Presenting the Apalache Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Fresh from its command performance before Don Hernando de Soto, the band above performs its blockbuster hit, “Maya Blue.”
Fantasy? Nope . . . the real fantasies in the Southeast’s history can be found in the official state history textbooks your children read, the state historical markers (or lack there of) describing the history of a region, prior to the arrival of settlers from the Old World and even in academic papers. The cultural level of our Uchee, Chickasaw, Shawnee and Creek ancestors has been intentionally “dumbed down.”
Read the De Soto Chronicles, the Report of Juan Pardo and the Apalache Chronicles! When Hernando de Soto’s Conquistadors arrived at the northern outskirts of the great town of Kawshe (Coça ~ Kusa), they were greeted by a parade of the town’s elite, led by a large orchestra. The king of Kusa was born on a litter, followed by a crowd of the town’s most important citizens. The chroniclers stated that the people of Kusa played at least 32 different wind and percussion musical instruments. The wind instruments varied in sound from that of a bassoon to that of a piccolo.
The State historic marker at the probable location, where the leaders of Kusa met the Spaniards does not mention the aboriginal people of the region, but does briefly mention the Cherokees. ” OLD FEDERAL ROAD – The route veering southeastward is a remnant of the Old Federal Road, northwest Georgia’s earliest vehicular way and the first thoroughfare linking Tennessee and Georgia across the Cherokee Nation. Permission to open the highway was granted by the Indians in 1803 and confirmed by treaty in 1805. * Actually, this section of the road was here long before it was called the “Federal Road” or “Nancy Hughes Turnpike.” For thousands of years, it connected the Etowah River with the Great Smoky Mountains.
The trace, which followed the course of an early Indian trading path to Augusta, became a noted route down which Kentucky and Tennessee cattlemen drove stock to markets in Georgia and South Carolina. The site called “Bloodtown” was a resting point for stock drovers.” 105-7 GEORGIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION 1954.” In 1990, a state marker was placed at the Carters Lake Visitors Center, which gives a general description of the De Soto Expedition.
Earlier in the De Soto Chronicles . . . they state that when De Soto’s small army crossed the boundary in present day Southwest Georgia between the people the Spanish called Apalache and the lands that later became the Creek Confederacy, they noticed a stark cultural change. The proto-Creeks averaged a foot taller than the Spaniards. While the Florida Indians wore clothing made from Spanish Moss or deer hides, the new people wore bright colored and patterned cloth apparel.
Men wore tunics in cool weather and in formal occasions. As can seen in the indigenous art prior to the 1700s, the men of Etula (Etowah Mounds) wore kilts into battle and leather helmets with copper crests. The Apalache and Chiska warriors word split cane hats. Charles de Rocheforts’ book (1658) stated that the Apalache in North Georgia wore colorful tunics and the conical split cane hats. These hats seemed to be a fantasy on his part, until I looked closely at the art created by mound builders in the Creek homeland. Several showed men wearing conical hats and kilts. Apparently this art had been ignored by historians and later, anthropologists, for two centuries.
The adult men and female leaders wore cloth turbans. Men, who had proven themselves in battle wore mustaches. Leaders wore beards. The king of Okate (Okute) wore a beard, which reached to his belly button. The towns in this new region were described as being much larger and well-planned. Their plazas were dotted with large wooden statues, but they stated that they did not worship the statues, only one invisible God. There was no a sacrifices of either humans or animals. The shedding of all blood was banned within two miles of a temple or sacred shrine.
The illustrations that accompanies the 16th century accounts of the De Soto Expedition consistently showed the indigenous people, encountered by the Spaniards wearing tunics. Late 17th century illustrations of the direct ancestors of the Creeks showed them wearing tunics. Paintings of Creek and Seminole men in the late 1700s and 1800s showed them wearing colorful tunics. Of course, this is exactly what the Creek Long Shirt is . . . a tunic. Twentieth century anthropologists assumed that somehow, Creeks and Seminoles started wearing tunic after exposure to European civilization. Commercial artists, when hired to create exhibits and murals for Southeastern archaeology museums, consistently portray the “Southeastern Moundbuilders” in leather breechcloths and Northern Woodland Indian hair styles.
When the People of One Fire formed eleven years ago, I primary goal was merely to persuade educators and book authors to study the eyewitness accounts of our ancestors in the Colonial Period and portray them accurately in museum exhibits and books. However, as the journey to understand the past progressed, we have gone far beyond that. We have discovered that the Americas before Columbus were very dynamic places, with constant movements of peoples and even significant contacts with the Old World during the Bronze Age. The journey continues.
One of my current projects, in addition to becoming an educational video maker, is applying my skills as an architectural model builder to learning how to make the musical instruments that you see in these images. I made two as Christmas gifts this past fall. What would be fun to do is create a band that only plays traditional musical instruments of the Americas. This would do more to promote a positive image of modern Native American descendants in the Southeast than about anything else we could do. Almost everybody, except the Wood Rats in the woods behind me, likes beautiful music.
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- Joy Harjo named first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States! - June 19, 2019