9. Yuchi and Chisca

Yuchi (Tsoyaha)

Long before the Cherokee moved into the southern Appalachian region, the Yuchi of eastern Tennessee lived there. For more than a century the Yuchi people were probably the only influence that was felt by the colonial settlers who had faded off into those mountains.  It would have been the Yuchi that taught the settlers the plants, the game trails, the magic and medicine, and simply how to survive in those rugged highlands, not the Cherokee. It is believed that the word “Tennessee” is Yuchean; it is definitely not Cherokee, and the meaning is now lost.

The Cherokee are a detached tribe of the Iroquoian family. They were driven out of the Great Lakes area into southern Appalachia in 1634 by their Iroquoian relatives and the Delaware. The reason for this remains unclear to me but it placed them right smack between the Yuchi and the English colony of Jamestown. The Cherokee found themselves a handy buffer between the English and the Yuchi. In 1714 two Englishmen, Wiggins and Long, armed the Cherokee and persuaded them to attack the Yuchi. It was a massacre. About twenty surviving old men, women, and children gathered together and committed mass suicide rather than be taken captive. One or two women and five children survived that horror and were taken as slaves.

But nearly two centuries earlier the Yuchi had already been savaged by European diseases, mainly smallpox, thanks to Spanish explorers. Hernando De Soto spent four years exploring southeastern North America (1539 – 1542) spreading disease and mayhem as he went. I well imagine that the devastation to the Yuchi made them easy pickings for the English and the Cherokee later on.

All of that said I feel, after much reading, that the “experts” are merely guessing about Yuchi language and its origin. Some say that Yuchi is a language isolate possibly related to the Sioux-Catawba. I find this highly unlikely. Others place them as descendants of the Mound Builders which seems more possible to me. The Yuchi had small, widely scattered villages that often intermingled with those of neighboring tribes. And Yuchi villages have been found from Florida north to Illinois, and from the eastern Carolina coast west to the Mississippi River. Clearly, most of that was Mound Builder territory.

The most tantalizing thing I read was that according to Yuchi accounts the only people present in southern Appalachia when the Yuchi arrived were the Delaware. Today, surviving members of the Yuchi tribe still refer to the Delaware as the “Old Ones”. Please make a mental note of that because similar mentions about the Delaware are made by other tribes as well. The Yuchi are believed to be the original inhabitants of the southeast except apparently for the Delaware. It isn’t clear to me where the Delaware went after the Yuchi arrived; perhaps they joined bands farther north in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, the Yuchi lived in that region for centuries before the influx of Muskhogean, Iroquoian, and Algonquian.

Although the Yuchi were ravaged by Spanish disease, English displacement and war against them, and pressure from neighboring tribes (often English allies), survivors of various bands were absorbed into other tribes. Even so, they have managed to retain a separate and distinct heritage from the others. And although their language is in shambles the surviving Yuchi continue to claim themselves direct descendants of the Sun as do other remaining Mound Builder tribes.

At the heart of an extensive trade network, Yuchi presence in Appalachia demonstrates that they could have represented a conduit of information and wisdom leading from Mississippian Mound Builders to the early Europeans in the southern mountains, a century or more before the Cherokee arrived. The notion that the Cherokee were “the” culture of the southeast is classic revisionist history written and promoted by the English and French early on. This was no doubt because the Cherokee were in collusion with them as a means of saving their own people against European tyranny. And this is a tragic endemic theme throughout all of North American history following the European invasion.

Chisca

The Chisca were also residents of eastern Tennessee and southwest Virginia. They were encountered by Hernando De Soto in 1542. De Soto’s exploration party was attacked and defeated by the Chisca. Consequently, he limited any further exploration of their territory. In 1568 Juan Pardo of Spain explored the area. It is he who called them Chisca even though his chronicler referred to them as Uchi. Pardo’s party fought with the Chisca and destroyed their settlement at present day Saltville, Virginia. After the 16th century all references to the Chisca disappear from Spanish records.

