A Fish ‘N Chips Restaurant on Two Run Creek
For over 150 years, archaeologists working on town sites in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina, have been puzzled by the footprints of modest buildings with three walls. There were two types. More common were lightly framed structures with woven split cane walls, located near conventional Muskogean houses. These are “summer houses” . . . ergo . . . freestanding “screened sleeping porches.” However, almost every town and village had a somewhat larger U-shaped building, located near the central plaza. These were rarely mentioned because the archaeologists didn’t understand them.
One of the many admirable qualities of the late archaeologist, Robert Wauchope, is that his book on his year long survey of North Georgia in 1939 often emphasized discoveries that he didn’t understand. For example, he included a drawing of such a structure near the confluence of Two Run Creek and the Etowah River. It is clear that he hoped others would follow in his footsteps to answer the riddles. However, I don’t think that he anticipated that those footsteps would be wearing moccasins and be clothed with either long shirts or ribbon dresses.
Wauchope also did have access to high resolution satellite and infrared imagery. An examination of the landscape in this section of the Etowah River Valley reveals numerous man-made features, which are probably either ancient mounds or Native American building footprints. This scenic and ancient landscape should have long ago been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Perhaps because it is on the northwestern edge of Bartow County, it somehow “slipped under the radar.”
Today, we travel to a little known section of the Etowah River, which has received minimal attention since Robert Wauchope was briefly there in 1939. It is located southwest of the village of Kingston, between Cartersville and Rome, Georgia. Because there were no large mounds here, the locale avoided ransacking by Northern grave robbers (aka “pioneer” archaeologists) and Southern “Cherokee gold hunters” that so plagues scientific studies today farther upstream on the Etowah River. This massive archaeological zone desperately needs a thorough archaeological investigation using modern technology.
And yet . . . the archaeological assets of this section of the Etowah River are extraordinary. There are many, many designated and non-designated archaeological sites in the Kingston area than are shown on this map. Most property owners only allowed Wauchope to walk the surface of newly plowed fields, not dig on their lands. Nevertheless, he found several dozen Pre-Clovis, Clovis and Dalton points from the latter years of the Ice Age (15,000 BC – 8,000 BC) . . . many more Archaic Period artifacts dating back thousands of years (8,000 BC – 1,000 BC). The density of both pre-ceramic and post-ceramic Archaic Period artifacts on the surface convinced Wauchope that mankind established permanent villages here thousands of year before mid-20th archaeologists assumed such things were possible in North America. Woodland Period villages developed on top of the Archaic Period hamlets. Mississippian Period towns and villages developed on top of the Woodland Period villages. There was a significant Proto-Creek or Chickasaw presence during the Early Colonial Period. A Cherokee village was established in the 1790s. The Cherokees were followed in 1838 by many white settlers, who dreamed of becoming rich planters in the black, dolomitic soil in the Etowah River Bottomlands.
Wauchope found something else, he couldn’t explain, while excavating an 8 feet tall, 60 feet diameter mound near Two Run Creek. Within the interior of the mound the burials were typical of either the Woodland Period (1000 BC – 900 AD) or Mississippian Period (900 AD – 1600 AD). However, near the surface of the mound and intruding into the older burials were skeletons in much better condition . . . apparently much newer burials. The skeletons were surrounded by the remnants of board coffins. Mixed in with the skeletons were buttons, glass beads, metal ornaments and fragments of cloth. While 17th, 18th and 19th century Creeks typically buried their dead in large cemeteries, the Cherokees never put their deceased in a Creek mound and generally buried their dead in isolated locations.
The beads, buttons and metal ornaments suggest that these were Native Americans, who were actively involved with European traders. They may have been the mixed blood offspring of Sephardic gold miners and Creek wives. However, most the artifacts and skeletons that Wauchope either “borrowed” from Nacoochee Valley family collections or dug up in Georgia apparently ended up at the Departments of Anthropology of Tulane University in New Orleans . . . and they ain’t answering their mail!
