Cherokee Place Names, Part 9
Bartram’s list of 43 Cherokee towns begins with those “on the Tanase east of the Jore Mountains.” Those mountains are now called the Nantahala Mountains. The Tanase is the Little Tennessee River. The four towns listed were all in what is now Macon County, North Carolina.
Tanasi, from which came the name of the river and the state of Tennessee, seems to have had no meaning in Cherokee. I tend to agree with those who believe it was originally a Yuchi town name. The Yuchi occupied a good chunk of eastern Tennessee before they were overrun by the Cherokee and apparently forced to migrate and live along the Savannah River. From there they were forced westward by the whites and eventually had to merge with the Creeks.
Let’s take a look at those four towns.
But, first, even though I have said that more than 200 Cherokee town names are recorded, we should not imagine that any such number existed at any one time. In over 400 years of contact with the whites, many towns were abandoned for one reason or another, including European diseases and encroachment by settlers. Some of the “settlements” were no more than four or five families, and very few of them would have had more than 200 families.
We have no way to know if Bartram’s list included all the towns that were inhabited at the time of his travels. However, it is likely that the most important towns made the list.
The four towns, in the order listed: Echoee, Nucasse, Whatoga, and Cowee. The sequence seems to have been from the south of [the present] Franklin, and proceeding northward.
Echoee was his attempt at putting Itseyi into English letters. Itseyi is “new place.” [See Ellijay, in Part 1, for more detail.] The town was also known as Gadug-itseyi, which translates as “New Town,” the same name as the ill-fated Newtown in Connecticut, which, sadly, is very much in the news as I am writing now on 15 December 2012. It was located near the junction of Cartoogechaye Creek and the Little Tennessee River, which explains the origin of the creek’s name. Locally, it is pronounced “Car-tooga-jay,” with the second and last syllables accented. By the way, the April 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine says that Cartoogechaye means “cornfields”; their source is way off on that one.
As one heads north on U.S. Highway 441, in Franklin, North Carolina, there appears a large and ancient mound on the left, a few hundred feet from the Little Tennessee River, some three miles north of the Cartoogechaye. Here, before the white men came, was the important Cherokee town called Nikwasi, Bartram’s Nucasse; it is sometimes written Nucassee. Now, only the mound remains.
Nikwasi has no meaning in Cherokee, and the mound was there long before they came; it was built about 1000 ACE. Perhaps, during the early 17th Century, the town belonged to one of the Creek bands. Before that, it was likely a Yuchi town of some importance. Nikwasi did not mean “center of gravity” as stated in some modern promotional writings.
In fact, until about 1700, the Creek Indians held almost all of northern Georgia and Alabama and some of the lands in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The Cherokee pushed them relentlessly to the south and west, taking their towns and keeping the names as best they could be rendered in the Cherokee language. By 1770 or so, the Creeks had lost the final battles and lands and towns to the Cherokee. The Creeks, in their turn had often preserved the names of towns and places given by still earlier inhabitants.
About four miles north of Nikwasi, by river, Watauga Creek enters the river. Somewhere on this creek was the Cherokee town of Watogi, Bartram’s Whatoga. A less important settlement in northeastern Tennessee gave its name to the community of Watauga, the Watauga River, and Watauga Lake. Who knows what long-forgotten tribe may have built the original town and named it in their own language, only to have the name distorted through a few more hands [and tongues] before it came to be Watogi? I wonder just how ancient such place names may be. [There is said to be a Creek Indian word "wetoga," from which the name may have come, but I cannot determine the accuracy of that. I understand that the Creek word may have meant "broken waters."]
