Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
A Creek architect in the royal court of Kusa
In 2005 and 2006, with the extensive cooperation of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Muscogee-Creek Nation sponsored a comprehensive architectural and geospatial study of Carters Bottoms, the location of the fabled capital of Kusa. Much of the time was spent by the author, canoeing around the lake, hiking the area where De Soto’s men camped and in the mountains around Carters Bottom to discover their many stone ruins. This is how it was discovered why Kusa was placed where it was.
The study climaxed on August 22, 2006 when the water level of the Lower Reservoir was drained sufficiently to reveal for the first time since 1970, the actual mounds of Kusa. Utilizing satellite and infrared imagery, plus on August 22 the physical surveying of mounds, it was possible to create for the first time a three dimensional computer model of Kusa and its environs. This series marks the first time that these virtual reality images and photographs, as an ensemble, have been presented to the general public.
Three archaeologists, Warren K. Moorehead (1925), Arthur R. Kelly (1960s) and David Halley (1969) spent brief periods of time at Carters Bottom. However, they were “flatlanders” from elsewhere. They might as well been studying a town site on Mars as far as understanding the ancient and complex cultural history of North Georgia. Only archaeologist Robert Wauchope seemed to understand that permanent, dense settlements had occurred along the Georgia Mountain rivers almost a thousand years before most locations in North America . . . AND that the Apalache People of the Georgia Highlands were extremely advanced, but did not build large mounds.
These three archaeologists focused on certain mound sites in the river bottom lands, ignored the areas where people lived and did not explore the surrounding mountains, which abound in stone ruins. They really had no clue who the people were that lived there and made no effort to find out. Subsequent generations of archaeologists in Georgia have maintained the same attitude, along with the assumption that there was nothing new to learn.
Thus, the brief descriptions of archaeological sites such as “Little Egypt” and “Bell Field,”, maintained by the “purple gatekeepers” of Wikipedia, are essentially glorifications of the archaeological profession and the English names they gave to pottery styles. One walks away from these articles not knowing anything about the people, who lived in these towns . . . which is what anthropology elsewhere in the world is all about.
In the ten years since the original study, researchers in the People of One Fire have made major advances in understanding the Pre-European history of the Southern Highlands. We are now able to translate almost all the Native words, recorded by early European explorers. These translations often change the orthodox interpretation of archaeological findings. We also have much more information about the complex inter-relationships between the indigenous provinces. They were never “chiefdoms” and never should have been given that label by academicians.
Prior to working on the study sponsored by the Muscogee-Creek Nation, the author was twice before involved with studies near the site of Kusa. As an intern of Governor Jimmy Carter in 1971, he was asked to examine the potential of a pedestrian-oriented community next to the Lower Reservoir in lieu of a conventional auto-oriented community as anticipated by local economic leaders. After he had returned to Georgia from Europe and been on the planning team of the Peachtree City Newtown, Governor Carter asked him to study the potential of a wilderness area and Creek Indian Reservation along Talking Rock Creek and on the banks of the Lower Reservoir. At the time, Governor Carter was not made aware of any major archaeological discoveries at Carters Lake, although he was keenly interested in the subject.
Location (34°36’52.0″N 84°40’13.0″W)
Carters Lake is in Northwest Georgia and immediately east of the Cartersville Fault and US Hwy. 411. The lake is in parts of Gilmer, Pickens and Murray Counties. The lake is 60 miles North-Northeast of Downtown Atlanta and 50 miles southeast of Downtown Chattanooga Tennessee. The Upper Reservoir covers 3,200 acres and is up to 540 feet deep.
The Lower Reservoir is immediately west of Carters Dam, which at 790 feet, is one of the tallest earthen dams in the world. As will be explained in more detail in a later article, water from the Lower Reservoir is pumped 800 feet up to the main Carters Lake each night in order to be run down through the hydroelectric turbines during the daytime.
The Upper and Lower Lakes have different climates, geology and vegetation because of the change of altitude. The Upper Reservoir is part of the Southern Highlands, while the Lower Reservoir is in the Great Appalachian Valley. Prior to the construction of Carters Dam, the Coosawattee River dropped over 40 feet at a waterfall on the edge of Carters Bottom. In ancient times, Carters Bottom was a natural lake. The dam was created by a stone ridge running parallel with the Cartersville Fault.
