Connestee Falls, North Carolina

This page is in process; some revisions may be made later.  I have also posted the legend of Kanasta [ from which Connestee takes its name], above.

I see that Tellico Village, Tennessee, also has street names of Cherokee origin.

Connestee Falls is a large housing development near Brevard, North Carolina.  It occupies some 3900 acres, with about 1300 homes.  I understand that about half of those homes belong to year-round residents.  There are some 50 miles of paved streets in the community.  Some historical information on the area is found at this link; however, for correct translations of the street names, you should look below on this site.  Those on the otherwise excellent historical site are not always very good.  You might also want to read the comments following my translations here.

What makes Connestee Falls of some interest to us?  Almost all of its streets bear Cherokee names.

I have never visited the community, but I have exchanged information with some local people about it, and I have spent a good deal of time studying the map of its streets.

The street names are taken from the names of historical Cherokee towns or places, plants, animals, birds, and famous Cherokee leaders.

Here, I am going to list the names of all the streets.  For each one, I will give a phonetic spelling that could be used by Connestee residents to help with pronunciation.  The pronunciation is intended to preserve at least the flavor of the Cherokee sounds, but it will be one that can be spoken by modern English speakers; it is not intended to be a perfect Cherokee pronunciation. As often as possible, I try to use some rough approximation of the Giduwa [Eastern Cherokee] Dialect as a starting point, because that is the major surviving dialect in North Carolina.  However, Giduwa is a more conservative form than the somewhat homogenized Western Dialect of Oklahoma and its sounds are sometimes much more difficult for English speakers [and for me to represent here], so, in several cases, the pronunciation given here is closer to the Western speech.

I hope this will be a helpful guide for Connestee Falls residents and visitors.

In many words, the “v” is best pronounced as “un.”  I have chosen to suggest “ch” as a pronunciation of those syllables beginning with “ts”; some speakers actually pronounce the “ts” sound, but most pronounce as “j” or “ch” or even “z.”  Syllables beginning with “tl” or “dl” are most correctly pronounced with a sound best represented by “hl,” but this combination is not always easy for English speakers, so I have usually suggested some similar sound.  [The “correct” pronunciation of “tl” is very similar to the correct pronunciation of the Ll in Welsh Llanfair.]

After the pronunciation, there will be a spelling of the name that would be readable to a Cherokee speaker and which could readily be written using the Cherokee Syllabary.  Please note that the letter “v” is used to represent the sound that is close to the UH in <HUH?>.

The next entry will be an authentic translation or explanation of the name.  There are still a few of the names that I simply cannot decipher into some original meaning as yet, but I will continue the research and update those names whenever possible.

Anyone who wishes to print out this list is welcome to do so.  I would appreciate it if you would mention the source on the printout.

This is the format:

Street name  [best pronunciation] (Cherokee word, by syllables): meaning

Adawehi [ah-DAH-way-hee]  (a-da-we-hi):  Medicine man, magician, conjurer

Adayahi [ah-DAH-ya-hee]  (a-da-ya-hi):  Oak

Adelv [ah-DAY-la] (a-de-lv): Silver, money

Adohi [ah-DOE-hee] (a-do-hi): Woody place, forest

Agaliha [ah-GAH-li-ha] (a-ga-li-ha): It is shining, so: sunshine or moonshine

Ama [AH-ma] (a-ma): Water or salt.  Probably water was intended.

Amacola [ah-ma-KOH-la] (a-ma u-qua-le-lv-yi): An attempt at Amicalola, place where water makes rolling thunder noise.  The name of the famous water falls and state park in Georgia.  Some old maps spelled it Amacola.

Amayi [ah-MAH-yee] (a-ma-yi): In the water

Annakesta [anna-KES-ta]: I am still trying to decipher this one.

Anv [AH-na] (a-nv, modern form a-ni): Strawberry.  Please don’t pronounce it “Ann-vee!.

Atisvgi [ah-ti-SUN-gi]  Still researching this one

Atsadi [a-CHAH-di] (a-tsa-di): Fish

Awi [ah-WEE or ah-WHEE] (a-wi): Deer

Ayugidv [ah-YOO-gi-DUN] (modern yu-gi-da): Hazel or hazelnut

Catatoga [CAH-ta-TOE-ga] (from ga-du-gi-tse-yi): New town or new settlement.  In Macon County, the same word became Cartoogechaye.

Chagee [CHAH-gi] (tsa-gi): Perhaps from tsa-gi, “up the road” or “upstream”; one Cherokee village bore this name.

Cheestoonaya [CHEES-too-NAH-ya] (tsi-stu-na-yi): Crawfish place

Cheowa [chee-OH-wah] (tsi-yo-hi): Otter place

Cherokee [CHER-o-kee] (tsa-la-gi): the Cherokee people

Cheulah [CHEW-la] (tsu-la): Red Fox, the name of a Cherokee chief in TN, 1762.

Connestee [KAH-na-stee] (ka-na-stv-yi): Meaning unknown; there is a legend of a lost Cherokee settlement from which the name comes.  It is quite possible that it is only a Cherokee approximation of the name of the tribe or town which was there long before the Cherokee arrived.

Dalonigei [da-LAHN-i-GAY-ee] (da-lo-ni-ge-i): Yellow, gold; the same word that became the name of Dahlonega, GA

Dawatsila [DAH-wa-CHEE-la] (da-w-tsi-la): Elm

Dewa [DAY-wa or TAY-wa] (te-wa): Flying squirrel

Dotsi [DAH-chee] (do-tsi): A kind of water monster believed to live in the Tennessee River

Dotsuwa [doe-CHEW-wha or toe-CHEW-wha or toe-JEW-wha] (do-tsu-wa): Red Bird, Cardinal

Doyi [DOE-yee] (do-yi): Beaver

Dudi [DOO-dee; I prefer TOO-tee] (du-di): Snowbird

Duya [DOO-ya; I prefer TOO-ya] (tu-ya): Bean

Dvdegi [DUN-day-gi] (tlv-de-qua): Eel

Dvdisdi [dun-DEES-ti] (attempt at tlv-ti-sdi): Pheasant

Dvga [DUN-ga; I prefer TUN-ga] (tv-ga): Housefly

Echota [eh-CHOE-ta] (i-tsa-ti): Meaning unknown; New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee people at the time of removal.  Sautee is one rendition of the same word.

Elaqua [eh-LAH-qua] [e-la-qua]:  Still under research

Elseetos [el-SEE-toess]: One source claims that this was the Cherokee name of Mt. Pisgah, Haywood County, NC, but I cannot document that.

Enolah [ee-NOE-la] (i-no-li): Black Fox, a Cherokee chief in the early 19th Century; also, an old name for what is now Brasstown Bald in GA

Gadu [GAH-doo] (ga-du): Bread

Gagama [ga-GAH-ma or ka-KAH-ma] (ga-ga-ma): Cucumber

Galuyasdi [ga-LOO-ya-stee] (ga-lu-ya-sdi): Ax or tomahawk

Galvloi [gah-la-LOW-ee] (ga-lv-lo-i): Sky

Ganohenv [GAH-no-HAY-na or KAH-no-HAY-na](ga-no-he-nv): Hominy, which is not the same thing as grits!