And, a few miles further north, not far from Wests Mill, Cowee Creek empties into the Little Tennessee River, and the town of Kawiyi [short form Kawi'] lay near that place. In the region to the east of the river, many places bear the name Cowee. My own mother was born “up on Cowee.” The meaning of Kawiyi is uncertain, but some say it is a contraction of Ani-Kawiyi, “place of the deer clan.” Until it was burned by the whites in 1783, it was a large and important town, with about a hundred houses. It was soon rebuilt and kept until 1819, when the area was opened to white settlers. A Shawnee who had been held captive in the town for a time was reported to have declared Cowee to be the “best town of the Cherokee.”
Let’s look at a few other sites before we close Part 9.
Not far from Hayesville, North Carolina, is Shooting Creek and the Shooting Creek community. Near where the creek emptied into the Hiwassee River was the old settlement of Dani’sta-la-nv’yi, which translates roughly as “place where there were always shooting noises.” Unfortunately, the site of the town is now covered by Lake Chatuge.
The Cherokee word was too much of a mouthful for English speakers, so it became Shooting Place and that became Shooting Creek. A modern Cherokee word from the same root is Distayohi ["he shoots off firecrackers," for Santa Claus, so Christmas is Danistayohihv, "when they always shoot off firecrackers"]. Those of us who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina remember the custom used to be to make loud shooting noises at Christmas and New Year, with whatever one had by way of firearms or firecrackers or even dynamite.
There probably were only two Cherokee towns called “Estatowe” when Bartram passed through in the late spring of 1775. We have to use his spelling, because there are no better records of the Cherokee pronunciation, and I have no clear idea of the original meaning of the name. He places one of them a little below the place where the Tallulah and Chattooga Rivers form the Tugaloo. The other, which he mentions as “Estatowe great,” was on Eastatoe Creek in Pickens County, South Carolina, and the creek bears its name. We should note that the name Eastatoe also occurs in Eastatoe Falls and Eastatoe Gap, near Rosman, NC, not so very far from Eastatoe Creek and Little Eastatoe Creek. There seems to be a trend to spell Eastatoe with only one final E.
The third Estatowe must not have been in existence in 1775. There are several reports of such a town at the base of Estatoah Falls, in Rabun County, Georgia. Bartram specifically described this place as he found it after reaching the Little Tennessee River’s headwaters and proceeding downstream.
This photo is the Little Tennessee River, near its headwaters, in Wolf Fork Valley, two or three miles upstream from the confluence with Mud Creek.
He says he was “pursuing my serpentine path, through and over the meadows and green fields and crossing the river” He traveled a few miles down the river and came to “a very beautiful creek, which flowed into the river just before me; but now behold, high upon the side of a distant mountain overlooking the vale, the fountain of this brisk flowing creek; the unparalleled water fall appears as a vast edifice with crystal front, or a field of ice lying on the bosom of the hill.” The distance along the nearly straight creek from its mouth at the river to the falls is less than one and one-half miles, and it should have presented a good line of sight. I doubt that he would have failed to see any Indian settlement here and the inhabitants of it would surely not have missed his passing through. The falls are indeed beautiful. As a very small child, I lived for a time at the base of them. I am saddened that the creek has been named Mud Creek, and that there are some who have begun to refer to Estatoah as “Mud Creek Falls.”
There are those who report that Eastatoe and Estatoah are derived from the Cherokee name for the Carolina Parakeet, but I have not been able to confirm that story yet. We may surmise that all three of the towns were likely pronounced “Eestatoee” from the fact that an early name for what became the town of Dillard, Georgia, was recorded as “Eastertoy” by the whites. Bartram’s spelling of the name may have been simply his rendition of “Eestatoee.”
The photo which follows below more accurately represents the beauty of Wolf Fork Valley, just a few hundred yards from the preceding scene. There existed among the Old Cherokee a barely remembered legend of a strange race of white people who were already living near the head of the Little Tennessee River when the Cherokee first arrived, long before the white men came to America. If there is any truth in that legend, Wolf Fork Valley would have been an idyllic place in those long ago days. Now and then, we all daydream of time travel. We can only imagine the things we might learn in such voyages.