At the time of the Hernando de Soto Expedition’s rampage through the Southeast (1539-1543) the capital of Kusa in northwest Georgia was the second largest indigenous town north of Mexico and controlled a province approximately 400 miles long that stretched from near Knoxville, TN to near Childersburg, AL. The Spanish counted over 3,000 houses in Metropolitan Kusa. Unbeknownst to the Spanish and contemporary anthropologists, Kusa was actually a vassal of the Apalache, whose much larger capital was along the headwaters of the Apalachee River in Northeast Georgia. This is why both the De Soto Expedition and the two Pardo Expeditions were steered around Northeast Georgia by their Native guides.
This archeological zone was originally known as Carters Bottom, named after Farrish Carter, a member of the famous Carter family of Virginia, which scooped up a vast tract along the Coosawattee River after the Cherokee Trail of Tears. However, most of the central town and satellite village of Kusa are now under the water of the Carters Lake Reregulation Reservoir, formed by the confluence of the Coosawattee River and Talking Rock Creek. The late 18th century Cherokee village of Coosawattee was destroyed by the construction of the Reregulation Dam.
Etymology, Chronlogy and Ethnology
Kusa and Coosa are Anglicizations of the Panoan (Peruvian) word Kaushe, which means “strong” or “elite.” Today, the Upper Creek Indians name for themselves is Kauche. The name of the town in the De Soto Chronicles, Coça, was an attempt of Late Medieval Castilian speakers to approximate Kaushe, since at that time Castilian did not have a letter K or an “sh” syllable. Coça is pronounced Kō : shă.
The first Kusa village in Northwest Georgia was founded around 1300 AD and located where the Cherokees later built their capital of New Echota . . . at the confluence of the Coosawattee and Conasauga Rivers. A Kusa Commoner village was founded around 1325 AD on the north side of the confluence of the Coosawatee River and Talking Rock Creek. Around 1375 AD, after the abandonment of Etula (Etowah Mounds) the Kusa built a new capital on the south bank of Talking Rock Creek. Around 1450 AD a massive flood destroyed both the commoner’s village and the western part of the elite village. A clay dyke was constructed along the edges of the Coosawattee River and Talking Rock Creek. The interior was filled with sand and alluvial soil then a new acropolis was built on top of this platform. This second acropolis is what Hernando de Soto saw in 1540 AD.
Cusabo is the Anglicization of the Panoan (Peruvian) word Kaushebo, which means “Place of the Strong” or “Place of the Elite”. There is still today an ethnic group named the Kaushebo in Peru. They are located in Satipo (Satibo) Province. The elite of Kusa were definitely the same general ethnic group as the members of the Cusabo Alliance on the coast of South Carolina. It is not currently clear if the elite of Kusa originated on the coast of South Carolina or if they were descended from another group of Panoans, who immigrated up the Alabama River to the Coosa River.
Like in almost all major towns of the Apalache Confederacy, the elite spoke one language and lived separately in their own villages. The commoners spoke another language and lived in several satellite villages. Metropolitan Apalache towns might have satellite villages, speaking two more more different languages.
The commoners of the Kusa Kingdom were from several ethnic groups. They included Apalache (Conchakees or Apalachicola) in Northwest Georgia, Chickasaws in Northwest Georgia, Uchees in Southeast Tennessee, immigrants from western Vera Cruz later called the Kusate along the Upper Tennessee River, Koasate (Itsate speakers) on Hiwassee Island, TN and Apike (Muskogeans) near the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers. At that time, the Holston was called the Shipibo-sipi or Shipibo River. The Shipibo are a major Panoan Tribe in Peru. They may have also been vassals of the Kaushe. To the west of the Shipibo were the Chiska. The Chiscabo are a Panoan tribe in Peru, who once spoke a language that mixed Panoan with Southern Arawak. Traditionally, the Kusate and Chickasaw paired their towns, although they maintained different languages and styles of pottery.
In Part Two, we will examine the Native American history of the Coosawattee River Valley.
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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