Cherokee counties . . .

There are eight Cherokee counties in the United States.  Seven of them have historical connections with the Cherokee people. As found in hundreds or thousands of business names, personal names, automobile models, and much more, the name “Cherokee” is greatly overused, more or less indiscriminately.  If it were possible for them to collect royalties on such usage, the three recognized Cherokee tribes would together be one of the wealthiest entities on the planet.  The Cherokee are probably the best-known worldwide of all American Indian tribes. I am going to refrain–wisely, I think–from commenting on the enormous number of Americans who insist that they have Cherokee ancestors.  And, I will have nothing to say here about the 212 groups, at last count, who declare that they are unrecognized Cherokee tribes and remnants. In modern Cherokee, the word is Tsalagi.  In the now extinct Lower Cherokee dialect, it was Tsaragi, and it was from this dialect that the name was anglicized to “Cherokee.” Although Tsalagi is not a Cherokee word, it is now the self-designation of the members of the tribes.  Its origin is uncertain, but I am inclined to agree with those who believe it may have come from Choctaw, probably from a term meaning either “people who live in the mountains” or “people who live in cave country.” Here are those eight counties, alphabetically by state name, with a brief explanation of how each one acquired its name. Cherokee County, Alabama, was formed from Cherokee lands soon after the Treaty of New Echota was signed, more than two years before the Trail of Tears. Cherokee County, Georgia. Originally, most of northwest Georgia, which then belonged to the Cherokee, was simply designated late in 1831 as that state’s Cherokee County.  Within a year, it was carved into nine new counties, and, toward the end of 1832, the Cherokee lands were distributed by lottery to white people.  Some of the Cherokee were already being forcibly removed by Georgia in 1831, years before the falsely promulgated Treaty of New Echota.  The remnant after the other nine counties were created—and a part of it used to form Milton County in 1857—is the present Cherokee County.  To be historically blunt, the State of Georgia was the most brutal of all states toward the Cherokee. Here are maps of the Cherokee lands in Georgia in 1822 and in 1834. Cherokee County, Iowa, lies in the northwestern part of the state.  It was one of many formed from “Indian Treaty Lands” in 1851.  The name seems to have been chosen because the Cherokee had no connection at all with the area.  More details about the historic and prehistoric Indians of Iowa can be found in the Wikipedia article Indians of Iowa.

Cherokee County, Kansas, is the extreme southeastern county of Kansas, bordering Craig County, Oklahoma.  Craig County was formed from a part of the Cherokee Nation when the Indian Territory became a state in 1907.   Some Cherokee people lived in that part of Kansas beginning in the 1830’s.

Cherokee County, North Carolina, is the westernmost county of the state.  It is near the heart of Tsalaguwetiyi [ᎠᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ], the old Cherokee lands.  There are tracts of the Eastern Cherokee trust lands  [the Qualla Boundary and non-contiguous parcels] in the county, and it has a significant modern Cherokee population.  I would rate it as the most deserving of all the counties bearing the name. [The main part of the Eastern Cherokee trust lands is located in Swain and Jackson counties, with outlying parcels in Cherokee, Graham, and Haywood counties.  The Qualla Boundary is sometimes called a “reservation,” but that is not a correct designation.]

Cherokee County, Oklahoma, is at the heart of the Western Cherokee country, formed from a part of the Cherokee Indian Nation, Indian Territory, shortly before Oklahoma became a state.  The county seat, Tahlequah, is the capital of the Western Cherokee Nation today.  A little more than one-third of the population of the county are American Indians.

Cherokee County, South Carolina.  There were some Cherokee [and Catawba and other Indians] using the lands in this area when the white people moved in and pushed them away beginning in the middle of the 18th Century.

Cherokee County, Texas, adjoins the northeastern line of Houston County.  It has a complex and sad history of Cherokee settlers and their unfulfilled hopes.  You can find more details of that history here.

