The Many Peoples of the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains
Much of what is taught our students in official state history books about the early history of this region is mythology.
Above is a section of the 1820 Sturges Map of Georgia. There are no ethnic Cherokee words on the map. Itsate is the Itza Maya word for “Itza People.” Sautee means “Raccoon People” in Creek. Sticcoa is the Anglicization of Saticoa, a Peruvian Arawak word from the Georgia coast that means “Colonists-People.” Chattuge is the Anglicization of a Muskogee-Creek word, meaning “Red People.” Tugaloo is the Anglicization of a Pre-Gaelic Irish and Uchee word, Tokah-le, meaning “Principal People or Elite.” Notice that in 1820, Yonah Mountain had a Creek name, which means “bear”- Nokose. The 1832 map below marks the first appearance of the Cherokee word for bear, Yonah, which is here misspelled as Yeona. Chota is the Creek word for frog. Frogtown Gap was later re-named Walasi-yi Gap (Frog Descendants – Place of) in Cherokee. These geographical features were given Cherokee names by white settlers from North Carolina over a decade or more later.
The original eight Lower Cherokee villages were Itsate Creek and Uchee colonies, who did not want to be part of a Creek Confederacy, dominated by Muskogee-Creek speakers. Chora-ki means “Splinter People” in Muskogee. All of their Native names are Creek words. Until the second decade of the 18th century, South Carolina colonial records uses their Creek names such as Tamasee, Keowee, Oconee, Chauge, Edisto, etc. rather than calling them Cherokees. This is why, Eastern Creeks have no trouble translating “Lower Cherokee” words, while Cherokee scholars call these words “remnants of an extinct language that cannot be translated.” Over time, political marriages between the ethnic Cherokees in northeastern Tennessee and the “Creek” Cherokees in South Carolina tended to bring them closer together culturally.
This is why It is clear that Northeast Georgia was occupied by the remnants of several indigenous ethnic groups, mostly from Chickasaw, Itsate-Creek (Itza descendants) Uchee and Shawnee tribes, who were not particularly interested in association with either the Cherokee Nation, which was dominated by mixed-bloods, who had moved to northwest Georgia from Tennessee . . . or the Muskogee-dominated Creek Confederacy, whose center of power had moved far to the southwest into Alabama. The Native peoples on the south side of the Blue Ridge, called themselves the Elate . . . an Itza Maya and Hitchiti Creek word that means “Foothills People.” Another version of the word was Elasi (pronounce E-la-jzheh) which white settlers spelled Ellijay.
Oh there is so much more that you are never told!
The surprising discoveries of three famous 20th century archaeologists
Archaeologist Robert Wauchope spent most of 1939 researching the rich cultural history of the Nacoochee Valley, which is in White and Habersham Counties of Northeast Georgia. He found that the valley had been continuously occupied since the end of the Ice Age. He found 35 Clovis points in alluvial soil on the surface, while searching for much more recent habitations. The valley was densely occupied from around 1200 BC to around 1700 AD. During approximately the last century of dense occupation, he found numerous European artifacts mixed in with Lamar Culture artifacts, typical the Creek Indians.
In his book, An Archaeological Survey of Northern Georgia, Wauchope stated that he searched for a Cherokee village in the Nacoochee Valley throughout the year, but never found one. The State of Georgia has erected a historical marker near the Nacoochee Mound, which describes the Native town site as being a Cherokee village, visited by Hernando de Soto. No Cherokee artifacts have been found in the mound or at the village site around it.
Wauchope also found a horseshoe shaped Itza Maya ballcourt near the Sautee Post Office. However, he was young and didn’t recognize it for what it was. He gave it a archaeological site number, but added a note that he did not know the purpose of this large earthwork. Until the 1720s, Sautee was called Itsate, which is the Itza Mayas’ name for themselves.
In 1957, archaeologist Joseph Caldwell began work on Tugaloo Island in Stephens County, GA, adjacent to South Carolina. He expected to prove that both Etowah Mounds and Tugaloo Mounds were built by the Cherokees. Instead, he found pretty much the same cultural traits and history as the Nacoochee Valley. A large town with eight mounds thrived here from around 800 AD to 1700 AD, a which time it was sacked and burned. This town was built on top of a series of villages, which dated back to around 1200 BC. A small village, with crude round huts had been built in a corner of Tugaloo’s plaza after its sacking, but the mounds had never been occupied again.