Gasga [GAHSS-ga or GOSH-ga] (a-ga-sga): It is raining

Gawanv [ga-WOE-na or ka-WOE-na or ga-WAH-na] (ka-wo-ni): Duck

Gigagei [gi-ga-GAY-ee] (gi-ga-ge-i): Red

Gili [ghee-LEE or GHEE-hli or GI-li] (gi-tli): Dog

Gogv [KO-ga or GO-ga] (go-gv): Crow

Golanv [KO-la-na or GO-la-na] (go-la-nv): Raven; Cherokee name of Sam Houston

Guledisgonihi [GOO-lay dis-KAH-ni-hee] (gu-le-di-sgo-ni-hi): Mourning dove [literally, “he cries for acorns”]

Guque [kuh-KWAY or guh-KWAY] (gu-que): Bobwhite quail

Gusti [GOOS-tee or GUS-tee] (gu-sti): Meaning unknown, from a Cherokee settlement on the Tennessee River in TN

Gusv [goo-SUH) (gu-sv): Beech tree [probably]

Guwa [KOO-wah or GOO-wah] (gu-wa): Mulberry tree

Gvhe [GUN-hay or GUH-hay] (gv-he): Bobcat

Gvli [GUN-tlee or GUH-lee or GUH-hlee] (gv-li): Raccoon

Hokassa [ho-KASS-a] (perhaps intended for na-qui-si): Naquisi is the word for star.

Inadv [EE-na-DUH or ee-NAH-da; EE-na-DEE in some dialects] (i-na-da): Snake

Inoli [ee-NO-lee] (i-no-li): Black Fox; see Enola

Isuhdavga [ee-SUN-da-UN-ga] (i-sv-da-v-ga): Still under research

Iya [EE-yah] (i-ya): Pumpkin

Junaluska [JOO-na-LUS-ka] (tsu-nu-la-hv-sgi): “He keeps on trying unsuccessfully”; the name of a great Cherokee chief in the early 19th Century

Kalvi [ka-LUN-ee or ka-LUH-ee] (from di-ka-lv-gv-i): East

Kanasdatsi [KAH-na-STAH-chee] (ka-na-sda-tsi): Sassafras

Kanasgowa [KAH-na-SKOE-wa or KAH-nahs-GO-wa] (ka-na-sgo-wa):  Heron

Kanunu [ka-NOO-na] (ka-nu-na): Bullfrog

Kanvsita [kah-na-SEE-ta] (ka-nv-si-ta): Dogwood

Kassahola [KAHSS-a-HO-la or KASS-a-HO-la] (ka-sa-ho-la): Still under research

Kawani [ka-WAH-ni or ka-WOE-ni] (ka-wa-ni): Perhaps same as Gawanv, or possibly meant to be “April”

Kituhwa [kee-TOO-whah] (gi-tu-wa): Very important early Cherokee settlement; said to be the Mother Town of the tribe

Klonteska [klon-TESS-ka] (tla-ni-te-sga): Research continues.  I don’t believe it means “pleasant” as sometimes stated.

Konnaneeta [KAHN-a-NEE-ta] (ka-na-ni-ta): Possibly “young turkey hatchlings,” but I am still researching this one.

Moytoy [MOY-TOY] (perhaps ma-ta-yi): Cherokee chief in first half of the 18th Century.  The name is probably an English attempt at the shortened Cherokee form of “Ama-adawehi,” which could be translated as “water wizard” or, by implication, even “rain maker.”

Nodatsi [no-da-CHEE or no-DOTCH-ee] (no-da-tsi or no-da-tli): Spicewood [Lindera benzoin]

Nokassa [no-KAHSS-a or no-CASS-a] (probably na-qui-si): Star.  See Hokassa.

Notlvsi [no-TLUN-see or nah-TLUH-see] (one writer’s spelling of na-qui-si or na-tli-si): Star

Notsi [NAH-chee or NO-jee] (na-tsi or no-tsi): Pine

Nunv [NOO-na or NOO-nuh, not NUN-vee!] (nu-nv): Potato

Nvya [NUH-ya or NUN-ya] (ny-ya): Rock [not river]

Oakanoah [OH-ka-NO-a](distorted from u-ga-na-wa): South [also has come to mean “warm” and “Democrat”; pronounced oo-GAH-na-wa in modern Cherokee].  One of the seven Cherokees who went to England in 1730 was Oukanekah; the name of this street may be a distortion of his name.

Ogana[OH-ga-na or oh-GAH-na] (o-ga-na or a-ga-na): Groundhog

Ohwanteska [OH-hwahn-TESS-ka] (o-wa-ni-te-sga):  I am still working on this one.

Ortanola [ORR-ta-NO-la] (??): This name is badly distorted.  Still in research

Ossarooga [OSS-a-ROO-ga] (??): This one is in research, too.

Ottaray [OTT-a-RAY] (o-ta-ri): Mountain, in an extinct dialect

Qualla [KWAH-la] (qua-la): Cherokee attempt at the word “Polly”; now the name of the Qualla Boundary part of the Eastern Cherokee Reservation

Quanv [KWAH-na] (qua-nv): Peach

Sakkoleeta [SAK-a-LEE-ta] (Perhaps tsa-quo-la-da-gi): Bluebird; Sakonige [sa-KOH-nee-gay] does mean “blue.”

Sali [SAH-lee] (sa-li): Persimmon

Saligugi [SAH-li-GOO-gi] (sa-li-gu-gi): Mud turtle, also called snapping turtle

Salola [sah-LOW-lee or sha-LOW-lee] (sa-lo-li): Gray squirrel

Sedi [SED-i or SAY-dee] (se-di): Walnut

Selu [SAY-loo or SHAY-loo] (se-lu): Corn; corn goddess

Sequoyah [see-KWOI-ya] (si-quo-yi): Probably the most famous historical Cherokee; he invented the Cherokee Syllabary

Setsi [SETCH-ee] (se-tsi): Mound and settlement in Cherokee County, NC; meaning unknown

Sgili [SKILL-ee] (sgi-li): Witch

Soco [SOH-koh] (so-quo-hi): “Number One Place”

Soquili [so-KWEE-lee or show-GWEE-lee] (so-qui-li): Horse

Sunnalee [sun-a-LAY-ee] (su-na-le-i): Tomorrow or morning or evening

Svgata [sun-GAH-ta or SHUNK-ta] (sv-ga-ta): Apple

Taladu [ta-LAH-doo or TAH-la-DOO] (ta-la-du): Cricket [ta-LAH-du] or twelve [TAH-la-DOO)

Tawsee [TAW-see] (to-si): Name of a Cherokee settlement in Habersham County, GA.  Meaning unknown.  I suspect that the village may have been taken from the Catawba people; if that is the case, in the Catawba language, the name may have referred to a dog, or more likely, to a wolf.

Taya [TAH-ya] (gi-ta-ya): Cherry

Tellico [TELL-i-KOH] (ta-li-qua): Important Cherokee town in TN; Tahlequah, OK, is the same word.

Ticoa [tee-KOH-a] (ti-go-a): Could be a distortion of Toccoa?

Tili [TEE-lee or just TIL-lee as in Tilly] (ti-li): Chestnut or chinquapin

Tinequa [ti-NEH-kwa] (ti-ne-qua; probably ta-ni-qua): Literally, “big louse”; probably Taniqua [ta-NEE-kwa “mole”] was intended.

