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Footnote: What is the difference between Chiaha, Ychiaha and Olameco?

Footnote: What is the difference between Chiaha, Ychiaha and Olameco?


Those of you who have read the four versions of the chronicles of the Hernando de Soto Expedition and the Juan de la Bandera’s report on the two Pardo Expeditions probably noticed that the Spanish seemed to use three different words for the same town in the Great Smoky Mountains . . . or were they different towns?   The authors of The Desoto Chronicles and Knights of the Cross, Warriors of the Sun provided no explanation.  They skipped over this enigma by suggesting that perhaps these are different towns in the same “chiefdom.”  That’s because they had no clue about the meaning of any of the Native American town names in these 16th century documents.  Well,  Charles Hudson said that “Chiaha meant “highlanders” or perhaps was an ancient Cherokee word, whose meaning had been lost.”

The word for “highlanders” in the Creek languages is hiwalsi, but apparently Hudson could not afford the $24 for a Creek dictionary back then.  The Muskogee-Creek dictionary defines Chiaha, Cheaha and Chehaw as a proper nouns and the alternate names of an important Hitchiti-speaking tribal town of the Creek Confederacy.  However, it does not provide a meaning, because the word is not Muskogean.

Actually,  the description of Chiaha in the Spanish archives is one of the most important proofs that Itza Maya refugees settled in Southeastern North America.  They practiced many cultural traditions, straight from Chiapas State, Mexico . . . but POOF will get into that as part of the December 2017 series on the Mayas in North America.

(1) Chiaha is an Itza Maya word which means, “Chia (grain salvia) – River.   The Spaniards observed large fields of salvia growing along the rivers in the mountains of North Carolina.  Chiapas means “Salvia – Place of” in Itza Maya.   In the case of the Province of Chiaha, this ethnic name could have a double meaning.  Chi’a-ha means “Beside the River” in the Itza language.

(2) Ychiaha is the Castilian (Spanish) way of writing Ichiaha or Echiaha.  Y is how the Castilian alphabet expresses an Ē sound.  Both Itza Maya and Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek place a long Ē in front or at the end of proper nouns to state that the words are the principal or most important entity with this name.  In front of a province’s name, the Ē means that it is the capital.

Muskogee Creeks use this Maya grammatical tool without knowing it today.  Talwa is a town.  Etalwa is a principal or tribal town.  Mara is an Itza word for a town or warrior council member.  Both among the Itza and Creeks,  Emara, was the name of a principal council member, who represented the Great Sun at diplomatic meetings or was a chief advisor to the Great Sun.  By the late 1700s Emara had evolved in the Muskogee-Creek language to Emathla.

Cherokees, who took over former Muskogean towns, also use this Maya grammatical tool without knowing it.   When the town of Choi’te (a Maya People in the Tabasco Lowlands of Mexico) was taken over, the Cherokees initially called it Chote.  You can see that phonetic spelling in early 18th century maps. When Chote became the seat of the the

(3) Olameco is the Medieval Spanish misspelling of T’ula-māko,  the Itza Maya and Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek word for a provincial capital.  In both languages, Tulamako means Town-Great (Leader). Both Itza and Hitchiti frequently use single consonant sounds as syllables.

 A mako was the highest official (king) of a town or single province.   Among both the Mayas and Itsate Creeks a High King was entitled Hene-mako, which means “Sun-Great”.    That’s where we get the title of “Great Sun” today, when describing the High King of a culturally advanced Muskogean or Natchez state.

Multiple island towns in Chiaha visited by the Spanish?

Yes,  that is a possibility.  I carried photocopies of the De Soto Chronicles and Pardo’s Report with me as I explored and hiked the terrain of Graham and Swain Counties, North Carolina in the spring of 2010.  I noticed subtle differences in the description of the geography between the capital of Chiaha, where De Soto’s expedition first went and the Chiaha, where the conquistadors camped for several weeks to recondition their horses and fish.   There are also differences in the description of where Juan Pardo first went and the second location named Chiaha, where Pardo built a fort.   However, none of these descriptions match Zimmerman Island, Tennessee, where the late 20th century academicians, who didn’t know Creek, Maya or Spanish, placed Chiaha.