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Cherokee Place Names, Part 8

Cherokee Place Names, Part 8

Tulula Creek joins the Sweetwater Creek to form the Cheoah River at Robbinsville, North Carolina. Once, it was spelled Tallulah Creek, and about 10 miles southeast of Robbinsville, on the creek, was the old Cherokee town of Tallulah or Tulula. We have already taken a look at Tallulah Falls, Georgia. Some writers have speculated that the word Tallulah may have come from the Creek word talwa [town], more specifically from the Okonee dialectical form talula. We are not likely ever to know the real truth about that. During historical times, the Okonee would not have been this far into the mountains, but there were Creek towns here before the Cherokee pushed them to the south and west by the year 1600. I notice that the word “tulula” has come to have an unsavory meaning, possibly originating from a misspelling of Tallulah Bankhead’s first name.

Sweetwater Creek, a few miles east of Robbinsville, is one of the headwaters of the Cheoah River. On this creek is the community of Cheoah. Here was the old Cherokee town of Tsiyohi [“otter place”], for which the community and river are named. [Cheoah is pronounced “chee-OH-uh.”] Perhaps we should determine just how long this particular site has been continuously occupied; it may have been at least several hundred years.

In Oconee County, South Carolina, was another Tsiyohi. The name survives here in Cheohee Creek and Cheohee community. A third Tsiyohi was somewhere on a creek at Cades Cove, Tennessee, but it does not seem to have left any place names there, so far as I can tell.

Chiaha, Cheaha, and Chehaw, all found in Alabama, bear a superficial resemblance to Cheoah and its variants, but these are actually Muskogean names, not Cherokee.

Entering what was once the Cheoah River, now Lake Santeetlah, on the west side is West Buffalo Creek.  Somewhere on that creek, likely now under the lake waters, was an ancient Cherokee village called Yansai [or Yvsai or Yunsai, “buffalo place”], whose name had already been translated into Buffalo Town before 1799.  Buffaloes [actually bison, of course] had long ago been present even in the mountains of western North Carolina, the last ones apparently disappearing westward by about 1760, but they were not forgotten to the Cherokee.  However, this creek actually takes its name from an ancient legend about a buffalo who lived under the water near the place where the stream emptied into the river.  Santeetlah is not derived from a Cherokee word.   From Lake Santeetlah onward, the Cheoah River is reduced to a dry streambed, water coming only after heavy rains or in the handful of days annually in which water is released from the Santeetlah Dam.

In the northwest corner of Graham County, forming a few miles of the North Carolina-Tennessee border, is Slickrock Creek.  It enters the Little Tennessee downstream from the Cheoah Dam.  The name is a translation of  Nvya Tawisgvhi [nvya, rock; tawisgvhi, slippery or slick].  There are several other streams of the same name, for example, the one a few miles northwest of Brevard, NC, but this is the only one that I have been able to verify as having the name translated from Cherokee.

Iotla Creek joins the Little Tennessee River at what is now the Iotla community. It stands on the opposite side of the river from the creek’s mouth. That location would have been a near ideal spot for a Cherokee town, and I think it was. In the lists of old Cherokee towns appears one Ayahliyi or Ayotlihi or Ayoree.  That name translates to “offshoot place” or “sprout place,” probably in reference to its being a colony from a larger town such as Nikwasi, which lay only a few miles to the south. Iotla’s present pronunciation [“eye-OH-la”] is a rather good English approximation of the Cherokee “ay-o-tli” [sprout]. The survival of the -tl- in the spelling gives further credence to my suggestion.  Bartram’s list included the town of Jore, and there is some indication that it may have been on Iotla Creek.  I believe that Jore is a corruption of Ayoree.

Those mountains that Bartram called the JoreMountains are now known as the Nantahala Mountains.

A few miles west of Iotla is the Burningtown community and Burningtown Creek, in Macon County’s Burningtown township.  On the creek, there was recorded a Cherokee town called Tikaleyasuni, which meant “place where they were burned” or something close to that.  Linguistically, it contains the Cherokee elements that would justify that conclusion.  So far as I can determine, there does not exist any historical information that might explain the name, so we assume that the town may have been near (but not on) a place where there had been a forest fire at some time in the past.

