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Muskogee language originated in North Carolina Mountains

Native American Brainfood

Mvskoki, the official indigenous language of the Muskogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma, is the most aberrant  of all the Muskogean languages, even though their language family is named after the Anglicized form of Mvskoki.  Oklahoma Creeks actually pronounce the “ki” like a “gi” . . . which leads us to one of the many unexpected traits of Mvskoki.

The most accepted meaning of Mvskoke is “Herbs or Medicine – People.”  It first appeared in European colonial archives just before the American Revolution.  Over a century ago, a Minnesota anthropology professor looked at the Anglicized form of the word and decided that it was the way, ignorant Southern Indians pronounced an Algonquian word for “swamp” – hence the source of faulty etymology about the word in many references.

The Muskogee-Creeks, Southern Shawnee and contemporary Cherokees use the SAME suffix for “clan or tribe” – “gi.”   An archaic form of Cherokee also used the prefix “ani” for a similar meaning, but the Creeks and Shawnee do not.  “Ani” has the same meaning in the language spoken by Christian Anatolians in Turkey and Armenia. No other Muskogean language uses “ki” or “gi” for “people.”

There is something even odder about this shared suffix.  It originated with the Asháninka People of Peru, who were pushed out of the Central Highlands of Peru by the Moche Culture around 0-200 AD.   Some settled in the Andean Foothills.  Others just disappeared.

After the Moche Kingdoms became militarily powerful, they attacked the Panoan-speaking peoples, living to the east.  These provinces included the Satipo, Chiska, Shipibo, Conibo and Cashibo. The names of these peoples also appear as ethnic and geographical names in the Lower Southeastern United States.

Bo is the Panoan suffix for “place of” or “people”.  It also appears in several place names in South Carolina and Coastal Georgia.  Oh, did we mention that Muskogee also contains several Panoan words, such as the word for the Sacred Black Drink, vsse, and orata, the title of a appointed village or neighborhood leader?

The core of Muskogee appears to have evolved from either Itsate Creek or Alabama, but there are also some distinctly different words.  Itsate would be quite similar to Alabama, except that most of its words having to do with agriculture, architecture, political offices, writing and trade are drawn straight from the Itza Maya language, which was also called Itsate.

Muskogee and Cherokee also includes some borrowed words from Southern Shawnee, such as the word for a buzzard, sule.   This is more evidence that strongly suggests that the three peoples were at one time in close contact with each other.

Sudden appearance of Muskogee name and language

All of the town names, mentioned by the chroniclers of the De Soto Expedition, while it traveled through Georgia, the Carolinas and Eastern Tennessee are either Muskogean, Itza Maya or Panoan words.  Very, very few could be Muskogee words, however.  Yet by 1735, when the Migration Legend of the Creek Indians was written down in Savannah,  Muskogee was used by the Creek speakers, even though at home, they spoke Itsate,  an archaic form of Hitchiti.  Nevertheless, the Middle Creeks of the Creek Confederacy at that time were called the Coweta’s.

The town of Coweta rose to prominence in 1717 after the Coweta Accords were signed, creating a confederacy of tribes that agreed to always, henceforth be allies of Great Britain and use Coweta’s language as the alliance’s official diplomatic language.  Prior to 1715 (the start of the Yamasee War) an earlier “Creek” Confederacy had used Itsate, the language of its capital town of Ichesi, as its diplomatic language.  The Yamasee Alliance used Yama (Mobilian Trade Jargon) as its diplomatic language.  Yama is more similar to Choctaw than Creek.

The original “Creek” Confederacy was the old Apalache Kingdom. The boundaries of the Apalache Kingdom correspond to those typified by the pottery styles that archaeologists label Lamar, Dallas, Mouse Creek  and Pisgah.   The Apalache elite spoke a now extinct language that mixed Itsate with Panoan and Paracusa – another Peruvian language.   The commoners of the Apalache Kingdom spoke several languages, which probably included archaic forms of Yuchi, Itsate, Koasate, Chickasaw, Shawnee and Muskogee.  Apalache disappeared after the catastrophic smallpox epidemic of 1696, but the first emperor of the new Ichisi Confederacy, Emperor Bemarin (Apalache) or Bream (English) obviously traced his royal lineage to the former mother province of the Apalache, Bemarin.

In 1715, Coweta was located on an island in the Upper Ocmulgee River in Butts County, GA near present day Indian Springs. After the town of Okamoleke (Ocmulgee) fled from present day Amerson Park in Macon during the Yamasee War, the Coweta’s moved south and reoccupied the town site . . . simultaneously proclaiming Coweta’s language as the lingua franca.  To the victors, go the spoils.

