The Turkeytown Treaty

From 1721 through 1868, the Cherokee people had more than forty treaties with the white people, at first with the British and colonists and later with the American government.  So far as I can tell, all of them seem to have been broken.

One that is of interest to us here in dealing with place names of Cherokee origin is the Treaty of 1817, also called the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency.  There had been, in 1816, two other treaties which, as usual, required the Cherokee to cede more lands.  In March of that year, they had ceded all remaining lands in South Carolina,  a small section in and around what is now Oconee County.  In September, the tribe in a general meeting at Turkeytown [Alabama] had ratified the Treaty of the Chickasaw Council House, ceding most of their lands in Alabama and nearby border areas, some 3,500 square miles.

On 8 July 1817, the Treaty of the Cherokee Agency was signed by 31 Cherokee leaders from North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, and by 15 Arkansas Cherokee chiefs, as well as by Major General Andrew Jackson—he did not become President until 1829—and by Governor McMinn of Tennessee.  It is often somewhat erroneously called the Turkeytown Treaty.  Including the Arkansas chiefs constituted the first formal recognition of the Western Cherokee.  Most of the Cherokee bitterly opposed this treaty and that of 1819.

Together with the Treaty of Washington in 1819, the Cherokee Nation ceded almost all their remaining lands in the East, except for northwest Georgia and some adjacent lands in Tennessee, Alabama, and the extreme western part of North Carolina.  The details of the cessions can be found in the map at this link.

A key provision of the Treaty of 1817 that came to affect some place names was Section 8:

“And to each and every head of any Indian family residing on the east side of the Mississippi river, on the lands that are now or may hereafter be surrendered to the United States, who may wish to become citizens of the United States, the United States do agree to give a reservation of six hundred and forty acres of land in a square to include their improvements which are to be as near the centre thereof as practicable, in which they will have a life estate with a reversion in fee simple to their children reserving to the widow her dower, the register of whose names is to be filed in the office of the Cherokee agent, which shall be kept open until the census is taken as stipulated in the third article of this treaty [June 1818]. Provided, That if any of the heads of families, for whom reservations may be made, should remove therefrom, then, in that case the right to revert to the United States. And provided further, That the land which may be reserved under this article, be deducted from the amount which has been ceded under the first and second articles of this treaty.”

The treaty promised a square mile of land to every Indian family east of the Mississippi River living on the lands that were ceded to the government if they would become citizens of the United States and give up their status as Cherokee [or other] Indians.  Six hundred forty acres for their very own, with their present home as nearly as possible to the center of that acreage–that was the promise.  All they had to do was file a request with the Indian Agent within almost a year.  Very few of the people had ever owned any land, and the concept was somewhat foreign to them.  Perhaps the main attraction for becoming “citizen Indians” may have been staying in the East, on familiar lands.  Only about 311 Cherokee people applied for the land.  A few of those actually got some land, usually less than the promised amount, and almost all of them lost what they did get.  Still, for a time, some of them remained among the white settlers.

Without going into historical details about the frustrations and thwarting of the allotments, we can see what effects some of these citizen Cherokees had on local place names.  [If you would like to examine some of the efforts by the states to deprive the Cherokee of the promised allotments, you could read the efforts of the state of Tennessee, which were probably typical of most of the states involved, possibly excepting North Carolina.  Georgians were especially inimical to the Cherokee, as later events would prove.]  You can find more depth on Cherokee history at this link.

Cherokee people who applied included The Cat, who lived near Sugartown [Cullasaja].  The creek he lived on is now called Cat Creek.  His name was probably a translation of Gvhe, wildcat, or  it may have been a translation of Tlvdatsi, the mountain lion, which the white settlers called “painter” [panther”].  Wesa was merely a Cherokee attempt at the English word “Puss,” the word used for a domestic cat.

One applicant, Little Betty, lived near the whites a little longer than most.  She was a widow with several children, we are told.  Her reserve was to be at Eastertoy, which later became Dillard, Georgia.  Betty’s Creek is named for her.  I am surprised to see its name showing up with increasing frequency as Betty Creek, an example of the gradual erosion and changing of place names as outsiders move into the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina.  Among people who grew up near Dillard, the name is always pronounced as if it were “Bettis Creek.”

Near Betty’s Creek is Betty Whitecloud Street.  As of now, I do not know if there is any connection with Little Betty, and I am inclined to doubt that there is.

