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Two other possible origins for the word, Cherokee

Two other possible origins for the word, Cherokee


In 1826 and early 1827, Acting Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote eight letters to Cherokee National Council President, John Ross, on the history and traditional practices of the Cherokee People.  He was grooming Ross for becoming Principal Chief.   Hicks clearly stated that the Cherokees entered the Appalachian Mountains “from the west” at about the same time that Englishmen were colonizing the coastal regions of the Southeast.  The first Cherokee town in the mountains, he said, was “Big Telico.”    Hicks stated that the “mound builders” had been greatly weakened by a recent plague.  “We killed or drove off the mound builders, burned their temples and built our town houses on top of their mounds.”  

Thus, there is absolutely no justification for the current claim by North Carolina Cherokees that they have been in Western North Carolina for 10,000 years or that that Kituyah, near the North Carolina Reservation, was their original town.  Since some Cherokee bands do have a tradition of being in Northern Mexico at one time, it does leave open the possibility that one or more of the original Cherokee bands came from northern Mexico.


Kerekee or Querreque in Spanish phonetics, is an indigenous name for the Pilated Woodpecker, used by the Huasteca along the northern Gulf Coast of Mexico.  The Huasteca now are the predominant tribe in Tamualipas, since the aboriginal Tamaulte or Tamale  left the region. There was a large infusion of Tamaulte into the Mobile River Basin of Alabama and southeastern Georgia after the Chichimec barbarians overran Tamaulipas State, Mexico between 1200 AD and 1250 AD. 

Chiliki (English phonetic spelling) is the Totonac,  Itza Maya, Itsate Creek and Muskogee Creek word for a barbarian. The Aztec word for barbarian is Chichimec or “Coyote People.”   This pejorative label actually applied to many tribes in northern Mexico.

David Crockett’s Cherokee vest at the Alamo

During the 1500s and early 1600s,  Crypto-Sephardic Jewish families settled in the extreme northern provinces of Mexico.  Many became involved with the slave trade.   They captured thousands of Chichimecs and sold them into slavery to work as gold or silver miners farther south and also on sugar cane plantations in central Mexico and the Caribbean Basin.  Unfortunately, the presence of large numbers of Sephardic Jews in the Southern Appalachians is still not in American History books.  However, this is a fact and leaves open the possibility that Chiliki or Chichimec slaves were imported into the Appalachians to work in gold, silver and gem mines.  

In the late 1700s,  Colonel John Tipton and Colonel John Sevier led wagon trains of settlers from northwestern Virginia to what is now Northeastern Tennessee.  They encountered several “ancient”  (their words) villages containing Spanish-speaking Jews in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia.   This is the exact same area where the very first maps (1715 and 1717) to use the word Charakey, located a dense concentration of Proto-Cherokee villages.

Note in this video below that there are similar motifs on the clothing worn by these dancers from Tamaulipas to the “magic vest” given to David Crockett by the Cherokees, before he left for Texas.  Crockett took it off before the final attack by Generalissimo Santa Anna’s troops.   A Mexican general found the vest.  His descendants eventually sold it to the Alamo Museum.   The sound quality on this video is not the best, but this is not a dance that you will see on the streets of Macon or Birmingham either.  LOL 



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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.



    I need to see copies of Charles Hicks letters to John Ross. Can you give me a source or link?

    • The key paragraphs, I quoted, are in the introduction to the book, “Hiawassee Island: An Archaeological Account of Four Tennessee Indian Peoples” by Thomas and Kneburg (1946 – University of Tennessee Press and pp. 9-11.

      I have photocopies of the original letters by Charles Hicks. They are almost as hard to read than the much older Creek Migration Legends. When I finish transcribing them with the same software I used for the Migration Legends, I will publish the transcriptions.

      A lot of Cherokees are going to be really surprised at how starkly different, their official history today is than what Cherokees believed their history was in 1826. Personally, I trust Charles Hicks more. Much of what he said matches perfectly what one sees on the Colonial Era maps.

      When Thomas and Kneberg wrote their book, the original copies of the Hicks-Ross Letters were in the possession of the City of Knoxville, TN Library and transcribed copies were held by the UT Dept. of Anthropology. For unknown reasons, the Knoxville Library gave their original documents to the Newberry Research Library in Chicago, IL and the UT Dept. of Anthropology “lost” their transcriptions when UNC-Chapel Hill started churning out the “New Cherokee History” in the late 20th century.