Stecoah Creek empties into Fontana Lake. Near the head of the creek is the Stecoah community. We have already seen Stekoa Creek in Rabun County. There were at least three Cherokee towns called Stikoyi, one of which was somewhere on this Stecoah Creek. The meaning of the name is unknown.  [Fontana is not a Cherokee word; it is an Italian word that means “fountain.”  The  lake was named for one of the several small towns now lying beneath its waters.]

Just north of Rome, Georgia, is Armuchee Creek and the Armuchee community. Somewhere on that creek was the ancient town called Aumuchee [probably for A-mu-tsi], which appears on some of the lists of Cherokee towns. I am not convinced it was originally Cherokee, and I know no way to translate it, but from its name we have the creek and community names.  Locally, the pronunciation is “ar-MER-chee.”

Canton, Georgia, is now said to be one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. As I wrote these words in 2007, the Hickory Log Dam was just being finished. It will create a lake of some 370 acres to supply water for Canton and for parts of other counties. There was a Cherokee town on the Etowah River near Hickory Log Creek.Its name was Wa-ne-a-sv-tlv-yi. [Please understand that I separate some names into syllables to make them fit more easily into English-speaking mouths. So often do I see words thus hyphenated, that one would have the impression that American Indians speak only in unmodulated and monotonous syllables. If you hear some spoken Cherokee some time you will understand that such is not the case.] Hickory Log is a fair translation of the Cherokee name of the settlement, Wanei-asvtlvyi, in full. Wanei is the name given to the hickory tree, and asvtlvyi, in the old days, meant a place where there was a footlog for crossing a stream. These days, the modernized word is asvhdlvi, a bridge.

There are other places with this footlog element. One was Nah-tsi-asvtlvyi, a Cherokee town not so very far from Hickory Log. In this case, “nahtsi” meant pine tree. From the translation came Pine Log Creek and the Pine Log community and a wildlife area. Cherry Log community and creek had a similar beginning, from “gita’yvsv’tlvyi,” wild cherry log lying across.”

In Habersham County, on the Soque River, was the village Soquiyi. The meaning of the name has been lost to us, but I note that the local pronunciation of the Soque [suh-kwee’, accented on the last syllable] is surprisingly close to what would have been the Cherokee sounds. I remember visiting the site of this village more than 60 years ago. There were still markings and signs of a town then. I expect they have long since been destroyed to make way for the enormous development that has since occurred along and around what used to be Pea Ridge Road and vicinity.

In North Carolina, Chesquaw Branch used to empty into the Little Tennessee River from the north, but now Fontana Lake covers what may have been a historically interesting old Cherokee town in the vicinity of the mouth of the stream. It must have been gone by the time Bartram made his list of 43 Cherokee towns, but two hundred years earlier, de Soto’s chroniclers wrote about a rich gold-mining town called Chisca. Could it be the same? The Yuchi Indians living a short distance to the northeast of Stecoah told him the “province” of Chisca was over the mountains into what is now Tennessee. Of course, they simply wanted de Soto to get on his way and out of their area. So, who knows? Does Chisca lie under Fontana? Another mystery. What we do know is that Chesquaw is from the Cherokee Tsi-squa-yi or Tsi-squa-hi [“bird place”]. These days, it would be called Birdtown, but it is not the same as the Birdtown on the Eastern Cherokee Reservation.

If one follows the trail up Forney Creek from Fontana Lake for a few miles, rising a bit over 3500 feet on the west is Suli Ridge, seemingly dwarfed by the much taller Loggy Ridge just to its north and east.  “Suli” is the Cherokee word for “buzzard”, but I am not certain how the name came to be applied to that particular ridge, just a small ridge among more than a dozen of them within a few miles.

The French Broad River passes through Asheville and heads north to Hot Springs. Because of the rapids along this area, I doubt that any significant Cherokee settlement was to be found along this stretch. The Cherokee called this section Un-ta-ki-yo-sti-yi [or Vtakiyostiyi], with some accent on the second and fifth syllables. The name means “where they race,” referring to the rushing waters here; it survives in Tahkeyostee Park.

