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A forgotten civilization around little ole Batesville, Georgia

A forgotten civilization around little ole Batesville, Georgia


Batesville and the Soque River Valley are probably the best kept secrets in the Southern Appalachians . . . beautiful scenery. 

The Soque River is 28.5 miles (45.9 km) long and joins the Chattahoochee River near Cornelia, GA

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I finally found the mounds, stone-covered terrace walls and stone ruins, described by Smithsonian Institute archaeologist, Cyrus Thomas, in 1886.  The bad news is that most of the quarried and field stone structures in Batesville that he described, were used to make building foundations in the early 1900s.  The good news is that most of the terraces and mounds are still there in and around Batesville . . . if you look hard enough.  We are continuing to hike into the bottom lands and wilderness around the Soque River Basin to find more of them. Like their ancestors in the Olmec (Soque-Itzapa) Civilization, the Soque and Itzas usually sculpted terraced plazas and mounds out of hilly terrain.  They generally did not build large free standing mounds in floodplains.  The Arnold Mound, which we discovered two weeks ago, is a major exception.  It is the size of an American football field and built at the juncture of two small streams at the foot of Alec Mountain.

The Soque or Sokee were one of the most advanced indigenous peoples, north of the Rio Grande. The heartland of their civilization was along the Soque and Tallulah Rivers, plus Sautee and Amy’s Creek in Northeast Georgia. They also established a colony in northwestern South Carolina, know as the Jocasee.  They were described by early South Carolina colonists as “looking like Mexican Indians with flattened foreheads and colorful clothing.”  During the late 1600s, at least 90% of their population was lost to European diseases and British-sponsored slave raids.  The Miccosukee of Florida and Thlopthlocco (Creek Indian)Tribal Town in Oklahoma are their primary federally-recognized descendants.  Some Soque descendants can also be found in Northeast Georgia, the Auburn, AL area, among the Florida & Oklahoma Seminoles and in the Snowbird Band of Cherokees in Graham County, NC.

While hanging around the Old Batesville Store, local residents solved the riddle of what happened to the old stone ruins.

Natural scientists (geologists) at the Smithsonian Institute first became interested in the Georgia Mountains in 1885, because hot sulfurous smoke was rising from fumaroles at the top of Chimney Mountain (Batesville), Track Rock Gap-Buzzard Roost Mountain (Blairsville), Cohutta Mountain (Chatsworth) and Pigeon Mountain (Lafayette).  The earliest descriptions of Chimney Mountain describe it as frequently emitting hot smoke, while Buzzard Roost Mountain formally only emitted hot steam.  The emissions ended shortly after the 1886 Charleston Earthquake.  Minor earth tremors are common around Batesville.  A gentleman at the Old Batesville General Store told me that geologists have recently discovered that there is an active fault line associated with Chimney Mountain.  The public is not being told this because the fault line runs under four century-old dams.  Residents also told me that last year, Batesville received 107 inches of rainfall!

The journey began five years ago, when I purchased from the last available never-used copy of An Archaeological Survey of North Georgia by Archaeologist, Robert Wauchope.  Wauchope was paid by the WPA in 1939 to survey all the counties in North Georgia, but he ended up spending most of that time in the Nacoochee Valley and along the Chattahoochee River between there and Atlanta. In particular, Wauchope tried to find the earthworks and stone ruins, visited by Cyrus Thomas in 1886.  Often, he was unable to find the sites, because of changes in roadways, property ownership and vegetation.  He did, however, create the Georgia Archaeological Site Files, which preserve brief summaries of is observations and discoveries. As much as possible, he even gave site numbers to Thomas’s discoveries, even if he couldn’t find them in 1939.  

Wauchope determined that the Upper Chattahoochee River Basin had been densely occupied by humans from the Ice Age until around 1600 AD, by ancestors of the Uchee, Chickasaw and Creek Indians.  For about a century (c. 1600 to 1700) it was jointly occupied by Creeks and Europeans, probably from the Iberian Peninsula.  There was a sterile band of sand, one to five meters (3-15 feet) deep, followed by a very sparse population of unidentified people, probably mixed-blood American Indians, using European artifacts entirely.   Wauchope searched for a year, but could find no Cherokee villages, houses or artifacts in the Nacoochee Valley. 

