The Cherokee came from more northerly areas, gradually pushing smaller tribes and the many Muskogean speakers to the south and west, as we have mentioned elsewhere. The Muskogean tribes came to be known as the Creeks. When the Cherokee took their towns and lands, many of the place names were kept and pronounced in Cherokee language forms.
It is quite possible that the Creek tribes were descendants of the Mound Builders. The Cherokee used the mounds, but they reported that the mounds were already present when they arrived.
Those who know much more about Muskogean dialects and languages than I do tell me some of the things which follow here. There are some who claim that many others of the Cherokee place names which do have meanings in the Cherokee language are also of Muskogean origin. In general, I do not agree, but I am willing to listen and to learn.
I think Coweta, Coosa, Chattooga, Etowah, Euharlee and Eufaula, and Suwanee are likely of Creek origin, their names taken over and converted to Cherokee sounds. Perhaps many of the place names we have given in this blog that have no Cherokee meaning were just Cherokee adaptations of the original Muskogean names. Just as white people have taken over old Cherokee places and have adapted their names to English sounds, similarly did the Cherokee before them. Others believe that Cowee and Keowee may be different versions of an original Creek name.
Chattahoochee is originally a Creek word, Chatu-huchi, which is said to mean “painted rocks.” Tugaloo is said to come from a Creek word meaning “freckled people.” I am told that Chauga is a Creek word for a kind of tree, and that Nottely is from their word for “people on the other side.” As I have mentioned elsewhere, Tallulah may indeed come from a Creek word “talua” or “taliwa” meaning “town”; the same root occurs in Talasee and Tallahassee. Both of the last two contain the element “ahassee,” which meant “old” in some of the Creek dialects. The river Oconee, perhaps even Oconee County [SC], may take its name from one of the Creek tribes, the Okonee.
During the great turmoil that arose in the early years after the coming of white people, many small tribes became fragmented and absorbed into the Cherokee and Creek and Catawba and other tribes. Tracing the names of places first occupied by some of these smaller tribes is likely to remain nearly impossible. I will keep an open mind and learn what I can from the available information.
The following comments have been received from Richard Thornton, who is the author of several books on the indigenous peoples of the southeastern U.S., with especial emphasis on the Muskogean and related tribes. I quote his message to me:
“Talula is the Hitchiti word for town. Hitchiti was the dialect spoken by most Creeks in Georgia.
Tugaloo (dug-u-lu or le) is the Cherokee pronunciation of the Hitchiti words for “Spotted People.”
Nottely is the Hitchiti words for ‘People on the other side (of the mountain).’
Hiwassee means “Copperhead People” in Hitchiti and Kowasati.
Chauga (Chauka) means black locust in Hitchiti.
Chota means frog in Hitchit and Muskogee.”
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.]