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Before Atlanta, there was a province named Chattahoochee

Before Atlanta, there was a province named Chattahoochee

Mention the words, Atlanta and Native Americans, to people around the United States.  What comes to most minds next is undoubtedly the Atlanta Braves baseball team and that’s it.  The Native American history of this booming metropolis is barely mentioned, if at all.

TuckaseEmathlaIronically,  world famous Peachtree Street was originally a Creek Indian trail that led from Pakanahueri (Standing Peachtree) to a village and regional council ground near where the surveyor’s stake marked the center of the future City of Atlanta.  Evidence is increasing that the Creek Indians became a distinct people with the alliance of four densely populated Proto-Creek provinces within present day Metro Atlanta. 

That council ground was in eyesight of the future location where Hank Aaron would break the home run record in 1974.  Atlanta Braves is a far more appropriate name for the team than most people realize.  If they would just get rid of that ridiculous Mohawk hair cut  and Hollywood Injun, Nocahoma !  Creek men averaged a foot taller than Europeans and certainly did not look like Nocahoma.

Most Southerners are probably aware, at least vaguely, that there is a important archaeological zone on the northwestern edge of the  Atlanta Metro area near Cartersville . . . Etowah Mounds.  Through the articles in this web site, we are beginning to make folks aware of the Apalache Kingdom’s massive stone architecture sites in Northeast Metro Atlanta.  However, very few people are aware that there was once a dense Native American population along the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries, west of Atlanta.  It was called Chattahoochee by 18th century maps.

The famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, standing next to a exposed house footprint at site 9FU!4 in April 1969.

The famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, standing next to a exposed house footprint at site 9FU14 in April 1969.  The photo was taken from atop the southeast corner of a 2,000+ year old mound that is not even mentioned in a booklet on Woodland Period archaeological sites in North Georgia, published by the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology.  This amazing site will be discussed in Part Two of this article.

There is something else, very odd, going on.  Even though many of the Native American town sites along the Chattahoochee River have or had mounds, and were originally identified  by respected 20th century archaeologists such as Robert Wauchope, Arthur Kelly and Roy Dickens, the current crop of archaeologists in the Southeast seem to have literally erased them off the map.  Georgia’s most famous mound, the Nacoochee Mound at the Chattahoochee’s source, is even left off the maps.   This can be seen in the maps below.

On April  4 , 2016  POOF published an article that discussed the polity associated with the town of Pakatanhueri (Standing Peachtree) and Peachtree Creek.  You can read it again at this URL:   Standing Peachtree.   It  explained that the public is not aware of the satellite villages of Pakatanhueri (Standing Peachtree) because either the archaeological reports have not been made available to the public or no archaeological studies were done.  That is certainly not the case farther south in Metro Atlanta.

The red outlines of Metro Atlanta was added to the original maps. These maps are from Mississippian Period Archaeology of the Georgia Piedmont, published by the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology in 1986 and 1995. There are numerous “Lamar Culture” towns with mounds along the entire length of the Chattahoochee River. None are shown on the map.

A story told by maps

How did the Spanish know the general patterns of the Chattahoochee, Altamaha and Savannah Rivers, when there is no record of De Soto following their channels for any great length?

How did the Spanish know the general patterns of the Chattahoochee, Altamaha and Savannah Rivers, when there is no record of De Soto following their channels for any great length?

The map by Diego Guteirrez generally showed the correct path of the Chattahoochee, but confused its mouth with that of the Suwannee River.

The map by Diego Guteirrez generally showed the correct path of the Chattahoochee, but confused its mouth with that of the Suwannee River.

The Chattahoochee River was the first Southeastern river to be accurately mapped, yet strangely the earliest known Spanish exploration to its source occurred around 1645.  Hernando de Soto supposedly did not cross the river in 1540, yet the map accompanying the report to the king in 1544 showed the Suwannee River being the outlet for a rather accurate Chattahoochee River coming out of the mountains.  In 1566, the same confusion continued, but the famed “cities of gold in Cibola” were accurately placed at the Chattahoochee’s source . . . the location of the nation’s first major gold rush.

1562 - Map of the Americas by Forlini

1566 Map of the Americas by Chaves .  Note that the town of Canos is on the Chattahoochee River.  It is most likely the original name of Standing Peachtree, at the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Peachtree Creek.   Conos is the root of the Creek ethic name Konosaw or Kanosaw, which became the modern place name, Kennesaw.   It is not “a Cherokee word, whose meaning has been lost.”  The hybrid Creek-Arawak word, Konosa-qua was Anglicized to become the name of the Conesauga River in NW Georgia.