Tlugvi [tlu-KUH-ee or just TLOO-kuh] (tlu-gv-i): Tree

Tludatsi [tloo-DAH-chee or tlun-DAH-chee] (tlv-da-tsi):  Panther, mountain lion

Tsalagi [CHAH-la-KEE or JAH-la-GHEE] (tsa-la-gi): Cherokee

Tsataga [cha-TAW-ga or chee-TAW-ga] (tsi-ta-ga): Chicken

Tsayoga [cha-YO-ga] (tla-yi-ga or tsa-yo-ga): Blue jay

Tsisqua [CHEE-skwah] (tsi-squa): Bird

Tsiya [CHEE-ya] (tsi-ya or tsi-yo or tsi-yu): Otter was probably intended; also can mean canoe or boat

Tsisdu [CHEE-stoo] (tsi-sdu): Rabbit

Tsisdvna [chee-STUN-na] (tsi-sdv-na): Crawfish

Tsitsi [chee-chee] (tsi-tsi): Wren

Tsolv [CHOE-la] (tso-la) : Tobacco

Tsuganawvi [chew-GAH-na-WUN-ee] (tsu-ga-na-wv-i): South [toward the south]

Tsula [CHEW-la] (tsu-la): Red fox

Tsuyvtlvi [chew-yun-TLUN-ee] (tsu-yv-tlv-i): North [toward the north]

Tsvwagi [chuh-WAH-ghee] (tsv-wa-gi): Maple

Udoque [oo-doe-KWAY] (u-do-que, nv-do-que-ya intended): Sourwood [Oxydendron arboreum]

Udvawadulisi [OO-ta-na WAH-doo-LEE-see] (wa-du-li-si u-ta-na intended): Bumblebee [literally “big bee”]

Ugedaliyvi [oo-gay-DAH-lee-YUN-ee] (u-ge-da-li-yv-i): Valley or cove

Ugiladi [oo-gi-LAH-di] (u-gi-da-tli intended): Feather

Ugugu [OO-goo-GOO or oo-GOOG] (u-gu-gu): Hoot owl [Barred owl, Strix varia]

Uloque [oo-LOW-kway] (u-lo-que): Mushroom

Ulvda [oo-LUN-da] (u-lv-da): Poison ivy

Unoga [oo-NO-ga] (u-no-ga): Bass [fish]

Unole [oo-NO-lay] (u-no-le): Storm [or strong wind or tornado]

Unvquolad [oo-NUN-kwo-LAHD] (u-nv-quo-la-tv-i intended): Rainbow

Unutsi [OO-nuh-chee or OON-chee] (u-nv-tsi): Snow

Unvdatlvi [OO-na-dah-TLUN-ee] (u-nv-da-tlv-i; do-da-tlv-i):  Mountains [perhaps intended for “they are mountains”?]

Usdasdi [oo-STAH-stee] (u-sda-sdi): Holly

Usgewi [oo-SKAY-wee] (u-sge-wi): Cabbage

Utsonati [oo-cho-NAH-tee] (u-tso-na-ti): Rattlesnake

Utsuwodi [oo-chew-WOE-di] (u-tso-wo-di; I prefer a-la-su-lo): Moccasin

Uwaga [oo-WAH-ga] (u-wa-ga): Passion fruit [Passiflora incarnata, also called “old field apricot”]

Uwohali [uh-WOE-ha-lee] (a-wo-ha-li): Eagle

Uyasga [oo-YAH-ska; better OO-ska] (u-ya-sga or u-sga): Skull

Vdali [un-DAL-lee] (v-da-li): Lake

Wadigei [WAH-di-GAY-ee] (u-wo-di-ge-i): Brown

Waga [WAH-ka or WAH-ga] (wa-ga): Cow [Cheroke pronunciation of Spanish vaca]

Wahuhu [wah-hoo-HOO] (wa-hu-hu): Screech owl [Otus asio]

Walelu [wah-LAY-la] (wa-le-la): Hummingbird

Walosi [wah-LOW-see or wa-LOWSH] (wa-lo-si): Green frog

Wanei [wa-NAY-ee] (wa-ne-i): Walnut

Warwaseeta [WAR-wah-SEE-ta] (wa-wa-si-ta): Said to be the old Cherokee name for Pisgah Ridge in Haywood County, but I cannot document that.

Waya [WAH-ya] (wa-ya): Wolf

Wesa [WAY-sah or way-SHAH] (we-sa): Cat [domestic cat]

Wodigeasgohi [WOE-di-gay ah-SKOE-hee] (wo-di-ge a-sgo-li intended): Copperhead

Yanequa [yah-NEH-kwa] (yo-ne-qua, from yo-na e-qua): Big Bear, Cherokee chief in the late 18th Century

Yona [YO-na] (yo-na): Bear; more commonly spelled Yonah

Yuda [YOO-da] (perhaps gi-yu-ga or yu-ga intended?): Chipmunk [?]

Yunega [yoo-NEH-ga] (Intended for u-ne-ga): White  [Yonega is “white man” or “English”]

Note: In the Eastern Cherokee [Giduwa] dialect, most of the syllables beginning with <ts> are pronounced as if they begin with <z>.   In many words ending in -i, -hi, or -a, the last syllable is dropped in pronunciation.

Many thanks to Mike Heiser, who kindly provided me with a working list of the street names.  Any errors of commission or omission are my fault and not his.

The Case of Unawatti Creek

Unawatti Creek flows into the North Fork of the Broad River, not too far from Canon, in Franklin County, Georgia.  Locally, it is pronounced “YunaWATTy.”  I like that pronunciation, and it gives a better clue to the origin of the name than the spelling does.

We need to remember that the “correct” pronunciation of any place name is the one used by the people who have lived there most of their lives.  I am reminded of hearing TV newsreaders butcher the pronunciation of local names, showing how little research they must have done and displaying their ignorance of the the area they cover.  Down in Gwinnett County [GwiNETT, not GWINett]. Georgia, is the town of Dacula–its name has no connection to any Cherokee root–; it is almost painful to hear its name pronounced to rhyme with Dracula, when the correct form is “daCUEla.”

Unawatti was, until recently, almost always spelled Unawattie.  Now, I notice that MapQuest and Google Maps have it as Unawatts.   I hope someone will correct them.  Maybe I will.

The creek was named for a Cherokee man who lived on its banks long ago.  His name translated into English was Old Bear; in Cherokee, it would have been something like “Yanaweti” or “Yonaweti,” from “yonah”, bear, and “uweti,” old.  The actual pronunciation would have been something like “Yawnawetty,” with the “yawn” part not quite so drawled as in our Southern speech.  Cherokee tends to join two or more words into one.

Using old maps and documents, the various English spelling attempts at Old Bear’s name have been recorded.  No, I did not do that research, but I have verified it, because it gives us some idea of how old Cherokee place names have changed over time.

An early spelling was “Yanuhweti”; we can be reasonably certain of that because it is closest to Yanuweti.  Soon afterward, the “-weti” became “-wattee” and the creek became Yonawattee or even Yonawatte.   A later attempt at spelling was “Yeounawattee,”  or “Yeounuwattee.” Other variations were “Yone Water” and “Yonawattoe.”   Eventually, the Yonah part came to be pronounced “Yuna” and spelled “Una-.”

We could trace the sound evolutions something like this:

Yawna [bear] –> Yonah –> Yeounu –> Una

Uweti, shortened in Cherokee to weti [old] –> watte –> wattie –> watti.

