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The Hitchiti Indians of Georgia
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American | No Comments
Hitchiti among the Creeks was considered the head or “mother” of a group of Lower Creek towns which spoke closely related languages distinct from Muskogee. This group included the Sawokli, Okmulgee, Oconee, Apalachicola, and probably the Chiaha, with their branches, and all of these people called themselves Atcik-hå‘ta, words said by Gatschet to signify “white heap (of ashes).” If this interpretation could be relied upon we might suppose that the name referred to the ash heap near each square ground, but it is doubtful. Gatschet states that the name Hitchiti was derived from a creek of the name which flows into the Chattahoochee, and explains it by the Creek word ähi’tcita, “to look up (the stream).” This interpretation would be entitled to considerable respect, since it probably came from Judge G. W. Stidham, a very intelligent Hitchiti, from whom Gatschet obtained much of his information regarding this people, were it not that history shows that the name belonged to the tribe before it settled upon the Chattahoochee. In the following origin myth, related to the writer by Jackson Lewis, another meaning is assigned to it, but it is probably an ex post facto explanation. It is more likely that there was some connection with the general term Atcik-hå‘ta.
The origin of the Hitchiti is given in various ways, but this is what I have heard regarding them. The true name of these people was A’tcik hå‛ta. They claim that they came to some place where the sea was narrow and frozen over. Crossing upon the ice they traveled from place to place toward the east until they reached the Atlantic Ocean. They traveled to see from where the sun came. Now they found themselves blocked by the ocean and, being tired, they lingered along the coast for some days. The women and children went down on the beach to gather shells and other things that were beautiful to look at. They were shown to the old men who said, “These are pretty things, and we are tired and cannot proceed farther on account of the ocean, which has intercepted us. We will stop and rest here.” They took the beautiful shells, pebbles, etc., which the women and children had brought up and made rattles, and the old men said, “Inasmuch as we cannot go farther we will try to find some way of enjoying ourselves and stop where we now are.” They amused themselves, using those rattles as they did so, and while they were there on the shore with them people came across the water to visit them. These were the white people, and the Indians treated them hospitably, and at that time they were on very friendly terms with each other. The white people disappeared, however, and when they did so they left a keg of something which we now know was whisky. A cup was left with this, and the Indians began pouring whisky into this cup and smelling of it, all being much pleased with the odor. Some went so far as to drink a little. They became intoxicated and began to reel and stagger around and butt each other with their heads. Then the white people came back and the Indians began trading peltries, etc., for things which the white people had.
Then the Muskogees, who claim to have emerged from the navel of the earth somewhere out west near the Rocky Mountains, came to the place where the Hitchiti were living. The Muskogee were very warlike, and the Hitchiti concluded it would be best to make friends with them and become a part of them. Ever since they have been together as one people. Hitciti is the Muskogee word meaning “to see, ” and was given to them because they went to see from whence the sun came. So their name was changed from A‛tcik-hå‛ta. The two people became allied somewhere in Florida.
Gatschet says that some Hitchiti Indians claimed that their ancestors had fallen from the sky. Chicote and Judge Stidham, however, told him the following story:
Their ancestors first appeared in the country by coming out of a canebrake or reed thicket near the seacoast. They sunned and dried their children during four days, then set out; arrived at a lake and stopped there. Some thought it was the sea, but it was a lake. They set out again, traveled up a stream and settled there for a permanency.
The origin on the seacoast and the migration upstream suggest that this last myth may have belonged to the Sawokli.
At one time the Hitchiti were probably the most important tribe in southern Georgia and their language the prevailing speech in that region from the Chattahoochee River to the Atlantic Ocean. Nevertheless the true Muskogee entered at such an early period that we can not say we have historical knowledge of a time when the Hitchiti were its sole inhabitants.
