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Cofachete… Chichimecs of Eastern North America

French Maps

French Maps

Maps drawn for the Kings of France Throughout the late 1500s, 1600s and 1700s the Royal Geographers of the kings of France prepared updated maps of what is now the Southeastern United States. They provide an entirely different history of the interior of North America than appears in contemporary historical references. During this period France consistently claimed what is now South Carolina and Georgia and never claimed the Florida Peninsula. The maps always showed the site of Fort Caroline to be at the mouth of the Altamaha River and the village of Seloy to be on what is now the mouth of the Satilla River.

Until 1717 the French maps showed the mountains of Georgia to be the domain of the Apalache. Prior to 1701 they showed extreme eastern Tennessee and the mountains of western North Carolina to be part of Apalache. Throughout the 1600s these maps located a tribe labeled variously as Cofache, Cofachete or Cofachiqui first in central Tennessee, then in extreme northeastern Alabama and immediately northward in Tennessee.

In 1701, French mapmaker, Guilaume DeLisle moved the location of the Cofachete to the section of the North Carolina Mountains south of Asheville. He showed eastern Tennessee to be occupied by various branches of the Muskogean and Yuchi’s. The Little Tennessee River Valley in North Carolina was then occupied by the Tuskegee Creeks, Talasee Creeks and Shawnee. The word Cherokee (or something similar) was not mentioned on any map until 1718.

In 1703 the Coweta Creeks occupied the Cohutta Mountains in northwestern Georgia, plus several other locations in the future state. The mid-18th century French spelling of their name, Cohuita, is the origin of the Anglicized name, Cohutta. Rochefort described the Coweta as one of the most important divisions of the Apalache Confederacy.

Note that in 1703 the Chickasaws and Yuchi’s were living in extreme eastern Tennessee.

Cofachete . . . the Chichimecs of Eastern North America

They may explain the strange round structures on top of Etowah Mounds’ main plaza

The name, Charles de Rochefort, is seldom recognized by North American academicians, but in Europe he is considered the most comprehensive and reliable authority on the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean Basin. Professional articles, dissertations and books are periodically written about specific chapters in his voluminous book, Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l’Amerique, Rochefort’s original, French language texts have an objective, journalistic quality to them that is often missing in other 16th and 17th descriptions of the Americas. Unfortunately, one must be able to read French or Dutch to comprehend contemporary academic publications about his work. They do, however, fill in many gaps about Rochefort’s life that are left out of North American references.

Rochefort was a highly respected Protestant minister, originally from Flanders, who developed into a world class ethnologist and botanist. The first two versions of his book in 1651 and 1658, were published anonymously in Rotterdam, because books written by Protestants were illegal in France. After then, he had become so famous, that the later publications, listing him as the author, were openly smuggled into France. His works were repeatedly reprinted until 1718 when stark ethnological changes in the Caribbean and Eastern North America had made them obsolete.

Rochefort’s first book, printed in 1651, discussed the Cofachete, because they were known as the descendants of the Caribs. In the contemporary Creek language, the ethnic name would be written as Kofvsete and pronounced Ko- : fä : she- : te-. Typical of many ethnic and geographical names in the mountains of Georgia, western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee, the origin of the word is hybrid Muskogean, Tamaule (NE Mexico) and Itza Maya. It means “Mixed Offspring People,” which suggests that they were the offspring of interracial or interethnic marriages. Rochefort stated that the Apalache founded a colony in the Florida Panhandle that evolved to be a powerful province in its own right and also now spoke a dialect somewhat different than the mother people. However, the two peoples maintained friendly relations and a wide road that connected the Georgia Mountains with the Gulf of Mexico.

In 1653, an English friend of Rochefort, living in Barbados, journeyed to the Georgia Mountains to the capital of the Kingdom of Apalache in what is Union County, GA. Brigstock was able to obtain much more detailed information about the Cofachete than was available in the original edition.

According to Charles de Rochefort, the ancestors of the Caribs were indigenous to the South Atlantic Coastal Plain of the United States. Many centuries in the past they had spread southward across the Antilles to the northern tip of South America. Rochefort said that the only ethnically pure Caribs were pushed northward into the portion of Florida François that is now called South Carolina. NOW THAT should open up a whole new world for South Carolina anthropologists! They were not Arawaks and in fact (contrary to what the Spanish said) it was the Arawaks, who invaded Carib territory. The various Arawak and South American peoples, who replaced the Caribs in Florida and along the Georgia coast were not nearly as advanced culturally, according to Rochefort.

Some of the Caribs became nomadic bands that wandered about the Southeast as predators who pillaged towns and villages without warning, if the locals let their guard down. His descriptions sound just like the Chichimecs of northern Mexico, but genetically they were a different people. The havoc caused by these raiders might explain the sudden abandonment of several Mississippian Period towns.

One of the nomadic Carib bands traveled far to the north in a place that was cold and rocky. Its people intermarried with other peoples. Thereafter, they became known as the Cofichete. They then pillaged their way southward until settling into a region northwest and adjacent to, the Apalache Confederacy. Rochefort specifically stated that the original home of the Apalache, Amana, which is the region around Ocmulgee National Monument, was occupied without warning by the Cofachete. A long war ensued, in which the Cofachete were “bought off” by being given a province immediately east of Amana. That’s the province of Cofita, visited by Hernando de Soto in April of 1540. Within a short period after their victory, the Cofitache began to war among themselves and became militarily weak. Cofita was then crushed by the armies of Apalache and absorbed into what was to become the Creek Confederacy.

Another band of Cofachete remained in the Cumberland Plateau in the 1650s when Rochefort was writing. There was extensive intermarriage going on between its members and the Spanish, African, Dutch (Dutch Jewish) and English settlers who had colonized that region. This band seems to be the ancestors of the Cherokee Indians since it occupied sections of western North Carolina in the late 1690s.

The Cofachete had no formal religion, but relied on conjurers who interpreted the voices of demons residing in sacred fires of council houses. The early Cherokees practiced this same animistic religion. The religious differences between the monotheistic Apalache (proto-Creeks) and the Cofachete was always a source of contention between the two peoples. In letter written to John Ross by Principal Chief Charles Hicks in early 1827, Hicks stated that the first thing that Cherokees did when they captured “mound builder” towns in western North Carolina was to burn down the “mound builder” temples and replace them with Cherokee “town” houses. When the Cherokees capture Ustanali (Tugaloo) around 1705, they burned the entire town. The Cumberland Plateau Cofachete were obviously the ancestors of the Cherokees.

The Apalache-Cofitache War appears to have occurred sometime between 1585 and 1600. Ochese (Lamar Village) in the Province of Amana was temporarily abandoned at that time, but the great provincial capital of Kusa (Coosa) plus Etowah Mounds, were permanently abandoned. Rochefort stated that the Apalache towns that suffered the most were in the western sections of the kingdom. He also stated that the Cofachete built primitive round houses while the Apalache build more sophisticated rectangular houses. This would explain the footprints of round houses on the plaza of Etowah Mounds from the early 1600s. The Cofachete temporarily occupied the ruins of the town until the armies of Apalache drove them out. Apalache from the Middle Chattahoochee River Valley occupied the Etowah Valley from 1645 to 1763.

Oh my gosh!

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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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