Maya & Uchee salt traders appear to have fathered Chickasaw & Creek Raccoon Clans
An analysis of Colonial Era archives, discoveries by pioneer archaeologist, Robert Wauchope, and etymologies of certain Native American words provide strong evidence that the original Raccoon Clan was composed of Uchees involved with the salt trade on the South Atlantic Coast. They seem to have been working in conjunction with Chontal Maya merchants. The Shawnee and Choctaw Raccoon Clans may also have been descended from the Uchee Raccoon Clan, but there was no obvious evidence, linking these clans together.
Interestingly enough, the standard costume of a Chontal Maya salt trader was a flat hat with a raccoon tail hanging down from the back.
Salt was an extremely valuable commodity in the Pre-European Southeast. It is a very basic nutritional need of humans, plus was required in the preservation of meats. Natural salt deposits are non-existent in the Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains and very rare in the Coastal Plain and Appalachian Mountains.
Raccoon Clan Dancers
The Uchee People were consummate traders and their motherland in the Ogeechee, Savannah and Salkehatchie River Basins was definitely a major center of sea salt manufacture and distribution at the time of English colonization. The western side of the Savannah River was originally occupied by the Uchee Water Clan, while the east side was occupied by the Raccoon Clan.
The only location today, where there is still a strong presence of the Uchee Raccoon Clan, is in the vicinity of the Salkehatchie River Basin in South Carolina. This clan apparently no longer exists among Uchee in Oklahoma and Florida. Although the word, Salkehatchie, appears to be related to Saltkechers, it is really an Anglicization of the Muskogee Creek words Sawolkli haci, which mean “Raccoon River.”
It is documented that the Uchee created a regional trading system by establishing political neutral trading villages in most provinces within the interior of the Southeast, perhaps also in the Midwest.
Over the centuries intermarriage between the Uchee Raccoon Clan and spouses in other ethnic groups created Raccoon Clans in their tribes, too, because of occurring in matrilineal societies. Being minorities within larger ethnic areas, these “outlander” Uchees were eventually absorbed into these Raccoon Clans, when European plagues drastically reduced Native populations.
Here are some ethnological facts from previous articles to help out new readers:
1. Uchees have consistently claimed to be the oldest existing ethnic group in the Southeast. Their legends state that when their ancestors arrived by water from the Home of the Sun, the only other people in eastern North America were Algonquians. Creek tradition concurs completely with Uchi tradition.
2. At the time of the arrival of British colonists, the largest concentration of Uchees was along the Lower Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers in Georgia. This region is considered by the Uchees to be their motherland and contains many ancient Uchee mounds dating as far back as the Early Woodland Period. They considered the Hogeloge on the Upper Tennessee River to be descendants of a Uchee colony.
Almost all anthropological texts, written by professors at the University of Tennessee and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill state that the Uchees were from Tennessee and North Carolina, but only settled the Savannah River in the early 1700s, when they migrated southward. This is just not true.
3. British colonial documents consistently call these people the Uchee. When Uchees learned English, Uchee is what they called themselves. Although the word, Yuchi, is most commonly used today by academicians, it can be traced to the late 1700s in Tennessee, as the way frontiersmen pronounced the Cherokee word for Uchee.
4. The Catawba Indian word for the Uchee is Chikora (Chicora). The Creek word for the hybrid Apalache-Creek and Uchee province on the Savannah River was Palachikora.
5. The name of Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River is derived from the Itza Maya (and Itsate Creek) word for salt . . . Taube.
6. Saltkechers, South Carolina apparently began as a reference to Uchee sea salt refiners. One of the earliest sketches to come out of the new colony of Georgia was a rather sophisticated Uchee sea brine drying operation on Tybee Island.
7. The Savannah River was the shortest and straightest route for Native American traders on the South Atlantic Coast to reach the Appalachian Mountains. Because of its westerly location, the mouth of the Savannah River is closer to much of the Lower Midwest than New York City.
8. The Chickasaw and Choctaw word for raccoon is shawi. The Eastern Shawnee word for raccoon is Hahthapeti.
Muskogee Creek Raccoon Clan
The Oklahoma Muskogee word for raccoon is wotko. The Georgia Muskogee Creek word for raccoon was sawa, which is the same as the Hitchiti and Alabama word for raccoon. This has led to two different names for the Raccoon Clan in Oklahoma and Florida, Sawake (Sawakvlki) and Wotkvlki. However, almost all the river and town names involving raccoons, have sawa as a root.
