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Map: North Carolina Motherland of the Koweta and Tokahse Creeks

Map: North Carolina Motherland of the Koweta and Tokahse Creeks

We now know what happened to the ancestors of the Creeks, who abandoned their villages in North Carolina’s  Upper Tuckasegee and Upper French Broad River Valleys around 1600 AD.

The Tokahse were first mentioned in 1567 by the chronicler of Spanish explorer Captain Juan Pardo.   He called them the Toque and said their capital was in a high mountain valley on the trail leading to Chiaha.   That location was probably either Cashiers, NC near the source of the Tuckasegee River or more likely,   Cullowhee, where there was a large town with several mounds in a broad flood plain of the Tuckasegee River.  Tuckasegee is the Anglicization of Tokahse-ke, which means “Offspring of Spotted – People” in Muskogee.  Their capital in the 1700s was Tuckabatchee (Tokahpa-se).

The Koweta were first mentioned in 1653 by British explorer Richard Briggstock.   Briggstock traveled northward from Melilot In present day Northeast Metro Atlanta to a mountain valley in higher mountains, where Spaniards were mining gems such as rubies and sapphires.   That location sure does sound like the Little Tennessee River Valley between Clayton, GA and Franklin, NC.   Briggstock mentioned passing through villages in what is now the Northeast Georgia Piedmont that were occupied by the Caouita, as his biographer, Charles de Rochfort wrote their name.  That is exactly how the Coweta’s name would be written 65 years later, when they were first mentioned on a European map.

The view of the Cashiers and Sapphire Valleys in North Carolina have changed very little since Spanish explorer, Juan Pardo, came through here in 1567. The region is still extremely isolated from the major transportation and development corridors in the Carolinas.

The view of the Cashiers and Sapphire Valleys in North Carolina has changed very little since Spanish explorer, Juan Pardo, came through here in 1567. The region is still extremely isolated from the major transportation and development corridors in the Carolinas.

Two puzzling questions about North Carolina

When the People of One Fire was first getting started ten years ago, one of the most puzzling questions that we researched involved the predominance of Muskogean place names in the Western North Carolina Mountains.  Most perplexing was the name of a town on the Upper French Broad River near Hendersonville and Asheville, North Carolina named Etowah.   This Etowah also has some small mounds.

Local official histories until recently stated that the original name of Etowah, NC was Italwa!  It was then said that the word did not appear to be Cherokee and that “some say it was a Creek word.”    Most of the local histories now state that Henderson County, NC was ” the home of the Cherokee Indians for 12,000 years.”  Actually, the Cherokee Indians NEVER lived there.  Of course, Italwa is the Muskogee word for a large town with mounds.

Also, there were several Alabama, Florida and Georgia Creeks/Seminoles, who said that their ancestors came from the North Carolina Mountains.   Such a claim would have been easy to explain, if their ancestors left in the late 1500s or 1600s.  European maps show Western North Carolina being occupied by Muskogean and Shawnee villages until after 1700 AD.

Unfortunately, these people consistently insisted that their ancestors traveled from the North Carolina Mountains to the Creek Confederacy in Georgia in the mid-to-late 1700s.   All the maps showed Western North Carolina being occupied entirely by the Cherokees until 1763, then much of that region being designated for white settlers after then.  The eastern boundary of the Cherokees after 1763 was the 84th longitude line, which runs through Murphy and Robbinsville, NC.

By examining 18th century documents from North Carolina, we finally figured out that the Cherokees never lived any farther east than the valleys around Franklin, NC and Canton, NC.  The valleys around present day Highlands, Cashiers, Sapphire Valley, Brevard, Rosman and Hendersonville, North Carolina remained Creek territory.

Apparently, remnant Coweta and Tokahse villages and farmsteads in those mountain valleys were so isolated that North Carolina officials  forgot they existed until white families began moving into the region to get free land after the American Revolution.

The majority of Carolina pioneers passed over the high mountains and headed straight to Tennessee. The region around Cashiers and Brevard has never been heavily populated.  Perhaps, since the Creek families did not have legal titles to their farms, they were forced off the fertile bottom lands of the Upper French Broad and Tuckasegee Rivers, thus had no choice about moving elsewhere.

Most of the Tokase and Koweta Creeks evidently moved out of North Carolina between 1600 AD and 1650 AD.  Archaeologist Bennie Keel excavated a village site on the Upper Tuckasegee River in 1975.  He found that a planned Muskogean town had been completely abandoned around 1600 AD and then been partially re-occupied by a less advanced people around a century later, who built crude round huts.

Most Cowetas were living in Northeast Georgia, when Richard Briggstock came through in 1653.  The winters are milder and the growing seasons much longer in the Georgia Piedmont than in the higher North Carolina mountain ranges.

Virtually all Muskogean provinces were defined by river or creek drainage basins.   Therefore,  in preparing the map above,  I defined the Coweta provinces by the drainage basins of the Little Tennessee and French Broad Rivers.  The Tocahse’s province was defined by the drainage basin of the Tuckasegee River.  Since this river was named after them,  it was obviously their original territory.

And now you know!

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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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