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Where the Uchee (Euchee~Yuchi) lived – Part Two

The drawing above portrays a village, whose footprint was discovered when the new Cherokee, North Carolina High School was built along the Oconaluftee River a few years ago. The layout of its plaza was identical 18th century Uchee towns in the Southern Highlands and to Uchee dance grounds in use today in Oklahoma, but North Carolina archaeologists declared it to be “the oldest documented Cherokee town in North Carolina.”  A model of the village was placed in the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and labeled  as such. 

No known Cherokee village ever had a round plaza surrounded by covered booths. Oconaluftee (the main river flowing through the Cherokee Reservation) is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek words, Okoni Lufte, when mean “Oconee People – Cut off.”   While being told that the Cherokees have lived on the Oconaluftee River for 10,000 years, tourists are NOT told this dirty little secret, of course.

“Cut off” was a common term in the 18th century Southeast for when a Native village was obliterated by an enemy, like a fruit cut off from a tree. The site of the Okate-Creek town, which was paired with the Uchee village , is downstream on the Oconaluftee River in the Birdtown section of the reservation. The large five-sided Okate mound was still visible until the 1980s, when a sewage plant was built at the town site.  “Cutting off” the cultural memory of the Uchee’s existence has been going on for three centuries.

Native American Brain Food

The Uchee/Yuchi/Euchee practice, at least during the colonial period, of pairing with other ethnic groups has consistently obscured their presence and caused their numbers to be underestimated by academicians. Early European explorers were typically guided by men, who spoke either Yama (Mobilian Trade Jargon) or one of Muskogean languages. The Uchee language is by reputation difficult to learn and gender specific. Therefore, when Europeans made contact with Uchees, the Uchees were usually forced to communicate in a Muskogean language. As often as not, the European assumed that they were talking to Creeks.

There are well documented examples of provinces that were composed of Uchean and non-Uchean communities. Probably the best known is Palachicola on the Lower Savannah River in present day Allendale County, SC. The Apalache of Northeast Georgia planned Palachicola as a market and religious center for a province composed mostly of Water Clan Uchee. Over the centuries the Apalache and Uchee intermarried and merged their cultural traditions, creating the unique ethnic group that welcomed the first colonists of Georgia.

Hernando de Soto’s conquistadors visited a bi-ethnic Muskogean-Uchee province on the middle Oconee River in northeast Georgia in March of 1540. They called the province and its capital, Ocute. Its Creek name was Okvte (pronounced Ō : kȁu : tē). The word means “Water People” in Itsate Creek.

De Soto’s chroniclers only recorded Muskogean words while visiting the Okvte, because they only had contact with the Muskogean elite, living in compact fortified compounds with mounds. The commoners, many of the Uchee, lived in dispersed hamlets and farmsteads.

A hybrid Uchee-Shawnee-Muskogean province was located along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains between the headwaters of the Savannah and Catawba Rivers (Northeast Georgia and the Carolinas). It was named Ustanauli. Usta is the Southern Shawnee name for the Uchee. At the presentation of the Kashita Migration Legend on June 7, 1735 in Savannah, the High King of the Upper Creeks was named Usta. The Uchee were obviously not the “slaves” of the Creeks in 1735, as now theorized by some academicians.

Determining the locations of other hybrid Uchee provinces is somewhat speculative. The Muskogean place names or tribal names of these hybrid provinces survive , but in most cases the Uchee words do not. Fortunately, some early 18th century maps actually label the Uchee villages, or local histories “remember” that there were Uchees living in that region when the first British settlers arrived.

Many of the original Uchee clans are now Creek clans with no cultural memory of their Uchee roots. However, their locations at the time of British colonization efforts tell us approximately where the aboriginal Uchee provinces were located.

There are several Uchee clans in Oklahoma and Florida, whose original locations cannot be determined by modern place names or colonial archives. Also, there were numerous Uchee trading towns scattered about the Southeast and Lower Midwest, whose names have even been lost. It is impossible to know what clans they were associated with. However, some of the larger clans can be pinpointed because the Creek or Cherokee translations of their name are mentioned in the Colonial Era archives. Ironically, most sources do not even list the Water Clan, which was by far the largest Uchee branch. One can assume then that its political structure never moved to Oklahoma.


