Sunday, October 27, 2013

Chota, the City of Refuge, The Birthplace of Nanye'hi Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, and the Name of My Dog

Chota . . . the Cherokee town of refuge under a Tennessee lake 

July 12, 2011

By welcoming refugees from throughout eastern North America, Chota grew to become known as the Cherokee “metropolis” in the mid-1700s. Chota’s story is often a forgotten chapter of American history.
KNOXVILLE, TN – ( – In the foothills of the Smoky Mountains in eastern Tennessee, the Little Tennessee River plunges out of a gorge in the Great Smoky Mountains into beautiful Lake Tellico. Beneath the indigo blue waters of Lake Tellico, 600 years ago, thrived an advanced Native American culture. The lower Little Tennessee River Valley was one of the most densely populated regions north of Mexico at that time. When the Hernando de Soto Expedition as it passed through the valley in 1541, it was under the government of the enormous town of Kusa in what-is-now northwestern Georgia.
Native American town names recorded show that its residents spoke several languages: Koasati, Itsati (Hitchiti-Creek), Yuchi, Mvskoke (Muskogee-Creek) Alabama and Chickasaw. However, the polyglot population seemed to get along well with each other. The Spanish chronicles do not mention any feuds between towns. Perhaps the towns tolerated annual tributes to the capital of Kusa because of the blessings of peace that its large army provided. The Province of Kusa was approximately 400 miles (840 km) long.
In the late 1500s, plagues caused by European pathogens swept through the Southern Highlands. Many of the towns were abandoned. Anthropologists suspect that the region’s population dropped by 90-95% because of this biological holocaust. When French and English explorers visited the upper Tennessee Valley in the late 1600s, only a few of the towns mentioned by the Spanish in 1541 were still occupied. These included Tali, Tanasi and Taskeke. There is a pre-Spanish mound at the Chota archaeologist site. This suggests that Chota may have been one of the towns visited by the Spanish, but had a different name at the time,
Chota, the town of refuge
In 1660 the Virginia House of Burgesses institutionalized human slavery and made vulnerability to enslavement to be based on race. Only Native Americans and Africans could be held in bondage. The economic and legal status of Virginia’s surviving Native Americans soon deteriorated precipitously. Unpaid debts could quickly result in perpetual slavery. Native American slavery spread to the Carolina’s when Charleston was founded in 1674. By 1710, Native American slaves composed 20% of the population of Charleston. The vast majority of Native American slaves were shipped to Caribbean sugar plantations, where they usually died within two years. It has been estimated by anthropologists that at least 600,000 Southeastern Native Americans were enslaved. Probably, almost as many died in slave raids. The Native American slave raiders typically killed all adult males, plus anybody who could not walk hundreds of miles to the coastal slave markets.
In small parties, consisting of unrelated individuals or families, the American Indians of Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina escaped actual or potential slavery by fleeing into the mountains. Escaped slaves traveled far enough to be out of range of the hated slave catchers. These travels often put them in the Tennessee Valley. Chota’s population had been decimated by past plagues, so it welcomed new residents. The addition of American Indians of Algonquian, Siouan and Yuchi heritage changed the character of Chota. Many of these newcomers could also speak English, which was an advantage in trade.
Origin of Tennessee’s name: In 1679 an expedition headed by Robert Holder was sent by the Governor of Carolina to open up trade with the Tanasa-ke (Tanasqui in the de Soto chronicles.) They were one of the major ethnic groups on the lower Little Tennessee River, but also had branches in the Piedmont of South Carolina and along the lower Tennessee River in Tennessee. Their capital, Tanasa Olamikko, was probably located on Bussell Island, where the Little Tennessee River joins the Tennessee River. Satellite towns of the main town of Tanasa were often called Tanasi, which means “children of Tanasa.” The word, Tanasi was also used to describe the region where the Tanasa lived.
Holder’s party passed over the Blue Ridge Mountains and then had trade talks with the native peoples of the Little Tennessee River near Chota in a village that was called Tanasi. Holder used Creek Indian guides for the journey because at that time the most of the peoples in the North Carolina Mountains spoke one of the Creek Indian languages. The Muskogee-speaking South Carolina Creek guides called the Tanasa, theTenesaw, and their province Tenesi. When the expedition returned to Charleston, the governor’s mapmaker recorded the name of the region as being Tenesee.
The first somewhat accurate map of the Southern Highlands was published in 1584. It showed the region occupied solely by speakers of the Creek, Yuchi and Shawnee languages. This continued to be the case throughout the 1600s. In the late 1600s, more accurate English and French maps (based on direct contact,) labeled the people of the Little Tennessee River Valley as speaking dialects of Creek Indian languages. These same maps showed the northeastern corner of Tennessee being occupied by Rickohocken Indians, based in SW Virginia. The Rickohockens spoke a language very similar to contemporary Cherokee.
