Digging deeper into the early Colonial Era history of the United States is producing more questions than answers.
It is one of hundreds of dilemmas facing Native American researchers today. The three federally recognized Cherokee tribes have proclaimed a large archaeological zone on the banks of the Oconaluftee River, east of Bryson City, NC to be the location of Kituwah, the mother town of the Cherokee Nation a thousand years ago. The Eastern Band of Cherokees purchased the tract for over $2 million.
There is a problem, though. Kituwah is the Anglicized version of the Alabama Indian word for sacred fire, Kituya. Oconaluftee has no meaning in Cherokee, but is a Creek word meaning, “Oconee People, cut off.”
Actually, there is a worse problem. In 1684, Telico (Talikoa, Taliqui) and its sister town of Chalaka were located over 100 miles away from Kituwah's future location in northeastern Tennessee. Chalaka, which many North Carolina scholars say is the origin of the word, Cherokee, moved with Telico to near present day Bryson City, NC. However, a decade or so later, Chalaka, moved again to present day Sylacauga, AL, where it eventually became an imiportant town of the Creek Indian Confederacy. Meanwhile, Telico became the most important Cherokee town, while Kituwah was not even listed on the earliest maps of the Cherokees. It appeared on maps a few years later. Will the real Cherokee history please stand up?
The research team
A team of Cherokee descendants in the People of One Fire research alliance and a co-owner of the highly respected website, Access Genealogy, are methodically digging into the past to determine an accurate origin (or origins) and early history of the Cherokee People. The Cherokee descendants are not wannabe’s, who vaguely claim a “Cherokee Princess” as a great-grandmother, but people with real Cherokee ancestors, who were on the tribe’s rolls or even were famous leaders. They include Marilyn Rae, who is a direct descendant of the last hereditary principal chief of the Cherokee Nation.
Although the two co-owners of Access Genealogy do not claim Cherokee ancestry, the husband of one co-owner is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. Many people, who access the extensive archives and research reports on this website, are looking for answers to their family mysteries that are not being answered by conventional history text books.
The Cherokee descendants share a common question. They were raised being told that their ancestry was Cherokee and a mixture of Northwest European ethnic groups. When they commissioned DNA tests, they found that they did not have nearly as much Native American DNA as presumed, but had substantial DNA from places like Spain, Portugal, Turkey, the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and Northern Africa. Eastern Band of Cherokee members from Cherokee and Clay Counties, NC and Towns County, GA carry very high levels of Maya, and often, South American DNA. Their communities are 35-45 miles from the main Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. Their genetic profiles are very different from those of the main reservation.
The chronicles of the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions in the 1500s through the Appalachians only mention Creek or Maya words. There are numerous eyewitness accounts in the colonial archives of communities of European or Middle Eastern origin, speaking Spanish, Portuguese, French or Dutch living in the Southern Highlands during the 1600s. About 85% of the Native American place names in the Southern Highlands are either Creek or Maya. How do these little known facts relate to the modern day Cherokees? The researchers have not yet been able to draw all the lines between the historical and linguistic dots.
The Cherokee dilemma is significantly different from the situation of several other Southeastern tribes. While such tribes as the Shawnee, Creeks and Seminoles openly admit that their ancestors came from many provinces, which banded together in order to survive the onslaught of European colonialism, over the past 30 years Caucasian professors and North Carolina Cherokee cultural leaders have created a history of the Cherokees that presents them as a pure, indigenous people, who predate all other Native American tribes. Genetic testing and actual historical records tell a very different story.
The Eastern Band of Cherokees even produced a expensive film which stated that they were the original indigenous people of the Americas, the ancestors of the Mayas and Aztecs, plus were the first people in the world to cultivate corn, beans and squash. When they venture out of the Great Smoky Mountains to attend Native American arts festivals, North Carolina Cherokee artists proclaim that they “invented” Swift Creek pottery and built most of the mounds in the Southeast. The Swift Creek Village is in Ocmulgee National Monument near Macon, GA . . . in the heart of traditional Creek Indian territory.
