Among other perishing traditions is that relating to the Ani'-Kuta'nï or Ani'-Kwäta'nï, concerning whom the modern Cherokee know so little that their very identity is now a matter of dispute, a few holding that they were in ancient people who preceded the Cherokee and built the mounds, while others, with more authority, claim that they were a clan or society in the tribe and were destroyed long ago by pestilence or other calamity. Fortunately, we are not left to depend entirety upon surmise in the matter, as the tradition was noted by Haywood some seventy years ago, and by another writer some forty years later, while the connected story could still be obtained from competent authorities. From the various statements it would seem that the Ani'-Kuta'nï were a priestly clan, having hereditary supervision of all religious ceremonies among the Cherokee, until, in consequence of having abused their sacred privileges, they were attacked and completely exterminated by the rest of the tribe, leaving the priestly functions to be assumed thereafter by individual doctors and conjurers.
Haywood says., without giving name or details, "The Cherokees are addicted to conjuration to ascertain whether a sick person will recover. This custom arose after the destruction of their priests. Tradition states that such person lived among their ancestors and were deemed superior to others, and were extirpated long ago, in consequence of the misconduct of one of the priests, who attempted to take the wife of a man who was the brother of the leading chief of the nation."
A more detailed statement, on the authority of Chief John Ross and Dr J. B. Evans, is given in 1866 by a writer who speaks of the massacre as having occurred about a century before, although from the
[1. Nat. and Aborig. Hist. Tenn., p. 266.]
dimness of the tradition it is evident that it must have been much earlier:
"The facts, though few, are interesting. The order was hereditary; in this respect peculiar, for among Indians seldom, and among the Cherokees never, does power pertain to any family as a matter of right. Yet the family of the Nicotani--for it seems to have been a family or clan--enjoyed this privilege. The power that they exercised was not, however, political, nor does it appear that chiefs were elected from among them.
"The Nicotani were a mystical, religious body, of whom the people stood in great awe, and seem to have been somewhat like the Brahmins of India. By what means they attained their ascendancy, or how long it was maintained, can never be ascertained. Their extinction by massacre is nearly all that can be discovered concerning them. They became haughty, insolent, overbearing, and licentious to an intolerable degree. Relying on their hereditary privileges and the strange awe which they inspired, they did not hesitate by fraud or violence to rend asunder the tender relations of husband and wife when a beautiful woman excited their passions. The people long brooded in silence over the oppressions and outrages of this high caste, whom they deeply hated but greatly feared. At length a daring young man, a member of an influential family, organized a conspiracy among the people for the massacre of the priesthood. The immediate provocation was the abduction of the wife of the young leader of the conspiracy. His wife was remarkable for her beauty, and was forcibly abducted and violated by one of the Nicotani while he was absent on the chase. On his return he found no difficulty in exciting in others the resentment which he himself experienced. So many had suffered in the same way, so many feared that they might be made to suffer, that nothing was wanted but a leader. A leader appearing in the person of the young brave whom we have named, the people rose under his direction and killed every Nicotani, young and old. Thus perished a hereditary secret society, since which time no hereditary privileges have been tolerated among the Cherokees."