.
McGhee, who does not have a phone and could not be reached for comment, is described as a retiring type who won’t make the weekend powwow circuit or pursue the news media enough to keep his tribe united. “He’s almost a non-existent leader,” said Jack Gregory, a university professor who worked with Pensacola’s Creek clans.
• Arthur Turner, a 67-year-old from Florala, Ala. Turner said he was elected by a Creek council of from nine to 18 members, “depending on how many we need.”
Turner said his 380-member group wants federal funds for a planned Creek arts and crafts school, and to build a replica of an old Creek village to attract tourists.
He called Thomley who is allied to one of his rival claimants a “Johnny come lately” to the Creek cause. Thomley left Turner’s group several years ago after the Florala council would not name Thomley the chief, as had been planned, Turner said.
• Neal McCormick, a Cairo, Ga., country and western music singer who claims to be the great great grandson of Creek chief William McIntosh. McIntosh was put to death by fellow tribesmen in the 1800’s for signing away millions of Creek acres without consulting the tribe.
McCormick and his wife Peggy, who were honored in a 1973 executive order of then-Georgia Gov Jimmy Carter, have purchased land in Cairo they are trying to turn into a reservation. A museum of Creek culture, schools and a health center will be built on the reservation, Mrs. McCormick said.
Mrs. McCormick, who manages the reservation affairs, pointed out that Creeks in Georgia were not torn by the same rampant factionalism that plagues Florida Creeks.
“Over there lately everybody wants to be chief, everybody wants to be lead dancer, everybody wants to be princess.”