De Soto: Expedition: The description of the capital of Chiaha (Ichiaha) by De Soto’s and Pardo’s chroniclers match exactly.   However, De Soto’s chroniclers used the term Chiaha, not Ychiaha, for the place where the conquistadors camped.  It was described as an island town in a deep gorge, where a small river met a large river.   On the other hand the capital was described as being immediately down stream from where two large rivers joined and in the vicinity of where four rivers joined . . . the Little Tennessee, Tuckasegee, Nantahala and Oconaluftee.

The camp site exactly matches the Proto-Creek island town of Talasee (Tulasi in Itsate) which is immediately downstream from where the Cheoah River joins the Little Tennessee River.  Most readers are probably very familiar with this location.  It is where Harrison Ford seemingly jumped into a gorge to escape the law in the blockbuster 1993 movie, The Fugitive!   The De Soto Chronicles describe a tragedy in which a hunter overthrew a javelin near the crest of this gorge.  It gored a popular middle-aged member of the expedition, who was fishing for trout in the river.   Tulasi means “Descendants of Etula . . . the first occupants of Etowah Mounds.  This is significant. 

Talasee Island contains modest mounds. It is about 24 miles downstream from the probable capital of Chiaha.

Juan Pardo’s fort in Chiaha: During the 1990s and early 2000s, a professional archaeologist retired in Graham County, NC.   Finding that the state’s archaeologists had ignored the incredibly rich Native American heritage of the Robbinsville, NC area, he carried out his own archaeological survey.  He identified at least 18 mounds, several large Native towns and the probable site of a 16th century Spanish fort under the waters of Lake Santeetlah, which is formed by the confluence of the Cheoah River and Santeetlah Creek.  He identified the pre-Cherokee inhabitants of Graham County as being very closely related culturally to Etowah Mounds in Northwest Georgia.  When the lake was temporarily drained for dam repairs,  he found a concentration of 16th century Spanish artifacts and the probable footprint of a triangular fort.   

The Florida archaeologist’s report was sent to the North Carolina Historic Preservation Office, but ignored.  First, the report negated the claims of the Cherokees as having lived in Graham County for 10,000 years.  It also made the official route of Pardo and De Soto through the French Broad Valley, highly unlikely . . . as if there was any justification for the route in the first place.   To this day, the only mounds in Graham County, that are officially registered by the NC State Historic Preservation Office are in the Tuskeegee Community on Fontana Lake.  There was an 18th century Cherokee village there, so they are called “Cherokee Mounds.”  The 1994 blockbuster movie,  Nell, starring Jodie Foster, Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson was filmed there.  In real life, Neeson and Richardson fell in love while picnicking near these mounds.

I stayed in a vacation cottage in Tuskeegee, NC during March and early April of 2010.  People there laughed at me when I told them that Tuskeegee was a Creek word and the name of a major division of the Creek Confederacy.   Oh well . . . fiddle-deedee . . . after all,  tomorrow is another day.



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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.



    Richard, you have discovered how little these Universities understand the complex Native story of the South. Your discovery of the alignment of the Georgia Native Temple mounds with the Apalachicola river mouth location might also be aligned down to the newly discovered so called “The white City of gold of the monkey god” in Honduras. This might be a ancient connection with the Paracas (“Paracussis” in North Georgia) people of Peru that created textiles of moneys held in a British museum. Hernando Cortes is supposed to have heard of the city and its wealth. By local lore the lost city’s main temple was designed like a Giant monkey. The Hindu’s of India have a monkey god they call “Hanuman Jayanti” and with the connection of India /Asian type pyramids in Honduras?…perhaps there were some people that migrated from India in the ancient past. Mr. Briggstock noted a very colorful bird (tropical Parrot?) that was part of the Paracussis ceremonies once a year indicating another connection with a Tropical location. Do you know of any tropical artworks found at Georgia sites?,_British_Museum.jpg

    • The bird was the Painted Bunting. It spends the warm months in North America and then in the fall flies down to Mexico and Central America . . . even Central America. I remember seeing them in Waycross as a kid, but I don’t think that I have ever seen one in the Piedmont or Southern Highlands.