A few miles the confluence of Mud Creek and the Little Tennessee River, just across the line into North Carolina, Tessentee Creek joins the Little Tennessee from the east. Somewhere near this junction lay the small Cherokee village of Tesantee, from which the creek takes its name. We do not know what the name may have meant long ago. Later, in the 1880′s, there was a post office called Tesinta in the same area.
In White County, Georgia, is the Tesnatee Community, Tesnatee Creek, and Tesnatee Gap. I cannot be completely certain, but I feel sure that the name is related to Tessentee. The local pronunciation is “Tess-nee,” and, I hear, people living there are not always happy that the name is sometimes misspelled “Tesantee.”
Addendum: Because Cowee is such a special place, I am departing from my usual pattern in order to include two stories about it. They are taken directly from Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee, which is readily available online elsewhere; I place them here because of their connection to the town in this section. We should also point out that Tsali lived in Cowee town before the Cherokee were forced out of it in 1819. There is more information about Tsali in the Trail of Tears section.
Cowee’, properly Kawi’yĭ, abbreviated Kawi’, was the name of two Cherokee settlements, one of which existed in 1755 on a branch of Keowee river, in upper South Carolina, while the other and more important was on Little Tennessee river, at the mouth of Cowee creek, about 10 miles below the present Franklin, in North Carolina. It was destroyed by the Americans in 1776, when it contained about a hundred houses, but was rebuilt and continued to be occupied until the cession of 1819. The name can not be translated, but may possibly mean “the place of the Deer clan” (Ani’-Kawĭ’). It was one of the oldest and largest of the Cherokee towns, and when Wafford visited it as a boy he found the trail leading to it worn so deep in places that, although on horseback, he could touch the ground with his feet on each side.
There is a story, told by Wafford as a fact, of a Shawano who had been a prisoner there, but had escaped to his people in the north, and after the peace between the two tribes wandered back into the neighborhood on a hunting trip. While standing on a bill overlooking the valley he saw several Cherokee on an opposite hill, and called out to them, “Do you still own Cowee?” They shouted in reply, “Yes; we own it yet.” Back came the answer from the Shawano, who wanted to encourage them not to sell any more of their lands, “Well, it’s the best town of the Cherokee. It’s a good country; hold on to it.”
The False Warriors of Chilhowee
Some warriors of Chilhowee town, on Little Tennessee, organized a war party, as they said, to go against the Shawano. They started off north along the great war trail, but when they came to Pigeon river they changed their course, and instead of going on toward the Shawano country they went up the river and came in at the back of Cowee, one of the Middle settlements of their own tribe. Here they concealed themselves near the path until a party of three or four unsuspecting townspeople came by, when they rushed out and killed them, took their scalps and a gun belonging to a man named Gûñskăli’skĭ, and then hurriedly made their way home by the same roundabout route to Chilhowee, where they showed the fresh scalps and the gun, and told how they had met the Shawano in the north and defeated them without losing a man.
According to custom, preparations were made at once for a great scalp dance to celebrate the victory over the Shawano. The dance was held in the townhouse and all the people of the settlement were there and looked on, while the women danced with the scalps and the gun, and the returned warriors boasted of their deeds. As it happened, among those looking on was a visitor from Cowee, a gunstocker, who took particular notice of the gun and knew it at once as one he had repaired at home for Gûñskăli’skĭ. He said nothing, but wondered much how it had come into possession of the Shawano.
The scalp dance ended, and according to custom a second dance was appointed to be held seven days later, to give the other warriors also a chance to boast of their own war deeds. The gunstocker, whose name was Gûlsadihĭ’, returned home to Cowee, and there heard for the first time how a Shawano war party had surprised some of the town people, killed several, and taken their scalps and a gun. He understood it all then, and told the chief that the mischief had been done, not by a hostile tribe, but by the false men of Chilhowee. It seemed too much to believe, and the chief said it could not be possible, until the gunstocker declared that he had recognized the gun as one he had himself repaired for the man who had been killed. At last they were convinced that his story was true, and all Cowee was eager for revenge.
