The Curious Case of the Two Chotas

by Professor Cornelius B. Rathbone

Director – Lester Maddox School of Forensic History

Nimblewill Polytechnic University – Plum Nelly, GA

How academicians turned history into mythology.

The 1755 John Mitchell Map of North America was the first to show a Cherokee village named Chote in Tennessee, but has also become an icon for the propagandized version of Pre-Revolutionary War history now being taught to students in the Southeastern United States. Official textbooks and state-mandated curricula tightly control what information, students are exposed to. The map accurately portrays the dozens of Cherokee villages in North Carolina and Georgia, which were burned and abandoned in the autumn of 1754 at the climatic end of the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War. The Cherokees signed a surrender treaty in December 1754.

Instead, students are told a “female empowerment” fable that in 1754, after her husband, Kingfisher, was killed in the “Battle of Taliwa”, a 16 year old girl led a charge which enabled the Cherokees to capture all of Northern Georgia. Actually, no such battle took place . . . the girl, Nancy Ward, was either not born or nursing her mother that year, and her first husband, Kingfisher, died in the Battle of Etowah Cliffs on October 17, 1793, not in 1754 at the fictional Battle of Taliwa. However, by the time Kingfisher was killed, she had lived with several white men. Educators today seem think that social engineering is more important than the truth.

Meanwhile, the existence of perhaps thousands of Spanish-speaking Sephardic Jewish colonists in the Southern Highlands during the late 1500s and 1600s . . . plus the French-English colony of Melilot (founded 1566) in Northeast Georgia . . . has been erased. Tennessee students are also not told that there was a French fort on the Upper Tennessee River until at least 1716 or that early Anglo-American settlers in Tennessee encountered long-inhabited villages, occupied by Spanish-speaking Jews or that there is an eyewitness account from 1674 of Armenian and North African colonies near present-day Knoxville.

Even when they couched their statements as theories or speculations, the ludicrous statements of some anthropology professors of the late 20th century have now become fixed in stone as facts in official state history textbooks or on such references as Wikipedia.  The short-lived Cherokee village of Chota on the Little Tennessee River has been raised to the status of the Holy Grail. Half the population of the State of Tennessee now claims that they are descended from “Cherokee royalty in Chota.We will examiner the facts.

Visit the New Echota Historical Site near Calhoun, GA or the series of monuments around Tellico Lake near Vonore, TN.  Well . . . just read about any book on Cherokee history in the past thirty years and you will learn about the ancient, beloved town of Chota that was located on the Little Tennessee River.  You will be told that New Echota was named after Chota, but no one can explain why the E was added in front.   Being one of the oldest Cherokee towns, Chota was where suffering Native Americans fled from around eastern North America to seek asylum.  It was known as the City of Refuge and . . . oh, and not a one of them can tell you what Chota means.

The internet is awash with people, who today don’t look like they have a drop of Native American blood, claiming that their ancient Cherokee ancestor was born in Chota in 1696, in 1680, in 1663 or even 1640.  One lady claims that her Virginia Native American ancestor walked to Chota in 1643.  Now, everyone is claiming that Nancy Ward was born at Chota in 1738 . . . which is interesting, since contemporary newspaper obituaries put her birth in the Hiwassee River Valley about 1754.

Scholarly articles by professors explain that the original name of Chota was Itsate.  They don’t know what Itsate means either, but they, along with the tourist guides, explain that Chota was nickname that the Cherokees eventually decided they liked better than Itsate. They use this story to explain why Chota was not on the map for a century and a half, when it was supposed to be a “City of Refuge.” In a legion of books and web articles, it’s called a “city” or “the GREAT Cherokee Metropolis” even though it only had a maximum of 175 men between the ages of 16 and 45 . . . aka “warriors.” Today, we would call that a small subdivision. The Creek town of Kausha had over 3,000 houses!

Each person that writes something about Chota, whether they are a professor presenting a paper or a self-styled Cherokee descendant, seeks to embellish the story a little further.  Each author cites the statements of the previous author, before taking Cherokee history a little further into lala land.  I waiting to see the one that claims Jesus was really born in Chota, not Bethlehem. 

There are a lot of problems with these tall tales.  The four biggest ones are that (1) the Cherokees did not capture the Little Tennessee River until 1716 or later, (2) the “ancient” beloved town in Tennessee was never mentioned on a map until 1755, (3) its name was Chote, not Chota, and (4) there was a large village, named Chote, on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia . . . before, during and after there was a Chote on the Little Tennessee.  

