Around the Council Fire

by James Treat

These found poems are drawn from interviews with elderly citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation recorded in 1937-38 as part of the Indian-Pioneer History Project sponsored by the federal Works Progress Administration and archived at the Oklahoma Historical Society and the University of Oklahoma. You can read more about this project at Tribal College and Reckoning. —Eds.


tokepahce town is spoken of as
the mother of the muscogee nation
and is first
apehkv is second
kvsehtv is third and
kvwetv is fourth

each gathers at his own town but
no two towns meet on the same date
so they can all visit the other towns
            they do not take medicine when
visiting unless they want to and then
it is taken by permission


their way of carrying on their customs
was to watch one another

the members of tribal towns watched others
to learn how and see how other tribal towns
carried on the ceremonies
customs and
carried out the beliefs
which had been handed down by the older ones

none wished to interfere with
the rights of the tribal town in the use
customs and
beliefs that accompanied the medicine
and the use of the medicine was
always a foremost rite in each town and
was considered sacred by the other towns

the tokepahce were looked on with respect
for their sacred plate ceremony


all the ancient tribal towns of
the mvskoke creek nations
were not bound by the traditional customs
of other tribal towns
but they turned to the tokepahce for
instruction and guidance in their
way of conduct
for the tokepahce were old in their ways
and strong for tribal rites
            the tokepahce never acted possessive
when they were sought for advice and guidance
by the other towns

tales have been handed down of how
the old indians of the tokepahce town
in the old country
observed their busk ground ceremonials

rules were laid down to prevent the
cooking odors from the camps
to reach those within the busk ground
who were taking medicine
            all camps were placed in a circle
around the council fire site with the fire
site being the center of the busk ground


the tokepahce town or square
was measured by the earth
north south east and west
            the government sent a man out
to investigate    he went to see
and surveyed it and said it was
just right
            the ones who belong to that
town go there and take medicine
before they eat green corn and
have their dances

this fire was given to the
tokepahce town by the great
spirit and has been handed down
from generation to generation
            i believe it is a kind of
flint the fire is in a rock
            at all dances they use it
to dance around
            they take four logs about three feet
long and six inches through two are
laid north and south and the other two
are laid across them east and west
just right     they are set on fire with
this sacred fire and make a big light
to dance around     toward daylight they are
pushed together and pushed together
until every bit of the logs burn out
during the last dance

it is bad luck to leave the logs

Sandy Fife, b. ca. 1870
Thloppie Tiger, b. ca. 1880
Eunah Hobia, b. ca. 1897
William Benson, b. ca. 1875

JAMES TREAT is the author of Around the Sacred Fire: Native Religious Activism in the Red Power Era and the editor of several volumes of native literature. His essays and poems have appeared in American Indian Culture and Research JournalAmerican QuarterlyContemporary Verse 2Cultural Survival QuarterlyFourth GenreIndian Country TodayInterdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentMuscogee Nation NewsNative AmericasOrionStudies in American Indian LiteratureTribal College JournalVerbatim Found Poetry, and other academic and literary journals. Treat is an enrolled citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. More information about his work is available at his website.