Glossary of Major Muskogean Ethnic Groups, 1550 AD

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From Ancient Roots IV: Muskogean Architecture and Town Planning, by Richard Thornton, 2007

Authors Note

I started out with Swanton’s Indians of North America and pulled the names of the Muskogean tribes in the Southeast. I then updated what Swanton said to include information from archaeological studies in the sixty years since Swanton wrote his book. I also included the findings from my own research – particularly in the Southern Highlands and Ocmulgee-Altamaha River Basin. Several people of Creek descent from Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma have subsidized my research, because they thought that the current university texts contained many inaccuracies in regard to Creek language, culture and early history. They were right!   Richard

(SP) Spanish (EN) English (FR) French (CH) Choctaw (MU) Muskogee (HI) Hitchiti (CK) Cherokee

Alabama (EN) [Alba-amo = Plant Gatherers]: Originally, a very numerous branch of the Muskogeans living in northern Alabama, western Alabama, central Tennessee, eastern Tennessee and far western North Carolina, the hey probably were the descendants of the people, who founded the great town now called “Moundville” near Tuscaloosa. Alabama were severely affected by the European Colonial Period beginning with severe military losses in a effort to stop the de Soto Expedition. During the French Colonial Period their core area was one the upper Alabama River. During the mid-1700s, they were allies of the French. Some bands of the Alabama migrated westward and formed separate tribes, while others joined with the Creeks in Alabama or the Choctaws in Mississippi.

Apalachee (EN), Apala-hachee (HI) [Apala-hachee = luminescent River]: Note: John Swanton states that the meaning is people on the other side of the river, but apala literally means “luminescent” in Muskogee and Hitchiti. The Apalachee were advanced people, who were concentrated in the region around what is now Tallahassee, FL. Apparently, their language was a Southern Hitchiti dialect, but this is not known for sure. Their capital is now known as Lake Jackson Mounds. The Apalachee culture began advancing rapidly (along with the population) shortly after the great town of Ocmulgee in central Georgia was abandoned. Surviving commentaries by Spanish friars provide evidence that the Apalachee, unlike the Muskogee, Kusa and Okonee, worshiped Mesoamerican type deities. Many of their folk stories and myths are identical to those of eastern Mexico. Archaeological work is continuing on Apalachee sites so perhaps in the future, we will have a more comprehensive understanding of their cultural origins.

At the time of initial contact with the Spanish in 1528 their civilization was thriving and probably contained about 50,000 residents. The population immediately began to drop due to European diseases, but apparently not at the catastrophic rate of some provinces to the north. In 1633 the Spanish began comprehensive development of missions among the Apalachee, at the request of the Apalachee. In 1647 there was a violent revolt against the Spanish missionaries in which three friars were killed and all the churches burned. An internal counter-revolt drove out the rebels, and soon most of the Apalachee were baptized. The Apalachee briefly rebelled against the Spanish again in 1656 in sympathy with a widespread revolt of the Timucua in northeastern Florida. There is archaeological evidence that Apalachee porters and workers accompanied Spanish gold miners into northern Georgia during the 1600s. Apalachee clan symbols have been found engraved on rocks along Nickajack Creek in Smyrna, GA along with traditional Spanish mining claim symbols. Throughout the 1600s, the Apalachee population declined.

In 1702 the Spanish led a large Apalachee army northward into the lands of the Creek Confederacy. Even though the Creeks did not have many firearms, they soundly defeated the Apalachee warriors and took many prisoners to be sold as slaves in Charleston, SC. In 1704 a joint expedition of Georgia Creeks and British troops from South Carolina invaded the Apalachee lands and devastated their communities. Over 3000 Christian Apalachee were taken back to Charleston as slaves. Only two towns were left standing. Most of survivors fled to the Mobile area to seek protection by the French. During the next hundred years, increasingly smaller bands of Apalachee remnants wandered around the Southeast looking for a place of refuge. Most of the few survivors eventually merged with the Houma, while some migrated to Oklahoma to live in the Creek Nation.

Apalachicola (EN) [ Apala-hachee-kola = luminescent river people] Note: John Swanton states that the meaning is people on the other side of the river, but apala literally means “luminescent” in Muskogee and Hitchiti. It is definite that these people were not true Muskogees and in fact, were the occupants of the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley when the Muskogees arrived on the scene – and thus their enemies. Ironically, most of the state-recognized Creek tribes formed in that region during the 1970s called themselves Lower Creek-Muskogees, when in fact, the Lower Creeks were not Muskogees and actually spoke a different language, that was closer to Hitchiti and southern Choctaw. The most probable ethnic identity of the Apalachicola were that they were Apalachees living in the Chattahoochee River Valley, who, over time, had gone their separate ways. The warfare between England and Spain devastated the Apalachicola’s . The remnants either hid in the Florida Panhandle during the Indian Removal Period or joined the Creeks in Oklahoma, where they have subsequently lost their separate identity.

