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The Chakato or Chatot People of Northwest Florida

The Chakato or Chatot People of Northwest Florida

Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola Basin Project

Every heard of the Chakato, Chato or Châtot People?   At the time of European Contact they lived on the west side of the Apalachicola River, where many current history and anthropology books incorrectly state that the Apalachicola lived.  Their homeland in the early 1600s spanned along the southeast Mississippi Coast, Alabama Coast and Florida Panhandle as far east as the Apalachicola River.  Their towns and villages were concentrated in the corridor between the Choctawhatchee River (named after them) and the Apalachicola River and on Pensacola Bay.

Joseph Creel

The late Joseph Creel (1948-2014) was one of the most active founders of the People of One Fire and a Chakato descendant.  We learned much information about the Chakato from Joseph that could not be found in any references.  Joseph insisted that although the Chakato were generally allies of the Choctaw, they were an entirely different ethnic group and that the similarity of their names was coincidental.  His ancestral language included some words from Choctaw and Creek, but also included many words from another language or languages . . . perhaps from somewhere to the south of the Gulf of Mexico.  Joseph was also a direct descendant of Jean La Fitte, the Louisiana pirate.

Joseph was also miffed that his ancestors were typically labeled as “Eastern Woodland Indians” rather than major participants in the mound-building business during the Woodland and Mississippian Cultural Periods.  Joseph pointed out that there were dozens of town sites with platform mounds along the west side of the Apalachicola River, along the Chipola River in Florida, along the Choctawhatchee River in Alabama and Florida, near Fort Walton Beach, FL and around Pensacola Bay. 

Joseph believed that the problem was that late 20th century archaeologists had show little interest in excavating mounds within the interior of the Florida Panhandle and Southern Alabama.  Indeed, he had identified five town sites along the Choctawhatchee River in Alabama and Florida, containing pyramidal platform mounds to which archaeologists had not even assigned site numbers.  By volunteering to work at archaeological investigations in the region, he hoped to get more archeologists in his ancestral town sites.  Alas, Joseph Creel died suddenly and far too young, on January 8, 2014.

It does seem odd that the archaeological profession has formally recognized the Mississippian Period Fort Walton Culture, based on excavations by archeologist Gordon Wiley at a mound at Fort Walton Beach, FL yet assigns this culture totally to the ancestors of the Florida Apalachee People, east of the Apalachicola River.  If you look at the map of the Fort Walton Culture in Wikipedia, the Fort Walton Mound is placed OUTSIDE the boundaries of the Fort Walton Culture.   

A Fort Walton Culture mound in Fort Walton Beach, Florida

A Fort Walton Culture mound in Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Among academicians in Florida, there is a general presumption that the people whomn the Spanish called Apalache in Northwest Florida were Muskogean mound builders, although the towns around Tallahassee with platform mounds had been abandoned when the De Soto Expedition passed through in 1539 AD.  The fact is that none of the original Florida Apalache towns and villages had Muskogean names.  They are Southern Arawak and Panoan words from Eastern Peru.  Those place names can be easily translated with indigenous language dictionaries from Peru. Most are Southern Arawak.

Superficial articles on the Chakato People in typical references state that they spoke a language similar to Choctaw.  This is not true.  Serious historians have discovered that the Chakato did use the Yama language (Mobilian Trade Jargon) when trading or negotiating with their neighbors.  However, their own language was incomprehensible to their Florida Apalachee, Mobila, Tohomé and Naniaba neighbors.  This is certainly strong evidence that Joseph Creel was right in saying that they were a distinct ethnic group.

The Paracusite (High King) of the Highland Apalache provided some very interesting history to British explorer, Richard Briggstock, in 1653. [The Apalache Chronicles].   He said that long ago, the Highland Apalache established colonies on the Gulf Coast and built a road to connect them to the Appalachian Mountains.   The Muskogean Apalache from North Georgia became the elite of other ethnic groups.  Over time, the language of the colonists so mixed with the local language that they became incomprehensible to the Highland Apalache.   So were the Chakato and Florida Apalache the descendants of the mixing of Apalache colonists with the locals? 

There is a suggestion in colonial archives that the Chakato were kin to the Pensacola and the Highland Apalache (Apalachicola).  They all used the same Peruvian word for people, cora.  When English-speakers heard the heavily rolled R in this word, they wrote it as cola.   After the British gained possession of Florida at the end of the Seven Years War in 1763, several Apalachicola towns from Northwest Georgia moved down into Florida.  They had names such as Ellijay, Cartacay, Talona, Aluko, Alechua, Kapola, Sampala, Owassissas and Uthkalooga. Sorry, those river and creek names are not ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been forgotten.

These towns settled originally around Pensacola Bay, eastward to the Apalachicola River. This region was formerly the homeland of the Chakato. Typically, when “Creek” towns relocated they went to territories, where their relatives had traditional claims.   For example, in the Itsate (Hitchiti) Migration Legend, they recalled crossing northward across the ocean to the Florida Peninsula and living in southern Florida for a period of time.  Thus, when Hitchiti villages left their homeland in the Appalachian Highlands, they felt that they had a claim to southern Florida and therefore eventually ended up there.


