Select Page

The Secret History of Tennessee, Dolly Parton and Jenifer Lopez

The Secret History of Tennessee, Dolly Parton and Jenifer Lopez

Everything that you ever wanted to know about the word, Tennessee, but were afraid to ask!

The origin of the word Tennessee generally varies with who you are talking with.  Tourism agencies and school districts in East Tennessee tell folks it is a Cherokee word, because they get casino money from the Eastern Band of Cherokees . . . but they don’t know what it means.  Descendants of Tennessee Yuchi’s say it is a Yuchi word, but don’t know what it means.  As will be read below,  academicians quibble a bit about its etymology, because they really don’t know either . . . that’s because they typically don’t know diddlysquat about the indigenous languages of the Southeast.   The folks in Tennessee are about to get a REAL surprise.

Celebrities, Dolly Parton and Jenefer Lopez have far more in common than they could possibly realize.   After taking a DNA test for a TV program, Lopez discovered that she is essentially a Taino Indian.  They are a branch of the Arawaks.  Since then Jenifer frequently wears “Indian style” costumes for her stage performances.  It is has been found that at least 70% of Puertoricans carry significant Taino ancestry.  That is why their senoritas dominate  beauty pageants around the world.

Dolly Parton claims to be part Cherokee.  She grew up on the Pigeon River in Sevier County, Tennessee. That region was last claimed by the Cherokees until white settlers moved in.  Besides Cherokee casinos pay Dolly very well for displaying her talents.  A few years ago Dolly stated at a performance attended by Cherokee Nation Principal Chief, Chad Smith:  “Which part of me do you think looks Cherokee?”  Dolly’s skull and body proportions are definitely indigenous American, but her actual indigenous ancestry is not what she thinks.

What an anonymous academician tells us in Wikipedia

“The earliest variant of the name that became Tennessee was recorded by Captain Juan Pardo, the Spanish explorer, when he and his men passed through an American Indian village named “Tanasqui” in 1567 while traveling inland from South Carolina. In the early 18th century, British traders encountered a Cherokee town named Tanasi (or “Tanase”) in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee. The town was located on a river of the same name (now known as the Little Tennessee River), and appears on maps as early as 1725. It is not known whether this was the same town as the one encountered by Juan Pardo, although recent research suggests that Pardo’s “Tanasqui” was located at the confluence of the Pigeon River and the French Broad River, near modern Newport.”

“The meaning and origin of the word are uncertain. Some accounts suggest it is a Cherokee modification of an earlier Yuchi word. It has been said to mean “meeting place”, “winding river”, or “river of the great bend”.  According to James Mooney, the name “cannot be analyzed” and its meaning is lost.”

Sra. Lopez, you can now say “Caca de toro!”

Around 1690, the French built a fort at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee River. At this time, the British knew very little about the Appalachians, so French maps are much more accurate. Note that in 1701, there was no mention of the Cherokees anywhere. Most of Eastern Tennessee was occupied by the Chickasaws, Creeks and Uchees. There were Creek provinces in extreme western North Carolina, but the region as a whole, was labeled "Land of the Shawnees."

Around 1690, the French built a fort at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee River. At this time, the British knew very little about the Appalachians, so French maps are much more accurate. Note that in 1701, there was no mention of the Cherokees anywhere. Most of Eastern Tennessee was occupied by the Chickasaws, Creeks,  Koasati and Uchees. There were Creek provinces in extreme western North Carolina, but the region as a whole, was labeled “Land of the Shawnees.” Between 1701 and 1715, the Cherokees drove the Shawnees, Creeks and Uchees out of Western North Carolina.  Between 1717 and 1725, the Cherokees drove the Creeks and Koasati’s off the Little Tennessee River.  However, even in the 1725 John Herbert Map of South Carolina, the Cherokees called the Unaka and Snowbird Mountains  immediately south of them in North Carolina . . . the Enemy Mountains. Clearly, the Cherokees have not been in North Carolina for 10,000 years, nor did they build any of the mounds in the Southeast.

Unraveling a mystery

Mr. Mooney, weren’t you one of the self-styled scholars at the Smithsonian of the late 1800s, who also said the the original version of the Creek Migration Legend was lost forever?    Methinks that y’all were wrong on both matters.

