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What Creek leaders, legends and languages said about the Apalachee and Apalachicola Peoples

What Creek leaders, legends and languages said about the Apalachee and Apalachicola Peoples

Part Six of the series

Horse Manure in the History Books

The box that we found in Lambath Palace in April 2015 contained much more than the long lost original copy of the “Migration Legend of the Kashita People.”   There was the original complete transcription of High King Chikili’s speech to the leaders of Savannah on June 7, 1735.  The box also contained migration legends of other divisions of the Creek Confederacy, plus eyewitness accounts of Creek ceremonies and customs, such as the Green Corn Festival.  Three major divisions of the Creek Confederacy stated that their ancestors came by water from the south and founded their first town where Savannah is today.  The Uchees stated that their ancestors came by water from across the Atlantic and settled on the Georgia Coast.

Even though by then, the indigenous peoples in the new Colony of Georgia had experienced stark cultural changes, they still differed remarkably from the Muskogee Creeks now living in Oklahoma.  In fact, when I first published excerpts from those documents, I received several angry emails from Oklahoma Creeks, accusing me of trying to change “THEIR” history.  Several leaders still had pure Itza Maya names, and one who visited London in 1734 even had a flattened forehead and Yucatec Maya features.  However, it appears that Creeks by then often didn’t know the meanings of their names, just like today, most English first and family names can’t be translated with a modern English dictionary.

Within the recorded conversations between the Creek leaders and officials of the Province of Georgia, such as James Oglethorpe and Thomas Christie, are tantalizing details that radically change our understanding of the peopling of the Lower Southeast.  The Istate (Echete-Hitchiti), Koweta, Tokahpasi (Tuckabachee) and Palachicola (ApalasiKora) were major divisions of the new Creek Confederacy and thus were frequently mentioned.   These comments also enabled me to trace back the ethnic origins of these words.

jean-ribaultThere is one other fascinating comment from the first time that Mikko Tamachichi and General James Edward Oglethorpe walked across the virgin landscape that was to become Savannah in early 1733.  It totally negates the current assumptions by many academicians that Chicora was in South Carolina and Fort Caroline was in Florida.   The Creeks remembered when Jean Ribault sailed up the Savannah in 1562 to meet with the high king of Chicola (French version of word).  Well, they didn’t remember his name, but they remembered that he was a Frenchman with a bushy red beard!

 The Late 1500s

As stated in the previous article in this series,  the chroniclers of the De Soto Expedition (1539-1543) did not mention Apalache or Apalachen after the expedition entered the present state of Georgia in February 1540.  The first direct contact with the Highland Apalache people probably occurred in 1564 when Fort Caroline sent small trading expeditions up the Altamaha River. The territory of the Apalache was described as being in the North Central Georgia Piedmont and Mountains.  The Province of Houstanaqua (Ustanauli) occupied the drainage area of the Upper Savannah River Headwaters.The memoirs of Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Caroline, did not mention the Province of Kusa in northwest Georgia, which took front stage in the De Soto Chronicles.

Captain de Laudonnière also made another, very interesting comment, that has been completely ignored by 19th, 20th and 21st century academicians. He stated that the Chicola was the same town that the Spanish had called Chicora!   There is a very sound reason for this equivalence that will be covered in the linguistics section.  Long ago, without any justification,  South Carolina academicians placed Chicora at least 132 miles NORTH of Parris Island.  

Florida academicians place Fort Caroline on the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, FL even though there is absolutely no artifact or archival evidence for that location.  It was selected in the 1840s by a New York transplant real estate speculator, who wanted to draw attention to his land.

In 1562, when the Charlesfort garrison was established on Parris Island, SC,  Captain Jean Ribault sailed a barque southward to the royal compound of the King of Chicola.   He stated that the barque sailed about 24 miles southwestward and 17 miles inland.  That is the exact distance from the Santa Elena site on Parris Island to Irene Island in the Savannah River, if the barque traveled on the tidal river on the west side of Hilton Head Island.

In the spring of 1565,  Captain de Laudonnière of Fort Caroline sailed a barque NORTH from the mouth of the May River about 70 miles and then inland about 17 miles to meet with the king of Chicola.  This is the exact distance between the mouth of the Altamaha River and Irene Island in the Savannah River.  Irene Island is now part of the Port of Savannah, which is a mile inland from Downtown Savannah.

