Chattahoochee River Indians
The Chattahoochee River is where at least 32 ethnic groups came to live in the 1700s. They assimilated to become the Creek Indians by the end of that century. Two thousand years before then one of the earliest known permanent, agricultural towns, north of Mexico, was founded along its bank. In the zone where a series of cascades mark the boundary between the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain, there is a Mississippian town site at least as old as Ocmulgee National Monument. Downstream are many town sites with mounds, dating from the period from 950 AD to 1600 AD.
In between the nerdy information about our past, there are tidbits in this edition, that will have you saying, “Oh my gosh!” We will let you in on dirty little secrets from over 40 years ago that explain some strange events in recent years. The Chattahoochee is destined to reveal many more secrets in the future.
From its source in the mountains to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico, it is about 542 miles long. The Chattahoochee begins as a spring on the east slope of Georgia’s Brasstown Bald Mountain, about 1500 feet south of the source of the Hiwassee River, which flows to the Tennessee River, and about 16 miles east of the source of the Coosa River, whose waters eventually reach Mobile Bay. Its first thirty miles is within Georgia’s gold bearing district.
The water from the spring quickly joins water from many other springs then tumbles down Unicoi Gap through the alpine village of Helen, GA then makes an abrupt turn eastward at the site of an ancient Muskogean town and a famous mound. The river then flows through the Nacoochee Valley, which was created by ancient volcanoes. Georgia’s gold rush began on Duke’s Creek in the Nacoochee Valley. A few miles southeast of the valley, it drops with a crescendo of Class 4, 5 and 6 rapids into an ancient crack in the earth, known as the Brevard-Chattahoochee Fault.
Trapped inside the fault, the Chattahoochee then flows southwestward across the state of Georgia until it reaches the Fall Line, and the boundary of the State of Alabama. North of Atlanta, the river creates one of the nation’s largest man-made lakes. As it enters the Chattahoochee River National Recreation
Area in northwest Atlanta, it enters several miles of rapids. By the time the river leaves the Atlanta Area, its pace has drastically slowed and its channel, deepened. It remains a relatively slow moving, deep river until reaching Columbus. For about a mile along the edges of Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL the Chattahoochee tumbles down about 200 feet of elevation along rocky rapids.
Below Columbus, the Chattahoochee heads almost due south. The channel is deep enough along the Lower Chattahoochee for steamboats and barges. Near Bainbridge, GA in the extreme southwest part of the state, the Flint River joins the Chattahoochee. That combined river is called the Apalachicola in Florida.
Meaning of Chattahoochee
Virtually all references state that Chattahoochee means “marked or painted rock river” in Creek language. The Muskogee/Creek Dictionary states that the original Muskogee words were “Catv hoce hacci” – meaning ”Marked Rock River.” The original Creek name was for a specific town southwest of Atlanta. It may have been the English phonetic spelling for the Creek words, cate hacci, which means “Red River.”
Formative Ethnic Groups on the Chattahoochee River in 1700s
French maps from 1701 and British maps from 1721, list numerous ethnic groups living along the Chattahoochee. Until the mid-1720s all of the Chattahoochee River was within the territory of the formative Creek Confederacy. Around 1725 the Cherokees captured the Nacoochee Valley and held it until 1828, the year that gold was discovered there. Yonah and Brasstown Bald Mountains were the limits of Cherokee occupation of Georgia until 1785. The word “Muskogee” first appears as a name of the Creek Indian Confederacy on a 1776 map, but never appears as a name of a town or ethnic group. In the glossary below, we will use the 18th century spelling of names on maps, then give the Muskogean word or the commonly accepted spelling used today. A Muskogee “c” is pronounced very similarly to an Italian “c” = “ch.” A “v” is a “a(w” sound. An Itsate-Creek interior “s” is a “zja” sound.
1. Apalache – They occupied the Georgia Mountains and Hiwassee Valley, NC until around 1715. The Cherokees quickly conquered their northern territory, while the Upper Creeks occupied their territory in the Georgia Mountains. Most Apalache apparently moved to SE Georgia, where the defeated Yamasee had once lived. There they were commonly known as the Palache or Palachicola.
2. Itsate – It is pronounced I(t-zja(-te-. Early maps showed one or two towns by this name in the Nacoochee Valley. Each was associated with mounds. By the mid-1700s, Nacochee (Naguchee) was the largest Cherokee village in the valley. Nacochee was the Cherokee pronunciation of the Itsate-Creek word for bear, nokose . . . pronounced no–ko–she-. Yonah Mountain, the Cherokee word for “bear” overlooks the Nacoochee and Kenimer Mounds.