The first appearance of the Hitchiti tribe in written history is in the De Soto chronicles, under the name Ocute or Ocuti. That the Ocute were identical with the later Hitchiti is strongly indicated, if not proved, by the following line of argument. The name Ocute appears in a few of the earlier Spanish authorities only, but much later there is mention of a Lower Creek tribe, called on the De Crenay map Aëquité, and in the French census of 1760, Aeykite. There is every reason to believe that we have here the Ocute of De Soto; certainly no name recorded from the region approximates it as closely. Now, the De Crenay map was drawn in 1733, shortly after the Yamasee war, and the data it contains would apply to the period immediately following that war. Although apparently located on the Flint, the position of Aëquité is farther downstream than any of the other Creek towns on the map. Turning to the English maps of the same epoch we find that, with the exception of the Apalachicola, who were for a time at the junction of the Chattahoochee and Flint, Hitchiti was at that period the southernmost town of all. This by itself is not conclusive, because the arrangement of towns on this particular part of the De Crenay map (pl. 5) seems unreliable. Turning to the census of 1760, however, we find the Lower Creek towns laid out in regular order from north to south, the distance of each from Fort Toulouse being marked in leagues. Now, when we compare this list with the later arrangement of towns exhibited by the Early map of 1818 (pl. 9) we obtain the following result:
|CENSUS OF 1760||1818 EARLY MAP|
|Youfalas||Eu-ta-lau (properly Eu-fa-lau)|
The correspondences between the two, it will be noted, are very marked. They become still closer when we supplement the Early map with other authorities. Che-au-choo-chee is laid down on the Early map just opposite Hitchiti town, but for some reason or other the town of Chiaha itself was overlooked, and Hawkins describes it exactly where the French census places it, just below Osochi (Ouchou-tchis). Instead of the first Sau-woo-ga-loo-chee he also has Sau-woo-ge-lo, for which Choothlo is certainly intended. Tchoualas is also probably intended for Sawokli or Sawoklo, and in position it corresponds to a town called Eawaigi, said to be a Sawokli offshoot. Oeyakbe means “water (or river) fork” in Muskogee and Oke-te-yo-con-ne, “zigzag stream land,” in Hitchiti. The same town is probably intended by them. In only three cases, Chaouaklé, Omolquet, and Tchoualas, does the census of 1760 contain names not represented on the Early map, and in only one case, Cowetau Tal-la-has-see, does the Early map contain a name not represented in the census of 1760. As this last was an outvillage of Cowetau its omission is readily explained. Aeykite, like Hitch-e-tee, is placed between Chiaha and Apalachicola, and with the exception of Che-au-choo-chee, which was of course only an outsettlement of Chiaha, and the Westo town, which disappeared at an early date, no town is laid down on any other map known to me between the two aforesaid places. In fact, the distance between them is not great. If Aeykite is not identical with Hitch-e-tee we must not only assume a distinct town of the name not otherwise explained, but we must assume that Hitchiti is the only important town omitted from the French census, a rather unlikely happening. To the writer the conclusion seems quite overwhelming that Aeykite refers to the Hitchiti town, and if that be the case Ocute probably does also. The latest use of this particular term seems to be by Manuel Garcia (1800) when it appears in the form “Oakjote.” The Spanish census of 1738 has an intermediate form “Ayjichiti.”
Assuming, then, that Ocute and Aeykite are synonyms for Hitchiti, we will now proceed to trace the history of this tribe.
The governor [De Soto] set out [from Achese] on the first day of April  and advanced through the country of the chief, along up a river, the shores of which were very populous. On the fourth he went through the town of Altamaca, and on the tenth arrived at Ocute.
And elsewhere he adds:
The land of Ocute is more strong and fertile than the rest, the forest more open, and it has very good fields along the margins of the rivers.”
Ranjel says that, after passing Altamaha they met a chief named Çamumo, who, along with others, was a subject of “a great chief whose name was Ocute” The chief of Ocute furnished bearers and provisions to the Spaniards, though apparently not without protest, and the latter set up a wooden cross in his village as an entering wedge to conversion. Ocute would seem to have been the province called Cofa by Garcilasso, which he describes as “suitable for cattle, very productive in corn, and very delightful.”
Our next glimpse of Ocute is in the testimony given by Gaspar de Salas with respect to his expedition from St. Augustine to Tama in the year 1596.
The greater part of this testimony will be introduced in discussing the Tamali tribe. After leaving Tama the narrative continues:
At one day’s journey from Tama they came upon the village of Ocute, where they were very well received by its cacique, who made them many presents, the women bringing their shawls, which he calls aprons, which look like painted leather. Some of them say that they have been in New Spain and have or are imitating their dress. As they wished to go on farther, the cacique of Ocute tried very earnestly to dissuade them from it, weeping over it with them, as he said that if they went any farther inland the Indians there would kill them, because a long time ago, which must have been when Soto passed there, taking many people on horseback, they killed many of them; how much more would they kill them who were but few? This is the reason why they did not go ahead, but returned from there. They likewise heard the Indians of that village as well as the Salchiches say that at four days’ journey from there, and after passing a very high mountain where, when the sun rose, there seemed to be a big fire, on the farther side of it lived people who wore their hair clipped (cut), and that the pine trees were cut down with hatchets, and that it seems to the witness that such signs can only apply to Spaniards. He [the witness] says that this country [Tama, etc.] seems to him to be vary rich, or at least sufficiently so to produce any kind of grain, even if it be wheat, and has many meadows and pastures for cattle, and its rivers have sweet water in places, and that it seems to him that if there were anybody who knew how to find and wash gold in those rivers it could surely be found.