Acolapissa (FR) [=people who scout] The Acolapissa were originally located near the mouth of the Pearl River in Mississippi and spoke southern Choctaw dialect. They were descended from the great towns of the Lower Mississippi Basin. Their remnants eventually merged with the Houma in Louisiana.

Atakapa (CH) [= man-eaters] They were a primitive tribe related to the Tunica and Chitimacha, that depended on hunting and fishing. The Atakapa villages were scattered along the coast of Louisiana and Texas. The name comes from their practice of eating their captives. Some of the Atakapa remnants dispersed into Spanish missions villages in Texas, while others joined with the Houma.

Calusa (SP) [meaning unknown]: The Calusa were a large, powerful tribe located along the Gulf Coast of Florida south of Tampa Bay. They are now speculatively thought to have been descendants of the first proto-Muskogeans to enter the Southeast – mixed with aboriginal Florida peoples, Arawak immigrants, and refugees from the Mayas in Yucatan. It is known that their large trading canoes made regular trips to Cuba and that the Calusa were aware of the Maya civilization when first contacted by the Spanish. Also, Calusa architecture appears to be a mixture of Muskogean, Maya and Arawak influences. Between around 900-1150 AD the Calusa were part of a large province that also included the Mayami of Lake Okeechobee and the Tekesta of southeastern Florida. After about 1150 AD the Lake Okeechobee towns were abandoned and thereafter, the Calusa dominated the Florida trade routes until the mid-1500s. Like many Mesoamerican cultures, and unlike the Muskogees and Hitchiti’s, the Calusa’s practiced large scale human sacrifices. They also were fond of gold like the Mesoamericans and unlike the ancestors of the Creeks and Choctaws. During the late 1700s some of the Calusa remnant bands fled to Cuba, while others merged with the Creeks moving down in to Florida to help create the Seminole People.

Chakchihuma (EN) [Shat-tci homma = Red People]: These people spoke a dialect of Choctaw and once lived in western Mississippi in between the Choctaw and the Chickasaw. Their symbol was a red crawfish.

Chatot (FR) [meaning unknown]: The Chatot were a warlike people living in the Florida Panhandle near the Choctawhatchee River until the late 1600s when the remnants came to live in villages near the Christianized Apalachee. Their villages were devastated by the 1704 joint Creek-British invasion. The survivors lived for awhile and then moved to Mobile Bay or joined with the Creeks in SW Georgia. After Florida and Alabama were ceded to the British, the Chatot remnants moved to Louisiana. Evidently, some Chatot assimilated into the Creole population, while others joined with the Houma or moved to Oklahoma and joined the Choctaw.

Chessetee (HI), Chestetee (EN), Choestoe (CK) [ Chesse-te’ = Mouse or Rat People]: What we know about these people is what the Cherokees and Creeks told the British in the early 1700s. When the Cherokees took over the Little Tennessee River Valley near present-day Franklin, NC, the towns were occupied by short, dark skin people, who had mouse like faces. The Creeks mentioned that there were people with identical appearance living in some of the mountain valleys of northern Georgia. Contemporary Cherokee folk story tellers usually equate the Mouse People with the elf-like “Little People,” but they are clearly two different ethnic groups since the Mouse People built and occupied the temple mounds around Franklin. Their description is identical to that of the Maya of eastern Campeche State in Mexico. Perhaps the original Mouse People were commoners or escaped slaves, ended up in the Southeast after the Classic Maya cities collapsed. The collapse of Classic Maya civilization coincides with rise of the advanced Muskogean mound-building cultures.

Chiaha (HI & EN), Cheoah (CK) [ Chiahaw = Highlanders]: At the time of the 16th century Spanish expeditions, the Chiaha lived in the highest mountains of what is now North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. They apparently spoke a dialect of Highland Hitchiti. Their capital was visited both by de Soto and de Pardo. The only location for this town that works for both the de Soto and the de Pardo Chronicles is on the Little Tennessee River where the Cheoah River joins it below Fontana Lake. By the time of English colonization in the 1700s, the remnants of the Chiaha had dispersed to live among the Creeks. The town of Chiaha was then located in southwestern Georgia.

Chickamauga (EN & CK), Chikimako (HI), Chichimeca (SP) [Chikimako = House of the King in Hitchiti or “place to look out” in Alabama and Chickasaw] Given that the Chikimako were located near Lookout Mountain, it is quite possible that their name is associated with “a place to look out.” However, the phonetics are not identical as is the case of the Hitchiti translation. Their location in the late 1700s was in the vicinity of the Napooches mentioned by the Spanish Explorer Tristan de Luna, so it is also quite possible that they spoke a dialect of Chickasaw, but at this time this theory would be highly speculative. They are best known in history as the Muskogean village which accepted a renegade band of Cherokees during the American Revolution. The Chickamaugas became more Cherokee than Muskogean and waged a bitter guerilla war against the American settlers until thoroughly defeated at the Battle of Etowah Cliffs in what is now Rome, GA in 1793. Presumably, the surviving Muskogean Chickamaugas were assimilated into the new Cherokee Nation that formed in northwest Georgia in the late 1800s. There were several “Upper Creek” villages in the western part of the Cherokee Nation up until the late 1830s.