In the 1980s, the State of Georgia erected a historical marker at Tugaloo that describes the site as “the oldest Cherokee town in Georgia.” it states that the Cherokees built the eight mounds when they arrived around 1450 AD and that Cherokee priests maintained sacred fires 24 hours a day within the temples on top of the mounds.
Joseph Caldwell first dug some shallow test pits at the Chauga Mounds in Oconee County, SC in 1953. He mostly encountered a brief occupation in the 1700s by a people that he interpreted as being Cherokee. That made him assume that all of the occupation of Chauga and nearby Tugaloo was Cherokee. However, like virtually all Southeastern archaeologists, past and present, Caldwell refused to learn the Creek languages. Chauga is the Muskogee-Creek word for the Black Locust tree. It has no meaning in Cherokee.
Archaeologist Carl Miller excavated part of one mound in 1958. A complete excavation of the entire village site was carried out by Arthur Kelly and Robert Neitzel from August 1958 to January 1959. They found that the village had been burned twice. The first sacking brought in a people with cultural traits similar to those around Macon, GA at that time. It appears that one branch of the Creeks had replaced another branch of the Creeks.
There is another odd thing about the treatment of this site in references. There were three mounds at Chauga. None dated to the “Cherokee” Period. Wikipedia’s anonymous author mentions only one mound and states that it was built by the Cherokees. Don’t bother with trying to correct the article with references to Kelly’s extensive archaeological report. Your corrections will be quickly deleted.
A Trail of Tears Myth
In 2008, in a lavish PBS documentary film on the Trail of Tears, funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokees, the talented Cherokee actor, Wes Studi, told viewers that “the lands in North Georgia, where the Cherokees had lived for thousands of years, was stolen from them in 1828, when gold was discovered in the Nacoochee Valley.” It’s a popular myth, but not quite true. By 1824, most of the Cherokee portion of the Gold Belt had been voluntarily sold to individual whites or to the State of Georgia. Cherokee leaders did not consider the Natives in that part of Georgia as being “real” Cherokees. Meanwhile, almost half of the Georgia Gold belt was in the Creek Nation, and Georgia grabbed it in 1825 and 1827.
One must look at the eyewitness accounts, maps and read the treaties to identify the real history of the Southern Appalachians. Until 1784 the southern boundary of the Cherokee Tribe was the North Carolina-Georgia Line, except for a tiny sliver of land northeast of the Tugaloo River on the extreme northeastern tip of Georgia. This fact is stated by an eyewitness account from botanist William Bartram. When the 1776 Cherokee War broke out, he raced southward from a Cherokee village near present day Franklin, NC to the safety of the southern side of the Tugaloo River.
In 1795, all Cherokee lands east of the Little Tennessee River in Rabun County, GA were ceded to the United States. On the west side of the river, Uchee heads of household were offered large allotments, which they would own fee simple, in return for renouncing any association with the Cherokee Tribe.
In 1817 and 1818, the Creek Confederacy ceded all of its remaining land in Northeast Georgia. That land cession would become much of Metro Atlanta. Up to that time, Clarkesville, GA had contained a trading post, which catered to a remnant population of “Creek” peoples . . . those to the south of the fort and Nacoochee Valley were loosely associated with the Creek Confederacy, while the Sokee and Uchee people to the north were loosely associated with the Cherokee Tribe. The Sokee were originally from Tabasco State, Mexico. They were the same people as the Miccosukee in southern Florida today. Miccosukee means “Leaders of the Sokee.” The official history of Clarke County remembers that its southern half was Creek, but White County, which was carved out of Habersham County in 1857, describes itself in Wikipedia and the New Georgia Encyclopedia as being “carved out of the land of Cherokee.”
In 1821, two real estate speculators from Burke County, NC traveled to the Nacoochee Valley and brokered the sale of over 7,000 acres land. If the leadership of the Cherokee Tribe had considered the valley, Cherokee land, this could have never happened. The next year, families from Burke County, still a gold-mining region in that state, began moving to the Nacoochee Valley. In 1824, the Cherokee leadership sold all of its land, east of the Chestatee River. No one forced them to do this. The region sold was only sparsely occupied by non-Cherokee indigenous peoples, mixed with long time descendants of the 17th century Spanish Sephardic gold miners. “Miraculously,” the discovery of gold in the Nacoochee Valley was announced in 1828.
Gold has been mined in North Georgia since the Bronze Age. Captain René de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, specifically mentioned that the Apalache of Northeast Georgia had grown wealthy from mining gold and greenstone in the area of present day Dahlonega, then distributing gold foil, gold chains and green stone wedges across a broad swath of eastern North America. LOne of his officers, La Roche Ferrière, brought back samples of yellow, white and red gold from the Dahlonega, GA area. Jacques Le Moynes painted a water color, which portrayed Creek Indians mining gold particles from the edge of a river in the Georgia Mountains.
