Did the mysterious Chiska become a clan of the Cherokee?
The real history of the Cherokee People is far more interesting than the recent mythology, created by an alliance of naïve tribal bureaucrats and academicians. The trouble is that the real history is a book, still being researched . . . and few people inside North Carolina even realize that it needs to be researched.
From recent genetic testing, it is clear that like most other tribes in the East, the modern Cherokee are not a pure ethnic group, but represent the assimilation of many other peoples, including Europeans and Middle Easterners. The Northwest European, Iberian and Sephardic DNA test markers are easy enough to identify, but who were their Native American ancestors? One of the founding members in their original alliance could well have been the Chisca.
The Irreverent Observations of Bubba Mythbuster
Season 1 – Episode 7
Just who were the Chisca?
The factual information that we have about the Chisca comes from the chronicles of the Hernando de Soto (1540) and Juan Pardo (1567) Expeditions. We know that they lived somewhere in the mountainous country either north or northwest of the Little Tennessee River. Perhaps they originally lived in other sections of the Southern Highlands, including the central and northern mountains of North Carolina, but this is never stated.
From these chroniclers, we know that the Chisca had a reputation for being fierce warriors, who were arch-enemies of the Muskogean provinces in the Tennessee Valley and Western North Carolina and the province of Wara (Joara in Spanish). Hernando de Soto sent a group of conquistadors to intimidate them and they got their buns whipped.
The chronicles of the Juan Pardo Expedition state that in the winter of 1568, Sergeant Hernando Moyano led a force of Spanish soldiers and Wara warriors to attack and burn a Chiska village named Maniatiqui. There was also a village on the coast of Georgia with that name. The Spaniards then attacked another Chiska village named Guapere. Guapere is also the name of a tree that grows in the Amazon Basin.
OMG moment: Wara/Joara/Huara/Huaro is the name of several villages, towns and districts in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. Wara/Waro is an Aymaran word that means, “an inhabited place.” Go to the section of the Pardo Chronicles, where the Spaniards first enter Joara. The author, Juan dela Bandera, states that “Joara means a place.”
There are several brief comments in the Spanish, French and English Colonial archives, stating that smelted copper and gold in Florida, Carolina and Virginia had come from the Chisca, who were the only native peoples that had smelters for converting rock ore into metal. This is significant because metallurgy in the Americas began in northwestern South America and this region was always the forefront of the most sophisticated metal technology.
We also know that the Chisca wore conical straw hats and kilts just like those worn by the Apalache of North Georgia. Both are portrayed in shell gorgets found from North Georgia to Missouri. A colorized version of such a gorget is shown below. The Chisca warrior has a black design painted on his face. Contemporary descriptions also stated that the Chisca wore their hair long and had black designs on their faces. The Creeks alternatively called the Chiska, Weste from which South Carolinans derived the ethnic label Westo. In contemporary Muskogee-Creek, weste is a pejorative word that means, “long scraggly hair.”
The famous French explorer, Robert de La Salle, visited a Chisca village in north central Tennessee in 1683. He persuaded this village and some Shawnee to move to St. Louis to be under the protection of the French. The 1684 Franquelin Map in a previous POOF article was based on La Salle’s sketches.
La Salle later wrote the king that the Chisca had originally lived in the Appalachians, east of where he found them, until their town was burnt down by English colonists from La Florida. Keep in mind that La Florida in the 1500s meant all of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida. Contemporary scholars assumed that La Salle was confused, but was he?
In late 2014, a POOF scholar found a letter written on January 6,1660 by the leader of the English-French Protestant-Jewish colony of Melilot in northeast Georgia. In 1658, Charles de Rochefort wrote that this colony had been founded in late 1565 by survivors of Fort Caroline, but since 1621, the English language had become predominant. So it is quite plausible that English colonists drove the more southerly Chisca from their homeland soon after their name last appeared on the European maps. What happened to the Chisca living farther north in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia?
Bubba is about to drop a bombshell
On the maps at the top of the article, you can see that between 1684 and 1717, the ethnic names in Northeastern Tennessee changed. The word Chisca had appeared on almost all European maps from 1549 until 1684. French maps stopped showing the Chisca after 1690. In place of that name in 1717, they put Charaqui. The 1717 map was the first European map to use a word like Cherokee.
OMG Moment: The word Chiska means “bird” in the Panoan language of eastern Peru. The same word is Chiskua in Southern Arawak of Peru. The Cherokee word for “bird” in English letters is tsiskua and is pronounced virtually the same as the Southern Arawak word. The Ani-tsiskua or Bird Clan is one of the seven surviving clans of the Cherokee People.
The confused Wikipedia version of history
Before closing we best analyze what Wikipedia says on these subjects, because some readers will race to Wikipedia to fact check what was said by Bubba Mythbuster. As usual Wikipedia is confused . . . containing both accurate accounts of history and ridiculous speculations, based on lectures that some anonymous, young Wiki author-wannabe archaeologist heard in college from geographically kornfuzed and linguistically ignorant anthropology professors:
“Captain Pardo also sent exploration parties that fought with the Chisca (Pardo called them Chisca; his chronicler called them Uchi). His men destroyed their settlement at Maniatique, thought to be at present-day Saltville, Virginia.”
Neither Juan Pardo nor Juan dela Bandera, his chronicler, ever called the Chiska, Uchi (aka Yuchi.) The Uchi were described as allies of Kusa, who planned to ambush Pardo. The Chiska were their enemies too. Now, back in the early 20th century, ethnologist John Swanton speculated that the Chisca were Yuchi’s, but he had absolutely nothing to back up the speculation.
“After resting and supplying his force, Moyano led his force to Guapere (thought to be on the upper Watauga River in present day Tennessee). The Spanish and native force attacked and burned Guapere and marched west to Chiaha (also in present day Tennessee). Moyano’s force built a fort in Chiaha and waited for Captain Juan Pardo to return.”
Chiaha was on the Little Tennessee River just west of the Cherokee Reservation. There is no place in Tennessee that matches the full De Soto and Pardo Chronicles’ description of Chiaha. The Cheoah Mountains and Cheoah River are located nearby. The De Soto-Pardo Route university team were given financial incentives to locate their routes via Asheville, even though there were no occupied Native towns in the region in the mid-1500s. The professors then pushed all the Native towns northward from where they appear on Early Colonial maps to make it appear that there was a reason for going through Burke County, NC and Asheville, NC.
I was the first director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission when this academic team was using state highway maps to determine De Soto’s route. They also publicly admitted that they did not use the Pardo Chronicles to determine his route, because this 16th century document conflicted with where they already had decided he had journeyed. Say what-t-t-t?
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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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