origin of phrase - "if the creek don't rise"

What is the origin of the phrase “the good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”? For instance, I might promise to show up for Christmas at Grandma’s if the good Lord’s willing and the creek don’t rise.

I always took it as a reference to the level of water in a creek. If the creek rises, travel will be impossible and I’ll never get to Granny’s. But today I’ve stumbled across the claim that it refers to an uprising by the Creek (or Cree) Indians. In other words, I’ll make it to Grandma’s if the indians don’t go on the warpath.

Here are a couple of examples of this claim. Neither provides any documentation:



Any of you word experts have solid information?


Your first citation is much stronger than your second.

Note that the Creek Nation(s) did not “rise” at all. During the early days of the War of 1812, one party of Creek marched north and joined the Indians fighting in Ohio and Michigan, participating in the River Raisin Massacre. As they returned home, some of them also killed some settlers in the Ohio valley. When the U.S. demanded that the murderers be handed over for punishment, the Creek executed them themselves (for the Ohio murders, not for the River Raisin battle and aftermath). However, with the west “in flames,” both whites and Indians began organizing fighters. The first big battles in the Creek War were, indeed, attacks on white settlements, but it was not a matter of an “uprising” that threatened settlers, rather it was an outbreak of war between two armed groups in which whites and Indians sought each other out. (Recall, also, that the Creek who did go to war against the whites were a smaller group within the Creek nation and that the larger group remained neutral or actively assisted the whites in the war–at which point they were betrayed by having the U.S. sieze all their land.)

The second contributor on the AOL site is simply repeating things without any understanding. The Cree and the Creek lived over a thousand miles apart, (the Cree are from Canada), so we now have people contributing folk etymologies that are nonsense on their face.

(I would not be surprised to discover that the last contributor on your first link is none other than our own samclem.)

There is no reason to suppose the “Indian” variant is true.

D’oh! That’s exactly who I was hoping would reply to my question. (I’m terrible about reading usernames as I scan threads, and I completely missed who had contributed that comment.)

I agree that the Indian origin sounds unlikely. I was just hoping for something more concrete about the real origin.

PS – A belated congratulations on your appointment as moderator, Tom. I’m a longtime admirer of your calm demeanor and encyclopedic knowledge.

I’m not going to wrestle with historians and their Creek uprising story. However, this is clearly one of those “evolving language” cases. Historians and etymologists may cringe, but the modern usage of “Lord willin’ and the creek (or crick) don’t rise” is about the stream, not the Creek tribe. It’s not a recent change. Lyndon Johnson’s wife Lady Bird was fond of the phrase, and she wasn’t one to cast aspersions on native Americans.

I am usually among those who bristle at change in usage. Lately, though, I have learned to wince quickly and let it go.