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.
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 Amazon.com 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.
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!
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