Code Talkers and their ancestral tea

Yaupon/Cassine tea have you ever heard of it? Better yet, have you ever tried it? Most people would say, No, which is unfortunate because it is a wonderful beverage. While we start a series of postings about Yaupon/Cassine tea, we had a hard time at looking at a lot research and seeing confusion about it. We noticed from researching the subject matter just the of issue of simply naming the plant for which it came from and the anglo-europeanization of translating as into what it was and what it was called by the indigenous tribes of southeastern United States. To us at Hortfire LLC, we knew before we wrote about other details and where it fits into our portfolio of products, we needed to draw on a parallel in our country’s not too distant past to help refocus the imagine of Yaupon/Cassine tea.  We are doing this so that there is clarity and greater understanding.

While all our veterans of World War 1 are now deceased, there was a group of individuals whose work remained classified until 2002. They were the “Code Talkers.” These were native Americans who served in the Army who provided communications in their native language. Before the use of the code talkers, Germans had broken every  code and inflicted heavy casualties.  Two native american officers and 18 Choctaw enlisted men were the first group to be formed. They were later joined by other native americans from different tribes to further expand a successful operation, because their code could never be broken. During World War II many more various members of the different tribes were enlisted and their actions again provided again successful.

We bring up the Code Talkers in particular, because from a historical point of view, it was not to long ago compared to the various writings from the 1600’s to 1800’s about Yaupon/Cassine Tea. Ancestors of those Choctaw code talkers cultivated and consumed Yaupon/Cassine tea way before DeSoto, others explorers, and settlers set foot in the Caribbean and south eastern North American landmass.

You might of notice that I refer to Ilex vomitoria L. common name as Yaupon/Cassine. While the next posting will go more in detail about the confusion of the scientific naming and even propose on changing it and another native holly’s name, today we will focus on how and why calling it Yaupon or Cassine, is actually correct. Yes, that is right, if someone wants to refer to Ilex vomitoria L. by a common name, we should accept calling it either Yaupon or Cassine Holly. Why? Well, neither Yaupon or Cassine are actually words of “Old World” origin, they are anglicisation of native american words.

While we are not native speakers of any language from North America, we have family who are descendents of two of the tribes that Yaupon/Cassine was an integrated part of, Choctaw and Cherokee. So we want to put forward a simplified version of notable facts about the various tribes in a respectful manner. The old term,”a picture is worth a thousands words,” rings true in this instance. We created this picture below taking from various information sources to easily point out why it should be acceptable common name of either Yaupon or Cassine.


While the upper distribution map was printed in 1891, you can see that for the time, the thought to be known distribution of Ilex vomitoria was specifically coastal throughout the southeast. The lower map was published in 1977 and later digitized for the United States Geological Service (USGS) with a more updated and accurate portrayal of the known distribution. Within the 1977 Little Map, we added an information layer as it related to the various tribes as they were collated by language. A more recent proposal of what exactly the language of the Cusabos spoke, conflicts with the previous acceptance that it was a dialect of Creek-Muskogean. One could hypothesizes that because of their “unknown” status, they may of spoke multiple languages or spoke a language that potential was a hybrid, but the more recent belief is that they spoke a unique language and they actually migrated from the Caribbean.

Currently, we have only found one reference to the Cherokee, who spoke an Iroquoian based language, yet it was just simply,”the beloved tree,” without the actual native words or series of words.We don’t know if or what the Saludian-Shawnee’s relation to Yaupon/Cassine. It is possible that they used or consumed it, but we have yet to find any reference to such. We don’t know if the Westoe/Yuchi used Yaupon/Cassine or what they called it, but we can see where a population of Yaupon/Cassine exists within their territory. We know that a Mr. Woodward lived with them for some time and that they had a “business” relationship with settlers of Charles Town, SC. Hopefully further research of Mr. Woodward’s papers may shed more light on the matter.

What we do know about Creek-Muskogean speakers is that they were made of various tribes and also had various dialects. Some of those tribes still exist today, for example Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole. The term “Assi” comes from Creek-Muskogean and is the shorten term for “Assi-lupub’ski” which means “small leaves.” One can clearly see in the name CASSINE the word ASSI. Another word once used for a Creek-Muskogean tribe, Yamassi, clearly contains the word, Assi, but if you went by the modern day anglicization of that word, Yemassee, you see the changes and where misinformation begins.

Even tribes west of the Creek-Muskogean speakers have been noted for calling it Cassine, even though they spoke a different language. Could of this been a matter of trade or maybe linguistic relic of older common tribal relationship, we cannot say for sure at this time. We do know within the native distribution range of Ilex vomitoria L from Texas to the Savannah River bordering South Carolina, it was commonly referred to as “Cassine” by the indigenous people.

The last group that we will address is where the term,”Yaupon” actually comes from, those are Catawban-Siouan speakers of North and South Carolina. Like the Creek-Muskogeans and the Cusabos, they were a similar aggregate of tribes spread over an area and spoke a similar language with dialects. Yap, Yop, Yup, are three different sounding terms that applied to the word,”tree,” within the Catawban-Souian speakers. More than likely, the failure to properly document their language by Europeans is more than likely lead to variety of terms and confusion. We have looked far and wide to see if we could the full name and meaning with little to no results. Instead of hypothesizing what it could be, we accept it for what it is, but we hope to give an update in the future.

As you can see, it was easy for things to get confused very quick. You can also see how indigneous has had the same effect on settlers and explorers as it did have an effect of Germans during World War 1 & 2. Then again, one could also see why that calling Ilex vomitoria L by the common names Yaupon or Cassine as being appropriate as well.

To further reinforce the challenges early europeans had in communications with the indigenous people, we want to share this publication below by the National Parks Service. It covers several of the reasons for why confusion or improper documentation existed. lost-in-translation  We hope that you have enjoyed this posting and that you will be back for the next one. We will keep referring to Ilex vomitoria L. as Yaupon/Cassine holly. Our next post will be about the issues surrounding the scientific name. If you have any questions or comments, please contact us, because we would love to hear from you and don’t forget to,”Grow Forward!”

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