Chickasaw (EN & MU], Chiska (Archaic Chickasaw & Choctaw) [Chiska = means “base of a tree” in Muskogee]: The Chickasaws speak a language so similar to Choctaw that must have been the same people at one time. Their original homeland was northern Alabama along the Tennessee River, but they migrated downstream into Mississippi during the early European Colonial Period. Some Chickasaws migrated to other areas of the Southeast, such as on the Chickasawhatchee River in southwestern Georgia. The Chickasaws and Choctaws believed that there once had been two brothers, Chiska and Chakta, who went separate ways and formed the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes. Unlike the large towns on the Mississippi and Tennessee Rivers, the Chickasaws were generally dispersed in smaller towns and villages. They therefore were less affected by the European Plagues that swept through the region. Remnants of other ethnic groups thereafter joined with them. They were considered the fiercest soldiers of all the Southeastern indigenous peoples and were important allies of the Patriots during the Revolution.

Chiska (MU & EN), Chisqua (SP) [Chiska = base of a tree or foundation]: Virtually all of the texts put out by the Southeastern university presses state that this was the Muskogee word for Yuchi and its meaning is unknown. It is not! In Muskogee and Hitchiti, chiska means the base of a tree or colloquially, the foundation of a building. It is also the archaic word that the Chickasaw called themselves. Both meanings are appropriate. Evidently, Chickasaw villages were also located in eastern Tennessee during the 1500s. The Spanish had several unpleasant brushes with the Chiska and considered them the fiercest of all warriors. This reputation continued into the late 1700s.

Chitimacha (FR ) [ in Choctaw = “those who have pots”] The Chitimacha were originally located on the Grand River, Grand Lake and Bayou La Teche in Southern Louisiana. They spoke a southern dialect of Tunican and were known as the best basket makers in the Lower Mississippi Basin. Their own name for their language was Sheti. Their relations with the first French explorers was friendly, but once France began seizing their territory for colonization, bloody warfare broke out, which lasted for 12 years. As a result, during the early 1700s, the majority of slaves in Louisiana were Chitimachas. It was Chitimacha slaves, who built the first levees and canals in New Orleans, thus making possible the creation of that city. The descendants now have a tribal town in southern Louisiana.

Choctaw (MU & EN) [Chakta = meaning unknown ] This is a very large assimilated tribe derived from remnant tribes in Mississippi, western Alabama, the western Florida Panhandle and eastern Louisiana. Choctaw was an important trade language that eventually encouraged remnant tribes to unite with the Choctaws – eventually making it the largest Muskogean tribe. The Chickasaws and Choctaws believed that there once had been two brothers, Chiska and Chakta, who went separate ways and formed the Chickasaw and Choctaw Tribes. The motherland and cultural center of the Choctaws appears to have been in the vicinity of Philadelphia, MS. To this day, the Choctaws venerate an ancient mound near Philadelphia named Nanih Waiya (Leaning Hill) and also a nearby cave that now has the same name. The many large towns along the Lower Mississippi River probably were ethnic groups distinct from the Choctaw Polity in pre-European times, but they were devastated by European diseases. Undoubtedly, most of their few survivors merged with the Choctaw, who suffered relatively less population losses due to their more remote location. The Choctaw never fought major wars with either the British or the Americans. They today still have a reputation for being bright and adaptive to technology that is appropriate to their cultural needs.

Cofitachiqui (see Kofitachiki)

Coosa (see Kusa)

Coweta (EN), Koweta (MU) Koweeta (CK) Kowetee (HI) [Kowe’-te’ = Mountain Lion People]: During the early English Colonial Period the Coweta were located both in west central Georgia and in northeastern Georgia and western North Carolina along the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River. The upper Little Tennessee River was probably their homeland. However, in 1713 the British gave the Cherokees firearms to enable them to do an ethnic cleansing of Muskogean and Yuchi towns in western North Carolina and in Georgia north of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The Koweta settlements on the Upper Tennessee were quickly captured and the surviving women were assimilated into the Cherokee Alliance. The Koweta located on the middle Chattahoochee River, however, prospered. By the 1730s, Koweta was the capital of the People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) and its people spoke a dialect of Muskogee. It is to here that Georgia colonial officials would travel to negotiate with the Creeks.

Creek (EN) – This is the English name for a political alliance of remnant Muskogean tribes in Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida and eastern Tennessee. The name is either derived from the tendency of its villages to locate in fertile bottomlands near streams, or from the name of an important branch on Ochesee Creek, the original name for the Ocmulgee River. The Creeks are the most heterogeneous of all the Muskogean tribes. The following is a list of the words used by its original members for “people.” Lower Chattahoochee Valley – “kola”, Muskogee (Middle Chattahoochee Valley) – “kli“, Southwest Georgia Hitchiti – “thli” , Southeast Georgia Hitchiti -”tli” , Coastal Hitchiti – “le”, Kusv and Highland Muskogee – “ke” , Highland Hitchiti – “te” and Koasati – “ti.” Muskogee was the predominant trade language in the eastern Southeast, and over time became the predominant language of the members of the Creek Confederacy. The Oklahoma Creeks today are the second largest Federally recognized Muskogean tribe. However, very few of the descendants of the Creeks who remained in the Southeast are members of Federally recognized tribes and there are also large numbers of non-enrolled Creeks in Oklahoma and Texas. If all Creek descendants were enrolled, it would very likely be the largest Native American tribe.

