by Joseph B. Mahan, Executive Director, Westville Village, Lumpkin, Georgia
Originally published in The Midwestern Epigraphic Society Journal
[Editor’s Note: The first Westville Symposium, the parent of ISAC, was held in 1972. The Dr. Joseph Mahan, DFMES story can be found documented in MEJ 9, 1995.]
The Yuchi have been among the least known of any of the Southeastern Tribes. Their history prior to the beginning of the Eighteenth century and their relationship to other tribes, either present or past, have been details which were most obscure in the existing literature.
The supposition has been general that the Yuchi themselves have retained no information on the earlier periods of their own history. This supposition has been perpetuated and strengthened by being repeatedly stated or implied by successive scholars in the studies of Southeast Indians.
The present author has found, in fact, that until well into this century, Yuchi tribal leaders purposely preserved a vast store of traditional history and religious ceremonialism which they taught by rote to selected members of each succeeding generation. Although the changing social and economic conditions under which the present Yuchi live have made this teaching more difficult. Much knowledge of their past still exists among them. This included the speaking of their ancestral language by many of the living Yuchi. This language is unrelated to any other and has long been classified as the single existing branch of a distinct linguistic family.
Much of the traditional tribal knowledge was retained through the encouragement and under the tutorage of two chiefs (father and son) who, combined, held the hereditary position for a period of ninety years (1867-1957). These two men, Samuel W. Brown and Samuel W. Brown Jr., were unceasing in their efforts to maintain tribal unity and to perpetuate their ancestral religion.
Because of his position and his unique role in his tribe, a statement recorded on tape by Samuel W. Brown, Jr. purposely for me in July, 1957, has particular significance. This statement of the history of his people has proved to contain the key to tribal identifications and relationships which have heretofore eluded students of Indian history. Brown’s statement has been thoroughly tested against all available data concerning the peoples he mentions. It has been found to be in agreement with known facts and to supplement these facts extensively. Only through detailed investigation of the Southeastern Indians were some of the names discovered which Chief Brown used so familiarly. It was then that the full significance of his statement became evident.