by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Rigorous research into the Colonial Archives and state-of -art genetic research have revealed a fascinating, complex history for the Cherokees and Western North Carolina, in particular, that is quite different than the one fabricated by North Carolina academicians over the past four decades. North Carolina academicians have completely ignored Colonial Period maps in fabricating a false history for the Cherokee People . . . which is really an insult to the Cherokee, since they do have a complex cultural history that spans from northern Mexico to the Maritime Provinces of Canada to southern Canada to West Virginia to the Southern Highlands.
Original Cherokee history versus fairytales
Before proceeding with the scientifically researched evolution of the Nikwasi Mound’s appearance, we will review the fabricated history, created by white academicians over the past 30 years. Official Cherokee history has changed radically since the early 1980s.
Here is some REAL Cherokee history . . . Until recently, the Cherokee never claimed to have built the Nikwasi Mound (or any other mounds in the Southeast), but only built a council house on ancient mound, originally built by diminutive humans, they called the “Mouse people*. In some versions of the tale, the Mouse People still live inside the mound . . . or at least did back when it was in Cherokee territory.
*We Creek Indians, whose ancestors mostly came from Tabasco, Chiapas, Veracruz and Tamaulipas States in Mexico also remember a diminutive tribe of mound builders that we called Chestate (Rat People), but more specifically know that they came from Southern Mexico. The parable of the Red Rat in the Creek Migration Legend is probably a cultural memory of these people. Most of the branches of the Creeks came from exceptionally tall tribes in southern Mexico.
During the decade, when I was the planner and first director of the Downtown Asheville Revitalization Program then first director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission, I became increasingly aware of some very strange things going on in regard to Native American history. For unknown reasons, Caucasian professors were changing the Cherokee’s cultural history to resemble our Creek cultural heritage. They made no effort to unravel the real history of the Cherokee people.
Want proof? Oconaluftee is actually a Creek word, meaning “Oconee People – massacred.” In fact, all the rivers on or near the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation are Creek words. Yet, for the past 20 years, Cherokee spokespeople have been stating that the Cherokee People have been living on the land of their reservation for 12,000 years.
Cherokee tribal employees tell tourists that the logos of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, the Qualla Arts and Craft Guild and EBCI Historic Preservation Office were shell gorgets found on the reservation. They are all actually Creek shell gorgets, excavated in Georgia or Alabama.
Another example . . . In 2005, a member of the Qualla Arts and Crafts Guild digitally copied my copyrighted architectural renderings of Creek towns on the Architecture Channel website. She painted over my name and digitally added her signature then sold them to the Cherokee Casino Hotel as original art by a Cherokee tribal member. The batch of images were labeled as “Famous Cherokee towns in the Southeast.” They were mounted on the walls of hotel hallways and rooms, until I retained an attorney . . . then they suddenly disappeared overnight.
Here is what Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote in 1826 in his manuscript, The History of the Cherokee People: “The mound builders were greatly weakened by a plague. We entered the North Carolina Mountains from the west. We killed or drove off the mound builders. We burned their temples atop the mounds and then constructed our town houses on the mounds. The Cherokees never built any mounds.”
These days, Eastern Band of Cherokees gives generous grants to professors, who will write books, supporting their new history. A Georgia history professor told us that she was offered $5000 to write a book, which refuted my book, The Nacoochee Valley . . . Crossroads of the Americas . The Nacoochee Valley is a beloved archaeological zone in Georgia and 90 miles south of Cherokee, NC. It was the capital of the Apalachen (Proto-Creek) Confederacy until the 1696 Smallpox Epidemic, when everything came unraveled. One wonders why Cherokee bureaucrats are so afraid of a book about a valley associated with the Chickasaw and Creek peoples . . . unless they have something to hide, maybe?
The professor stated that she thoroughly fact-checked my book and it all cited references backed my statements. As a result, she realized that she had been believing and teaching an inaccurate history of the Southeast all her career.
Let’s fact-check some of those statements that we find in current “Cherokee history websites,” before moving ahead with a scientific approach to research. This quote is from the Blue Ridge Public Radio website:
“ Nikwasi comes from the Cherokee word for “star” and means the same as Noquisiyi (No-kwee-shee-yee) [1-False] Nikwasi and the nearby town of Kituwah are considered Cherokee “mother towns,” communities where Cherokee people have been living since time immemorial. [2-False] Cherokee elders recount oral traditions associating the Cherokee origin story to Nikwasi (which means “star place”) known as the home of the Nunne’hi, immortal warriors who protect the Cherokee in times of war. [3-False] Both Nikwasi and Kituwah appear at a 1544 map of the De Soto Expedition [4-False] and also are mentioned in expedition accounts by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo dating as far back as 1566, signifying their established significance in that period.”
