Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
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.
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.
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.
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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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