Yuchi people dancing the Big Turtle Dance, 1909
|Regions with significant populations|
Historically: Tennessee, then Alabama and Georgia
Christianity (Methodist), Stomp Dance,|
Native American Church
|Related ethnic groups|
The Yuchi people, spelled Euchee and Uchee, are people of a Native American tribe who historically lived in the eastern Tennessee River valley in Tennessee in the 16th century. The Yuchi built monumental earthworks. In the late 17th century, they moved south to Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina. After suffering many fatalities from 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.
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.
The term Yuchi is commonly interpreted to mean "over there sit/live" or "situated yonder." Their autonym, or name for themselves, Tsoyaha or Coyaha, means "Children of the Sun." The Shawnee call them Tahokale, and the Cherokee call them Aniyutsi.
At the time of first European contract, the Yuchi people lived in what is now central central Tennessee. In 1541, Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto described them as a powerful tribe known as the as Uchi, that also associated with the Chisca tribe.
The Yuchi people speak language isolate, which does not closely resemble any other indigenous American language.
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. 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 ranked it as the largest and most compact Indian town he had ever encountered, with large, well-built houses. US Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins also visited the town and described the Yuchi as "more orderly and industrious" than the other tribes of the Creek Confederacy. The Yuchi began to move on, some into Florida, and during the Creek War of 1813–1814, many joined the Red Sticks party, traditionalists opposed to the Creek of the Lower Towns. Euchee Town decayed. 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. Other Yuchi settlements may have been those 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. Yuchi population 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 forcibly 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 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 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 Dawes Commission, during its enrollment period from 1890 to 1895 considered the Yuchi as an autonomous tribe. At that time there were 1,200 tribal members. The decision of the Dawes Commission to legally classify the Yuchi as part of the Muscogee 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 midsummer, 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, 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 Tribe of Indians is headquartered in Sapulpa, Oklahoma and their tribal chairman are co-chairs Felix Brown Jr. and Clinton Sago.
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 to 2014 in an effort to provide after school programs for the youth to improve proficiency in their native language.
Notable Yuchi people
- Sam Story, 19th-century chief
- Uchee Billy (died 1837), warrior
- Richard Ray Whitman (born 1949), artist, poet, actor
- Chief Joseph Brown (1833-1935)
- "2010 Census CPH-T-6. American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes in the United States and Puerto Rico: 2010". Retrieved August 2, 2015.
- Jackson, Jason Baird. "Yuchi (Euchee)." Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 13 July 2010.
- Jackson 416
- Jackson 427–8
- Gallay, Alan (2002). The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South 1670-1717. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10193-7.
- Daniel T. Elliott and Rita Folse Elliott, "Mount Pleasant. An Eighteenth-Century Yuchi Indian Town, British Trader Outpost, and Military Garrison in Georgia", Watkinsville, GA: LAMAR Institute Publications, 1990
- John T. Ellisor, The Second Creek War, p. 31
- Jackson 415
- Army and Navy Chronicle, Volumes 4-5, edited by Benjamin Homans, pp. 203-4
- "REPORT FROM THE EUCHEE (YUCHI) TRIBE OF INDIANS".
- "Euchee Tribe".
- "Euchee Tribe of Indians" (PDF).
- "Oklahoma's Tribal Nations." Archived 2010-03-28 at the Wayback Machine. Oklahoma Indian Affairs Commission. 2010 (retrieved 10 April 2010)
- Grounds, Richard A. (Summer 1996). "The Yuchi Community and the Human Genome Diversity Project: Historic and Contemporary Ironies". Cultural Survival Quarterly.
- Anderton, Alice, PhD. "Status of Indian Languages in Oklahoma", Intertribal Wordpath Society, Ahalenia.com, 2006-2009 (retrieved 7 Feb 2009)
- Harjo, Sterlin and Matt Leach "We Are Still Here", This Land Press, 8 July 2011 (retrieved 8 July 2011)
- Associated Press, "Scientists Race Around World to Save Dying Languages", via Fox News, 2007-09-18. Accessed 2007-09-19.
- "Current ANA Grants Awarded Prior to FY 2012". January 3, 2013.
- Jackson, Jason Baird. "Yuchi." Handbook of North American Indians: Southeast. Eds. William C. Sturtevant and Raymond D. Fogelson. Volume 14. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution, 2004. ISBN 0-16-072300-0.
- Mark Abley, Spoken Here: Travels Among Threatened Languages, Houghton Mifflin, 2003.
- Jason Jackson, Yuchi Ceremonial Life: Performance, Meaning, and Tradition in a Contemporary American Indian Community, University of Nebraska Press, 2003.
- Jason Baird Jackson (ed.), Yuchi Indian Histories Before the Removal Era. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2012.
- Frank Speck, Ethnology of the Yuchi Indians (reprint), University of Nebraska Press, 2004.
- Daniel Elliott, Ye Pleasant Mount: 1989&1990 Excavations. The LAMAR Institute, University of Georgia, 1991.
- The Euchee Language Project
- 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.
- Uchee Path historical marker
- Joseph Mahan Collection, Columbus State University Archives