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.”

Cherokee Place Names, Part 7

Cherokee Place Names, Part 7

During 400 years of white contact, the names of more than 200 Cherokee settlements were recorded. Most of them were clustered along rivers and other streams.

A teacher who had read some of my articles told her students that the Cherokee word for a creek is “Gusa,” and she cited me as the authority.

But, the word for a creek is “u-we-yv’ i,” and a Creek Indian is “Agusa,” shortened to Gusa and rendered Coosa in modern place names. A Creek is not a creek!

Still, a connection does exist. British traders in the 17th Century did a fair amount of repeat business with a small tribe of Muskogean-speakers whose town was on a creek of the upper Ocmulgee River. The tribe was the Ochesee, so the creek became known as Ochesee Creek. We are not sure of the location of the creek, but my guess is that it may have been somewhere in or near what is now Newton County, Georgia. In time, the Ochesee came to be called “the Creek” Indians.

Before long, of course, these Creek Indians had to move further west toward the Chattahoochee. Spread across from there into Alabama and northward were at least six dozen other small tribes, all loosely allied for mutual preservation since before the white men came. The entire collection became generically the “Creek” Indians, the Creek Confederacy. They spoke at least 8 or 10 different languages, so they were not exactly monolithic.

Most Indians in the southeastern U.S. built their settlements along or near streams. The towns were named from legendary or mythical events said to have occurred at this or that place on the stream, or they came from some natural feature of the location.

Rivers and creeks had only generic names: e-gwo-ni, river; a-we-yv-i, creek; it never occurred to anyone to give a stream its own personal name. Instead, streams may have had a dozen place names along their lengths, like strings of many-colored beads. And, it was from some of the more prominent beads that white people gave the streams the names we see on our maps today.  Of course, sometimes any important river was addressed ceremonially as “Asgaya Gvnahita,” (or “Yvwi Gvnahita”) meaning “Long Man.”

I have reason to think that the Oconee River, in Georgia, takes its name from e-gwo-ni (river), but I cannot be certain of that; there was once a Creek band called the Okonee [from Creek okvne, living on the water] who may have lived on the river. There is better evidence that Aquone, North Carolina, on Rowland Branch near the Nantahala River, is another version of the river word.

Further to the east, the Oconaluftee River flows through the Eastern Cherokee Reservation; a town on it was called Egwonulati, from e-gwo-ni plus nu-la-ti [“beside”]. In speech, the name became Egwonul’ti, the eclipsed “a” becoming a nearly aspirated sound that made the name sound to those not fluent in Cherokee as “Uhquonulfti,” which came out as Oconaluftee [pronounced “oh-KOH-na-LUFF-tee”]. A fairly good modern translation of the old town name would be “Riverside.” The present town of Tsisquohi [Birdtown] is on about the same site.

Not far north of the Oconaluftee Indian Village is Mount Stand Watie, named in honor of the famous Cherokee Confederate general.  Watie, who was born in the town of Oothcaloga–where Calhoun, Georgia, now is–was the only American Indian to rise to the rank of brigadier general in the Confederacy, and he was also the last Confederate general to surrender at the end of the Civil War.  His name derives ultimately from Uweti, “Old (Person),” his father’s name.  Watie’s Cherokee name was Degatoga , which can be translated roughly as “they two stand close together,”  the shortened translation of which was Stand.  Watie was also the principal chief of the Western Cherokee at the same time—1862-1866, to be precise.  [One possible translation of Degatoga is “blood brothers,” those who stand shoulder-to-shoulder in battle and life.]

There was also one American Indian brigadier general on the Union side, Ely Parker, a Seneca.  After the war, President Grant appointed Parker to the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs; he was the first non-white to hold that position.

Oconee County, South Carolina, on the other hand, is named for Ukwuni, a Cherokee town on Seneca Creek.  No one remembers the meaning of U-kwu’ni.  A well-made 1775 map shows the town was called Aconnee by the cartographer; it lay on a tributary of the Sennekaw River.

Seneca, South Carolina, takes its name from the once-important Cherokee town of Isuniga, or Sennekaw, which was near the junction of Coneross Creek and what used to be the Keowee River before it became Lake Keowee. The meaning of I-su-ni-ga has been forgotten, but it has nothing at all to do with the Seneca Indians of New York.  I suspect that it was taken from the Catawba language and its original meaning may have been the Catawba name for a tributary of the Savannah River.

Seeing that so many of the original Indian place names can no longer be translated, we can be fairly certain that creative local chambers of commerce will devise some clever meanings, no doubt coupled with tales of warriors and forbidden loves and that sort of thing.