Because Chota contained mixed-blood Indians, who could speak English, it soon became a destination point, then a headquarters of English traders. These English traders often married local women. Their children were usually bi-lingual AND had more immunity to European diseases. The village boomed.
The earliest document that labels the occupants of the Little Tennessee Valley as being “Cheraqui” was a map published in 1718 by the famous French cartographer, Guilliam DeLisle. The first English map to use the word Cherokee was published in 1725. It does not mention Chota.
A 1720 map by Dutch cartographer Hermann Moll showed the occupants of the Tennessee River downstream from the “Cheraqui” to be Koasati, Creek and Yuchi Indian allies of the French. There was even a short-lived French fort on Hiwassee Island. That situation was to change rapidly in the 1720s. Because of British encouragement, the Lower Little River towns selected a “war leader” from the town of Tanasi. His name comes down to us only as “Tanasi Warrior.”
With the help of the British, the new Cherokee Alliance was able to, one by one, capture the Koasati, Creek and Yuchi towns in southeastern Tennessee. Due to the intrigue of the English, Chief Moytoy of the town of Big Tellico was named “First Emperor of the Cherokee Nation.” Also by 1730, the Overhill Cherokees had captured all enemy towns southwestward to the Hiwassee River. However, by 1738 all of the Koasati, Creeks and Yuchi had been swept out of southeastern Tennessee as far as Chattanooga. This was the “high water mark” of Cherokee military expansion.
In 1753 the chief of Chota, Kanagatoga, became the second “Emperor of the Cherokee Nation.” The next year the Overhill Cherokees ended their four decade long war with the Upper Creeks, who were French allies. However, the French & Indian War soon started. The British and French dispatched their “client” Indian tribes against each other. Despite heavily publicized stories of a great Cherokee victory, the real history is that the Cherokees lost a third of their towns in 1754 and 1755 from Creek attacks until the British built Fort Loudon near Chota, and pressured the British-allied Koweta Creeks to stop destroying Cherokee towns.. Relations with the British soured, which eventually resulted with the garrison being massacred. The Overhill Cherokees quickly signed treaties with the British and the Upper Creek allies of the French, to effectively take their people out of this disastrous war.
Chota continued to be the most important Cherokee town for the next three decades. Most of the Cherokee towns were destroyed in the American Revolution and the Cherokee Chickamauga War that followed. Cherokee refugees streamed out of the mountains into the Tennessee Valley. Many settled around Chota. Few, if any, residents of Chota were among the Chickamauga renegades, but the town was burned, nevertheless, by Colonel John Sevier’s Tennessee Volunteers in 1784. Chota was rebuilt in the late 1780s, but never was its former size. By the late 1790s, the bulk of the Cherokee People were moving down into their new lands in northwest Georgia. In 1798, there were only five houses at Chota. It was during this period that the famous Cherokee scholar, Sequoyah, spent part of his youth in a cabin near Chota. That part of Tennessee was sold by the Cherokees in 1819 to the United States government.
Meaning of the name “Chota”
The original name of the village of Chota was Itsati. Chota appears to have originally been a “nickname” for the village. Later, when the town became a mother town, it was known as Echota. Most Cherokee sponsored history web sites either state that origin of the word, Chota is unknown, or else, it is a corruption of Itsati.
Cherokees tend to be unaware of how relatively late, there was such a thing as “Cherokees” in Tennessee, or the preponderance of Creek Indian place names that were incorporated into their language. State sponsored web sites typically give the impression that the Cherokees were in the Tennessee Valley for hundreds of years, and also erroneously state that Tennessee is a Cherokee word.
Itsati is the name that the Hitchiti-speaking Creek Indians call themselves. It is pronounced, It-jsha-tee. In English, Itsati means Itza People – referring the Itza Maya ancestors of that branch of the Creek Indians.
Chota is the Itsati word for “frog.” The site of Chota was a flat island in a wide expanse of marshes. This would certainly be a likely place for frogs to live.
The town name, Echota, displays a grammatical form used by the Itza Maya in Central America and theItza-ti Creeks in the Southeastern United States. “E” front of the word means “important.” The capital of a province would often have an “E” in front of the province’s name. Another example of this grammar is found in the De Soto Chronicles. The capital of the Itsati Province of Chiaha was recorded by the Spanish as beingYchiaha.
An alternative explanation of Echota has been proposed by a Yuchi scholar, David Woktela, who theorizes that it meant “sacred fire tobacco” and would have been written in the English alphabet as Ici-tso-tal.
Getting to the site of Chota
The actual location of Chota is now under Lake Tellico. However, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indianshas constructed a beautiful park and memorial to honor Chota. To reach the memorial from Knoxville, take I-40 West to I-75 South, exit I-75 onto Tennessee State Highway 72 East and follow to Vonore. Turn left on U.S.411 North and follow to Right Turn on Hwy 360 at Traffic Light. Continue on Hwy, 360 to the Sequoyah Birthplace museum and thence onto the Chota Memorial.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Light Horse in the Indian Territory and Their Involvement With James, Tom Starr and other Starrs