Governor James Moore of Carolina led an expedition of British Red Coat horsemen to the edge of the Nacoochee Valley. Here he observed the smoke plumes of dozens of gold smelters, operated by Spanish-speaking Sephardic miners. His party beat a hasty retreat. The ruins of two Spanish gold mining villages were found in the Nacoochee Valley during the Georgia Gold Rush.
In 1653, British explorer, Richard Briggstock, spent several weeks in the Nacoochee Valley, with his Apalache-Creek and Spanish-speaking hosts. During that time, he also traveled to what is now Franklin, NC. There was a Spanish-speaking gem-mining colony there. The Spaniards used Apalache laborers from the Nacoochee Valley town of Nokose. Hence, the new Apalache colonial village was also named Nokase. In the 1700s, the Cherokees called this village Nukase, but today it is remembered in a modern Cherokee dialect as Nikwasee.
Throughout the 1800s up to the present era, Southeastern academicians, at least the Caucasian and Cherokee ones, have described the region’s ancient history from the perspective of “tribes” that are now recognized by the federal government. I cringe every time I see a notice that some Caucasian anthropologist is giving a talk on “Cherokee and Creek history.” Although the Creek Migration Legends described earlier alliances going all the way back to southern Mexico, the modern People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) dates from the Green Corn Festival of 1717, held at the ruins of what is now Ocmulgee National Monument. The Chickasaw had been members of several earlier alliances, but dropped out of this one because the Muskogee language was adopted as the confederacy’s official diplomatic and legislative language.
The first appearance of the word, Cherokee, was on a map of the Southeast, hand-sketched by John and Richard Beresford in 1715 at the onset of the Yamassee War. A loose alliance of over 14 bands, speaking as many languages, became the Cherokee tribe at the behest of British official, Colonel George Chicken, in 1725. Chicken noted that several translators were required during the negotiations because most of the bands spoke mutually unintelligible languages. That is a very different perspective on Cherokee history than presented today.
Contemporary newspapers provided detailed information on the discoveries of the Spanish villages. Both these discoveries and the visits of Richard Briggstock and Governor James Moore to Creek and Spanish-speaking occupants of the Nacoochee Valley were published in 19th century history books. For unknown reasons, late 20th century academicians and state bureaucrats “erased” the information about Spanish Sephardic colonization of the Georgia Mountains.
Yet my Grandmother Ruby knew about it. She would say, “Why there were white folks living in the Georgia Mountains a hundred years before there was such a thing as a Cherokee.” Meanwhile, Wikipedia tells the reader that “there are some theories concerning Spanish miners in the Georgia Mountains, but there is no archaeological evidence or eyewitness accounts to substantiate these theories.” Odds are about 20:1 that the anonymous author is a North Carolina anthropology or history professor, who has never even been in the Nacoochee Valley.
Etymologies of some Native American place names in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains
I was able to eventually translate the oldest words in the region by interpolating several sources for Bronze Age languages in Ireland and Scandinavia. The remainder of the words were translated via dictionaries for Itza Maya, Panoan languages in Peru, the Mixtec-Zoque dictionary in Mexico, the Miccosukee Dictionary and the modern Muskogee-Creek Dictionary. The Muskogeans, Itzas and Panoans rolled their R’s so hard that English and French speakers typically wrote them as L’s. The Archaic Gaelic word for kingdom or nation was Reigh or Re. This typically became an “le or li”suffix in the Southeast. The Irish Gaelic, Algonquian, Shawnee, Creek and Cherokee suffix for “tribe or people” is “ge, gi, ke or ki.” Yes, that’s right, the same word is used on both sides of the Atlantic!
Enoree ~ Eno-re (Pre-Gaelic Irish)=Trade People, Enotah Mountain ~Eno-te (Pre-Gaelic Irish/Itsate Creek=Trade People
Saluda River ~ Suale-te (Itsate Creek)=Buzzard (Xuale) People. They were the descendants of the Hopewell Culture.
Toxaway River ~ Toks-a-we (Creek)=cooking shed
Keowee River/Keoree/Kiale/Kiawah Island/Kialeki ~ Kiar-Re (Pre-Gaelic Irish/Muskogee)=Dark People. They were from County Kerry,Ireland, which has petroglyphs identical to those in the Etowah River Valley of Georgia. Kiar-re is the origin of the word, Kerry!
