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, baby, hence Usdiga’yi, “baby place,” but there are no historical references to be found to justify that speculation.]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 Ancestry.com page, but I cannot say how accurate it may be.]

Over in Walker County, GA, is Lula Falls, a shortened form of Tallulah as is made more evident when we observe that the older spelling was Lulah Falls.  However, the town of Lula, GA, took its name from Miss Lula Phinizy, whom the engineers who founded the town admired, so it is not connected with Tallulah.

Terrora, as we have already seen, is the same word as Tallulah, but from that now-extinct Cherokee dialect which had the r-sound and not the l-sound.  On old maps, one finds the Tallulah River shown as “Terrura Creek” or some variant of that.   A 1775 map based on actual surveys by Mouchon shows a village called Taruraw in the vicinity.

Chattooga River, famous for its rapids and as the site of the filming of Deliverance, takes its name from “Tsa-tu-gi,” an old Cherokee village on the river. Just as we have taken Cherokee place names, they often took whole villages from other tribes and kept the previous name. Most frequently, they pushed Creek Indians out and to the west and south; that appears to be how Tsatugi came to be a Cherokee town. The word has no meaning in Cherokee, and whatever it once meant in Creek has long since been forgotten. Further evidence for this notion can be found in Georgia’s other Chattooga River, the one that empties into the Coosa at Weiss Lake in Alabama; keep in mind that the Cherokee word for a Creek Indian was “Ku-sa,” from which we get Coosa. And, let’s not forget Lake Chatuge, on the Hiwassee River. [The town and the Georgia part of the river–which rises in the mountains of Towns County, Georgia–are spelled Hiawassee, with two a’s, and the river is spelled Hiwassee once it crosses into North Carolina, with only one a.  Both are from the Cherokee “a-yu-wa-si,” which means a meadow-like place, or a place with mostly low plants and few trees. The pronunciation of HIGH-uh-WAH-see is reasonably close to the old Cherokee word. More often than not, I hear it pronounced Hi-WAH-see, though, more like the North Carolina river’s name.]  On some old maps, “A-yu-wa-si” is distorted into Euphasee as the name of the Hiwassee.

Recently, I drove near the Virginia community of Hiwassee, spelled the same way as the river in North Carolina; so far as I can tell, it is named for that river.  This latter Hiwassee lies near the New River, which, oddly, is said to be the second oldest river in the world.

Warwoman Creek empties into the Rabun County Chattooga River near Earl’s Ford.

The Tugaloo River is mostly just Tugaloo Lake now, but, in the days before so many dams, it was obvious that the Tallulah River joined the Chattooga to form the Tugaloo, which, somewhere downstream, picked up enough tributaries to become the Savannah River. The name is pronounced “Too-ga-low” [rhymes with “whoa”] by most of the people who live near Tallulah Falls. I am not at all sure what the old Cherokee name [“Du-gi-lu-yi”] may have meant. One writer suggests it may have something to do with a place at the forks of a stream, which is supported by the Muskogean word toklo, two.

A few more miles downstream from Tallulah is Yonah Lake. “Yo-nah” is the Cherokee word for “bear.” Over near Cleveland, GA, is the conspicuous Yonah Mountain. Looking at it, one would think it by far the highest mountain in White County, but it isn’t even close. I don’t know how it was that white people came to call it Yonah Mountain, either; the old Cherokee name for it was “Ga-da-lu-lu.” No one remembers why or what the name meant, and in the days when anyone did remember, no one wrote it down anywhere, so we are not likely ever to know. There is some evidence that one or more Spaniards lived on or near the mountain, for some time, around 1670, mining gold.

A little west of Hiawassee, we came to the Brasstown Ranger Station. Not far away is Brasstown Creek, and, to the south is Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald [4784 feet]. No one would suspect that Ellijay and Brasstown have a common Cherokee origin of their names.  We’ll need to explain.

You remember that Ellijay is from Cherokee “e-la-i-tse-yi,” the “e-la” part of which means “earth” or “ground,” the “i-tse” means “new” or “green,” and the “-yi” means “place.” One can interpret the word to mean “place of green plants” or “new ground” (a place recently cleared for planting, where new green plants are sprouting). There were several places in the old Cherokee country that bore just the name “I-tse-yi,” roughly equivalent to the English “New Town.”