Wauchope also stated that he could not find any of the stone structures, terraced plazas and mounds around the Sautee Community, mentioned by Thomas.  Wauchope did find a large U-shaped earthen Mesoamerican ballgame stadium, next to the public school and fire station in Sautee, but not a stone ballcourt.  Despite being assigned an official archeological site number by Wauchope, the stadium was damaged by state highway construction in the late 20th century and then again recently by grading for a parking lot.

Unfortunately,  the Society for American Archaeology did not publish Wauchope’s report until 1966. It was a technical book that had little readership beyond his profession. By then, most people had forgotten about his pioneering work in Georgia just before World War II.  He was known as Tulane University archaeologist, who specialized in the Maya Civilization. By then the post-World War II generation of Southeastern anthropologists had created an orthodoxy, which in many ways conflicted with the discoveries of Cyrus Thomas and Wauchope.  It completely ignored the thousands of stone ruins in North Georgia.  As we saw in 2012, once the Dixie archaeologists were molded out of this faulty orthodoxy, they would fight bitterly any discoveries that conflicted with their world view.

I actually met Wauchope on a site in Campeche State, Mexico, while on my fellowship in 1970.  He NEVER mentioned to me that he had worked in Georgia, even though I was introduced as a Georgia Tech architecture student.  He did say, however, that he grew up in South Carolina. He was a very modest person.  I had no clue as to what an important archeologist he was until I purchased his book many years later.

For five years, I also vainly searched for stone structures around Sautee.   All the ancient man-made structures identified by a LIDAR image turned out to be earthen.  Then about a year ago, as I was moving to the Nacoochee Valley, I discovered a photocopy of Cyrus Thomas’s archaeological report on North Georgia.  All those stone structures were in the Soque Valley, not Sautee!   I figured out that what confused Wauchope was that the village of Soquee changed its name to Batesville in 1925.  So by 1939, there was no community named Soquee on the state map.  Wauchope assumed that Thomas as misspelled the name of the community.   There is irony in all this.  

Of course, being typical Gringo archaeologists, neither Thomas nor Wauchope had a clue about the languages and cultural traditions of the indigenous people’s whose towns they excavated. Soque is the Mixtec-Zoque word for “civilized.”  Saute is the Itza Maya and Itzate Creek word for the Soque!  Until the mid-1920s,  the village of Sautee was located on the Soque River, where Georgia highways 255 and 255A intersect.  On the other hand, the Georgia State Historical Marker tells us that Sautee was the name of a Chickasaw brave, who fell in love with a Cherokee Princess, named Nacoochee.  

Actually, Nacoochee is the frontier white mispronunciation of Nocase, the Creek/Chickasaw word for bear and name of Yonah Mountain until the 1830s.  An alternative name for that mountain was Yeona, which means “mountain lion” in the Asturian language of northwestern Iberia.  In the early 1830s, newly arrived settlers from North Carolina tried to find a Cherokee word similar to Yeona and found Yonah, which is the Cherokee word for a Grizzly Bear, not the native Black Bear.   That name has stuck.

View from Rabun Bald of the volcanic cone of Chimney Mountain (left center) rising from the much older Tray Mountain. Yonah is in the top center.

Connecting 1886 descriptions with contemporary maps

Cyrus Thomas stated that there were many stone ruins near the Soquee Post Office.  There were man-made terraces with stone walls, piles of stones, which appeared to be building ruins, stone cairns, stone circles and a stone-walled U-shaped ballcourt.  Even after I realized that Soquee was now Batesville, I could find no piles of stone any closer than some stone rings and cairns on natural terraces overlooking the Soque River just outside of Batesville. 

