People of One Fire
A national alliance of Muskogean scholars and their longtime friends
Creek – Seminole – Choctaw – Chickasaw – Alabama – Koasati – Apalachee –
Yuchi – Houma – Natchez - Shawnee
Native American Brain Food No. 4
August 20, 2012
It is a close tie as to which Southeastern
indigenous ethnic group has been most insulted by Eurocentric
historians, the Alabama, Yuchi or the Chickasaw. The Chickasaws are the
Native American tribe in North America most likely to have been the
founders of Cahokia. They were the only Mississippian Culture People
living in the former domain of Cahokia during the European Colonial Era
(western Kentucky.) They also occupied the region around and north of
Moundville, AL until the early 1800s.
The Chickasaw once occupied a vast region that stretched eastward from
the Mississippi River to the Appalachian Mountains and as far south as
southwestern Georgia. Their territory encompassed most of present day
Tennessee, but today, the Chickasaws are barely mentioned by official
State of Tennessee histories. One gets the impression that their domain
consisted of a few villages in the extreme western part of the state.
History for Kids” web site doe not even have a complete
sentence assigned to the Chickasaws and ignores the Koasati and Yuchi
altogether. In contrast, this web site contains several pages on the
Cherokees, even though the word “Cherokee” only appears for the first
time in a 1725 map on the extreme eastern edge of that future state. The Overhill Cherokees were concentrated along a 36 mile long corridor of
the Little Tennessee River, directly adjacent to North Carolina. The
Cherokees had pretty much left Tennessee by 1819.
By the way, to hopefully put one myth permanently to rest: Tennessee is
the Anglicization for the Creek name for an ethnic group, related to the
Natchez, named the Taenasi. They were based along the Lower Tennessee,
but had towns along the Upper Tennessee River, the Little Tennessee
River in North Carolina, and in north-central South Carolina. Around
1684 the Colony of South Carolina sent an expedition to make contact
with the Koasati and Taenasi living in present day eastern Tennessee. At
that time, much of Western North Carolina and the South Carolina
Mountains was occupied by villages speaking Creek dialects, so the South
Carolinians used Creek guides. When the party returned to Charleston,
the mapmaker used the Creek version of the Taenasi's name rather than
what they called themselves.
Native American Garden Update
Chris Swartz experimented with indigenous crops while a student at
Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, WV near the Antietam Battlefield.
Chris has written a very interesting article on the cultivation and
potential of indigenous Native American crops for People of One Fire.
Judy White illustrated it with photos of these plants. You may access
Now graduated, Chris is looking to apply his agricultural experiences
and degree, a B.S. in Environmental Sustainability, to a lifetime career
or at least a way to survive hard times. If any of you know of a
situation that might help him, please contact him at
. At the very least, a cabin and a tract of tillable land would be a
good start in the right direction.
The real history of the
Chickasaw People . . . under construction!
The Choctaws and Chickasaws originally called
themselves the Chahta and Chiska, after two brothers in the ancient
past, who couldn’t get along and so separated into two territories. It
is something like the story in the Torah about Israel and Ishmael. Over
time, both tribes became known by their Creek Indian names of Choctaw
If you see the Chickasaws mentioned at all, it will be some brief
comment like “formerly lived in western Tennessee.” Despite the fact
that several Chickasaws have obtained national prominence in the 20th
century, I imagine that like the Yuchi’s, they must pinch themselves
each morning, upon rising, to see if they are not extinct. You would
think so from reading contemporary history and archaeological texts.
We are going to explode some myths about the Chickasaws in this issue
while exploring their probable role in Native American history. The
problem is that university scholars have not shown much interest in
them. Much of the orthodoxy about the Chickasaws today can be directly
traced to the assumptions made by Tennessee frontiersmen in the early
1800s, not solid historical research.
The Chickasaws are the only Native American ethnic group, specifically
mentioned by the chronicles of the de Soto Expedition, that are now a
tribe recognized by the federal government. Chiloki is the Totonac
(Mexican) and Creek Indian word for a barbarian. The people called
Chiloki eventually moved to southwestern Georgia then either joined the
Creek Confederacy, or moved to northern Florida.
Original territory of the Chickasaw People
Due to the scarcity of archeological investigations that were designed
to link the Chickasaw with specific pre-European occupation sites, we
must rely on linguistics, architecture and European colonial archives to
interpolate their history. Pottery styles are not necessarily a good
indicator of ethnicity. The Creek Confederacy was composed of many
ethnic groups, speaking different languages and dialects. However,
during Late Mississippian times, at least, these diverse provinces
produced similar styles of pottery, stone implements and copper works.
The situation could have well been the same for the ancestors of the
federally recognized Chickasaw Indians. Locations of pre-European
Chickasaw villages may contain artifacts similar to their non-Chickasaw
Like most Southeastern indigenous peoples, the ancestors of the
Chickasaw were not concentrated into one homogenous province. The
individual Chickasaw-speaking provinces went by several names. Some
names we know for certain. Others we don’t. Many of these provinces had
disappeared before any English-or-French-speaking explorer stayed long
enough in an area to record sample words.