      You can probably get photocopies of the Hicks-Ross letters from the Newberry Research Library. Its URL is:

      They also have some other letters by Hicks. He was a very intelligent and learned man.

    • PS – Bill, don’t pay any attention to what Mrs. Kneberg says about the Hiwassee River always being the dividing line between the Creeks and Cherokees. She started a long tradition, continuing to this day, of anthropologists refusing to look at maps. As late as 1717, there was a French fort at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers. All of the Little Tennessee River at that time was Muskogean and the Cusates (Upper Creeks) occupied all of the Tennessee River up to Knoxville. The Choestua Yuchi town that was massacred was in Clay County, NC not Tennessee. The survivors moved to southern Union County, where Choestoe Community is now. Choestua is Uchee (Yuchi) for Rabbit Clan. There were a lot of Uchee villages with that name.


    Just when you thought the case on the origin of atleast the Cherokee name was closed ….

    Perhaps semi-sarcastically or it indeed happen; the people in charge of locating, mapping and naming the many native Americans and various fortune seekers from Europe and beyond must have had a difficult time distinguishing natives and newcomers with similar names which could be the case for the Cherokee.

    Ethnographer: Who are those natives and which ones are newcomers and mixed with the natives? What are those natives called again? … Cheriqué, Chiliki … no? Querreque or Chriqui? …. Arggggghhhh…. just put them all together and name them collectively “Cherokee”.

    Atleast ‘m able to imagine that could have happened at one point.

    • That could WELL be the case. There is also the Cherokee pronunciation of Zarake (Tshalagi), which means “Fire People.”

    • That’s a very interesting article, Andrew. For several years, I was the historic preservation consultant for the city of Euharlee and designed their new baseball stadium. They keep on telling folks that Euharlee is a fanciful Cherokee word. It is not. It is a word in the Southeast Georgia dialect of Creek. Euharleee means “Water – Slow -Place of.” In other words, it is at the location where both the Etowah River and Euharlee Creek changed from being fast moving white water streams to meandering streams.

      Thanks for contributing this article.

      Richard T.


    The dancing is similar to mountain clogging here in Western NC/East TN region. On 5 maps I have found from 1625-1705 there is a place about latitude 36 degrees North and longitude 85-90 degrees W that is named Chalaque/ Chalaqua. Are you fimiliar with this? The cooridinates are close to Sullivan Co. TN and the Little Moccasin Gap there that heads on to Cumberland Gap. This part of an ancient Native American trail intersection.


    Richard, Many years ago I read that the people called by others “Cher-okee” or “Cher-ra-ke” walked for a long time, built boats and sailed across the Atlantic to an island by South America, then left and made it to South America, from South America migrated to Central and then to North America.
    The Cha-cha-poyas of “Paru” were perhaps the same as the “Chiska” or (Chiskua) who were called “very white skinned people” by Pedro De Cieza De Leon 1530’s… so yes I do think the Cherokee are a mixed people that migrated to the South. The Kingdom of the Apalacha had many peoples: Apalache, Chiskua, Shawnee, Tokah, Itza, Maya, Sioux “Lakota trail”, Nordic or Celtic people as well. One part of the Kingdom was called “A-cha-la-ca” by the Para-ku-sis nobles in the 1650’s.
    The Egyptian “Shen” symbol as in “Goshen” means encircle.

    • Mark,

      What you were exposed to was the Uchee Migration Legend in which someone co-opted into being Cherokee. People, who are 1/640th “something” but self-styled Cherokees, often equate anything Native American to being Cherokee. One website has pictures of the bloggers trip to Etowah Mounds and labels everything there, Cherokee.


        Richard, Thank you for your articles. When William Bartram spoke with the Cherokee in the 1700’s they stated they didn’t build the temple mounds in Eastern Tennessee when he visited them. On one of the mounds was a great circular building that also fits the description of a building at Tuckabatchee and those Chiefs also did not know who build some of that city. In any case, both the Cherokee of Eastern Tenn. and Tuckabatchee city of Alabama had the same style of buildings (Long rectangular log buildings in some cases 2 story high) and Both the Creeks and Cherokee have a connection with the “Tokah” people. Most likely they were the same people that are called the Toltec’s that migrated to the South. Both the Creeks and the Cherokee are a confederation of peoples.