Water Clan (Oconee, Ogeechee, Uchee, Euchee, Yuchi, Ouete)

The greatest concentration of Uchee towns and villages was located between the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers, from the Lower Piedmont to the Atlantic Coast. This is the region, where in their traditions, they originated. The Uchee Motherland contains several large mound complexes that have generally been ignored by Georgia and South Carolina archaeologists. Some of the largest complexes are in Allendale, Hampton and Jasper Counties in South Carolina, plus Taliaferro, Screven, Warren, Jefferson, Burke, Bulloch, Emanuel and Bryan Counties in Georgia.

There was an ancient Uchee Water Clan province within the environs of the Okefenokee Swamp in Southeast Georgia that was known as the Oconi to the Spaniards. Being separated from the main body of Yuchi by the immigration of other ethnic groups, these Oconee had primary trade contacts with provinces that the Spanish called the Timucua. However, as the name indicates the Oconee were an entirely different ethnic group than their trading partners.

Typical of almost all the Muskogean-Uchean provinces in the Southern Lowlands, the Uchee Water Clan also established colonies in the highlands. One was in northwest South Carolina, near the Savannah River. It was located in present day Oconee County.
Another colony was in the Smoky Mountains along the Oconaluftee River and its tributaries. The Qualla Cherokee Reservation almost exactly matches the boundaries of this long forgotten province.

Raccoon Clan  (Sawate, Sautee, Sawahatchee, Sawakee, Salkehatchie, Salketcher)

The traditional territory of the Raccoon Clan was east of the Water Clan. Raccoon Clan villages were located along the Salketcher River in South Carolina and the Broad River in Georgia. Until the mid-1700s, the Broad River was known as the Sawahatchee, which means “Raccoon River.”

Uchee descendants of South Carolina Raccoon Clan members either remained in situ or moved west to join the Water Clan. Raccoon Clan Uchee along the Broad River were caught in the crossfire between the Coweta-Creek and Cherokee alliances, when the Creek-Cherokee War began n 1715. Their Muskogean elite moved to west-central Georgia and founded the Sawokli Clan of the Creek Confederacy. Many Uchee Raccoon Clan members moved with them and thereafter became known as Creeks.

Others joined the Bear Clan members in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeastern Georgia and founded the village of Sautee, where the huge Creek town of Itsate previously stood. Sautee was a member of the Elate (Foothill People) alliance until the 1794 Treaty of New York. At this conference, the United States took most of their land and forced them to join the Cherokees, while having minimal representation in the Cherokee National Council.

Bear Clan  (Nokose, Nikase, Nacoochee, Niquasee, Nequasee, Nickajack)

In the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s there were a cluster of Native villages in the region in the Blue Ridge Mountains, especially around Franklin, NC and Clarksville, GA, with Muskogean names meaning bear or bear cub. Nacoochee and Noguchee are Uchee pronunciations of the Creek word for bear, Nokose (Nō :kō : shē)

Some were later absorbed by the Cherokees and moved westward with the Cherokees. Others moved southwestward in Georgia and became associated with the Elate Alliance.

Uchee Bear Clan members, who joined the Cherokee Alliance, often established villages name Nikase (Bear Cub) which English speakers interpreted as Nickajack. Nickajack appears as geographical names today in southeastern Tennessee and Cobb County, GA (Metro Atlanta.)

Ustanauli Clan (Houstaqua, Usta, Eastanoli, Oostanaula, Ustanagua)

The powerful province of Ustanauli at the headwaters of the Savannah River, was composed of many ethnic groups. However, the Shawnee word for Uchee, Usta, suggests that the elite or at least a majority of the population, was Uchee. Ustanauli was in contact with the French at Fort Caroline (1564-1565). The French called the province by its Arawak name of Houstaqua. They reported that its king could muster over 4,000 warriors.

Ustanauli is a classic example of the systematic distortion of Native American history that erased the Uchee. Both the 1715 John Beresford Map and the 1721 John Barnwell Map label both Tugaloo and the region around it as Hogeloge (Uchee.) In 1737, the Rev. John Wesley, James Oglethorpe’s personal secretary, described Tugaloo as a small hamlet containing about 40 Hogeloge (Uchee) men, living in the ruins of a much larger town with abandoned mounds.