Now, we would assume that Coneross Creek must surely get its name from some historic site in Scotland or Ireland, but not so. Coneross is an English perversion of the name of a place on the creek, Ka-wo-na-u-lo-sv [yi], but from the now extinct Cherokee dialect which had a “r” sound instead of the “l” of the surviving dialects. It was pronounced roughly “ka-wo-nu-ro-sv,” and it came from the word for “duck,” kawona, and “where it fell,” urosvyi. The story is that a duck had a nest in a cave high above the water, so that when she left the cave, she seemed to fall into the water. There is some indication that a small settlement, Kawonurosv, may have been nearby, but I have not found it among any historical lists of Cherokee towns. Coneross is pronounced “Conna-ross” these days.

One settlement not so far away was called Kuwahiyi, from ku-wa-hi, a place with a good stand of mulberry trees. Its name meant “mulberry grove place.” Two towns bore this name: the first was a major one, now lying beneath the waters of Lake Keowee, and the other was somewhere between what are now Pickens and Easley, South Carolina. Poor English pronunciation of the first one led to the name of the Keowee River.  Keowee is pronounced “KEE-uh-wee” by those who live near it.

Before the white people came, the Cherokee had two principal sources of sweetener. The obvious one was honey. The word for honeybee, in modern Cherokee, is wadulisi. By extension, it also means honey and even sorghum molasses.

The other sweetener was the sweet gum between the seeds in the large pods of honey locust, kalasetsi [Gleditsia triacanthos].

Nowadays, in the more modern form kalseji, the word is used for both sugar and candy; many speakers no longer know about the tree. A few miles to the east of Franklin, North Carolina, was the site of the old Cherokee village of Kalsetsiyi “honey locust place,” for which the Cullasaja community and the Cullasaja River, with its beautiful gorge, are named.  The Cullasaja [pronounced “Culla say ja”] River joins the Little Tennessee at Franklin.  The community of Sugar Fork, just below the gorge, took its name from a translation of the Cherokee word.  A good English equivalent of Kalsetsiyi [“Kulsage” in some old documents] is Sugar Town, and that name appears in places in many documents referring to Cullasaja.  There used to be a Sugartown Creek close to Morganton, near the site of another Kalsetsiyi, but I believe it was swallowed by Blue Ridge Lake.

The honey locust is a close relative of mesquite [Prosopis spp.], which was long used by the Southwestern U.S. Indians in the same way the Cherokee used the honey locust.  Mesquite flour is now available commercially.  The sugar present in both mesquite and the honey locust is primarily fructose, which carries a lower glycemic load than sucrose.

There is a Cullasaja Branch that empties into Alarka Creek, near Alarka, North Carolina. There does not exist any record of a Kalsetsiyi in that location, so far as I can determine. The Alarka community and the creek name comes from the Cherokee word Yalo’gi, the meaning of which is not known.

Another lost word is Tuksitsi [a form of tsiksitsi], an old Cherokee village name. It lay near the forks of the Tuckasegee River, where there is now the Tuckasegee community. Locally, the pronunciation is “Tucka say gee.”  There is some indication that the name is connected with the diamondback terrapin [Malaclemys terrapin], called daksi [sometimes tuksi] in modern Cherokee, but I don’t have any positive evidence on that point.

The Briartown community in northern Macon County, North Carolina, and Briertown Mountain, nearby in Swain County, got their name from the Cherokee town of Kanu’galo’yi, [“brier place”].   The Cherokee word kanuga was the name given to the ritual “scratcher” used by medicine people to prepare players for the ball play.  In the form kanugala, it was the general name for all sorts of sorts of brier-laden berry bushes and vines.   Probably somewhere near Pigeon Gap, in Haywood County, there was said to be a Cherokee town which was called Kanuga [“scratcher”]; it has left onomastic descendants in Lake Kanuga and Camp Kanuga, among others.

In Swain County, North Carolina, is Kanati Fork Creek. Following just above the creek is a portion of the Kanati Fork Trail for hikers.  In White County, Georgia, just to the east of Cleveland, there is Kanati Ridge Road and nearby is Selu Creek Road.  Probably all of these names, most especially the last two, were given in modern times.

Kanati and Selu are linked in Cherokee mythology.  They were among the first people, perhaps even the very first of all, and they came to be regarded as supernatural and godlike.

Kanati’s name seems to be derived from the Cherokee <ganohaliDOha>, “hunter.”  He was a great hunter and he taught people how to hunt.  His wife’s name was Selu, and that remains the modern Cherokee word for “corn” (maize).  Corn was a gift from her and it was from her that people learned to grow it.

You can find the full text of the Legend of Kanati and Selu [as recorded by James Mooney] at this link.

