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Brief update: Locations of North American Itza Mayas during early 1700s

Analysis of the Creek Migration Legends Series

By interpolating some very rare maps given POOF during the past three years with the newly discovered colonial documents, I have been able to pinpoint the last locations where North American Itza Mayas maintained their distinct cultural traditions, such as forehead flattening.   By 1735, when the Chikili Migration Legend was painted, a few joani (scholar-priests) such as Chikili still knew the Post Classic Itza Script, but it was soon completely forgotten as educated Itsate Creeks learned English and the Roman alphabet instead.  They knew that Tama meant “trade” and Chichi meant “dog” .  . .  thus the name of the famous leader, Tamachichi (Tomachichi in English.)  However, after his generation, I have not found any Maya personal names.

By 1735, even the Creek intellectuals did not know the meaning of most Maya-based place names.   The Itsate and Apalache were quickly absorbing Muskogean words and traditions.  In another generation there would not be stark differences between the divisions of the Creek Confederacy.

The basic reason that the existence of the Apalache and Itsate cultures stayed completely unrecognized to North American anthropologists is that unlike their peers in Europe and Latin America, they have not been required to gain working knowledge of indigenous languages in order to be professionally certified for working at the town sites of the people that spoke that language.

Any one with a minimal knowledge of Itza or Totonac would have immediately noticed the abundance of key Mesoamerican words in the Creek languages.  I mean, like really . . . chiki means the same in Georgia Creek, Miccosukee, Itza and Totonac . . . house.

Another major cause of the misinterpretation of the past was that most Caucasian scholars seem unaware that the Creeks were NOT a single ethnic group, but originally multiple provinces that were arch-enemies of each other.    They only buried their hatchets and became allied after their leaders realized that the combined threat of slave raids,  the Proto-Cherokees moving quickly down from  the Allegheny Mountains and increasing numbers of European settlers could soon result in their extinction.

The last portion of the Chiliki Migration legend describes the invasion of the Hiwassee and Nottely River Valleys by the Kaushete (Cusseta), who claimed to have sacked a great town on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain – probably at Track Rock.  The Itsates were driven to the east side of the Hiwassee and Chattahoochee Rivers.

The Cusseta retained control of the west sides of the Hiwassee and Chattahoochee Rivers until 1785, when the United States secretly gave their lands to the Cherokees in the Treaty of Hopewell.  Even though the Eastern Band of Cherokees and their institutional allies claim that they “built” the Track Rock Terrace Complex,  British and the earliest maps of the State of Georgia clearly show both Track Rock Gap and Brasstown Bald Mountain to be in Upper Creek Territory until 1785.

Brasstown Bald Mountain and Track Rock Gap were clearly portrayed as being in Upper Creek territory in 1780.

Brasstown Bald Mountain and Track Rock Gap were clearly portrayed as being in Upper Creek territory in 1780.

Europeans typically have great difficulty in pronouncing the internal “se” sound in many Maya and Muskogean words.  It is roughly a “jzhe” sound, but has typically been written as “tch” or “Tsh”.

Here are some Itza Maya town names found in the Colonial archives or on early maps.   English mapmakers typically wrote Itza as  Etcha, Itcha, Hitchi or Itsa.  “E” before or after a word in Itza grammar means “important or principal.”  Chote is derived from Cho’ite, a name for the Chontal Mayas of Tabasco State, Mexico.  The “o” suffix is from the Wareo Dialect of Arawak and means “people.”  The “yi” suffix means “place of” in Cherokee.

Itsate, Itsapa, Etchapa, Etchate, Hitchati,  Itsayi, Etchoe,  Etcheo, Etchesi, Ichesi, Itchese, Tula, Etula, Chote, Echote, Chiaha, Echiaha, Kopal,   Kauche,  Chiki, Ciliki, Potano, Potafa, Kataapa, Tama, Tamase, Tamatli, Tamali, Tamaule and Altamaha.


1721 locations of Itza Mayas

In 1721, the largest concentration of villages with Maya names were in extreme northeast Georgia, in the Nacoochee Valley, and the headwaters of the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers.  Another town, named Itsate was located on the Little Tennessee River near its confluence with the Tennessee River.  By this time, the Itsate towns in western North Carolina on the Little Tennessee River, such as Chiaha and Kauche, had been pushed out by the Cherokees, and were now located in southwest Georgia.

By 1725, most of the Itsate villages in North Carolina had moved to Ocmulgee Bottoms or the Etowah River Valley.  A few villages with Maya names remained within the Cherokee Alliance.   In fact, Itsate on the Lower Little Tennessee River eventually became the capital of the Overhill Cherokees.  Itsate is better known by its Maya nickname,  Chote . . . Chota.

Those 12 Itsate villages in northeast Georgia, who did not want to be part of either the Cherokee Alliance or Creek Confederacy formed their own alliance, which was known as the Elate or Foothill People.   Until after 1785,  they signed separate treaties with the Carolinas and Georgia.  They were NOT ethnic Cherokees.  This is why their 12 village were never shown on maps of the Cherokee Nation.   In fact, the Treaty of Hopewell clearly described the Georgia-North Carolina state line as the boundary between the Cherokees and the Elate.

In 1794, the Cherokee Nation and United States erased the Elate from the map.   The Cherokees ceded much of the Elate’s lands to the United States in return for getting the lands of the Upper Creeks in northwest Georgia . . . without the Upper Creeks knowledge.   The former capital of the Itstate Creeks in the Nacoochee Valley at Sautee-Nacoochee became a small Cherokee hamlet.  Some Elate fled to unclaimed lands in northwest Alabama while others moved to the Creek Nation.  They were forgotten by the history books, like so many other peoples we study.

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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.



    I actually look like Tomochichi. I could play him in a movie. someone I know who travelled to the Yucatan said I looked Maya.

  2. Hey, we must be cousins~ The mother town of my mother’s family was Palachicola, where Tomachichi lived. Several of my great-uncles also looked like Tomochichi. I turned out looking more like a Neanderthal. LOL


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