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Two Different Versions of Cherokee History Collide

The Native American history of the Southern Appalachians. Part Two: Two Different Versions of Cherokee History Collide

In 1826 and early 1827 de facto Principal Chief Charles R. Hicks wrote eight long letters to John Ross that described the history of the Cherokee People. Ross was being groomed for tribal leadership, but he was 7/8 Scottish and knew little about his Cherokee heritage. Hicks was a brilliant scholar and the driving force behind both the construction of the Cherokee capital of New Echota and a Cherokee constitution.

Hicks’ description of the Cherokee’s origins is entirely different than those promulgated today by the State of North Carolina, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and many archaeologists in North Carolina and Georgia. In fact, one wonders if the North Carolina historians and anthropologists, who wrote the Cherokee History Project in 1976 even read Hicks’ letters.

View from a mountaintop cemetery of the Andrews Valley where Charles Hicks probably grew up.

“Hicks said that the Cherokees traveled southward in three columns from the north. The first band did not reach the edge of the Tennessee Smokie’s until about the same time that English and French were settling the Southeast (late 1600s.) He said that the first Cherokee town in the Southern Highlands was Big Tellico on the Little Tennessee River in Tennessee, not Kituwah in North Carolina as now officially adopted by North Carolina. Hicks emphasized that the Cherokees did not build any mounds.

After founding Big Tellico, Hicks stated that war parties began pushing into North Carolina, because southward expansion into Tennessee was blocked by the Kusa (Upper Creeks) and Yuchi, living south of the Hiwassee River. He wrote that the “mound builders” (aka Muskogeans) living in North Carolina had once been numerous and powerful, but were now weak because of the many European diseases that had spread upward from the new European colonies. He specifically stated, “We killed or drove off the mound builders, burned down their temples on top of the mounds, and replaced them with our town houses” (council houses.) Some “mound builder” girls were captured by the Cherokees so they could teach the invaders how to grow corn, beans and squash.”

Until recently, members of other Native American tribes merely snickered as the new imperial version of Cherokee history was distributed to tourists. However, four years ago Oklahoma Public Television broadcast a film produced by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that among other things announced that the Mayas and Aztecs were the descendants of the Cherokees AND that the Cherokees were the first people in the world to grow corn, beans and squash. The film is still being shown in Oklahoma, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia public schools and is being presented by teachers as historically factual.

By the way, exactly a month after the Eastern Band of Cherokees agreed to participate in the “Maya Myth-busting in the Mountains” Project in return for a grant from the US Forest Service, a tropical hurricane devastated the North Carolina Cherokee reservation during the time of year when the Smoky Mountains are normally dumping lots of snow. Beware the power of the Wind Clan.

To read the second article of the series, Go to: Their world was turned asunder

Hope you are enjoying the series. My Examiner readership has exploded this month.

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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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