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Chiaha Tribe

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Moll Map of 1720

In the Moll Map of 1720 Chiaha is among the Creek towns on the Ocmulgee River.

The Chiaha were a more prominent tribe and evidently much larger than the Osochi. While the significance of their name is unknown it recalls the Choctaw chaha, “high,” “height,” and this would be in harmony with the situation in which part of the tribe was first encountered northward near the mountains of Tennessee. There is also a Cherokee place name which superficially resembles this, but should not be confounded with it. It is written by Mooney Tsiyahi and signifies “Otter place.” One settlement so named formerly existed on a branch of the Keowee River, near the present Cheohee, Oconee County, South Carolina; another in Cades Cove, on Cove Creek, in Blount County, Tennessee; and a third, still occupied, about Robbinsville, in Graham County, North Carolina.1

As a matter of fact we know from later history that there were at least two Chiahas in very early times – one as above indicated and a second among the Yamasee. In discussing the Cusabo I have already spoken of the possibility that the Kiawa of Ashley River were a third group of Chiaha, and will merely note the point again in passing.2 That there were Chiaha among the Yamasee is proved by a passage in the manuscript volume of proceedings of the board dealing with the Indian trade of Carolina. There we find it recorded that in 1713 an agent of this board among the Lower Creeks proposed that a way be prepared that “the Cheehaws who were formerly belonging to the Yamassees and now settled among the Creaks might return.”3 This seems to be confirmed by the presence of a Chehaw River in South Carolina between the Edisto and Combahee, though it is possible that that received its name from the Kiawa. There is, however, another line of evidence. In 1566 and 1567 Juan Pardo made two expeditions inland toward the northwest, and reached among other places in the second of these the Chiaha whom De Soto had formerly encountered. Now Pardo calls them “Chihaque, que tiene por otro nombre se llama Lameco,”4 and in another place “Lameco, que tiene por otro nombre Chiaha,”5 while in Vandera’s account we read “Solameco, y por otro nombre Chiaha.”6 Gatschet derives this last from the Creek Sùli miko, “Buzzard chief,” but attention should be called to a similar name recorded by the De Soto chroniclers in the neighborhood of the lower Savannah. This is the Talimeco or Jalameco of Ranjel,7 and the Talomeco of Garcilasso.8 I venture the suggestion that all of these names are intended for the same word, Talimico or Talimiko, which again was probably from Creek Tilwa immiko, “town its chief” –wa being uniformly dropped in composition. The name would probably be applied to an important town. While we do not know definitely that it was applied to the Chiaha among the Yamasee, the fact that a tribe by that name is mentioned as living in the immediate neighborhood may be significant. In fact I am inclined to believe that the Talimeco, Jalameco, or Talomeco of the chroniclers of De Soto were the southern band of Chiaha. If this were the case the first appearance of both Chiaha bands in history would be in the De Soto chronicles.

The Spaniards first learned of Talimeco from “the lady of Cofitachequi” who speaks of it as “my village” but the expression as quoted by Ranjel hardly agrees with his later statement to the effect that “this Talimeco was a village holding extensive sway.”9 The relation which Cofitachequi and Talimeco bore to each other is rather perplexing, but, discounting the tendency of the Spaniards to discover kings, emperors, and ruling and subjugated provinces, we may guess that the tribes were allied and on terms of perfect equality. Later we find the Chiaha and Kawita maintaining just such an alliance. Eanjel says:

In the moeque, or house of worship, of Talimeco there were breastplates like corselets and headpieces made of rawhide, the hair stripped off; and also very good shields. This Talimeco was a village holding extensive sway; and this house of worship was on a high mound and much revered. The caney, or house of the chief, was very large, high, and broad, all decorated above and below with very fine, handsome mats, arranged so skilfully that all these mats appeared to be a single one; and, marvellous as it seems, there was not a cabin that was not covered with mats. This people has many very fine fields and a pretty stream and a hill covered with walnuts, oak trees, pines, live oaks, and groves of liquid amber, and many cedars.10

Garcilasso is the only other chronicler who has much to say of Talimeco, or who even mentions its name. He says:

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Both sides of the road, from the camp to this town, were covered with trees, of which a part bore fruit, and it seemed as though they promenaded through an orchard, so that our men arrived with pleasure and without difficulty at Talomeco, which they found abandoned on account of the pest. Talomeco is a beautiful town, and quite noted, as it was the residence of the caciques. It is upon a small eminence near the river, and consists of five hundred well-built houses. That of the chief is elevated above the town, and is seen from a distance. It is also larger, stronger, and more agreeable than the others. Opposite this house is the temple, where are the coffins of the lords of the province. It is filled with riches, and built in a magnificent manner.

Holmanns Map of 1759

In Homanns Map of 1759
Chiaha is among the Creek towns on the Ocmulgee River.

