Yuchi people dancing the Big Turtle Dance, 1909
|Regions with significant populations|
| United States
Historically: Tennessee, then Alabama and Georgia
|English, Yuchi (language isolate)|
|Christianity (Methodist), Stomp Dance,
Native American Church
|Related ethnic groups|
The Yuchi, also spelled Euchee and Uchee, are people of a Native American tribe who traditionally lived in the eastern Tennessee River valley in Tennessee in the 16th century. The Yuchi were well known mound builders. During the 17th century, they moved south to Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. After suffering many fatalities due to epidemic disease and warfare in the 18th century, several surviving Yuchi were removed to Indian Territory in the 1830s, together with their allies the Muscogee Creek. (Some who remained in the South were classified as "free persons of color"; others were enslaved.) Some remnant groups migrated to Florida, where they became part of the recently formed Seminole Tribe of Florida.
Today the Yuchi live primarily in the northeastern Oklahoma area, where many are enrolled as citizens in the federally recognized Muscogee Creek Nation. Some Yuchi are enrolled as members of other federally recognized tribes, such as the Absentee Shawnee Tribe and the Cherokee Nation.
Yuchi is commonly interpreted to mean "over there sit/live" or "situated yonder." Their autonym, or name for themselves, is Coyaha or Tsoyaha, meaning "Children of the Sun." The Shawnee call them Tahokale, and the Cherokee call them Aniyutsi.
The origin of the Yuchi has long been a mystery. The Yuchi language does not closely resemble any other Native American language. In 1541, the tribe was documented by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto as a powerful tribe living in what is now central Tennessee. They were recorded at that time as Uchi, and also associated with the Chisca tribe. European colonial records from the 17th century note the Yuchi.
Both historical and archaeological evidence exists documenting several Yuchi towns of the 18th century. Among these was Chestowee in southeastern Tennessee. In 1714, instigated by two fur traders from South Carolina, the Cherokee attacked and destroyed Chestowee. The Cherokee were prepared to carry their attacks further to Yuchi settlements on the Savannah River, but the colonial government of South Carolina did not condone the attacks. The Cherokee held back. The Cherokee destruction of Chestowee marked their emergence as a major power in the Southeast.
Yuchi towns were also documented in Georgia and South Carolina, as the tribe had migrated there to escape pressure from the Cherokee. "Mount Pleasant" was noted as being on the Savannah River in present-day Effingham County, Georgia, from about 1722 to about 1750. It was first a Yuchi town. To take advantage of trade, the British established a trading post and small military garrison there, which they called Mount Pleasant.
"Euchee Town" (also called Uche Town), a large settlement on the Chattahoochee River, was documented from the middle to late 18th century. It was located near Euchee (or Uche) Creek about ten miles downriver from the Muscogee Creek settlement of Coweta Old Town. The naturalist William Bartram visited Euchee Town in 1778, and in his letters called it the largest and most compact Indian town he had ever encountered, with large, well-built houses. Benjamin Hawkins also visited the town and described the Yuchi as "more orderly and industrious" than the other tribes of the Creek Confederacy. However, the Yuchi began to move on, some into Florida, and during the Creek War of 1813–1814 many joined the Red Sticks party. Euchee Town decayed and the tribe became one of the poorest of the Creek communities, at the same time gaining a bad reputation. The archaeological site of the town, designated a National Historic Landmark, is within the boundaries of present-day Fort Benning, Georgia.
Colonists noted Patsiliga on the Flint River in the late 18th century. There were also other possible Yuchi towns on the Oconee River near Uchee Creek in Wilkinson County, Georgia, and on Brier Creek in Burke County, Georgia or Screven County, Georgia. A Yuchi town was sited at present-day Silver Bluff in Aiken County, South Carolina from 1746 to 1751.
During the 18th century, the Yuchi consistently allied with the British, with whom they traded deer hides and Indian slaves. The population of the Yuchi plummeted in the 18th century due to Eurasian infectious diseases, to which they had no immunity, and to war with the Cherokee, who were moving into their territory and were much more powerful. After the American Revolution, Yuchi people maintained close relations with the Creek Confederacy. Some Yuchi migrated south to Florida along with the Creek, where they became part of the newly formed Seminole people.
In the 1830s, the US government removed the Yuchi, along with the Muscogee Creek, from Alabama and Georgia to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma). The Yuchi settled in the north and northwestern parts of the Creek Nation. Three tribal towns which the Yuchi established in the 19th century continue today: Duck Creek, Polecat, and Sand Creek.
