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Appalachian origins of the Seminoles and Miccosukees

A string of Native American place names across the entire length of western North Carolina and the northern edge of Georgia can also be found among Seminole villages in Florida. Some Southeastern archaeologists attack the obvious fact that Maya refugees became part of the ancestry of the Seminoles and Miccosukees even though speakers of several Maya dialects can understand much of what a Miccosukee visitor is saying. Meanwhile, a grossly inaccurate map, adopted by Congress in 1991, keeps the true facts of history out of American history books, plus the Seminoles & Miccosukees from protecting their ancestral heritage sites. How could this strange state of affairs have happened?

Today the word, Muskogee, has become synonymous with Creek Indian, but that was not always the case. It is very clear that up until the 1830s, many Creek communities, who spoke Apalachicola, Itsate (Hitchiti) or Eastern Creek (South Carolina & SE Georgia) preferred not to be associated with the Muskogee Creek Confederacy. This is also true of the Yuchi and Yamasee. These peoples remained in the Carolinas and eastern Georgia as long as possible. Some never left their homeland. Some were founding members of the Cherokee Alliance. Others began a southward migration path that ultimately put them in the present day state of Florida. Those in Florida are now known as Seminoles, Miccosukees or Florida Creeks.

Tuckase Emathla was entitled the “Principal Chief of All Florida Indians” from 1826 to 1833. The Federal government persuaded Florida Indian leaders to elect him, but he was not recognized as such by many traditionalists. Anglo-Americans called him John Hicks. Had he not died under suspicious circumstances in 1833, the Second Seminole War would have probably never occurred. It was one of the most costly ever fought by the United States and ended in a stalemate.

Tuckase Emathla was a political title meaning that he was originally the spokesman for the Toka-se People, who lived in present day Madison County, Florida until the mid-1820s. His personal name has been lost to history.

Florida history books will tell you that the “Tuckase” People were immigrants from farther north, who spoke a language that was different than that of other Seminoles living nearby. That is the generally the pattern today in all discussions of the Seminoles and Miccosukees in contemporary history books. They came to Florida from vague locations somewhere to the north of Florida.

Meanwhile, most references will tell you that the Tuckasegee River in western western North Carolina is an ancient Cherokee word whose meaning has been lost, or “perhaps” the Anglicization of the Cherokee word dagisiyi, which is means turtle place. This is typical of what results when historians try to create an etymology for a word that was never Cherokee. They struggle to find any Cherokee syllables that might be similar to the Anglicized place name, without any clue as to how the original Native American words were pronounced.

The true etymology of Tuckasegee is that is the Anglicized version of the Creek word, Toka-se – ke, which means Tuckase People in English. Both English-speakers and Cherokees typically pronounced a Creek “k” sound as a “g.” The Tokase were offspring of the mother town Toke (Toque) that was visited by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo in 1567. It was probably located in the vicinity of present day Highlands, NC.

Principal Chief John Hicks’ people were originally from the Tuckasegee Valley of North Carolina. Within a few generations, they were only known as a division of the Miccosukee Seminoles in Florida.

Miccosukee is the Anglicization of the Creek words “Mikko Sokee,” which means “leaders of the Soque People.” Their name survives in the Southern Appalachians as the Soque River in the Georgia Mountains and Soco (Soque) Gap on the Cherokee Reservation. The main river flowing through that reservation is the Oconaluftee. Its name has no meaning in Cherokee, but means “Oconee People – cut off” in Itsate Creek. The Oconee composed the original nucleus of those indigenous peoples, who moved to Florida and became known as Seminoles.

In almost every county in the Southern Appalachians are place names that either were names of founding tribes in the Seminole Alliance, the names of early Seminole villages or are also place names in Florida. Tallasee, Talula, Tuskegee and Chiaha in Graham County, NC ended up in Florida. Ellijay was a Seminole town in southern Florida and is still the name of a river in the Georgia Mountains. Oothlooga was a village visited by William Bartram in Florida and is still a river in northwestern Georgia. Etchite and Tanasee were villages in Macon County, NC and later villages in Florida. Tamasee in Jackson County, NC can also be found on early Florida maps. There was a Native American village in Cherokee County, NC named Tamatli. There was once a Seminole village named Tamatli. The North Carolina community is now Anglicized to Tomatla. Coosa Creek can be found near the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Union County, Georgia, but also in Lake Worth, Florida. There is a town named Suwannee in northern Georgia and one named Suwannee in northern Florida.