It was decided to send ten of their bravest warriors, under the leadership of the gunstocker, to the next dance at Chilhowee, there to take their own method of reprisal. Volunteers offered at once for the service. They set out at the proper time and arrived at Chilhowee on the night the dance was to begin. As they crossed the stream below the town they met a woman coming for water and took their first revenge by killing her. Men, women, and children were gathered in the townhouse, but the Cowee men concealed themselves outside and waited.
In this dance it was customary for each warrior in turn to tell the story of some deed against the enemy, putting his words into a song which he first whispered to the drummer, who then sang with him, drumming all the while. Usually it is serious business, but occasionally, for a joke, a man will act the clown or sing of some extravagant performance that is so clearly impossible that all the people laugh. One man after another stepped into the ring and sang of what he had done against the enemies of his tribe. At last one of the late war party rose front his seat, and after a whisper to the drummer began to sing of how they had gone to Cowee and taken scalps and the gun, which he carried as he danced. The chief and the people, who knew nothing of the treacherous act, laughed, heartily at what they thought was a great joke.
But now the gunstocker, who had been waiting Outside with the Cowee men, stripped off his breechcloth and rushed naked into the townhouse. Bending down to the drummer–who was one of the traitors, but failed to recognize Gûlsadihĭ’–he gave him the words, and then straightening up he began to sing, “Hi! Ask who has done this!” while he danced around the circle, making insulting gestures toward every one there. The song was quick and the drummer beat very fast.
He made one round and bent down again to the drummer, then straightened up and sang, “Yu! I have killed a pregnant woman at the ford and thrown her body into the river!” Several men started with surprise, but the chief said, “He is only joking; go on with the dance,” and the drummer beat rapidly.
Another round and he bent down again to the drummer and then began to sing, “We thought our enemies were from the north, but we have followed them and they are here!” Now the drummer knew at last what it all meant and he drummed very slowly, and the people grew uneasy. Then, without waiting on the drummer, Gûlsadihĭ’ sang, “Cowee will have a ball play with you!”–and everyone knew this was a challenge to battle–and then fiercely: “But if you want to fight now my men are ready to die here!”
With that he waved his hand and left the townhouse. The dancers looked at each other uneasily and some of them rose to go. The chief, who could not understand it, urged them to go on with the dance, but it was of no avail. They left the townhouse, and as they went out they met the Cowee men standing with their guns ready and their hatchets in their belts. Neither party said anything, because they were still on friendly ground, but everyone knew that trouble was ahead.
The Cowee men returned home and organized a strong party of warriors from their own and all the neighboring Middle settlements to go and take vengeance on Chilhowee and on Kuwâ’hĭ, just below, which had also been concerned in the raid. They went down the Tennessee and crossed over the mountains, but when they came on the other side they found that their enemies had abandoned their homes and fled for refuge to the remoter settlements or to the hostile Shawano in the north.
Cherokee Place Names, Part 6
Not too far away [from Warwoman Dell], near Chechero Road, is Stekoa Creek, which empties directly into the Chattooga River. It takes its name from the Cherokee village of “Sti-ko-yi,” which was built on the banks of the creek. I know of at least two other villages in North Carolina that had the same name; one of them was on the Stecoah Creek that empties into the Little Tennessee River in Graham County, NC, and nearby is the community of Stecoah. Unfortunately, the original meaning of the name is lost and no Cherokee speaker can remember it or analyze it. [I have seen some attempts to relate it to the Eastern Cherokee word <usdiga>, baby, hence Usdiga'yi, "baby place," but there are no historical references to be found to justify that speculation.]