Etalwa (MU), Etowah (EN & CK) [Etalwa meant “crossroads” in Archaic Georgia Muskogee. It now means “town” in Oklahoma Muskogee.) During the English Colonial Period, the Etowah tribe was located in South Carolina and in Southeastern Tennessee. It is not known what Muskogean language they spoke, but presumably it was Highland Hitchiti or Georgia Muskogee. Evidently, the Etalwa Tribe was composed of descendants of the original founders of Etowah Mounds. The town was abandoned around 1200 AD, then occupied about fifty years later by a Muskogean people who built architecture similar to that of the Kowe-te’. Artifacts and architecture similar to those produced at the first phase of Etalwa then appeared along the Savannah River Basin and later in central South Carolina. The few Etalwa’s who survived the European plagues and the English-sponsored slave raids, either were assimilated into the Creek Confederacy or intermarried with European settlers.

Hitchiti (EN) [Atchik-hati = White Ash People] The remnants of the Hitchiti People were living in southwest Georgia in the English Colonial Period. It is not clear whether or not they migrated from another region during the Spanish Colonial Period. In fact, it is not even clear if they were an aboriginal ethnic group. The few known Hitchiti villages may have been composed of remnant populations, who joined together for survival. However, the Hitchiti gave their name to the predominant Muskogean language spoken in Georgia and northern Florida in the 1500s. Highland Hitchiti dialects were also spoken in the mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. The Hitchiti-speakers were probably the descendants of one of the first (or the first) Muskogean migrations into the Southeast. Ethnically, they are associated with some of the most important Sedentary Period ceremonial centers and Hierarchal Period towns. It is quite likely that the participants of the Swift Creek Culture spoke an early form of Hitchiti. Most of the “Indian” river names in Georgia are derived from Hitchiti words.

Being closer both to the original Spanish and English settlements, and to the Algonquian slave-raiders from the north, the Hitchiti-speaking provinces suffered catastrophic population losses between 1521 and 1720. Entire Hitchiti-speaking provinces were exterminated by the slave raids. At the time of the de Soto Expedition (1541-43) they probably far out-numbered the speakers of Muskogee dialects. However, by the early 1700s they were a minority in the Creek Confederacy. A substantial percentage of the Hitchiti Creeks converted to Christianity and therefore were automatically excluded from the Creek Confederacy. The Hitchiti Creeks also did not recognize the legality of fraudulent Treaty of Indian Springs, which gave away almost all the Creek Lands in Georgia. Many tried to stay in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. Those that eventually forced to immigrate to Alabama or Oklahoma soon assimilated into the majority Muskogee culture. Those that managed “to stick it out” form the core of Eastern Creek populations, even though almost their all descendants now call themselves “Muskogee Creeks.”

Houma (FR) [Huma = Red]: It is quite likely that the Houma were a division of the Chakchihuma, who broke off from the main body. Their emblem is also a red crawfish. At the time of European contact they lived in southeastern Louisiana and southwestern Mississippi. During the late 1700s and early 1800s, several remnant Muskogean tribes, including some Apalachee and Choctaw bands merged with them. Their primary location now is around the town Houma, LA south of New Orleans. The Houma today only speak English and French.

Koasati (EN), Coste (SP), Kusseta (MU), Cusseta (EN) [Kowasi-ti = Bobcat People]: The Koasati were the dominant ethnic group in the upper Tennessee Valley at the time of the 16th Spanish expeditions to the region. However, the author found many towns interspersed among the Koasati towns, whose names were Taskekee, Hitchiti, Highland Muskogee and even, Alabama (or perhaps Chickasaw.) The dense population along the upper Tennessee, Little Tennessee and Hiawassee Rivers collapsed quickly after contact with the Spanish. Some Koasati immigrated into Alabama and Georgia, where they formed the Kusseta Branch of the Creek Confederacy. Other bands remained independent and eventually ended up in Louisiana and Texas, where they are now closely associated with the remnant Alabama tribes.

A British survey of the Overhills Cherokees along the Little Tennessee River in 1762, revealed that several “Cherokee” towns still had Koasati names. In fact, all twelve of the principal Overhills Cherokee towns had names that Muskogean in origin. The leaders of most towns still used the Muskogean title of “mikko” instead of the Cherokee title of “Mingo.” This fact suggests that some factions of the Koasati elected to stay in Tennessee and voluntarily joined the Cherokee Alliance. Over time, they intermarried with the Cherokees and spoke only Cherokee dialects. After the Revolution, the Cherokee-Koasati’s immigrated down into Georgia. The mixed Scottish-Koasati-Cherokee descendants provided most of the leadership that propelled the Cherokees into a literate, agricultural society.

