A Time of Great Tribulation
Sociologist Henry F. Dobyns estimates that nearly 145 million people inhabited the Western Hemisphere in 1490. By 1600, disease, disruption, and drastic climate change left a population of a mere 1.5 million, a drop of 98.97%. The Valley of Mexico and Central and South America, much more populous and much more exposed, suffered a greater percentage than their cousins in the rest of North America.
The 17th century saw the beginning of new empires trying to get their foot, or more accurately both feet, in the door of the wealth that was North America. Europeans exported furs, timber, and other goods, and imported people as colonists as the French, the English, the Dutch, the Swedish, the English, and the Scottish joined the Spanish in North America.
In addition to watching more and more of their people die from strange new diseases against which they had no defense, the native inhabitants fought each other for spoils of trade with the newcomers and over decreasing resources brought about partially by that very trade as well as European colonization and partially by the increasingly severe Little Ice Age.
By 1600, De Soto’s Casqui had shifted to the Lower Tennessee River, which was often called Kaskinampo River after them.
The Beaver Wars began in 1609 when French explorer Samuel de Champlain and his men attacked the Iroquois tribes living along the St. Lawrence River in alliance with the Innu (Montagnais), the Algonquin, and the Wendat (Huron). The Iroquois, who had by then become the Five Nations (or Haudenosaunee), became sole trading partners of the Dutch in New Netherlands after defeating and displacing the Mahican in 1628.
Armed with European weaponry courtesy of their Dutch partners, the Iroquois soon began a campaign of conquest in 1638 which altered life on the entire continent. Many nations were absorbed, destroyed, or dispersed to other regions, usually never to return. A large part of the blame for this lies with the French, who refused to supply their allies with firearms. The Ohio Country, Central Great Lakes, and part of the Illinois Country became virtually uninhabited. The Beaver Wars didn’t end until the Great Peace of Montreal in 1701.
The first victims of the Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca) were their fellow Iroquoian-speaking neighbors. The Wenro, Attiwandaron (Neutral), Susquehannock (Andaste, Conestoga), and Scahentoarrhonon peoples disappeared entirely either by death or absorption into the Five Nations. The Wendat (Huron) and their neighboring Tionantati (Tobacco, Petun) were so decimated that they merged as the Wyandotte Nation.
The Erie (Riquéronon, Nation du Chat), originally inhabiting the shore of the lake named for them, were dispersed into small groups, some remaining in the north to be eventually absorbed by the Five Nations, the rest migrating south along with other refugees, where they became the Tuscarora, Nottoway, Meherrin, Westo, and Cherokee. Their migration took some time, with “Nation du Chat” noted on French maps in the Great Lakes region into the early 18th century.
The Siouan-speaking tribes of the Virginia Piedmont—the Manahoac, Monacan, Tutelo, Saponi, and Occaneechi—were so reduced by disease and warfare peripheral to the Beaver Wars that by the early 18th century they had become one tribe, the Tutelo-Saponi, and migrated north where they were adopted by the Cayuga.
The Siouan-speaking Dhegiha of the Ohio Valley of Kentucky sought refuge westward, crossing the Mississippi River to become the Kaw (Kansa), Omaha, Osage, Ponca, and Quapaw. Another Siouan-speaking tribe in the Ohio Valley, the Mosopelea (Ofo) turned left when they got to the Mississippi and headed south to join the Biloxi-Tunica.
The Algonquian-speaking Mohican, Lenape (Delaware), and Shawnee were reduced and/or dispersed out of the reach of the Iroquois. The Beaver Wars shifted from the Ohio Valley to the Illinois Valley, where the advance of the Iroquois was stymied by a coalition of Algonquian-speaking confederacies with the support of the Lakota, then still sedentary agricultural hunter-gatherers in Minnesota.
As of 1625, the tribes on the Tennessee River remained static, at least as far as location. But that was soon to change.
By 1648, French sources report the Shawnee in the Central Cumberland Basin. Two of that people’s five bands, the Chillicothe and the Kispoko, were there. Meanwhile, the largest band, the Hathawekela, moved to the Savannah River, which was named for them (Savannah being an Algonquian word for Southerner).
Since the early 17th century, Iroquoian-speaking refugees had been flooding southward over the Piedmont and Appalachian Mountains, primarily from the Erie (Riquéronon).
In 1654, the English of Jamestown, with the Pamunkey of the Powhatan Confederacy, attacked a large town of 600-700 warriors of a people they called the “Rechahecrian” in the vicinity of the later Richmond, and lost the battle decisively.
A couple of years later, in 1656, a group called the “Westo” with many similarities to the “Rechahechrian” settled on the Savannah River and established a trading monopoly with the Province of Carolina, like the Occaneechi then had with Virginia Colony. A significant part of their trading was in slaves that came from other Indians peoples in the region.
By 1670, the “Rickohakan” dominated the western Carolina Piedmont and mountain areas, as reported by Virginia explorer James Lederer. These became known as the Cherokee. The Iroquoian-speakers in eastern North Carolina became the Tuscarora, while those who stayed in Virginia became the Nottoway and the Meherrin.
In 1673, a party sent out from Jamestown to establish a trade link to bypass the Occaneechi, who then held a monopoly over trade with the interior as middle-men, met a party of warriors they called the “Tomahitans”, who took them west to their town over the Appalachian Mountains. These Tomahitans were clearly Yuchi from several accounts and had by this time shifted from the mountains and Southwest Virginia to the Holston Valley, and likely further.
The Westo town on the Savannah was destroyed by their Shawnee neighbors in 1680, with the survivors fleeing to refuge on the Chattahoochee among the Creek. A more inland group on the headwaters of the Savannah known as the Cherokee became the new traders of Indian slaves for the colony of South Carolina.
The Frenchmen Jesuit priest Father Jacques Marquette and trader Louis Joliet became the first men to explore the Mississippi in 1681, going south from New France down to about the middle of the later state of Mississippi. On his map of their travels, French cartographer Melchisédech Thévenot noted the Aganahali in the Memphis area where the De Soto chroniclers previously noted the Quizquiz. This could be another name for the latter, survivors soon absorbed by the Chickasaw, or it could be a name for the Chickasaw themselves.
Another French cartographer, Jean-Baptiste-Louis Franquelin, produced a map of the new territory of La Louisiane in 1684 that showed three towns or peoples (Tchalaka, Katowagi, Taligui) on the headstreams of the Tennessee River. All three are names of other peoples for those now usually called Cherokee, Tchalaka from the Creek, Katowagi from the Shawnee, and Taligui from the Lenape (Delaware). Perhaps the map’s three separate markers denoted the known three dialects of the Cherokee language.