We can see how names and sounds change as they move more and mores steps away from the original language into English.  In this case, the Cherokee name was not quite as difficult for English tongues as most other words, and the current name might even be understandable enough for Old Bear to have recognized it if someone had spoken it to him.

By the way, the Western Cherokee still call North Carolina “Tsalaguwetiyi,” “the Old Cherokee Place.”

Muskogean Influence on Cherokee Place Names

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.”

Legends and place names

The most valuable source of authentic old Cherokee legends is the work of Mooney in his Myths of the Cherokee. These legends are widely available on the Internet, and I have no intention of repeating more than occasional excerpts when they are relevant to local place names.

Here is one that is of interest to us in examining place names of Cherokee origin:

“A long time ago the people of the old town of Kanu’ga`lâ’yï (“Brier place,” or Briertown), on Nantahala river, in the present Macon county, North Carolina, were much annoyed by a great insect called U’la`gû’, as large as a house, which used to come from some secret hiding place, and darting swiftly through the air, would snap up children from their play and carry them away. It was unlike any other insect ever known, and the people tried many times to track it to its home, but it was too swift to be followed.

They killed a squirrel and tied a white string to it, so that its course could be followed with the eye, as bee hunters follow the flight of a bee to its tree. The U’la`gû’ came and carried off the squirrel with the string hanging to it, but darted away so swiftly through the air that it was out of sight in a moment. They killed a turkey and put a longer white string to it, and the U’la`gû’ came and took the turkey, but was gone again before they could see in what direction it flew. They took a deer ham and tied a white string to it, and again the U’la`gû’ swooped down and bore it off so swiftly that it could not be followed. At last they killed a yearling deer and tied a very long white string to it. The U’la`gû’ came again and seized the deer, but this time the load was so heavy that it had to fly slowly and so low down that the string could be plainly seen.

The hunters got together for the pursuit. They followed it along a ridge to the east until they came near where Franklin now is, when, on looking across the valley to the other side, they saw the nest of the U’la`gû’ in a large cave in the rocks. On this they raised a great shout and made their way rapidly down the mountain and across to the cave. The nest had the entrance below with tiers of cells built up one above another to the roof of the cave. The great U’la`gû’ was there, with thousands of smaller ones, that we now call yellow-jackets. The hunters built fires around the hole, so that the smoke filled the cave and smothered the great insect and multitudes of the smaller ones, but others which were outside the cave were not killed, and these escaped and increased until now the yellow-jackets, which before were unknown, are all over the world. The people called the cave Tsgâgûñ’yï, “Where the yellow-jacket was,” and the place from which they first saw the nest they called A`tahi’ta, “Where they shouted,” and these are their names today.”

Tsgâgûñ’yï, which I would now write as Tsgogvyi, did not actually mean “where the yellow-jacket was”; it comes from the word “tsgoya,” which is a generic term for any sort of bug, insect, or worm. In this case, the insect was the giant yellow jacket.

Nor did “U’la`gû'” actually mean “yellow jacket”; it meant something rather like “the leader” or “the chief” or “the main one,” seeing that the giant yellow jacket was the original member of its kind, from which all the others derived. These days, it might be better spelled “U’ la guh’.” accented on the first and last syllables. From that word came the name of Oologah, Oklahoma; Will Rogers was born near the present town, on 4 November 1879.

“A`tahi’ta” is now known as Wayah Gap [“Wolf Gap”].

Cherokee Place Names, Part 11

Cherokee Place Names, Part 11

A few miles southwest of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, is a little known stream called Agana Branch. It is named for the groundhog (woodchuck, Marmota monax). I have no idea how it came to be so named. The modern word in Cherokee is “oga’na.” Agana was the first element in the name of the great 18th-Century Chief Oconastota, and the second part meant something like “ground up” or “mashed up”; that is why his name was sometimes translated as “Groundhog Sausage.”

Obviously, there is no connection at all with Agana, the capital of Guam.

In Monroe County, Tennessee, is Coker Creek and the community of the same name. Once it was called Coco Creek; the name seems to have been changed a hundred years or so ago. Perhaps it sounded too much like “cocoa” or, worse yet, like the original Cherokee word “gugu” (pronounced roughly like “koo-kuh,” accent on the second syllable), reminding one vaguely of cuckoos. The plant for which it is named is Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as butterfly weed or pleurisy root. In Cherokee medicine, the large tuberous root was used to make a tea for treating colds and other lung ailments; the bruised root was used to make poultices for treating minor wounds and bruises. The plant contains enough cardiac glycosides that it also helped with swellings of the legs arising from heart problems. There exist local stories of a Cherokee chief or a Cherokee “princess” named Coqua, whose name the white people distorted into Coker; however, as with many colorful legends about Indian place names, there is no historical evidence of such a person or persons. “Gugu” is the modern Cherokee word for “bottle.”

Not far from Coker Creek is the community of Waucheesi. A nearby mountain and the creek have the same name. The original meaning is lost, but the name was that of an old Cherokee man who lived near the route of the Unicoi Turnpike, a road built in the period 1813-1816 to connect the Tugaloo and SavannahRivers to the Cherokee capital of Echota on the Little Tennessee River. His name was Wachesa (Watsi’sa), and he lived in the vicinity of the present Murphy, North Carolina. The Unicoi Turnpike was usually referred to as the Wachesa Trail. One rendition of Wachesa was Waucheesi.

Also in Monroe County is the Notchy Creek community.   The community and the nearby creek take their name from the Cherokee word for the Natchez Indians [Ani-Natsi].  Remnants of that tribe had lived in the area.  “Notchy” is a fairly close pronunciation of Cherokee “Natsi.”

There was a very old Cherokee settlement, No’natlugv’yi [“spruce tree place”], about where Jonesborough, Tennessee, now stands. A few miles to the south is the Nolichucky River. The river’s name comes from a distortion of the settlement name. The community of Chucky and the stream Little Chuck(e)y Creek, in the same general area, take their names from a shortening of Nolichucky.  In 2016, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a sizable Cherokee town on the Nolichucky in southern Washington County, Tennessee.  It is believed to date from about 1500, and it contained some European glass trade beads, so it still existed after some contact directly or indirectly with white people. There is no way to know what may have been the settlement’s name.

Coytee Spring seems now to be under Tellico Lake. Near it was an ancient Cherokee town about which little is known, save a few references in English with varied spellings. It seems to have been destroyed in 1776. The town’s name is preserved in the area as Coyatee and even as Kai-a-tee. The Cherokee pronunciation and meaning are forever lost. Each such loss—and there are many—leaves us poorer.

Ooltewah, Tennessee, stands about where the Cherokee settlement of Ultiwo’i was. The meaning is unknown and does not appear to have been originally a Cherokee word.

South Mouse Creek runs through the heart of Cleveland, Tennessee.  On this creek was the old Cherokee town of Tsistetsi’yi, which translates as “mouse place,” from which the creek took its name.   The area had probably been occupied by Yuchi people for a long time before the Cherokee pushed them away.

Toxaway Creek has its headwaters near the Brasstown community in Oconee County, South Carolina. Somewhere on it was the old Cherokee town of Duquasa’i, pronounced approximately “Duksa’i,” which became Toxaway to English speakers. The meaning of the word is lost. The creek joins the Chauga River and the upper reaches of Hartwell Reservoir.