So . . . Chicola and Chicora were the same place and they were located at present day Savannah in the late 1500s.  The town for the commoners was located where Downtown Savannah is today.  The royal compound was on Irene Island about one mile upstream from Downtown. The location of Palachicola in 1735 was about 20 miles upstream from Savannah at the end of the tidal marshes.  Is the reader beginning to see a connection between these words?


1735 map of Savannah. Palachicola is in the upper left hand corner.

In 1587, English scholar Richard Hakluyt deposed under oath two former residents of the Colony of Santa Elena on the South Carolina coast . . . Nicholas Burgiognon and Pedro Morales. They both stated that traders based in Santa Elena had made numerous journeys to Apalache in the mountains northwest of Santa Elena.  They described the Province of Apalache as being the most prominent vassal of a kingdom in the higher mountains north of them, whose capital was on the side of a mountain . . .  sounding very much like the stone ruins at Track Rock Gap.  The Spanish named the capital, Grand Copal, because its priests constantly burned copal incense in the temple on the upper slopes of the town.  Very few Spaniards were allowed to visit Grand Copal. Several were killed while attempting to reach the capital because they had no permission to do so. In fact, several pieces of 16th century Spanish armor and weapons have been found in the vicinity of US Hwy. 129, between Dahlonega, GA and Track Rock Gap, which follows the route of the Great White Path.

The famous Creek Migration Legend

On June 7, 1735 Paracusite Chikili presented the text of a migration legend of the Kaushite People, written in the Apalache writing system, to Supervising Trustee James Edward Oglethorpe.  Chikili then read the velum, while Kvsepvnekesa (Mary Musgrove) translated his words into English. Excerpts of the Mary Musgrove’s translation appeared in London newspapers in late 1735 and then were translated into German.  The German version was translated back into English by Albert Gatschet, a German ethnologist, employed by the Smithsonian Institute. The original document was forgotten, after Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, died in 1737.   He was keenly interested in establishing missions among the Creeks and also publishing a Bible in the Creek language and writing system.

Most Oklahoma Creeks believe that the Chikili Migration Legend is about the Muskogee Creeks.  It is not.  The first part is about a band of people, who were probably related to the Toltecs, but less advanced, who fled the region around the Orizaba Volcano in western Vera Cruz, after being persecuted by a more advanced people . . . probably the Mexica (Aztecs).  After years of wandering, they ended up in southeastern Tennessee and became vassals of the Kaushi (Kusa ~ Coça ~ Coosa).  I now know that the Kaushi were one and the same as the Cusabo in South Carolina and the Kaushi or Kaushibo of eastern Peru. Kaushi means “strong or elite” in the Panoan languages of Peru. Kaushibo (Kusabo) means “Elite – Place of” in Panoan.  Kaushibo is an ethnic group in Peru even today.

Mexica codices call the tall Toltec people, who the Mexica drove out of the Orizaba region, Tekesta.  Apparently, after the refugees from Orizaba became vassals of the Kaushi, they became known as the Kaushite or “Kaushi People.” “Te” in the Itza Maya suffix for “people.”  The chroniclers of the De Soto Expedition called them, the Coste.  When the French arrived in southeastern Tennessee in the late 1600s, they called this people the Coushatta.  That name, in various forms such as Coushatta, Cusate and Cusseta have stuck to this day for all Upper Creeks.  However, the Upper Creeks in their own language call themselves, Kauche.  This word is very close in sound to the original ethnic name in Peru.

Even in 1734, the painting on the left shows that the Itsate Creeks, living in the Georgia Mountains had flattened foreheads like the Maya elite.

Even in 1734, the painting on the left shows that the Itsate Creeks, living in the Georgia Mountains, had flattened foreheads like the Maya elite.

The second part of the Creek Migration Legend follows the adventures of one band of Kaushite, who left the Tennessee Valley during a severe drought and headed up the Little Tennessee River into the Smoky Mountains.  They eventually followed the Great White Path (US 129) southward until they came to a great town on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain.  Its occupants had flattened foreheads.  The description of the mountainside town sounds exactly like the ruins a Track Rock Gap.  The wagon road that is ancestral to US 129 formerly ran through Track Rock Gap.  The townspeople would not give food to the Kaushite, so the Kaushite claim to have massacred the town.  

The Kaushite then fled the high mountains in Georgia southward, pursued by “two men”.  It sounds like they really didn’t massacre all the people at the town or at least in other nearby towns.  Why would they be running from two men?

