Yuchi Environment

The Yuchi of the present time have nearly forgotten their old associations east of the Mississippi. Their geographical knowledge is practically limited to their immediate surroundings. They are known to the Creeks as Yu’tci, plural YutcA’lgi, to the Cherokee as Yu’tsi, and to the Chickasaw as Yu’tci. An informant stated that they were known to the Comanche as SakyówAn.

To the Yuchi their near neighbors the Creeks are known as Ku’ba, ‘ looking this way'(?), plural Ku’baha. The Shawnee they call Yon’cta, the Cherokee Tsala”ki, and the Choctaw Tca?’ta. Their name for whites in general is Ka”ka (Goyáka) ‘man white,’ for Negroes Go’cpi, ‘man black.’

In their bearing towards other tribes it is noticeable that the Yuchi hold them in some contempt. They seldom mix socially with the Creeks, presumably because of their former enmity. A strong feeling of friendship is, however, manifested toward the Shawnee, which is probably a sentiment surviving from early affiliation with the southern branch of this people on the Savannah River. 1 It should be added, however, that the Shawnee who associate with the Yuchi are not part of the large band known as the Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma. The former are not at all numerous, but live scattered among the Yuchi villages.

With their neighbors on the west, the Sauk and Fox, the Yuchi have developed, since the removal, considerable intimacy. Their contact can be traced in trade, in attendance upon each other’s ceremonies, and especially in the Plains practice of “sweating” horses, which will be described later. It is not impossible that some of the items of Yuchi culture, particularly in decorative art, may be found to have been derived from the Sauk and Fox when more is known on both sides.

The following translation from the beginning of a myth, describing the way in which the tribes were distributed over the earth, shows the Yuchi concept regarding the origin of their neighbor’s: “Now the people had come upon the earth. The Shawnee came from above. The Creeks came from the ground. The Choctaw came from the water. The Yuchi came from the sun.”

Like many Indians the Yuchi show in their manner and speech not a little suspicion and some contempt for the whites, whom they believe to be fickle and weak. These qualities are ascribed by the Yuchi to the manner of their origin, for it is explained in a myth that the white men originated from the unstable foam of the sea which is ever blown hither and thither by the changing winds. When first seen they were thought to be sea gulls, but they appeared to the Yuchi again and tried to converse with them. Once more, when a year had passed they appeared again in numerous ships and this time they landed, but left before long. Another time they appeared, bringing boxes which they filled with earth in which they planted some seeds. They told the Indians that their land was fat, i. e. fertile, and asked for a portion of it to live upon. With this request the Indians complied, and the white people made a settlement and stayed. One cannot fail to suspect that this bare tradition contains a memory of Ribault’s expedition to Carolina and his settlement at the mouth of the St. John’s River.

The Negroes on their part do not challenge much attention from the Yuchi. The Indians are perhaps more tolerant of what they regard as foolish behavior and frivolity on the part of the black man than on the part of the white man. At one time the Yuchi, like the other tribes of the Southeast, held slaves, but it is said of them that they were easy masters, and when the time came to do so, gave the Negroes their freedom with little reluctance. It is true today that many Negroes, and some poor whites as well, are eager enough to work for the Indians on their plantations.

It may be said in general that the Yuchi are regarded by their neighbors and compatriots the Creeks with some dislike, tinged, however, with jealousy and a little personal fear. The Creeks are fond of ridiculing the conservatism and peculiarities of the Yuchi, but they take care not to do so openly or to provoke personal disputes with them. 2 It is noticeable that there exists a slight difference in physical appearance between the two peoples. The Yuchi are a little more inclined to be tall and slender than the Creeks and their skin is a trifle lighter in tone. These differences may be due to a mixture of negro blood, for the percentage of persons of mixed blood among the Yuchi, who, however, have received some admixture from both white and black, is smaller apparently than that observed among the Creek, Seminole and Cherokee. So far as the Yuchi arc concerned the process of cross-breeding must have begun at an early date because many of those who show intermixture have no direct knowledge of any other than Indian ancestry. Their conservatism in this respect is shown by the fact that notwithstanding the long period of time during which the Yuchi have been in contact with other tribes and races there are very many pure bloods among them at the present day.

Calling themselves “Sun Offspring,” the Yuchi believe in reality that they derive their origin from the Sun, who figures in their mythology as an import-ant being of the supernatural world. He appears as their culture hero after the creation of the tribal ancestor from a drop of menstrual blood. The name Yuchi (Yu’tci), however, is commonly known and used by themselves and the whites and has spread among neighboring Indians as the designation of the tribe. It is presumably a demonstrative signifying ‘being far away’ or ‘at a distance ‘ in reference to human beings in a state of settlement, {yu, ‘ at a distance,’ tci, ‘sitting down’).