Kofitachiki (MU), Cofitachiqui (SP) [= dogwood grove-house]: This is the name given by Hitchiti-speaking guides to the de Soto Expedition of a large town on the Wateree River in present day north-central South Carolina. It may or may not have been the name of the large province the town controlled. By 1670, when the first English colonists arrived, Kofitachikee, was a large town in the Cusaw province (Kusv is pronounced Kusaw). Within a few years, it quickly disappears from the colonial records. This corresponds to the period when thousands upon thousands of Muskogeans in the Carolinas were being either murdered or enslaved by Algonquian slave raiders, sponsored and armed by the British. The surviving Kusa remnants probably joned the Upper Creeks in Alabama.

Kusa (MU & CK), Coosa (EN) , Coosaw (EN), Cusabo (EN) [Kusv-ke’ = Canebrake People]: The Kusa’s spoke a dialect of Muskogee that was apparently mixed with Koasati words. They were the ancestors of the Upper Creeks and had very different physical appearances than the Muskogees, Hitchiti, and Lower Creeks. At the time of contact with the 16th century Spanish explorers, the Kusa occupied most of northwest Georgia, extreme southern South Carolina, and central South Carolina. They were empire builders. The capital of Kusa controlled a province about 385 miles across, which included many ethnic groups. The other Kusa capital, Kofitachiki, controlled a region almost as large in the Carolina Piedmont. Another large Kusa province (Kusapo ~ Cusabo) controlled the low country between the Savannah and Ashley Rivers.

The Kusa’s put their energies into agriculture, military power and politics. They did build mounds, but not at the scale of some other Muskogean peoples.

Mabila (SP), Mauvila (SP), Mobile (FR), Mahepila (MU) [“moela” = “to paddle in Choctaw - Mahepila =tall canoe in Muskogee] In French Colonial times the Mobile tribal lands were located on the west side of the Mobile River below the juncture of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers. However, by this time their numbers had been drastically reduced by warfare with the Spanish and the diseases the Spanish and French brought with them. The Mobiles spoke a southern dialect of Alabama or Choctaw, which later became known as the Mobilian Trade Jargon. This simplified language was known to indigenous people as Yama. The remnants of the Mobile tribe probably joined with the Choctaw or Creeks. Perhaps some also immigrated into the nearby Florida Panhandle.

Miccosukee (HI) [Meaning unknown] The Miccosukee speak a Hitchiti dialect and migrated from Georgia to Florida during the American Revolution. They were probably not a distinct tribe at the time of first contact with Europeans. Their own tradition is that they were the elite of mound-builders in northern Georgia.

Muskogee (Creeks) [Mvskoke’ = Swamp People]: It is interesting that the most authoritative book on Native American ethnology, John Swanton’s The Indian Tribes of North America (written in 1952), states that the meaning of Muskogee is unknown and that it probably a Shawnee word. This inaccurate statement illustrates the frustration of all Muskogean tribes, when they deal with myths perpetuated by academia. Of course, Mvsko-ke’ is composed of two contemporary Muskogee words, but evidently Swanton never asked the Creeks.

The true Muskogee were a tribe that was located in the Middle Chattahoochee River Valley and west-central Georgia during the English Colonial Period. They were fortunately missed by most Spanish explorers and 250 miles from the coastal missions of the Spanish. They were also far enough west and south of the Algonquian slave raiders sponsored by the English to avoid losses due slave raids. Thus, a fairly modest-sized ethnic group became the core of one of the nation’s largest tribes. The first step was their dialect becoming the primary trade language in the eastern Southeastern region, after Yama (the Mobilian Trade Jargon) declined in usage. The Creek Confederacy then assimilated tribal towns composed of remnant Muskogee-speakers, Hitchiti-speakers Shawnee, and Yuchi, who lived in Georgia, South Carolina, eastern Alabama, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northern Florida.

Napoochi, Napissa, Napooches, (SP) [meaning unknown]: This was a tribe living on the Tennessee River southwest of modern day Chattanooga at the time of the Tristan de Luna Expedition (1560). Apparently, they were related to the Chickasaws, because in the 1700s the remnants of this tribe merged with the Chickasaws.

Natchez [meaning unknown]: At the time of European contact, the Natchez towns and villages were located in northwestern Mississippi near the Mississippi River. The French observed that the Natchez still had a three caste system and practiced forms of human sacrifice. A disastrous war the French around 1730 forced the surviving Natchez to flew eastward. Half the Natchez joined with the Creeks in Alabama. The other half initially settled at Pine Log, GA at the invitation of the Cherokees, even though the land was traditionally Creek and the Cherokee’s claim was contested by the Creeks. The word Pine Log is a English misunderstanding of the Cherokee word for the Natchez – Ani-Natsi – which is almost the same as the Cherokee word for pine log. Eventually, most of the Natchez refugees in the Cherokee lands moved farther north to the Hiawassee River where it is joined by Brasstown Creek in extreme northern Georgia. Some Cherokee Natchez continued to maintain a separate ethnic identity and speak their language until the 1920s.