On the Tellico River, in eastern Tennessee, at the place now called Tellico Plains, lay the important Cherokee town of Taliqua [accented on the last syllable]. For a time, it was the most important Cherokee town. Its name is probably from a Creek dialect, and no Cherokee meaning is known. When de Soto passed through the area, the town seems to have been Creek and not Cherokee. Archaeological work in the Tellico Plains area shows that it has been occupied for about ten thousand years.

There was another town of the same name on Tellico Creek, near its junction with the Tennessee River north of Franklin, North Carolina. It was sometimes called Little Tellico, and there was another “Little” Tellico near what is now Murphy, North Carolina.

In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation’s capital was established as Tahlequah, now a city of about 15000 people, a bit more than a fourth of whom are American Indians. It took its name from the Taliqua in Tennessee.

Beaverdam Creek, which empties into the Soque River at Clarksville, Georgia, seems to be a translation, because one Cherokee town called Tsuyugilogi [“where there are dams”] stood somewhere nearby. More interesting is Oothkaloga Creek which passes through Adairsville, Georgia, on its way to the Oostanaula River. Another Tsuyugilogi was situated on that creek, near the junction with the river. The shortened form of the name of the town was Uy’ gilogi. In Cherokee pronunciation, the slight aspiration that replaced the -yu- would have sounded a bit like a -th- to an English speaker, so that Oothkaloga is a reasonable English attempt at the Cherokee word, and that is the real origin of the creek’s name.  There seem to be variant spellings of Oothkaloga:  Oothcaloga, and Oothcalooga.

Perhaps we need to explain. Cherokee is spoken with still lips. The mouth is held almost imperceptibly open. The tongue is held along the bottom of the mouth pressed against the lower teeth; it remains tightly in place as much as possible. The upper lip is tightened slightly across the teeth. Speaking may be done while breathing in or out; when expiration [“outbreathing”] occurs through the mouth and nose simultaneously in speech, certain sounds are clearly preceded by aspiration [that strong “h” sound], producing the “intrusive h” of Cherokee. Degree of h-intrusion varies widely among individual speakers.

The city of Adairsville takes its name from a Cherokee town which grew up around land owned by Walter John Scott (“Red Wat”) Adair, a grandson of Irishman James Adair and his Cherokee wife.  Red Wat was born in 1791, and he apparently moved into the area in the 1820’s.  He became a prominent leader in what was then the Cherokee Nation, in Georgia, and the settlement came to be called Adairsville before the white people took it over.   Adair was one of the signers of the “Turkeytown Treaty” of 1817.  As best I can tell, the family moved to Oklahoma, on the Trail of Tears.

We extend our deepest sympathies to the people of Adairsville and wish them the speediest possible recovery from the destruction wrought by the recent tornado [January 2013).

To the south of Adairsville, not far from Kingston, Connesena Creek empties into the Etowah River.   Upstream, the creek passes near Connesena Mountain, and a small branch flows from Connesena Spring into the creek.   A Cherokee family once living in the area were descendants of Dragging Canoe [Tsiyu-gvsini], the second part of whose name became Connesena.  Dragging Canoe was a chief of the Chickamauga band, very inimical toward the whites, in the period shortly after the Revolutionary War.  Conseen remains to this day the name of a prominent family of the Eastern Cherokee.   Dragging Canoe’s Cherokee name can be analyzed into <Tsiyu, “canoe”; and <gvsini>, “he is dragging it.”

I notice that there is a Lake Qualatchee a few miles northwest of Cleveland, Georgia. I have never visited the site. Bartram’s list of Cherokee towns included a “Qualatche,” but it was reportedly on the Flint River, too far away to have a connection with this lake. But, Mooney says a town called Qualatchee was somewhere on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. Not much else seems to have been written about the town, and I am not yet sure how the lake came to have its name.