Understanding the Apalache, Itsate, Seminole and Apalachicola
European visitors to Southern Highlands in the late 1500s and 1600s said that the elite wore brightly colored clothing, while the commoners generally wore clothing made out of coarse tan cloth, deer skin, fur or feathers. Itsate and Apalache elite women wore elaborate hair styles, reminiscent of the Mayas. Their appearance was quite similar to 19th century paintings of the Seminole People in Florida. Apalache men and women also wore conical straw hats like those seen today in certain areas of the Andes Mountains and Upper Amazon Basin.
News: Sanborn, the United States oldest map company in the United States and also now, the largest LIDAR company in the world, is providing the People of One Fire with free LIDAR analysis software and access to the millions of maps in their library. This is going to put our research at the cutting edge of technology. We will be able to create three dimensional, virtual reality images from LIDAR scans.
During the mid-20th century the Seminole People were featured in a series of movies and TV programs then promptly forgotten by Hollywood. Typically, they were stereotyped as mysterious, skulking savages, who would appear out of the Florida swamps without warning to scalp fine, young American soldiers or innocent civilians. Some movies even portrayed the Seminole men wearing Sioux war bonnets. Anthropologists briefly pondered the traditional clothing of the Seminoles then determined that it was the result of ignorant savages piecing together scraps of cloth obtained from Anglo-American traders. That’s horse manure.
The fact is that the Seminoles were descendants of ancient, culturally advanced peoples and master farmers. All three Seminole wars were a direct result of intentional invasion of Seminole territory, plus destruction of Seminole towns and farms with the full intent of either driving the Seminoles and Apalachicola out of southern Georgia and Florida, or better still, exterminating them.
The most outrageous events precipitated the Third Seminole War. Soldiers and surveyors intentionally vandalized the orchards and gardens of the few hundred remaining Seminoles in Florida during 1855 in hope of forcing them into a war, they couldn’t win. These Seminoles were living in remote locations that no one else wanted, but they were prospering from selling vegetables, citrus fruits, bananas and pineapples to the new white settlers, who had no clue how to grow tropical crops.
A big change is coming
People of One Fire researchers are now making archeological discoveries in northeastern Georgia that will change the history books. Because of the scale of the discoveries, these must remain confidential for now. However, I can say that they will radically expand what is known about the heritage of the Seminole, Hitchiti (Itsate), Apalachicola, Miccosukee, Southern Shawnee and Cherokee Peoples. As stated in a previous Brainfood, some branches of the Cherokees share common ancestors with the Seminoles. The information will also affect members of the Muscogee-Creek Nation, Alabama-Koasati Tribe, Poarch Creek Tribe and several state recognized tribes, who trace their heritage to the Southern Highlands.
The new understanding of the past is so radical, that you will probably not be able to comprehend it without some background information. There were two Muskogean peoples in Southern Highlands, who built many stone structures in addition to some earthworks. Following is a summary of what we know about the Itsate and Apalache:
Itsate means “Itza People”. It is what the Itza Mayas in Mexico and many Eastern Creeks called themselves. The internal “s” of Eastern Creek, Miccosukee and Koasati words are pronounced like a Maya internal “s” – roughly a “tsh” sound. Speakers of European languages generally wrote down this sound as a “ch” or “tch.” Itsate was initially written as Echete and later Hitcheti. Words associated with Itsate can be found throughout the higher mountains of Georgia and the Little Tennessee River Valley in North Carolina and Tennessee.
One thing curious about the Itsate is that they developed towns in river valleys with mounds, while at the same time constructed large stone walled terrace complexes. There were Itsate towns with mounds in walking distance of Track Rock Gap and the other terrace complexes. The same styles of pottery can be found in both forms of community development. It is not understood why they spent so much labor stacking rocks, when river bottomlands were in close vicinity. The Itza Mayas in Mesoamerica built both earthen mounds and stone-walled terraces. However, the geography and climate is different there.
The Spanish traders, who visited the Georgia Highlands in the late 1500s called the Track Rock Terrace Complex, Great Copal, because the priests burned copal incense from the temple at the top, 24/7. The last paragraphs of “The Migration Legend of the Kashita People” mention this mountain side capital. The version of the legend that we have today called the capital, Motelet. However, this version is a result of a British translator converting a dialect of Itsate (Hitchiti) into English; that translation being converted into a dialect of German, and then that translation being converted into English again. The real name of the town was probably Notele. The Nottely flows nearby today.
At the time in the late 1600s that Carolinians first made contact with the peoples of the Southern Highlands, the Itsate occupied the high mountain passes and valleys that separate the Upper Piedmont from the Nantahala and Unaka Mountains. To the north were the provinces of the Taskeke, Taskete, Chiaha, Talasee, Konosee, Shawnee, Nokose, Tokake and a division of the Okonee, living along the Oconaluftee River. To the south, was the province of Apalache or Palache. To the west was the province of Kvse (Kusa~Coosa.) To the southeast was the province of the Ustanauli.
The Itsate elite probably spoke a dialect of Itza Maya. The provinces around them spoke hybrid dialects that mixed Muskogean or Siouan languages with Itza Maya.
All of the hybrid Muskogean-Maya provinces that were north of the Apalache, moved southward in the late 1600s and early 1700s, presumably because of conflicts with the newly arrived Charakee. However, duplicate town names and DNA evidence tells us that there were schisms in some provinces, in particular, the Taskeke, Tokake and Talasee. Some folks stayed in the North Carolina Mountains and joined the Cherokee Alliance.