First of all . . . “qui” is the Muskogee-Creek suffix for “people.”  “Si” or “see” is a suffix used by all Muskogean languages, which means “descendants of.”   So Tennessee and North Carolina academicians can now permanently forget the “Cherokee origin thing.”

When the 18 Muskogean scholars and professionals started the People of One Fire 10 years ago, we represented the general frustration among indigenous Southeastern tribes that the folks, who called themselves “Specialists in Southeastern Anthropology” really weren’t anthropologists, but rather classifiers of potsherds and stone implements with English names.  In fact, they knew very little about the people, who made those artifacts prior to the arrival of Europeans.  Language, architecture, cultural history, geographical origins and in the case of the Creeks, writing systems, are key elements of true anthropology.

The true history of Eastern Tennessee was one of the biggest enigmas. Sixteenth and seventeenth century maps showed most of Tennessee occupied by provinces, whose names could be translated today by a Creek or Chickasaw dictionary.  There was no mention of the Cherokees on any map until 1715.  The 1715 map showed “Charakeys” living in the extreme northeastern tip of the state.  The rest of Eastern Tennessee was then occupied by Chickasaws, Creeks, Uchees and tribes, whose names disappeared soon afterward.  These lost tribes had names that could not be translated by Muskogean, Maya or Cherokee dictionaries.

Until the late 1780s, the official name of the Tennessee River was the Callimaco River.  It’s an Itza Maya word meaning “House or Palace of the King.”   The  upper section of the Tennessee River, between its confluence with Little Tennessee River and the confluence of the French Broad and Holston Rivers, several names.  The Spanish called it the Coçate (Kusa People ~ Upper Creeks).  The French called this section the Cusate (same word as Coçate), Hogeloge (Yuchi) or Caskinampo (Many Warriors in the Koasati language).  The English originally called this section the Cusatee  until the mid-1720s, when they started using the name, Hogelogee.  However, the 1725 John Herbert map noted that the Cherokees called all of the river from beginning to end, the Callimaco.  For about two decades this section alternatively was called the Cherokee River, but after the Cherokees changed sides in the French and Indian War, the word “Cherokee” was deleted from all maps.  Most or all the river became named the Callimaco , while some maps labeled the upper section, the Hogelogee.   The word, Tenasee was only used in South Carolina.  It was how English speaking frontiersmen heard the Creek word Taenasi

The original name of the Little Tennessee River was the Tulasi or Talasee River.  This are Creek words that mean the occupants were descendants of E-Tula (an Itza Maya word) or Etowah Mounds.   Early British maps named the Little Tennessee in the Great Smoky Mountains the Tellico River (from Talikoa ~ Tali People in Arawak) and the upper portions of the Little Tennessee River, the Tanasi.  What is now named the Tellico River was then named either the Satikoa River (Colonists in Southern Arawak) or the Little Tellico River.  English-speaking frontiersmen changed the word Satikoa to Citico.

When in 1790,  the future state of Tennessee was incorporated into the Southwest Territory, its new federally appointed administrators did not like the names of many of the rivers.   Apparently, the persons who made the decision to change the Calimaco River’s name, were from South Carolina.  They used an odd spelling of Tenasee,  first written by a British-appointed governor.

The legend goes that a Cherokee conjurer visited the Governor of the Southwestern Territory to warn him that the spirits that rose up his sacred fire gave a frightening warning.  Under no circumstances should the new state be named after its principal river, unless the name of the Calimaco River was changed.  Otherwise,  things would go very badly for some Southeastern archaeologists and the Cherokees themselves two centuries into the future.   This alliance of the Cherokees and archaeologists were destined to form a political organization called “Maya Myth-busting in the Mountains.”   It would become a public relations disaster when the public found out that a river, which begins in the Tennessee and Georgia Mountains then flows through much of Tennessee actually had a Maya name!  Heaven forbid, if some of the professors involved taught at the University of Calimaco!


By late 2013, POOF already knew that a branch of the Taino Arawaks, named the Toa, had lived in Georgia. They were encountered by De Soto on the Lower Ocmulgee River and also lived on the Chattahoochee River in what is now SW Metro Atlanta. Those Arawaks eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.

By late 2013, POOF already knew that a branch of the Taino Arawaks, named the Toa, had lived in Georgia. They were encountered by De Soto on the Lower Ocmulgee River and also lived along the Chattahoochee River in what is now SW Metro Atlanta. Those Arawaks eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.