      I am fairly certain that Florida has some indigenous, tropical style artworks. I have never seen any in the upper elevations.


    There seems to be some misunderstanding in this article. I’m of the opinion that the original Kituwa (is the word I use for the religion before Europeans colonized) were ancestors of some Cherokee today and some Creeks. Looking back at those times through the Cherokee-Creek narrative is problematic. Would be like calling the Virginians of Jamestown and Carolinians of Charles Town “Americans”.

    Chiaha in Cherokee means “Otter Place”. Yi is a suffix for a place or town in some words like Amogeyunyi (Running Water Place or Town). But other words Ha was used because Yi and Ha have different etymological roots. Chia is Otter. Chiakunesgi (Otter Lifter) was also known as Cheucunsene (Canoe Dragger) because it was a play on his childhood name Otter (chia) and his dragging a Cheu (canoe) to the river as a small boy to go to war with the men. Kunesgi and Consene were also plays on Lifter and Dragger. This was very common with Chalagi (double and triple entendres) or even names that connect different people who mixed at towns.

    Otter Place (Chiaha) in Cherokee also could mean something else in a Hitchiti language or Cusati dialect. There are political conflicts today between Cherokee and Creeks that then may not have existed at all. In fact, Spaniards claimed while trying to capture Sephardic Jews mining near Chiaha with the Chiaha King’s permission the Cusati stopped them and wouldn’t let them pass. Twice. The third time the Cusati informed the Chiaha and the Chiaha King destroyed the Spanish fort after giving them a warning to leave and being ignored.

    I think you are making extraordinary connections. I also think you may dislike us a little as most Creeks do and don’t want to entertain the possibility that we once were brothers. Or at least cousins. Haha As a younger Kituwa I learned a lot from you, disagree at times, but value your work. You correct many errors in prior work by people but maybe attribute Ill will to people that simply made mistakes. Some Cherokee came from the North. Some come from people already there who some Creeks today come from also. Is complicated.

    Chota was called Itsate before Chota. White merchants messed it up, not Cherokee. Cherokee said Itsate. British heard Cho-teh instead of iCha’teh. I was subtle. The town by Kituwa tradition belonged to Iche people from the far south who died from some bad spirit (pox plague probably). The Cherokee found the town deserted, buried the bones they found, and established it as a town. Chota was an insignificant town until around 1730 when the Taliqua Matai began competing with the Itsate Matai for dominance in British-French alliances. Chota won out because of Oconostota’s leadership. Nanyehi also later became significant in keeping it as a Safe Town Capital. But that changed with Dragging Canoe. Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga became dominant. Especially Running Water Town. Is where young John Ross grew up. Tecumseh also lived with Dragging Canoe and Tecumseh’s Creek mother there. Tecumseh father was Shawnee. Lots of mixing. In fact Tecumseh reminded the Northern Creeks in 1810 about when Shawnee women moaned for Creek warriors and Cherokee men swooned over Shawnee women during Dragging Canoe’s leadership when warriors from different tribes spent several years making babies with different women to consolidate the new pan-Indian alliance he was heading.

    The location speculation of Chiaha does make sense to me. These sites should be reclaimed by whichever Tribe can buy them back and redeveloped for future use by all tribes with a history there. Two men in a pit can’t get out by pulling each other down when they try to climb out. One must help the other out and trust him once out to reach down and do the same. You are helping me for sure. I’d like to start writing articles for POOF as a contributor if you wouldn’t mind. Can email them to you to fact check and review first.

    Chiaha definitely means Otter Place in Cherokee. Doesn’t mean it was a Cherokee site. It wasnt. The Cherokee identity came much later. But some of the people at Chiaha became Cherokee an Creeks. Of this I’m sure.

    • Rex, some Cherokee has been feeding you a line Cherokee BS. No Chiaha became Cherokees Chiaha was and is a tribal town of the Creek Confederacy. It is an Itza Maya word They moved down to the Talladega Mountains of Alabama and SW Georgia after leaving North Carolina because of a drought in the early 1600s. Today they are closely associated with the Miccosukee in South Florida.