3. Saute – This is the Anglicization of Sawate, an Itsate word meaning “Raccoon People.” They were originally located in southern South Carolina, but moved both to the Broad River Valley in NE Georgia and to west central Georgia in response to continual expansion of Colony of South Carolina. Those on the Broad River apparently moved both to the Nacoochee Valley and Lee County, AL, when their land in northeast Georgia was ceded by the Creeks in 1774. Saute was located where Itstate had been originally situated – next to the Kenimer Mound.
4. Soque – In the early 1700s. The Sokee had a village in the vicinity of confluence of the Chattahoochee River with the Soque River in the eastern end of the Nacoochee Valley. Originally, they occupied one of the most powerful indigenous provinces in South Carolina until being decimated by plagues and English-sponsored slave raids. Their original capital was located where Lake Jocasee is now. Other Soque moved south to join with the Cusabo then relocated to the Chattahoochee River. The Nacoochee Valley Soque last had a town on the border between the Creeks and the Cherokees, where Clarkesville, GA is located today. When their land was ceded in 1818 by the Creeks, it is not clear where they went.
5. Kataapa – This is the Creek word for Catawba. They occupied region between the mountains and Atlanta until after the Revolution. Much of this land was given to the Cherokees by the United States in 1785. The Georgia Catawba then moved to the Chattahoochee River and became formal members of the Creek Confederacy. It is a little known fact that the Georgia Catawbas actually controlled more territory than the South Carolina Catawba. They may have even been more numerous.
6. Potano – They were probably Taino-Arawak hybrids, who joined the Creek Confederacy. They were located in northwest Atlanta. Gary Daniels of Lost Worlds theorizes that Potano of Florida, SW Georgia and Atlanta area were major players in the gold trade with some Maya heritage. The name is very similar to Putan/Putun Maya, which is the actual name of the Chontal Maya traders from Tabasco. A stelae was found at a hilltop shrine near Sweetwater Creek’s confluence with the Chattahoochee. It contains identical art to what is found on Taino stelae near Arecibo, Puerto Rico in the Puerto Rican Toa Province. There was also a town named Toa in Georgia.
7. Chattahoochee – This town’s name initially appeared at a location roughly where Six Flags over Georgia is located. Later maps showed that the town had probably moved downstream at bit. Apparently, at this time, the Chattahoochee became associated with the Koweta Creeks.
8. Koweta – During the 1700s, the Koweta or Middle Creeks, controlled the section of the Chattahoochee between SW Atlanta and Columbus. The Koweta were originally from the cluster of towns with mounds along the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River in extreme NE Georgia and around Franklin, NC. Until after the Revolution, the Kowetas still had a substantial number of villages in NE Georgia and around the headwaters of the Ocmulgee River, north of Macon.
9. Yuchi – These Yuchi were mostly from the Lower Savannah River region. They established villages on the Chattahoochee in the mid-1700s.
10. Sawakee – The word means Raccoon People. They were originally located in southern South Carolina, but moved both to the Broad River Valley in NE Georgia and to west central Georgia in response to continual expansion of Colony of South Carolina. Those on the Broad River apparently moved both to the Nacoochee Valley and Lee County, AL, when their land was ceded by the Creeks in 1774.
11. Westo – These were Rickohocken Algonquians, who occupied villages in around present day Augusta, GA on the Savannah River until the late 1600s. After losing a war with the Savanos, they move westward, ultimately joining the Creek Confederacy.
12. Cusseta – The Kusa-te (Coushetta in French) were from NW Georgia and SE Tennessee. They were driven out of the section of the Upper Tennessee Valley between the Hiwassee River and the Little Tennessee River between 1725 and 1735. The Kusa-te continued to occupy NW and North-Central Georgia until 1785.
13. Kiakee or Kialegi -The Kiakee were from Upper Oconee River Basin in NE Georgia. They relocated southwestward during the early stages of the Creek-Cherokee War (1715-1754.)
14. Colima – French maps labeled these people the Coloume. The Kolima were from NW Mexico. They were also located in extreme SW Georgia in the 1700s, but it is not clear which location was their first in the Southeast.
14. Atasee – Little is known about the Atvse People. The word means “descendants of people downstream.”
14. Echete – These were Itsate refugees from Georgia and North Carolina Mountains. It is quite possible that they were survivors of the Itsate towns in the Nacoochee Valley, when it was overrun by the Cherokees in the 1720s.