The Taskegi Clan became the intelligentsia of the Cherokees. The tribal town of Taskeke in Alabama became one of the more prominent divisions of the Creek Confederacy.
The hybrid Muskogean-Maya towns initially relocated to southern Georgia and northern Florida, regions that had been depopulated by close contact with the Spaniards. In the 1600s, these provinces had been enemies of the Mvskoke-speaking provinces farther to the south. They refused to join the Creek Confederacy and became known as Seminoles (i.e. Separatists.)
The “Seminoles” became some of the most loyal allies of the British and in the late 1700s generally had friendly relations with the United States. In 1814, General/Mikko William McIntosh gave away almost all their lands to the United States in the Treaty of Fort Jackson, even though these provinces had been allies of the United States during the Red Stick War. Over the next decade, these “Seminoles” were forced down into northern Florida.
Here, the former mountaineers began to prosper again, because of their advanced farming skills. They sold livestock, vegetables and grains to towns and plantations in Georgia. They also protected runaway African slaves from Georgia slave catchers. This brought them the eternal hatred of plantation owners and the eternal respect of freed Africans. Many of the Free Africans imitated the culture and language of the Seminoles. They eventually became known as Black Seminoles.
Apalache is the Anglicization of the ethnic name, Apalasi. In contemporary Creek, it means “Children of the Light.” However, according to 17th century French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, the Apalasi or Apalasite, were extremely devoted to their invisible sun god, who was conceived as a universal deity almost identical to the YHWH of the Hebrews before the time of Solomon’s Temple. Apala was probably the name of their sun god. This is interesting, because Apollo was the Roman god of light and the sun.
In contrast to many other peoples, who congealed to become known as the Creek Indians, the Apalache were not associated with the building of large mounds. Charles de Rochefort stated that the commoners lived in towns along rivers that stretched for up to one French league (two miles long) and did not use stone in their building construction. In contrast, the elite lived in houses with stone foundations on the sides of mountains and hills, while their temples and circular shrines were built out of stone on the tops of hills and the sides of large mountains. Most of their towns were near river gorges or on the sides of mountains. This is exactly what we are finding with LIDAR – massive towns along white water rivers that stretch for one to two miles. There is no evidence of fortifications at Apalache town sites, but most use the terrain as a natural defense.
The many stone structures that once proliferated on the landscape of the Georgia Piedmont in the late 1700s are associated with the Apalache. Pioneer anthropologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. was very much aware of these ruins, and theorized that they were the product of an advanced indigenous civilization. However, many contemporary archaeologists in the Southeast have been literally “afraid” of the stone ruins, because their presence could not be explained by anthropological orthodoxy.
At the time of European Contact, the Apalache occupied the region south of Itsate, Unicoi and Neels Gaps in the Georgia Mountains. Their original territory included the region where Napier Style pottery is found. This region stretches from Brasstown Bald Mountain in the north to a few miles below Macon, GA.
According to Spanish traders, during the late 1500s, the Apalache were vassals and trade intermediaries of the Itsate based in the region around Brasstown Bald Mountain. It was the responsibility of the Apalache and their allies in the North Carolina Mountains, such as the Chiha, to keep undesirable Europeans out of the Nottely River Valley, where the Itsate priests and elite lived. This is why de Soto was guided in a wide loop around Itsapa (Place of the Itza). This is also why de Pardo was going to be ambushed if he attempted to pass through Itsapa.
Other branches of the Creek family called the Apalache, the Palache, Apalachikola or Palachikola. The famous bison vellum that told the history of the Kashita People, was written in the writing system of the Apalache. The main speaker at the presentation to General Oglethorpe in Savannah during 1735 was Chikolile, war chief of the Palachikola. The Spanish and French called the Mountain Apalache by that name, but also interchangeably used Palache or Apalatsi.
The people in Florida, now called the Apalachee were a colony of the Highland Apalache, according to Charles de Rochefort. They did not call themselves by that name, but had a town with that name. Over time, the Florida colonists developed a polytheistic society, but maintained trade and cultural contacts with the Highland Apalache. Some Apalache fled northward into Georgia and became associated with either the Creek Confederacy or the Highland Apalache.
There was a tiny village on the coast of Mississippi that called itself Palasi (Palashe.) The French wrote their name as Biloxi. Palache is the modern Creek word for the Biloxi Indians. Apparently, the Mississippi Biloxi were a small colony for the main Apalache Kingdom. However, the recorded words of the two peoples are not the same. Georgia Apalache words are a mixture of Muskogean, Itza Maya, South American and lord-knows-what-else languages.
A sometime after 1585, the King of Apalache created a confederacy that stretched from northeastern Tennessee to southwestern Georgia. It was the progenitor of the Creek Confederacy. Beginning with the arrival of a handful of Fort Caroline survivors in 1566, the leaderships of Apalache began allowing Europeans and Middle Easterners to settle in portions of their domain that were under-populated. By 1653, the King of Apalache functioned more like a pope or the Holy Roman Emperor in Germany. He was the high priest and settled disputes between provinces. The last recorded name of a king of Apalache was Mahdo . . . in the 1680s. Today, mahdo is the Muskogee word for “thank you,” It is wahdo in Cherokee.
The truth is out there, somewhere!
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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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Atlanta’s leaders are right! Don’t erase the Old South’s history. - August 15, 2017
- Update: Bronze Age research appears to be headed toward an astonishing discovery - August 15, 2017
- Very pertinent film from the Atlanta Board of Education in 1947 - August 14, 2017
- Who built the stone cairns in the Southern Highlands? - August 13, 2017
- News: Science Magazine now supports belief that most Native Americans came by boat - August 11, 2017