Four years later in 1566, a map produced by  Benjamen Chaves, the King of Spain’s royal geographer, portrays a rather accurate description of the Rio de Espiritu Santo (Chattahoochee) and shows Fort Caroline on the south bank of the Altamaha River in Georgia. A 1570 French map shows the new colony of Melilot, founded in late 1565 in northeast Georgia and the Chattahoochee River.


A 1620 French map provided more details about the names of Native towns in the interior and specifically states that Fort Caroline was at the mouth of the Altamaha (May) River – not near Jacksonville.  The major Native town on the Chattahoochee, near Atlanta was then named Vitacuche. Obviously, Spain sent explorers up the Chattahoochee during the intermediate period, but to date no record of those 16th century expeditions have been found.

What we do have today is yet another secret of Metropolitan Atlanta.  In Smryna, GA (central Cobb County) are petroglyphs on boulders along Nickajack Creek.  They include Spanish cartographic symbols, mining claims and Apalachicola (Muskogean) clan symbols – the Panther, Alligator and Snapping Turtle Clans.  Archaeologists, employed by Cobb County, found Late 16th or 17th century Spanish artifacts and trade beads at a large proto-Creek town site at the confluence of Nickajack Creek and the Chattahoochee, 1.75 miles upstream from Six Flags Over Georgia.  This strongly suggests that the Spanish had a presence in Metro Atlanta that is not mentioned in official histories of the region.

In 1646, Florida Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla ordered the construction of a fortified trading post at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River in the Nacoochee Valley and a pack mule road to be constructed from St. Augustine to there.  By the early 1700s, this road was known as the La Cota Trail.  US Hwy. 129 follows its route though the Piedmont.

The town of Chattahoochee is shown in John Barnwell’s map to be located at present day Six Flags Over Georgia, where there was formerly massive town site and four mounds.  In the note on the right of the image, the Chattahoochee River is called the Cullohoochee River.

The first English language map to mention the word similar to Chattahoochee, was drawn by Colonel John Barnwell, while he was building a fort at the mouth of the Altamaha River.  At the same time, he changed the name of the Altamaha from its French name of May and its Spanish name of Secco, to “Altamaha or Cowetahatchee” (Coweta Creek River).   As seen above, Barnwell named a town where Six Flags Over Georgia is now located, Chatahoochee.  The river was named the Cullahoochee.  Most maps for the next five decades labeled the people in this section of Georgia as a distinct ethnic group, the Chattahoochees.

1755 Map of North America by John Mitchell

1755 Map of North America by John Mitchell.  Note on the upper right that the original location of the famous Creek capital of Coweta was in Jackson County, GA on the Ocmulgee River, not on the Chattahoochee River as virtually all archaeological books state today.   “Coweta O.T. ” means  Coweta Old Town . . . or the original location of a mother town.

By 1755, John Mitchell’s famous map of North America named both the town and the river, Chattahoochee. The Upper Creek Trading Path passed just south of the town.

A 1776 map of Georgia provides information that has been completely left out of the history books.  That same year, Tokahpasi (Tuckabatchee) moved from its location on the Tallapoosa River, to the location at an ancient town site where the Upper Creek Path crossed the Chattahoochee.  It is now known as Anneewakee Creek.  Tokahpasi means “Offspring of the Place of the Spotted People.”

The town of Chattahoochee, upstream, had shrunk to the point where it only had about 40 men of military age. Maps tell us that Tuckabatchee stayed in the Georgia location until the Creeks ceded all their territories in 1727.

Some maps from the early 1800s labeled the town, Tuckabachee, while others labeled it Chattahoochee.  Perhaps the two communities merged.  This is strong evidence that Tuckbatchee originated on the Chattahoochee River.

1810 Sturges Map

The 1810 Sturges Map stated that the river was named after the town and province of the same name.  Cato Hvci means “Marked Stone River” in Muskogee.  A little later, we will explain the probable surprising origin of that name.

The 1812 Map of Georgia and Alabama placed Tuckabatchee at Anneewakee Creek in present day Douglas County, GA.

The 1812 Map of Georgia and Alabama placed Tuckabatchee at Anneewakee Creek in present day Douglas County, GA.

The 1825 Tanner Map did not show locations for Chattahoochee or Tuckabachee, but showed the village of Buzzard's Roost still existing.

The 1825 Tanner Map did not show locations for Chattahoochee or Tuckabachee, but showed the village of Buzzard’s Roost still existing.  The location is now part of Cobb County.


Immigrants from the south

Near Campbellton Road in Southwest Atlanta is a massive owl carved from a granite boulder.  It is called the Rock Owl.  Nearby is a much larger bolder carved into a shape that early settlers called a boat, but actually portrays a human foot with toes.  Three of the toes are now cut off.

