De Soto's Expedition
The Cherokee Nation has probably occupied a more
prominent place in the affairs and history of what is now the United
States of America, since the date of the early European settlements,
than any other tribe, nation, or confederacy of Indians, unless it
be possible to except the powerful and warlike league of the
Iroquois or Six Nations of New York.
It is almost certain that they were visited at a very early period
following the discovery of the American continent by that daring and
enthusiastic Spaniard, Fernando De Soto.
In determining the exact route pursued by him from his landing in
Florida to his death beyond the Mississippi, many insuperable
difficulties present themselves, arising not only from an inadequate
description on the part of the historian of the courses and
distances pursued, but from many statements made by him that are
irreconcilable with an accurate knowledge of the topographic detail
of the country traversed.
A narrative of the expedition, " by a gentleman of Elvas," was
published at Evora in 1557, and translated from the Portuguese by
Richard Hakluyt, of London, in 1609. From this narrative it appears
that after traveling a long distance in a northeasterly direction
from his point of landing on the west coast of Florida, De Soto
reached, in the spring of 1540, an Indian town called by the
narrator "Cutifachiqui.'" From the early American maps of De L'Isle
and others, upon which is delineated the supposed route of De Soto,
this town appears to be located on the Santee River, and, as alleged
by the "gentleman of Elvas," on the authority of the inhabitants,
was two days' journey from the sea-coast.
The expedition left Cutifachiqui on the 3d of May, 1540, and pursued
a northward course for the period of seven days, when it came to a
province called Chelaque, "the poorest country of maize that was
seen in Florida." It is recorded that the Indians of this province "
feed upon roots and herbs, which they seek in the fields, and upon
wild beasts, which they kill with their bows and arrows, and are a
very gentle people. All of them go naked and are very lean."
That this word "Chelaque" is identical with our modern Cherokee
would appear to be almost an assured fact. The distance and route
pursued by the expedition are both strongly corroborative of this
assumption. The orthography bf the name was probably taken by the
Spaniards from the Muscogee pronunciation, heard by them among the
Creeks, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. It is asserted by William
Bar-tram, in his travels through that region in the eighteenth
century, that in the "Museogulge" language the letter "r" is not
sounded in a single word, but that on the contrary it occurs very
frequently in the Cherokee tongue.1
Through this province of Chalaque De Soto passed, still pursuing his
northward course for five days until he reached the province of
Xualla," a name much resembling the modern Cherokee word Qualla. The
route from Cutifachiqui to Xualla lay, for the most part, through a
hilly country. From the latter province the expedition changed its
course to the west, trending a little to the south, and over "very
rough and high hills," reaching at the end of five days a town or
province which was called "Guaxule," and two days later a town
called "Canasagua," an orthography almost identical with the modern
Cherokee name of Canasauga, as applied to both a stream and a town
within their Georgia limits.
Assuming that these people, whose territory De Soto thus traversed,
were the ancestors of the modern Cherokees, it is the first mention
made of them by European discoverers and more than a century
anterior to the period when they first became known to the pioneers
of permanent European occupation and settlement.
Earliest map. The earliest map upon which I have found
Chalaqua" located is that of "Florida et Apalche" by Comely
Wytfiiet, published in 1597.2 This
location is based upon the narrative of De Soto's expedition, and is
fixed a short distance east of the Savannah River and immediately
south of the Appalachian Mountains. "Xualla" is placed to the west
of and near the headwaters of the " Secco" or Savannah River.
Haywood, in his Natural and Aboriginal History of
Tennessee, records many of the traditions concerning the origin and
the primal habitat of the Cherokees. He notes the fact that they
were firmly established on the Tennessee or Hogohege River before
the year 1650, and exercised dominion over all the country on the
east side of the Alleghany Mountains, including the headwaters of
the Yadkin, Catawba, Broad, and Savannah Rivers, and that from
thence westward they claimed the country as far as the Ohio, and
thence to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee and Alabama. One
tradition which he alleges existed among them asserts their
migration from the west to the upper waters of the Ohio, where they
erected the mounds on Grave Creek, gradually working eastward across
the Alleghany Mountains to the neighborhood of Monticello, Va., and
along the Appomattox River.