The term "light-horse" is a familiar one in connection with Light-Horse Harry,  a nickname conferred upon General Henry Lee, because of the great rapidity of his cavalry movements during the Revolutionary War. This expression was a common one in the Indian Territory where the Five Civilized Tribes were equipped with a body of men known as the "light-horse,” who served as a mounted police force. The name appears frequently in the law books of the different nations as acts were passed directing the organization of such bodies of men to carry out the laws, the length of terms they were to serve, the funds appropriated to pay for their services, the number of men in each body and the captains who commanded them. The light-horsemen were given considerable latitude in enforcing the judgments of the court as much reliance was placed upon their discretion.

On February 23, 1839, Hon. A. H. Sevier of Arkansas delivered a speech in the United States Senate in which he quoted the Reverend Isaac McCoy who in writing of the Choctaws had asserted that two judges belong to each of the four districts in their nation west in the Indian Territory, and that "Two officers, denominated light-horsemen, in each district, perform the duties of sheriffs. -1 company of six or seven, denominated light-horsemen, the leader of whom is styled Captain, constitute a national corps of regulators, to prevent infractions of the law, and to bring to justice offenders."'

"In 1808 the chiefs and warriors of the Cherokees passed an act appointing regulators, who were authorized to suppress horse stealing and robbery, to protect the widows and orphans,' and kill an- accused person resisting their authority.  These regulators were evidently the forerunners of the light-horsemen.
Major George Lowery who was born at Tohskeege in the old Cherokee Nation about 1770, was a captain of one of the first companies of light-horse appointed to enforce the laws in 1808 and 1810. He was one of the most useful and distinguished members of the "Old Settler" faction; he held several tribal offices and served as assistant principal chief for many years. He died October 20, 1852 and was buried in the Tahlequah cemetery.

