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Coosa River named after the Kaw (Kansa, Kansas) People!

Coosa River named after the Kaw (Kansa, Kansas) People!


Between 1300 AD and 1600 AD they occupied villages from Guntersville, Alabama to Elberton, Georgia! 

During POOF’s focus on Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia in 2017, we were astonished to find an archaeological report about what seemed to be a Mandan village on the Coosa River near Rome, GA.   The expeditions of  Hernando de Soto (1540) and Tristan de Luna (1559) passed through this village, but it was abandoned by around 1600 AD.   In every detail, the village’s architecture and site plan matched that of the Arikara, Mandan and Kansa Peoples on the Great Plains in the 1700s.  That did not make any sense, but eventually I noticed the tribal name, Cansagee, Kansakee or Kansagi on early maps of Northwest Georgia.  These Anglicized words all mean, “Kansa People.”  In fact, one Kansa village lasted on the Oostanaula River until the American Revolution.  It was taken over by the Cherokees in the 1780s.  That Kansa village site became the location of the Cherokee capital, New Echota.   However, there is more . . .

The State of Kansas is name after the Kansa or Kaw People.  Kansas was the name that French fur traders called them when their new homeland was part of the Province du Louisianne, but they prefer to be called Kaw. 

Coosa is the Anglicization of the Creek word Kvse, which is pronounced,  Käw : shē.    Kawshe means “Eagle – Descendants of” in Itsate Creek.   In the Panoan language of Peru, it means “strong or elite.”    If this particular Kaw didn’t mean “eagle” or “elite” then it would mean, “Kaw – descendants of.”    The Kansa People prefer to be called the Kaw People or Kaw Nation. 

  • Here is what Crystal Douglas, Director of the Kaw Nation Museum, told us about the meanings of their tribal names:  “The Kanza/Kansa is the word for the South Wind. They refer to themselves as the People of the South Wind (Kanza).   Kaw is the Wind or the Wind People.”
Ms. Douglas has just answered a three century long riddle.  Why have the Kvwetv (Kaweta) Creeks always been associated with the Wind Clan?   Because they originally were Kaw People, who joined the Creek Confederacy!   Kvwetv is Muskogee-Creek for Wind People.   Thus, the Itsate Creek Kowite (Mountain Lion People) were the progenitors of the Mountain Lion (North Georgia) or Tiger (Muskogees and Seminoles) Clans . . .  not the Koweta Creeks.

The Kaw People arrived at the headwaters of the Oostanaula River in Northwest Georgia around 1300 AD, making pottery that was identical to that found on McKee Island near Guntersville, AL.  Their houses and communal buildings were very different than the Maya style structures of the Itsate Creeks.   Kaw buildings had four central posts and earth berms around the walls.  

The Kaw steadily established more and more villages along the Oostanaula, Coosa, Coosawatteee, Etowah, Chestatee, Chattahoochee and Savannah Rivers . . . perhaps rivers in North and South Carolina, too.  Juan Pardo visited a village that he named Cauche.  About the same time that Etula (Etowah Mounds) was abandoned in 1375 AD, the Kaushe began construction of a new capital on the Coosawattee River, which is now under the waters of the Lower Reservoir at Carters Lake.

The Kaw People have a legend that they originated on an island.  Their population became too large for the island and so they spread out across the landscape. Could that aboriginal island be McKee Island?

There is another Kaw legend, mentioned on their website, which “rang bells” . . . as they say.    The Kaw have a tradition that the Master of Breath came down to earth in their ancient homeland.  He taught the Kaw People how to live together in harmony.  Of course, North Georgia Creeks have the same tradition . . . but they also know the location where the Master of Breath disappeared before their eyes . . . the Yamacutah Shrine in Jackson County, Georgia.

At the present time, I am working on a massive computer model of the Savannah River Basin near Elberton, GA.   It was the location of many Native American settlements and the scene in the late 20th century of several major archaeological digs.   This new 3D computer model will become the first virtual reality program to be presented on the new People of One Fire Youtube Channel.   At the center of this province was a large town, which practiced biochar agriculture on a massive scale.   Some of their biochar mounds were up to 12 feet thick of what pioneer archaeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. called “incredibly fertile, black clay.”   Enterprising settlers quickly hauled off the black magic soil to fertilize their gardens and fields.  By the 1880s, very little was left of the biochar soil.  All of their mounds are now covered by the waters of Lake Richard B. Russell.

The capital of this province called Wahasi or “Descendants from the South” contained several large round mounds and round houses.  However, satellite villages of the capital reflected the architectural traditions of the Uchee, Chickasaw, Itzate Creeks . . . and you guessed it . . . the Kaw People.   In fact, the Kaw Village site on Beaverdam Creek is only about a mile from where my grandmother was born.      Inquiring minds want to know more about the Kaw People!

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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.



    Richard, my grandmother told once a story she had never told before. Her folks were from Fargo, GA. Those folks, Granny related, were descended from People “way out west” with a very short name maybe three letters. 19 of those people were kidnapped. Ten of them survived the journey and brought by flat-bed wagon to the Home Place where they were used as slaves. In time the nine learned how to get around in the swamp, left their masters, fled into the Big Swamp, intermarried with People already there. That was the beginning of our People”.

    My question: have you ever heard such a story?
    Many thanks.

    • I have heard numerous stories that after Great Britain began shutting down the African slave trade, unscrupulous slave traders in the Southeast would hire Mexicans to capture “wild” Indians in Texas and Oklahoma, who were then transported to the Southeast to work on plantations.


        Thank you, Richard. An avid reader of your columns I will remain alert to any further information on this subject.

        A very grateful Fran


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