Known history of the Chakato or Chato

The culture and traditions of the Chakato are largely unknown to anthropologists today due to the fact that the Spanish wrote down very little about them.  By the time that English-speaking settlers reached Northwest Florida, the remnants of the Chakato were living in Louisiana and had absorbed many cultural traits from their new neighbors.  By that time, also many had become Roman Catholics and used French as their trading language.   During the 1700s and early 1800s, they were known to French and British traders variously as the Chacâtos, Chaqtos, Chatots, Chactots Chactoo, Chacchous, Chaetoos and Chattoos.

In 1805 in Louisiana and Missouri there were reports of various Native groups, originally from the Gulf Coast farther east that gathered in the region, “… having distinct languages of their own.” In particular observers noted, “15 single, small groups and two pairs of speaking languages distinct from all others. These were the Adai, Akokisa, Apalachee, Bidai, Biloxi, Chatot, Eyeish, Kitsai, Maye, Opelousa, Pakana, Pascagoula, Taensa, Tonkawa, Tunica, the Natchitoches and Yatsai, Atakapa and Karankawa.”

The  initial discovery of the Chakato was by the Spanish in 1639.  They were described as living west of the Apalachee and south of the Apalachicola.   The Chakato requested  that the governor of Spanish Florida send  missionaries in 1648. At this time relations between the Chato and the Spanish were peaceful.  The Chakato were beginning to trade with the Spanish.  

The missionaries did not arrive in Chakato territory until 1674.  Two missions were established . . . on 25 miles west of the Apalachicola River at a site known as Marianna and on the Chipola River.   They didn’t last long.  The following year, the Chakato revolted against the missionaries because the missionaries were trying to interfere with cultural traditions such as multiple wives. 

The first religious revolt ended quickly when Chisca, living farther north on the Chattahoochee River began raiding the mission villages.  The Chakato joined with the Florida Apalache to fight the Chiska. Apparently, non-Catholic Chakatos were allied with the Chiskas.  In 1677 a   Spanish force containing 10 Chakato attacked a town hosting a festival of roughly 300 Chakato, Pensacola and Chiska participants. This particular battle ended in a draw.  

Chiska is the Panoan (Peruvian) word for bird.  The Chiskas in Peru dressed exactly the same as the Chiskas in the Southeast. Both Chiskas were known as fierce warriors, who wore their hair long and scraggly. .

The Roman Catholic Chakato moved to a village on the west side of the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. It was named San Carlos de los Chakatos.  The locations and activities of the non-Christian Chakatos during this era remain a mystery.

In 1684 the Savanos (Southern Shawnees) sold Chakato slaves to the British in South Carolina, presumably acquired from the missions or surrounding pockets of non-Christian Indians. The Apalachicola tribe raided San Carlos de los Chakatos in 1695, further destabilizing San Carlos.

In 1699, a band of 40 Chakatos on a buffalo hunt, led by a Spaniard, attacked a peaceful Tuskegee-Creek trading party.  They killed 16 Tuskegees and stole their goods.  In 1702, an army of at least 800 Apalache and Chakato, reinforced with Spanish soldiers and militiamen invaded Apalachicola Creek territory.  They attacked a smaller force of Apalachicola and Chickasaws, who slaughtered the invaders.  At least 600 were left dead on the battlefield along the Lower Flint River

The Apalachicola Creeks, Ichesi Creeks and their English allies responded to the attack with force.   Creek forces, reinforced by Carolina militiamen, attacked the Spanish missions in Northwest Florida.  Following these attacks in August 1704, 200 Chatos along with an unknown number of Apalachees relocated to Mobile Bay and sought refuge among the French colonists.

Juan, chief of the Chakato, was allotted by the French territory at the mouth of the Mobile River. The chief, his mother Jacinta and two hundred of his villagers moved to the site called the Oignonets, location of the present-day Cuty of Mobile.   

From the settlement at Mobile the Chakato were integrated into the faith of the French Roman Catholics.  In 1707, the son of the Chakato chief was recorded as being baptized by the French priest.  At this time the Chato were said to be speaking the Choctaw and French languages.  However, in this is true, the Choctaw they spoke was a Gulf Coast dialect that is no longer spoken.  A flood of Fort St. Louis in 1711 caused the French to relocate Fort St. Louis to the location of Mobile. The Chakato living there were relocated about four mile further south to the Dog River that is near Mobile Bay.

The Chakato were last mentioned in British Colonial archives was 1763.  As French allies, the Chakato were forced out of West Florida.   Afterward, the Chakato were seldom mentioned as they were almost continuously pushed westward. They were at Rapides, Louisiana, in 1773, apparently on the Red River in 1796, on Bayou Boeuf in 1803 and 1805, and on the Sabine River in 1817.

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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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