The Kaushite next entered the lower range of mountains, the Blue Ridge, and entered the domain of a people they called the Palache in 1735.  Since this is the same location where a people named the Apalache lived in the 1500s,  it is obvious that over time, they had dropped the prefix “A.”   The Palache told the Kaushite that if they dropped their warlike ways, they could remain in the province.  From that day forward, the Palache had lived on the west side of the river and the Kaushete had lived on the east side of the river.   In 1735,  the town of Koweta was on the west side of the shoals of the Ocmulgee River in Butts County, GA and Cusseta was on the east side.  The two towns did not move to the Chattahoochee River until around 1746, after James Oglethorpe had moved back to England to fight in the Highland Uprising (War of Bonnie Prince Charlie).

Chikili’s Speech

The closing comments of the speech begin, “I Chikili, said Juana (High Priest) of the western town, was chosen to rule after the death of the Emperor Bemarin (Bream in English).  The title Juana or Huana is still used today for an in indigenous priest in eastern Peru and several other parts of the Andes. The western town refers to the town of Palachicola on the Chattahoochee River.  The eastern Palachicola was on the Savannah River.

In 1658, Charles de Rochefort used the term joana for a priest of the Apalache.  Apparently, he was converting the Spanish word, Juana, into French, without realizing that it was the Spanish attempt to write the indigenous word, Wana (in English phonetics).

Someone in academia long ago speculated that the Palachicola on the Savannah River, was a young colony of the Palachicola on the Chattahoochee River.  Apparently, this was because the Chattahoochee River becomes the Apalachicola River when it enters Florida.  There was no archaeological work or colonial archives to back this assumption up.

What instead Chikili and several other leaders, including Tamachichi (Trade Dog in Itza Maya), stated was that the Palache and the Itsate had crossed over the ocean to North America from the south.  Their first town was where Savannah now stood and the tomb of their first emperor was south of Savannah . . .  probably the Deptford Mound.  So the leader of Palachicola and now the High King of the Creek Confederacy,  stated that the Palachicola (Apalachicola) People originated where Savannah is today.  That is a game changer.

Whereas all anthropologists and Muskogean tribes are obsessed with the belief that all population movements and concepts of advanced societies went from west to east . . . thus the label, Mississippian . . . in fact the origins of advanced indigenous culture were to the south and around Savannah.  They then traveled northward and westward to the Mississippian Basin.  A more accurate label would be Savannah-Floridian or something like that.

Throughout much of Chikili’s reading of the Kaushete Migration and closing comments,  he used the words Palache and Koweta interchangeably.  This is confusing, until he stops and explains that Palache and Koweta mean the same thing.  This statement does not make sense, because Apalache was a province, while Koweta was a large town.  Perhaps in the future, we will figure out why Chikili equated these words.  In a 1734 conversation between Tamachichi, the miko of the Savannah Area and James Oglethorpe,  Tamachichi stated that Apalache and Palache meant the same thing.


Linguistics and Etymologies

Using Europeanized words to interpret the past

A consistent mistake by non-Muskogean researchers is that they assume that the English word is the same word spoken by Muskogeans and that Roman letters in Muskogean words sound the same in the Creek languages as they do in English.  The most common mistakes are as follows:

  1. A Muskogean letter C is pronounced roughly like an Italian C (CH), but the tongue touches the palate. Until recently, Europeans wrote down this sound as a “tch.”
  2. A Muskogean letter V is pronounced roughly like the English exclamation, “Ah.” Spaniards would write down this sound as either a U or A. French speakers wrote it down as Au or Ou.  English speakers would write it down as an O, U or Aw.  Thus, the Muskogees called the Ocmulgee River the Vcese, but English-speakers wrote it down as Ochesee.
  3. Muskogee S’s are pronounced like “sh” in English. Itsate (Hitchiti) S’s sound like a variety of Southern Mesoamerican S’s, Z’s and X’s . . . jzh, tsh, tch and sh in English words.  The “si” or “se” suffixes in Muskogean words were typically written by Europeans as chee, tchee, tsi or tsy.
  4. Rolled R’s – Most branches of the Creek Confederacy rolled their R’s so hard that many Europeans wrote them down as L’s. The exceptions were the Spanish and Portuguese, who also roll their R’s. Thus, when Juan Pardo was exploring the Carolinas and probably Northeast Georgia, his notary, Juan dela Bandera, wrote down the name of a village chief as Orata.  Today, the word in Muskogee-Creek means a middle level appointed official, a neighborhood leader or perhaps a foreman.   When René de Laundonnière was exploring Georgia’s Coastal Plain, he wrote down the name of a village chief as Olata.