Soque/Soco ~ Zoke (Mixtec-Zoque)=Civilized People, Jocassee ~ Zokasi (Mixtec-Zoque/Itsate Creek) Civilized People-Descendants of. The Zoque are the descendants of the so-called Olmec Civilization.
Tugaloo ~ Togah-re (Pre-Gaelic Irish)=Principal or Elite People, Toccoa ~ Tokah-koa (Pre-Gaelic Irish/Arawak)=Principal or Elite People, Tuckasegee River ~ Tokahse-gi (Pre-Gaelic Irish/Muskogee)=Principal People – Descendants of.
Savannah River ~ Savano (Southern Shawnee)=Southerners, Swannanoa River ~ Suwani-owa (Muskogee)=Shawnee River.
Estatoe/Ustatoa ~ Usta-toa (Uchee)=Uchee or Water Clan, Eastanolee and Oostanaula ~ Ustanauli (Uchee)=Uchee Province
Chauga ~ Chauka (Creek)=Black Locust
Tamasee ~ Tamau-si (Itsate Creek)=Tama-Descendants of, Tama (Itza Maya, Totonac)=Trade, Tomatly ~ Tamau-tli (Itzate Creek) Trade People.
Oconee ~ Okvni (Creek) – Water – Born in, Oconaluftee ~ Okvni-lufte (Itsate Creek)=Oconee People – Cut off or Massacred.
Chattooga River/Lake Chatuge ~ Chata-gi (Muskogee-Creek)=Red People
Tallulah~Talula (Itsate-Creek)=district administrative town, usually with only one platform mound.
Little Tennessee River/Tanasee Creek~Taenasi (Taino/Creek)=Taino-Descendants of
Echete~Itsate (Itza Maya/Itsate Creek)=Itza (Maya) People
Chenocetah Mountain~Chenosetaw (Muskogee-Creek)=Descendants of Eight Villages-People
Curahee Mountain~Kurahi (Archaic Gaelic.Itsate-Creek)=Sun Goddess-Place of
Choestoe Community~Choes-toa (Uchee)=Rabbit Clan
Nottely River~Note-le (Uchee)=Other side-people
Coosa River/Coosa Creek~Kaushe (Panoan)=Elite
Hiwassee River~Hiwalsi (Itsate Creek)=Highlanders
Chattahoochee River~Chata-Hawche (Itza Maya)=Ancient Shallow River. A large, deep river is Haw in both Itza Maya and Itsate Creek. Muskogee-Creeks use hawche for all rivers and large creeks.
Chestatee River~Chestua-te (Uchee-Itza Maya)=Rabbit Clan River
Chiaha/Cheoah/Chehaw~Chiahaw (Itza Maya/Itsate Creek)=Salvia River.
Nantahala River~Nantahaw-le (Panaon-Itza Maya-Uchee) Rapids-River-Place of
Kennesaw Mountain/Conasauga River~konasaw-gi (Muskogee-Creek)=Konas People. Conestee~Konas-te (Itsate Creek) Konas was a province in eastern Peru and northern Georgia.
Tuskegee~Tauske-gi (Muskogee-Creek)=Pilated Woodpecker People
Tusquitee~Tauske-te (Itsate-Creek)= Pilated Woodpecker People
Yahoola~Yahaula (Muskogean)=Leader of the Sacred Black Drink ceremony
Chickamauga~Chika Mauka (Chickasaw)=Place to look out
Chattanooga~Chata-nvka (Muskogee-Creek)=Red Neck [gorge]
Etowah River~Etula (Itza Maya via Muskogee [Etalwa])=Principal town or capital
Yonah Mountain~Yona (Cherokee)=Bear*
Walasiyi Gap~Walasi-yi (Cherokee)=Frog-Place of*
*Do some etymological research yourself and it will become immediately obvious that these names were assigned by whites, who were using a dictionary from a dialect of Cherokee only spoken in certain parts of North Carolina. The Cherokee, spoken today in Oklahoma was the language spoken by Cherokees, who left Georgia on the Trail of Tears. The person or persons, who assigned the names actually knew very little about the Cherokee language. The primary Cherokee word for bear in Oklahoma is alisokaládi. Yona is their word for a grizzly bear. The primary Cherokee word for frog is walosi. The village of Frogtown was in present day Lumpkin County, GA was located on Yahoola Creek. Yahoola is a Creek word! There are NO frogs at Walasi-yi Gap. It is on a dry slope of Blood Mountain.
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