As for Chechero Creek and Road, the name came from the Cherokee town of Chicherohe, which seems to have been somewhere on Warwoman Creek; the village was destroyed during the American Revolutionary War, and all that can be said is that it was probably inhabited by the Lower Cherokee. The name is pronounced locally as “Church-a-roe” or “Churchy-roe,” accented on the first syllable. However, this pronunciation, like so many others, is changing as newcomers gradually displace the mountain people. We have no means of knowing the original Cherokee pronunciation; only the spelling Chicherohe survives so far as I can find.
That name Chechero is one of many that I am still researching. Among others: Waleska, Chenocetah, Noontootla, and Cartecay. Waleska [or Walaska] is a name which appears on the 1835 Henderson Roll, as a resident of Georgia. Local stories say the town was named for him. I will be happy to hear from anyone who has any linguistic or more detailed historic information on these names. Incidentally, there is no Chenocetah, North Carolina, as used by Diana Palmer [of Cornelia, Georgia, where Chenocetah Mountain is located] in her novel Before Sunrise. There are stories that Chenocetah came from a Cherokee word meaning “looks all around” or the like; that is unlikely to be correct. [Chenocetah is pronounced locally as "CHIN-uh-SEE-tuh" or "CHEN-o-SEE-tah."]
An old Cherokee word for the sumac [various red-fruited species of Rhus] is talani. I now believe that Talona Mountain, just south of Ellijay, Georgia, took its name from a long-forgotten Cherokee settlement called Talaniyi ["red sumac place"], which the white people translated and wrote as “Shoemack” or “Shoemeck.” Until now, Talona had remained in my list of “Still researching” place names.
Over in Oconee County, South Carolina, on the Chauga River, near Walhalla, is the Chauga Narrows. I have heard that this is a “doozy of a destination” for whitewater rafters, with a drop of 25 feet in a 200-foot run. One source says the name Chauga is “Indian” for “high and lifted up stream.” I doubt that the Cherokee had a name for the river itself; they were more inclined to give names to places along rivers rather than to the rivers themselves. Well, the writer did get the translation partly correct; Chauga is a white man’s rendition of the Cherokee word “Tsogi,” which was probably pronounced “Chawgi” by some of the people. It simply means “upstream.” The old Cherokee village of Chagee [Tsagi or Tsogi] was somewhere on the river, exact location unknown, I have seen some respected authorities who believe the name is a rendition of “tlayku”—or its modern rendition of “dlayhga” [“blue jay”], but I don’t agree. And, by the way, the name Walhalla is not of Cherokee origin; it was so named by the original German settlers of the area.
Seven miles north of Walhalla is Issaqueena Falls. The local story, another of those creative legends not based on facts, is that Issaqueena was an “Indian Maiden” [or, sometimes, a “Cherokee Princess”] who risked her life to warn white settlers about an imminent Indian attack, or who leapt with her lover from a rival tribe to their death at the Falls. The truth is that the name is a transplanted Choctaw word [“isi-okhina,” deer creek] from Mississippi’s Issaqueena County. The legend of the warning may have some vague factual basis, but the Indian maiden’s name was not given until 1895, when she was called Cateechee in an essay. It was not until 1898 that Cateechee became Issaqueena in a poem, the duality explained by saying that Issaqueena was a Choctaw captured by the Cherokee and given the name Cateechee among the Cherokee. Both the poet and the essayist owned up to inventing the two names out of thin air, although the poet seemed to know that Issaqueena did come from the Choctaw language. So it is that there is the pleasant community of Cateechee a few miles to the northeast of Clemson, South Carolina, and a dozen miles or so east of Issaqueena Falls.
Some miles further north are Lake Jocassee and the Jocassee Gorges. An elaborate legend exists here, which manages to incorporate nearby Cheohee and Georgia’s more distant Nacoochee; it tells of another Indian maiden and star-crossed lovers. Quite possibly, the name may have some Cherokee roots, but I cannot analyze it and I know of no historical or linguistic basis for saying that it meant “place of the lost one.”