  • I obtained a copy of the first USGS topographic map for the Georgia Mountains, published in 1893.  It showed a line of commercial buildings on the east side of GA Hwy.255, where there is now dense, mature forest.   Within this forest, near the Soque River are several stone ruins, but no plazas or terraces with stone walls.
  • An elderly resident of Batesville told me that the old post office was a small frame building on Goshen Creek Road.  The building still existed, but actually was the Militia District Building back in the 1800s, where a justice-of-the-peace held court and local militia units were mustered.
  • Thomas stated that the postmaster at Soquee, W. J. Hill, showed him over a hundred mounds, earthworks and stone ruins around his community.
  • The US Postal Service could find no record of there being a post office in Soquee or ever employed a postmaster in the 1800s, named W. J. Hill.
  • Bill Raper, staff genealogist at the Habersham Public Library in Clarkesville, was able to determine that Walter J. Hill owned a general store in Soquee during the period when the Smithsonian was surveying the region.  He paid one horse for the land after the Civil War and one horse for the lumber to build his store. That was recorded in the old Habersham County deed books. Obviously, like thousands of other general stores in the nation, the Soquee post office consisted of some wooden shelves in the general store.
  • Walter’s son, Lumpkin Hill, sold the store for $30 in 1904.  Even for back then, $30 seemed to be a small amount of money.  The land, which sold was where the current Batesville General Store was built.  However, there are no ancient stone walls to be seen there.
  • Local residents, sitting around the Old Batesville General Store, told me that there were many man-made terraces in the terrain just west of the general store, but they didn’t recall seeing any stone structures or piles of stone.
  • While drinking apple cider and home-made fruit cake at the Batesville General Store with its owner, Barbara Rush, she happened to mention that very old stones were used to build the “new” general store and several other buildings in Batesville.  The much smaller store, built by W.J. Hill burned in 1904.  That is why his son sold it for $30.  She speculated that the foundation stones for her store and the Lumpkin Hill house above, came from the ancient stone walls that Cyrus Thomas observed.  Bingo!
  • I went outside and checked out the foundation.  The volcanic rock had been quarried and squared off many centuries ago in a manner identical to the Post-Classic stone masonry of southern Mexico.  It the extreme poverty of the Post-Civil War Southern Highlands, it made perfect sense that the locals would have utilized readily available stones from ruins that seem to have no purpose.
  • I returned home and took a closer look at the Google Terrain Map view of Batesville.  As they say around here, if they’d been rattlesnake, I would have gotten bitten. Those hills in “Downtown Batesville” had been sculptured into a Mesoamerican Acropolis. 

And now you know!

Aerial view of Lake Burton, which is located a few miles north of Batesville.  An Apalache Foundation team will soon be heading to that island.


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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.



    Richard, Thanks for more Great articles. I have learned that the “Cursus” oblong stone sites of Europe were created before the Mega “circle” shape of the Stonehenge in England. In fact it is now known those Mega stones were moved around some (Beaker people) to create a circle…that indicates two different cultures existed in Europe that used two primary different shapes: a oblong shape and a circle. One group of the Mega Stonehenge circle peoples seem to have their origin point in South West Turkey (perhaps 15,000 BC?) and they seem to have made their way West via North Africa/ Mediterranean islands/ Azores / Georgia / Mexico / Peru.
    Found by you are mostly oblong stone sites and oblong plaza towns at the beginning of towns in Georgia and the South East? That indicates a oblong shape stone age connection with Northern Europe and Eastern America. The Sokee/Zokee Nobles/ priest must have had their origin point in Northern Europe or was it somewhere in the South East America? That Cursus shape looks like a ship.

    • Yes, that is right. All of the mounds from around 3000 years ago onward were oval in shape, until the Mesoamericans showed up and started building pyramids. ?After 1375 AD, most of the mounds again were oval.


        Richard, That 1375 AD fits well with the destruction of some Northern cities of Georgia? That would indicate a new Nobles/priest people arrived or an uprising in Georgia. The Sokee, Kushe? could have all left from Mexico during that time and allied with the Paracus /Apalachi in Tenn. and became the Nobles/priests of the Itza /Maya/ Uchee peoples who had migrated starting in the 800’s-900’s AD to Georgia.