15. Tuskegee – The Tvskeke or Woodpecker People were Muskogee speakers from Little Tennessee River Valley in Smoky Mountains. Some stayed in the Smokies and became a clan of the Cherokees. Others fled southwestward. The main body of the Tuskegee Creeks ended up on the Tallapoosa River.
16. Cashita – The Kasitv (Ka(-she(-ta(w) apparently were the last members of the Creek Confederacy. Their “Migration Legend” describes them living for awhile with the Kusa in NW Georgia then sacking a great city on the side of a mountain that appears to have been the Track Rock Terrace Complex.
17. Cusabo – The Kvsapa (Ka(u-zja(-pa() were Muskogeans from southern South Carolina, who left the region with the British purchased their lands in the early 1700s.
18. Ocmulgee – The Oka-mole-ke were originally from the Ocmulgee River Basin, north of Macon. The word means “Swirling-water-people” in a Georgia dialect that mixed Itsate and Muskogee. The name possibly refers to the water pouring out of Indian Springs near Jackson, GA.
19. Chiaha – The Chiahv were Itsate-Maya from Little Tennessee River Valley and Snowbird Mountains in North Carolina. They were visited both by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo. They were driven out of the mountains by the Cherokees in the early 1700s. The word probably means “Salvia River” in Itsa Maya, but also can be interpreted as “Beside the river” in Itsa Maya.
20. Hogologee – The Hogeloge were Yuchi refugees, who survived Cherokee expansion into east-central Tennessee during the 1720s.
21. Palachikola – Also known as Apalache or Palache, they originally lived in north-central Georgia in the vicinity of Dahlonega and were heavily involved in the regional trade of greenstone, gold and mica. They first immigrated to southeastern Georgia, when it was partially abandoned by the Yamasee Alliance in 1717. After the new colony of Georgia bought their land around 1743, they relocated westward. Palache is the Creek word for Biloxi. The French ethnic name “Biloxi” was for a small village on the Gulf Coast containing approximately 100 residents. The main body of the “Biloxi” lived in Georgia.
22. Savano – These were Shawnee from the Savannah River Basin. After the Colony of Georgia bought their land, they moved westward to the Chattahoochee. Archaeological evidence on the Savannah River suggests that the Savano were participants in the Southeastern Ceremonial Cult.
23. Upahale – These were the Yupahali visited by Hernando de Soto in September of 1540. At the time, they lived in the vicinity of Rome, GA. The name means “Yupaha People.” It is not clear where their great capital was in northern Georgia. It was well known by the native peoples of Florida.
24. Tamale – These were the Tamatli that were living in Lower Ocmulgee and Upper Altamaha Basin, when de Soto came through in March of 1540. They also had a large colony in the Andrews Valley east of Murphy, NC and a village named Tamasee on the Keowee River in South Carolina. These were absorbed by the Cherokee Alliance. Some Tamale may have fled southward, however.
25. Tamasee – This is a generic Creek word meaning “offspring of Tama.”
26. Tamahiti – The Tamahiti were a colony of Tama in the southwest corner of Virginia, north of the Roanoke River. They were mound-builders. They disappeared from Virginia archives shortly before appearing on Georgia maps in the mid-1700s. They were probably driven out of Virginia by the Cherokees.
27. Ochese – Vchese (Muskogee) or Icese (Itsate) occupied a powerful province on the Ocmulgee River, near and south of Macon. They apparently left the region during or after the Yamasee War ended in 1717. In Creek tradition, the Creek Confederacy was formed in Ochese, at its original location. However, by the 1700s, the town of Koweta had surpassed Ochese in political importance.
28. Tawasee – These were the Toasi encountered by Hernando de Soto on the Ocmulgee River in 1540. They spoke a language that mixed Taino Arawak with Muskogee. Toa is also the name of a Taino province in the vicinity of Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
29. Oconee – The Okvte or Okvni were living in the lower Oconee River Basin when de Soto came through in March of 1540. Some Oconee immigrated to Florida while others settled among the Creeks on the Chattahoochee River.
30. Attapulgus – This means “wooden paddle stirring” in Muskogee. It is not clear if they were Muskogee or Apalachicola speakers.
31. Kolomokee – The Kolomvki were the same NW Mexicans as the Colima, but went by their Muskogee name in extreme SW Georgia.
