A while back some friends of mine were discussing the origins of an old saying, “The Good Lord willing and the creeks don’t rise”. The question was asked, “Does anyone know if the reference is to a creek (little river, stream, bayou-ette) overflowing its banks, or to the Creek tribe going off the reservation?” It turns out that some folks claim that this goes back to the Creek War of 1813-1814. But those speculating on such origins probably never lived in the backwoods. Unless someone makes the effort to look through historical documents until they come across some ancient writing in which the words are written (I suspect that some variation of this theme may be found on Cuneiform tablets in some ancient city) we may never know for sure. But I heavily suspect that the phrase is ancient indeed, arising long before 1813 and the uprising of the Red Stick Creeks.
Why do I suspect this? Because I HAVE lived in the backwoods. When one lives in primitive surroundings in which roads are mere trails through the woods and rivers and streams are crossed at shallow fords, one begins to understand the importance of doing one’s traveling when the water is down. Years ago I was talking with a young man who was telling me about how he would go to parties during the rainy season. Since entertainment was few and far between in the backwoods area of the sertão in which he lived, any party was not to be missed if at all possible. There was no “the Good Lord willing” part to it at all – it was, “If the creeks don’t rise I’ll be there” Except that he made it to more than one party even though the creeks DID rise. Such was his desire for entertainment that he’d come to a swollen creek choked with rushing water and weeds and whatever. He’d strip down, pick out a point upstream of his desired landing point on the other side and swim across the creek with his clothes held over his head. Once he got over there he’d dry off as best he could and get dressed again before heading down the track towards the party.
But most folks wouldn’t go to such measures. Common sense dictates that once the rain tapers off the creek will sink back down and the water will be less dangerous to one’s continued existence on this green earth. And so, if the rains swelled the creeks and rivers folks would simply wait until such time as they went back down – and THEN go on about their business. The building of bridges across some of the rivers made traveling easier, but all it took was one deep ravine choked with muddy rainwater to put a damper on a person’s travel plans.
Over the years folks have tried to find various ways of getting through in spite of the swollen creeks and rivers. One sees four wheel drive vehicles equipped with “snorkels” to allow them to run even with the engine compartment under water. My uncle would take off the fan belt before driving into a river ford. This would keep the radiator from getting pushed back into the fan by the water and being damaged. By getting a good steady start and not slowing down he would create a “bow wave” which kept the water out of the engine compartment and thus out of the air intake. However, he only used these methods when the water was low. If the creeks were up, he’d simply have to wait for them to go down before continuing his journey.
No, I give no credence to the Creek War of 1813-1814. It makes an interesting story but has little merit to suggest it as the origin for the saying. Backwoods living is different from today’s asphalt and steel bridge living. If the creeks are up you’re simply not going much of anywhere until such time as they go back down. That’s all there is to it.