One “Lost” Migration Legend Puts White Men on the South Atlantic Coast Before Columbus
There were actually four Creek migration legends found in the box at Lambeth Palace that was discovered in April 2015 . . . plus several other eyewitness accounts of the Southeast’s Native Americans in the early 1730s. THE Migration Legend was by far the longest and also described the Kaushete’s full journey from Mexico to the Lower Southeast.
However, one of the other legends is specifically about the band of Kaushete (Cusseta) who ended up where Fort Benning, GA is today. It provides details of events after the Kaushete settled on the Chattahoochee River, and they are VERY different than what both the history books and most Southeastern Native Americans think their history was.
First, we will look at three other migration legends that seem to collaborate the version from the Chattahoochee Kaushete. Two are from “the box” and the other is from Uncle Hal.
The Itsate (Hitchiti) Migration Legend states that their ancestors came from the south over water. When they got to North America, they first settled near a great lake. This suggests that they were the people or one of the peoples involved in the advanced indigenous culture near Lake Okeechobee in Southern Florida. However, before 1700, the Okefenokee Swamp in southeastern Georgia, was also a lake. It had islands in it. Archaeologists have counted at least 74 mounds on and adjacent to the Okefenokee Swamp.
The Itsate next moved north to an area where reeds grew. That sounds like the Everglades, but could also be the vast tidal marshes on the coast of Georgia. They finally ended up where Savannah is now. From there they penetrated inland.
The Apalache Migration Legend says that they first landed in North America in the vicinity on the Georgia Coast. They then moved inland along the Altamaha River, where they developed their distinct culture around the banks of Lake Tama, south of Macon. High King Chikili said “Our first capital was where Savannah is today. Our first emperor is buried in a tomb near Savannah.” Was he talking about the Apalache or the Creek Confederacy?
Eastern Creeks: My grandmother and Uncle Hal told me a legend about time period in Northeast Georgia, immediately prior to the settlement of Charleston. We were Itsate and Uchee, so our mother towns were Parasikora (Palachicola) and the big mound complex near Elberton, GA. Uncle Hal also told me that while he was living in Chester, SC he heard exactly the same legend from South Carolina Creeks. There must be something to it.
According to our family lore, the “Creeks” once occupied most of Georgia, Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee. We were the big time mound builders. Then, the Muskogees began invading the Creek Heartland from the west, winning battle after battle against individual provinces. The Creeks in eastern Georgia and South Carolina formed an alliance and made a last ditch stand somewhere. There were terrible losses, but the Muskogees could advance nor further. At that point all the provinces “buried the hatchet” and formed the Creek Confederacy.
That’s right! Until I was in my early 20s, I did not realize that Muskogees were Creeks.
The Chattahoochee-Kaushete (Cussetaw) Migration Legend
Both versions of the Kaushete Migration share some common sub-stories and terminology. For example, the indigenous people of Georgia and western North Carolina are called “flat heads.” In other words, they practiced forehead deformation like the Mayas. The flatheads are skilled archers, whereas the Kaushete do not know how to use a bow. This is important, because it pushes the time back to much earlier than the Colonial Period.
The original People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) in the Highland version had four members – Kaushete, Chickasaw, Alabama and Apika. The Chattahoochee Migration Legend had three original members – the Kaushete, Chickasaw and Koweta.
The Highland Migration Legend tells us that the Kaushe or Kusa were not the same people as the Muskogeans. Kaushe-te (Kusa People) got that name because of becoming vassals of the Kaushe. Presumably, the Kaushe or Kusa were the same people as the Kusabo on the South Carolina Coast. Kaushebo means “Strong People” in the Panoan Languages of eastern Peru. Note that Alechua (later Alec) is the word used for a medicine man. This is derived from the Alecmani on the Georgia Coast.
Here is a portion of the Chattahoochee version of the Migration Legend (original spelling):
“This being done, they commenced their settlements on Coosau and Tallapoosau, and crossing the falls of Tallapoosa above Tuckabatchee, they visited the Chattohochee, and found a
race of people with flat heads, in possession of the mounds in the Cussetaw Old Fields. (Fort Benning) These people used bows and arrows, with strings made of sinews.”