Nokose (MU), Nacoochee (CK), Nickajack (EN), Nokassee (CK) [Nokose’-ke’ = Bear People]: At the time of contact with Spanish and English settlers, the Bear People were located in northeast Georgia, western North Carolina and southeastern Tennessee – and they spoke a dialect of Muskogee or Hitchiti. They may, or may not have been the descendants of aboriginal peoples, who were assimilated by the Muskogeans.

Ocmulgee [EN & CK], Okmulgee [EN & MU] [Oka-mole’-ke’ = Swirling Water People]: These were the occupants of the upper Ocmulgee River in the Georgia Piedmont. The spoke a dialect that was mixture of Muskogee and Hitchiti. During the English Colonial Period they moved to southwest Georgia along the Chattahoochee River, then later returned to the Macon, GA area, where they lived until the Indian Removal Period. From about 1150 AD to 1600 AD the principal town and ceremonial center of the Ocmulgee was Ochesee, which means either “Hickory Grove” or an offshoot of a mother town named Hickory. Ochesee was originally a satellite village of Ocmulgee Mounds that was founded around 1000 AD. It grew to prominence after the large mounds were abandoned. Initially, both Ochesee and Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) were occupied by the same ethnic group.

Okonee [EN & CK], Oconee [EN], Ocute [SP] [Oka-te’ = Water People]: The Okonee were a large Hitchiti-speaking ethnic group that formerly dominated northeast Georgia, southwestern South Carolina and a wedge of western North Carolina. They are associated with some of the larger mounds in the region. Several of their mounds are pentagonal pyramids, a form that is only found in Georgia – except for one mound at Cahokia, IL. The name probably comes from their religious practice of ritual bathing each morning and before ceremonies. The Spanish described them as being very tall. The men wore turbans and mustaches. The leaders and elders even wore long beards. Their mound centers were essentially religious shrines and political administrative centers. The majority of the people lived in dispersed farmsteads or tiny hamlets. The widespread presence of the Okonee in earlier times is indicated by the name of the main river on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation – the Oconaluftee. It apparently came from the name of the original settlement there – Okonee -ta’luf’te’ – Okonee People Administrative Town. Like most Hitchiti provinces, the Okonee were severely affected by the European plagues and slave raids. Some survivors moved west and were assimilated by the Muskogee-Creeks. Others moved south to Florida, where they became the cores of the Seminole and Miccosukee Tribes

Pascagoula (FR) [Paska-goula = broad headed] These were a branch of the Muskogeans, who spoke a southeast Choctaw dialect. They were originally on Pensacola Bay, but during the French Colonial Period moved inland along the Pearl River. The remnants eventually dispersed into the Florida Panhandle and became associated with the Seminoles or joined Choctaw-speaking bands in southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

Pee Dee (EN) [meaning unknown ] Several state recognized tribes use this name in South Carolina. They are the mixed-heritage descendants of Muskogean remnant bands, who have intermarried with Europeans, Africans, and Lumbees. The name “Pee Dee” probably did not exist at the time of the Spanish explorations.

They probably did exist as a separate group, though under the original version of their name, Vehidi. The town that the ancestral Pee Dee’s lived in was known as Ilapi or Ilasi. It is possible that PeeDee is derived from IlaPI VehiDI. The town of Ilapi was close to the location of Pee Dee’s currently living in and around Marlboro and Dillon Counties. There is an undocumente mound site that is a likely location of that town on the Pee Dee River.

Pensacola [ Pensa-okola = Live Oak People] Note: John Swanton states that Pensacola meant “Hair People” in Choctaw, but the direct translation in Gulf Coast Muskogean languages such as that of the Apalachicola is Live Oak People. At the time of first contact with the Spanish in 1528 they lived around Pensacola Bay, but migrated westward away from their enemies, the Mabila People, in the late 1600s. They probably merged with other small remnant Muskogean tribes in Louisiana in the 1700s. They are last mentioned by the French in 1764.

Sawakee [MU], Sawokli [MU], Sawatee (HI), Soqua (CK) [Sawake’ = Raccoon People]: This was a large, widespread tribe or clan whose vestige can be seen in place names in South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Alabama. Evidently, branches of the Sawakee spoke either Highland Muskogee, true Muskogee, or Hitchiti – depending on where they were located. The Sawakee were severely impacted by the English sponsored slave raids of the late 1600s and early 1700s. The remnants settled on the middle Chattahoochee River in Russell County, AL and were part of the Creek Confederacy. Mixed heritage descendants of the Sawakee in South Carolina have formed several Pee Dee Tribes, that are state-recognized. The original capital of the Pee Dee was Sawakee on the Sawakeehatchee River so there is no doubt of their Muskogean origin. Unfortunately, someone in the bureaucracy of the state government decided that “Sawakee” was a Siouan word whose meaning has been lost. Thinking that they were Siouans, the Pee Dees then sought to emulate Lakota and Catawba traditions.