Tamassee, South Carolina, gets its name from the Cherokee town of Tama’si, in OconeeCounty. There was another Tamasi in Macon County, North Carolina. The word has no meaning in Cherokee.  Tamassee is pronounced <ta-MAHSS-ee>.

To the east, in Pickens County, South Carolina, is the Oolenoy River, a tributary of the South Saluda. Its name derives from “u’lana’wa,” the Cherokee name of the spiny soft-shell turtle (Apalone spinifera). How it came to be applied to the river is uncertain, but it is no coincidence that this very same turtle lives in that stream. I suspect that some place along the river served as a good source of the principal ingredient of turtle soups. And, I am sorry to report that Oolenoy was not a Cherokee word for “land of grain and clear water” as I have read elsewhere.

We have already seen that the state of Tennessee and the Tennessee River took their names from the several Cherokee settlements called Tanasi. One of these was in Jackson County, North Carolina; it left its name in the form of Tanasee Creek and Gap, and in the more modern Tanasee Lake.

In the Great Smokies, we find Wasulu Ridge. Wa’sulu’ was the name of a particular kind of moth, but it is now wa’sohla, the generic word for any moth, in some modern dialects.

Just west of Franklin, North Carolina, near the Appalachian Trail, are Wayah Creek and Wayah Bald. The Cherokee word “wa’ya” or “wa-ha-ya” means “wolf.” There is general agreement that the animal’s name began as an imitation of its howl. I will write more of wolves in a later section.

To the southwest of Franklin is Standing Indian Mountain and the Wildlife Management Area. The Cherokee called the mountain Yv’wi-tsulenv’yi, “where the man used to stand.”

A little to the southeast of Brevard, North Carolina, is the community of Connestee, with Connestee Falls. Here was the legendary “lost village” of Ka’nastv’yi, the ancestral name of Connestee. Kana’sta was a shorter form of the village name. There is some evidence that the Connestee people may have been a tribe which preceded the Cherokee, or they may have been ancestral to the later Cherokee.

In the far northern part of Whitfield County, Georgia, was one of the ancient meeting grounds for the Cherokee. This one was called Elawo’diyi, “red earth place.” It translates well into Red Clay, the community which now occupies the same place.

The great Chief John Ross was born at Gv’di’gaduhv’yi, in the northeastern part of what is now Gadsden, Alabama. The name of that Cherokee town translates to “Turkey Town Place,” from which Turkeytown takes its name.

The Tennessee River enters Alabama at very near the state’s northeastern corner, and it swings across the northern part of the state, making a southwesterly detour near Florence, and then proceeds to exit the state at precisely its northwestern corner. Before the dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority were built, there were shoals in the vicinity of Florence, and these shoals were rich in freshwater mussels. In fact, there are more than 50 species of mussels in the Alabama portion of the Tennessee. To the Cherokee, this section of the river was Daguno’hi, “mussel place,” from “dagu’na,” mussel, plus the locative -hi. English speakers translated Dagunohi as “Mussel Shoals” and then misspelled it to name the city of Muscle Shoals. It appears exactly that way on old maps of the Alabama area, including the 1794 map I recently examined, so the “Muscle” spelling is not a recent development.  On a 1750 map, we find the shoals clearly shown in the correct place, but without any name.

[Incidentally, for reasons unclear, the place where Nashville, Tennessee now stands was known to the old Cherokee as Dagunawelohi, “mussel liver place,” according to Mooney.]  Dagvna survives in modern Cherokee, meaning oyster, clam, pearl, or pimple.

It is not especially relevant to our discussion here, but the English words muscle and mussel both derive ultimately from the same Latin word, musculus, which meant both mouse and mussel; it is a diminutive of the word mus, mouse.  In ages forgotten, someone decided that both muscles [which ripple under the skin] and the shellfish [grey and not large] somehow resembled small mice.

Just across the Georgia line, to the south of Chattanooga, is Catoosa County. Its name is from the Cherokee word “ga-du-si,” accent on the second syllable. The plural form is the same as the singular, so the meaning can be interpreted as “a hill,” “on or at a hill,” “the hills,” or “in the hills.” It is not likely that it means “between two hills,” as is sometimes reported, but that is still a reasonable translation. The old Cherokee word for “mountain” was “o’tali” [sometimes written “a’tali”] except in the Lower Dialect, the one with the “r” sound; among those speakers, it was “o’tari.” Some Eastern Cherokee speakers use the word “gadu’shi” for “mountain,” but another word has evolved for more widespread use there. Otari has been made into Ottaray, with many associations in upstate South Carolina and even into Kentucky; however, the root means only “mountain,” not “beautiful mountains,” as I see written in a few places. Gadusi remains Oklahoma Cherokee for “hill,” and the Oklahoma word for mountain is “odalv’i.”

High in the Smokies, on the Haywood County line, is Inadu Knob; to the northeast in Cocke County is Inadu Mountain, of which the knob is really the summit. Inadu Creek is nearby, and to its west is Snake Den Mountain. The area seems to have a long history of being a very snaky place, seeing that “inadu” [modern form: “inada”] is the Cherokee word for “snake.”

Rattlesnake

In the early 19th Century, there was a Cherokee chief whose name was translated as Going Snake.   His Cherokee name was Inadunai, which, translated somewhat more accurately, would have been “a snake goes along with him” or “he travels in company with a snake.”  The famous Goingsnake District in Adair County, Oklahoma, takes its name from him.  For the interesting story of the Goingsnake Massacre and Zeke Proctor, click this link.

By the way, if you are interested in mountains, take a look at http://www.mountainpeaks.net

The Trail of Tears: Cherokee Removal

The Cherokee Removal from Georgia, 1838-1839

The Trail of Tears

This subject has been much overdone, but I present it here in the hope that readers of this blog who may not know this history will find it of value. I will post some additional history later. For a map showing the various routes taken in The Removal, click here.

A brief review: In 1815, a Cherokee boy found a gold nugget along the ChestateeRiver, in Georgia. Within four years, the Cherokee were forced out of all their lands east of the Chestatee. Prospectors for gold were everywhere. Laws were made to take advantage of the Indians of Georgia. No one of any Indian blood could sue a white man or testify against whites. Any contract made between a white man and an Indian was not valid unless there were two white witnesses. All the laws and customs of the Cherokee Nation were declared null and void, and the Cherokee were forbidden to hold councils or to assemble for any purpose at all or to dig for gold on their own lands.

Georgia “annexed” all the remaining Cherokee territory inside the state, mapped it out into counties and surveyed it into 160-acre land lots and 40-acre “gold lots.” These lots were distributed by lottery tickets given to every white citizen of the state. “Winners” of the lots could and did simply force the Cherokee families off their lands and out of their homes, and any Indian resisting the white takeover of his home could be imprisoned. An Indian family might be sitting in the living room of their well-built frame house when some white man and his friends would arrive and tell them that the house and land now belonged to the white man and the family had no choice but to leave, often without any of their personal belongings.

In December of 1835, a treaty was signed at New Echota by twenty Cherokee men, agreeing to the removal of the Cherokee to Indian Territory [now Oklahoma]. Not a single one of the officers of the Tribe was present or even represented. It is very important to understand that a treaty was signed by some Cherokee men, but not one of them represented the Tribe. The Cherokee Nation did NOT make this treaty! The U.S. Congress ratified the “treaty” late in May of 1836. [You can find a copy of this false treaty at this site. The first signature on it was that of Reverend J. F. Schermerhorn, acting as a commissioner for the Federal government; the marks or signatures of the twenty Cherokee follow his signature.]

