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.
Ironically, 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.
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.
A story told by maps
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
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- Update: Bronze Age research appears to be headed toward an astonishing discovery - August 15, 2017
- Very pertinent film from the Atlanta Board of Education in 1947 - August 14, 2017
- Who built the stone cairns in the Southern Highlands? - August 13, 2017
- News: Science Magazine now supports belief that most Native Americans came by boat - August 11, 2017