In Georgia’s Gilmer County is the community of Tickanetley, near Tickanetley Creek. A short distance to the northwest is Tickanetley Bald, near Rich Mountain. Somewhere on the creekside was the old Cherokee settlement of Tekanitli. No one is sure of the location, and I cannot be sure of the derivation of the name, but I can tell you that it is suspiciously like the Cherokee word di-ga-ne-tli, the plural form of the word for a bed. I think the town may have taken its name from the presence of good expanses [“beds”] of some kind of useful plant. This is just one of those mysteries that will likely never have a final solution.

Cherokee Place Names, Part 6

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 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.]

Cherokee Place Names, Part 3

Cherokee Place Names, Part 3

The meanings of some of the old Cherokee place names were long since lost to the Cherokee themselves when the white people came. Perhaps a few bear traces of the languages of the people who preceded the Cherokee, for the Cherokee arrived in the Southeast about 3000 to 3500 years ago [at about the same time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt], based on glottochronological views. [There is some evidenced their arrival may have been much more recent.] Others names were taken by the Cherokee from neighboring tribes such as the Creeks and Catawbas. In our area are quite a few place names that are very likely to be Cherokee or Cherokee-influenced, but which I have not been able to pin down with certainty, seeing that I like to do much more than just guess or speculate. For examples, consider these names: Waleska, Cartecay, Noontootla, Talona, and even Chenocetah. Perhaps someone who reads this article will have more historical information on these names than I do and will be good enough to pass it on to me.

Along the way, we need to correct some false translations, too. The colorful “translations” often given by localities of their names’ origins are sometimes grossly incorrect. Some samples:

TOCCOA: We have both the Toccoa River and the city of Toccoa in our area. And, there is Toccoa Falls. While none of us will deny that these places are beautiful, the Cherokee word from which the name is taken decidedly does not mean “beautiful.” [The word for “beautiful” is “uwoduhi.”] Among the most lasting enemies of the Cherokee were the Catawba Indians. When the white men came, the Catawba lived in the region about what is now Rock Hill, South Carolina. The Cherokee word for Catawba was “A-ta-qua,” often shortened to “Ta-qua.” Sometimes, Catawba war parties invaded the Cherokee territory, maybe even sometimes trying to set up a Catawba village in the area. The Cherokee did not take kindly to such incursions, and they probably wiped the invaders out completely. Some of the places where memories of finding Catawbas remained were called “Catawba place,” which came out as “Ta-qua-hi” in Cherokee. [The -hi ending has the same meaning as the -yi we have seen before; we can translate it as “place where.”] So, Toccoa really means “Catawba place.”

To get some idea of how inimical the Cherokee and Catawba were toward one another, at the turn of the last century, there was at least one older man on the North Carolina Cherokee reservation who bore the name of “Ta-qua-di-hi.” which means “Catawba Killer.”

A few miles north of Toccoa, on the Tugalo River, is Yonah Lake.  The river forms a part of the border between Georgia and South Carolina.  Yonah, as will be mentioned elsewhere, is from the Cherokee word for “bear.”

Toqua Creek, in Monroe County, Tennessee, appears on some older maps as Toco Creek.  Its name has no connection with Toccoa.  In Cherokee mythology, there was a giant fish monster called the Dakwa [or Taquo]. One Cherokee settlement near the confluence of Toqua Creek and the Little Tennessee River was called Dakwai [Dakwa place], and the creek takes its name from that town.  The site of the town is now submerged in Tellico Lake.  Dakwa is used as the name of a small lake near Turniptown Road, in Gilmer County, Georgia, but that does not seem to be for historical reasons.  The modern Cherokee word “dakwa” means “whale.”

NACOOCHEE: It is usually said to mean “Evening Star.” That mistake came about because someone who knew a little Cherokee thought it was the same word as “na-qui-si,” which does mean “star.” Actually, the name comes from the old Cherokee town of “Na-gu-tsi,” which was located in Nacoochee Valley, at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. The name of the town has no meaning in Cherokee and was taken by them [probably along with the village itself] from earlier Indians living in the area, hapless people who were pushed further south by the Cherokee. Those Indians may have been the Yuchi, also called the Uchee. We notice that the last two syllables in Nacoochee would agree with that, but there is no way to verify this speculation.

By the way, Chattahoochee is not from Cherokee; it is from a Creek Indian word that meant something like “marked-rocks stream.”

The “Legend of Sautee and Nacoochee” no doubt makes an interesting story for tourists, but it is totally an invention of white people. SAUTEE comes from the Cherokee “I-tsa-ti”; it was the name of several important Cherokee towns, including a special “peace town” on the Soque River not far from Nacoochee Valley, and also of the large Nacoochee mound. “Echota” and “Sautee” are the same name, just rendered differently in English ears.  I pronounce Echota as Eh-CHOE-tah; other people often say Eh-CHOE-tuh.  Sautee is pronounced locally as SAW-TEE, with about equal emphasis on both syllables.