In 1683 La Salle, a French explorer found a Chisca village between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers, in northern Tennessee. This had been Yuchi territory. He persuaded the Chisca and the Shawnee north of the Cumberland to relocate to Fort Louis, Illinois where they would live under French protection. The Chisca joined the Shawnee under the name of Chaskepe. They followed the Shawnee through Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio before disappearing from history by the 18th century.




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Responses to “9. Yuchi and Chisca”

  1. There is so much research here – so much to take in.
    I find myself wishing for a map so i could follow the migrations.
    I have made a note about the Delawares being referred to as the “Old Ones”.
    I reading in the order you’ve presented them.
    Thank you

    • There were so many Algonquian tribes throughout the mid and north Atlantic, and spreading west, that it is necessary for me to break up the Algonquian information into numerous chapters, most logically by state. North Carolina is there and next follows Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey.

    • National Geographic, way back when, produced the best map I have ever seen. I use it constantly while I am writing essays. Perhaps you can contact them and see if there is a copy to be had. I should mention that with blogs, the last chapter in the list is the first chapter posted. Click on Letters to the Unborn and you will see what I mean. The chapters are numbered there.

  2. I finally caught on to the numbering scheme – which makes perfect sense. I like that you organized it by state – its a framework that’s easier for me to follow. I will attempt to contact National Geographic.

  3. Yuci and Chisca are both names that the Ani-Stohini/Unami have been called in history among many others. Tla Wilano, our language, is listed in the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics as an Unami or Delaware related language. This might explain why the “YUCHI” reported no one here but Delaware Indians. Also, just a footnote, but the alleged batttle with the Spanish at Saltville with the Chisca(also one of our names) is right smack in the middle of our ancestral territory. All things considered the evidence clearly slows that the Deleware people that the Yuchi referred to did not actually go anywhere since they are still here. Thank you for writing about our nation and language. Few others have done so.

    • Thank you so much for your comment and clarification. What little information I could find was difficult to decipher and certainly left me with the impression that little was known and there remained no one to actually consult about the truth of it. I am grateful to know that that isn’t true.

  4. Yuci and Chisca are both names that the Ani-Stohini/Unami have been called in history among many others. Tla Wilano, our language, is listed in the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics as an Unami or Delaware related language. This might explain why the “YUCHI” reported no one here but Delaware Indians. Also, just a footnote, but the alleged batttle with the Spanish at Saltville with the Chisca(also one of our names) is right smack in the middle of our ancestral territory. All things considered the evidence clearly slows that the Delaware people that the Yuchi referred to did not actually go anywhere since they are still here. Thank you for writing about the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation and language. Few others have done so.

  5. Yuci and Chisca are both names that the Ani-Stohini/Unami have been called in history among many others. Tla Wilano, our language, is listed in the International Encyclopedia of Linguistics as an Unami or Delaware related language. This might explain why the “YUCHI” reported no one here but Delaware Indians. Also, just a footnote, but the alleged batttle with the Spanish at Saltville with the Chisca(also one of our names) is right smack in the middle of our ancestral territory. All things considered the evidence clearly slows that the Delaware people that the Yuchi referred to did not actually go anywhere since they are still here. Thank you for writing about the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation and Tla Wilano language. Few others have done so.

  6. I found http://www.talk-lenape.org/ to be very helpful, especially for pronunciation. I also found a comprehensive downloadable grammar of Munsee Delaware here: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1005135?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. Finally, there is a vast Munsee Dictionary App called “Helleniechsin” available on the App Store, though the App only works on Apple devices. Together, these three sources would be a big help to anyone seeking to learn the language of the Lenape people.

    My only concern is that the language described in these three sources is not Tla Wilano, because a website quotes the now-defunct web site of the Ani-Stohini/Unami Nation as saying, “The original Tla Wilano language probably didn’t resemble the modern language which may also contain elements of Iroquoian Cherokee and Algonquin Delaware on top of the remains of the original language.” To me, the wording of that sentence suggests that Tla Wilano is very distinct from the language of the Lenape people.

    • Yes, I found those links too and had similar concerns. Let’s keep looking; we might find something yet. Even if fragmented, it would be a terrific start.

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