Another applicant was Old Mouse, who lived “below Cowee,” that is, downstream from Cowee [NC].  He is remembered in the names of Old Mouse Creek and Mouse Mountain.  His name is a translation of the Cherokee word talasgewi [or possibly tsisdetsi or tsistetsi], with “Old” having apparently been appended in English.

The reservee listed in application documents as Musk Rat was living on Cartoogechaye Creek [on Ca-tur-as-joy Creek, the document says].  Muskrat Creek, Muskrat Valley, and Muskrat Road are named for him. His English name was a translation of salaquisgi [or salagisgi or selagisgi].

Otter Creek, about halfway between Franklin and Robbinsville, in the Nantahala Community, takes its name from citizen Cherokee Otter.  His name is a translation of Tsiyu.  His neighbor to the northwest was one Taylor Eldridge, white husband of Pathkiller’s daughter Ailcey.  Pathkiller himself had applied for his reserve about 2½ miles above the mouth of Sweetwater Creek, further to the northwest in the same general area.  Otter’s daughter Jane, while working for some of the white settlers, is said to have been killed by a panther [tlvdatsi, mountain lion].  Her name was given to Jane Otter Creek, a tributary of Otter Creek.

In 1818, Eu-chu-lah of Cowee applied for his 640-acre reserve just west of the Cowee Mound, and it seems to have been granted.  In old documents, it is recorded as the Euchella Farm.  It seems to have been taken over by the state of North Carolina almost immediately, whether by sale or by force.  In 1821, 299 acres of it was sold by the state to Joseph Welch.  The name survives in Euchella Cove, Euchella Church, and some other modern developments some miles to the west of the original farm.

About Turkeytown, Alabama:  The present community lies about halfway between Weiss Lake and Gadsden; the historical Cherokee town site, Gvna-digaduhvyi, is under the water of the lake.  The community, Little Turkey Road, and Turkeytown Gap are named for Gvna [or Gvnastee, Gvnusdi], the first Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.  His name translates to Turkey [or Little Turkey].  John Ross was born at Gvna-digaduhvyi in 1790, and he was one of the people requesting a reserve under the “Turkeytown Treaty.”

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.

Cherokee Place Names, Part 9

Cherokee Place Names, Part 9

Bartram’s list of 43 Cherokee towns begins with those “on the Tanase east of the Jore Mountains.” Those mountains are now called the Nantahala Mountains.  The Tanase is the Little Tennessee River. The four towns listed were all in what is now Macon County, North Carolina.

William Bartram (1739-1823)

Tanasi, from which came the name of the river and the state of Tennessee, seems to have had no meaning in Cherokee. I tend to agree with those who believe it was originally a Yuchi town name. The Yuchi occupied a good chunk of eastern Tennessee before they were overrun by the Cherokee and apparently forced to migrate and live along the Savannah River. From there they were forced westward by the whites and eventually had to merge with the Creeks.

Let’s take a look at those four towns.

But, first, even though I have said that more than 200 Cherokee town names are recorded, we should not imagine that any such number existed at any one time. In over 400 years of contact with the whites, many towns were abandoned for one reason or another, including European diseases and encroachment by settlers. Some of the “settlements” were no more than four or five families, and very few of them would have had more than 200 families.

We have no way to know if Bartram’s list included all the towns that were inhabited at the time of his travels. However, it is likely that the most important towns made the list.

The four towns, in the order listed: Echoee, Nucasse, Whatoga, and Cowee. The sequence seems to have been from the south of [the present] Franklin, and proceeding northward.

Echoee was his attempt at putting Itseyi into English letters. Itseyi is “new place.” [See Ellijay, in Part 1, for more detail.] The town was also known as Gadug-itseyi, which translates as “New Town,” the same name as the ill-fated Newtown in Connecticut, which, sadly, is very much in the news as I am writing now on 15 December 2012.  It was located near the junction of Cartoogechaye Creek and the Little Tennessee River, which explains the origin of the creek’s name. Locally, it is pronounced “Car-tooga-jay,” with the second and last syllables accented.  By the way, the April 2009 issue of National Geographic magazine says that Cartoogechaye means “cornfields”; their source is way off on that one.