TALLULAH: It is said to mean “the terrible.” The name may have come from a word meaning “incomplete” or “unfinished”; we will likely never know for sure, but it definitely does not mean “terrible” nor “there lies your child” [as one writer stated long ago]. The Cherokee tended to avoid the Gorge and the great and beautiful falls that were destroyed by the dam built early in the last century; they called the falls “U-gv-yi,” but no one remembers what that meant. In the 1890’s and until the dam wiped out the falls, Tallulah Falls was a very popular and somewhat posh resort area, with several first-class hotels and access by train from Atlanta. I have heard that Senator Bankhead, a Democrat from Alabama, was so impressed by the place that he named his daughter for it; Tallulah Bankhead [1902-1968] became a famous film actress. A little more on Tallulah will come later.

TERRORA is the same word as Tallulah, but in the old and now extinct Lower Dialect of Cherokee, which had the “r” sound instead of the “l” sound. [Modern Cherokee dialects do not have an “r” sound.]

Now, let’s look at a few more names before we run out of space for this section.

COOSAWATTEE: In Ellijay, the Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers flow together to form the Coosawattee River. Its name comes from a couple of Cherokee words: “Gu-sa u-we-ti-yi,” which we can break down into “Gu-sa,” the Cherokee name for the Creek Indians, and “u-we-ti-yi.” This last part comes from “u-we-ti,” [old or ancient] and the now familiar locative -yi. Putting it all together, we can see that Coosawattee means “old Creek Indian place.” The Cherokee had earlier taken that area from the Creeks.  The name is pronounced  COO-suh-WAH-TEE.

By the way, Oklahoma Cherokee still call North Carolina “Tsa-la-gu-we-ti-yi,’ which means “the old Cherokee place.”

In the movie Deliverance, the “Cahulawassee River” is likely a disguised reference to the Coosawattee River, which underwent development after the Army Engineers approved the building of a dam in 1959.  Today, the result is Coosawattee River Resort near Ellijay and Carter’s Lake; the former dramatic rapids are no more.

We have to notice that the Cherokee “G” sound is almost the same as the English “K” sound; that will explain the meaning of COOSA [“Gu-sa”], as in the river and the town near Rome and in Coosa Bald, south of Blairsville. It simply means “Creek Indian” to the Cherokee.  The name probably derives from a Muskogean word meaning “river cane.”

Over near New Echota, the Coosawattee and the Conasauga come together to form the Oostanaula River.

CONASAUGA: There were several settlements and villages in the old Cherokee lands which bore the name “Ga-na-so-gi.” No one remembers what it meant originally and there is no Cherokee translation; maybe it was just a Cherokee adaptation of an earlier Indian place name, the remnant of some long lost and forgotten tribe.  However, there have been suggestions that the name may be related to the word “kanesga,” which means “grass” or “hay”; I know of no historical documentation for that. An area of northwestern Gilmer County, Georgia, was the site of one such village; the name appeared on maps as “Connesauga” until 1915.  One English mangling of the name is “Kennesaw.”

OOSTANAULA: Several old Cherokee towns also bore the name “U-sta-na-lo-hi.” The translation is “a place where there is a natural barrier or dam of rocks across a stream.” The local pronunciation is “OO-stuh-NOLLY.” The plural form is “U-ni-sta-na-li,” from which we get the name EASTANOLLEE.  Eastanollee is pronounced to rhyme with “Molly.”

Well, as long as we are on this river run, we can point out that the Coosa River is formed by the confluence of the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers, over at Rome. So, let’s close out this segment with the Etowah.

ETOWAH: There was a Cherokee town called “I-ta-wa.” Once again, no one has any idea of what the original meaning was, and it probably wasn’t Cherokee.  It may have come from a Catawba word for the long-leaf pine tree, but that is mostly speculation; Eutaw is a possible variation of the Catawba word, if the speculation holds up.  Eutaw, Alabama, took its name from the Battle of Eutaw Springs, in what is now Orangeburg County, South Carolina.  Down in Forsyth County, Georgia, southeast of Ball Ground, is Hightower, and that “Hightower” is probably the same Cherokee word. In Towns County [GA], near the North Carolina line, there is Hightower Bald and Hightower Gap; not very far away is Hightower Creek.  Other Hightowers may come from an English family name.  Etowah is pronounced ET-uh-WAH.

And, then there is Ball Ground, in whose vicinity there was probably a ground for playing Indian ball, as was also the case for Ball Play, in Polk County, Tennessee, and Ball Play, in adjacent Monroe County, Tennessee.   An old Cherokee word for which these are the translations might be “u-na-la-sga-lv-di-yi” or nearly that, meaning literally “place where they play ball.”  A similar modern word is used for a ball field or a gymnasium.