32. Chiloki or Chalokike – I am inclined to believe that the Chiloki were Chichimecs because the word means “barbarian” in Muskogee, and in the Totonac language of NE Mexico. They were living in close proximity to the Kolomoki in the mid-1700s. It is possible that they were a splinter Cherokee band, but not likely.
33. Apalachicola – Apalachikola merely means Apalachee People in the languages of the Gulf Coast. Apalache means “People bearing torches” in Itsate-Creek. They did not originally speak Muskogee. They were probably related to the Apalache or Palache of the Georgia Mountains, but this is not certain.
Major concentrations of Muskogeans along the Chattahoochee River prior to 1600 AD
1. Nacoochee Valley – It is located in northeast Georgia, southeast of Brasstown Bald Mountain. Mankind has lived here continuously for a long, long time. Archaeologists have found artifacts here dating from the Paleo, Archaic, Early Woodland, Middle Woodland, Late Woodland, Transitional, Etowah I, Etowah II and Lamar Periods. Populations were particularly large during the Swift Creek, Etowah I and Lamar Phases. There are several Woodland and “Mississippian” Period mounds, the largest being the Kenimer (Transitional) and Nacoochee (Etowah I – Lamar occupation.) The Nacoochee Mound was built over a stone box grave cemetery that was contemporary with the initial construction of the Track Rock Terrace Complex.
The Nacoochee Valley contains the intersection of several major, regional trade routes that interconnected the Mid-Atlantic region, the Mid-west, the Atlantic Coast and the Gulf Coast. The two most important were the Foothills Trail that followed the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the Potomac River to the Chattahoochee River, and the Peachtree Trail, which connected the base of the rapids on the Chattahoochee in NW Atlanta with Hiwassee Island, Tennessee.
2. Lake Lanier – There was a concentration of villages along the Chattahoochee River below its confluence with the Chestatee River. Most of these sites are under water. They Summerour Mounds compose the largest town site. They appear to have been at their zenith during the Napier and Etowah I cultural phases, which was contemporary with the founding of the Track Rock Terrace Complex. During the 1700s, the Kataapa were concentrated here.
3. Palisades – Located within the Chattahoochee National Recreational Area this stretch of rapids attracted Native Americans for thousands of years to fish and gather mussels. There are several mounds on islands in the river or in the narrow bottomlands that dot its route. They have not been studied intensely, but appear to date from the Woodland and Transitional Periods. When a county trunk sewer was installed along one section of the Palisades, a surprising number of artifacts were accidentally unearthed. This suggests that the corridor was densely occupied around 1000 to 1400 years ago.
4. Six Flags – During the mid-1960s the developers of the Six Flags Over Georgia bulldozed a large Native American town with multiple mounds to build their amusement park along the Chattahoochee River in SW Metro Atlanta, without any consultation from archaeologists. This site appears to be location of the town of Chattahoochee, but we will probably never know. The famous Annawakee Mound, site a few miles away, probably was a satellite community of the capital town at Six Flags.
To appease their public image, the Texas developers contracted with Dr. Arthur Kelly, Director of the University of Georgia’s anthropology program, to briefly excavate the early 19th century Creek village of Sandtown across the river prior to it being covered with 20 feet of Georgia clay to become the Great Southwest Industrial Park. When the work at Sandtown was near completion, Dr. Kelly noticed what appeared to be a truncated pyramid mound south of Sandtown Creek. He dug some test pits and found 1600 to 2200 year old pottery. This is when things got interesting.
Archaeological site 9FU14 turned out to be the oldest known permanent agricultural town site north of Mexico – dating from about 200 BC to 400 AD. At the time, though, Kelly was crucified by his fellow archaeologists because he dared to state that Southeastern Indians had developed domesticated crops from indigenous plants, prior to the arrival of Mexico corn. He had identified four varieties of feral indigenous sweet potatoes growing in the Chattahoochee flood plain near Six Flags. They were members of morning glory family like their Andean cousins. Since then, botanists have identified numerous indigenous plants in the Southeast, whose cultivation began as early as 5,500 years ago.
At the time, a clique of young professors at UGA, who were to become famous later in that century, believed that the Cherokees had built all of the major mounds in the Southeast. Hallucinogenic drugs were very popular back then. One Saturday in late May of 1969 three of them dropped by the 9FU14 site to tell the UGA and Georgia State archaeology students working there, to not pay any attention to what Dr. Kelly was saying. They knew for a fact that Six Flags was a Cherokee satellite village of Etowah Mounds, dating from around 1200 AD. Georgia archaeologists DO know their facts, you see.