In 1957, the famous archaeologist, Joseph Caldwell, excavated Tugaloo and determined that it was a large proto-Creek town that was occupied from around 800 AD to 1700 AD, when it was sacked and burned. The towns occupants were associated with the Lamar Culture. Any survivors probably moved into the southern end of Stephens County or to northwest Georgia. Here they established the town of Ustanauli at the confluence of the Coosawattee and Conasauga Rivers. They would have to move again in the early 1800s, when Cherokee leaders decided that the location would become the planned capital of the Cherokee Nation, New Echota.

A short time after the sacking of Tugaloo, a small village with simple round houses was established on the southern end of Tugaloo Island. They built simple round houses, typical of the Uchee. The southern half of Stephens County, GA, where Tugaloo was located, was occupied by Upper Creeks throughout the Colonial Period until 1785. Their capital town was Cusseta, which appears on early maps of the State of Georgia.

Yet today, state historical markers and local history web sites in Stephens County tell a very different story. They announce that the mounds at Tugaloo were built by the Cherokees around 1450 AD and that Tugaloo was the first town of the Great Cherokee Nation in Georgia. There is no mention anywhere in county publications of either the Uchee or the Creeks – even though half the county was always Creek.

There is a funny story associated with this cultural amnesia. The creator of what is probably the most popular and well-crafted Cherokee history web site lives in Stephens County. When he started the web site, he gave himself a “Cherokee” name, which was taken from a local landmark. Despite his web site containing well over a hundred translations of Cherokee words, he could never translate his own name. There is a good reason. His name is pure Creek and also was the name of a Creek town in Alabama!

A large branch of the hybrid Ustanauli people also lived along the Suwannee River in northern Florida.  Here, they are known to anthropologists by their Arawak and Spanish name of Ustanagua – which means Usta (Uchee) People in Arawak.   Florida anthropologists call them Timucuas, even though they don’t know their language and the Suwanee River was named after the Shawnee Indians.  The town of Euchee, FL is nearby.

Bobcat Clan (Kowasate, Koasati, Tchogeloge, Hogeloge, Casqui, Caskenampo)

The Bobcat Clan originally controlled much of the Upper Tennessee River and Cumberland Highlands. By tradition, Hogeloge is said to be an Algonquin name. However, no scholar, including John Swanton, has ever come up with a translation of the word. If the word is indeed Algonquin, it suggests that the Uchee in this region originally paired off with the Shawnee, then later became paired with an Itsate Creek elite.

Until the mid-1700s, the Upper Tennessee River was either known as the Caskenampo or Hogeloge River. The name Caskenampo reflected the Muskogean component of the Bobcat Clan, while Hogeloge reflected is Uchee component. Caskinampo means “Many Warriors” in Koasati and Itsate Creek.

The Middle and Lower Tennessee River was known as the Callimaco River until after the American Revolution. This is an Itza Maya word, meaning “House or Throne of the King.”

The Koasati are descended from the Muskogean elite of this Uchee province. Their name is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek word Kowasa-te, which means “Bobcat People.” Whereas, at the arrival of the Cherokees, the Uchee component of their province generally fled southward into the lands of the Bear Clan Uchee along the Upper Savannah River, the Kowasti stood their ground and became allies of the French. Their capital was on the Little Tennessee River at Big Island and was known as Caskenampo on 17th century maps.

The 1715 John Beresford Map showed the Cusate (Upper Creeks) still occupying Bussell Island and the Little Tennessee River. This map shows a French fort and two villages on Bussell Island. That fact has been completely left out of the Tennessee history books. Tennessee students are taught that after 1600 the region was “Cherokee.” The Beresford Map shows the Cherokees at that time located far to the north on the Holston River. However, by 1725, the Cherokees had captured lands along the Upper Tennessee River down to Bussell Island and the Koasati had been forced southward into northern Alabama.  Click the map below to enlarge it.


On this map the Hogeloges (Uchee) are shown to live downstream from the French fort and the Cusatees (Upper Creeks) are shown to occupy the Upper Tennessee and Little Tennessee River Valleys. The Koasati’s lived on Great Island in the Little Tennessee River. The Upper Tennessee River is labeled, Cusatee River. The Cherokee villages are show to be far upstream on the Holston and French Broad Rivers. This was the first European map to mention a word like Cherokee. Prior maps showed NE Tennessee occupied by branches of the Creeks and the Chiska.

Rabbit Clan (Chestua, Choestoe, Chestatee, Tanasi, Tennessee)

This may have been actually the Mouse Clan because the Tennessee Uchee and Cherokee word for rabbit is very close in sound to the Itsate Creek word for mouse. Rabbit makes more sense however.