Now, it happens that the Cherokee word for “brass” is “v-tsai-yi.” [Remember that pronunciation of “v”? And the “-tsai” is roughly “chy” to rhyme with “shy.”] White people mistook Itseyi to be Vtsaiyi, and they do sound a bit alike. So, anyway, several villages named “Itseyi” came to be translated as “Brasstown.”

Gumlog Creek empties into Brasstown Creek. Not too far away are Gumlog Mountain and Gumlog Gap. Gumlog is a not very good translation of the name of the little Cherokee settlement that used to be on the creek. The village was called “Tsi-la-lu-hi,” from the word “tsi-la-lu,” sweetgum tree, and the “-hi” was the “locative” [= “place where”] we have seen before in the form “-yi.” Then, Tsilaluhi, the Cherokee town, really meant “sweetgum place” or “sweetgum town.” Well, by gum, at least they got the “Gum” right.  Once, there was a Gumlog Community in the area, but I do not find it on the maps anymore.  Another Gumlog Community has arisen in Franklin County, Georgia, but I do not know how it came by its name.

Over to the west of Brasstown Creek is Track Rock Gap. The trail there used to have a kind of soft soapstone rocks [greenstone] on both sides of it, and all sorts of scratchings and carvings had been made by Indians passing that way, resting en route. I do not know how many of them still exist, for I have not been there since childhood. I hope the State has made some effort to preserve them. Despite some fanciful interpretations by archaeologists, they were probably just ancient graffiti. There is an interesting story of one outline of a large foot, more than 17 inches long, complete with six toes. Perhaps a Bigfoot? The Cherokee name for the place was “Da-tsu-na-lo-sgv-yi,” “ a place where there are tracks.”

Just west of Blairsville is the Nottely River and Nottely Lake. The river continues on northward and empties into the Hiwassee a short distance west of Murphy, NC. Long ago, the small Cherokee settlement of “Na-du-tli”  [sometimes written Natuhli] lay on the river bank just inside what is now Cherokee County, NC. The village was another of those taken from the Creeks by the Cherokee, and the name seems to have been another forgotten Creek word; once again, the Cherokee just kept the name after driving the Creeks out. From this village came the river’s name. Contrary to some publications, Natuhli did not mean “daring horseman.” [The Cherokee “tl-“ sound is something like an English sound “hl-“; it is even more like the correctly pronounced “Ll” in Welsh “Llewellyn.”]

South of Blairsville, just north of Neel’s Gap, there is a Nottely Falls on Shanty Creek. Just downstream from the falls, Frogtown Creek [which I have mentioned earlier] empties into Shanty Creek.

Along or near the Nottely River is the present Notalee Community, which, I assume, takes its name from the river.

Just east of the river, toward the southern part of Union County [GA], is the Choestoe Community. Its name came from the Cherokee “Tsi-stu-yi” (from “tsi-stu,” rabbit, with the locative “-yi,” together meaning “Rabbit Place” or “Rabbit Town”–there is nothing about “dancing” in the original name).  Locally, it is pronounced CHO-ee-STOW-ee.  The same word appears in South Carolina as Choastea Creek, in Tennessee, near Benton, as Chestuee Creek, and, in Unicoi County as Chestoa.  In Cherokee mythology, Rabbit was a wily trickster, like Coyote was to the Western Indians. In fact, most of the Br’er Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths. [Does anyone remember that especially pleasant movie, Song of the South, with its Br’er Rabbit stories? Apparently, Disney thinks it politically incorrect to release it or allow it to be sold on videocassettes or discs. It does not seem to me that anything in the film is demeaning to anyone, but I suppose that not everyone agrees with me.]

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Cherokee Place Names, Part 4

Cherokee Place Names, Part 4

A year or so ago, my wife and I drove along the Ocoee River, just across the Georgia line in Tennessee.  We were surprised to see how low the water was up there, remembering the attention the Ocoee River rapids got during the 1996 Olympic Games.  Here, in late November, we found only bare rocks where we expected churning waters.  Later, we learned that water is released intermittently on schedules from the three Ocoee Dams, for recreational and power-generating purposes.

