De Soto Expedition documented earth-sheltered houses in several locations
A People Of One Fire reader from Oklahoma (who wished to remain anonymous) asked me to explain why NO museum in the United States or archaeology book portrays its indigenous peoples of the Southeast living in “earth lodges,” yet I seem to be convinced that at least some of the Plains Indians, who built earth lodges, originated in the Southeast. Because of the town, where this person I lives, I suspect that he is either Kanza or Osage, but this was not stated in the letter.
First, readers should understand that the Mandan and Arikara have always said that the originated on the Gulf Coastal Plain of the Southeastern United States. Wikipedia states that they originated in Ohio, but there is no evidence of it. Some anonymous professor wrote the Wikipedia article, stating that they originated in Ohio, who didn’t know any better. Academicians, who have actually worked with the Mandans say otherwise. This speculation was made long ago by Midwestern academicians, who believed that the oldest American mounds and pottery were in Ohio and that the founders of Cahokia came from the Hopewell Culture in Ohio.
The Kanza (Kaw), Quapaw, Osage and Paunee tribal websites state that they originated in the Ohio Valley then migrated to Cahokia then migrated out west. However, they say this because all academicians told whoever created their websites that this was their heritage. Actually, the real migration legends of the Kanza, Osage and Paunee only say that they came from east of the Mississippi River, while the Quapaw Migration Legend states that they originated on the coast of South Carolina.
Professional archaeologists, using modern methods, have discovered earth-sheltered houses at Kolomoki Mounds in Southwest Georgia, on the Ocmulgee River in Middle Georgia and on the Coosa River in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama. The reader is correct, though. Although these archaeological sites were thoroughly described by archaeologists in their published reports . . . a published book in the case of Kolomoki Mounds . . . I have never noticed a mention of Southeastern earth-sheltered houses in books on the Native Americans of the United States or in online reference articles. Apparently, the information about these structures has not spread to other parts of the nation.
Sixteenth Century Spanish explorers
Luis Hernandez de Biedma was the King’s Agent on the De Soto Expedition and one of the few survivors. His account of the expedition is the only one for which an original copy exists. Interestingly enough, De Biedma specifically stated that the town of Chiaha was on an island in the Rio Esperitu Santo . . . the Little Tennessee River . . . while all contemporary anthropologists make sure that you only read in references that Chiaha was on an island in the French Broad River. (It wasn’t.)
When the De Soto expedition left the territory of the Florida Apalachee in the spring of 1540, these Spaniards entered the territory, which shows a continuous cultural evolution to becoming Creek Indians . . . or at least we thought they were Muskogeans. De Biedma wrote: “There was a change in the habitations, which were now in the earth, like caves.” These people living in earth-sheltered houses probably were not ethnic Muskogeans, but their descendants probably became members of the Creek Confederacy. We don’t know that for sure, however. These people, encountered by De Soto, may have been ancestors of the Mandan, Arikara, Kanza or Osage.
In late 1560 the Tristan de Luna Colony in present day Pensacola dispatched a large party to obtain food from the Province of Kusa in Northwest Georgia. A friar, who accompanied that expedition, Domingo de la Anunciacion reported that “the houses of the Indians of Coça (Kusa~Coosa) were “all covered with earth, and they sow whatever they like over them.”
The Cherokee: During the late 1600s, the ancestors of the Cherokees lived in the mountains of southern West Virginia, eastern Kentucky and the western tip of Virginia. They were then called the Tionantateca-gi by Algonquian speakers. This word suggests that they were originally Chichimecs from Mexico, since the core suffix in Nahuatl. Guillaume De L’Isle’s 1701 Map of La Louisiane et La Florida states in French, “who live in caves in order to get relief from great heat.” The Creeks are about the only Southeastern tribe that does not use a name for the Cherokee, which means “cave dwellers.”
The Chiska of Northeastern Tennessee: The De Soto Expedition mentioned the Chiska, but did not provide many cultural details. However, Juan de la Bandera, was the highly educated notary for the two Juan Pardo Expeditions through the Southern Appalachians between 1567 and 1568. He wrote about a battle between the Spanish under Sergeant Moyano and the Chiska Indians. De la Bandera stated that the Spanish “…drove the Indians into underground houses from which they made sorties to skirmish with the Spanish. After killing a great number of them, the Spaniards won entrance to the houses and set fire to them.”
Tennessee archaeologists will occasionally stumble upon Chiska houses during road construction projects. They were not actually earth berm houses, but rather man-made caves in the sides of mountains and hills. Undoubtedly, what Guillaume de L’Isle called caves, were also man-made caves.
17th century Spanish explorers: In an earlier article, I mentioned that even Wikipedia lists Coça as an alternative name for the Kanza (Kaw or Kansa) People. Spanish explorers, who encountered the Kanza on the Great Plains called them the Coça. It is pretty obvious that the Coça visited by Hernando de Soto in 1540 were the same people as the Coça living on the great plains a century later. Their houses and villages on the Great Plains were identical to their houses and villages in the Coosa Valley.
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