Here is the kicker.  Orata is actually a Panoan word from Eastern Peru.  It is still used today to mean “village chief” by the Shipibo, Conibo and Caushibo Peoples of Peru.  Creeks rarely use the word today, but instead use the Maya-based title of mikko for both village and tribal chiefs.

  1. Guttural K’s – Muskogee speakers make a gk sound for what is written a K. Hitchiti speakers generally pronounce a K more like a K in English. Thus, the Creek word Mvskoke was written down by English speakers as Muscogee.

I first began trying to figure out the words Apalachicola and Apalachee ten years ago, but did not realize for several years that these were Europeanized words and so could not be directly translated.   I soon figured out that kola meant “people” in the Apalachicola, Pensacola and Chatot languages.  In Gulf Coast Choctaw, the word was okola.  In mainstream Chocataw the word was okla.

I contacted a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, who was supposed to be the leading authority on Choctaw in the world.  She explained to me that Mainstream Choctaw word, okla became the Gulf Coast Choctaw, word, okola, which became the Apalachicola word, kola, which somehow evolved into the Muskogee ke suffix.   Actually, she got it 18o degrees wrong, because she forgot, or else didn’t know, that Europeans used the Roman letter L to describe a heavily rolled Muskogean R.   The original word was kora.  It is the word for people in some parts of Eastern Peru and the Upper Amazon Basin!  Ke is from an entirely different source . . .  Southern Arawak.

The South American connection

Until reading Charles de Rochefort’s book,  I had no idea that a profound South American cultural tradition was inherited by Creek People of the 1700s.  This South American influence, combined with the Itza Maya influence, was what differentiated the four Creek languages from Choctaw.  The linguistics professors got it all wrong when they estimated the dates in which Muskogee, Hitchiti, Koasati and Apalache broke off from Choctaw.  The Creek languages were actually the products of blending several languages from the Americas . . . not Muskogee slowly mutating from Choctaw. 

The peoples of many parts of South America consume the Sacred Black Drink to this day.  In eastern Peru, they use the same word, ase, that the Creeks use.   Most South Americans, though, use the word, maté.   It is the most popular beverage in South America.  Not one North American anthropological reference states that the Sacred Black Drink of the Creeks is the same thing as maté.  Apparently,  the anthropology professors are so specialized that they don’t even know this fact.

By converting Apalachicola to its actual indigenous spelling, it become Aparásicora.  It is pronounced Ä : pä : rlä : tshē : kō : rlä. Pará is today a large state in Brazil that includes the upper Amazon Basin.  However, in ancient times it was the name of a nation that included the drainage basins of the tributaries of the Amazon River in Peru and Brazil.   The word actually means “river or ocean” in the Panoan languages of Peru.  “Si” is a Muskogean suffix from Tamaulipas State, Mexico, which means “descendants of.”  So this is the etymology of a word blended from two distinct languages.  The word means From –  Upper Amazon Basin – Descendants of – People.   Chikora and Chikola were merely nicknames for this word that developed later, when the people forgot the meaning of the original words.  

During the early 1800s, the Apalachicola Creeks were still using the word kora for people and para for river.  However, their language is extinct and Muskogee predominates in Oklahoma.

Now you know!

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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.



    What do you know about the Ticuna Tribe of the Amazon who were enslaved by Catholic Missionaries??? They are I believe part of the Arawak Language stock. And I believe this Tribe were part of the slave trade in the Caribbean and possibly southeastern United States???

    • Michelle,

      I don’t know anything about this tribe. I just got in from hiking all day. I will get back to you, if I can find some information.
      Thanks for writing us.

      Richard T.


    Hi Mr. Thornton! I am still researching Creek music, and the earliest descriptions of it. Descriptions are rare. Are the Lambeth Place documents describing ceremonies also describing the music? If so, can researchers view PDF images of the documents?

    Jimi Del Duca
    PhD Student in American Studies
    Montana State-Bozeman

    • There is no mention of Creek music in the “Creek Migration Legend” documents. However, one of the versions of the De Soto Chronicles does describe a Creek orchestra, which accompanied the Great Sun (High King) of Kusa as he went out to greet de Soto on the outskirts of the town. The chroniclers stated that they observed 32 different wind and percussion instruments. Creek music and dancing (originally) resembled that of the Shipibo People of Eastern Peru. Here is a video of Shipibo music and dancing. The girls in the dance look the same as Georgia Creek gals. I thought I was seeing a ghost. One of the dancers was identical to a Creek gal I dated in college. Here is the video:


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