        Hello Richard, fantastic article as always.. This may not be the correct avenue to contact you but I have a picture of something that may or may not be of interest to your expert eye. If you have an email of sorts I’ll send you the picture with what background information I have.
        Thanks Jason Daves


    In the 1771 map by Mr D Anville listed a area between upper Creek and Middle Creek as the “ ChatasCat Indians or FlatHeads”. I saw you mentioned “flatheads” in the above article and can email a picture of the map.

    • I have that map. Chatas Cat is the French name for the Choctaws. Thanks! Richard


    Love reading all your research Richard. This post is extremely interesting Thank you for sharing.

    • You know Rita, I was inspired by the way that English, Scottish and Irish archaeologists do their work. They have a consistent policy of involving the community in their research. They even incorporate amateur metal detector hobbyists. I probably would have never figured out the location of the ancient temples without local help and suggestions.


        You are so right!! This detective work you have done to fill in critical missing information is spot on. This approach as that of a detective trying to solve a serious obscure crime is exactly what is needed! In fact, I would venture a guess that you may even find a total systemic disciplined approach such as this being used by FBI investigators every day. Timelines, interviews, all related and seemingly unrelated people add value and critical information. This is why I mentioned the couple in Buena Vista with the collection. There are going to be hobbyists and locals who own or have seen (or have been told) the information you seek and until it is all brought together, all of these fragments are QUITE MEANINGLESS… Well done! just well done!

        • Thank you sir. Someone’s got to do it. By living modestly and having a lot of volunteer help, we are changing the history books.


    I have been to numerous antique shops in Tennessee and Alabama that have stone tools for sale which were used by indigenous peoples. As a descendant of these peoples, I find it heartbreaking that our history is being picked up by local hunters and then sold in shops. The sites are being pillaged and destroyed before archeologists even know they exist. So very much history is being lost. Are there not laws in place which prohibit these precious objects from being sold for profit? Can we not protect our sacred sites from destruction?

    • The federal and state laws prohibit the possession by anyone other than archaeologists or museums of grave artifacts only. Even then it is necessary to prove that the person obtained from a human burial. That is very hard to do when often the artifacts have been sold around several times at flea markets. Even more appalling are the number of burial mounds that have been illegally destroyed in recent years in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee by limited liability partnerships, who rent land to grow corn in order to get corn ethanol tax credits. I tried to do something about it by pointing out that it is illegal for the IRS to grant tax credits, when the partnerships have violated federal and state laws while growing corn. I got nowhere. A huge percentage of these partnerships are composed of politicians and attorneys.


        Hi Richard, we loved your article and we have additional information for you if you would like to have it. You can contact us as Your reference to Alec Mountain raised our eyebrows and also a few other statements you made. We have located nearly 100 Indian Trail Marker Trees in Habersham and Stephens Counties and have come across rock formations that are believed to be Mayan or Woodland. Would love to meet with you!

        • Hey Ken and Judy – I will be contacting you via email.


    Howdy, Richard is it correct that Michigan and Michoucan have the same meaning

    • No! Who told you that?

      Michoacan is a Nahuatl word meaning,””Place of possessors of fish”. The Purepeche People, who actually lived there, used another word.

      Michigan is the Anglicization of two Archaic Algonquian words, meshi-gami, which mean, “Big Lake” or “Big Water.”


    Interesting article about Batesville, Georgia. We lived down Chimney Mountain Rd. which runs by the Fire Dept. and Batesville General Store. If you hiked directly behind our old house up to the National Forest according to the old timers, there used to sit an old stone chair, table and bowl. It was removed by persons, unknown sometime in the 1960’s. Of course this is all second hand tales of the area. I know for a fact if you look in the bend of the creek of the farm next to our old place there is a large stone with a triangle carved out of it. I always wanted to have the stone, but it wasn’t mine to remove.

    • Could I get permission to photograph the large stone with the triangle carved on it?


        Hi Richard, This is Ann Sutton and your research is fascinating. I am sure it could be arranged for you to make the photograph. There are likely more locals that could be found who hunted on and farmed the land here to help you with your research. Let me know how I can help.