Second Seminole War
Some Yuchi escaped forced removal by going to Florida, where they joined with the Seminole. Uchee Billy was a well known chief during the Second Seminole War. He was captured in 1837 with his brother Jack by General Hernandez, who also captured Osceola. They were all imprisoned in Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.
The Yuchi tribe has been trying to gain federal recognition status for over 20 years. While currently the Yuchi have not been federally recognized, there has been some advancement in that time toward their efforts to gain federal recognition. Federal recognition as an individual tribe would ensure that the Yuchi people would have the right to self governance, economic development, as well as protect tribal customs and the Yuchi's unique language.
During the visit of Jim Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Yuchi speaker Tracie Revis gave a speech defining the importance of federal recognition and acknowledged a declaration by the United Nations on the Rights of Indigenous People that states "that we have the right of self-determination and by virtue of that right- we may freely determine our political status and freely pursue our economic, social and cultural development."
The last time the Yuchi were considered an autonomous tribe was during the Dawes Commission enrollment of 1890-1895. At that time there were 1200 tribal members. The decision of the Dawes Commission to legally classify the Yuchi as part of the Creek nation was an effort to simplify the process of land allotment, a decision that devastated the future of the Yuchi tribe.
As of 1997, the Yuchi tribe had a formal enrollment of 249 members as many are already listed as part of other tribes. Currently, most Yuchi are of multi-tribal descent. Many are citizens of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Some are citizens of other tribes, such as the Shawnee or Sauk and Fox Nation. According to current estimates there should be roughly 2000 members of the Yuchi tribe, being of mixed heritage based on a list of 1,100 names from the Indian Claims Commission of 1950 and increased estimates thereof.
Nonetheless, they continue to assert a Yuchi cultural identity, continuing the practice of important ceremonies such as the Green Corn Ceremony of mid-summer, and others, as well as continuously maintaining three ceremonial grounds in Oklahoma. Members belong to the Native American Church and a Methodist congregation.
In the last decades of the 20th century,1992, the surviving Yuchi have reorganized and tried to gain federal recognition as a tribe. As most descendants are enrolled in other federally recognized tribes already, they have not been successful. The unrecognized Euchee (Yuchi) Tribe of Indians is headquartered in Sapulpa, Oklahoma and their tribal chairman is Andrew Skeeter.
In 2008, the Yuchi tribe received a grant from the Administration for Native Americans Comprehensive Community Survey and Plan that was used to create the Tribal History Project that began in October 2010.
The uniqueness of the Yuchi tribe brought the attention of the Human Genome Project who, despite the Yuchi's lack of federal recognition, acknowledged the importance of the Yuchi's distinct culture and language by approaching the Yuchi first in their efforts to map North American indigenous tribe's genetic information. This distinction from other Native Americans from the Southeast could provide crucial information in the study of human history. . The Yuchi tribe declined to participate in the Human Genome Project due to cultural conflict and uncertainty over government ownership of tribal DNA.
The Yuchi language is a linguistic isolate, not known to be related to any other language. In 2000 the estimated number of fluent Yuchi speakers was 15, but this number dwindled to 7 by 2006. According to a 2011 documentary on the Yuchi language, the number of first-language speakers has declined to five.
Young people of the Yuchi have learned the language in recent years and are continuing to do so. Yuchi language classes are being taught in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, in an effort led by Richard Grounds and the Euchee Language Project. As of 2011, the Administration for Native Americans awarded the Yuchi tribe a grant for the years 2011-2014 in an effort to provide after school programs for the youth to better proficiency in their native language.
- Sam Story, 19th-century chief
- Richard Ray Whitman (born 1949), artist, poet, actor
- Uchee Billy (died 1837), warrior
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yuchi.|
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- John T. Ellisor, The Second Creek War, p. 31
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- "Current ANA Grants Awarded Prior to FY 2012". January 3, 2013.
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- Jason Jackson, Yuchi Ceremonial Life: Performance, Meaning, and Tradition in a Contemporary American Indian Community, University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
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- The Euchee Language Project
- Who Were the Mysterious Yuchi of Tennessee and the Southeast?, Yuchi.org
- Memoirs of Jeremiah Curtin in the Indian Territory, pp. 327, 333-335. 19th century ethnographer's account of learning Yuchi language in 1883 in a Yuchi settlement 55 miles from Muskogee, Oklahoma. Electronic record maintained by Library of Congress, accessed January 15, 2007.