The name Ocoee comes from the Cherokee “U-wa-go-hi,” which translates to “apricot place.”  Now, let’s be sure we are not talking about the peach-like fruit that grows on trees and, in dried form, often gets incorporated into trail snack mixes.  For most of us who grew up in these mountains of Georgia and Tennessee and North Carolina, an “old field apricot” is what the botanists call Passiflora incarnata, the native wild passion flower vine that grows in abandoned fields and along the roadsides.   After its lemon-sized fruit begins to yellow and wrinkle just a bit, the thin skin is easily opened so that the delicious fruit can be eaten on the spot or made into a drink, in old Indian style.  The leaves and other parts can be made into an effective sedative tea, too.Its Cherokee name is “u-wa-ga,” and some people call it a “Maypop” in English.

The Ocoee River got its name from an old and important Cherokee town on the river, in a place where the wild apricots grew abundantly, near the river’s junction with the Hiwassee, not too far from Benton, Tennessee.  It is not at all clear why the same river is called the Toccoa River in Georgia and the Ocoee in Tennessee, but I suspect some Georgia people simply got the names confused; they seem to have heard “Ocoee” as “Toccoa” and no one ever got around to correcting the error.  [Ocoee is pronounced “oh-KOH-ee.”]

On very old maps of the area, the river’s name is often spelled “Aquoke.”

I’ve noticed that the apricot vines are getting scarce these days–fields don’t get abandoned; they turn into subdivisions.  And, the roadside plants get mowed away before the fruits mature.  I have planted some on my own property; given a chance, they grow well.

Ocoee does not mean “people of the river,” which appears in some publications.

Ducktown, Tennessee, a few miles to the east of the Ocoee, lies in the same area as the old town of Gawonvyi [Kawonunyi or Kawanunyi], and “Duck Town” is a pretty good translation of the Cherokee name.  “Kawona” is the word for duck, and we see the locative –yi again.

Not far from where the Doublehead Gap Road crosses the Toccoa River in Fannin County, Skeenah Creek empties into the river.  Nearby was the Cherokee settlement of Asginayi [“ghost place”], which appears in some old papers as Skeinah.  The creek rises somewhere near Skeenah Gap on the Union County line.  I have found the name Skeenah in South Carolina and I know about the Skeenah Creek in Macon County, North Carolina.  Nearby was a white community called Skeenah, with a post office during the 1850’s and 1860’s before it was closed, only to be reborn briefly in the 1880’s.  Its pronunciation is very close to the old Cherokee word, missing only a light “ah” sound at the beginning of the word.  Cherokee “a-sgi-na” meant roughly the same things as the English words “ghost,” “demon,” or “devil.”  Skeenah Gap Road makes its way through some very pretty countryside, well worth the drive from Blue Ridge or Ellijay or Morganton.  [There is also Asgini Branch, a small stream in northern Swain County, North Carolina, whose name could be translated “Ghost Creek.”]

The Cherokee word for one’s head or skull, so long as it remains attached to the body, is “a-sgo-li.”A more ghostly severed head is “u-sga,” the plural form of which is “tsu-sga.”  (The ts– part is usually pronounced somewhere between a j– and a ch– sound, but some people make it sound like a z.)

Now, if an Indian man were called “Ta-li-tsu-sga,” “two heads,” it did not mean he was a freak of nature; rather, the name might have been given because he had collected or owned two severed heads, presumably of his enemies.  Anyway, there was a Cherokee chief Talitsusga who lived just about two hundred years ago.  The English translation of his name, as in Doublehead Gap, really does sound better than “Two Heads,” doesn’t it?  Doublehead was an interesting and enterprising fellow who was killed by his enemies among the Cherokee.  We don’t have space here, but you can find more details of his life  in this Wikipedia article.

Since we are mentioning “heads,” we can notice that “Brown Head” (Wo-di-ge a-sgo-li) is the Cherokee name for the copperhead snake.