        I don’t doubt you think all Cherokee are full of shit. Haha But DNA doesn’t lie. There are some of us with a significant portion of our markers from Guatemala. Whether it got there from the Natchez or the Chiaha or some other group is ultimately irrelevant if the Natchez and Chiaha and others all show those Guatemala markers.

        There is Scottish in Canada and Scottish in Kentucky. The Scottish in Canada may seem nothing like the Old Baptist Scotts who sing that Ralph Stanley ‘O Death church music. But that Kentucky music has origins in Traditional Gaelic singing and picked up elements of Native call and response with woops and gutteral ha and huh in sermons. Test their DNA though and the Kentucky and Canadian Scots both show origins in Vikings who settled in Caithness.

        The Cherokee like the Muskogee were a confederacy. At one point the Cherokee had at least 64 villages because the British tried to burn them all after Oconostota and Dragging Canoe captured Fort Loudoun. There is no way those 64 towns and villages were all a singular ethnic group with all that warring and adoption taking. Attakullakulla was Nipissing and Creek. Dragging Canoe was Chickasaw and Natchez. Nanyehi was Irish and Powhatan. There wasn’t a single “Cherokee” prior to 1700. Haha So all Cherokee today were something else prior. Some wee definitely Chiaha. Or of the same ethnic group that comprised the Chiaha.

        Dragging Canoe’s Y Chromosome was 100% Mayan. From Guatemala. Any male Conseen today who takes a DNA test will see that. So Attakullakulla definitely wasn’t hi daddy. DNA may not tell the whole story but it does provide a good foundation to work off of.

        • There is no “Guatemala” DNA marker. Dragging Canoe’s father was a Nipssiing, an Algonquian tribe near Lake Erie. His mother was Natchez War Captive.


            There’s some Cherokee BS. Ha Dragging Canoe was born in 1732 in Falacheco, Mississippi. Was a Natchez refugee town among Chickasaw. He was 8 in 1740 when the British relocated him and his mother to the Cherokee because the French were trying to kill all Natchez since the massacre of Fort Rosalie. British were Cherokee and Chickasaw allies then. Cherokee captured Natchez from Mississippi when they were clear up in Tennessee? Nobody captured them. Th the British relocated some to the Cherokee and others to the Northern Creeks. Oconostota adopted them into the Wolf Clan, Ollie established Natchiyi, (Natchez Place) and Attakullakulla married Dragging Canoe’s mother. They had kids together. Those were DC’s siblings. But DC wasn’t his son. In fact, DC cut Attakullakulla’s head off in the winter of 1777-1778 as a traitor. Attakullakulla was Nipping through his father. He was captured as a kid. But the Cherokee didn’t capture no Natchez. That’s silly Cherokee BS. His mother was Natchez.

            I think you’d appreciate taking the different DNA tests. There are markers tested from different groups in Guatemala also in modern Cherokee living today. There are some who carry the Paracas DNA from the Black Sea also. Mixed with Central American. DNA when combined with Archeology, Linguistics, and Architectural similarities and Mythology analyses increase our possibility of understanding things.

            There are Pueblo with Peruvian markers, Mexicans with Japanese markers from when Spanish brought Samurai over to fight Indians. Very well documented with photos. That Samurai wound up influencing a group of Pawnee. Our history as people is nothing like like what has been taught. Black folks are taking DNA tests and finding out they are not only 50% European but 20% Scandinavian.

            The nonsense about Attakullakulla being Dragging Canoe’s father is based on the British thinking he was. Cherokee didn’t give a shit about fathers then. Clan Law. Mothers and her male relatives raised boys and girls. DC was a Waya by adoption. A Wolf. Oconostota raised him. What could Attakullakulla teach him? He was a negotiator with Whites. An Ukunakka (White Owl). Nothing more. Although he certainly pretended to be more and tried to prop himself up as more with British and Americans who were willing to accept him as a leader because cause he was always so willing to sell or even give Cherokee lands away. He signed 13 treaties total giving away lands. When DC found out about all he did he cut his head off. Like a poisonous snake.

