I have used this phrase many times, “God willing and the creeks don’t rise”, and I’ll wager that you have, too. I have understood the phrase to mean that I would be somewhere, or accomplish some task unless prevented by some unseen circumstance. Amazingly, there is much discussion about what this really means. Research shows that there are two different opinions about the saying, and both sides are avid that their positions are correct.
Some people have problems with acknowledging a higher power called God, and that this God does not interfere in the actions of man. So, to them blaming God for being unwilling that something happen is unrealistic. However, to those who believe in God do believe that certain circumstances are not allowed by an all-knowing and all-seeing God, for reasons known only to Him, but usually for our protection or benefit. But, this seems to be the lesser of the two arguments.
To many researchers the main quandary is the word “creek” in the phrase. To some the word refers to the Creek Indians, and to others it simply means a stream of water.
Those who believe that the work refers to the Creek Indians point to Mr. Benjamin Hawkins who was the General Superintendent for Indian Affairs between 1796 and 1818 for the U.S. Government. He was the principal agent to the Creek nation. In fact, he became so close to its people that he learned their language, was adopted by them, and married a Creek woman. Who better to write about the risks of the Creek rising in revolt?
Mr. Hawkins was summoned to Washington D.C. by the president in order to discuss a number of raids carried out by the Creek Indians in an area which is now the state of Alabama. It is reported that Mr. Hawkins replied in a letter which read in part, “I will be there for the meeting, God willing and the Creek don’t rise.” It is argued that the word “Creek” is singular, and the “c” is capitalized thus indicating other than a mere stream of water. People who hold this position on the phrase argue that Mr. Hawkins was a very educated fellow and would not make a grammatical error in his writings.
However, people who hold to the view that the word “creek” actually refers to a stream of water because other renderings of the phrase do not capitalize the “c”, which suggests that they didn’t have the Creek people in mind at all. That argues for the more mundane origin – the old time difficulties of traveling on dirt roads that forded rivers and streams. Thus, if the creek don’t rise was a whimsical way of saying that the speaker would carry out some task provided that no obstacles were put in his path such as a flooded creek. It could be summarized as “if all goes well.”
The saying has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Jackson among others, on the usual principle that attaching a famous name to a story validates it. In the 1950s the phrase became popular as a supposedly hayseed utterance, sometimes as and the crick don’t rise to reflect a regional form. It was also used as a sign-off tag line of the 1930s US radio broadcaster Bradley Kincaid.
So, the argument goes on even today as to which is referred to in the expression - does the “creek” refer to the Creek Indians or just a stream of water? Since both arguments have merit you will have to decide for yourself. The message of the saying is the same either way you interpret it.
Source: World Wide Words – Michael Quinion