    I just wrote yesterday to this website about my Cherokee ancestry, South American Indian DNA and Turkey Armenia DNA . I have done a lot of research on my family and I think I can shed some light on Cherokee History. Well, there was a young man who came to America from Devonshire England to Jamestown Virginia about 1627 and was on the Jamestown census in 1628. His name was Thomas Pasmere Carpenter. He was under 18 and was not allowed to buy land in the New World and lived in a cave on Hoggs Island outside of Jamestown. Hogg Island was a swampy , bug infested place that the Indians nearby hunted on. Well, he met and married about 1630 in a Shawnee village in Virginia to a Shawnee girl by the name of Pride Cornstalk who was also a Powhatan. They left Jamestown and started the Cherokee Nation from a mixture of outcast people of all races. They started this tribe in Running Water Village in Tennessee. Thomas Pasmere Carpenter and his Shawnee wife died there at Running Water. Thomas Pasmere Carpenter is buried at the Great Mound Nikawasi, Franklin N.C. Their children were Pasmere Carpenter born about 1637 in the Shawnee Village in Virginia and Amotoya Trader Tom the Elder was born about 1640 Chota at Little Tennessee River, City of Refuge and died January 1693 Overhills Tellico Tennessee and was also buried at Great Mound Nikwasi Franklin NC and he married Quatie of Wolf Clan of NE Tennessee and also married Nancy, a Shawnee woman. He had 11 children by these 2 women . His daughter Nancy married Savannah Tom and White Owls Raven, a Delaware Indian and she had son Attakullakulla and his name “Little Carpenter” comes from the Carpenter surname. Aganuntisi was another daughter of Trader Tom the Elder and she was married to Smallpox Conjures and John Beamer. Her son was Ocanostota the father of Ollie Nionee the wife of Attakullakulla. I don’t know if my genealogy goes along with what you are finding out but like you said the Cherokee History is not what the Cherokees think it is. I may have caused myself trouble but the truth needs to come out.

    • Hey Jennifer

      Personally, I don’t really get into genealogy, because all my Creek ancestors lived in the same place from the mid-1700s to the 1940s. My grandmother had a Creek first name so there is not a whole lot of mystery to the matter. However, anything that you can shed on the history of the Cherokees is badly needed.


    I need to add that the village of Chota was created as a Refuge for all tribes and all people to come together and it became known as the city of Refuge.

    • That is true. Many Virginia Indians settled there to avoid slavery.


    I find your research very interesting. I have been a south easterner all of my life and live near the Okmulgee River. My mother and her parents were born and raised in Jackson County in North Alabama and also their families going back to Chief Blackfox. Blackfox lived at the Tennessee River near what is now Blount and Marshall counties which those counties were broken off from Jackson County AL. Sequoyah lived in Jackson County too. They were both Chickamaugans under Dragging Canoe.


    Richard T, Here is something you might find interesting and helpful to your Cherokee research.

    In the Caucasus region you can find the Russian Karachay-Cherkess Republic.

    Quote: “The Karachays (Къарачайлыла, Qaraçaylıla) are a Turkic people descended from the Kipchaks, and share their language with the Kumyks from Daghestan. In Turkic, “Karachay” means “Black River”.

    Source / Links to maps of Karachay-Cherkess Republic:

    • Karachay is another name for the Circassians. The original Sequoyah syllabary was almost identical to Circassian Medieval Script. How about them thar apples? LOL


        With all the evidence: DNA, similar script, similar names etc. isn’t it obvious by now; in other words put the Cherokee origin to rest and accept; that the Cherokee are Caucasians descendants of a Turkic and Middle Eastern People?

        People could go on and on trying to figure out where the word or name and origin of the Cherokee came from while they already have the evidence and answer.
        All the DNA different from the Turkic – Middle Eastern lineage are people who were addopted into the Cherokee nation.
        Those other people are descendants of a freedman; Irish, Africans; and people of various native Americans tribes.


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