            Try to find information about Attakullakulla’s death. Documents of any kind. He was a traitor. Working with the Virginians creating America to take Shawnee, Cherokee, and Creek lands with a Revolution. And he died for it.


    I should make it clear that no Cherokee has ever told me that the Chiaha were ancestors. It was a assertion of my own that “some” were. I stand by that because there is no way some didn’t get left behind when the majority relocated to Alabama. Some were captured and adopted, or mixed with people from surrounding villages and spread their DNA. That DNA found its way into the “Cherokee”. Which means some Cherokee were from the Chiaha to me. It is unreasonable “to me” to think people were that isolationistic anywhere on earth. People everywhere mixed throughout history. Even if a Spaniard shagged a Chiaha woman and had a daughter and she shagged a French man and had a daughter and that daughter mixed with some other Indian that X Chromosome carries Chiaha markers. There are over 300,000 Cherokee today. I maintain that some of them carry the same markers the Chiaha had. As a matter of fact, I had a Cherokee get angry at me for suggesting this. I have said to a Cherokee woman that some Cherokee come from Mayans and she scoffed at me and said the Cherokee killed them. Was the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Especially since my DNA has Mayan markers and I’m Cherokee. It didn’t come from my Nordic-Norman (German and Scottish) father. I have no known Creek ancestors.

    If I’ve made a mistake it is my own, nobody else’s. But it wasn’t “Cherokee BS” if it was BS. It was Rex BS if it was. Haha Don’t mean any negativity. Thanks for the discussion.

    • That is true for the Tuskegee, but the Chiaha left before the Cherokees arrived in the region. Most of the Chiaha were in Southwest Georgia by 1700.


        There are old traditional Cherokee stories of one Clan specifically who mostly died from Pox around 1742. They knew how to make honey and kept bees. Some even tattooed bees on their hands (the backs). The Clan died off among Cherokee but some of her children were adopted into the Bird Clan. That is why I made the Chiaha connection. So if they weren’t Chiaha then somebody else up there in those hills was keeping bees also.

        • What is your source for that legend? Most of the “legends” being told by the Cherokees today date from after 1986. When I was a planning consultant to Eastern Band of Cherokees in 1976, maybe a dozen people knew how to write in Cherokee and few people even knew the names of their grandparents.


    The male Y Chromosome of Conseens matches the markers of the X Chromosomes of the Poqomchi of El Quiche Chicaman. This marker passed down somehow through DC from father to son from whoever his real father was. I don’t actually know what all that means because I don’t know about the people down there. But there are definitely genetic markers specific to Guatemala. And there are Conseens among the Cherokee carrying those genes. Along with any women who married them. Chief Dugan of the EBCI was a Conseen before she married. Going by physical appearance when it comes to DNA is a waste of time. Gene admixture can produce extraordinary diversity in appearances. Some Eastern Conseen men who mixed with the Snowbirds look nothing like Western Conseen men who mixed with Irish and Scottish. Yet their Y Chromosome matches exactly.

    • Guatemala is an artificially created nation, containing several distinct indigenous ethnic groups. There is no “Guatemala” DNA test marker.


        Ah, I misunderstood you. Technically there’s no such thing as a “Native American” or “Indian” either. Even in communicating this right now I can’t escape the colonization of the mind because I’m saying it in English and haven’t a single Anglo-Saxon ancestor that I’m aware of.

        Visiting other countries who have maintained control over their own lands, languages, cultures, histories, etc is a painful reminder of what we’ve all lost. Nostalgia originally referred to a psychological condition that Dutch soldiers in the Spanish army experienced during the 30 Years War. A young Scandinavian girl was singing a song Nordic women sang while milking cows. The Dutch men heard it and became so depressed, longing for their physical homelands and cultures that the Spanish released them to return home and outlawed the singing of that song. We are Nostalgic not for a place or space in time but for a reality that no longer exists. Trying to piece together a story of how we ended up where we are so we can somehow move forward without dissolving like a seltzer in a glass of water.

        They’ve turned us all into Shamans (Shrmana was a Sanskrit word for a Seeker). Been so long since our people could just “be” what we are.

        Will stop puking up thoughts on your comments. Thanks again for the exchange.


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