The ancient Rock Owl is located near Campbellton Road and the Chattahoochee River in Southwest Atlanta. Its beak lays on the ground in the left photo.

Georgia academicians have not given much thought to this rock owl or for that matter, the owl motif pottery that comes from Browns Mount, near Macon.  They should have.  There is one other place in the Americas, where one sees boulders carved into owls, plus owl motif pottery . . . the Toa River Valley in Central Cuba.  The Toas were a Ciboney People, who also lived in north-central Puerto Rico.  Perhaps Puerto Rico was their place of origin.

If the name Toa sounds familiar . . . it is also the name of a capital town and province in Central Georgia that was visited by Hernando de Soto in early spring of 1540.  Spanish chroniclers described the Toasi as being much more sophisticated than the Natives in the Florida Peninsula.  The men averaged a foot taller than the Spanish, plus wore turbans.  Both men and women wore brightly colored woven clothing, while the Florida Natives wore breech cloths and skirts made of Spanish moss.

Linking Rock Owl in Metro Atlanta to Caribbean immigrants might seem speculative, except for a very unusual hilltop shrine just across the Chattahoochee River in what is now Douglas County.  In 1901, two hunters discovered a steep hill at the confluence of Sweetwater Creek and the Chattahoochee River.  On the sides and base were numerous Native artifacts such as arrowheads and potsherds.  Stone steps led to the top.  In the center of the flat top was a 4 feet+ long stone stela with a strange inscription on one side.

The rugged terrain around the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Sweetwater Creek contains a shrine that seems to belong in another continent.

The rugged terrain around the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Sweetwater Creek contains a shrine that seems to belong in another continent.  The five-sided flat topped hill on the south side of Sweetwater Creek appears to be a fortified village site . . . but alas, there have been absolutely no archaeological studies of this obviously important archaeological zone.

The stela soon came into the possession of the State of Georgia.  It was eventually put on display at Rhodes Mansion, next to Peachtree Christian Church in Midtown, which was the home of the Georgia Department of Archives and History until the 1960s.  The building was inherited by the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, so the stela was then moved to Archives and History’s new spectacular marble home next to the new Atlanta stadium.   At the end of the 20th century the stela was moved back to near its original home in the museum of Sweetwater Creek State Park.   There it resides today.

When originally discovered, most art historians agreed that the stela was “something Indian,” but also agreed that it didn’t look like anything the Creeks had created.  However, for the remainder of the century academicians gave the stela very little thought at all.   There have been no attempts by geologists to date the inscription, although it should have been the subject of extreme academic curiosity.

In 1939, archaeologist Robert Wauchope briefly inspected the hilltop shrine.  The stone steps were still there. In his report, assigning the location an official archaeological site number, Wauchope mentioned that the top of the hill appeared to once been surrounded by a stone wall and that four stone cairns marked the cardinal points.  Incredibly, NO archaeologist has ever investigated this unique site any further.

In 2011, the People of One Fire sent out emails to petroglyph experts and archaeologists around the country along with a photo of the stela. No archaeologist responded, but several petroglyph experts did.  Somehow archaeologists at the University of Puerto Rico learned about the letter.   POOF received an email from them.  The style and objects portrayed on the stela were identical to petroglyphs in North Central Puerto Rico.  This region was formerly known as Toa.


This bizarre creature portrayed on the Sweetwater Creek stela is a Maybouya.  The Maybouya was a demon spirit in indigenous Carib and Kalina religion that guarded caves, territorial boundaries and springs.   Carib priests also conjured them from special fires in order to seek advice and set them upon enemies.  There are Maybouya petroglyphs near Arecibo, Puerto Rico, which are virtually identical to the one portrayed in the Sweetwater Creek stela.

It is highly likely that more stone architecture exists within the rugged terrain along Sweetwater Creek. Like the hilltop shrine, these sites will probably resemble similar sites in Cuba, Puerto Rico and then northern edge of South America.

The Muskogee-Creek language origin of the Anglicized word, Chattahoochee, means “marked stone” in English.  Thus, it is highly likely that the name of the Chattahoochee River is derived from the enigmatic stone stela, found on a hilltop shrine, overlooking the river. Apparently, the Caribbean inhabitants of this section of the Chattahoochee River relocated elsewhere in the Southeast.  The Muskogeans, who inherited its fertile landscape, viewed the strange art on the stone stela with wonderment, and thus a very famous place name was born.

