In helping folks understand the definition of words and phrases found in old records, historic maps, journals and letters, I am pulling together a glossary of archaic terms and phrases that are considered obsolete or archaic today.  As most all of my materials, they relate to the historic era 1650 to the late 1800’s.

To me, it is fascinating to understand the everyday language of historic times as it helps to understand past world-views.

I am collecting from my scribbled notes written over the last 40 years  from out-of-print books and dictionaries, survey field books, and rare archives to create a reference tool. It is useful for students of Cherokee history as well as other Native American tribes since most recorded archives are in English.

I will begin with a few key words, subjects and phrases but will update the web page as I develop the glossary. I am pulling out graphic snapshots from primary documents to illustrate some of these.

An example of an 1809 land entry Haywood County, NC, where whites are applying for Cherokee lands recently lost to moving a boundary line. Keywords: "Shut in" and including of a "Cain Brake." A Shut-in is a place where a trail or road stops where a bluff drops straight into a creek or river forcing you to either get into the water or climb up the mountain and over. Of course a Canebrake is a dense stand of rivercane much prized for cattle grazing by farmers. Secondly, of importance, "Including The Tennessee or Sam Bens Town." Sam Ben was a Cherokee leader living on the Tuckasegee River at Tennessee Old Town.
  • Arborglyph or dendroglyph – a carving or painting on a tree
  • Bald – a treeless mountaintop (might be laurel or rhododendron or grass-covered); also called a “slick” or a “hell” if dense laurel occurs.
  • Bench – a level area on a mountain side. Early settlers sometimes cultivated benches.
  • Blaze – A cut made by axe or knife into tree bark for the purpose of marking a trail or site
  • Bluff Shelter – also called Rock Shelter, Rock House, etc. A rock overhang that provides shelter from rain and sun. Some are dry and some are wet. Some have natural springs and serve as water sources. Native Americans and early settlers, draft dodgers of the Civil War lived and hid in them. Mortar stones and artifacts as well as petroglyphs are found in some.
  • Bottom – flat land usually lying along a stream. See Flats.
  • Brow of the Mountain
  • Buffalo Trail – Indians and long hunters followed buffalo trails
  • Butt – the abrupt end of a mountain ridge
  • Cairn – a rock or stack of rocks used as a permanent trail or road sign.
  • Canebrake – The “first canebrake” was sought by cross-country travelers on horseback because the cane served as a natural fodder where the horses were turned out. Also, canebrakes were generally near water. Colonel Woodward: “and from what I know of Indians, they would not give one swamp or cane brake for forty forts.
  • Cataract – A waterfall and place where early mills were established.
  • Chemin – French word for path appears on many early French maps
  • Council Trees and Lettered Trees – Col Woodward: “But more than twenty years have elapsed, and many changes have taken place with me and those that were with me then, and I care but little now when or where I may be picked up. But still, I would be glad to know that the cedars were spared; for, none who knew the hands of those that assisted me in planting them there, could think of molesting them — unless, there should be one with a marring hand, like him that destroyed the old lettered beech at the old Federal crossing of the Persimmon creek, and the old Council Oak that once stood in front of Suckey Kurnells’ or Connells’ house, which you knew well. Yes, it was under that oak, where you and I have heard many a good yarn spun, both by our white as well as red friends — many of whom have long since gone to that world of which we read and talk so much, and so much dreaded by many, (if not more,) and which never can be known to living man. Yes, friend, it was under that oak — held as sacred by the Indians, and should have been as memorable among Alabamians, as the old Charter Oak of New England was, among the people of the North where you and I have aided in placing the brand of Molly Thompson upon many a black bottle. I rented out the plantation one year, while I owned it, and forbid the tree being touched. The man renting it complained so much about it shading his crops, I allowed either three or five dollars for it, I now forget which, and would now pay $100 to have it living, as it was when I left the place, were it possible to restore it.”
  • Cove – a widening out of a valley or a meadow land between mountains. Cades Cove, etc. Coves are closely related to hollows.
  • Crossing Place – see ford – and old term used for historical river crossings in Native America
  • Deadening – an area where trees have been killed by girdling in order to clear the land of shade for farming.
  • Divide or Dividing Watershed – A ridge or high rise of ground which separates watersheds. These geographical features are one of the most important as they were used as political and tribal  boundaries, travelways that had no streams to cross.