A few miles north of Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fightingtown Creek arises and snakes its way through the woods to the Ocoee River just above McCaysville. The creek’s English name came from an incomplete translation of the name of a Cherokee town near its banks.  Let’s trace it, with some meanderings.

The word “wa-lo-si” (usually pronounced “wa-lawsh”) meant “frog.”  Not a bullfrog or a toad, but quite specifically the green frog that my herpetologist friends would call Rana clamitans melanota.  One of the best photos I have seen of that frog can be found at this link.

In our North Georgia mountains grows a little plant of the lily family known commonly as the yellow mandarin; botanists call it Disporum lanuginosum, and it reminds one of a very downy Solomon’s seal.  I think its red berries are likely to be poisonous.  There is an ancient Cherokee story about a couple of green frogs who got into a fight using the flimsy stalks of the plant as weapons, so the old-time Cherokee called the plant “wa-lo-si u-nu-li-sdi” which means “frogs use it to fight with.”  Near a big patch of these plants was the Indian town “Wa-lo-si-u-ni-li-sdi-yi” (“Place where the frogs-fight-with-it plants grow”).  The name of the town, as often happened, became the name of the creek, but, untranslated, it proved too much of a mouthful for English speakers.  To keep things simple, they just translated it as Fightingtown, choosing to ignore most of the story.  And that was that.

But, the same frog appears again in the name of another old Cherokee town, “Wa-lo-si-yi,” “Frog Place,” which became Frogtown in English.  There’s a beautiful little Frogtown Valley up near Neels Gap, and not too far to the south, down in Lumpkin County [GA], Frogtown Creek flows into the Chestatee River.  Up in the Smokies, Mt. LeConte is still known as its ancient name, Walasiyi, by some people.

Another plant was known to the Cherokee as “ga-tv-la-ti.”  It was a rather important plant, with fibers finer and stronger than flax, which could be spun and woven into cloth or carrying bags or fishing lines and more.  Textiles made of it have been found in 3000-year-old mounds in Ohio and elsewhere.  It had many medicinal uses, including as a contraceptive that may have actually worked and–after the white man brought the disease among them–a reputed cure for syphilis.  To treat the latter, one chewed the fresh roots and swallowed only the juice.  Now we know, too, that the plant does indeed have some potent effects on the heart and circulatory system.  Botanists call it Apocynum cannabinum.

The Europeans had long used hemp fibers for cordage and textiles.  Yes, that’s hemp, Cannabis; it was much later that it became a “smoke.”  Recently there has been a great increase in the legal use of hemp fibers for cloth, and one can buy sweaters and such made thereof.  Similar fibers are linen (from flax) and ramie from southeastern Asia.

The white pioneers began to use the gatvlati plant, too; they learned about it from the Indians, so they called it “Indian hemp.”  There was an Indian town on the creek not too far from where Morganton now stands.  To the Cherokee, it was “Ga-tv-la-ti-yi,” “wild hemp place.”  The white people translated it as Hemptown, and so we have Hemptown Creek and several other places that incorporate the word Hemp, for Indian hemp; that includes Hemp Top, a mountain rising to about 3550 feet some miles north of Hemptown Creek.

Let’s end this segment with a few less involved explanations:

COHUTTA: From Cherokee “ga-hu-ti,” a shortened form of “ga-hu-ti-yi,” “a shed roof supported on poles.”  The mountain was thought by some to resemble such a structure. And, no, it does not mean “mother mountain.”  In the Cohutta Wilderness is one Holly Creek; on an old map, it was labeled “Oose tus te,” which is an old form of the modern Cherokee word for “holly.”

HIAWASSEE:  It’s Hiawassee for the town, but it’s spelled Hiwassee for the river and the ridge south of Brasstown Bald.  From “a-yu-wa-si,” “a meadow or grassy place.”  (We’ll mention the linguistic story of Brasstown later; as we are seeing, many place names that are seemingly straightforward English have a Cherokee ancestry, too.)  The most prevalent local pronunciation is often “High Wassie,” which brings up an interesting sidelight.  Not long ago, I drove near a small community called Low Wassie, in Oregon County, Missouri; that is what the sign said.  It may be pure speculation, because I do not know how the community got its name [yet], but I can imagine a person from the Hiwassee River area who was obliged to move to Missouri and chose to create a small and amusing reminder of his former home.  Who knows?  When I find out, I will update this entry.