Tiger, the town and the mountain south of Clayton, are said to have taken their name from an old Cherokee man [or, more likely, a Cherokee family] who lived there, probably on or near the mountain. At some time before 1857, the district of Rabun County near the mountain was called the “Tiger District.” I have now been able to confirm that Tiger was on the 1835 Henderson Roll, he lived in Georgia, and that his wife was “Oo-tee-wa-kie”; they went on the Trail of Tears and were living in the Delaware District of the Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory [now Oklahoma] in 1851. Tiger’s Cherokee name was spelled Clen-ti-gee on one document, clearly an attempt at spelling the Cherokee “Tlv-da-tsi,” which translates to “Panther” or “Tiger.” [Tiger was obviously an English translation of his Cherokee name.] Tiger descendants still live in Oklahoma.
Down at Tallulah Falls, the Tallulah River joins the Chattooga River to form the Tugaloo River, eventually reaching the Atlantic Ocean as the Savannah River.
Tallulah is said to mean “the terrible.” It doesn’t, of course. Not even close. Worse yet, though, we don’t know what the original word meant. The name came from a small Cherokee village far up the Tallulah River, its site long since covered by Lake Burton. It is possible, just barely, that the village [“Ta-lu-lu,” with the accent on the last syllable] was given its name for the sounds of a certain kind of frog, or that Tallulah comes from the word “a-ta-lu-lu,” which means something like “unfinished, or incomplete.” Another possibility is that the name is from the Creek word Taliwa, which in some dialects, was pronounced almost like Tallulah; “taliwa” is the Muskogean word for “town.” Perhaps the town was taken from the Creeks by the invading Cherokee. After considerable research, I have come to think that Tallulah may possibly be from the Muskogean word “talola”; it has the two root elements <tali>, “rock,” and <ola>, “makes a noise.” That supposition would tend to be reinforced by the existence of Tallulah as the name of a Madison County, Louisiana city. I have found that city’s name spelled as Tallula on an 1862 map. It supposedly was named for a former woman friend of the engineer who was constructing the Vicksburg, Shreveport and Texas Railroad there in the late 1850′s. For a Choctaw woman’s name, Talola would probably have meant “bell,” because <tali> came to mean metal as well as rock, after the coming of the white people. As a Muskogean name for the Georgia waterfalls, it would have been translated as “noisy rocks,” a very fitting name before the dam destroyed the thunderous sound of the falling water. That roar was said to have been audible clearly for many miles around in those days. The Cherokee knew the falls as “U-gv-yi,” but that name is lost and it has no meaning known to even the most fluent speaker of Cherokee.
Some writers have said that Tallulah, Louisiana, was named for Tallulah Bankhead, but it bore that name at least forty years before Miss Bankhead was born, daughter of the Speaker of the House of Representatives [1936-1940) and granddaughter of a Senator. I am one of those who long believed that she was named directly for Tallulah Falls, but she seems to have had a grandmother for whom she was named. [Further research shows that Tallulah Bankhead's grandmother, Tallulah James Brockman, was born near Greenville, South Carolina, in 1846, within traveling range of Tallulah Falls, and that the Falls became a tourist attraction well before 1846. My educated guess is that Miss Bankhead's grandmother was actually named for Tallulah Falls. Moreover, the grandmother would have been only 12 or 13 years old at the time of the naming of the Tallulah waterstop in Louisiana, unlikely to have had any connection with the Louisiana city.]
There is a delightful legend about one Chief Grey Eagle–whose rough granite throne was until recently on the campus of Tallulah Falls School–incorporating an ill-fated romance between a white man and a beautiful Cherokee woman, Lover’s Leap, and that sort of thing. I like the story. I have sat many times in Grey Eagle’s chair. I have even looked over Lover’s Leap from the rim of the gorge and I have looked up at it from the depth of the rocky gorge. Unfortunately, the story is just a legend with not a whit of historical truth. But, still, what stories could Grey Eagle’s chair tell us? [There is some information about Grey Eagle on this Ancestry.com page, but I cannot say how accurate it may be.]
