Tamali Tribe

It is in the highest degree probable that this town is identical with the Toa, Otoa, or Toalli of the De Soto chroniclers, the –lli of the last form representing presumably the Hitchiti plural –ali. Be that as it may, there can be little question regarding the identity of Tamałi with the town of Tama, which appears in Spanish documents of the end of the same century and the beginning of the seventeenth. 1 In 1598 Mendez de Canço, governor of Florida, writes that he plans to establish a post at a place “which is called Tama, where I have word there are mines and stones, and it is a very fertile land abounding in food and fruits, many like those of Spain.” It was said to be 40 leagues from St. Augustine. 2 In a later letter, dated February, 1600, is given the testimony of a soldier named Gaspar de Salas, who had visited this town in the year 1596. He undertook this expedition in company with the Franciscan fathers, Pedro Fernandez de Chosas and Francisco de Veras. He found the town to be farther off than the governor had supposed – “about 60 leagues, little more or less,” from St. Augustine. They reached it from Guale – that is, from St. Catherines Island. De Salas states that:

It took them eight days to go from Guale to Tama, and seven of those eight days led through deserted land, which was very poor, and on arriving at Tama they found abundance of food, like corn, beans, and much venison and turkeys 3 and other fowl, and a great abundance of fish, as, for instance sturgeon, which they call “sollo real ” in Spain; and likewise much fruit, as big grapes of as nice a taste as in Spain, and 4 white plums like the “siruela de monje,” and cherries and watermelons 5 and other fruit.

That all around the said village of Tama and neighbouring territory there is very good brown soil, which, when it rains, clings to one’s feet like marl. There are in certain regions many barren hills where he saw many kinds of minerals. In several of these parts he and the two monks gathered of those stones those which seemed to them to contain metals and which were on the surface, because they did not have anything with which they could dig, and that he, the said witness, brought some of them, pulverised, to the governor and another part to a jeweler who at that time lived in the city, but who died in those days past, and that he made assays of them and told this witness that where those had been found there existed silver for they were the slags and scum of such a mine, and if they should find the vein of this mineral it would certainly prove to be a rich mine. About all this the said governor would certainly be better informed, for he, too, was told about it and made the experiment with the said jeweler. And near those mines grew an herb which is highly treasured by the Indians as a medicinal plant and to heal wounds, and they call it “guitamo real.” On those same hills and on the banks of big streams they gathered many crystalisations and even fine crystals. 6

Ocute was one day’s journey beyond this place. On their return they took a more southerly route, better and not so devoid of human habitation, since they were only two days away from settlements. They came first to places called Yufera and Cascangue, and finally reached the coast at the island of San Pedro (Cumberland Island). 7

In 1606 the chief of Tama was among those who met Governor Ibarra at Sapelo, which we many assume to have been the most convenient place on the coast for him to present himself. 8 The name, sometimes spelled Thama, appears frequently from this time on, applied to a province of somewhat indefinite extent in southern Georgia, and one for which missionaries were needed. No earnest attempt at its conversion took place, however, until late in the seventeenth century. In the mission lists of 1680 a station known as Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria de la Tama appears among those in the Provincia de Apalacho, and it is called a “new conversion” 9 The missionary effort was probably instrumental in bringing this tribe nearer the Apalachee, and such an inference is confirmed by a letter of 1717 in which reference is made to “a Christian Indian named Augustin, of the nation Tama of Apalache.” 10 On the De Crenay map of 1733 the name appears as Tamatlé, and the tribe is located on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River below all of the other Creek towns on that stream. 11 This position is confirmed from Spanish sources, particularly from one document in which the order of Lower Creek towns from south to north is given as “Tamaxle, Chalaquilicha, Yufala, Sabacola, Ocone, Apalachicalo, Ocomulque, Osuche, Chiaja, Casista, Caveta.” 12 A Spanish enumeration of Creek towns made in 1738 gives two towns of this name, “Tamaxle el Viejo,” the southernmost of all Lower Creek towns, and “Tamaxle nuevo,” apparently the northernmost. 13 The enumeration of 1750 places them between the Hitchiti and the Oconee. 12 Hawkins enumerates them as one of those tribes out of which the Seminole Nation had been formed. 14 Since all of the others mentioned by him were still represented among the Lower Creeks it is probable that this tribe had emigrated in its entirety. It is wanting in the lists of Bartram and Swan, and from the census of 1832, but appears in that contained in Morse’s Report to the Secretary of War (1822), and also in the diary of Manuel Garcia (1800), where it is given as a Lower Creek town. It was then on the Apalachicola River, 7 miles above the Ocheese. 15 It so appears on the Melish map of 1818-19, where it is called “Tomathlee-Seminole” (pl. 8). These are the last references to it, and it was probably swallowed up in the Mikasuki band of Seminole.

It should be observed that the name of this tribe, or a name very similar, appears twice far to the north in the Cherokee country. One town bearing it was “on Valley River, a few miles above Murphy, about the present Tomatola, in Cherokee County, North Carolina.” The other was “on Little Tennessee River, about Tomotley ford, a few miles above Tellico River, in Monroe County, Tennessee.” Mooney, from whom these quotations are made, adds that the name does not appear to be Cherokee. 16 This fact should be considered in connection with a similar north and south division of the Tuskegee, Koasati, and Yuchi. Gatschet states definitely that one of these Cherokee towns was settled by Creek Tamali Indians, 17 but this appears to have been merely a guess on his part.

The name Tamali suggests the Hitchiti form of the name of a Creek clan, the Tåmålgi, Hitchiti Tåmałi, and it is possible that there is historical meaning in this resemblance, but there is just enough difference between the pronunciations of the two to render it doubtful.Citations:

  1. See p. 12.[]
  2. Serrano y Bans, Doc. Hist., p. 138.[]
  3. Gallinas de papada.[]
  4. Sollo-“pike.”[]
  5. The watermelon was introduced from Africa; perhaps these were really mpkins. The word used is “sandias.”[]
  6. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 144. Translated by Mrs. F. Bandelier.[]
  7. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 145.[]
  8. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 184.[]
  9. See pp. 110, 323.[]
  10. Serrano y Sanz, Doc. Hist., p. 228.[]
  11. Plate 5; also Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 190.[]
  12. Copy of MS. in Ayer Coll., Newberry Lib.[][]
  13. Copy of MS. in Ayer Coll., Newberry Lib. See p. 143.[]
  14. Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., III, p. 26.[]
  15. Morse, Rept. to Sec. of War, 1822, p. 364.[]
  16. 19th Ann. Rept. Bur. Amer. Ethn., p. 534.[]
  17. Ala. Hist. Soc., Misc. Colls., I, p. 410.[]

History, Tamali,

Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902.

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