YAHOOLA CREEK:  near Dahlonega.  I am convinced that it comes ultimately from the Cherokee “ya-hu-la” (or “ya-hu-li”), a kind of hickory tree; however, the creek takes its name specifically from the legend of a Cherokee trader bearing the name Yahula, who was taken away by the spirit people.  The same Cherokee word also means “doodlebug,” the larva which digs those little conical craters in dusty soil, trapping and then devouring ants and other hapless small critters. The adult form of the ant lion, as it is commonly known, looks like a dragonfly. Some people have suggested that Yahoola may come from the Creek “yo-ho-lo,” the black emetic tea made from yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria); that plant is itself an interesting story, but I doubt that it gave its name, even indirectly, to Yahoola Creek.  The creek joins the Chestatee River just south of Dahlonega.

CHESTATEE:  From “a-tsv-sta-ti-yi,” “firelight place.”  A former method of hunting deer at night involved setting fires and driving the animals into the river, where they might be more easily killed by arrows or spears.  Somehow, this method just does not jibe with my own upbringing; taking a deer was a much more personal and respectful thing where I grew up.

QUANASSEE PATH:  This educational and historical pathway in Clay County, N.C., dedicated in March 2014, is named for the old Cherokee town of Tlanusiyi.  That settlement, transliterated as Quanassee, was located where the Valley River flows into the Hiwassee River, in Cherokee County, N.C.  The city of Murphy now occupies that junction.  The name comes from the word “tla-nu-si,” “leech,” plus the locative -“yi.”  Here is the legend that explains the meaning, taken directly from Mooney’s Myths of the Cherokee.

Just above the junction is a deep hole in Valley river, and above it is a ledge of rock running across the stream, over which people used to go as on a bridge. On the south side the trail ascended a high bank, from which they could look down into the water. One day some men going along the trail saw a great red object, full as large as a house, lying on the rock ledge in the middle of the stream below them. As they stood wondering what it could be they saw it unroll–and then they knew it was alive–and stretch itself out along the rock until it looked like a great leech with red and white stripes along its body. It rolled up into a ball and again stretched out at full length, and at last crawled down the rock and was out of sight in the deep water. The water began to boil and foam, and a great column of white spray was thrown high in the air and came down like a waterspout upon the very spot where the men had been standing, and would have swept them all into the water but that they saw it in time and ran from the place.

More than one person was carried down in this way, and their friends would find the body afterwards lying upon the bank with the ears and nose eaten off, until at last the people were afraid to go across the ledge any more, on account of the great leech, or even to go along that part of the trail. But there was one young fellow who laughed at the whole story, and said that he was not afraid of anything in Valley river, as he would show them. So one day he painted his face and put on his finest buckskin and started off toward the river, while all the people followed at a distance to see what might happen. Down the trail he went and out upon the ledge of rock, singing in high spirits:

Tlanu’si gäe’ga digi’gäge
Dakwa’nitlaste’stï.
I’ll tie red leech skins
On my legs for garters.

But before he was half way across the water began to boil into white foam and a great wave rose and swept over the rock and carried him down, and he was never seen again.

Just before the Removal, sixty years ago, two women went out upon the ledge to fish. Their friends warned them of the danger, but one woman who had her baby on her back said, “There are fish there and I’m going to have some; I’m tired of this fat meat.” She laid the child down on the rock and was preparing the line when the water suddenly rose and swept over the ledge, and would have carried off the child but that the mother ran in time to save it. The great leech is still there in the deep hole, because when people look down they see something alive moving about on the bottom, and although they can not distinguish its shape on account of the ripples on the water, yet they know it is the leech. Some say there is an underground waterway across to Nottely river, not far above the mouth, where the river bends over toward Murphy, and sometimes the leech goes over there and makes the water boil as it used to at the rock ledge. They call this spot on Nottely “The Leech place” also.”