The meaning of Chiaha is unknown though it may contain a reference to mountains or highlands. (Cf. Choctaw and Alabama tcaha, Hitchiti tcäihi, "high.") Also called:
Tolameco or Solameco, which probably signifies "big town," a name reported by the Spaniards.
The Chiaha belonged to the Muskhogean linguistic stock and in later times spoke the Muskogee tongue, but there is every reason to class them in the Hitchiti group.
In later historic times the Chiaha were on the middle course of Chattahoochee River, but at the earliest period at which we have any knowledge of them they seem to have been divided into two bands, one on Burns Island, in the present State of Tennessee, the other in eastern Georgia near the coast. A part of this tribe lived in South Carolina at times.
The Mikasuki of northern Florida are said to have separated from these people.
Hawkins (1848) gives the following:
Aumucculle, on a creek of the same name which enters Flint River "45 miles below Timothy Barnard's."
Chiahutci, Little Chiaha, a mile and a half west of the Hitchiti town, near Auhegee Creek.
Hotalgihuyana, occupied jointly with the Osochi, on the right bank of Flint River six miles below Kinchafoonee.
Some confusion regarding this tribe has been occasioned by the fact that in the sixteenth century there appear to have been two divisions. The name first appears in the Hernando De Soto narratives applied to a "province" on an island in Tennessee River which J. Y. Brame has identified in a very satisfactory manner with Burns Island close to the Tennessee-Alabama line.
They were said to be "subject to a chief of Coca," from which it may perhaps be inferred that the Creek Confederacy was already in existence.
Early in 1567, Boyano, Juan Pardo's lieutenant, reached this town with a small body of soldiers and constructed a fort, Pardo joining him in September. When Pardo returned to Santa Elena shortly afterward he left a small garrison here which was later destroyed by the Indians.
Possibly Chehawhaw Creek, an eastern affluent of the Coosa indicates a later location of this band. The only remaining reference which might apply to them occurs in the names of two bodies of Creeks called "Chehaw" and "Chearhaw," which appear in the census rolls of 183233, but they may have gotten their designations from former residences on or near the creek so called.
In 1727, there was a tradition among the Cherokee that the Yamasee Indians were formerly Cherokee driven out by the Tomahitans, i.e., the Yuchi, and in this there may be some reminiscence of the fate of the Chiaha.
In the Juan Pardo narratives, the name "Lameco or Solameco" is given as a synonym for the northern Chiaha, and this may have been intended for Tolameco, which would be a Creek term meaning "Chief Town." This was also the name of a large abandoned settlement near Cofitachequi on the middle course of Savannah River visited by De Soto in 1540.
Since we know that Chiaha were also in this region, it is a fair supposition that this town had been occupied by people of this connection.
There is a Chehaw River on the South Carolina coast between the Edisto and Combahee Rivers, and as "Chiaha" is used once as an equivalent for Kiawa, possibly the Cusabo tribe of that name may have been related. Moreover, we are informed (SC documents) that the Chiaha had their homes formerly among the Yamasee.
In 1715, they withdrew to the Chattahoochee with other upper Creek towns, probably from a temporary abode on Ocmulgee River.
After the Creeks moved to Oklahoma, the Chiaha settled in the northeastern corner of the Creek Reservation and maintained a square ground there until after the U.S Civil War, but they have now practically lost their identity. Some of them went to Florida and the Mikasuki are said by some Indians to have branched off from them. In the country of the western Seminole there was a square ground as late as 1929 which bore their name.
There are no population figures for the northern band of Chiaha unless they could have been represented in the two towns of the 183233 census given above, which had total populations of 126 and 306 respectively.
For the southern division, a Spanish census of 1738 gives 120 warriors but this included also the Osochi and Okmulgee.
In 1750, only 20 were reported, but in 1760, 160, though an estimate the following year reduces this to 120.
In 1792, Marbury gives 100 Chiaha and Apalachicola, and the census of 183233 returned 381 of, the former.
In 1799, Hawkins states that there were 20 Indian families in Hotalgi-huyana, a town occupied jointly by this tribe and the Osochi, but in 1821 Young raises this to 210. He gives 670 for the Chiaha proper.
The Chiaha tribe is of some note on account of the prominence given to one branch of it in the De Soto narratives.
As above mentioned, its name, spelled Chehawhaw, is applied to a stream in the northern part of Talladega County, AL; it is given in the form Chehaw to a post hamlet of Macon County, AL; to a stream in Colleton County, SC; and also to a small place in Seminole County, OK.