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.