Among the indigenous tribes of the southeastern United States, living within a territory roughly defined by the borders of Georgia and South Carolina, was one, exhibiting a type of culture common to the inhabitants of the country bordering on the Gulf of Mexico east of the Mississippi river, whose members called themselves Tsoyabá, “Offspring of the Sun,” otherwise known as the Yuchi. Constituting an independent linguistic stock (called Uchean in Powell’s classification), their earliest associations, in so far as these are revealed by history and tradition, were identified with the banks of the Savannah river where they lived at a very early time in contact with a southern band of Shawnee, and near the seats of the Cherokee, the Catawba, the Santee, and the Yamasi. These tribes, together with the Yuchi, represent five distinct linguistic stocks; a greater diversity of language than is usually found in so restricted an area east of the Mississippi. The Yuchi maintain that they were originally one of the large tribes of the Southeast which, suffering oppression at the hands of encroaching tribes of the Muskogian stock, became much reduced and was finally incorporated, together with the Shawnee, into the loose coalition of southeastern tribes known in colonial history as the Creek confederacy or the Creek Nation. Indeed it is supposed, and is moreover highly probable, that in the course of extended migrations the Creeks pressed for a considerable length of time upon the Yuchi, who, in a fruitless effort to check the advance of the Muskogi confederacy, resisted the pressure as long as they were able, eventually made peace and themselves joined the league.
The early historical and literary sources of information about the Yuchi are very meager indeed. De Soto in his invasion of the Florida wilderness (1540) is believed to have entered Yuchi territory, and it may be granted that an examination of some names mentioned by his chroniclers would appear to give some color to this belief. 1 Among other examples of the kind a town named Cofitachiqui, variously spelled, where De Soto was hospitably received by the “Queen,” is believed without much hesitation by some writers to have been a Yuchi town. The Yuchi, however, do not recognize the terms Cofitachiqui, Cutifachiqui, or any similar forms of the name given by Biedma, Ranjel, or the Gentleman of Elvas. On the other hand, evidence of De Soto’s contact with the Yuchi is not entirely wanting in these narratives, for we are told of a captive who claimed to belong to a people eastward in a land called “Yupaha,” which in Yuchi means ‘in the distant heights,’ (yuba, ‘far high,’ he ‘in,’) or ‘the high people’ (yuba, ha collective particle, ‘people’). This piece of evidence stands quite by itself, for it is rather hazardous to attempt to identify with the Yuchi any of the other tribal names given by the Spanish explorers. There is a possibility that the French under Ribault and Laudonniere came in contact with the Yuchi, or at least with tribes of similar culture, at the mouth of the St. John’s river at Fort Caroline in 1564, but the evidence furnished by a study of names is not any more satisfactory in this case. The customs of the natives encountered, however, agree with those of the Yuchi, judging from the pictures made by Le Moyne 2, the artist of the expedition.
About the year 1729 the Yuchi are supposed to have been gathered on the Chattahoochee River under the protection of the Creek confederacy. Hardly anything more is heard of the tribe until shortly before 1791, when it was visited by William Bartram of Philadelphia, who recorded a few facts about Yuchi town and its houses 3. He thought the Indians numbered 1000 or 1500, as they were said to muster 500 gun men. Later, in 1798-99, we find the Yuchi described by Benjamin Hawkins, 4 as constituting one of the chief towns of the Lower Creeks, located on the right bank of the Chattahoochee River, having three villages and 250 gun men. His other remarks are not of much ethnological value. During the Creek War (1813-1814), the Yuchi took a prominent part in affairs, and later removed (1836) with the so-called Creek Nation to the lands beyond the Mississippi river where they are now located. They still maintain to a certain degree their cultural unity in spite of contact with aliens for so long a period. In 1900-1901 some of them joined the Crazy Snake band of Creeks who threatened trouble for the Dawes Commission over the allotment of lands in the Creek Nation.
The main published sources of information on the Yuchi are the following:
- Albert Gallatin collected and published a vocabulary almost useless on account of inadequate orthography. 5
- Gatschet gives some ethnologic notes, 6 a brief summary, of the language, 7 three Yuchi myths, 8 and also a very general description of the tribe. 9
Other references to the Yuchi in literature are mostly notations from the sources mentioned. A short review of the chief characteristics of Yuchi ethnology is to be found in the Handbook of the American Indians. 10 In a general article on southeastern culture, 11 Yuchi material was also used by the writer for comparative purposes.
The Yuchi, in accordance with their belief that they were the original occupants of eastern Georgia and South Carolina, have no migration legend. Their only myth of this class tells how a part of the tribe broke away from the main stock as the result of a dispute at a dance and departed westward, never to be heard of again. This tradition, like many others, is found widely distributed over America in various guises and evidently reflects certain elements common to Indian mythology rather than an actual experience of the tribe relating it. At the same time the Indians have a very firm belief that another band of Yuchi is somewhere in existence, a belief which, while it has nothing to support it except the stories that they tell, should not, perhaps, be altogether ignored. 12
- Narratives of De Soto (in Trailmakers’ Series), Vols. I and II.
- De Bry, Larger Voyage, Part II, Florida (English).
- Travels through North and South Carolina and Georgia, etc., Phila., 1791, p. 388.
- Sketch of Creek Country, published in Collection, Georgia Historical Society (1848), p. 62.
- American Antiquarian. Vol. II (18361, pp. 306 rl seq.
- Ibid. (1879), p. 77).
- Science, Apr., 1887, p. 413.
- American Anthropologist. Vol. VI (1893), p. 280.
- Migration Legend of the Creek Indians (1884), Vol. I, pp. 17-24, Vol. II, passim.
- Bulletin 30, Bureau American Ethnology (1907), part 2, see Yuchi Tribe.
- American Anthropologist. N. S., Vol. 9, No. 2 (1907), pp. 287-295.
- A chief related the following incident in mentioning this tradition, “I was in Muskogee (Oklahoma). I passed an Indian on the street. We spoke together. He said he was a Yuchi from near the mountain? We could understand each other, but he was not a Yuchi of our country. I don’t know where he belonged or where he went. He may have been one of the other band.” On another occasion some Yuchi who were attending an Indian show were addressed by a strange Indian in the following words: “Wigya’ nénAn,” What are you? They observed, they say, a slight difference between his speech and theirs, but before they could find out from him where he came from he was called away by someone and they could not find him again. The Yuchi talk a great deal about these occasions, and seem to have hopes of finding the lost people some day.