As one heads north on U.S. Highway 441, in Franklin, North Carolina, there appears a large and ancient mound on the left, a few hundred feet from the Little Tennessee River, some three miles north of the Cartoogechaye. Here, before the white men came, was the important Cherokee town called Nikwasi, Bartram’s Nucasse; it is sometimes written Nucassee. Now, only the mound remains.

Nikwasi has no meaning in Cherokee, and the mound was there long before they came; it was built about 1000 ACE.  Perhaps, during the early 17th Century, the town belonged to one of the Creek bands. Before that, it was likely a Yuchi town of some importance.  Nikwasi did not mean “center of gravity” as stated in some modern promotional writings.

In fact, until about 1700, the Creek Indians held almost all of northern Georgia and Alabama and some of the lands in eastern Tennessee and western North Carolina. The Cherokee pushed them relentlessly to the south and west, taking their towns and keeping the names as best they could be rendered in the Cherokee language. By 1770 or so, the Creeks had lost the final battles and lands and towns to the Cherokee. The Creeks, in their turn had often preserved the names of towns and places given by still earlier inhabitants.

About four miles north of Nikwasi, by river, Watauga Creek enters the river. Somewhere on this creek was the Cherokee town of Watogi, Bartram’s Whatoga. A less important settlement in northeastern Tennessee gave its name to the community of Watauga, the Watauga River, and Watauga Lake. Who knows what long-forgotten tribe may have built the original town and named it in their own language, only to have the name distorted through a few more hands [and tongues] before it came to be Watogi? I wonder just how ancient such place names may be.  [There is said to be a Creek Indian word “wetoga,” from which the name may have come, but I cannot determine the accuracy of that.  I understand that the Creek word may have meant “broken waters.”]

And, a few miles further north, not far from Wests Mill, Cowee Creek empties into the Little Tennessee River, and the town of Kawiyi [short form Kawi’] lay near that place. In the region to the east of the river, many places bear the name Cowee. My own mother was born “up on Cowee.” The meaning of Kawiyi is uncertain, but some say it is a contraction of Ani-Kawiyi, “place of the deer clan.” Until it was burned by the whites in 1783, it was a large and important town, with about a hundred houses. It was soon rebuilt and kept until 1819, when the area was opened to white settlers. A Shawnee who had been held captive in the town for a time was reported to have declared Cowee to be the “best town of the Cherokee.”

Let’s look at a few other sites before we close Part 9.

Not far from Hayesville, North Carolina, is Shooting Creek and the Shooting Creek community. Near where the creek emptied into the Hiwassee River was the old settlement of Dani’sta-la-nv’yi, which translates roughly as “place where there were always shooting noises.” Unfortunately, the site of the town is now covered by Lake Chatuge.

The Cherokee word was too much of a mouthful for English speakers, so it became Shooting Place and that became Shooting Creek. A modern Cherokee word from the same root is Distayohi [“he shoots off firecrackers,” for Santa Claus, so Christmas is Danistayohihv, “when they always shoot off firecrackers”]. Those of us who grew up in the mountains of North Carolina remember the custom used to be to make loud shooting noises at Christmas and New Year, with whatever one had by way of firearms or firecrackers or even dynamite.

There probably were only two Cherokee towns called “Estatowe” when Bartram passed through in the late spring of 1775. We have to use his spelling, because there are no better records of the Cherokee pronunciation, and I have no clear idea of the original meaning of the name. He places one of them a little below the place where the Tallulah and Chattooga Rivers form the Tugaloo. The other, which he mentions as “Estatowe great,” was on Eastatoe Creek in Pickens County, South Carolina, and the creek bears its name.  We should note that the name Eastatoe also occurs in Eastatoe Falls and Eastatoe  Gap, near Rosman, NC, not so very far from Eastatoe Creek and Little Eastatoe Creek.  There seems to be a trend to spell Eastatoe with only one final E.

The third Estatowe must not have been in existence in 1775. There are several reports of such a town at the base of Estatoah Falls, in Rabun County, Georgia.  Chief Junaluska was born somewhere within a few miles of the falls in 1775.   Bartram specifically described this place as he found it after reaching the Little Tennessee River’s headwaters and proceeding downstream.

This photo is the Little Tennessee River, near its headwaters, in Wolf Fork Valley, two or three miles upstream from the confluence with Mud Creek.

