Presented by the Laurens County Historical Society, Dublin, Georgia. For questions and information, please contact Scott B. Thompson, Sr. at dublinhistory@yahoo.com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

THE MYSTERIOUS YUCHI

Offspring of the Sun

They are a people shrouded in mystery. No one alive knows their complete story and who they really were. These highly advanced people once lived in Laurens County many, many years ago. Today, less than three thousand of the once prolific tribe remain in the United States. There are few, if any, persons who speak their language fluently. They are a proud people, who today call themselves "Tsoyaha," or "Offspring of the Sun," or alternatively, "Children of the Sun." Others claim the name means "situated yonder, or "children of the Sun from far away."

One possible explanation of the name lies in the fact that most of the Indian tribes of North America crossed a land bridge from Asia to North America. It is reasonable to believe that the wandering bands traveled south to find warmer conditions. It also stands to reason that since they worshiped the Sun, these Indians would continue to travel southeasterly toward the direction of the sunrise in hopes of "touching the Sun." When the sojourners reached the Atlantic Ocean, they were forced to stop and settle in the Southeast.

Known by a variety of names, the Yuchi or Uchee were thought to have originated out of eastern Tennessee River Valley. The tribe’s most extensive habitation seems to have been between the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers in Georgia.

In the east-central Georgia area, evidence of their presence comes in the form of creek and trail names. In Wilkinson County, just below Ball’s Ferry Bridge is Uchee Creek, which lies at the junction of the Oconee River and the Upper Uchee Trail, which ran from southern Alabama to the Savannah River area near Augusta. In Laurens County, the Lower Uchee Trail enters the county near the old Whitehall Plantation on the Bleckley County line. The main path roughly follows Georgia Highway 26 until its intersection with U.S. Highway 80. From that point, the trail ran in a northeasterly direction along the Old Hawkinsville Road past the Laurens County land fill, before turning in a more easterly direction crossing U.S. Highway 441, the Toomsboro Road and traversing the Oconee River just above the Dublin Country Club. From there, the trail roughly follows Highway 319 along a northeasterly course to the Savannah River, south of Augusta.

Although there is little or no evidence beyond the 18th Century, the Yuchi spoke a language that does not resemble any known language of the Southeastern United States.

18th Century explorer William Bartram said, "They are in a confederacy with the Creeks, but do not mix with them. On account of their numbers and strength they are of importance enough to excite and draw upon them the jealousy of the whole Muscogee Confederacy and are usually at a variance." Bartram reported that the Yuchi occupied the largest town (1000-1500) that he saw during his travels. Some believe that the Yuchi were actually slaves of the Creeks, who lived along the mid Chattahoochee River. Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins wrote the people of the Yuchi "They were more civil and orderly than their neighbors, and their women are more chaste and the their men better hunters. The men take part in the labors of the women, and are more constant in their attachment to their women than is usual among red people."

The Yuchi believed the Earth was created by the forces of nature. They believed at the beginning of time there was the air and the water, both of which were inhabited by animals. Changes came. The crawfish, after four days of scouring the ocean floors, dove to the bottom of the water and brought up a load of dirt from which the ground was made. The crawfish was almost dead, but the other animals picked him up. The birds picked out the dirt, rolled it into balls, and then dropped them into the water. The dirt, thin at first, began to harden and the land was created.

The animals gathered together to decide how to light their new lands. The panther was chosen for his ability to streak across the heavens. When the panther failed, the spider was chosen, but his light was too dim. So, they chose the moon and the moon’s light was still not bright enough. The animals chose the Sun and it went back and forth across the sky and forever illuminated the Earth.

Once upon a time, the chipmunk wanted the night to be brought upon the earth. The chipmunk said that persons needed to rest and they couldn’t sleep and procreate in the brightness of the day. This angered the panther, who jumped upon and scratched the back of the little creature, who today still bears the red stripes as the scars of the panther’s claws.

The Yuchi believed that they descended from the female blood of the Sun. For hundreds of years the Yuchi conducted ceremonies to celebrate their solar heritage. Most of the ceremonies took place during the time of the maturity of the corn crop in late June and early July. Dancing, singing and music were integral parts of the Yuchi ceremonies.

Yuchi lived in permanent village sites near streams and rivers. Their houses, grouped in square lots, were often made of clay and covered with bark. Known as superior farmers, the Yuchi were master makers of pottery and pipes. They utilized wood, stone, flint and animal parts for making all sorts of tools, clothes and implements.

During the early decades of the 19th Century, Yuchi populations began to wane. They did take part in the Indians Wars of the War of 1812 and sided with the Upper Creeks against the American government. In retaliation for their stance, Yuchi villages were destroyed by the American friendly, Lower Creek tribes.

When the American and Georgia governments forced the removal of the Indian from Georgia and the Southeast, the Yuchi traveled with the Creeks to the newly formed Indian territory of Oklahoma. They lived in a separate town until the Creek Nation was dissolved in 1906.

The tales of the lives of the Yuchi are fascinating to anyone who reads them. To learn more, read Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians, Frank G. Speck, Philadelphia, 1909. It is available on line through Google book search.

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