From this point, it is alleged, they removed to the Tennessee
country about 1623, when the Virginians suddenly and unexpectedly
fell upon and massacred the Indians throughout the colony. After
this massacre, the story goes, they came to New River and made a
temporary settlement there as well as one on the head of the
Holston; bat, owing to the enmity of the northern Indians, they
removed in a short time to the Little Tennessee and founded what
were known as "Middle Settlements." Another tribe, he alleges, came
from the neighborhood of Charleston, South Carolina, and settled
lower down the Tennessee. This branch called . themselves
"Ketawanga," and came last into the country. The tradition as to
those who came from Virginia seeks also to establish the idea that
the Powhatan Indians were Cherokees. The whole story is of the
vaguest character, and if the remainder has no stronger claims to
credibility than their alleged identity with the Powhatans, it is
scarcely worthy of record except as a matter of curiosity.
In fact the explorations of De Soto leave almost convincing proof
that the Cherokees were occupying a large proportion of their more
modern territory nearly a century prior to their supposed removal
from the Appomattox.
Pickett, in his History of Alabama, improves upon the legend of
Haywood by asserting as a well established fact what the latter only
presumes to offer as a tradition.
However, as affording a possible confirmation of the legend related
by Haywood concerning their early location in Eastern Virginia, it
may be worth while to allude to a tradition preserved among the
Mohican or Stockbridge tribe. It appears that in 1818 the Delaware,
who were then residing on White River, in Indiana, ceded their claim
to lands in that region to the United States. This land had been
conditionally given by the Miami many years before to the Delaware,
in conjunction with the" Moheokunnuk" (or Stockbridge) and Munsee.
Many of the latter two tribes or bands, including a remnant of the
Nanticokes, had not yet removed to their western possessions, though
they were preparing to remove. When they ascertained that the
Delaware had ceded the lands to the United States without their
consent, they objected and sought to have the cession annulled.
In connection with a petition presented to Congress by them on the
subject in the year 1819, they set forth in detail the tradition
alluded to. The story had been handed down to them from their
ancestors that u many thousand moons ago " before the white men came
over the " great water," the Delaware dwelt along the banks of the
river that bears their name. They had enjoyed a long era of peace
and prosperity when the Cherokees, Nanticokes, and some other nation
whose name had been forgotten, envying their condition, came from
the south with a great army and made war upon them. They vanquished
the Delaware and drove them to an island in the river. The latter
sent for assistance to the Mohicans, who promptly came to their
relief, and the invaders were in turn defeated with great slaughter
and pat to flight. They sued for peace, and it was granted on
condition that they should return home and never again make war on
the Delaware or their allies. These terms were agreed to and the
Cherokees and Nanticokes ever remained faithful to the conditions of
The inference to be drawn from this legend, if it can be given any
credit whatever, would lead to the belief that the Cherokees and the
Nanticokes were at that time neighbors and allies. The original home
of the Nanticokes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland is well known,
and if the Cherokees (or at least this portion of them) were then
resident beyond the Alleghanies, with sundry other powerful tribes
occupying the territory between them and the Nanticokes, it is
unlikely that any such alliance for offensive operations would have
existed between them. Either the tradition is fabulous or at least a
portion of the Cherokees were probably at one time residents of the
Eastern slope of Virginia.
The Delaware also have a tradition that they came originally from
the west, and found a tribe called by them Allegewi or Allegans
occupying the eastern portion of the Ohio Valley. With the aid of
the Iroquois, with whom they came in contact about the same time,
the Delaware succeeded in driving the Allegans out of the Ohio
Valley to the southward.
Schoolcraft suggests the identity of the Allegans with the
Cherokees,. an idea that would seem to be confirmatory of the
tradition given by Haywood, in so far as it relates to an early
Cherokee occupancy of Ohio.
1 I am informed by Colonel Bushyhead, principal
chief of the Cherokee Nation, that Bartram is mistaken in his latter
assumption. The letter "r" was never used except among the Overhill
Cherokee, and occurred very infrequently with them
2 The full title of this work is "Descriptions
Ptolemaien Augmentum; sive Occidentis Notitia, brevi commentario
illustrata, studio et opera, Cornely W'Pytfliet,. Lonaniensis.
Lovanii, Typis Iohannis Bogardi, anno Domini MDXCVII."
This site includes some historical
materials that may imply negative stereotypes reflecting the culture or language
of a particular period or place. These items are presented as part of the
historical record and should not be interpreted to mean that the WebMasters in
any way endorse the stereotypes implied.
Bureau of Ethnology, Volume 5, Cherokee Nation of Indians,
Nation of Indians