Unraveling fabricated history

The map above was prepared in 1715 by John and Richard Beresford of the South Carolina Militia with the help of the 10 Indian traders, who survived the initial attacks at the onset of the Yamassee War.  At least 90 were killed.  It is the first English map to even mention the Cherokees.  The militia wanted to know how many Native American warriors they faced and where they were located.   The main body of Cherokees were in extreme northeast Tennessee.  

Note that there was a French fort on the island where the Little Tennessee joined the Tennessee River.  At the time, the Upper Tennessee was called the Cusatee River, because it was lined with Cusate (Upper Creek) towns. The lower Little Tennessee River was occupied by Koasati, Talasee and Tuskegee towns. It was called the Caskinampo River, which means “many warriors” in Koasati. 

In 1760, the Thomas Kitchen Map of the Cherokee Nation was the first map to label Chote as an important village, where a leader lived. It was based on a sketch made by a Cherokee leader.

Villages with non-Cherokee names:  The fact that almost none of the original Cherokee villages in the 1725 and 1762 maps are Cherokee words is highly significant.  Of course, there are numerous “Cherokee history” and “Cherokee words” website that claim to translate these words, but they really don’t.  The author typically produces a long set of syllables for a relatively short village name or they say that the word is “an ancient Cherokee word whose meaning has been lost.”  

For example, the village of Mialoquo, which is now called the Great Island, was said to be derived from the Cherokee word, Amaye’le’gwa.   Not even close.  Mialoquo is the Anglicized version of the Cherokee pronunciation of the Muskogee-Creek word, Mia-lakko, which means, Island – Large.

I was able to produce straightforward, concise translations of virtually all the 18th century villages with Creek, Itza Maya, Chickasaw and Arawak dictionaries. Actually, several of the village names were also the names of contemporary Creek villages.  These include Talasee, Tamasee, Tanasi, Tamatli, Chiaha, Coosaw, Sokee, Sautee, Nacoochee (Nokose), Savano, Chauge, Tuskegee, Tuskete, etc. 

The Other Chote:  Chote, Tennessee did not appear until the mid-18th century, but there was an extremely old town in the Georgia Mountain, named Chote.  Archaeologist Robert Wauchope excavated some of the larger mounds on the northern end of this town and found that they dated to around 1000 BC or earlier.  The name is Itza Maya, though.  It means Cho’i People.  They live in Tabasco State, Mexico.  It was abandoned or almost abandoned due to a smallpox plague in 1696, but does show up again in the 1725 map of South Carolina . . . not necessarily in the Cherokee tribe at time.

The Georgia Chote was burned in 1754 by the Coweta Creeks, but reoccupied a few years later.   According to Smithsonian archaeologist, Cyrus Thomas, it had a population of around 300 people at the time of the Revolution and was not hostile to whites. At that time, it was larger than any of the surviving Overhill Cherokee villages. In 1795, the mapmaker of Georgia’s official map changed the spelling to Echota. By then, Tennessee’s Chota was abandoned. So, it looks like “New Echota” was named after the ancient Echota on the Chattahoochee River!

In 1820, Echota or Chota continued to be on Georgia’s maps, but the next year, a real estate speculator from Burke County, NC purchased almost all the Upper Chattahoochee River Bottomland from the Cherokees.  The following year, settlers from North Carolina moved onto the fertile tracks.

Detail of 1820 Sturgis Map of Georgia

Creating a fake history of Chote, Tennessee

Throughout the latter part of the 20th century, amateur historians, people trying to prove that they were related to famous Cherokee chiefs, while academicians steadily distorted the importance of Chota.  Many Tennesseans seemed obsessed that they be descended from someone born in Chota.

In 1990, Dr. R.P. Stephen Davis, Jr, an archaeology professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill produced a “modern English” version of the Travels of James Needham and Gabriel Arthur.  The new version stated that the two Englishmen were traveling to Chota to initiate trade with the Cherokees on the Tennessee River. 

Later unauthorized modifications of Davis’s original text by unknown parties removed references to Spanish-speaking travelers on the trail and changed the ethnic identity of the Oconeechee to also being Cherokees. These anonymous versions are typically what you see on the internet. North Carolina and Virginia academicians generally assume that the Oconeechees were Siouans, because they don’t know the meanings of Native American words. Oconeechee is a Creek language word. It means “Oconees-descendants of.”

