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A Kanza town on the Ocmulgee River in Georgia

A Kanza town on the Ocmulgee River in Georgia

 

Archaeological Site 9TW1 near Warner Robbins, GA ~ Proposed for inclusion in the new Ocmulgee National Park

Ocmulgee Bottoms before the arrival of Hernando de Soto was clearly a verdant water-land of ethnic Brunswick Stew and geologically more like the appearance of the South Atlantic Coastal Marshes. Archaeologists found that this island in the Ocmulgee Bottoms had been repeatedly occupied during the period between 1000 BC and 1800 AD, but its largest population occurred during the coldest portions of the Little Ice Age . . . 1300 AD to 1600 AD. It was during this time span that a non-Muskogean, non-Mayan people built earthberm architecture identical to that erected on the Western Plains in the 1700s by such peoples as the Kanza (Kaw), Quapaw, Mandan and Arikara. Since we have documentation via 18th century maps that the Kanza were in Georgia and Alabama, we can safely assume that these people on the Ocmulgee were ancestors of the Kanza . . . a Siouan people.

Who lived in Ocmulgee Bottoms?

It would be completely inaccurate to label the whole Ocmulgee Bottoms with the name of any federally-recognized tribe today . . . that includes the Creeks. Yes, the minuscule number of those, who did survive the onslaught of European diseases and English-sponsored slave raids did come together to form the People of One Fire or Creek Confederacy, but prior to being clustered into a “tribe” their ancestors represented many distinct cultural traditions from across the Americas.  I suspect that these tribes came and went.  Most of the Kanza went . . . eventually to the Western Plains. The earliest detailed map of Ocmulgee Bottoms stated that many branches of the Creek Confederacy relocated from the Ocmulgee River to the Chattahoochee River in 1716, but some had returned. This architectural computer model will be converted into an animated film later in 2018.

 

Red and blue notes over Bullard topo map

During the 1990s, the LAMAR Institute and Ocmulgee Archaeological Society carried out one of the most detailed and comprehensively illustrated archaeological studies ever in the Southeast here. There are numerous accurate topographic maps.  The professional work included analysis of the geological history (changing channel locations) of the Ocmulgee River by a geology professor at Mercer University in Macon. The Bullard Landing Archaeological Report is available online in a PDF format by clicking its name in this sentence and also can be downloaded. I strongly urge readers to study it.  This is the type of comprehensive analysis that we would like to see in all archaeological studies of Southeastern Native American heritage sites.

With such detailed information, it was possible to create an accurate computer model by interpolating the topographic and archaeological information with GIS mapping.  Thus we can be certain of a reasonable degree of accuracy in any virtual reality animation.

 

Understanding the Little Ice Age

The Little Ice Age was initiated by the massive explosion of Samalas  supervolcano in 1237 AD, followed by several more major volcanic eruptions in Mexico, Central America, South America, Iceland and Sicily.   Both the Gulf Stream and the Jet Streams shifted southward in North America and the North Atlantic Ocean.  Around 1250 AD, torrential rains in Georgia caused catastrophic floods on the Etowah, Ocmulgee and Savannah Rivers, which washed over entire towns.  Both Ichesi (Ocmulgee River) and Etula (Etowah River) were turned into islands.  The confrontation of a more southerly Jet Stream with moisture flowing northward from the Gulf of Mexico caused dense snow packs to form over the Georgia and Southern Blue Ridge Mountains.  This is why the traditional Creek name for the Georgia Mountains is the Snowy Mountains.  In December 1567, Spanish Captain Juan Pardo found the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains so deeply covered in snow that the trails were impassible.

Even as late as 1776, the Southeast’s climate was very different than today. William Bartram stated that when the snow melted on the Georgia Mountains, the province’s rivers would swell across the landscape.  The Okefenokee Swamp would triple in size while the North Fork of the Satilla River functioned as an additional outlet for the great Altamaha River.  The Okeefenokee back then was a lake with an island in it, similar in size and appearance to Lake Okeechobee in southern Florida. That is why Colonial Period maps of Southeast Georgia are so different than maps of the region today.

During the spring melt, Ocmulgee Bottoms would have appeared to be a lake with marshes in it.  This probably the reason that the original name of the Ocmulgee River was Ochesee Creek.  In British English, a creek or then, crique, was a tidal stream in marshes.  Thus, it makes perfect sense that the builders of this town in the Ocmulgee River would construct their lodges on mounds.  This architectural innovation raised houses and communal buildings above most flood levels.

Kanza, Quapaw, Mandan, and Arikara had irregular, roundish plazas.  Kanza and Quapaw houses were more square than Mandan houses.

The Town Plan and architecture

The town was built on a large island formed by multiple channels of the Ocmulgee River.  The relatively deep water of these channels negated the need to build a timber palisade.  With so many allied towns in its vicinity, an attempt to use canoes to attack the town would be suicidal.  Apparently, the town was abandoned after a large flood, which created new channels that cut across the island.  This is not known for certain since large scale cotton farming in the 1800s caused massive amounts of Georgia Red Clay to flow down the Ocmulgee during floods, which deposited a layer of clay over this island at least three feet thick.

A common feature of the Mandan, Arikara, Kanza, Quapaw and Osage villages was that there was a circular bundle of timbers in the center of the town plaza.  This feature was found at the King Village Site on the Coosa River in Northwest Georgia, but is not mentioned in the report on Bullard Landing.  However, the archaeological team at Bullard Landing did not excavate the plaza, because the entire town site was covered in a 30-36 inch coat of red clay.  Extensive labor was required just to get down to the soil from the 1700s.

The architecture of Bullard Landing differs from most Kanza, Quapaw, Mandan and Arikara architecture in that most of the buildings were constructed on mounds.  The house mounds were typically 1-2 feet tall.  The public buildings were set on an irregular natural terrace , plus were on top of mounds, running 3- 6.5 feet tall.   It could be that older Mandan villages contained mounds as the result of houses being built on top of demolished houses.  However, available references did not mention Mandan mounds.

 

The town in historical records

This town was apparently visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in March 1540.  De Soto visited two towns on islands in the Ocmulgee Bottoms.  One was occupied, palisaded and friendly.  The occupants had fled from the other town and it had no timber palisade.  There is a strong possibility that the Bullard Landing town was the one with no timber palisade.

The five accounts of the De Soto Expedition provide varying details for the portion of the journey along the Ocmulgee River. The only version that contains any detail for the part of the De Soto expedition in the area of the Bullard Landing town is the account of De Soto’s personal secretary, Rodrigo Ranjel. He states that . . . “They came to a village, which was on an island in this river, where they captured some provisions and, as it was a perilous place, before canoes should appear, they turned to go back the way they came, but first they breakfasted on some fowl of the country, which are called guanaxas and some strips of venison which they found placed upon a framework of sticks, as for roasting on a gridiron.”

 

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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.

4 Comments

  1. 5card678919j@gmail.com'

    That area to this day on the west side of the river from Macon south down hwy 247 is known as “Sofkee.”

    Reply
  2. Reillyranch@aol.com'

    The meal DeSoto grabbed is known as the first recorded Bbq in the United States. On Columbus second trip he recorded eating food prepared on a bbq in Cuba. The Native Americans had been using that unique style of smoking their food for 100’s of years. One of the many, many things we have to thank Native Americans for.

    Reply

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