        • Thank you for your support. I will contact you via email.


    Richard, After reading your 1375 AD article it seems the Kofitachete were the people that started the oval mounds again in Georgia. That fits very well with the statements given to Mr. Briggstock and the Caribbean artifacts you have noticed in Georgia. They could have migrated up to Newfoundland and back to the Caribbean as fishing people. As they became the people of South Carolina by 1540 they seem to have been very civilized according to the words of the Spaniards.

    • The oval mounds are associated with the Apalache in NE Georgia. Kofitachete seems to be a branch of the Cherokees. Remember that De Rochefort said that the Kofitachete migrated up to the far north, where the winters are long and the soil rocky? Mid-17th century French and Dutch maps place the Cherokee east of Lake Erie in Quebec.


        Richard, Perhaps but the Apalache and the Kofitachete are stated as having a close connection for some time? Perhaps some of them mixed with the Viking / Alamani along the coastline and became the people of South Caroline by 1540…”who had many things like Spain”. A map of 16th century has the location of the Cherokee’s towns around Greenville, N.C. where there was a French fort West of them.

        • They were arch-enemies. The Kofitchete destroyed several of their towns in the northern part of the kingdom then invaded the region around Lake Tama where the Apalachete began. The Kofitachete were finally defeated and forced to settle down on the edge of the kingdom.


            Richard, I do recall a statement that a Cherokee Chief made to a British official that the Cherokee would not stop a war against the Issa/Itza in the 17th century. However, the Issa/Itza had a lot of enemies to include the Seneca/Eire, Shawnee and Delaware. In the 13th Century Cahokia is also burnt down? That is also the time when the Aztecs/ Mexica arrive to central Mexico…most likely causing an exodus of Nations who did not want to provide the supper?

          • Issa are the Siouan commoners of the Catawba. Itza are the Itzate Creeks. They were two different peoples. HOWEVER, the Catawba elite were Itzate Creeks from the region of Georgia between Atlanta and Gainesville. The actual Native American word is Katawpa and it is Itza. Look on maps from the early and mid-1700s and you will see Kataapa in north central Georgia. The word means “Crown – Place of” in Itza.


    This is an awesome read and defiantly a place I would like to visit, but I have to correct your spelling on a name. It is Jocassee, meaning “the place of the lost one.” Sadly we cannot see any of history they left behind as those beautiful valleys are now a lake to generate power.

    • Jokase is the correct spelling in Creek and means “Soque-colony of”. Jocassee is the Anglicization of the word. Someone made up the other meaning. You see, Soque is actually pronounce jzho-ke in both the Southeast and in Mexico. English speaking people tried to convert the sound to English spelling. Toxaway is another Anglicized Creek word. Toksawe is a kitchen shed.


    Howdy, Just a line…re; your USGS nap above….bottom far right appears to be a flat topped structure Mountain….just the tip is shown.

    Now, As to my question…it came up in a discussion reguarding copper tools of the Purapeche people. Is it not reasonable to consider place of fishers and big water to be compatible….also Michoachan was once heavily forested,

    • I think that feature is man-made. We will have to find out how to get there. Actually, Michoacan is still heavily forested, except in the river bottom lands . . . very much like North Georgia. The actual Algonquian word from which Michigan was derived is quite different in pronunciation than Michoacan.


    Hello, Richard: I came across these articles shared on Facebook by Cynthia Whitney, who lives in Sautee-Nachoochee. My husband, and I, have a home on the Soque in the Batesville area, and we are eager to learn all we can about the original people who settled this area. I’m a firm believer that information you want comes to you when you need it. Thank you for your hard work in researching this information. Susie Burch

    • I have your email address and will contact you privately, later today. I have some questions. Thanks! Richard


    Howdy, Question? Have you taken a look at large hill/mound SE of Nacoochee Indian mound on Chattahooche River?

    • Yes, my best selling book is about the archaeological sites in the Nacoochee Valley. The book is entitled: The Nacoochee Valley . . . Crossroads of the Americas


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