Chickasaws typically lived in small, dispersed villages with either a
few modest mounds or no mounds at all. They did not seem to have
regional governments with large towns as capitals. Identification of
ethnic Chickasaw regions is made even more difficult because Europeans
would not have been impressed by small villages with modest
architecture. Chickasaw villages typically consisted of an oval
arrangement of rectangular wattle & daub houses. The interior of the
village was an oval shaped plaza and stick ball fields. If mounds
existed at all, they were also aligned with the houses in the oval ring.
Fort Ancient Culture: The pre-European villages of Fort
Ancient Culture in the Ohio Valley (c. 1000 AD - 1750 AD) were exactly
like those of the Chickasaws when they were first visited by French and
English traders. A branch of the Chickasaws, named the Paduka’s
(Paducah, KY) occupied western Kentucky and the northwestern tip of
Tennessee until the mid-1700s. Although most of Kentucky was occupied by
the Shawnee during the 1700s, the Fort Ancient Culture may represent the
northern extent of Muskogean influence. Muskogean and Chickasaw houses
were rectangular. Shawnee houses were either round or oval.
Etowah I Culture: The villages of the Etowah 1 Culture
in the Southern Highlands (c. 1000 AD – 1200 AD) were very similar to
those of the Chickasaws in early colonial times. If they had mounds at
all, they were very modest in scale. The Mvskoke (Muskogee) language
strongly suggests that early Muskogee Creek Indians considered the
Chickasaw to be the “pioneer” Muskogeans in the Southeast. Ciska (Chi(sh-ka()
is the Muskogee-Creek idiomatic word for the base of a tree or the
foundation of a building. There are no Muskogee verbs related to this
What I suspect is that the elite of Etowah I villages
were Itza Maya refugees, while the commoners were archaic Chickasaw. The
blended cultures and languages became some of the branches of the Itsate
Mouse Creek Culture: There are a cluster of Late
Mississippian village sites between Chattanooga and the Ocoee River in
Tennessee that have been labeled “Mouse Creek Culture.” Tennessee
archaeologists decided to label them Yuchi sites, because there were
some Yuchi villages in colonial times to the north along the Hiwassee
River. Until the Yuchi’s were absorbed into the Creek Confederacy in the
late 1700s, their buildings, plazas and towns were round. They were
known as the “Round Town People” as a result. All buildings and plazas
in Mouse Creek Culture sites are rectangular. The Mouse Creek Culture is
most likely Chickasaw since it built few mounds.
Kapachi: After leaving northward from the land of a
people now called the Apalachee, the first major town encountered by
Hernando de Soto in late winter of 1540, was called Kapachi. Its people
were called the Kapachikee. De Soto’s chroniclers noted that these
people, like those ancestral to the Creek Indians farther north, built
more substantial architecture and better planned towns that the Natives
in Florida. Kapachi was located in a large swamp that appears to be the
Chickasawhatchee Swamp near Albany, GA. When British traders reached the
Chickasawhatchee Swamp region in the late 1600s, it was occupied by
Native Americans speaking a dialect of Chickasaw, who were allied with
nearby Itsate (Hitichti) Creeks. During the 1700s, Kapachiki was a
tribal town of the Creek Confederacy. This strongly suggests that it was
a Chickasaw province that became allied with the Muskogee-Creeks.
Chiska & Chikasa: In the European maps published after
the de Soto expedition, the towns of Chicasa and Chisca are shown in
close proximity. These two towns may have been one town, because
European cartographers were confused by the use of both the Chickasaw
and Muskogee words for Chickasaw. The proto-Creek Indian guides leading
de Soto used the word, cikasv, (chi(-ka(-sha:) to describe a specific
ethnic group in eastern Tennessee. The Itsate-Creek guides used the word
ciska (chi(sh-ka() to describe the same people. The Chiska were known as
ferocious warriors in the 1500s. That is EXACTLY the same reputation
that the Chickasaws had in the late 1600s and 1700s.
Napooche: Both the chronicles of the de Soto
(1539-1543) and de Luna Expeditions (1561) mentioned the Napooches (Napochi)
People of the area around Lookout Mountain, both in Georgia and
Tennessee. They were troublesome vassals of the huge province of Kvse (Kusa~Coosa.)
It is fairly certain that they spoke a dialect of Chickasaw. They were
also located in along the Black Warrior River near Moundville, AL during
the European Contact Period. Napochi means “those who look out.” This is
an obvious connection to their environs, Lookout Mountain. Perhaps they
guarded the Chickasaw frontier from the heights of Lookout Mountain.
There was a related province farther west along the Black Warrior River,
known as the Napissa.
Ustanali: The memoir of Captain René de Laudonniére
(French expeditions of 1562-1565) mentioned in several passages the
powerful province of Houstanaqua (coa) which means Ustana People. This
province was in the Piedmont of present day northeast Georgia. After
Charleston, SC was founded in 1674, a Chickasaw-speaking people known as
the Ustanali were contacted by traders in what is now northeast Georgia.