Near the headwaters of the Little Tennessee

Near the headwaters of the Little Tennessee

He says he was “pursuing my serpentine path, through and over the meadows and green fields and crossing the river” He traveled a few miles down the river and came to “a very beautiful creek, which flowed into the river just before me; but now behold, high upon the side of a distant mountain overlooking the vale, the fountain of this brisk flowing creek; the unparalleled water fall appears as a vast edifice with crystal front, or a field of ice lying on the bosom of the hill.” The distance along the nearly straight creek from its mouth at the river to the falls is less than one and one-half miles, and it should have presented a good line of sight. I doubt that he would have failed to see any Indian settlement here and the inhabitants of it would surely not have missed his passing through. The falls are indeed beautiful. As a very small child, I lived for a time at the base of them. I am saddened that the creek has been named Mud Creek, and that there are some who have begun to refer to Estatoah as “Mud Creek Falls.”

There are those who report that Eastatoe and Estatoah are derived from the Cherokee name for the Carolina Parakeet,  but I have not been able to confirm that story yet.  We may surmise that all three of the towns were likely pronounced “Eestatoee” from the fact that an early name for what became the town of Dillard, Georgia, was recorded as “Eastertoy” by the whites.  Bartram’s spelling of the name may have been simply his rendition of “Eestatoee.”

The photo which follows below more accurately represents the beauty of Wolf Fork Valley, just a few hundred yards from the preceding scene. There existed among the Old Cherokee a barely remembered legend of a strange race of white people who were already living near the head of the Little Tennessee River when the Cherokee first arrived, long before the white men came to America. If there is any truth in that legend, Wolf Fork Valley would have been an idyllic place in those long ago days. Now and then, we all daydream of time travel. We can only imagine the things we might learn in such voyages.

A few miles the confluence of Mud Creek and the Little Tennessee River, just across the line into North Carolina, Tessentee Creek joins the Little Tennessee from the east. Somewhere near this junction lay the small Cherokee village of Tesantee, from which the creek takes its name.  We do not know what the name may have meant long ago.  Later, in the 1880’s, there was a post office called Tesinta in the same area.

In White County, Georgia, is the Tesnatee Community, Tesnatee Creek, and Tesnatee Gap.  I cannot be completely certain, but I feel sure that the name is related to Tessentee. The local pronunciation is “Tess-nee,” and, I hear, people living there are not always happy that the name is sometimes misspelled “Tesantee.”

Addendum:  Because Cowee is such a special place, I am departing from my usual pattern in order to include two stories about it.  They are taken directly from Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee, which is readily available online elsewhere; I place them here because of their connection to the town in this section.  We should also point out that Tsali lived in Cowee town before the Cherokee were forced out of it in 1819.  There is more information about Tsali in the Trail of Tears section.

Cowee Town

Cowee’, properly Kawi’yĭ, abbreviated Kawi’, was the name of two Cherokee settlements, one of which existed in 1755 on a branch of Keowee river, in upper South Carolina, while the other and more important was on Little Tennessee river, at the mouth of Cowee creek, about 10 miles below the present Franklin, in North Carolina. It was destroyed by the Americans in 1776, when it contained about a hundred houses, but was rebuilt and continued to be occupied until the cession of 1819. The name can not be translated, but may possibly mean “the place of the Deer clan” (Ani’-Kawĭ’). It was one of the oldest and largest of the Cherokee towns, and when Wafford visited it as a boy he found the trail leading to it worn so deep in places that, although on horseback, he could touch the ground with his feet on each side.

There is a story, told by Wafford as a fact, of a Shawano who had been a prisoner there, but had escaped to his people in the north, and after the peace between the two tribes wandered back into the neighborhood on a hunting trip. While standing on a bill overlooking the valley he saw several Cherokee on an opposite hill, and called out to them, “Do you still own Cowee?” They shouted in reply, “Yes; we own it yet.” Back came the answer from the Shawano, who wanted to encourage them not to sell any more of their lands, “Well, it’s the best town of the Cherokee. It’s a good country; hold on to it.”

The False Warriors of Chilhowee

Some warriors of Chilhowee town, on Little Tennessee, organized a war party, as they said, to go against the Shawano. They started off north along the great war trail, but when they came to Pigeon river they changed their course, and instead of going on toward the Shawano country they went up the river and came in at the back of Cowee, one of the Middle settlements of their own tribe. Here they concealed themselves near the path until a party of three or four unsuspecting townspeople came by, when they rushed out and killed them, took their scalps and a gun belonging to a man named Gûñskăli’skĭ, and then hurriedly made their way home by the same roundabout route to Chilhowee, where they showed the fresh scalps and the gun, and told how they had met the Shawano in the north and defeated them without losing a man.

