Yamacutah: Day When the Sun Never Shined
Yamacutah: The Day When the Sun Never Shined – Part 3
In 1784 Jordan Clark and Jacob Bankston, traveled southward from Virginia to northeastern Georgia. The State of Georgia was giving away land illegally seized from its Talasee Creek allies to all Revolutionary War veterans with honorable discharges. Bankston stated that the two camped out with a group of friendly Choctaws. That is highly unlikely since the Choctaws lived over 300 miles to the west. More likely, it was a band of Chickasaws. Some Chickasaws, who were allies of the Patriots, lived immediately southeast of the Blue Ridge Mountains in northeast Georgia.
Whatever their tribal affiliation, the Native American travelers told Clark and Bankston about a ceremonial ground nearby that was considered one of the most sacred places in the Southeast. The location was adjacent to the North Oconee River. It was where God had come down to Earth and lived for awhile. While there he taught the Creeks a new precise solar calendar, a digital numerical system, a writing system and advance math for carrying out precise surveying. Then one day, he disappeared before their eyes.
The men traveled over to the ceremonial ground. There they shot a bear and had “broiled bear ham” for supper. They broke a sacred law of the Creek Indians. No blood, whether animal or human, could be shed in sight of Yamacutah. Before being driven off by nearby Tamakoa villagers, they measured the site. To them, it seemed to be an ideal location to stake a land claim, since the terrain was flat and the soil fertile.
Yamacutah’s detailed description was written down “somewhere,” perhaps in a frontier newspaper. Gustavus Wilson included this description in his manuscript on the history of Jackson County, Georgia. The manuscript was finally edited and published by Edwin White in 1914. Below are excerpts from “The Early History of Jackson County, Georgia.”
“About seventy-five yards from the west end of the natural rock dam they discovered a curious upright statue a little over four feet high. It was made of a soft talcose rock, 13 inches square at the bottom; but the top, from the shoulders up, was a fair representation of a human figure. The shoulders were rudimentary, but the head was well formed. The neck was unduly long and slender. The chin and forehead were retreating. The eyes were finely executed, and looked anxiously to the east. It stood at the center of an earth mound (17) seventeen feet in circumference and six feet high. Around it were many other mysteries which will never be fully explained. Only a few of them may be mentioned now.”
“Four paths, doubtless the ones the Indian mentioned, led, with mathematical precision, from the base of the mound to the cardinal points of the compass. Though it seemed that no other part of the forest had been trodden by human feet, these paths were as smooth and clean as a parlor floor. The scrubby cane, which seemed to have been planted by design along their margins, was as neatly trimmed as if the work had been done by a professional gardener. And here, amid those gloomy solitudes the natives believed that our God, their Great Spirit, had walked as a man walks along his homeward pathway.”
“The statue was found to be the center of an exact circle about one hundred and fifty yards in diameter. Its boundary was plainly marked by holes in the ground three feet apart. The holes to which the path ran in a straight line from the center were much larger than the intervening ones; and before them, inside the circle, were what seemed to be stone altars of varying dimensions. At the end of the path running to the north was a single triangular stone; at the east were five square stones and four steps; at the west, four stones and three steps; at the south, three stones and two steps. Upon the upper surface of all the stones except that at the north the effect of fire was plainly visible and doubtless had been used for sacrificial purposes.”
“All the paths terminated at the altars except the one running to the east. At this the trail parted, and, uniting beyond it, continued a short distance and then, much like an ascending column of smoke, disappeared, gradually. On the smooth surfaces of these stones were deeply cut both three and five-pointed half moons, whose horns turned different ways. A good representation of the rising sun and other curious characters were deeply cut on the eastern altar. Outside the circle were many ash heaps, beaten hard by the heavy hand of time, and over some of them were growing gigantic oaks and towering pines, as if to mark the grave of the dead past.”
Many things are intriguing about the description of Yamacutah. The fact that the stones were quarried and carved into rectangular forms is very unusual for Native American sites north of central Mexico. The arrangement of the stones was different for each cardinal direction. The symbols on those stones are unlike typical art associated with the ancestors of the Creek Indians; in particular, the crescent moons. In fact, they are not associated with any major tribe in the United States today.
It is known that the Creek Indians had a complete writing system in 1733. Bits and pieces of it have been found on stone stelae in the Georgia Mountains and Upstate South Carolina. The system contained some simplified Maya glyphs, but is mainly like a little understood writing system found in central and northern Mexico between 200 AD and 600 AD. It appears to be composed of alphabetic letters and is very similar to the Babayin writing system, used in ancient times in the Philippine Islands. Much research remains on this matter.
The Last Days
The United States Congress rejected the bogus land cession of “Friendly” Creek lands that had been given to South Carolina Militia Colonel Andrew Pickens by a captured Cherokee chief. Senators from North Carolina and Virginia were outraged that village that was an enemy of the Patriots had been allowed to swindle the Talasee Creeks, who had been loyal allies of the United States throughout the Revolution. However, Georgia’s leaders ignored Congress and continued to flood the region with the families of Revolutionary War veterans.
Talasee Creek leaders initially welcomed their new Anglo-American neighbors. In fact, several settlers were invited to move into Creek villages. There was a dual purpose for this surprising policy. The Creek leaders wanted the whites to marry their children, thus providing family ties to protect them from outsiders. Secondly, a bitter guerrilla war was being fought between the Chickamauga Cherokees and the Tennessee Militia. Chickamauga Cherokee villages were creeping into the Georgia Mountains. Some had been massacred by the Tennesseans. Creek leaders were afraid that without friendly white neighbors, the angry Tennessee soldiers would mistake them for Cherokees.
Things were different farther south. The Oconee Creeks and Yuchi resented the encroachment of white settlers on land that was clearly their own. There were some murders committed by both sides. It was not a true “war” as stated by Georgia papers, because the Indian raids were not authorized by elected Creek leaders. However, hot-headed young Yuchi and Oconee men continued to steal horses and cattle from white settlers on lands that did not belong to the Creek Confederacy.
Eventually, the elected leaders of the Creek Confederacy gave up on trying to enforce the law. They agreed to sell the stolen land to the United States. Any Creeks living in those lands could remain as citizens of the state of Georgia if they fought for the Patriots during the Revolution. Many accepted large veteran land reserves. Their descendants still live in the region. The Creek villages disappeared, however.
By autumn of 1785 Georgia’s leaders, in their temporary new state capital of Augusta, “thought” that most of the Creeks were gone from the northeastern part of the state. Then on November 24, 1785 sunrise never came. It was remembered for many generations as “the Day of Darkness.” Air pollution from two erupting volcanoes in Iceland, almost completely blocked out the sun’s light. Seemingly out of nowhere, over a thousand Creek Indians appeared at the Yamacutah shrine. They sat around the circular perimeter of the shrine and prayed silently all day. When the sun rose normally the next morning, they worshipers went away. Within a few years, the better carved stones of the shrine would be gone. They are somewhere today in the forgotten foundations and chimneys of long gone frontier houses.
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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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