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Archaeologist could find no evidence of the Cherokees in the Nacoochee Valley

Archaeologist could find no evidence of the Cherokees in the Nacoochee Valley

Robert Wauchope’s report on his intensive archaeological study of the Creek Heartland in 1939 and 1940 is fascinating.  It is almost like the portal of a time machine,  because the much of the landscape he saw is now “Gone with Wind” or else under a Corps of Engineers reservoir.   There is really nothing like it anywhere else in the United States.  In regard to the beautiful Nacoochee Valley, he was the first and last archaeologist to thoroughly survey its archaeological treasures.

(VR Image Above)  This is probable appearance of the principal Sokee village on the Soquee River in Northwestern Habersham County during the 1700s.   They were Muskogeans with many Mesoamerican cultural traits from northwestern South Carolina. Although within Cherokee territory in the mid-to-late 1700s,  the town probably was laid out like a Creek town of that era and contained log cabins.

Most Sokee left the region for Florida when forced to be under the domination of the Cherokees by the British. Their descendants are now called Seminoles and Miccosukees.  The location of their principal village is known, but never been excavated by professional archaeologists.  This is probably the best location to hunt for evidence of an 18th century occupation.

Where in the heck were the Cherokees?

In 1939,  most laymen assumed that the Cherokees had always occupied North Georgia and built the mounds there.  Pioneer archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. had said something very  different in his 1873 book, but it had been out of print for many decades.  Very few Colonial Era maps were available to Southeastern academicians.   The originals were gathering dust in the British Archives,  Library of Congress,  Ivy League University libraries and the homes of wealthy private collectors in the Northeast.   These maps didn’t even mention a word like Cherokee until 1715,  and showed that the Cherokee presence in Georgia was minuscule until after the American Revolution.

Robert Wauchope at a Maya city in Guatemala. After World War II, Wauchope went to Tulane University and became a recognized expert on the Mayas . . . never knowing the profound connection between the Nacoochee Valley and the Itza Mayas.

Robert Wauchope at a Maya city in Guatemala. After World War II, Wauchope taught at Tulane University and became a recognized expert on the Mayas .

It is obvious that Wauchope also didn’t have access to those maps.  His reports show profound ignorance of the Early Colonial Period.  Books filled with colonial maps would begin being published in the 1980s.   Photographic copies were almost no-existent until very late in the 20th century and not generally available until the advent of the internet.  Radiocarbon dating would not be invented until 1947.   So the only ethnic “measuring device” that Wauchope had available was the study of pottery styles.

Having read the book by Charles C. Jones,  Wauchope expected prehistoric villages in the Nacoochee Valley to contain pottery styles associated with the ancestors of the Creek Indians, but above them would be occupation layers that contained a mixture of European artifacts and Cherokee style pottery.   He assumed that the last occupiers of mounds there, were Cherokees.

What Wauchope found instead was a continuous evolution of Proto-Creek pottery styles from around 1000 BC up into the Early Colonial Period.  The upper level excavations were filled with Proto-Creek Lamar Style potsherds mixed with such things as swords, hammers, hatches, axe heads, beads, buttons and rusting old arquebuses (primitive firearms).  Above that layer was obviously the detritus of 19th century gold miners.   Some of the glass bottles and ceramic jugs even had dates on them.  Where were the Cherokees?

Wauchope realized that the Nacoochee Valley had been densely occupied by ancestors of the Creek Indians (actually also the Uchee and Chickasaw) well into the Colonial Era.  In the last periods, there had also been many Europeans living among them.  He was puzzled as to who these Europeans might be.  Suddenly,  probably around 1700 AD, the Nacoochee Valley had been depopulated.  He could find no artifacts clearly associated with the period between 1700  and 1821 when a group of North Carolina families purchased most of the valley.

Wauchope theorized that the Cherokee population in the Nacoochee Valley was much smaller than the former Creek population and that their potsherds had been washed away by mining activities or intensive farming in the 1800s.

This may or may not be the case.  One would think that somewhere among the many village sites that Wauchope excavated, he would have found the footprints of round Cherokee huts, late 18th century Cherokee log cabins and Cherokee potsherds mixed with European artifacts from the 1700s.   Perhaps the 18th century Cherokees lived in scattered farmsteads and only cooked with iron pots.

Mount Yonah was named Mount Noccassee, the Creek word for bear, until about 20 years after the Cherokees were expelled from Georgia. Yonah is the Cherokee word for bear.

Mount Yonah was named Mount Noccassee, the Creek word for bear, until about 20 years after the Cherokees were expelled from Georgia. Yonah is the Cherokee word for bear.

Studies using radiocarbon dating

Later investigations by archaeologists at specific sites in and around the Nacoochee Valley have confirmed Wauchope’s discoveries.  In 1957,  Joseph Caldwell excavated Tugaloo Island, which was a very large Proto-Creek town about 25 miles east of the Nacoochee Valley.   It was sacked and burned around 1700 AD.   A tiny hamlet with round huts and Cherokee style pottery was then built in the southern end of the town.   These occupants made no use of the mounds despite what local tourist brochures state.

In 2004, an archeological team from the University of Georgia examined the village site around the famous Nacoochee Mound.  The village had never been studied by archaeologists.   The team could find no evidence of the village being ever occupied by the Cherokees despite a nearby state historic marker that states that the mound was built by the Cherokees!    The archaeologists determined that the village was abandoned at some time in the 1600s.

Beginning in 1725, colonial maps and later maps, published of the State of Georgia, always showed two to three Native American villages in the Nacoochee Valley until 1821.  However, they always had either Itza Maya or Muskogean names, even when within the Cherokee Nation.  These villages were located at the exact same spots where Wauchope carried out some of his most extensive excavations.  It all remains a mystery.