Charles Hicks, although officially Second Chief of the Cherokee Nation, functioned as its CEO from 1817 till his death in January of 1827. He grew up at a trading post owned by his Scottish father in Andrews, NC. The location was 19 miles from the Tuckasegee River. Was the leader of the Cherokee Nation closely related to John Hicks, the leader of the Seminole Nation during that same period? It is a question that has never been researched.

How the past became Obscured

Tuckasegee River and Tuckase Emathla

Tuckasegee River and Tuckase Emathla

Early 19th century Anglo-American settlers in Florida seemed vaguely aware that the Seminoles and Miccosukees were not aboriginal to Florida. However, their original homelands were presumed to be in southern Georgia, where they lived in the late 1700s. Americans, in general, assumed that all Southeastern Indians were living in 1800 at the same locations that they lived in 1600. This misconception was caused by the fact that very few Anglo-Americans lived in the interior of the Southeast until after the American Revolution.

This presumption is echoed in the writings of the famous Smithsonian Institute ethnologist, John Swanton. The names of several Seminole towns appeared in the chronicles of the Hernando de Soto Expedition as being high in the Appalachian Mountains. This conundrum thoroughly confused mid-20th century scholars, who were trying to locate the route of de Soto.

Instead of being confused, the scholars could have read the eight letters that Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote to future Principal Chief John Ross in 1827. Hicks clearly stated that the Cherokees entered into North Carolina from the west. He added, “We killed or drove off the mound builders, who lived there.” In 1939, when the De Soto Commission was formed, the original copies of those letters were already in the possession of the Newberry Library in Chicago.

American history became really skewed in 1976 when the State of North Carolina directed a group of history and archaeology professors at the University of North Carolina to prove that the Cherokees had been in North Carolina for 1000 years. It was called the Cherokee History Project. It has never been explained why the presence of Cherokees in North Carolina 1000 years ago was so important to the politicians.

A series of books were published by anthropology professors from Georgia and North Carolina in the late 20th century, which sought to create a new history in which the Cherokees greeted the Hernando de Soto Expedition. All of the Native American town names in present day Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, that were mentioned by de Soto’s chroniclers, were either Maya or Muskogean words.

No problem! The academicians defined these Muskogean words as “ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.” This is still a standard joke among Southeastern indigenous peoples. The late Charles Hudson also skewed his path for the de Soto Expedition far to the north so that a maximum amount of distance would have been traversed in the land of his Alma Mater, the University of North Carolina. Apparently, de Soto’s conquistadors traveled in Humvees. They would necessarily have averaged about 40 miles a day on Hudson’s circuitous route.

Academic chicanery was fossilized into bureaucratic stone in 1990. The George H. Bush Administration prepared an official map of Native American tribal territories that left most of the Southeast either blank or under traditional Cherokee occupation. The map stated that the only places where the Seminoles, Miccosukees and Creeks ever lived were their last reservations before being deported to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma.) The map was adopted by Congress and became law.

It could have been worse for the Seminoles and Miccosukees. This official map announced that the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Alabama, Koasate, Yuchi and Shawnee Peoples NEVER lived in the Southeast.

Native American history might seem irrelevant to other Americans, but this official map has cost the indigenous Southeastern tribes many millions of dollars in Federal grants. Federal funding for tribal historic preservation offices and archaeological studies is based on a formula derived from tribal population and the area of territory on which they are considered indigenous by the official map. The federally recognized Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, Seminole Tribe of Florida and Miccosukee Tribe of Florida are clearly descendants of those Appalachian towns visited by Hernando de Soto, but are excluded from reviewing any artifacts or human burials excavated from their ancestral towns in the Appalachians and Piedmont.

It is time, long overdue, for the National Park Service to revise their Traditional Tribal Territories Map in accord with the known facts of Southeastern Native American history.

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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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