The Cherokee had strong supporters in Congress, who were aware of the fraud taking place and who opposed it strongly. These friends included Daniel Webster and Henry Clay. Davy Crockett of Tennessee was a strong friend of the Cherokee, but he had left politics in disgust a few years before after losing an election–mostly because of his support of the Cherokee–, had moved to Texas, and had died in the defense of the Alamo in March, 1836.

The governor of Georgia, who pushed very hard to have the Indians removed, was George Gilmer, for whom Gilmer County is named. Governor Gilmer even threatened to “collide” with the Federal Government if the Removal were not carried out promptly. John Ross was the chief of the Cherokee Nation at the time of the Removal.

Troops were sent in and the Cherokee were forcibly disarmed. The Indians were given until 26 May 1838 to leave. About 2000 of the 17000 people did leave by then, seeing that there was no other hope; the rest refused.

The leaders of the soldiers sent in to disarm and round up the Cherokee were sympathetic and did not want to do what they were ordered to do, but they had no choice. It became apparent, however, that most of the people were not about to leave peacefully, so General Winfield Scott was sent in to command about 7000 troops and volunteers with orders to move the now weaponless Cherokee. When he arrived in the Cherokee country, he set up headquarters at New Echota, the capital. He issued a proclamation to the Cherokee people, telling them that they must begin moving out immediately and that, before another moon had passed, every Cherokee man, woman, and child must be on the way west to Indian Territory. He warned that he had thousands of troops all around them and more on the way, that escape and resistance were hopeless, and that if they tried to hide themselves in the woods and mountains his troops would hunt them down and shed blood if needed. About 13,000 Cherokee people were rounded up into stockades and holding camps..

Here is what James Mooney wrote in his report to the Bureau of Ethnography in the 1890’s. His sources were many: official military and government records, and long interviews with those who were involved in the Removal, both white and Indian.

“The history of the Cherokee removal of 1838, as gleaned by the author from the lips of actors in the tragedy, may well exceed in weight of grief and pathos any other passage in American history. . . . Under Scott’s orders the troops were disposed at various points throughout the Cherokee country, where stockade forts were erected for gathering in and holding the Indians preparatory to removal. From these, squads of troops were sent to search out with rifle and bayonet every small cabin hidden away in the coves or by the sides of mountain streams, to seize and bring in as prisoners all the occupants, however or wherever they might be found. Families at dinner were startled by the sudden gleam of bayonets in the doorway and rose up to be driven with blows and oaths along the weary miles of trails that led to the stockades. Men were seized in their fields or going along the road, women were taken from their [spinning] wheels and children from their play. In many cases, on turning for one last look as they crossed the ridge, they saw their homes in flames, fired by the lawless rabble that followed on the heels of the soldiers to loot and pillage. So keen were the outlaws on the scent that in some instances they were driving off the cattle and other stock of the Indians almost before the soldiers had fairly started their owners in the other direction. Systematic hunts were made by the same men for Indian graves, to rob them of the silver pendants and other valuables deposited with the dead. A Georgia volunteer, afterward a colonel in the Confederate service, said, ‘I fought through the civil war and have seen men shot to pieces and slaughtered by thousands, but the Cherokee removal was the cruelest work I ever knew.

To prevent escape the soldiers had been ordered to approach and surround each house, so far as possible, so as to come upon the occupants without warning. One old patriarch, when thus surprised, calmly called his children and grandchildren around him, and kneeling down, bid them pray with him in their own language, while the astonished soldiers looked on in silence. Then rising he led the way into exile. A woman, on finding the house surrounded, went to the door and called up her chickens to be fed for the last time, after which, taking her infant on her back and her two other children by the hand, she followed her husband with the soldiers.

All were not thus submissive. One old man named Tsali [Charley] was seized with his wife, his brother, his three sons and their families. Exasperated at the brutality accorded his wife, who, being unable to travel fast, was prodded with bayonets to hasten her steps, he urged the other men to join with him in a dash for liberty. As he spoke in Cherokee the soldiers, although they heard, understood nothing until each warrior suddenly sprang upon the one nearest and endeavored to wrench his gun from him. The attack was so sudden and so unexpected that one soldier was killed and the rest fled, while the Indians escaped to the mountains. Hundreds of others, some of them from the various stockades, managed to escape to the mountains from time to time, where those who did not die of starvation subsisted on roots and wild berries until the hunt was over. Finding it impracticable to secure these fugitives, General Scott finally tendered them a proposition, that if they would surrender Charley and his party for punishment, the rest would be allowed to remain until their case could be adjusted by the government. On hearing of this proposition, Charley voluntarily came in with his sons, offering himself as a sacrifice for his people. By command of General Scott, Charley, his brother, and the two elder sons were shot near the mouth of the Tuckasegee, a detachment of Cherokee prisoners being compelled to do the shooting in order to impress upon the Indians the fact of their utter helplessness. Those fugitives permitted to remain became the present eastern band of Cherokee.

In October, 1838, the long procession of exiles was set in motion. A very few went by the river route [by which the Army had taken the earlier groups]; the rest, nearly all of the 13,000, went overland. Crossing to the north side of the Hiwassee at a ferry above Gunstocker creek, they proceeded down the river, the sick, the old people, and the smaller children, with the blankets, cooking pots, and other belongings in wagons, the rest on foot or on horses. The number of wagons was 645.

It was like the march of an army, regiment after regiment, the wagons in the center, the officers along the line and the horsemen on the flanks and at the rear. They crossed the Tennessee River a short distance above Jolly’s island, at the mouth of the Hiwassee. Thence . . . through McMinnville and on to Nashville, where the Cumberland was crossed. Then they went on to Hopkinsville, Kentucky, where the noted chief Whitepath, in charge of a detachment, sickened and died. His people buried him by the roadside, with a box over the grave and poles with streamers around it, that others coming on behind might note the spot and remember him. Somewhere also along that march of death—for the exiles died by tens and twenties every day of the journey—the devoted wife of John Ross was lost, leaving him to go on with the bitter pain of bereavement added to heartbreak at the ruin of his nation. The Ohio was crossed at a ferry near the mouth of the Cumberland, and the army passed on through southern Illinois until the great Mississippi was reached opposite Cape Girardeau, Missouri. It was now the middle of winter, with the river running full of ice, so that several detachments were obliged to wait some time on the eastern bank for the channel to become clear. Memories still exist of that halt beside the frozen river, with hundreds of sick and dying penned up in wagons or stretched upon the ground and only a blanket overhead to keep out the January blast. The crossing was made at last in two divisions, at Cape Girardeau and at Green’s ferry, a short distance below, whence the march was on through Missouri to Indian Territory, the later detachments making a northerly circuit by Springfield, because those who had gone before had killed off all the game along the direct route. At last their destination was reached. They had started in October, 1838, and it was now March, 1839, the journey having occupied nearly six months of the hardest part of the year.”

At least 4,000 Cherokee died as a direct result of the Trail of Tears. Hundreds died in the stockades and holding camps before the journey began. About 2,500 died on the way, and more than a thousand others died soon after arrival, because of sickness from the cold and exposure on the way.

