Appalachian Mountains: the fascinating search for a word’s true meaning
The word, Apalache, first appeared in the Spanish archives during the Pánfilo de Narváez Expedition (1527-1536). When asked about gold, Florida Indians pointed to the north and said that the Apalache had much gold in their land. There are no gold deposits in Florida, but the first major gold rush in the United States was in North Georgia.
Beginning in 1562, Spanish maps and after 1565, all European maps began labeling the Southern Highlands as Apalachen, Apalatsy, Apalatcy or Apalache. During much of the 18th century, the Georgia Mountains were called the Apalachian Mountains, while those in North Carolina were called the Cherokee Mountains. Eventually, all of the eastern range of mountains in the Southeast was called the Appalachian Mountains.
Want to know how the Appalachian Mountains got their name? Go to almost any reference other than the People of One Fire and you will read something similar to this paragraph in Wikipedia:
“Appalachian Mountains: Name is derived from a Native American village near present-day Tallahassee, Florida, transcribed in Spanish as Apalachen [a.paˈla.tʃɛn]. It is a Creek Indian word that means “People on the Other Side.” The name was eventually used as for the tribe and region spreading well inland to the north. Now spelled “Appalachian”, it is the fourth oldest surviving European place-name in the US. After the de Soto expedition in 1540, Spanish cartographers began to apply the name of the tribe to the mountains themselves.”
The translation provided is completely bogus, as were almost all of those done by early 20th century Smithsonian ethnologist, John Swanton. Did he even own a Creek dictionary? There are some facts in this article, but the information that is left out radically changes the overall meaning. As stated in the accompanying TV interview of historian Jim Loewen on this webpage, much of what students read in official American History textbooks is just that . . . part of the facts manicured in order to give an entirely different spin on history.
Don’t faint, I translated the word wrong, too!
For nine years, I have proudly announced that unlike certain 20th century Dixie professors, I used a Miccosukee-Hitchiti dictionary to translate Apalache . . . and it meant, “Light or torch – children of.” Well, it does, but Appalachian turned out to be derived from a Europeanized word, not the word that indigenous people spoke. It was the discovery of those documents in England that had been lost for 280 years that turned my understanding of the past, upside down.
In his speech to the leaders of the Colony of Georgia, Principal Chief Chikili used the words Apalache and Palache interchangeably. He also called himself a Palache . . . not a Creek, not a Muskogee, not a Koweta. Since Chikili was known to be from the Georgia Piedmont, that confirmed what we were almost certain of, the true Apalache were in North Georgia, not Florida.
In another recorded speech, Chikili specifically stated that Apalache and Palache meant the same thing. Oh #*$%! My translation of Apalache couldn’t possibly be correct, if the A could be dropped off and still have the same meaning. Where in the world did that word come from?
Using a Sherlock Holmes approach
A list was made of known facts:
1. Apalache and Palache had the same meaning in the 1730s.
2. The words were really Apalasi and Palasi . . . at least we thought.
3. The Apalache called their mountain homeland, Palan. There is a province in northern Peru called Palan
4. The Apalache elite dressed identically to the Panoan peoples of eastern Peru, including their strange conical straw hats.
5. Swift Creek stamped pottery from Georgia was identical to Conibo stamped pottery from Peru.
6. Napier Stamped pottery from Georgia was identical to Shipibo stamped pottery from Peru.
7. The high kings of the Apalache called themselves Paracusa, which is also the name of one of the earliest civilizations in Peru. The Paracusa were extremely tall and had flattened foreheads. They made the fieldstone effigies of animals in the Nazca Valley of Peru before mysteriously leaving the region. Numerous royal graves have been found in proto-Creek towns that contained extremely tall men with flattened foreheads. (6′-6″ to 7′ tall)
8. The Creek word for the Sacred Black Drink made from yaupon holly was the same word in Panoan. The Panoans and several other Amazonian tribes have the same Yaupon tea ceremonies.
9. The Creek and South Carolina Low Country word for a village chief, orata, was the same among the Panoans.
10. The Migration Legend of the Apalache People said that they arrived to the South Atlantic Coast from the sea and that their first capital was where Downtown Savannah is now. Chicola or Chicora was the name of the first capital and the province around it. The town of Chicora was NOT in South Carolina.
I speculated that Apalache and Palache were Panoan words that meant the same. However, I could find neither word in any of the Panoan dictionaries – Shipibo, Conibo, Kashibo, Satibo and Chiska . . . you recognize that last word? The North American Chiskas were not Yuchi’s.
Strike Three . . . you’re out! Nothing was similar to Apalache, Palache or Apalasi.
Then I stumbled upon a colonial map that spelled Palachicola as Parachecola. Of course, Muskogees and Cherokees couldn’t pronounce a European R. Panoans, Apalaches and Yuchi’s could. Europeans wrote down the Muskogee speakers attempt to pronounce an R as an L. That is why Chicora and Chicola were the same towns. Captain René de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, had mentioned that fact.
Eureka, I have found it! There is was. Para was the Panoan word for the ocean or sea. A was the Panoan prefix for “from”. “Si” or “che” is the Muskogean suffix for “offspring of.” Apara means “From the Sea” in Panoan. Aparasi means “Offspring from the sea” in the hybrid Apalache language. Around Savannah, there are several river names that in various languages mean either “Sea People” or “Offspring of the Sea.” It all made perfect sense.
But how did that word become Apalachen? The earliest Spanish map labeled North Georgia, Apalachen. A closer look at the Shipibo-Spanish dictionary gave the answer. The plural of Aparasi, would be Aparasen, which would be pronounced by Muskogeans as Ä : pȁ : lä : shēn.
Case closed. Apalachen merely meant “The Apalachees.”
There was to be one fine marble capstone on this discovery. Captain René de Laudonnière said that the Indians on the coast of present day Georgia and South Carolina, plus the Calusas of South Florida, worshiped a deity named Toya. He added that when praying to Toya, they would shout, “Hey Toya!”
No matter how much I searched the internet, I could find no deity named Toya. Then I happened to glance at a list of “ancient pre-Inca gods of Peru.” Atoya was the first deity worshiped in Peru. A Universal Creator deity, represented by the symbol of the sun, he or she (depending on the tribe) became known as the Ancient Mountain god. The Panoans would have worshiped Atoya two thousand years agp. They obvioulsy brought their female sun goddess/creator deity, Atoya, with them to North America.
That would explain why the Apalache and later, the Creeks monotheistically worshiped an invisible Creator goddess, whose traits were almost identical to those of YHWH of the ancient Hebrews, except she was a female. They logically concluded that only a woman could love her human children, despite their failings.
Having the God of the Christian Bible and Jewish Torah wear dresses, was more than the early Protestant missionaries to the Creeks could stomach . . . especially if you throw the pleasure that Creek women took in going around topless! The missionaries pressured newly converted Creeks to think of God as a white man with a beard, who didn’t like women exposing their breasts in public. Within a generation or so, these traditions were forgotten.
Would you believe that the Bronze Age peoples on the coast of Spain made concentric circle petroglyphs like those in North Georgia, and also worshiped a sun goddess named Atoya? Things are getting more and more complex. Some archaeologists believe that those Bronze Age folks on the coast of Spain were the source of the Atlantis Legend. They disappeared after a massive tsunami around 1200 BC.
At this point, I was tempted to yell “Hey Toya,” but will stick to Hallilujah!
Well, we’uns ignorant mountain folks have done turned them thar history books upside down again . . . and t’weren’t even a-trying!
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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