The Six Flags village came to a crashing halt in the summer of 1969. One Sunday afternoon in June, a graduate assistant of Dr. Kelly’s unlocked the chain link fence gate at the 9FU14 mound and pushed a stone hoe, stolen from the UGA archaeology laboratory, into the mound. The graduate assistant thought that he was alone on the site. The next day, a stone hoe was miraculously discovered by the assistant in the first day of excavating the mound. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced that Dr. Arthur Kelly had found proof that the Indians at Six Flags were farmers. It was a set-up.
Members of the “Cherokees Built All the Mounds in the World Archaeologists Cult “ instantly recognized” this hoe as one from the Mandeville site on the Lower Chattahoochee River, which Dr. Kelly had excavated earlier. Dr. Kelly did not initially recognize it because he had uncovered hundreds of stone hoes from the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley. There is not a whole lot of difference between them.
Word was leaked out to the media that the archaeology students working on the Chattahoochee River site had discovered the seeds of the feral sweet potato plants to be hallucinogenic. This was factual. An archaeologist couple who met and fell in love at 9FU14 recently confided that the students stayed stoned much of the time. They said, “We had some wild night time parties on the river, but the seeds were not the only thing we got stoned on. You know . . . it was the hippie era.”
All this information became a major scandal which permanently shut down the archaeological investigation before any mounds could be excavated. The site was quickly covered with 20 feet of red clay. Kelly was absolved of any direct involvement with the stone hoe theft and scam, but his reputation was tarnished. He eventually had to resign as director. So, now you know why the archaeological scene in the Creek Motherland has been so weird for the past four decades.
McIntosh Reserve – Along the Chattahoochee River near Carrollton, GA there are very fertile bottomlands that are teeming with “Mississippian Period” artifacts and the vestiges of mounds. A major trade route once led from these bottom lands to Indian Springs and then to Ocmulgee and Achese. This is probably the site of the Creek capital of Coweta in the 1700s, when it was constantly visited by British or American officials. In the fraudulent 1825 Treaty of Indian Springs, William McIntosh reserved a square mile of these bottomlands for himself. He is buried there.
The archaeology program at nearby West Georgia University is continually studying the Chattahoochee Bottomlands. Undoubtedly, much will be learned in the future from this important archaeological zone.
Great Falls of the Chattahoochee – The area around Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL is teeming with Native American archaeological sites. Like the Nacoochee Valley and Palisades, it is an area where mankind has lived for a long, long time. Some of the mounds have been completely destroyed by floods, roads, railways or public works projects. The Abercrombie Mound has been severely damaged by floods. However, there is much that can be learned from archaeological studies here, because there are so many potential sites.
Lower Chattahoochee Basin – This is where the vast majority of historic period town sites are concentrated. There are also several dozen town sites dating from Pre-European times. A considerable number of mound sites were covered or damaged by the filling man-made reservoirs in the 20th century. However, one of the largest Mississippian Period town sites in the United States, Roods Landing, is in excellent condition and protected by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. Roods Landing has never been thoroughly investigated. It would be an excellent location for archaeologists to study the origins of advanced indigenous cultures in the Southeast.
The mound sites along the Lower Chattahoochee River Basin are far too numerous to discuss individually in this newsletter. Reading the book, Chattahoochee Chiefdoms by John H. Blitz and Karl G. Lorenz is highly recommended for those interested in the Native Americans of the Southeast.
After completing work on the Etowah Mounds site, Dr. Arthur Kelly began to ponder the real origins of the advanced cultures in the Southeast and Mississippi Basin. The presumptions made in the late 1940s that advanced indigenous culture originated at Cahokia were not “holding water.” Along the Chattahoochee River he found several artifacts that appeared to be either of Mesoamerican origin, or at least locally made copies of Mesoamerican artifacts. He stated his interpretations publicly. For that crime, he was ostracized by many of peers. That is when they began plotting to get rid of him as director of the University of Georgia’s anthropology program. I can assure you that on December 21, 2012, Dr. Kelly’s reputation will be fully vindicated.
The following two tabs change content below.
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)
- Kansas Indians on the Coosa River of Alabama and Georgia - July 23, 2017
- We Danced to Dedicate our Lives to Creator and Our People - July 21, 2017
- Video: Ice Age forest found under the waters off the Alabama coast - July 20, 2017
- The “America Unearthed” garden . . . five years later - July 19, 2017
- Sacred Dances Meet Vital Needs of the Community by Ghost Dancer - July 19, 2017