“The great physic makers, (Aulechualgee,) sent some rats in the night time, which gnawed the strings, and in the morning, they attacked and defeated the flats. They crossed the river at the island,
near the mound, and took possession of the country. After this, they spread out eastwardly, to Ocheesehatche, (Ocmulgee,) Oconee, Ogeechee, Chikili-talofa-hatchee, (Savannah,) called sometimes Sauvanogee, the name for Shaw-a-nee. They met white people on the seacoast, who drove them back to their present situation.*
*This means that the Muskogee-speaking Creeks were driven west of the Ocmulgee River by white men during a period when they did not have bows. They were skilled archers when Charleston was settled.
“Cussetaw and Chickasaw consider themselves as People of One Fire, (tote-kit-caw- humkoce,) from the earliest account of their origin. Cussetaw appointed the first Micco for them, directed him to sit down in the big Savanna, where they now are, and govern them. Some of the Chickasaws straggled off and settled near Augusta, from whence they returned and sat down near Cussetaw, and thence back to their nation. Cussetaw and Chickasaw have remained friends ever since their first acquaintance.”
“During the late war between the Creeks and Chickasaws, the Cussetaw refused to aid the Creeks. They retained her long established friendship with the Chickasaws. When the Creek Confederacy offered to make peace, their offers were rejected, till Cussetaw interposed their good offices. These had the desired effect, and produced peace.”
Around 1300 AD, the Kaushe or Kusa established their first village in Northwest Georgia where New Echota is today. The Cherokees intentionally chose the location of the Upper Creek Mother Town for their capital. This would suggest that the ancestors of the Kaushete (Cusstaw) arrived on the the Tallapoosa River around 1200 AD and Chattahoochee River about 1250 AD – destroying the Mesoamerican culture around present day Columbus. They probably settled in southeastern Tennessee a little later and in southeastern Tennessee even later. Until they arrived in Southeastern Tennessee, they would have not called themselves the Kaushete. Their Mexican name has apparently been lost.
The Dallas Culture in eastern Tennessee, which included both the Kaushete and Apike (Abieka), began around 1350 AD. The invasion of Dallas Culture People into the Hiwassee Valley of western North Carolina began around 1400 AD. This corresponds exactly to the Highland Kaushete-Cussetaw Migration Legend.
In contrast, North Carolina archaeologists are now calling this appearance of the Dallas Culture – the Pisgah Culture . . . the arrival of the Cherokees . . . even though large, thoroughly planned towns and Mesoamerican style houses were abandoned in the early 1600s (corresponding to the arrival of the Sephardic colonists.) Around 1700, crude round huts in unplanned hamlets were built on top of the abandoned Muskogean towns. These are obviously the ancestors of the Cherokees.
There was a mass-abandonment of the Middle Savannah River Valley and a broad swath from there to Charleston Bay around 1400 AD. I think this was caused by the “Muskogee Invasion” that was vaguely remembered in my mother’s family lore. That would put the confrontation between the proto-Muskogees and “white men on the coast” in the 1400s or early 1500s. There were no Spaniards or Frenchmen in the Coastal Plain at that time.
What we are left with is the possibility that the Gaelic-speaking Duhare on the South Atlantic Coast, mentioned by Spanish slave raiders, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quejo in 1521 were the white men, who drove the Muskogee-speakers back west again.
Of course, this interpretation of the migration legends might seem a bit speculative, but those same batch of documents found at Lambeth Palace also contained a cultural memory of the founding by the French of Charlesfort at Port Royal Sound. Tamachichi (Tomochichi) told James Oglethorpe, the leader of the Georgia Colony that a Frenchman with a large red beard, had commanded a barque, which sailed up the Savannah River to the capital of Palachicola, which the French called Chicola.
That visit to Chicola is mentioned in the memoir of Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Caroline. He said that the town and province that the French called Chicola, was the same place that the Spanish called Chicora. Clearly, neither the French nor the Spanish were living on the coast when the Muskogees found the coast occupied by hostile white men.
The Truth is Out There Somewhere
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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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