Kowetv (Coweta) is the Muskogee way of saying the Itsate word, Kowi-te, which means “Mountain Lion People.”  The original location of the Coweta People can be traced to a cluster of towns along the Upper Tennessee and Upper Tuckasegee Rivers in North Carolina and Georgia.

A mound complex in Otto, NC  ( Macon County) is a mirror image of Etowah Mounds in NW Georgia, and is aligned precisely with Etowah Mounds along the azimuth of the Winter Solstice Sunset.  The virtual reality image above portrays the Otto Mound Site.  The nearby Woodland Period Coweeta Mound is also in Macon County, NC.  The Cowee Mound is in Macon County, while Cowee Gap is on the line between Macon and Jackson County, NC.

To the northeast are Transylvania and Henderson Counties, NC.  All of their Native American place names are Muskogee Creek words, even though their Chambers of Commerce now proudly announce that the Cherokees lived there for thousands of years.

Actually, the Muskogee Creeks lived in these sections of the North Carolina Mountains until booted out without compensation in 1763.   That is the reason that many of you Muskogee Creeks have ancestors that moved from the North Carolina Mountains to West Georgia in the 1760s and 1770s.  Shawnees and Yuchi’s lived in Buncombe, Polk, Burke and Rutherford Counties, NC until 1763.

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, while I was executive director of the Downtown Revitalization Commission, and later, the Historic Resources Commission in Asheville, NC, the presence of Muskogees, Shawnees and Yuchi’s in the North Carolina Mountains was common knowledge.    The surprising information  was completely erased from the history books by the rising generation of archaeologists and historians, coming out of the University of North Carolina and Western Carolina University.

Most recently, the Eastern Band of Cherokees has pressured the State of North Carolina to remove all references to the Creek Indians from the Town Creek Mound Site, over 100 miles to the east of Asheville and replace those labels with academic verbiage that infers Cherokee occupation of the town site.  I have also noticed that North Carolina archaeologists are now also labeling Mississippian Period – Muskogean mound sites in North Georgia as being Cherokee, by labeling them “Pisgah Phase” sites rather than using standard nomenclature used by Georgia archaeologists for the phases at Etowah Mounds.

The final proof that the Cowetas and thus, Muskogee, came from the North Carolina Mountains, comes from the year, 1754.  In that year, the British Crown pressured all divisions of the Cherokees and Creek Confederacy to sign a peace treaty, ending the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War.   The town of Coweta refused to sign, because it has lost much of its territory in North Carolina and the northeastern tip of Georgia between 1716 and 1717, after the Cherokees had murdered 32 Creek leaders in their sleep during a diplomatic conference in Tugaloo.

Even though the capital of Coweta was by 1754 much closer to the Overhill Cherokees, the Cowetas immediately launched a blitzkrieg into the heart of the North Carolina Mountains – exactly where today, Creek place names remain.  All Cherokee armies that tried to stop them were wiped out.  All Cherokee villages in northeast Georgia, plus the Upper Hiwassee and Upper Tennessee River Valleys were burned.

Thirty-two Cherokee chiefs were either burned at the stake on the banks of the Chattahoochee River or murdered on the streets of Charleston, while they were begging for the Redcoats in South Carolina to come to their aid.   Georgia secretly blocked military assistance because the Cowetas were their “pet Injuns,” not the Cherokees. At the time, Georgia and South Carolina were feuding as to who owned what is now North Georgia.   After recapturing all their former territory in North Carolina and Georgia, the Cowetas declared an end to the Creek-Cherokee War.

Malachi, the mikko of Coweta, soon died after its great military victory.  The next generation of Emperor Bemarin’s descendants proved to be ineffectual leaders.

Tuckabatchee, a town on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama, persuaded the other members of the Creek Confederacy to elect the Mikko of Tuckabatchee as their Principal Chief (ie king.)  Tuckabatchee replaced Coweta as the Capital.   However, the original location of Tokoh-le people, who founded Tuckabatchee (Tokoh-pa-se) was the Upper Tuckasegee River in Jackson County, NC.  Thus, the Creek Confederacy was continuing its pattern of electing Muskogee-speaking leaders, whose heritage was in the North Carolina Mountains.  However, in 1776, most of the population of Tuckabatchee moved eastward to the Chattahoochee River to an old town site with multiple mounds.  There they remained until around 1725-27.  You know this place as “Six Flags Over Georgia.”

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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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