In May 2013,  POOF member Marilyn Rae found a forgotten book, published in French in 1658, at the Brown University Library. Marilyn has an exceptional background in Renaissance Period languages and history.   The book had two chapters on the Native peoples of Georgia, based on an expedition in 1653 by Richard Briggstock.  The author, French ethnologist Charles de Rochefort, stated that the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee had formerly been densely occupied by Arawaks.  They had been mostly replaced by peoples from the south (Itza Mayas).  However, there were still some Arawak villages in what is now called the Great Smoky and Unaka Mountains of those states.   We eventually realized that the untranslatable ethnic names in Northeast Tennessee were all Panoan and Arawak words from South America.  Now THAT put in a different spin on the Southeast’s past.

The root word of Tanasqui, Tanasi, Tenasee, etc.  still remained an enigma.  They seemed to be Europeanized versions of the original Creek words. The use of “Ta” or “Te” flipflopped for 250 years, until institutionalized by the name of the new State of Tennessee in 1796.  However, neither Tana nor Tena had any meaning in a Creek dictionary.  We were at a roadblock.  It was a Creek ethnic name, but we didn’t know its full meaning.

A big breakthrough occurred when Joseph Creel of Fort Payne, AL,  George Mathews of Atlanta and Professor Gene Waddell, retired from the College of Charleston,  donated an immense collection of maps and map books to the People of One Fire.  We now have a collection of Colonial Era maps that exceeds most university libraries . . . including some rare maps that are not even in the Library of Congress.

On some early South Carolina maps, I noticed a tribe named the Taenasi or Taenasaw in the Blue Ridge Foothills, north of present day Greenville, SC.   I saw the same ethnic name on the Pigeon and Little Tennessee Rivers in western North Carolina and Tennessee. The same tribe was also located on the Lower Tennessee River, where the French called them the Taensa.  In the late 1700s, the Muskogee Creeks called this branch the Taensaw or Tensaw, when they moved to Southwestern Alabama.  Taenasi means “Descendants of the Taino” in Itsate (Hitchiti) Creek.  Taensaw means “Taina People” in the language of the 18th century Muskogee Creeks.   Obviously,  Tanasqui was how the 16th century Spaniards wrote down the Muskogee-Creek word Taenasi-ke.   Where Dolly Parton grew up had originally been Taino territory.

Three beautiful women

Take a close look at the photos above of Jennifer Lopez,  Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood.  Ignore the dyed blond hair on the latter two ladies and the darker complexion on Jennifer from being mostly Native American!   Carrie Underwood is a citizen of the Muskogee-Creek Nation.  Many Creeks carry significant DNA from the Paino and Arawak Peoples of South America.  The three women have similar body proportions and Native American skulls.   However, if you compare closely every detail of Jennifer Lopez’s and Dolly Parton’s faces, you will see that the two singers are almost identical.   Perhaps Dolly should invite her cousin Jennifer down to Dollywood for an old fashion Taino barbicoa!

Now you know!



The following two tabs change content below.
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.



    From what I found, Tennessee is Yuchi for “meeting place”.

    • That is just a made up story by someone looking at the Anglicized word Tennessee . . . without knowing Muskogean grammar. The word first appears as Taenasi, then when the Cherokees moved in, it became Tanasi.


    Thank you once again. Each time I think I have the area pinned down you find something else to investigate..
    If you need any assistance on scanning and cleanup on those maps, let me know.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to POOF via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 843 other subscribers

The Information World is changing!

People of One Fire needs your help to evolve with it.

We are now celebrating the 11th year of the People of One Fire. In that time, we have seen a radical change in the way people receive information. The magazine industry has almost died. Printed newspapers are on life support. Ezines, such as POOF, replaced printed books as the primary means to present new knowledge. Now the media is shifting to videos, animated films of ancient towns, Youtube and three dimensional holograph images.

During the past six years, a privately owned business has generously subsidized my research as I virtually traveled along the coast lines and rivers of the Southeast. That will end in December 2017. I desperately need to find a means to keep our research self-supporting with advertising from a broader range of viewers. Creation of animated architectural history films for POOF and a People of One Fire Youtube Channel appears to be the way. To do this I will need to acquire state-of-art software and video hardware, which I can not afford with my very limited income. Several of you know personally that I live a very modest lifestyle. If you can help with this endeavor, it will be greatly appreciated.

Support Us!

Richard Thornton . . . the truth is out there somewhere!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!