One hundred seventy years after the people of Georgia so viciously and mercilessly forced the Cherokee people out of the state, robbing them of all they had in worldly possessions and taking even their human dignity, I notice that attitudes toward Indians have greatly changed. About every third person I meet in North Georgia wants to tell me proudly about his or her family’s Cherokee blood. And some of these family stories of a distant Indian ancestor are valid, for traces of Cherokee blood flow in the veins of many of the Appalachian mountain people. Let everyone who has that pride of a Cherokee ancestor learn more of the history of the Indians in the Southeastern United States; in that way, at least, you can pay some tribute to your heritage. Do not forget that a thousand generations of Indians lived here and their spirits walk among you. White people have lived in GilmerCounty for only half a dozen generations.

For a historical view of the Removal, as related to Ellijay, Georgia, I recommend this excellent article.

A Claymation video about the Trail of Tears, in spoken Cherokee with subtitles, can be found at this link. Another video, running about 7 minutes, which is a preview of a longer video about the Trail of Tears, but which has a good example of spoken Cherokee, with better sound, is this one.  For good measure, here is a link to Amazing Grace [in Cherokee], which was sung in the hard times on the Trail of Tears. [You should be aware that the Cherokee words to the song are not merely a translation of the English words; the lyrics and a free translation are found at this link.  I personally would have spelled some of the words differently, in both English and Cherokee characters; however, spelling is not standardized in Cherokee and no one who knows the language would have any trouble reading either my version or this one.]

A few days ago, I discovered this Trail of Tears song on YouTube.  In it, you will hear authentic Eastern Cherokee words properly pronounced.  In fact, I highly recommend that you search for work by Tsasuyeda on YouTube.  There are nearly 50 highly informative videos on the Cherokee language that she has posted there.  I commend her for excellent work!  She also has a blog that is worth a look.

Cherokee Place Names, Part 10

Cherokee Place Names, Part 10

Now, it is time for a change of pace. I will list place names and follow each with some information about its origin.

Tusquitee Creek empties into the Hiwassee River just north of Hayesville, North Carolina. Near the junction was the old Cherokee village of Da’squitv‘yi, “place of rafters,” the corrupted pronunciation of which became Tusquitee. The reference was to those of houses, not to those who who choose to float on waters. In the immediate area, we find townships, mountains, ridges, and ranger stations bearing the Tusquitee name.  Here we have a good example of what happens when chambers of commerce do not carefully examine details when they prepare “translations” of local Cherokee place names. In several places, I find it written that “Tusquitee means ‘where the water dogs laughed.'”  That is incorrect information.  Here is a quotation from Mooney which will serve as an explanation of how they came to believe what they wrote. Note that the story has nothing directly to do with Dasquitvyi.  Bracketed parts are my editorial comments.

“The Cherokee name [of this area] is Tsuwa-uniyetsv’yi [and not Dasquitvyi], ‘Where the water-dogs laughed,’ the water-dog of the southern Alleghenies, sometimes also called mud-puppy or hellbender, being a large amphibious lizard or salamander of the genus Menopoma, frequenting muddy waters. According to the story, a hunter once crossing over the mountain in a very dry season, heard voices, and creeping silently toward the place from which the sound proceeded, peeped over a rock and saw two water-dogs walking together on their hind legs along the trail and talking as they went.  Their pond had dried up and they were on their way over to Nantahala River.  As he listened one said to the other, ‘Where’s the water? I’m so thirsty that my apron [gills] hangs down,’ and then both water-dogs laughed.” 

Nickajack Creek, in Marion County, Tennessee, and Nickajack Lake take their name from the important Cherokee town once located where Nickajack Creek emptied into the Tennessee River. Now, the site is under the lake. Niquatse’gi was one of the Cherokee Chickamauga towns; in 1794, it was the site of a horrible and senseless massacre of Cherokee men, women, and children. There is another Nickajack Creek on the Cullasaja River, in Ellijay Township, North Carolina. Before the days of political correctness and ethnic sensitivity, a less pleasing pronunciation of this latter creek was the norm. And, there is still another creek of this name in Cobb County, Georgia; it is said to provide some whitewater rafting after a good rain. I am not sure why these last two creeks are so named. Some have written that Nickajack meant “old Creek place.”  Linguistically, there is no justification for that derivation.

The Nantahala River flows northward from its headwaters in Macon County, North Carolina, to the Little Tennessee River through beautiful scenery and a deep gorge favored by whitewater rafters. Its name comes from the Cherokee words Nvda’ and aye’li [“sun” and “middle”], from the implication that one sees the sun only at midday from the gorge. It is not too much of a stretch to say that Nantahala could be translated as “Land of the Midday Sun.” In Cherokee, Nvda can mean either sun or moon, so one must specify “nvda iga ehi” [Nvda living in the day] or “nvda sunoye ehi” [Nvda living in the night]. Contrary to most world mythologies, in Cherokee tradition the sun is feminine and the moon is masculine. By the way, the moon is grammatically masculine in German.  [This might be a good place to remember how the Cherokee vowel “v” is pronounced.  We can use the word “nvda” as the example:  First, say “Nun” as in English, then pronounce it again, exactly the same way but leaving off the second “n” sound.  You end up with a nasal (through the nose) sound like “nuh”; then, put it all together to get “nv-da.”]

The Nantahala Mountains were once called the Jore Mountains.  The local pronunciation of the word Nantahala is “Nanta-HAYla.”

The Swannanoa River joins the French Broad at Asheville, North Carolina. The Cheraw Indians lived east of the Cherokee until they were obliged to join the Catawba people early in the 18th Century. Their name for themselves must have been something like “Suwala,” because de Soto called them Xuala and, to the Cherokee, they were Ani-Suwali [“they are Suwali”]. The Cherokee name for the route from the mountains to the Cheraw country was Suwa’li-nunnohi [“Suwali path”]. In English pronunciation, that became Swannanoa and was applied to the river and the mountains just east of Asheville.  Pronounce it SWANuh-NOah.

Under Tellico Lake now, but once upon a time where Citico Creek joined the Little Tennessee River was the town of Si’tigu’ [or Sitiku]. Its name was probably not a Cherokee word, so it may have been Creek or Yuchi before it was occupied by the Cherokee. The meaning in whatever the original language was is now lost to us, but there is no basis at all for saying it means “place of clean fishing water,” as is sometimes reported.  The Spanish expedition under Pardo in 1567 reported a town which they spelled “Satapo” at about the location of what came to be known later as Citico.  It is likely that the 16th Century inhabitants may have been Muskogean or Yuchi of some unknown tribe, which would indicate that the Cherokee, lacking a “p” sound, rendered as Sitiku or Setiku.  There seems to have been another settlement far up Citico Creek, but I want to research it further before including it here.

Tallassee is not far to the east of Citico, on the north side of the Little Tennessee. Further upstream, Tallassee Creek enters the river from the south. Here lay the Cherokee settlement of Ta’lasi’; perhaps the old site is now at least partially submerged in Chilhowee Lake. Talasi is not a Cherokee word; it is more likely Creek, perhaps from a dialect in which it simply meant “town.”

Chilhowee‘s name came from the town that Bartram spelled “Chelowe”. I believe the old settlement area is now under the lake, too. The Cherokee pronunciation was probably “Tsutlvwe’i,” and the meaning is lost. An oft-repeated speculation is that it came from the word for fox or kingfisher, but I am skeptical.

