Cherokees, Chorakees and Chiloki
Readers Question Answered
Hi Mr. Thornton: I read some of your articles … well, all of them and was so fascinated by them. There is a lot of information, especially the part about the Rickohockens. What I wanted to ask, if you don’t mind. I was a bit confused on the Chaloque people de So to came across in his early expeditions. The Chaloque people are a separate entity from the Cherokee and the Rickohockens the same as the Cherokees? Were the Rickonhockens Iroquoian speaking? Is there any place to find further historical information on this? You are the only one talking about this and I’m surprised this has gone unnoticed in circles. Thank you Richard in advance. Becky
The sharing of research between Native American scholars, made possible by the computer and internet, has caused a snowballing effect on the body of knowledge. Native American scholars are aware that what they said yesterday might have to be changed tomorrow, because the understanding of the past is changing in proportion to the accelerating improvements in computer technology.
All of the confusion about the origins of the Cherokees and Creeks is caused by non-Native American historians and anthropologists making assumptions about Southeastern Native Americans without ever talking to them. Shawnee Indians are particularly angry because archaeologists consistently label their village sites in the South as “Cherokee.” There is a peer review system, where academic colleagues are supposed to weed out inaccurate assumptions, but in fact, this system in Southeastern universities has perpetuated inaccuracies. Senior professors do not want their published legacies to appear imperfect.
The earliest European maps and archives show that the Southern Highlands were a patchwork quilt of many ethnic groups and towns. Yuchi and Muskogean towns occupied all of eastern Tennessee. The Shawnees dominated the mountainous areas of North Carolina. Muskogeans (ancestors of the Creeks, Chickasaws, Koasati, Seminole and Alabama) lived in the fertile river valleys. The Apalache or Palache (Biloxi) occupied much of the gold bearing region of the Georgia Mountains. There were probably some small ethnic groups, who have been forgotten.
Chaloki is the Totonac (NE Mexico) word for the nomadic barbarians who once roamed northern Mexico. The Aztecs called them chichimecs, which means “coyote or dog people.” The ancestors of the Creek Indians adopted this word when some Mexican refugees came to the Southeast. To the Creeks it meant someone living a Stone Age hunter-gatherer lifestyle.
The Chaloque (Chaloki) in South Carolina, mentioned by Hernado de Soto’s chroniclers, drifted southwestward after contact with Europeans. In 1735 they are shown on maps near the Okefenokee Swamp in SE Georgia. In 1755, they are show on maps living at the southern tip of the Flint River in SW Georgia. After then, they either joined the Creek Confederacy or drifted southward and joined the Florida Creeks, who are now called Seminoles.
Chorake is a Muskogee-Creek word meaning “splinter group.” The Chorakees were an alliance of several native hamlets in NW South Carolina, who did not want to join the Creek Confederacy. Most of the towns spoke a dialect of the Itsate-Creek language. Despite the State of South Carolina’s obsession with their no-longer present Lower Cherokees, during the mid-1700s, these villages only had a total of about 250 men of military age.
Most Cherokees will tell you that Lower Cherokee is an extinct language and that no one knows its words. However, Creek Indians can understand the Lower Cherokee words even today. Chorakees originally spoke a dialect of Creek. The names of most of the original Chorakee towns in South Carolina and southeastern Tennessee are Itsate-Creek words.
European Colonial Intrigues
In 1684 the King of France published a map in which he claimed all of North America west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That area included all of Ohio, Kentucky, Alabama, Tennessee, western North Carolina and northwestern Georgia. At the time, the region was composed of many ethnic groups, who had been severely weakened by catastrophic plagues. About 95-98% of the Native population of the Southern Highlands was lost in the decades following de Soto’s Expedition due to disease.
The British panicked. They invited their allies in Virginia, the powerful Rickohockens, to migrate southward into east central Tennessee and western North Carolina to form the core of an alliance of the under-populated mountain tribes. The Rickohockens were the first and most active participants in the Native American slave trade. They had been given firearms and a contract by the Colony of Virginia in 1660 to capture an unlimited number of Native American youth in the Southeast. Therefore, they were hated by the Southern tribes. The British had to come up with a new name for the alliance, which included the Chorakees of northwestern South Carolina. They slightly altered the word Chorakee to Charakee. The word Charakee quickly evolved into Cherokee.
Most Creek towns were forced to leave western North Carolina. Some in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina split into factions. Some wanted to join with the powerful Rickohockens and adopt their animistic religion that worshiped spirits in special fires. Others wanted to keep the Creeks’ traditional practices and monotheistic religion that was similar to the ancient Hebrews. There were several towns with the same Creek name, within both the Cherokee Alliance and the Creek Confederacy. They often were at war with each other in the 1700s!
Perhaps the greatest strength of the new Cherokee alliance was that it was egalitarian. Some of their most famous leaders in the 1700s were originally members of other tribes. Unlike the cultures derived from the old mound building days, there was no hereditary aristocracy in the Cherokee alliance, once they had driven out the hated kitani priests. It is interesting that kitani is an Alabama Indian word that originally meant a priest, who started the sacred fire, but now means sorcerer.
The original 14+ bands of the Cherokees spoke several languages and dialects. The Cherokees constantly took in refugees from remnant tribes in the Carolina Piedmont, even the Midwest. That added even more linguistic influences. To strengthen political alliances, the leaders of the various Cherokee bands frequently inter-married their sons and daughters to other bands. Over time, the many Cherokee languages and dialects began to congeal into three languages that mixed words and grammar from many sources. However, since the Rickohockens were the most numerous members of the alliance, the modern Cherokee language is more like it than any other language. Rickohocken is no longer spoken, but is believed to be related to the Delaware Indian language, an Algonquian tongue.
Cherokee political power and territory expanded dramatically between 1717 and 1735, when they had access to a steady supply of firearms and munitions from the Colony of South Carolina. Cherokee slave raiders, lead by experienced Rickohockens, ravaged from Lake Erie to southern Florida. Until around 1720 Native American slaves were the primary source of income for the Cherokees. However, by then other Southeastern tribes had obtained firearms and also participated in slave raids. The Apalachicola Creeks and Yamasee virtually wiped out the Spanish mission Indians of Florida between 1704 and 1707.
In all fairness, it must be added that many Cherokees hated the Native American slave raids, because they often became its victims, once enemy tribes had firearms. Valley Cherokee and Lower Cherokee leaders repeatedly tried to persuade South Carolina colonial officials to stop the slave trade, to no avail. Finally, King George I of Great Britain ended the Native American slave trade in 1752 and freed all Native American slaves.
The incessant wars and plagues that beset the Cherokee People during the 1700s almost wiped out their population in South and North Carolina. The Cherokee people today are an assimilation of many influences. Some original Cherokee towns were called Itsate or Itsayi, which mean either Itza Maya People or Place of the Itza Maya. The Snowbird and Hiwassee Valley Cherokees still carry DNA from Mexico and South America. The modern Cherokee language is similar to Algonquian or Iroquoian tongues, but Cherokees practice many Creek traditions, such as the Green Corn Festival and stomp dance, that were inherited from the Chorakees, who were actually Creek Indians.
The Cherokee people are generally not responsible for the historical malarkey that now proliferates in the media and state historic markers. Some non-Cherokees made up a series of myths in the late 20th century that ignored the tribe’s true history, as recorded by original Cherokee leaders and elders. It was presumed that presenting the Cherokees as a “mono-ethnic master race” would appeal to tourists. As with any other people in the world, the best way to know about the Cherokees is to have Cherokee friends.
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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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