Tennessee's Indians in the Historical Era - Part 2 of 5

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - by Chuck Hamilton

First Contact


The first Europeans to encounter the Indians of Tennessee, of course, were the Spanish would-be conquistadors of the 16th century.  The expedition of Hernando de Soto passed through both ends of Tennessee in 1540 and 1541.  That of Tristan de Luna came northwest in support of their allies from Coosa into the Chattanooga area.  Juan Pardo and his subordinates made at least three expeditions into the interior from the La Florida capital of Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina, 1567-1569.  All three of the Pardo expeditions entered Tennessee, one planting two forts there that lasted eighteen months.

The overwhelming majority of the towns and peoples the Spanish encountered in Tennessee fell under the suzerainty of the paramount chiefdom at Coosa (Coosawattee, Georgia).  They were still in the Late Mississippi stage, dominated by chiefdoms with organized group agriculture, social classes, and the Southern Ceremonial Complex.  With a couple of exceptions, these people were all speakers of Muskogean languages, and part of what archaeologists call the Dallas Phase. 

The various peoples the Spanish encountered remained stable throughout most of the century, not moving until the massive dislocations provoked by increasingly cooler weather of the Little Ice Age that began around 1450, increasing contact with Europeans, the diseases imported with the new arrivals, and the chaotic Beaver Wars which plagued the north from 1609 to 1701.

The easiest way to list the towns and peoples then in East Tennessee is to list them as Spaniards would have encountered them along the routes they travelled from Santa Elena on Parris Island, South Carolina. 

The most important town to the Spanish in the interior was the one on Catawba River which they called Joara, or Xualla.  Though still subject to the paramount chiefdom of Cofitachequi, Joara was the dominant chiefdom for the Piedmont region of North Carolina, which informants to the Spanish called Chelaque, meaning speakers of a different language.  Its people were not those later called by the similar name, Cherokee, but the Siouan-speaking Catawba, specifically the division called Cheraw or Sara.  Pardo established Fort San Juan there in 1567.

 In the mountains of northwestern North Carolina, the Spanish encountered a people they knew as the Chisca, who are otherwise known as the Yuchi.  Their territory spread into Upper East Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia.  Among the towns of the Yuchi the Spanish came across in Upper East Tennessee were Guasili and Canasoga, aka Cauchi, as well as Guapere on the upper Watauga River which was destroyed along with Maniateque near Saltville, Virginia, by Spanish soldiers under Hernando Moyano in 1567.   Moyano built a small fort at Cauchi called Fort San Pablo.

 The next town/people to which they would have come is Tanasqui, which lay at the confluence of the French Broad and Pigeon Rivers.  Tanasqui, which ultimately gave its name to our state as Tennessee, sat at the northernmost limits of those subject to the paramount chiefdom of Coosa at Coosawattee, Georgia, now under Carters Lake.  Coosa took tribute from almost all of East Tennessee and Northwest Georgia and some of Northeast Alabama.

 At Zimmerman’s Island at the mouth of the French Broad River lay the major town of Chiaha, then the dominant chiefdom in East Tennessee, if still subject to Coosa.  The town on the island was also called Olamico.  Moyano built another fort here, called Fort San Pedro.  Both it and Fort San Pablo at Cauchi/Canasoga were destroyed in 1569.

 Below Chiaha in the Holston Valley, the town of Coste (Koasati) stood on Bussell’s Island at the mouth of the Little Tennessee River.  Upriver from there, along the Little Tennessee Valley, sat the towns of Satapo (Citico) and Chalahume (Chilhowee).

 Beyond the towns in the Little Tennessee Valley, there was the town of Tali, for which many sites in the 16th century have been suggested, including Tellico Plains, Tennessee, but there are also several sites known to have been occupied at the time along the Tennessee River, for example the Late Mississippi site on Hiwassee Island, or perhaps the one at Ledford Island upstream in the Hiwassee River.  If that is the case, Tali would have been the first town they encountered of the Mouse Creek Phase. 

 Although the Mouse Creek Phase was first identified along the Hiwassee Valley, it extends over

Southeast Tennessee.  Beyond doubt, for instance, is the fact that the towns of Olitifar (Opelika at Audobon Acres), Tasqui at the Citico site in downtown Chattanooga, and Tasquiqui (Tuskegee) at the Hampton Place site on Moccasin Point were all Mouse Creek Phase sites.

 {A note about the Citico site in downtown Chattanooga:  In the Middle Mississippi period of 1200-1400 and early in the Late Mississippi period 1400-1500 (though the period lasted itself until 1600), the remarkably large town at the mouth of the Citico Creek dominated all of East Tennessee and some of North Georgia.  Its apex of power and influence was contemporary with that of the town at the Etowah Mounds site.  The people of the latter had migrated several miles downriver by the time of the De Soto expedition, one of whose chroniclers called the site Talimuchisi.}

 These people (Olitifar, Tasqui, Tasquiqui) were the same as those called the Napochi by the chief of Coosa when he demanded of De Luna that he and his men accompany his warriors north to put the rebels in their place in 1559.  After the Spanish and their Coosa allies burned Opelika, its inhabitants never returned and very likely relocated to Tasquiqui.  Spelled Tuskegee in English, these people, although subject to the paramount chiefdom at Coosa, spoke a non-Muskogean language, though their occupation of the area may have gone back centuries.

 On the opposite end of Tennessee, the Spanish encountered the Quizquiz in the vicinity of present-day Memphis.  Upstream lived the Pacaha, whose chief town was in the vicinity of Turrell, Arkansas (Nodena site), but whose territory straddled the Mississippi River into West Tennessee.  The Pacaha (sometimes mistakenly identified as the Quapaw) were hostile to their neighbors, the Casqui, whose chief town was near Parkin, Arkansas.  The Quizquiz were subject to the paramount chiefdom at Pacaha.


Chuck Hamilton


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