Tomotla is a few miles northeast of Murphy, North Carolina, on the Valley River. Here was the old village of Tamatli [sometimes written Tamali or Tamahle]. This town may have been continuously occupied for several centuries; it was taken from the Creeks by the Cherokee, who kept their approximation of the Creek name. There was another Cherokee town of the same name near the junction of the Little Tennessee and Tellico Rivers; its site is now under the waters of Lake Tellico, but the name survives as Tomotli Shoals and Tomotla Ford. Far down the Chattahoochee, in Creek lands never occupied by the Cherokee, was still another town called Tamatli. The Nahuatl [Aztec] word for tomato, incidentally, was tomatl, but it is hard to believe this was more than a coincidence. Suches, Georgia, may have taken its name from a settlement called Tase’tsi [Tasache, on old maps], which actually lay a few miles to the east of the present town. Tasetsi was sometimes shortened to Setsi. I recall that the old people I knew in my childhood pronounced Suches as “Sechis.” [It is pronounced “SUCH-iss” locally these days.]  The shortened form, Setsi, was also applied to the mound and a long lost village near Andrews, North Carolina. Like many other very ancient names, the meaning of this one is also forgotten to us.

Junaluska Creek, near Andrews, and Lake Junaluska, near Waynesville, North Carolina, are named for the famous Cherokee Tsunu’lahv’sgi. He organized a group of warriors in 1813 and vowed to wipe the Creeks off the face of the earth. Unfortunately (for him, but not for the Creeks!), he was not able to accomplish his goal. He reported that he had tried and failed. Thereafter, he was called Tsunulahvsgi, which translates as ” he tried, but he always failed.” English speakers rendered his name as “Junaluska,” and he is memorialized by other place names in western North Carolina.  For further reading about Junaluska, you might begin with this link. Junaluska was born near Dillard, Georgia, then called Eastertoy [Estatoah].

Also near Waynesville is the Saunook Community.  I believe its present name is taken from the prominent Cherokee family.  Historically, the family name came from Ani-Sawanugi, the Cherokee word for the Shawnee tribe.  Many Shawnee came eventually to live among the Cherokee, despite long previous hostilities between the two tribes.  One Cherokee signer of the “Turkeytown Treaty” of 1817 had his name rendered as “Souanooka.”  The Shawnee were known to the Creeks as Savanuka, and, according to Mooney, some of the coastal tribes called them the Savanna.  So it was that the Shawnee gave their name to the Savannah River and to the city of Savannah.  In the 20th Century, Savannah was often used as a girl’s name, including in the shortened form Vanna. Soco Gap, derived from soquo’hi [“One place”; the word for “one” is pronounced “sho-gwa” in the Eastern Cherokee dialect], and several other places incorporating Soco in their names. It is not clear why a site would be so named. Soco Creek joins the OconalufteeRiver at Cherokee, North Carolina. In Georgia, near Gainesville, is a street and community called Ahaluna. I am not sure how it came to have that name, but, as a matter of interest, that was a Cherokee name applied to Soco Gap. Translated into modern terms, Ahaluna would mean “Deer Stand.” Literally, its meaning is “where they lay [past tense] in wait” [for deer, or for enemies].

Ela, in Swain County, North Carolina, is the Cherokee word for earth or land.

The name of Euharlee Creek, which runs through Rockmart, Georgia–and the Euharlee community a few miles to the northeast—comes from the Cherokee attempt [“yuha’li”] at pronouncing the Creek town name Eufaula, so it really is not Cherokee at all. We should remember that Cherokee has no “f” sound.

Cullowhee, North Carolina [pronounced “CULLA-whee”]: From “Gulohiyi,” a place where gulohi grows. Some sources say that gulohi is the watercress, but we really don’t know that. I have an idea that the gulohi was quite another plant, but I can’t prove it. In the extinct Lower Dialect, the word became “gurohiyi,” which morphed into Currahee, the famous mountain at Toccoa, Georgia. During World War II, 101st Airborne troops trained on this mountain, and Steven Spielberg’s TV miniseries Band of Brothers featured it prominently. You thought paratroopers all yell “Geronimo” when they jump, didn’t you? Currahee! was the cry of those who trained there, as everyone who lives around Fort Campbell, Kentucky/Tennessee knows. I am proud that I served for a time in the 101st Airborne Division.  [The pronunciation is CURRa-hee.]  Near Townsend, Tennessee, is Curry He Mountain, from the same Cherokee word.  One of the Cherokee signers of the “Turkeytown Treaty” of 1817 was Currahee Dick, but he was from North Carolina.

The word Currahee is often cited as meaning “We stand alone” or similar phrases.  I am sorry to report that, as great as that sounds to those who serve in the 101st Airborne, it just is not true.  Not in Cherokee.  Sorry.  However, we need to point out that the mountain is a monadnock, which by definition, stands alone.  Currahee does stand alone!

Up in the Smoky Mountains is Cataloochee Creek and other Cataloochee places: a township, a mountain, a divide, and more. Sometimes, I have looked up at a mountain ridge, narrow at its top, to see a thin line of tall conifers looking rather like a stiff and vertical fringe against the sky. So it must have looked, somewhere in the Cataloochee region, to the ancient Cherokee who called it “Gadalutsi,” which translates as “fringe sticking straight up.”

Tuskegee: There were several settlements called Dasgigiyi [sometimes transliterated Taskigiyi or shortened to Taskigi] in the Cherokee country. The name is not Cherokee, nor even Creek; it came from the name of a nearly forgotten tribe who were taken in partly by the Cherokee and partly by the Creeks to the south. They were absorbed and nearly extinct before white people took notice of them, so not very much is known about them. They may have been some remnant of people who were living in the southeast when the Creeks and Cherokee arrived. The name remains in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Alabama. It is intriguing to note that the Spanish explorers were told in 1567 that not too far from “Tasqui” was another town, “Tasquiqui.” One wonders if there is a connection between Tuskegee Creek and Tuskee Gap in the Smokies?

Suwanee: “Suwani,” the name of a Cherokee town near the present Suwanee, Georgia. The word is not Cherokee, and the town had been taken from the Creeks. Both Creeks and Cherokee claimed a wide strip across Georgia, and, since neither side was able to enforce its claim, for a time there were towns of both tribes within the strip. The Suwanee River, famous as the “Swanee River” of song, has the same name origin.

Judaculla Rock is a large soapstone outcrop near Cullowhee, North Carolina; it is covered with incised and scratched markings of various shapes, not seemingly arranged in any order, and of wholly unknown meaning.  The markings, the best known petroglyphs in the state, are somewhat similar to those found at Track Rock Gap [q.v.].  In April 2016, the rock was senselessly vandalized.  On older maps, the name was spelled Juttaculla, and nearby is a “bald” of some 100 or so acres which is called Judaculla Old Fields.  The name is the result of English attempts at Tsul’kalu, a mythological and supernatural slant-eyed giant.  Tsul’kalu can be translated “he has them leaning [or slanted].”  According to legend, Tsul’kalu, who had seven toes on each foot, made the marks when he jumped up or down from his fields.  The proper pronunciation of Judaculla is JOOdah-KULLa, the first syllables pronounced like the Biblical name Judah, which is why the modern spelling is better than the old. The first u in the old word Tsul’kalu has the long u sound as in school.