In Part Two of this article, we will examine the fascinating archaeological studies along this section of the Chattahoochee River, which occurred between 1939 and 1979.  They have largely become forgotten, but have important implications for understanding the Native American history of the Southeast.  We will put together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, unearthed by these archaeologists, to propose unexpected explanations of the Southeast’s Pre-European history.   One surprising piece of linguistic evidence places immigrants from the region around Mexico City in Douglas County, Georgia.  Now that is going to surprise some folks.



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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.



    Thanks for sharing the map on Etowah I Culture. It reinforces my thoughts after first seeing the cemetery named Airline Cemetery (after early RR) located between Gainesville and White Sulfur Springs GA. This cemetery is located on a high hill that rises from surrounding flat-land. Of interest to me, cemetery of my reported “Cherokee blood” ancestors, named Ramsey/Bennett/Sanford/McMillion,, the graves are well inscribed from the mid-1800s at middle and lower levels of the hill, but there seemed to be 100-200 stone flagged graves on the upper hill, no inscriptions. This suggested to me the possibility of the hill being a burying ground from much earlier times, with significant number of Native Americans buried on the upper hill. What can you add about whether American Indians in that area marked graves, or not ?


    Great post and information. I really like the old maps, they make a good refrence point when reading the history of the area. Thanks for all the work!!!

    • The maps are really important. POOF members and readers should thank Joseph Creel, George Mathews and Gene Waddell for making possible the People of One Fire’s outstanding map collection.


    My father use to own property on the Chattahoochee in Douglss County were one Indian mound was & more than 2000 acres surrounding Annawakee Creek. Henry Brock who ran the ferry was my great grandfather too. I love this article.

    • That is amazing Blake. It is rare to run into people these days, who even were born in the Atlanta area! LOL


        Princess Anawakee is an ancestor… Dallas was built on old fam land… Adair, Sinyard is my French Huguenot ancestors that married into Cherokee in NC/SC in what is now Pisgah Natl Forest… Love your articles…Chief Moytoy Pigeon of Tellico descendant here.


    I wonder why these sites around the Smyrna, Mableton,Austell, Lithia Springs, Annawakee, Sweet water Creek regions have just been brushed aside as if they hold no historical value or significance. I have always wondered why the lack of research and data from these West Atlanta areas, when there is obviously so much to find and learn and hopefully preserve. Excellent article, and thanks for your work and research, as well as your concern towards the importance of their historical validity.

    • Derek, obviously I agree with you. Twenty years ago, I was simultaneously Principal Planner and Historic Preservation Planner of Cobb County. Even today, most of the projects mentioned on Cobb County’s Historic Preservation web page were accomplished or started during the one year I was there – including preservation of all the Civil War fortifications. However, it was patently obvious that what the politicos of Cobb County wanted were employees, who appeared to be doing something without doing anything of significance, so I went back into the private sector. In my wrap up article on May 5, I will summarize my ideas for a National Historic District incorporating all the surviving Native American, Pioneer settlers and Civil War sites into a National Historic District that could later be added to the existing Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. These sites ARE nationally significant. Thank you!

  5. naneix@aol.con'

    I know the people who live at anneewakee n chart confluence as well as chart n Sweetwater, love to show you some finds… I got that Thornton rd Stella photograph, where do I send it?


    It saddens me that more is not done to preserve the history of Native Americans, especially along the Chattahoochee. A wealth of knowledge lies along those shores but so much of it has been buried in the name of “progress”. I grew up along the Little Tallapoosa River in Carroll County and would often find arrowheads, flint tools, and pottery shards lying on the surface. Always suspected there had been some little Creek village somewhere in that vicinity. Very interesting and informative website. I have learned a great deal.

    • Du har ett svenskt namn! Have you read any of our recent articles on the Swedish-Georgia connection. Before I started looking at the petroglyhs of the two regions closely, I wouldn’t have guessed it in a million years. Thank you for your kind comments.


    Richard, as always great article. You have written many articles on petroglyphs, especiallly those here in Georgia. Have you come across any geoglyphs in the southeast or in Georgia?

    • Yes, there are geoglyphs on the South Atlantic coast – from Charleston southward to St. Augustine. Those in Florida and the Southeast tip of Georgia were heavily damaged by a tsunami in 539 AD, but are still visible on satellite imagery. The most complex one is the Fig Island Site on Edisto Island, SC.


        Thanks Richard, Yes I spotted a few in Georgia and Florida. If you look south of Fort MacAlister(south side of Ogeechee River) there is what looks like to me a geoglyph of a boat/ship. I don’t want to sway your opinion but take a look and tell me what you think. If you need more detail let me know and I will send. The type of boat I see, if it is what I think it is will blow your mind.

        • There are dozens of very ancient mounds and shell rings immediately west of Fort McAllister. Makes sense!


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