It is possible, in attempting an explanation of the origin of the name, that the reply “Yu’tci ” was given by some Indian of the tribe in answer to a stranger’s inquiry, “Where do you come from?” which is a common mode of salutation in the Southeast. The reply may then have been mistaken for a tribal name and retained as such. Similar instances of mistaken analogy have occurred at various times in connection with the Indians of this continent, and as the Yuchi interpreters themselves favor this explanation it has seemed advisable at least to make note of it.

In the almost universal sign language of the Plains the sign for the Yuchi is the right hand raised level with the head with the index finger pointing upward; a demonstration indicating affiliation with the sun.

Natural Environment

The natural surroundings of the Yuchi have not been very different in the various locations which they have occupied east of the Mississippi. Even after the removal of these Indians to their present habitat west of that river, the nature of their environment was not found to be so different as to force them to make much change in their manner of life. That is to say, the keynote of their activity was and still is agriculture supplemented by hunting and fishing. The motives for the accompanying arts of basket making and pottery, together with methods of warfare, hunting, fishing and religious observances, have all likewise remained about the same since the removal. Unlike the Siouan peoples who, when they migrated from the Mississippi basin to the Plains, gave up their agricultural life entirely and became hunting nomads, the Yuchi retained their early mode of life amid their new surroundings and transported, with little change, their old activities. In their new home in Oklahoma they found arable soil, plenty of rivers containing edible fish, and extensive forests and savannahs inhabited by birds and mammals like those of Georgia and Alabama. Both regions are rather low and well watered and are characterized by extensive grassy uplands and patches of forest, differing to some extent in regard to flora but containing many species in common. Chief among these are the pines, the oaks, the hickory and the bois d’arc, as well as many wild plants and vegetables made use of for food or medicines. The chief plants used in their religious rituals. Red root (Salixtristis (?) and Button Snake root (Eryngium yuccaejolium), are distributed over both areas; consequently the Yuchi were not forced to substitute, in the performance of religious ceremonies, other plants for those prescribed by tradition. One vegetable product, however, the cane, is not as abundant in Oklahoma as it is in the Southeast, and the lack of this plant has occasioned the deterioration in the art of basket making and has even threatened it with total extinction. Canes for basketry can be secured nowadays only by making long journeys to distant swampy sections and consequently remarkably few cane baskets are seen.

The fauna of the two regions is for the most part alike. The Indians knew and utilized in both regions the bison, elk, Virginia deer, black bear, wolf, fox, panther, wildcat, beaver, rabbit, squirrel, raccoon, possum, skunk, weasel, and otter. Common to both regions too are the wild turkey, partridge, quail, wild pigeon, mallard duck, teal and wild goose. Eagles and herons furnished the feathers appropriate for ceremonial uses in the new home as in the old. But in leaving the Southeast they left behind the alligator, and encountered the prong-homed antelope and coyote, and they noticed changes in the number and distribution of their former animal acquaintances. Lastly the streams and rivers of Oklahoma were found to contain the fish which had been familiar and useful in the Southeast, namely catfish, dogfish, suckers, garfish, pickerel, mullets, and several kinds of bass.

The summers of Oklahoma, like those of Georgia and Alabama, are long and hot, but the winters west of the Mississippi are somewhat colder and more severe than in the Southeast. This change of climate has had its detrimental effect upon the Yuchi, for it seems that their habits of life are not so well adapted to the severer western winters, and most of their present sufferings are due to exposure at this time of the year. On the whole, however, the Yuchi, men, women and children, are a remarkably strong and healthy set of people.Citations:

  1. Cf. Linguistic map of North American Indians, Algonkian area near Uchean (Yuchi); Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 19th Report, Bureau American Ethnology, p. 494; Siouan Tribes of the East, p. 83; Schoolcraft, North American Indians, Vol. V, p. 262 et seq. (1791); Benj. Hawkins, sketch of Creek Country (1798-99), pp. 34, 63.[]
  2. A Creek Indian of Kawita town, for instance, gave the following belief in regard to the Yuchi and their language: “When the Creator made the ancestors of the Indians he gave them different languages until he had none left. He found that there were still some Indians whom he had not provided for. These were the Yuchi. Having no language for them, he kicked them in the buttocks saying ‘Ba!’ which explains why the Yuchi have such an unintelligible speech.”[]


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