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Are you kornfuzed about the original meanings of Apalachicola, Apalachee and Appalachian?

Are you kornfuzed about the original meanings of Apalachicola, Apalachee and Appalachian?

Part Four of the series:

Horse Manure in Your History Books

The days are getting shorter and the nights colder, so the People of One Fire Chattahoochee Choo-choo Canoe Team is headed south to the Sunshine State. We just passed the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. Off to the east are our good friends at the Nene Hutke Dance Ground near Chattahoochee, Florida . . .  but the river is now called the Apalachicola.

The canoe team will be in Florida for the rest of 2016.  We will be camping out on the sandy river banks of the Apalachicola River, as we head toward the Gulf of Mexico.  According to the Florida Department of Natural Resources, alligators get lethargic this time of year and are not very hungry.  Let’s hope so. Speaking of alligators, however, we will first entertain you with a little diddy from Jim Billie, Principal Mikko of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.


 H’mm . . . maybe we shouldn’t sleep on the banks of the Apalachicola River after all . . . a KOA campground?


Kornfuzed about the differences between Apalachicola, Apalachee and Appalachian?  You should be. Academicians have been kornfuzed for 250 years. Much that is said in references, history books and anthropology books about the origins and meanings of these proper nouns is pure malarkey. Why is a river named after Florida’s Apalachee Indians in Northeast Georgia near the mountains?  Why are the Appalachian Mountains supposedly named after a tribe 330 miles to the south in Florida?  Why were there Creek towns named Palachicola and Apalachicola on the Chattahoochee and Savannah Rivers?  Who were the Palache that were mentioned in the Creek Migration Legend?  Why did Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Caroline plan to build the capital of New France, where the University of Georgia is located today?  Why did he say that Chicora and Chicola were the same place and located where Savannah is today . . . when all academicians place Chicora far to the north near Georgetown, SC.   Why did British call the town that De Laudonnière called Chicola, Palachicola?

Nineteenth and early 20th century ethnologists, such as Daniel G. Brinton and John R. Swanton, looked at these Europeanized words then speculated on their meanings without the appropriate dictionaries.  They then published totally inaccurate descriptions of their cultural history.

Late in his career, Swanton ignored the many archaeological discoveries made in the Lower Southeast during the 1930s and 1940s, to publish inaccurate cultural histories of the Apalachicola and Apalachee peoples. Historians, anthropologists and cultural resource agencies continued to replicate all that Swanton said, after his death, as if they were Biblical teachings.

During the 1960s, the work of Dr. Arthur Kelly and his fellow archaeologists in the River Basin Survey radically changed what was known about the chronology and cultural phases on the Chattahoochee, Flint and Apalachicola Rivers.  Rather than update their body of knowledge to reflect what Kelly had found, his peers ignored what Kelly’s teams had discovered and continued to use Swanton’s writings as their benchmark.  They went farther and farther out into lala land in their dissertations and professional papers. 

At a recent meeting of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, one of Florida’s most respected anthropologists stated in his lecture that the “Apalache” shown on European maps in the Georgia Mountains “was a figment of the Spanish imagination.”  Most of those attending conference took that for “the gospel truth.”  His highly erroneous belief is now orthodoxy among his underlings.

The true story of the Apalachicola and Apalachee are oh so different than their orthodox histories. However, sometimes orthodox versions will unknowingly let the reader know how badly off base, orthodoxy is.

Official histories of the Apalachicola, Apalache and Appalachian Mountains

Here is what Wikipedia tells us about the Apalachicola and Apalachee.  They are described as living on the west and east sides of the Apalachicola River for eons. Both are classified as Muskogeans.  The Apalachicola are said to be closely related to the Muskogees.  The Apalachee are described as being closely related to the Hitchiti Creeks. The Apalachee language is said to be “Southern Muskogean” but an extinct and lost language. Otherwise, why can’t Muskogean dictionaries translate any of the Apalachee town names?

When all references get to the etymologies of Apalachicola and Apalachee, a discerning reader will notice that they are out in lala land.  None of the Creek words for “other side,” “river,”low cottages” and “town” remotely resemble Apalache. Indeed . . . there is horse manure in the anthropology books!

Wikipedia states:

Apalachicola – “Their name derives probably from Hitchiti Apalachicoli or Muskogee Apalachicolo, signifying apparently “People of the other side”, with reference probably to the Apalachicola River or some nearby stream.”

Apalachee – “The name of the Apalachee People in Florida comes from the language of their Hitchiti neighbors, and means “people on the other side.” Their original name for themselves was never recorded.”

Apalachee RiverA river that flows through Gwinnett, Morgan and Greene Counties in Northeast Georgia. It is a Native American word variously interpreted by: (Gatchet) “People on the other side” (Brenton) “Supposedly a name derived from Apalache, whose root is the Muskogee word, apala, for Great Ocean, plus chi, meaning ‘those by the sea.”  (De Vere) “Town with low cottages on the river.

Appalachian Mountains – “While exploring inland along the northern coast of Florida in 1528, the members of the Narváez expedition, including Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, found a Native American village near present-day Tallahassee, Florida whose name they transcribed as Apalchen or Apalachen [a.paˈla.tʃɛn]. The name was soon altered by the Spanish to Apalachee and used as a name for the tribe and region spreading well inland to the north as far as the mountains.”

Say what?  . . . Both words mean the same thing?  Their “original name for themselves” was never recorded?     One never sees these statements in a legion of contemporary professional journals, dissertations and theses.  Virtually, all publications presume that the Apalache called themselves the Apalache.  Also, the Spanish never spelled the word, Apalachee . . . that’s the English version of the word.

 Yet . . . in 1658, French ethnologist Charles de Rochefort* wrote that the Apalachee did not call themselves by this name the Spanish had given them . . .  so how could the name of an Indian tribe that they did not call themselves spread northward 330 miles to be the name of a mountain range?  Wikipedia’s anonymous author was wrong. We do know the real name of the Florida Apalachee.  De Rochefort told us what they called themselves.  That will be discussed in POOF’s feature article for Halloween.  Also, you will roll in the floor laughing, when you learn what the difference in meaning between Apalache and Apalachen is.

* An annotated, modern English translation of De Rochefort’s two chapters on the Apalache in Georgia may be found in The Apalache Chronicles by Marilyn Rae and Richard Thornton.  It is published and sold online by Ancient Cypress Press – Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Nineteenth century ethnologist, Daniel Brinton,  was way off base with his suggestion that the “che” in Apalache came from the Muskogee Creek word “chi.”   Che is a Muskogee prefix for “your,” not a suffix for “those.”    He was remarkably warm in his guess about apala being related to the ocean.  However, apala is not even mentioned in the contemporary Muskogee-Creek dictionary.  An entirely different word is used for ocean.  So how did Brinton and Devere get the connection between Apalache and the ocean?

As you will read in the featured article coming up on Halloween Weekend, the author of the Appalachian Mountains etymology got it all wrong.  The story he or she told was from the experiences of the De Soto Expedition, not the Narvaez Expedition and Apalachen was not near Tallahassee.  Also apparently, this writer also didn’t read in the Wikipedia article on Apalachee, where it states that the Florida Apalachee didn’t call themselves Apalachee, until the Spanish told them that was their name.

We have probably gotten you really kornfuzed now.   To find relief from this mental taxation, look for the next article from People of One Fire . . .   Apalachicola, Apalachee, Appalachian . . . What your history teacher never told you.


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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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