Ironically,  virtually all anthropological references, including the normally highly reliable New Georgia Encyclopedia, state as fact what Wauchope presumed to be true, but found out was not.   They say that the Cherokees moved into North Georgia during the early 1600s.  European maps and archives are now abundantly available and they show all of North Georgia, except its extreme northeastern tip, within the territory of the Creek Confederacy until after 1785.  One can only assume that these professors are just regurgitating what they were taught in college rather than looking at the primary sources for understanding American history.

One of Robert Wauchope's archaeological excavations in 1939. This is clearly not a traditional Cherokee building.

One of Robert Wauchope’s archaeological excavations in 1939.

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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.


    • Hey Wayne,

      You know I read that article and read it again. Someone, somewhere in the past had established an arbitrary “fact” and no one had “fact checked” him. Just an amazing story.

      Thank you

      Richard T.


    White history and the Indians – 1774, 1780’s and early 1800’s:
    In 1774, two groups of militia, one from SC and the other from the Wilkes County of Ga raided Nacoochee Valley. They burned Sautee Town and Na-Chee Town. Some say that Sautee was a Chickasaw town. But who occupied Na-Chee and Soque Town? The White militia kept very few records.
    We had though that both towns were Cherokee.
    Another group of GA Militia raided the area later in the 1780’s.
    I will agree with you that the Cherokee settlement in the Nacoochee Valley in the 1790’s and later were isolated cabins and that the Cherokee population was very small.
    Lastly, the treaties for this area of north Georgia from Colonial times through 1819 were with the Cherokees who claimed the “rights” to the land. And I will admit that that the Cherokee “rights” were hunting rights rather that settlement rights.

    • Hey Bill

      There must have been some Cherokees . . . or some sort of Indians in the Nacoochee Valley. There villages are on the maps from 1725 to 1821. Wauchope was an outstanding archaeologist. You would think that he would have run into at least some artifacts from the 1700s and early 1800s. It is a strange mystery. Neither Wauchope and two expeditions by the University of Georgia in 1997 and 2004 have found any Cherokee Period artifacts. That would include any Chickasaw, Creek or Uchee artifacts from that period . . . Nada!

      Thank you for the additional history for that period.



        Up until the early1700’s the people in the valley were Creek. there was a period in the early to middle 1700’s that the Chickasaws were in the valley as the Valley became a neutral zone due to the Cherokee-Creek Wars.
        I don’t know when the Cherokee-Creek Wars caused the Valley to become a neutral zone (1700-1725?or so) and when the Cherokees moved into the valley (sometime between 1750 and 1770 or so).
        I think that the towns that the militia raided in 1774 were Cherokee and Chickasaw but I cannot prove that.
        In any case, the Town system of settlement was destroyed in the valley and eastward by the end of the Revolutionary War. The Testatee Town in western White County survived until as a small settlement until 1815 or so.

        • That’s real interesting Bill. That sort of information needs to be in the state history curriculum. You know the Chickasaws were also in the valley during the Late Woodland and Early Mississippian Period. The Eastwood Mounds site, west of the Kenimer Mound, is the oldest known Chickasaw Town.

          Do you know why the two militia units attacked those towns in 1774? The Cherokees became allies of the British against the Patriots in 1776


            The Indians began raiding in the spring of 1774 and were strongly on the British Side. The Governors of NC, SC and GA organized 3 militia forces to raid the middle and lower towns. The SC militia traveled from Due West, SC to Franklin, NC to Murphy to Hiawassee and across Neal’s Gap and along the Unicoi Trail back to SC.
            The GA Militia left Wilkes County or Augusta to Eastanollee, Soque and the Valley before returning to Augusta. The GA sources were the first into the Valley.


    One thing reading here has taught me Richard, is that everything taught to me in those Georgia History textbook is little more than subjective opinions.
    And the audience the writing was directed at.
    My father used to haul dogs back and forth from this valley, in the truck of the ole 51 Ford Galaxie. WE used to visit relatives there.
    I’m sure all those are taking dirt naps now, unfortunately. But I do remember some were both Cherokee and Creek. And said they never left and were now counted whites.
    So much destruction with so little regard for human values.
    A sad tale indeed, but so true these days everywhere.
    Must be why I always seek solitude by a waterfall. It heals me.


    A great post.

    After months of intensive research I’ve come to the con-
    clusion that most Cherokee are descendants of Caucasian, Minor Asian (Anatolia) and the Middle Eastern people.

    -Linguistic links are pointing to Minor Asia (Anatolia/Turkey).
    -Script (glyph) is pointing to Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia).
    -The name Cherokee is most likely linked to Chorokhi
    in Ajaria (Autonomous Republic), in Georgia (Caucasus).
    -DNA points mainly to the Middle East.

    The migration story of the Ani-Yunwiya (The Principel
    People) is about the Zuni (Anasasi?) related people of New Mexico.
    The Zuni and many natives of New Mexico are Cave-/Cliff
    dwellers just as many southeastern tribes described those people being Cave dwellers who came from the Great Lakes
    region after they migrated there from New Mexico.

    There seems to be no link between the Cherokee and the Chiriqui of Panama / Costa Rica (Central America).

    New surprising information on Ciri Klave:

    In doing research of the Chiriqui and the Mythical Hero
    “Ciri Klave” I have found a very surprising (possible and plausible) link to the Oceania – Southeast Asian region.

    Those who are interested in the Chiriqui and “Ciri Klave”
    of Panama / Costa Rica can read my ongoing research,
    new information and thoughts on the following link:


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