The “li” suffix is the Coastal Istate (Hitchiti) word for “people or
ethnic group.” The French encountered a Chickasaw people, they called
the Oustanaule in extreme northwest Georgia. The two versions of this
ethnic name were later Anglicized to Eastanolee and Oostanaula. The
Oostanaula River is a major tributary of the Coosa River. During the
early 1700s, the Ustanali Chickasaws lived south of Yonah Mountain,
between Cleveland, GA and Toccoa, GA. This was the territory of the
Upper Creeks until 1818, when it became part of Georgia. Another band of
Ustanali Chickasaws lived along the Oostanaula River until the early
1780s, when that territory was given to the Cherokees.
Chika-mauka: During the mid-and-late 1600s, Franciscan
archives speak of horrific raids on the missions of the Georgia coast by
Chichimecs. Scholars have long assumed that the terrified friars were
confused and referring to the wild tribes of northern Mexico. However,
it is more likely that they were referring to the Chika-mauka’s of
present day northwest Georgia and northeast Alabama. The Chika-mauka’s
were known to English colonists for the ferocity, surprise attacks and
martial mentality. They are better known by their Anglicized name of
Chickamauga. That’s right. Chickamauga is of Chickasaw origin, not Creek
or Cherokee. During the Revolution, a band of renegade Cherokees took
refuge among the Chika-mauka’s. As the “Chickmauga” War continued for
the next two decades, so many Cherokees joined them that they became
known to whites as the Chickamauga Cherokees.
Chika-mauka has two possible interpretations. It could be from the
archaic Chickasaw words chiki and mauka, which mean “seat or place to
look out.” However, the original name of the Upper Tennessee River was
the Caskenampo, which is Koasati for “Many Warriors.” The original name
of the Middle and Lower Tennessee River was Callimako, which is Itza
Maya for “Seat of the King.” The Chickasaws may have encountered the
ancient Maya name form of the river and interpreted it as meaning words
in their own language. The same thing happened when the Angles, Jutes
and Saxons encountered ancient Latin town and river names in Britain.
How the Chickasaws got dumped on by the
When the American Revolution erupted, Indian trader and author, James
Adair was in a quandary. He had friends on both sides. His new book on
the American Indian was making him a ton of pounds sterling in Great
Britain, and he had an Indian wife . . . a Chickasaw to be exact. To
solve the problem, he moved his family to a no-man’s land between the
Chickasaws and Apalachicola-Creeks in northwest Georgia. The farmstead
was on Oothlooga Creek, which is an Apalachicola word. That location was
just about five miles east of the Oostanaula River, which was Chickasaw
After the Revolution, Adair and his wife went back home to Laurens
County, SC to live. Their mixed-blood children had established
prospering grist mills, lumber mills and farms along Oothlooga Creek.
They stayed in the new land and attracted mixed-blood refugees from many
tribes as neighbors, especially the Cherokees fleeing eastern Tennessee.
In 1785 northwest Georgia was taken from the Upper Creeks and Chickasaws
then given to the Cherokees as “hunting lands.” In 1793, it was formally
given to the Cherokees as their new home. The early water-driven
industry established by the Adairs became the infrastructure to support
large scale immigration of Cherokee refugees. The Adairs were allowed to
remain, and in fact, made leaders of the Cherokees. Today, Adair is one
of the most prominent names among the Oklahoma Cherokees and Creeks.
Flash forward to the mid-twentieth century. Somewhere in the past many
Georgians got the idea that the Cherokees had always been in Georgia and
had always occupied the northern half of the state. The Cherokees did
not enter the state until after 1700; never at any time occupied the
entire northern half of the state, and only about 5-15% of the state’s
total land area at one time. In Georgia history books, Adair’s Indian
wife became a “light-skinned Cherokee princess.” In their continuing
logic, Georgians assumed that Oostanaula, Oothlooga and Eastanollee were
Cherokees words, whose meanings had been lost.
Simultaneously, their first cousins in Tennessee forgot that Cherokee
settlements in Tennessee were relatively short-lived and limited to a
narrow strip along the eastern edge of the state. The Cherokee lands in
Tennessee were eventually shown by 20th century historians to include a
vast expanse of the Chickasaw territory that the British gave to the
Cherokees in 1755, but the Cherokees didn’t dare step into. The
Chickasaws would have roasted them alive. The gift of other peoples
lands was a bribe for the Cherokees to send their soldiers north to
fight the Native allies of the French.
In the late 1700s, the Cherokees gave the land that they never occupied
to the federal government to settle debts. The Chickasaws, Upper Creeks
and Yuchi’s who actually lived on this territory, were evicted at gun
point. However, all three Indian tribes were known as being rather sober
and non-submissive . . . so that was okay.
My bet is that the ancestors of the Chickasaws were the founders of
Cahokia. They got the hell out of Dodge after a tyrannical elite showed
up around 1000 AD and took over the town – hence, the appearance of the
Fort Ancient Culture farther up the Ohio River. From then on, the
Chickasaws wanted nothing to do with building big mounds, human
sacrifices, or living under the thumb of arrogant Sun Lords. Remember
Cahokia had only a few small mounds (if any) until after 1000 AD.
Y’all be ethnically correct, hear?
Richard Thornton, Editor