The obvious Mother Town of the Creek Raccoon Clan was a large community in present day Elbert County, GA at the confluence of the Savannah and Broad Rivers. The original name of the Broad River was Sawakehatchee River (Raccoon Clan River)! This town was 175 miles upstream from Savannah, GA. There is little doubt that Uchee salt traders came through here often.
Known as Rembert Mounds, it was a very large Proto-Creek town that had its own Great Spiral Mound, almost identical to the one at Ocmulgee Monument. Just upstream from the town were eight-feet tall agricultural terraces, filled with black, biochar soil. Both these terraces and the mounds were hauled away in mule wagons in the early 1800s to enrich agricultural fields elsewhere in the county.
There is archaeological proof of a Uchee connection to Rembert Mounds. Upstream a few miles in Ruckers Bottom, archaeologists working for US Army Corps of Engineers found a round town containing round buildings. These architectural features are stereotypical for Upland Uchee villages. They were also called the Round Town People. Both Rembert Mounds and the Uchee town were sacked and abandoned around 1400 AD. The time corresponds to the cultural memory of Eastern Creeks when Muskogee Creeks invaded eastward into South Carolina, before being stopped in a great battle.
Sawake Creeks continued to live in northeast Georgia until mid-1700s. After their land was sold to the British in 1773, they began migrating westward. By the mid-1700s, they were located about half way between present day Macon Columbus, GA. Most Creek Raccoon Members either moved to Florida and became Seminoles or were forcibly marched to Oklahoma.
Chickasaw and Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek Raccoon Clans
The Itsate Creek word for the Raccoon Clan appears today in one location, Sautee Community in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia. In fact, the name of this town was Itsate, until around 1725, when it changed to Sawate. Itsate is also what the Itza Mayas called themselves. That location is highly significant. Sautee has probably been continuously occupied by humans longer than any archaeological site in the United States. Archaeologist Robert
Wauchope found several contiguous villages there that had been occupied continuously from the Deptford Culture Period (c. 8oo BC) to the late 1600s or early 1700s. The Deptford Culture originated at the Deptford Mound in Savannah around 1000 BC.
Wauchope found something else very unusual about the development of this metropolis. After the Swift Creek Culture ended around 600 AD, the town apparently was occupied by different ethnic groups at the same time. The almost contiguous villages were clustered around the large hill or acropolis where the Kenimer Mound was built, but they began exhibiting very different architectural and cultural traits. In other words, different style of houses and mounds were being built and different styles of pottery were being made at the same time in the same large town.
As discussed in POOF’s series on the Chickasaws, the oldest known village site with Chickasaw style houses is next to the Kenimer Mound in Sautee, GA. It is called the Eastwood Village Site and was begun around 6-700 AD. This village originally had two mounds that grew in to one mound. It contains oval houses with off center doors that ringed an oval plaza. No other village in the Nacoochee Valley has these architectural traits. Towns with the same features were later built farther west in regions more closely associated with the Chickasaws. However, it is a little known fact that Chickasaws continued to live just south of the Nacoochee Valley until after the American Revolution.
Elsewhere in Itsate (Sawate) were villages identical to what one would have found at the same time period in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco, plus western Belize. One of these Mesoamerican villages was next door to the Chickasaw village.
There were also round villages with round buildings like the Uchee built. Nearby were a Woodstock Culture village, a village with houses like the first stage at Ocmulgee National Monument and another village that had houses like those at Etowah Mounds. Hundreds of stone box graves have been uncovered by plows in the bottom lands of this valley. This suggests that houses once were spread across its seven mile length.
The Nacoochee Valley contained the crossroads of the most important trade routes in the Southeast. They interconnected the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast, Florida Peninsula, Ohio Valley, Tennessee Valley, Chesapeake Bay and Hudson River Valley. All of the cultural diversity combined with trade paths heading everywhere strongly suggests that Itsate was a regional market town. It would have been an ideal location for the salt merchants of the Uchee Raccoon Clan to market products from the ocean. It the process they obviously fell in love from time to time with a Chickasaw or Muskogean lass.
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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