The Uchee (Yuchi~Euchee) – Part One
There are two different versions of the Uchee people. The one you read in Wikipedia and anthropology books calls them Yuchi and is the product of a legion of late 20th century speculations that have been regurgitated back and forth so much by academicians that they have deluded themselves into thinking they are facts.
The other is what the Uchee People and Colonial Period eyewitness accounts state. In this strange world we live in, their factual history has become a taboo subject that cannot be discussed in academia, because it might make some university-published books obsolete.
Native American Brain Food
Scan virtually any anthropological reference in the United States and you will be told that the Yuchi originally lived in southeastern Tennessee, but also occupied villages scattered around eastern North America. You will be told that the Chiska encountered by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo’s soldiers were Yuchi. A reference citation will tell you that this is true, because John Swanton and Charles Hudson said so. You will also be told that the Yuchi were driven out of Tennessee in the early 1700s by the Cherokees and afterward moved down the Savannah River Valley, where they eventually merged with the Creeks. More recent books on the Creeks will tell you that the Yuchi became the “slaves” of the Creeks. Say what?
Readers are also always told that the Yuchi language is unlike any language in the Americas. Personally, I am not even sure that this orthodoxy is true. The statement was ” inscribed in stone” by the same academic disciplines, which failed to notice for two centuries that such a basic word as chiki was used for house in the Totonac, Itza Maya and Eastern Creek languages.
I stumbled upon that baby step into a brave new world back in 2006, while building the Etowah Model for the Muscogee-Creek Nation. I noticed that the prefabricated, post-ditch houses at Etowah were identical to Totonac and Itza houses that I had studied in Mexico. Out of curiosity, I looked up casa in a Spanish-Totonac dictionary and had an OMG moment.
The name John Swanton stands out as virtually the only early-to-mid- 20th century ethnologist, who published books of national stature on the Southeastern Indians. Most anthropological theses and dissertations at Southeastern universities quote Swanton very early on in the paper in order to prove that the writer is not a heretic. Both students and practicing archaeologists consistently use Swanton’s translations of Muskogean words rather than consulting official dictionaries. Until the People of One Fire came along, John Swanton was virtually the Alpha and Omega of Muskogean ethnology.
I keep all of Swanton’s books near my work station because they contain a compendium of hundreds of eyewitness accounts from the Colonial Period. However, very few of his translations are accurate. In fact, his translations are so off-base, it is obvious that he did not own a Muskogean dictionary. Some of his interpretations of eyewitness accounts are solid, most are not. He assumed that the locations and names of indigenous ethnic groups in 1000 AD and 1500 AD were the same as they were in 1800 AD. Swanton consistently ignored Colonial Period maps, because he was not a visually oriented person. Enough said.
In their own language, the Uchee called themselves Tsoyaha. The word is roughly translated into English as “Children of the Sun.” This is a generic word. Individual Uchee provinces and bands had their own names that more often as not, were derived from other languages. These other names include Utsi, Okoni (Oconee), Okasi (Ogeechee) and Ouete of the Uchee Water Clan; Nokoche, Nokose and Naguchee of the Uchee Bear Clan; Chestua and Chestatee of the Rabbit Clan; Kowasate of the Bobcat Clan; Ustanauli on the Upper Savannah River; Ustanauki on the Suwannee River in Florida and Tchogaloge of the Upper Tennessee River.
There is a big question mark concerning the clan affiliations of isolated Uchee trading villages that were once scattered across the Southeast and Midwest. In most cases, the existences of these villages were so quickly erased by the incessant tribal and colonial warfare of the 1700s that there were few opportunities for Europeans to observe and document them.
There are probably several other Uchee band names that have been lost by history. However, Chiska was not one of them. The Chiska in Tennessee were the same ethnic group as the Panaoan-speaking Chiska in eastern Peru. Chiska means “bird” in Shipibo. It is no accident that the Chiska were shown on 17th century French maps as living on the Shipi-sipi that is now called the Holston River.
The Tsoyaha’s three most common names today, Yuchee, Uchee and Euchee are all Anglicizations of the Creek word Ue-se (pronounced roughly Ou : jzhē) which means “Offspring from Water.”
Both Carolina and Georgia Colonial authorities used the word Uchee. It most closely approximates one of the Muskogean names for the Uchee Water Clan, so probably is the most “correct.” That name predominates in South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama today.