The Uchee Rabbit Clan once occupied the extremely important trade route that followed the Hiwassee River (TN, NC, GA), Ocoee River (TN, GA), Nottely River (GA) and Chestatee River (GA). It was anchored by an ancient large town on Hiwassee Island, TN that the Spanish called Tanasqui. Along this route can still be found place names derived from the Uchee word for rabbit, Choestua. Chestatee is the Anglicized version of the hybrid Uchee-Itsate name Choestua-te, which means “Rabbit People.”

The rabbit is the totem animal of the Catawbas. Many Catawba scholars insist that their ancestors once lived on the west side of the Appalachians in eastern Tennessee. This cultural memory very likely remembers a paired relationship between the Uchee and Siouans of that region. The Tanasi, Tesna, Taensa or Tensaw People are normally associated with the Middle and Upper Tennessee River Basins, but early South Carolina maps also show them having a province in northern South Carolina that was allied with the Catawba.

There is a story, often repeated in history books, of a conflict in 1713 or 1714 between the Uchee town of Chestua and Cherokee towns on the other side of the Hiwassee River – supposedly in Tennessee. We only get the Cherokee side of the story so we don’t know exactly what triggered the conflict. In the late 19th century, the Cherokee elder, Swimmer, told Smithsonian ethnologist, James Mooney, that the war was started when the Uchees killed a Cherokee man after living peacefully across the Hiwasssee River from the Cherokees for a century. They then attacked the single town of Chestowee (Chestua) in revenge. However, contemporary Cherokee history sites state that the Cherokees conquered all of southeastern Tennessee in 1714.

Most contemporary history books provide the official South Carolina side of the story . . . that Indian traders Eleazer Wiggan and Alexander Long sold firearms to the Cherokees in Tennessee and agreed to buy all slaves captured, if the Cherokees would attack Yuchi towns along the Hiwassee River in present day Tennessee. The South Carolinians were seeking revenge because a Yuchi man in the town of Chestowee had cut off Wiggan’s ear after being caught cheating the Yuchi. Most texts place the location of “Chestowee” on the Hiwassee River in Tennessee. Several Yuchi towns, including Chestowee were supposedly destroyed and the survivors were marched off into slavery in South Carolina.

The Cherokee or South Carolina versions of the story are often repeated in Cherokee history web sites, Wikipedia, plus books by academicians. The authors should have looked at the maps! In 1714, the French occupied a fort at the confluence of the Tennessee and Tennessee River and all the territory between there and the Uchee on the Hiwassee River was occupied by Koasati and Upper Creeks. As can be seen above, the Cherokees couldn’t have possibly been neighbors of the Uchee for a century. They were nowhere around.

Furthermore, the Uchee town of Chestua in Tennessee continued to be shown on the maps for several more decades. The Cherokees did not conquer all of Southeast Tennessee in 1714. Chestua, Tennessee was not “cut off.” It was in Upper Creek territory until 1764, when the Upper Creeks agreed to withdraw southward from the Cherokees in order to create a buffer between the two peoples. It should be remembered that the Cherokees requested that the British build Fort Loudon on the Little Tennessee River in 1755 to protect them from attacks by the French-allied Upper Creeks living on the south side of the Hiwassee River.

Uchee Rabbit Clan villages were massacred in 1713 and 1714, but their probable locations were along the Upper Hiwassee River in North Carolina and Georgia. However, some of the Rabbit Clan survived. A Uchee village named Choestoe on maps continued to exist at the headwaters of the Nottely River in southern Union County, GA until 1838. Of course, local histories call it a Cherokee town.

Frogtown: There was also a Uchee village in nearby northern Lumpkin County, GA, which has been mistakenly labeled Cherokee. It controlled the vital trade link between Choestoe and the headwaters of the Chestatee River. Throughout the 1700s, the Cherokees derisively called the Highland Uchee, the Frog People (Ani-Wolosi or Ani-walasi). The earliest maps of the State of Georgia show a village named Frogtown on the trade route between Choestoe and the headwaters Yahoola Creek, a major tributary of the Chestatee River. Yahoola is a Creek word, so there were obviously still Creeks living around Dahlonega at that time.

Late 19th and 20th century historians saw the word Frogtown. Not knowing that this was the common Cherokee name for the Uchee, they assumed that it was a Cherokee village then changed its name to Walasi-yi (Place of the Frog) – a name that was never used on maps of the Cherokee Nation. Yet again, the Uchees were “cut off” from history.