Over in Walker County, GA, is Lula Falls, a shortened form of Tallulah as is made more evident when we observe that the older spelling was Lulah Falls. However, the town of Lula, GA, took its name from Miss Lula Phinizy, whom the engineers who founded the town admired, so it is not connected with Tallulah.
Terrora, as we have already seen, is the same word as Tallulah, but from that now-extinct Cherokee dialect which had the r-sound and not the l-sound. On old maps, one finds the Tallulah River shown as “Terrura Creek” or some variant of that. A 1775 map based on actual surveys by Mouchon shows a village called Taruraw in the vicinity.
Chattooga River, famous for its rapids and as the site of the filming of Deliverance, takes its name from “Tsa-tu-gi,” an old Cherokee village on the river. Just as we have taken Cherokee place names, they often took whole villages from other tribes and kept the previous name. Most frequently, they pushed Creek Indians out and to the west and south; that appears to be how Tsatugi came to be a Cherokee town. The word has no meaning in Cherokee, and whatever it once meant in Creek has long since been forgotten. Further evidence for this notion can be found in Georgia’s other Chattooga River, the one that empties into the Coosa at Weiss Lake in Alabama; keep in mind that the Cherokee word for a Creek Indian was “Ku-sa,” from which we get Coosa. And, let’s not forget Lake Chatuge, on the Hiwassee River. [The town and the Georgia part of the river--which rises in the mountains of Towns County, Georgia--are spelled Hiawassee, with two a’s, and the river is spelled Hiwassee once it crosses into North Carolina, with only one a. Both are from the Cherokee “a-yu-wa-si,” which means a meadow-like place, or a place with mostly low plants and few trees. The pronunciation of HIGH-uh-WAH-see is reasonably close to the old Cherokee word. More often than not, I hear it pronounced Hi-WAH-see, though, more like the North Carolina river's name.] On some old maps, “A-yu-wa-si” is distorted into Euphasee as the name of the Hiwassee.
Recently, I drove near the Virginia community of Hiwassee, spelled the same way as the river in North Carolina; so far as I can tell, it is named for that river. This latter Hiwassee lies near the New River, which, oddly, is said to be the second oldest river in the world.
Warwoman Creek empties into the Rabun County Chattooga River near Earl’s Ford.
The Tugaloo River is mostly just Tugaloo Lake now, but, in the days before so many dams, it was obvious that the Tallulah River joined the Chattooga to form the Tugaloo, which, somewhere downstream, picked up enough tributaries to become the Savannah River. The name is pronounced “Too-ga-low” [rhymes with “whoa”] by most of the people who live near Tallulah Falls. I am not at all sure what the old Cherokee name [“Du-gi-lu-yi”] may have meant. One writer suggests it may have something to do with a place at the forks of a stream, which is supported by the Muskogean word toklo, two.
A few more miles downstream from Tallulah is Yonah Lake. “Yo-nah” is the Cherokee word for “bear.” Over near Cleveland, GA, is the conspicuous Yonah Mountain. Looking at it, one would think it by far the highest mountain in White County, but it isn’t even close. I don’t know how it was that white people came to call it Yonah Mountain, either; the old Cherokee name for it was “Ga-da-lu-lu.” No one remembers why or what the name meant, and in the days when anyone did remember, no one wrote it down anywhere, so we are not likely ever to know. There is some evidence that one or more Spaniards lived on or near the mountain, for some time, around 1670, mining gold.
A little west of Hiawassee, we came to the Brasstown Ranger Station. Not far away is Brasstown Creek, and, to the south is Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald [4784 feet]. No one would suspect that Ellijay and Brasstown have a common Cherokee origin of their names. We’ll need to explain.