Readers may be wondering why the location that they never heard of before was such an attraction for Native Americans over a 17,000 year period. During the Ice Age and the Isothermal Period immediately thereafter, large herds of mammals roamed the rich bottom lands of the Etowah River. Deer, elk and bison continued to live there in sizable numbers until the arrival of Europeans.
However, even today there are still two natural attractions. The 4.8 mile long shoals have always been a haven for fish and fresh water mussels. The shoals infuse oxygen into the water. Miraculously, several Native American fish traps are still intact.
In the vicinity of Kingston, the gradual, natural erosion of the dolomitic limestone has revealed bands of flint, chert and jasper rocks, plus the openings to ancient caverns. Prior to the acquisition of European firearms, access to flint, chert or jasper was an absolute necessity for Native American hunters in the Southeast. Unfortunately, those stones do not occur in the Southern Piedmont and Blue Ridge Mountains, so their inhabitants had to trade their surplus commodities for them. The area around Dahlonega and the Nacoochee Valley does contain the strongest greenstone in North America. It was highly prized throughout much of the continent for making chisels and axes. Most likely, the folks on the Upper Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers traded greenstone for chert and flint.
At the Hardin Bridge, due south of Kingston, the rocks in the river are blue flint and black chert . . . ideal stones for napping tools and weapons. It was here that Robert Wauchope stated that he found, “found a great number of finished and unfinished stone artifacts, plus spalls, rejects and water-rolled cores, dating from the Ice Age to the arrival of Europeans.”
To the southeast of Kingston are several former jasper mines, which were dug by Native Americans. The jasper here is of intense color. At one mine, as one walks up the hill, one can progressively see cream-colored, yellow, orange, red, reddish brown, tan, dark brown and black jasper. This jasper deposit is of gem quality and is often polished into stones set into jewelry.
What about the fish ‘n chips restaurant?
Archaeologist Robert Wauchope was puzzled by the building with three sides that he found near the banks of Two Run Creek. He didn’t think that it was a house because all Muskogean houses, he had excavated so far in Georgia had cooking hearths in the center. This one had a hearth in its northeastern corner. He also thought that the orientation of the supposed three-sided house was odd, because the opening faced the northeast.
The orientation can be easily explained. The prevailing winds in North Georgia are from the southwest and northwest. The three sides structure protected the cooking fire from high winds, but also the cooks from rain and snow.
It is interesting that the tradition of having three sided communal kitchens extended beyond the geographical range of Proto-Creek towns. Archaeologists, employed by American Museum of Natural History on St. Catherines Island, GA found two three-side structures that seemed to be associated with cooking.
Both structures opened up to the south, because prevailing winds on the coast either come from the ocean or from the northwest. One of these structures was near the chief’s house at the village of Wahale (Guale), while the other was near the convento (friar’s) house at the Mission Santa de Guale. However, the Native laborers, who built the mission constructed a traditional Iberian oven out of clay and coquina stone inside the mission’s cooking shed.
It was an ancient tradition among Muskogean towns to have free, hot, nutritious food available 24/7 for hungry hunters, travelers, guests of the community, the elderly and any others, who were, because of disease or injuries, were unable to cook for themselves. In the Creek languages, the public restaurant where the food was prepared and served was called a topahsofke. The word means “serving board – flavored grits.” The name of Lake Tobesofkee near Macon, GA is the Anglicization of that Creek word.
The menu of this popular fast food restaurant probably varied seasonally, but undoubtedly there were big pots of sofke (flavored grits) and Brunswick stew bubbling over hot coals 24/7. Grandpapa Obie wouldn’t let anyone touch his Brunswick stew unless it had cooked in an iron kettle for at least 24 hours! Standard “side items” on the menu were sauteed wild onions, ramps, sweet taters, hush puppies, corn fritters, corn flat cakes, corn on the cob, regular grits and flat cakes. The topahsofke that Robert Wauchope discovered was near a major fish harvesting site, so one can assume that batter fried catfish, smoked trout and deep fried mussels were frequent favorites of the restaurant’s patrons. After hunters brought in game from the woods, one might see smoked venison, deep fried turkey, smoked turkey/duck, baked possum . . . or for a real treat Grandmama Ruby’s famous Southern fried river turtle.
Not shabby at all!
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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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