  • Dividing Ridge – A natural elevation of land that separates two watersheds or sub-watersheds. These ridges were used by animals and man to travel without crossing a stream.
  • Factory – A trading post. Trading posts established in native towns provided store houses for the furs and hides brought in from winter hunts by Indians who traded for blankets, guns, cooking utensils, cloth and many other goods. The traders processed and packed the hides, hence the name of a factory.
  • Fall Line – Fall lines were very important geographical places in regards to rivers. Small boats could leave coastal areas and go upstream as far as the first major waterfall or shoals.  From these points, boats and goods were carried around the falls if it was feasible and possible.  Native people annually visited fall lines in order to catch spawning fish. Some major trails followed from the fall line of one river to the fall line of other rivers as the shoals served as fording places. 
  • Falls and Cataracts Most of our major falls are now inundated under lakes in Alabama.  The Falls of the Warrior at Tuscaloosa,  Falls of the Coosa, Falls of the Cahaba, Falls of the Tallapoosa, Clear Creek Falls were well known among the Indians and early traders.  The first surveyors called them cataracts and noted many of them as potential mill sites. Muscle Shoals was actually a long fall line in the Tennessee River nearly 40 miles long.
  • Fat Pine or Lighter Pine – The resinous and preserved core of the skeletal remains of pines held a volatile oil or pitch. See Pine knot, Lightwood pine.
  • Federal Road – A road commissioned and maintained under the supervision of the Federal Government that created the first national road system used for public travel and especially mail routes.
  • Fish Trap – A downstream “V” on a river made of rocks used as a weir by which to funnel fish into traps. See Fish Weir
  • Fish Weirs: The Cherokee built rock fish weirs throughout their rivers which were used to harvest fish by funneling them into traps. Tuckasegee River: one under Dillsboro lake, another  a quarter mile above Webster bridge at 116.  Little Tennessee River: about 6 reported north of Franklin and Hwy 19.
  • Flats – a flat or flats is usually a bottom or level area lying along a stream but could occur at a higher elevation along a small drainage.
  • Foot of the Mountain – the area where the steep slopes level out at or near a bottom, flat or valley.
  • Ford – a shallow place to cross a stream; generally at or near a shoals.
  • Gap or Pass – The natural place to cross a mountain
  • Head of Navigation – the “fall line” of  a river where it drops from a higher elevation close to or at the coastal plain. The head of navigation on a stream is the uppermost point where boats can ascend from the ocean or Gulf of Mexico. It usually corresponds to the fall line where the hills and mountains meet the coastal plain.  Shoals or waterfalls generally mark the location. The Great Chickasaw Crossing Place was located at Cotton Gin Port (Amory, MS.) at the fall line on the Tombigbee River. The Chickasaw Trading Path from Charles Town, South Carolina crossed here.   See Fall Line.
  • Hollow – a small valley that is closely related to a cove. Called “holler” by mountain people.
  • Jore Mountains – see Bartram – This is evidently used for the Nantahala and Cowee Range. More study needed on this.
  • Kentucky River – called by the Shawnees the “Little Cuttawa (Kituhwa) River. The Cherokee claimed the lands here.
  • Knob – a mountain or hill top that sometimes is close to flat on top.
  • Lead – a long ridge or spur off of a prominent mountain used to ascending or descending as it offered the option of a longer, gentler climb rather than going straight up a mountainside. The Appalachians have many historic names such as Hangover Lead, Twenty Mile Lead, etc. 
  • Lick or Salt Lick – This can be descriptive of a bracken, salty spring with dissolved minerals or a clay-like outcrop of minerals where animals instinctively lick or drink from to get necessary minerals into their diet. 
  • Lightwood, lighter pine, fat pine – the resinous sapwood or knot of a tree trunk used to start fires or from which to extract pitch. When pine trees die, the soft wood rots quickly away leaving the skeleton of pitch-preserved veins and knots. These were a valuable resource to Native people,  frontiersmen and farmsteads. Pitch was used to seal seams in boats, preserve materials such as deerskin and even coat moccasins to waterproof them. 
  • Lightwood Fires – Col Woodward: “I have no doubt but that, if I could be with you, and many more old acquaintances that I left in Alabama, (and hope they still live,) and could get around a lightwood fire, I could interest you — or, at least, spin over old times and bring many things to your recollection that you have forgotten.” See Pine Knot.
  • Pass – Saddle, Gap, Swag, etc. – A low place on a mountain where the least amount of effort is needed to cross.