The Uchee lifestyle
The earliest eyewitness accounts by empathetic European explorers described poly-ethnic indigenous societies in the Southeast that were quite different than the simplistic concept of “chiefdoms” that so saturates anthropological literature. One wonders if the late 20th century academicians, who adapted the label of “chiefdom” from studies of Sub-Saharan African societies, even bothered to read these eyewitness accounts. This is especially true for the Uchee.
Throughout the Southeastern region, one reads eyewitness accounts of dualistic societies. In most provinces, the elite lived in separate towns from the commoners. Remember the description in the de Soto Chronicles of the conurbation that composed the great town of Coça? The elite were in a village on the south side of Talking Rock Creek. The commoners were on the north side.
The French gave an identical description of the Natchez. The Natchez elite lived in fortified mound centers and spoke a different language than the commoners. The commoner’s villages either had no mounds or else only small burial mounds.
In 1658, Charles de Rochefort wrote that North Georgia’s Apalache elite lived in mountainside or hillside towns, built of stone. They wore brightly colored clothing like that of the Seminole and Miccosukee today. The commoners wore plain, off-white garments, woven from mulberry fibers or else leather. The Apalache commoners lived in river bottomlands in villages that were identical those of the Creeks a half century later.
An alternative pattern in some parts of the Southeast was for two or more ethnic groups to live in paired towns or clusters of egalitarian towns. In such situations, each ethnic group had it own elite, but was allied with other ethnic groups in confederacies. This was the organizational structure of the 18th century Cherokee, Catawba and Creek alliances.
The Uchee were the consummate regional traders of the Southeast, yet in most regions they preferred to live in dualistic relationships with other ethnic groups – particularly the Muskogeans. The Uchee lived in dispersed villages and farmsteads, where they maintained their language, religious traditions and distinct architecture, while having a symbiotic relationship with entirely different ethnic groups, who occupied separate towns.
The closest parallel to the Uchee lifestyle would be the Amish and Orthodox Mennonite communities in North America. Within their own communities, these Anabaptists speak Platt Duetsch, the Late Medieval language of the Netherlands and northwestern Germany. Most congregations only use horse-drawn transportation. Their church congregations are exclusive and are prone to expel members, who do not conform to all traditions.
Yet in order to survive, these Orthodox Mennonites and Amish actively do business with the “English” outside their communities. Perhaps, in the case of the Uchee, maintaining a distinct ethnic identity enabled traders to maintain neutrality while passing through warring provinces.
There is also extensive cultural evidence that in some regions, Uchee priests functioned like the Druids of the British Isles. They carried the knowledge of ancient times through succeeding generations and were considered to be sources of wisdom by many ethnic groups other than the Uchee.
Uchee origin traditions
The Uchee, who made contact with the early British colonists, stated that their ancestors came across the ocean from the home of the sun and that their first homeland was on the South Atlantic Coast. That statement obviously means that they arrived in North America by traveling over the Atlantic Ocean. Where their migration journey began is a subject of educated speculation that will be discussed in Part Two. This discussion is going to be quite controversial since it challenges the presumption that all indigenous peoples arrived in the Americas via the land bridge between Siberia and Alaska.
Wherever the Uchee originated, both they and the Creek Indians agreed that the Uchee were one of the oldest ethnic groups in the Southeast. According to Uchee tradition, when they arrived on the coast, there were several other peoples living in the interior that either moved westward or took canoes to southern lands. The Algonquians were the only indigenous peoples, whose presence in Southeast was older than the Uchee.
After the Uchee, the Siouans migrated southward into the Carolinas and portions of eastern Tennessee. They were eventually followed by bands of people from the south and west, who evolved into the Chickasaws, Alabamus and Creeks. When and why the Uchees arrived is again going to be a controversial subject that can at present be answered by “educated” speculations.
In Part Two, we will first examine the locations of Uchi provinces and villages, when first contacts were made with Europeans. Most readers will be surprised how extensive and widespread the Uchee provinces were. The United States Department of the Interior has relabeled all known Uchee Provinces as Creek, Cherokee, Timucua or “Tribal Affiliation Unknown.”
We will then take a look at the available archaeological and linguistic information in the Southeastern United States and Western Europe, to speculate on the origin or origins of the Uchee. The Uchee could well be the descendants of the ancient people, who are the source of the story of Atlantis.
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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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