Nowhere on the original Needham-Arthur texts are the words Tennessee, Tanasi, Chota or Cherokee mentioned!   The original text states that the men were traveling to the Tomohitan River to open up trade with the Tomohitans. The Tomohitans actually were a tribe in southwestern Virginia that had formerly been mound builders in the Shenandoah Valley. Tomohitan was the Jamestown, VA way of saying Tamahiti. 

The Tamahiti were based on the Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia.  Their name is Itza Maya and means “Merchant People.”  Look up Tamahiti in a Totonac dictionary! When the Creek-Cherokee War broke out, the Tamahiti returned to Georgia.  Their name appears on Georgia Colonial Era maps.  Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina scholars repeatedly speak the mantra that the Tomohitans mysteriously disappeared and no one knows where they went.  

This French map by the famous cartographer, De L’Isle, showed all of the Little Tennessee River Basin occupied by Creeks and Shawnee. At that time the ancestors of the Cherokee in were extreme NE Tennessee and West Virginia. The note under Tionontatecaga states that these people live in man-made caves.

After Davis’s book was published, a legion of professional papers and later, web articles published, which expounded on the concept of Chota being a “City of Refuge.”  So many papers and dissertations discussed the mass-migration of Native Americans to Chota on the Tennessee River during the 1600’s that now it is treated as a fact.  No one bothered to check if the Tennessee Chota even existed back then.  It didn’t.  Look at the French maps of the upper Tennessee Valley from 1684 and 1701.  Neither map mentions Chota or the Cherokee.  Keep in mind that the French had a fort at the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers until at least 1716!

In 2005, Robert T. Conley wrote a book entitled, The Cherokee Nation, a History, which took Stephen Davis’s book many further steps into lala land.  He states, “The first Anglo-Cherokee contact was in 1654. English settlers in Virginia fought the Powhatan Confederacy, and 600 Cherokees settled in abandoned Powhatan lands in Virginia. The English colonists and Cherokees fought, with the Cherokees emerging victorious but eventually moving away.” 

It was the Rickohockens, not Cherokees, who raided down the James River as far as an island where Richmond is today.  There was absolutely no mention of the Cherokees in Virginia throughout the 1600’s. French and Dutch maps place the Cherokees in what is now the southeastern tip of Ontario until at least 1649.

Detail of 1649 map of Nouvelle France (Canada) showing the Cherokee’s homeland

Conley equated the Cherokees with the Rickohockens.  Maybe yes, but more likely no.   There does not seem to be a direct transition from one to the other.  The Rickohockens, who settled around present-day Augusta, GA were enemies of the Cherokees.  The last mention of the Rickohockens in the archives of the Commonwealth of Virginia was 1684.  The first mention of the Cherokees in the Virginia governmental documents was in 1715 after they received notice from South Carolina that the Cherokees had killed the white traders in their midst from South Carolina, but not those from Virginia.

What can you do?

It is impossible to remove or repair anything about Cherokee history in Wikipedia or repair damage to articles on other subjects that have been modified to create fake Native American history.  In 2012, someone removed all references to the Creek Indians in county and city history articles of North Georgia counties.  They even removed references to the etymology of Coosawattee (Old Place of the Creeks) or about Etowah Mounds and the Capital of Coosa.  Wikipedia’s “Purple Gatekeepers” zealously watch the Cherokee history sites 24/7 to make sure that nothing is touched on their sacred scriptures.

Perhaps, the only solution to thoroughly propagandized history is to be patient and let accurate research articles make their way through the media and internet.  It is a slow process, but also hard to stop.

Cited References:

  1. An Archaeological Survey of Northern Georgia by Robert Wauchope [1966].
  2. Myths of the Cherokees by James Mooney [1901].
  3. The First Explorations of the Trans-Allegheny Region by the Virginians, 1650-1674, by Clarence W. Alvord and Lee Bidgood, The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1912, pp 209-226.
  4. The Travels of James Needham and Gabriel Arthur through Virginia, North Carolina, and Beyond, 1673-1674, edited by Roland Parker Stephen Davis, Jr. Southern Indian Studies 39:31-55, 1990.

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