This series looks at the etymology of Florida place names derived from the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages.
Many Florida place names owe their origins to Muskogee and Hitchiti, two of the languages spoken by members of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. The persistence of Muskogee and Hitchiti words as modern Florida place names reflects the prominent role played by Native Americans in the region’s history.
Today’s term is Wacahoota, meaning “cowpen” or “cow barn.” According to scholars of Muskogee linguistics, the word is actually a combination of Spanish and Native languages: vaca (cow in Spanish) and hute/hoti (barn for cows in Muskogee).
Shown as “Watkahootee” on the map excerpt above, the term is spelled Wacahoota today and refers to a crossroads southwest of Gainesville in Alachua County. In the early 19th century, Wacahoota was situated firmly in the heartland of the Alachua bands of Seminoles.
The Alachua Seminoles worked thousands of head of cattle on the wet prairies south of modern-day Gainesville, particularly on what is known today as Paynes Prairie. Payne refers to King Payne, leader of the Alachua Seminoles in the early 1800s. Previous leaders of this band were also tied to cattle ownership. For example, when William Bartram visited the area in the 1770s the leader of the Alachua Seminoles was known as the “Cowkeeper” to the British.
The “Map of the Seat of War in Florida” (1839) shows Watkahootee situated along a military road connecting the southern rim of the Alachua Prairie with the Suwannee River. This was likely the location of one or more cowpens used by Seminole cattlemen in the early 19th century. Since cattle grazed freely for most of the year, cow hunters used this location during round-ups and other times when necessary.
Other sources hint at the history of Seminole occupation in the modern Wacahoota area. Henry Washington, in a report to Robert Butler dated December 16, 1832, listed “Wacahootie” as among the lesser towns in the Alachua district. Another contemporary account includes “Wachitoka” situated between the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers.
The presence of these towns on American inventories demonstrates the continuity of the name. However, given the known and frequent migration of Seminole bands during this time period, determining if a settlement remained in the same exact spot is difficult at best. It is likely that residents of a town or village retained the name for their settlement as they moved from one locale to the next as American settlers and the U.S. military pushed them further down the peninsula.
For more information, see John R. Swanton, Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors (University of Florida Press, 1998 ); Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin, A Dictionary of Creek/Muskogee, with Notes on the Florida and Oklahoma Seminole Dialects of Creek (University of Nebraska Press, 2004).