English versions of Cherokee versions of Sawakee can be found in several place names in the Highlands of Georgia and North Carolina. Soco Gap (from Soqua) is on the Eastern Cherokee Band Reservation. Sautee Community (from Sawatee) is in the Nacoochee Valley of northeast Georgia. The anglicized versions of the Cherokee pronunciation of the Muskogee word for “Land of the Raccoon People” – Kana-sawa-ke’ – can be seen in the modern “Cherokee” place names of Kennesaw, GA, Connesaga, GA and in the village in North Carolina visited by the Spanish named Kanasake (written by English translators as Conasaga).

Seminoles (EN) [seminola = those who have moved away from the mother town] The Seminoles were not a separate ethnic group at the time initial contact with Europeans.

Suwannee (MU), Sewanee (EN) [Suwanee = Shawnee]: These were Shawnee villages, who immigrated southward and joined the Creek Confederacy. The place name is found in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and Alabama. Over time they intermarried with the Muskogeans and began speaking Muskogee instead of Shawnee.

Tamatli (HI), Tamatly (EN), Tomatly (EN) [Tamv-tli = Drum People?]: These were an advanced people on the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers in southeastern Georgia, who spoke a Coastal Hitchiti dialect mixed with some Totonac and Maya words. Their houses were identical to those built in eastern Campeche by the Maya to this day. Their word for house, chiki, is the same as the Totonac word for house. The Totonacs built Teotihuacan, El Tajin and other famous cities in central Mexico.

In response to Spanish efforts to build missions among the Tama-tli in the very late 1500s, the tribe split into two factions. The pro-Spanish faction moved to a mission station south of modern day Valdosta, GA. The traditional faction fled to the North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains where it continued to build the Maya-style houses until at least 1762. Probably, around 1700 the traditionalists were absorbed into the Cherokee Alliance. The place name Tomatly survives in both North Carolina and Tennessee. The pro-Spanish faction of the Tama were probably wiped out by the English sponsored slave raids on Spanish missions in the late 1600s. These particular raids, unfortunately, were carried out by their fellow Muskogeans.

Tanasa, Tenasaw (MU) , Taensa (FR), Tanasqui (SP) [meaning unknown]: The Tanasa spoke Mobilian or the southern dialect of Choctaw. They were descended from the great towns in the Lower Mississippi Basin visited by de Soto in 1543, but migrated southward in the 1700s to be closer to the French garrison and storehouse at Mobile. The Tanasa apparently also had settlements on the Upper Tennessee River near Dayton, TN. The name appears as the capital of a powerful province located on Hiawassee Island. The Spanish chroniclers wrote the name as Olamicco Tanasqui. When translated from the Highland Muskogean words, O’la-mikko Tansas-ke’, that means “Royal Town of the Tanasa People. “ Unlike most Muskogean peoples, the Tanasa built round temples on round mounds. In fact, there is a round temple on a round mound on Hiawassee Island. Several nearby satellite towns in the Tennessee and North Carolina Highlands were named Tanasee – which is the Hitchiti and Koasati way of labeling a offshoot of Tanasa. The Creeks would have pronounced the word Tenasee – and thus we have the origin of the anglicized word, Tennessee.

Taposa (FR) [meaning unknown] These people were on the Yazoo River in Mississippi and were allied with the Chickasaw. The remnants eventually joined with the Chickasaw.

Taskekee (MU), Tuskegee (EN) [Taske’-ke’ = Woodpecker People] The Taskekee spoke a dialect that mixed Hitchiti with Highland Muskogee. At the time of the early Spanish explorations they were located in the Little Tennessee River Valley and northeastern Georgia. Some survivors of the European plagues immigrated to central Alabama near the modern town of Tuskegee. Others continued to live in the Little Tennessee River basin in the vicinity of modern day Fontana Lake, NC and Vonore, TN. These mountain Taskekees were eventually absorbed by the Cherokee Alliance, and by the late 1700s were totally assimilated into Cherokee cultural traditions.

Tokahkee (MU), Tokee (SP) , Tocqua (CK), Toccoa (EN) [Tokah-ke’ = Spotted People]: In 1762 the chief of the Tokahkee village on the Little Tennessee River near Vonore, TN had a Southern Siouan name, but a Muskogean political title – even though officially he was a member of the Cherokee Overhills Alliance. The Tokees were mentioned several times by the Spanish explorers, but again, their leaders had Muskogean titles while their villages had Siouan names. We can speculate that the Tokahkee were an aboriginal Siouan people, who were assimilated into Muskogean polities, but maintained a secondary status, perhaps originally composing an out caste. The name colloquially means “covered in sores” such as one gets from small pox or measles. Obviously, it was a derogatory label given them by their Muskogean overlords. Cherokee and English versions of the name can be found in two rivers and several communities around the Southern Highlands.

Tunica (FR), Yoron [Yoron = the people] These people were the descendants of the great towns on the Lower Mississippi River. They were loyal French allies and as a resulted experience heavy population losses during the wars between the French and English. The survivors dispersed into Texas or were assimilated into European culture.

