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Yuchi, Euchee or Uchee . . . which is correct?

Yuchi, Euchee or Uchee . . . which is correct?

Notice something odd about the map above?   The archaeological zone is located at the confluence of Uchee Creek with the Chattahoochee River, but  archaeologists and National Park Service employees called this historic site, Yuchi Town.   So is Yuchi the correct word for this ancient ethnic group in the Southeast? 

Nope . . . their name for themselves is Tsoyaha, which roughly means “Children of the Sun”.   The Tsoyaha believe that their ancestors crossed the Atlantic Ocean from the “Home of the Sun” in ancient times.  Their boats arrived on the South Atlantic Coast near Savannah and Midway, GA.   When they arrived, there was no one living there.  The aboriginal peoples had moved southward.  Only the Algonquians lived in eastern North America at that time.

Here are the etymologies for the other names for this ancient tribe in the Southeast:

Uchee or Uche –  This is a word used by all Spanish and British Colonial Archives, plus the state officials of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.  It is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek word Ue-si, which means “Offspring from Water.”   “Ue” is also the Savannah River Tsoyaha word for “water” so this version is a little more correct.    I have found that contemporary academicians have often changed this word to Yuchi when including colonial archives in their professional papers and books.  It is not really clear why they do this, without informing the readers.

Ogeechee – This is the word used by British Colonial officials for the branch of the Tsoyaha, who lived on the Ogeechee River.   Ogeechee is the Anglicization for the Itzate (Hitchiti-Creek) word for the Tsoyaha, Oka-si.  It also means “Offspring from Water.”

Oconee – This word was used for the hybrid Tsoyaha-Creek People, who lived on the Oconee River in Georgia.  It is the Anglicized version of the Arawak name for the Tsoyaha, Oka-ni,  and also means “Offspring from Water.”   This is why the Spanish mentioned an Oconi tribe living in and around the Okeefenokee Swamp, who maintained a large temple  to the sun god with priestesses on Billy’s Island in the Okefenokee Swamp.

Ocute –  This was the Spanish spelling of the name of the hybrid Tsoyaha-Creek People living on the Oconee River.  The actual Itzate word is Oka-te, which means “Water People.”

Hogeloge, Hogelogi or Tchogelogi – This is a name for the Tsoyaha branch that live in Southeastern Tennessee and western North Caorlina.  The word is Algonquian, but its meaning is unclear.

Ustanauli, Ustanagi (GA) or Yustanaga (Spanish Florida) – This is the name of a hybrid Tsoyaha-Shawnee People, who lived on the Upper Savannah River and along the Suwanee River in northern Florida.  Other than using the Algonquian word for Tsoyaha as its root and either the Huastec or Shawnee suffix for “people” at its end, the full meaning of the word is unclear.

Yuchi –  This is the Anglicization of the Shawnee and Cherokee word for the Tsoyaha – Yutsi.  Yuchi received little use until the 1890s, when Smithsonian Institute ethnologist, James Mooney, used this word in his articles about the Cherokees.   John Swanton, an ethnologist, who worked for the Smithsonian Institute during the first half of the 20th century used Mooney’s name for the tribe, since it was what was printed in Smithsonian documents.   Subsequent generations of anthropologists and historians utilized Swanton’s book as their “bible.”   Eventually, the name became predominant in academic circles.

Euchee –  This is another version of the Anglicization of the Creek word, Ue-si, which means “Offspring from Water.”  This spelling first appeared on the North Florida frontier in the early 1800s. It the name that Tsoyaha living in Oklahoma call themselves today.

 

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.

3 Comments

  1. csmoke@webound.com'

    Euchee is what my g-aunt called herself in 1920 Oklahoma, but she only had 2nd grade education and someone else probably writ it for her. At that time Euchee in “sign” , meant children of the sun .. from far away.

    At a green corn ceremony in OK, I asked a top dog if they were the Oconee water people and they said no. I think they did not know or did not want to talk about it. Too many snows have fallen.

    Richard, thanks mucho for posting your information,…everything (!) fits perfect with the places etc. what little I do know.

    Reply
    • Yes, the Oconee had a Muskogean elite and a Uchee commoners. The elite lived in fortified compounds. I will do a short article.

      Reply

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