Cherokees living outside of North Carolina are embarrassed, while members of other Native American tribes giggle behind the backs of the North Carolina Cherokees, but real blame for this fabricated history must be placed on some government agencies and public universities. North Carolina public school students AND North Carolina Cherokee students are taught a tribal history created by non-Cherokees that is now deeply embedded in their curricula and the mindsets of journalists.
The primary culprits were the Georgia Department of Archives and History, the History and Anthropology Departments at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill and the United States Forest Service. Most of the participants in the scheme carried PhD’s behind their names, but their scholarship was extremely sloppy, sometimes completely fraudulent. In all fairness, anthropology professors at the Universities of Tennessee and Alabama make a concerted effort to distinguish between the historical Cherokees of the 18th and 19th centuries and the Muskogean mound-builders of early eras.
The Cherokee National Museum did what?
In 2007, the Cherokee Heritage Center in Tallequah, OK sponsored an exhibit of prehistoric and historic "North Carolina Cherokee" pottery, plus recent North Carolina Cherokee imitations of Southeastern artifacts, entitled "People of One Fire." "People of One Fire" was the actual name of the Creek Indian Confederacy, plus a copyrighted name of a national, Muskogean cultural research organization. The provincial curators exhibited a broad range of Native American pottery styles from around the Southeast over the past 5,500 years . . . mostly from Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Arkansas . . . then labeled it all "Cherokee." The theme of the exhibit was that Cherokees had pioneered all styles of pottery in the Southeast and apparently, while in 2500 BC living in southeast Georgia, had created the first pottery in North America.
The accompanying brochure of the museum exhibit can still be seen online. See Cherokee Pottery Exhibit. The cover page portrays a reproduction of a unique style of "saddle bowl" used by the Conchake-Creek Indians in NW Georgia to carry coals from the Sacred Fire during the Creek's Green Corn Ceremony. On this page are prominently displayed the names of Dr. Barbara Duncan (Director of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, NC), Dr. Brett Riggs (Professor of Anthropology at the Univeristy of North Carolina-Chapel Hill) and Dr. Christopher Rodning (Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. )
The exhibit emphasizes the role of Cherokees developing wood paddle stamped Swift Creek pottery, apparently while living in southern Georgia also. There is no statement which explains to readers that the pottery exhibit was composed of either artifacts or reproductions of ceramics made by many ethnic groups around the Southeastern United States.
In 2008 the exhibit was moved to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh. This museum refused to change the name of the exhibit when sent a legal demand to desist.
Ridiculous historical markers in Georgia
Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Georgia Department of Archives and History erected state historic markers in the mountains that had practically no relation to actual history. They told tourists that the Cherokees built mounds that had been abandoned for 200 years when the Cherokees arrived in Georgia. They promulgated the myth that the Cherokees won a “great battle” in 1755 at the Creek town of Taliwa, which enabled them to capture all of northern Georgia.
Taliwa is the word for town used by the Apalachicola Indians of the Florida Panhandle. Taliwa does not appear on any map of Georgia. There is no record of any Battle of Taliwa in the colonial archives. In fact, in 1755, the Cherokees catastrophically lost the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War and in doing so, lost all of the territory they had conquered since 1721.
The worse transgression by this state agency was on the banks of Lake Hartwell in the northeastern part of the state. In 1957, highly respected archaeologist, Joseph Caldwell, excavated the Tugaloo Mounds site on an island near Toccoa. Tugaloo is the Anglicization of the hybrid Creek-NE Mexican word, Tokah-le, which means “Spotted or Freckled People.” Toccoa is the hybrid Creek-Arawak word for the same meaning. Caldwell found that the town had been occupied by people ancestral to the Creeks from around 800 AD to at least 1700 AD. It was burned, abandoned and then a small section was re-occupied by small, round huts.
All maps between 1715 and 1738 label Tugaloo as a Hogeloge (Yuchi) village. Near Toccoa, GA were two villages with Majorcan language names. The Majorca Islands are off the east coast of Spain.