Tuckabachee (EN): The Tuckabachee were a branch of the Creek Confederacy formed by the assimilation of Shawnee immigrants into Upper Creek communities. They did not exist at the time of first European contact.

Wahale (HI), Wahile, Wahala (MU & EN), Guale (SP) Guaxile (SP) [ Waha-le = Southern People]: Wahale is a Hitchiti word used to describe the Muskogean peoples of Florida, and perhaps, also the Maya. The name appears both on the coast of Georgia and in a town visited by de Soto in the North Carolina Mountains, Guaxile. The name also survives as a city in South Carolina, Wahala – which is the Archaic Muskogee word for “Southerners.” It is possible that the Wahale were originally refugees from Florida, who were pushed northward by the invasion of the Arawaks from the Caribbean Islands around 700 AD. They also could be mixed-heritage descendants of escaped Maya slaves and commoners, who intermarried with the local Muskogeans. Whatever the case, they occupied the barrier islands and coastline from roughly Beaufort, SC to Darien, GA during the 1500s and 1600s.

Like the Tamatli, their neighbors upstream on the Altamaha River, the Wahale built Maya-style houses that had three rooms and were finished with a bright white stucco containing kaolin clay and burned shells. This material is the origin of the famous “tabby” construction of the Georgia Coast. The first attempt to establish a European colony in North America occurred in 1521 on an island in the Wahale Province. The first Spanish missions were also set up among the Wahale. Their population declined steadily under Spanish domination, and especially after a series of horrific raids by the Chikameca and Algonquian slave raiders. By 1710, the Wahale were essentially extinct. What few Wahale that survived moved their hamlet to near the walls of St. Augustine probably relocated to Cuba after the English took over Florida.

Yamasee [Yamasse’ = Branch of Yama language speakers?]: Their ethnic name appears to be cited by Spanish Explorers as early as 1521. They apparently spoke a dialect of Hitchiti, but the name suggests also that they were related to the Mobile Indians of southern Alabama. This may explain why their villages were distinct from either the Tamatli or the Wahali. At this time, they lived in southeast Georgia. Their villages seem to have been interspersed with Tamatli villages , but on friendly terms with their neighbors. Perhaps the Yamassee were farther away from the rivers. Some later moved south into Florida near Spanish missions. The Yamassee rebelled against English abuses in 1715 and had defeated the South Carolina troops, before the Cherokees intervened on behalf of the colonists. Some surviving Yamassee bands settled in Florida as allies of the Spanish. After Florida was taken over by the English, these bands became the core of the Seminoles. Other Yamassee bands settled among the Upper Creeks in Alabama or the Lower Creeks in Georgia. After the 1820s they disappeared as a distinct ethnic group.

The Yuchi’s have frequently intermarried with the Creeks during the past 200 years. Until the mid-1700s, the Yuchi followed a tradition that all buildings, plazas and villages must be round. Yuchi villages and towns were concentrated in what is now southeastern Tennessee and far western North Carolina. However, there were also Yuchi trading towns scattered all over the Southeast. It is not known what happened to the dispersed Yuchi. Did they intermarry with nearby Natives and European settlers, or did the migrate down to the Creek Nation?

A similar poly-cultural situation applies to the Cherokees. The original core of the Cherokee was composed of at least three bands of Northern Algonquians. After arriving in the Southern Highlands, they utilized firearms provided by the English colonial governments to conquer numerous Muskogean, Yuchi and Siouan provinces. They apparently also absorbed the aboriginal Shawnees living in the vicinity of Asheville, Hendersonville, and Brevard, NC. Their primary source of trade income prior to 1720 was Native American slaves. Undoubtedly many young female Muskogean slaves ended up as Cherokee wives and concubines.

During the early 1800s, the Cherokees also welcomed immigrants from the Catawbas of the Carolinas, Upper Creeks of Alabama and Shawnee of Kentucky. There were at least 3000 Creeks living in the Cherokee Nation during the early 1830s. In fact, most of the villages in the “Nation” along the western edge of Georgia were Creek, even though they were subject to the Cherokee government based in New Echota on the Coosawattee River. There were also Kusa (Upper Creek) settlements in the northeastern section of the Cherokee Nation. Apparently, those Creeks were more successful in evading federal and state troops, because there are still “old” families in Fannin and Gilmer Counties, Georgia with distinct Coosa features. Most describe their ancestors as being Cherokee when it is obvious from looking these mixed-heritage mountaineers, that their Native ancestry was Muskogean. Thus, the multiple cultural traditions of the Cherokee have been so thoroughly blended during the past 200 years, that they superficially appear to be indigenous traditions. The Cherokees did not build platform mounds, but did modify existing Muskogean mounds to support round council houses – which was their equivalent of a temple.



MLA Source Citation:

Thornton, Richard. People of One Fire. Web. Georgia. 2010-2013. Digital Rights Copyright 2010-2013 by AccessGenealogy.com. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 25 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/glossary-of-major-muskogean-ethnic-groups-1550-ad.htm - Last updated on Oct 17th, 2013


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