Fact Check Comments
1a. This etymological explanation is plausible except it is geographically impossible. Noquisi is the Cherokee word for a star. Noquisiyi means “Star-place of.” However, Juan Pardo passed through a town his scribe named Nucase on the trail between the head of the Savannah River and the head of the Hiwassee River. The trail was then called the Uenenecoi (Unicoi) Trail by the Creeks. It is now GA 17, which passes the site of the Creek town of Nokose in the Nacoochee Valley. Pardo’s return route was along the Little Tennessee River, where he passed through the town of Nicose. The Nikwasi Mound is located on the Little Tennessee River.
1b. Barnwell’s 1721 Map of South Carolina placed Nikosi where it is today and Nokose in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia.
2a. In The History of the Cherokee People (1826) Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote that the Cherokees first entered the southern mountains (SW Virginia- S. WV) about the time that Charleston was founded. (1670) He next stated that the first Cherokee town in western North Carolina was Big Tellico.
2b. Kituwa is an Alabama Indian word meaning “Sacred Fire.” It has no meaning in Cherokee, other than being a proper noun. Kitani (the elite of the early Cherokees) is an Alabama Indian word, meaning sorcerer or the priest, who started sacred fires in a temple.
2c. The 1684 map of North America by Jean Baptiste Franquelin placed Kituwa on the upper Holston River in either SW Virginia or NE Tennessee – not in its current location in North Carolina.
2d. In the late 1990s, Eastern Band Principal Chief, Joyce Duggan, began describing the Kituwah site near the Cherokee Reservation as the “Mother Town” of the Cherokee People, when trying to assemble money to buy the archaeological site.
2e. Around 2015, when the Eastern Band began demanding that they be given the Nikwasi Mound, books began labeling it one of the two Cherokee mother town. At the same time a history professor at Western Carolina University, wrote a paper for the professional journal, which suddenly called Nikwasi one of the two Cherokee mother towns. Essentially, this statement is nothing, but political propaganda.
3a. The Nunne’hi were always described as a culturally advanced people, who were living in the Southern Mountains, when the Cherokee arrived. They are never described as warriors and undoubtedly were the Apalachete, who invited the Cherokees to join the Apalachen Confederacy. The first printed description of the Nunne’hi tale is in a book, written by James Mooney and published in 1891.
3b. In the opening paragraphs of his 1826 manuscript on the history of the Cherokee People, Principal chief Charles Hicks stated that most of the Cherokee People had completely forgotten their history and cultural traditions. There is substantial evidence that most of the “ancient Cherokee myths,” published by Mooney, were actually fabricated in the 1800s.
4. This is a photocopy of the 1544 map, mentioned in the article above. No word like Kituwa, Nocose, Nacoochee or Nikwasi appears on it! No Spanish maps from the 1500s, 1600s or 1700s mention either Kituwa or Nikwasi. There are absolutely no Cherokee words or village names mentioned in the chronicles of either the De Soto or Pardo Expeditions. All town names and political titles mentioned while De Soto’s conquistadors crossed Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee are Creek, Alabama or Itza Maya words.
In his book, Knights of the Cross, Warriors of the Sun, author Charles Hudson included a recently drawn map, which superimposed names of towns, actually visited by the De Soto Expedition in the 16th century, plus 18th century Cherokee villages on a modern map of the Southeastern United States. Apparently, someone saw that map and equated it to 500 year old Spanish maps.
5. Juan Pardo never visited a Native American town named Kituwa. Once, someone made this statement, then every subsequent article stated it as a fact.
And that is the essence of the problem now with fabricated Cherokee history. Once someone in Western North Carolina . . . whether it be an academician, journalist or tribal employee . . . makes an unsubstantiated revision to Cherokee history . . . which in their mind, seems to make the Cherokees “more important,” it quickly becomes a fact and within weeks becomes “an ancient cultural memory passed down by our elders.” If the new history conflicts with the history of the indigenous tribes of the Southeastern United States, the tribal officials soon start pressuring neighboring states to change their history to match that of the Cherokees.