Grarcilasso then devotes an entire chapter to a description of this temple, which, though evidently exaggerated, doubtless is true in outline.11 It is questionable whether these Chiaha belonged originally to the Yamasee proper or were one of the peoples of Guale. Probably the English trader spoke only in a general way, however, and we are not justified in drawing any other than a general inference as to the ancient location of the tribe. We know nothing of the date when they settled among the Lower Creeks, except that it was before the year 1715. We find them among the Creek towns on Ocmulgee River on some of the early maps, such as the Moll map of 1720 and a map in Homann’s atlas of date 1759, the information contained in which evidently antedates the Yamasee war.

In 1715, however, nearly all of the Lower Creeks moved over to the Chattahoochee, the Chiaha among them. On later maps the Chiaha appear on Chattahoochee River, sometimes under the name “Achitia,” between the Okmulgee on the north and a part of the Yuchi known as the Hoglogees on the south. They seem to have been numerous, and Adair mentions “Cha-hah” among his six principal Creek towns.12 In 1761 the “Chehaws,” Osochi, and Okmulgee, called collectively “point towns, ” were assigned to the traders George Mackay and James Hewitt, along with the Hitchiti.13 Bartram states that he crossed the Chattahoochee “at the point towns Chehaw and Usseta (Kasihta). “These towns,” he adds, “almost join each other, yet speak two languages, as radically different perhaps as the Muscogulge and Chinese.”14

Hawkins (1799) has the following description:

Che-au-hau, called by the traders Che-haws, is just below, and adjoining Oose-oo-che, on a flat of good land. Below the town the river winds round east, then west, making a neck or point of one thousand acres of canebrake, very fertile, but low, and subject to be overflowed; the land back of this is level for nearly three miles, with red, post, and white oak, hickory, then pine forest.

These people have villages on the waters of Flint River; there they have fine stocks of cattle, horses, and hogs, and they raise corn, rice, and potatoes in great plenty.

The following are the villages of this town :

1st. Au-muc-cul-le (pour upon me) is on a creek of that name, which joins on the right side of Flint River, forty-five miles below Timothy Barnard’s. It is sixty feet wide, and the main branch of Kitch-o-foo-ne, which it joins three miles from the river; the village is nine miles up the creek;15 the land is poor and flat, with limestone springs in the neighborhood; the swamp is cypress in hammocks, with some water oak and hickory; the pine land is poor with ponds and wire grass; they have sixty gun men in the village; it is in some places well fenced; they have cattle, hogs, and horses, and a fine range for them, and raise corn, rice, and potatoes in great plenty.

2d. O-tel-le-who-yau-nau (hurricane town) is six miles below Kitch-o-foo-ne, on the right bank of Flint River, with pine barren on both sides;16 they have twenty families in the village, which is fenced; and they have hogs, cattle, and horses; they plant the small margins near the mouth of a little creek. This village is generally named as belonging to Che-au-hau, but they are mixed with Oose-oo-ches.17

In notes taken in 1797 the same writer mentions a small Chiaha settlement on Flint River, 3 miles below “Large Creek” and 9 miles above Hotalgihuyana.18

Another Chiaha settlement is referred to in the following terms:

Che-au-hoo-che (little che-au-hau) is one mile and a half west from Hit-che-tee, in the pine forest, near Au-he-gee; a fine little creek, called at its junction with the river, Hit-che-tee; they begin to fence and have lately built a square.19

When the Creeks were removed to Oklahoma the Chiaha established themselves in the extreme northeastern corner of the new Creek territory, where they made a square ground on Adams Creek. This was later given up, but it was restored for a period after the Civil War. It is now altogether abandoned, and the Chiaha themselves are rapidly losing their identity in the mass of the population. It is said that most of the true Chiaha are gone and that those that are now so called have been brought in from outside by marriage presumably. Even before the Creek war many Chiaha had gone to Florida, and afterwards the numbers there were very greatly augmented. At the present day there is a square ground in the northern part of the old Seminole Nation named Chiaha, but the different elements among the Seminole have fused so completely that in only a few cases can they be separated. The name is little more than a convenient term, a historical vestige applied after all substance has departed.

We have still to say a word regarding the Chiaha whom De Soto found in the mountains – those to whom the name was first applied. This seems to have been a powerful nation by itself in his time, for he learned of it while still at Cofitachequi. The Fidalgo of Elvas says:

The natives [of Cofitachequi] were asked if they had knowledge of any great lord farther on, to which they answered, that twelve days’ travel thence was a province called Chiaha, subject to a chief of Coça.20

The statement regarding subjection may be taken to indicate some kind of alliance, nothing more. De Soto reached this place June 5, 1540, and left it on the 28th. Ranjel mentions the rather interesting fact that here the explorers first encountered fenced villages.21 In 1566 Juan Pardo penetrated from the fort at Santa Elena as far north as the Cheraw country at the head of Broad River and built a fort there, which he named Fort San Juan. He returned to Santa Elena the same year, leaving a sergeant named Moyano in charge.22 In 1567 Moyano, acting in accordance with instructions, set out from Fort San Juan and marched westward until he came to Chiaha, where he built another fort and awaited Pardo. Pardo left Fort San Felipe at Santa Elena September 1, reached Chiaha, and passed beyond it into the country of the Upper Creeks; but, hearing that a great army of Indians was assembling to oppose him, he returned to Chiaha, strengthened the fort which Moyano had built, and, leaving a garrison there consisting of a corporal and 30 soldiers, returned to Santa Elena.