From 1785 to 1838 official maps of the State of Georgia only used Creek or English names for Indian village in the Nacoochee Valley. The 1810 Sturgis Map of Georgia used the Creek word for bear, Nocose, for Yonah Mountain. This is primary evidence that even in this late date, the occupants of this area were ethnic Creeks and Uchee - not Cherokees - even though they were officially in the Cherokee Nation. Chota means "Frog" in Creek. This fact strongly suggests that all the "Cherokee lore" now put into local tourist brochures were the product of White Men, not the Native people, who actually lived there. In 1820, the village of Nokose sold its land to a group of families in Burke County, NC and moved to the Creek Nation in Alabama. However, the Eastern Band of Cherokees labels the Nacoochee Mound as "A Sacred Cherokee Heritage Site."

From 1785 to 1838 official maps of the State of Georgia only used Creek or English names for Indian village in the Nacoochee Valley. The 1810 Sturgis Map of Georgia used the Creek word for bear, Nocose, for Yonah Mountain. The Cherokee word for bear, Yonah, was not applied to this mountain until a couple of decades after all Native peoples were gone. This is primary evidence that even in this late date, the occupants of this area were ethnic Creeks and Uchee – not Cherokees – even though they were officially in the Cherokee Nation. Chota means “Frog” in Creek. This fact strongly suggests that all the “Cherokee lore” now put into local tourist brochures, including a couple of Cherokee names applied to local mountains, were the product of White Men who later settled there, not the Native people, who actually lived there. In 1820, the village of Nokose sold its land to a group of families in Burke County, NC and moved to the Creek Nation in Alabama. Had the Cherokee tribal government in NW Georgia considered this land, Cherokee, it would have forbidden the sale. However, the Eastern Band of Cherokees now labels the Nacoochee Mound as “A Sacred Cherokee Heritage Site.” A comprehensive investigation by University of Georgia archaeologists in 2004 could find no Cherokee artifacts in the village around the Nacoochee Mound.

A little known fact is that there were Rabbit Clan Uchee hamlets in the rugged Cohutta Mountains of Glimer and Towns Counties, GA and Polk County, TN until at least 1911. These were the last traditional Native American communities in the states of Georgia and Tennessee.

Uchee men cut firewood and hauled copper ore for the copper mines in Copper Hill, Tennessee. About 15 years later, the US Forest Service quickly acquired their remote farmsteads because they lacked legal titles to the properties. Most of these Uchee moved to the Snowbird Cherokee Reservation in Graham County, NC, where they retain their separate identity and physical appearance to this day.

Deer Clan

Little is known about the Uchee Deer Clan, because it was almost completely absorbed by the Creek Confederacy via the arrival of Raccoon Clan members in their territory during the early 18th century. Thus, their descendants would today be members of the Sawakli Clan in Oklahoma.

This clan lived along the Flint River in west-central Georgia. It was associated with ancient complexes of stone cairns and enclosures.

Duck Clan

This once large clan lived along the Duck River in central Tennessee. Since no one can explain the origin for this river’s name, most likely it is the English translation of its Uchee name. The Uchee of this region are strongly associated with the Old Stone Fort in Manchester, Tennessee. It is quite likely that their ancestors were its builders.

The Uchee of the Duck River Basin were almost annihilated by Native American slave raiders in the late1600s and early 1700s. Because they did not sign treaties with either Great Britain or France, they were “fair game” by the major tribes, allied with both of these European powers. The last Uchee villages in this region were apparently allied with the Shawnee. When the Cherokees and Chickasaws attacked the region around 1710, the remaining Uchee had the same fate as their Shawnee neighbors, either being killed, sold as slaves to the British in South Carolina or fleeing northward into Kentucky.

Them Uchee fellers jest can’t get no respect.

In Part Three, we will discuss alternative theories concerning the origin or origins of the Uchee, plus describe the unique architectural and town planning traits that distinguished Uchee communities.

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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.

1 Comment


    Is it still held as gospel truth that Euchee language is an isolate? I have also searched in vain for a language family tree of North America that links the different families, and I have found none. The closest is the linking of the Athabaskan languages with the Yenesian languages of Siberia, of which only one, Ket, survives. Still, not a single family tree of languages for North America…


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