  • Path, trail or trace– A regularly used walk-way or horse-path, usually only three or four feet wide. “The Creeks classified trails by the traffic they could accommodate. There was a word for packhorse trail. chelako nini. Indian trails were named by the people who used them (and in their world owned them). See Creek Country – The Creek Indians and Their World
  • Pine Knot – Pine knots were commonly used as torches in the early times. There was a place in Lawrence County, Alabams called the Pine Knot Tavern. See Lighter or Lightwood Pine
  • Plank Road – A road built of boards to avoid mud and ruts.
  • Range – A system of indexing townships from east to west. Example: Section one, township 12 south, range 6 west.
  • Road or Turnpike – A developed and/or maintained path wide enough for wagon use and cleared of brush and stumps. Roads were generally twelve to eighteen feet wide.
  • Rock House – See Bluff Shelter
  • Rock House or Bluff Shelter – A natural shelter created by a rock overhang. These are commonly found along rock outcrops and especially mountainsides and the gorges along the Cumberland Plateau.
  • Run – when a branch passes through a marshy place or ravine it becomes a run.
  • Saddle – A swag or low spot along a mountain or range of mountains. A deep swag might be used as a pass.
  • Saddle – see Gap
  • Sag – A sag or swag is a low area along a ridge that is not quite low enough to qualify as a gap.
  • Salt Lick – see lick. 
  • Scald – a bare mountainside created deliberately or naturally by fire, which becomes a yellow patch when it is grown up with thick brush.
  • Seep – see Spring
  • Shoals – shallow, usually rocky, places in streams and rivers.
  • Shad Run at the Shoals – Col Woodward: “I made occasional visits to the Ocmulgee river, which was then the line between the whites and Indians. The Indians claimed half the river, and in spring or shad-catching time the Indians would flock from all parts of the nation in great numbers to the Ocmulgee. They could be seen at every shoal as high up the river as shad could run, down to the Altamaha, for the purpose of fishing.”
  • Spur – a lateral branch leading from a ridge or high top that usually terminates abruptly.
  • Shut-in – a place where a trail or road ends abruptly such as where a rock bluff comes straight out of the rivers edge forcing the traveler to either ford the stream or to climb up and around the obstacle. 
  • Spring – a spring or springhead or seep. Usually classified as either permanent or seasonal (intermittent).  The water below the spring head, if running, is called a brook. Brooks collect to become creeks, then streams or rivers.
  • Stand – A stage coach stop. It was usually located in someone’s home. A well-stocked keeper would provide food, a place to sleep, a candle and sometimes rum or other liquor.
  • Survey, Original – The first survey done after taking land from the Indians and creating U.S. Territory and States. The land in much of the South was divided into Sections, Townships, and Ranges.
  • Ten Islands – an important crossing place on the Coosa River in northeast Alabama. Like many salient land marks, it was named for physical characteristics.
  • Tennessee River – called by the Shawnees the “Great Cuttawa (Kituhwa) River,” after the Cherokee mother town of Kituwha.
  • Toll Gate – Toll gates were allowed by a legal authority to operate a gate on a turnpike or road in which the public was charged to use. This system allowed private enterprise to fund and build roads and to recover the investment and profit by charging the  public use the road.
  • Township – A surveying term for a unit of land six miles square or thirty-six miles. The township and the square miles were cut out and marked with posts and stones. 
  • Trace – a trail or early road
  • Trading Routes – a primary route used by Native Americans and early European traders to transport goods from factories or seaports to the interior or frontier towns and trading posts established in Indian towns. When horse pack trains were used, the single-file or bridle paths were usually cleared wider to accommodate horses loaded with wide loads and later wagons.
  • Trail (Marker) Trees – Historical accounts and journals are filled with descriptions of paintings and engravings on trees located along trails or village sites that served as signposts, news media, or other purposes. Trees were carved, painted, bent, tied with thongs and altered as permanent markers. Though the majority of trees are gone with time and development, a few beech trees and old-growth hardwood thong trees remain as a testimony of a forgotten age.
  • Valleys – were the common location for villages as well as ideal corridors for trails and roads. Long flat valleys usually had fewer vertical obstacles but more feeder streams to cross as the route paralleled a river. The Cahaba Valley and    Coosa Valley were major north-south valley routes that filled with settlers in the early 1800’s.
  • Wallow – a wet place where animals such as buffalo would wallow in the mud to cool and to coat themselves with mud as protection from ins