The first appearance of the Hitchiti under the name by which we know them best is after South Carolina had been settled, when it occurs in documents as that of a Lower Creek town, and on the maps of that period it is laid down on Ocmulgee River below the town of the Coweta. From the Mitchell map this site is identifiable as the “Ocmulgee old fields” on the site of the present Macon, which is in agreement with a legend reported by Gatschet to the effect that the Hitchiti were “the first to settle at the site of Okmulgee town, an ancient capital of the confederacy.”
William Bartram thus describes the Ocmulgee old fields as they appeared in his time:
About seventy or eighty miles above the confluence of the Oakmulge and Ocone, the trading path, from Augusta to the Creek Nation, crosses these fine rivers, which are there forty miles apart. On the east bank of the Oakmulge this trading road runs nearly two miles through ancient Indian fields, which are called the Oakmulge fields; they are the rich low lands of the river. On the heights of these low lands are yet visible monuments, or traces, of an ancient town, such as artificial mounds or terraces, squares and banks, encircling considerable areas. Their old fields and planting land extended up and down the river, fifteen or twenty miles from this site.
As Bartram states that the Creeks had stopped here after their immigration from the west, the Hitchiti may not have been in occupancy always. On the other hand, Bartram may have inferred a Creek occupancy from the tradition that the confederacy had there been founded, but this may really have had reference to a compact of some kind between the Hitchiti and the invading Creeks, irrespective of the land actually held by each tribe.
After the Yamasee war the Hitchiti moved across to the Chattahoochee River with most of the other Lower Creeks, first to a point low down on that river, later higher up between the Chiaha and Apalachicola. In 1761 they were assigned to the traders, George Mackay and James Hewitt, along with the Point towns. Their name occurs in the lists of both Swan and Bartram. In 1797 the trader there was William Grey. Hawkins (1799) gives the following description of the Hitchiti town and its branch villages:
Hit-che-tee is on the left bank of Chat-to-ho-che, four miles below Che-au-hau; they have a narrow strip of good land bordering on the river, and back of this it rises into high, poor land, which spreads off flat. In approaching the town on this side there is no rise, but a great descent to the town flat; on the right bank of the river the land is level and extends out for two miles; is of thin quality; the growth is post oak, hickory, and pine, all small; then pine barren and ponds.
The appearance about this town indicates much poverty and indolence; they have no fences; they have spread out into villages, and have the character of being honest and industrious; they are attentive to the rights of their white neighbors, and no charge of horse stealing from the frontiers has been substantiated against them. The villages are:
1st. Hit-che-too-che (Little Hit-che-tee), a small village of industrious people, settled on both sides of Flint River, below Kit-cho-foo-ne; they have good fences, cattle, horses, and hogs, in a fine range, and are attentive to them.
2d. Tut-tal-lo-see (fowl), on a creek of that name, twenty miles west from Hit-che-too-che. This is a fine creek on a bed of limestone; it is a branch of Kitch-o-foo-ne; the land bordering on the creek, and for eight or nine miles in the direction towards Hit-che-too-che, is level, rich, and fine for cultivation, with post and black oak, hickory, dogwood and pine. The villagers have good worm fences, appear industrious, and have large stocks of cattle, some hogs and horses; they appear decent and orderly, and are desirous of preserving a friendly intercourse with their neighbors; they have this year, 1799, built a square.
Manuel Garcia calls this latter village “Totolosehache.” According to an anonymous writer quoted by Gatschet there were, about 1820, six “Fowl towns,” Cahalli hatchi, old Tallahassi, Atap’halgi, Allik hadshi, Eetatulga, and Mikasuki. Most of those will be referred to again when we come to speak of Seminole towns. The census of 1832 mentions a Hitchiti village called Hihaje.
After their removal to the west the Hitchiti were placed in about the center of the Creek Nation, near what is now Hitchita station, and their descendants have remained there and about Okmulgee up to the present time (1922). A portion migrated to Florida and after the removal maintained a square ground for a time in the northern part of the Seminole Nation, Oklahoma. Some persons in this neighborhood still preserve the language.
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