Did you know that the Creek and Chiska Indians formerly wore conical hats?

They were woven from split canes like baskets.

Some Northwest Pacific Coast tribes also wore conical hats!

Part 40 of The Americas Connected series

by Richard Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Charles de Rochefort’s illustrations of the Creek People in the mid-1600s, seem to look nothing like how they were portrayed in museums and archaeological reports. However, if you look more closely, you see that the men are wearing “Creek” or “Seminole” long shirts. This was the traditional attire of Creek, Chickasaw and Seminole men up until the mid-1800s. They are still worn in ceremonies, traditional dances and re-enactments.
This early 19th century engraving of Seminole leader, Tokase-emathla, shows him wearing a “long shirt” or tunic, which was colorful and ornately patterned like the tunics of the 17th century Apalache above. He is also wearing a turban almost identical to those worn by leaders of Shipibo, Conibo and Kashibo (Panoan) warriors in eastern Peru. The Panoan word for a tea made from certain Holly leaves, ase’, is the same word used by the Creeks today.

In 2013, when I first started reading the ten chapters on the indigenous peoples of what is now Georgia in Charles de Rochefort’s  L’Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique  (1658), I assumed it to be somewhat fictional. De Rochefort stated that the Kingdom of Apalache in the 1650s was by then a confederacy of many tribes and ethnic groups, spanning from SW Virginia to SW Georgia, who recognized the Parakusa (High King) of the Apalache as their ultimate leader and high priest. The Parakusa’s role was almost identical to that of the Emperor of Japan . . . a keeper of the peace between tribes and wise advisor for solving local issues.

The book’ illustrations showed the Apalachete elite living in round houses with stone foundations, both round and rectangular temples built out of stone that formerly had been stuccoed with clay plaster . . . and its people wearing conical woven cane hats and cloth tunics.

De Rochefort stated that the King of Apalache, whose capital at that time was in the lower Apalachen Mountains (Nacoochee Valley), had told explorer, Richard Brigstock) that the original people of the Southeast coastal region were the Arawaks, who were called Caribs by the French. They had build the hundreds of shell rings and mounds along the Atlantic Coast. Most had migrated southward, even as far as northern Peru. One band had settled in the Apalachen Mountains. Some still lived there, but they had mostly been replaced by the Itsate and Apalachete.

The Uchee arrived next on the South Atlantic Coast then spread inland and into the Apalachen Mountains. The Uchee both occupied their own provinces and also formed hybrid peoples by intermarrying with later arrivals to the region.

The core ancestors of the Apalachete had migrated from South America long ago. They introduced many advanced concepts of civilization such as large scale agriculture, weaving of cloth and beautiful stamped pottery (Swift Creek pottery, etc.).

Large numbers of peoples migrated from southern Mexico to what is now Georgia in the centuries prior to the arrival of French and Spanish explorers. Some of these Mexican Indians intermarried with the Apalachete. Others maintained their own provinces.

Most of the surviving round stone house ruins are in remote mountainous sections of Northeast Georgia and the extreme northwestern tip of South Carolina.
Collapsed stone wall of a rectangular Native American house at Sandy Creek County Park near Athens, GA

De Rochefort was accurate in all his descriptions

Shortly thereafter, a groups of People of One Fire members visited the Sandy Creek and Little Mulberry River Archaeological Zones in Northeast Metro Atlanta, where county governments have preserved agricultural terraces and stone ruins. This was the homeland of the real Apalache People. Both sites contained some rectangular and circular stone ruins. There were even some partially standing walls at Sandy Creek. A South Carolina archaeologist sent me photos of round, stone houses, which had been discovered by University of South Carolina archaeologists then intentionally concealed from the public by their academic bosses.

Sandy Creek County Park near Athens, GA contains numerous stone walls, cairns and building ruins, which are easily accessible by the general public.

I re-read the landmark book by Charles C. Jones, Jr., Antiquities of the Southern Indians. It clearly stated that indigenous stone ruins were once endemic in northern Georgia, northeastern Alabama and northwestern South Carolina. Seventeenth century author, Charles de Rochefort was not exaggerating.

The chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition stated that when the conquistadors entered the territory of peoples in present day Southwest Georgia in the spring of 1540, they immediately began encountering large, well-planned towns with spacious houses. The people were described brightly colored and patterned woven clothing. So, De Rochefort was not exaggerating when he described the Apalache of northern Georgia wearing such clothing.

For some time, the conical hats seemed to still be problematic. Surely, such a prominent feature of Muskogean apparel would have been well known to academicians, who spent their entire careers, presenting themselves as being experts on all things associated with Southeastern Native Americans. Nope! Not one published professional article or museum exhibit portrayed them.

A Shipibo man and woman in Satipo Province, Peru (early 1800s)

I did find numerous portrayals of the Panoan Peoples of Peru wearing them until the mid-20th century. Panoan town names can be found in southeastern Georgia and southeastern Tennessee. There is an ancient city in Peru named Satipo. It means, ” Colonists – Place of” in Panoan. The capital of the Satile People on the Satilla River near the actual location of Fort Caroline, was named Satipo. There was also a town on the Little Tennessee River near the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, named Satipo. The Cherokees called it Satikoa. White frontiersmen later changed the name to Setticoa and then Citigo.

Then, I started looking at Southeastern Native American art. Several styles of gorgets seemed to portray men wearing conical hats. The most obvious is the gorget at the top of this article. Variations of the theme are most common in Georgia and Eastern Tennessee, but a few have been found as far away as the region around Cahokia, Illinois. Some archaeologist labeled it “Sacred Fire” . . . obviously without looking closely at it.

The gorget portrays two men wearing conical hats. The one of the left is a Highland Apalache hunter-warrior. The one of the right is a Chiska hunter-warrior. In the center is a Maya copal brazier with the symbol of the Itza Maya Sky Serpent god on it. The symbol on the kilts of the two men is the Maya glyph for the planet Venus, which governed war and the making of peace treaties. The gorget obviously celebrated an alliance of the Apalachete, Itsate and Chiska peoples!

The final proof of De Rochefort’s statements was discovered in a private museum in Tellico Plains, Tennessee, near the site of the Highland town named Satipo. It is a ceramic statue of a Chiska warrior, found in a Chiska burial. The Tennessee Chiska warrior was almost identical in every detail to the Chiska warrior in Peru. Chiska means “bird” in Panoan. He is wearing a conical hat!

Now you know!

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