You remember that Ellijay is from Cherokee “e-la-i-tse-yi,” the “e-la” part of which means “earth” or “ground,” the “i-tse” means “new” or “green,” and the “-yi” means “place.” One can interpret the word to mean “place of green plants” or “new ground” (a place recently cleared for planting, where new green plants are sprouting). There were several places in the old Cherokee country that bore just the name “I-tse-yi,” roughly equivalent to the English “New Town.”
Now, it happens that the Cherokee word for “brass” is “v-tsai-yi.” [Remember that pronunciation of “v”? And the “-tsai” is roughly “chy” to rhyme with “shy.”] White people mistook Itseyi to be Vtsaiyi, and they do sound a bit alike. So, anyway, several villages named “Itseyi” came to be translated as “Brasstown.”
Gumlog Creek empties into Brasstown Creek. Not too far away are Gumlog Mountain and Gumlog Gap. Gumlog is a not very good translation of the name of the little Cherokee settlement that used to be on the creek. The village was called “Tsi-la-lu-hi,” from the word “tsi-la-lu,” sweetgum tree, and the “-hi” was the “locative” [= “place where”] we have seen before in the form “-yi.” Then, Tsilaluhi, the Cherokee town, really meant “sweetgum place” or “sweetgum town.” Well, by gum, at least they got the “Gum” right. Once, there was a Gumlog Community in the area, but I do not find it on the maps anymore. Another Gumlog Community has arisen in Franklin County, Georgia, but I do not know how it came by its name.
Over to the west of Brasstown Creek is Track Rock Gap. The trail there used to have a kind of soft soapstone rocks [greenstone] on both sides of it, and all sorts of scratchings and carvings had been made by Indians passing that way, resting en route. I do not know how many of them still exist, for I have not been there since childhood. I hope the State has made some effort to preserve them. Despite some fanciful interpretations by archaeologists, they were probably just ancient graffiti. There is an interesting story of one outline of a large foot, more than 17 inches long, complete with six toes. Perhaps a Bigfoot? The Cherokee name for the place was “Da-tsu-na-lo-sgv-yi,” “ a place where there are tracks.”
Just west of Blairsville is the Nottely River and Nottely Lake. The river continues on northward and empties into the Hiwassee a short distance west of Murphy, NC. Long ago, the small Cherokee settlement of “Na-du-tli” [sometimes written Natuhli] lay on the river bank just inside what is now Cherokee County, NC. The village was another of those taken from the Creeks by the Cherokee, and the name seems to have been another forgotten Creek word; once again, the Cherokee just kept the name after driving the Creeks out. From this village came the river’s name. Contrary to some publications, Natuhli did not mean “daring horseman.” [The Cherokee “tl-“ sound is something like an English sound “hl-“; it is even more like the correctly pronounced “Ll” in Welsh “Llewellyn.”]
South of Blairsville, just north of Neel’s Gap, there is a Nottely Falls on Shanty Creek. Just downstream from the falls, Frogtown Creek [which I have mentioned earlier] empties into Shanty Creek.
Along or near the Nottely River is the present Notalee Community, which, I assume, takes its name from the river.
Just east of the river, toward the southern part of Union County [GA], is the Choestoe Community. Its name came from the Cherokee “Tsi-stu-yi” (from “tsi-stu,” rabbit, with the locative “-yi,” together meaning “Rabbit Place” or “Rabbit Town”–there is nothing about “dancing” in the original name). Locally, it is pronounced CHO-ee-STOW-ee. The same word appears in South Carolina as Choastea Creek, in Tennessee, near Benton, as Chestuee Creek, and, in Unicoi County as Chestoa. In Cherokee mythology, Rabbit was a wily trickster, like Coyote was to the Western Indians. In fact, most of the Br’er Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths. [Does anyone remember that especially pleasant movie, Song of the South, with its Br’er Rabbit stories? Apparently, Disney thinks it politically incorrect to release it or allow it to be sold on videocassettes or discs. It does not seem to me that anything in the film is demeaning to anyone, but I suppose that not everyone agrees with me.]