In November, 1845 the Cherokee Advocate was aroused over articles appearing in western Arkansas newspapers regarding the killing of James Starr and Suel Rider. One whole page in the edition of September 27 was devoted to the subject. In a long letter signed "Citizen" the case was set forth in the following words:
. . . . If the killing of Starr and Rider is a party affair, and we see how anxious their friends wish it to be so understood, they certainly will admit that all the murders and outrages committed by the Starrs and their connections was also a party affair. It is a bad rule that does not work both ways.
Now are those who have fled across the line are any of them prepared to say that the murder of Charles Thornton was a party move? Was the recent and inhuman butchery of Crawford and A-to-la-hee, and the attempt on Mr. Meigs' life and the burning of his residence a party affair? It is well known that the perpetrators of these and numerous other crimes belong to the "Treaty party," but the authorities of the Nation and the people have never held the party responsible, nor do they now. It is a miserable expedient of reckless men to subserve sinister purposes at the expense of the Peace and character of their own race . . . . When did the Treaty party or those who now claim so much for them of right, purity, and protection, ever attempt to aid in the arrest of the notorious bandit who had long escaped.

 General Matthew Arbuckle from his Headquarters, 2d Military Department at Fort Smith wrote to Acting Chief George Lowery on November 15, 1845 that he had "received intelligence of the recent commotion in the Flint District of your nation." He had sent Major B. L. E. Bonneville, "an officer of rank and experience to the scene of the disturbance and he learned from his report . . . . that the murder of Starr and Rider, and the wounding of two of Starr's sons, and the consequence of disturbance in the Cherokee nation, have resulted, directly or indirectly, from Resolutions of the National Council, or orders issued in pursuance thereof.

It appears from the evidence in my possession (acknowledged to be correct by the Captain and Lieutenant of the Light Horse Company which committed the murders,) that no resistance was made on the part of any of the victims; in fact, nothing was done in the remotest degree to justify these outrageous proceedings. That a lad of 12 or 13 years of age, was pursued and dangerously, if not mortally wounded, proves that the Police must have had some other object in view besides the vindication of the laws. Agreeably to the law, Resisting or aiding, or abetting &c., only authorized the Light Horse to take violent measures. No resistance was offered, yet the Light Horse went to the extreme of committing murder, in violation of the very law of the nation, under which they claimed to be acting . . . . .

The result of these proceedings has been to drive from their homes more than 100 men. From the reckless proceedings of the Light Horse, or Police, they fear, I think very justly, to return, having no guarantee, however Innocent they may he, that they may not fall victims, like their friends, to the illegal and savage acts of an armed and irresponsible body . . . . .

After a scathing diatribe against the affairs in the nation, Arbuckle continued:
The Light Horse must be disbanded at once, and the persons concerned in the murder of James Starr and Rider, arrested. Nothing short of this would he becoming a country of law; the guilty individuals must be tried for murder; otherwise the Cherokees must cease to think they lived under a government of law.
The peace of the Cherokee nation must be secured; . . . . I have already sent a company of Dragoons to the disturbed District, for the purpose of preserving order . . . . . I desire you will submit this communication to the National Council, and inform me, as soon as may he, of the measures taken to secure peace to the nation.

Acting Chief Lowrey, on November 26, 1845 addressed a letter to Colonel *James McKissick, Cherokee Agent, in which he wrote: . . . . The information communicated to Gen. Arbuckle, must have been entirely exparte and incorrect, to have authorized the harsh terms in which his letter abounds. There is no wish on our part to enter into a correspondence or controversy with the Gen. on the subject, and we are content to pursue the hitherto usual and long established medium of communication through the U. S. Agent.

The object, therefore, of this, is to furnish you with sound information as may be deemed necessary in vindication of the punishment? . . . .

This information was extracted from the Chronicles of Oklahoma in the Library of OK State.