Vandera, in his enumeration of the places which Pardo had visited, speaks of Chiaha as “a rich and extensive country, a broad land, surrounded by beautiful rivers. All around this place there are, at distances of one, two, and three leagues, more or less, many smaller places all surrounded by rivers. There are leagues and leagues of plenty (bendicion), with such great quantities of fine grapes and many medlar-trees; in short, a country for angels.”23

Pardo also left a garrison, consisting of a corporal and 12 soldiers, at a place called Cauchi. These posts, along with the one among the Cheraw, lasted for a time but were ultimately destroyed by the people among whom they had been placed.24 This is the last we hear of a Chiaha so far to the north. When the veil of obscurity which covered these regions for more than a hundred years after this time is again lifted they are found only in the south on the Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee. Now, since, according to the testimony of the English trader already quoted, the Chiaha among the Lower Creeks had come from the Yamasee, are we to suppose that these northern Chiaha had in the interval first joined the Yamasee and then moved back to the Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee, or did they join the Chiaha whom I have indicated as probably already existing among the Yamasee after they had retired westward? On this point our information is almost entirely wanting. There are, however, a few indications that there may have been during all this period a body of Chiaha among the Upper Creeks separate from those whose history we have already traced, in which case we must assume that they did not unite with their relatives before they emigrated west of the Misissippi, if at all. One of these indications is the name “Chiaha” applied by Coxe to the Tallapoosa River,25 another the name of a creek in Talladega County, Alabama, Chehawhaw Creek, known to have borne it as far back as the end of the eighteenth century,26 and a third the enumeration of two bodies of Upper Creek Indians in the census of 1832 under names which appear to be intended to represent the name of this tribe.27 One of these is given as “Chehaw” with 126 people and the other as “Chearhaw” with 306. This is greater than the combined population of the Chiaha and Hotalgihuyana towns among the Lower Creeks, and it is difficult to see how they could have persisted as a distinct people for such a long period without separate notice. While there are no Upper Creek Chiaha now there seems to be a tradition of such a body as having existed in former times; and if so, we may consider it almost certain that they were descendants of those whom De Soto and Pardo encountered at the very dawn of American history.


  1. Mooney In 19th Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., p. 538. 

  2. See p. 25. 

  3. MS. as above, p. 66. 

  4. Ruidiaz, La Florida, II, p. 471. 

  5. Ibid., p. 472. 

  6. Ibid., p. 484. 

  7. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, pp. 98, 101. 

  8. Garcilasso, in Shipp, DeSoto and Florida, p. 352. 

  9. Bourne, op. cit., p. 101. 

  10. Ibid., pp. 101-102. 

  11. Garcilasso, in Shipp, De Soto, and Florida, pp. 362-366. 

  12. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., p. 257. 

  13. Ga. Col. Docs., VIII, p. 522. 

  14. Bartram, Travels, p. 456. 

  15. Elsewhere he says “15 miles up the creek. ” – Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 172. 

  16. In notes taken two years earlier Hawkins mentions two towns of this name, or rather two town sites 7 miles apart on Flint River, and clearly indicates that the people had occupied them in succession. – Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 173. 

  17. Hawkins, Sketch, in Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., III, pt. I, pp. 63-64; IX, p. 172. The second of these branches long maintained an independent existence. It is mentioned by the Spanish officer, Manuel Garcia in 1800 (copy of Diary in Newberry Lib., Ayer Coll.), and by Young (see p. 409). 

  18. Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 173. 

  19. Ibid., III, p. 64. 

  20. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, I, p. 68. 

  21. Bourne, Narr. of De Soto, II, p. 108. 

  22. Ruidiaz, La Florida, II, pp. 465-473, 477-480. 

  23. Vandera in Ruidiaz, La Florida, II, pp. 484-485 

  24. Ibid.; also Lowery, Span. Settl., II, pp. 274-276, 284-286, 294-297. 

  25. Coxe, Carolana, map. 

  26. Hawkins’s Viatory MS., Lib. Cong. 

  27. Senate Doc. 512, 23d Cong., 1st. sess., pp. 264-265, 307-309; these ” Upper Cheehaws” are also mentioned in a volume of treaties between the U. S. A. and the Several Indian Tribes from 1778 to 1837, pp. 68-69, and, according to a letter dated June 17, 1796, their chiefs took part in a meeting at Coleraine (MS., Lib. Cong.), though there is some reason to think that part of them were Natchez.