According to custom, preparations were made at once for a great scalp dance to celebrate the victory over the Shawano. The dance was held in the townhouse and all the people of the settlement were there and looked on, while the women danced with the scalps and the gun, and the returned warriors boasted of their deeds. As it happened, among those looking on was a visitor from Cowee, a gunstocker, who took particular notice of the gun and knew it at once as one he had repaired at home for Gûñskăli’skĭ. He said nothing, but wondered much how it had come into possession of the Shawano.

The scalp dance ended, and according to custom a second dance was appointed to be held seven days later, to give the other warriors also a chance to boast of their own war deeds. The gunstocker, whose name was Gûlsadihĭ’, returned home to Cowee, and there heard for the first time how a Shawano war party had surprised some of the town people, killed several, and taken their scalps and a gun. He understood it all then, and told the chief that the mischief had been done, not by a hostile tribe, but by the false men of Chilhowee. It seemed too much to believe, and the chief said it could not be possible, until the gunstocker declared that he had recognized the gun as one he had himself repaired for the man who had been killed. At last they were convinced that his story was true, and all Cowee was eager for revenge.

It was decided to send ten of their bravest warriors, under the leadership of the gunstocker, to the next dance at Chilhowee, there to take their own method of reprisal. Volunteers offered at once for the service. They set out at the proper time and arrived at Chilhowee on the night the dance was to begin. As they crossed the stream below the town they met a woman coming for water and took their first revenge by killing her. Men, women, and children were gathered in the townhouse, but the Cowee men concealed themselves outside and waited.

In this dance it was customary for each warrior in turn to tell the story of some deed against the enemy, putting his words into a song which he first whispered to the drummer, who then sang with him, drumming all the while. Usually it is serious business, but occasionally, for a joke, a man will act the clown or sing of some extravagant performance that is so clearly impossible that all the people laugh. One man after another stepped into the ring and sang of what he had done against the enemies of his tribe. At last one of the late war party rose front his seat, and after a whisper to the drummer began to sing of how they had gone to Cowee and taken scalps and the gun, which he carried as he danced. The chief and the people, who knew nothing of the treacherous act, laughed, heartily at what they thought was a great joke.

But now the gunstocker, who had been waiting Outside with the Cowee men, stripped off his breechcloth and rushed naked into the townhouse. Bending down to the drummer–who was one of the traitors, but failed to recognize Gûlsadihĭ’–he gave him the words, and then straightening up he began to sing, “Hi! Ask who has done this!” while he danced around the circle, making insulting gestures toward every one there. The song was quick and the drummer beat very fast.

He made one round and bent down again to the drummer, then straightened up and sang, “Yu! I have killed a pregnant woman at the ford and thrown her body into the river!” Several men started with surprise, but the chief said, “He is only joking; go on with the dance,” and the drummer beat rapidly.

Another round and he bent down again to the drummer and then began to sing, “We thought our enemies were from the north, but we have followed them and they are here!” Now the drummer knew at last what it all meant and he drummed very slowly, and the people grew uneasy. Then, without waiting on the drummer, Gûlsadihĭ’ sang, “Cowee will have a ball play with you!”–and everyone knew this was a challenge to battle–and then fiercely: “But if you want to fight now my men are ready to die here!”

With that he waved his hand and left the townhouse. The dancers looked at each other uneasily and some of them rose to go. The chief, who could not understand it, urged them to go on with the dance, but it was of no avail. They left the townhouse, and as they went out they met the Cowee men standing with their guns ready and their hatchets in their belts. Neither party said anything, because they were still on friendly ground, but everyone knew that trouble was ahead.

The Cowee men returned home and organized a strong party of warriors from their own and all the neighboring Middle settlements to go and take vengeance on Chilhowee and on Kuwâ’hĭ, just below, which had also been concerned in the raid. They went down the Tennessee and crossed over the mountains, but when they came on the other side they found that their enemies had abandoned their homes and fled for refuge to the remoter settlements or to the hostile Shawano in the north.