After Lake Hartwell filled with water, the GA Department of Archives and History erected markers that proclaimed Tugaloo to be the oldest Cherokee town and that the largest mound was built by Cherokees in 1450 AD. About a decade later, over 100 Creek Indian skeletons excavated from the future Lake Russell Reservoir in Elbert County, GA 48 miles to the south, were reburied at Moundville, AL in a mass grave, because state officials determined that because the historical marker at Tugaloo placed the Cherokees in NE Georgia in 1450 AD, the skeletons could not be indigenous to the area. Creek and Cherokee skulls are quite different. The Creek skulls look Asiatic, while Cherokee skulls look Middle Eastern.
Conflicts with traditional Cherokee history
University of North Carolina history and anthropology professors created a new history of the Cherokees in 1976 during the state-funded Cherokee History Project. The professors were told to prove that the Cherokees had been in North Carolina for at least 1000 years. In more recent years, UNC archaeologists have created a label called “Appalachian Summit Culture” which they equate with the Cherokees then apply to many archaeological sites in the mountains and the Piedmont . . . thus implying that the Cherokees once inhabited over half the state.
In contrast, early 19th century Cherokee leaders, such as Principal Chief Cherokee Charles Hicks, stated that the Cherokees arrived in North Carolina from the west, just before the English arrived. They did not build any mounds and, in fact, “killed or drove off the indigenous mound builders” of North Carolina. He said that the first Cherokee town in the North Carolina Mountains was Big Tellico, not Kituwah.
Researcher, Marilyn Rae, has obtained from a library in the Midwest, photocopies of the original letters on Cherokee history that were written by Charles Hicks during the mid-1820s. She is currently transcribing the letters and will make the texts available to other researchers and Cherokee descendants.
Building a museum as a propaganda tool
Shortly before the Cherokee History Project, the U.S. Forestry Service built a Natural History Museum on top of Brasstown Mountain in northern Georgia. Most of the Native American artifacts, going back 10,000 years were labeled “Cherokee.” A supersized Caucasian mannequin was spray-painted a golden tan; clothed with the tradition turban and long shirt of the Creeks, which the Cherokees adopted in the 1820s; then placed at the main entrance of the museum. Off the right corner is a five feet high cabinet containing a stooped over troll, draped with a deer hide. It is labeled a “mound builder.” The message of the museum exhibits is that an unidentified group of “mound builders” may have temporarily invaded the Appalachians for a relatively short period of time. No indigenous ethnic group is mentioned in the museum, but the Cherokees.
This federally funded museum contains very little information on the Native American history of the region that is accurate. Most of the information is diametrically opposite to archaeological and historical facts. It makes no mention of the Old World colonists who lived in the mountains for about 150 years before the word “Charakey” first appeared on a European map. The museum exhibits are used as “proof” that the Cherokees have lived in the same place for 10,000 years. Of course, the museum also makes no mention of the nearby Track Rock Terrace Complex, which 16th century Spanish traders called “Great Copal.”
Americans looking for answers
The People of One Fire and Access Genealogy researchers are not interested in proving someone right or wrong, but rather, rather the truth about their heritage. Many Americans anxiously await their answers. There are the Perry family members from Gilmer County, GA whose original "Cherokee ancestor" was a gold miner named Perez. This is a typical Sephardic Jewish name. There is the Hite Family in the hills of northwest Alabama, who trace their ancestry to Judah Hite, a “Dutch Jew” who moved from the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina (in the heart of the Cherokee Nation) to northern Alabama in 1798.
There is the Shimmer family from northeast Tennessee. They have always told folks that they were almost full blood Cherokees. With their black hair and tan skin, no one doubted it. However, DNA testing showed that they had no Native American DNA and were predominantly descended from people, who originated in eastern Turkey, Syria and Egypt. A pretty young woman in New Jersey was told that her family was mostly Cherokee from the North Carolina Mountains. Her DNA tests told her that she is a mixture of Spanish, Sub-Saharan African, Northern African, a little bit of Native American, and a lot of folks from the British Isles.
Marilyn Rae has tracked one Native American line of Cherokee ancestry up to Lake Erie and probably another in southern West Virginia. She has not been able to find names of Europeans, who lived in the North Carolina Mountains and northeast Tennessee in the 1600s. Rae currently feels that it will take a long time to unravel the full story of the Cherokees, if ever.