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Fall 2018-Spring 2019 POOF Research Project . . . Pre-1700 AD Mound & Stone Architecture Survey of the Nacoochee and Soque Valleys

Fall 2018-Spring 2019 POOF Research Project . . .  Pre-1700 AD Mound & Stone Architecture Survey of the Nacoochee and Soque Valleys


The Apalache Research Foundation, now based in the Nacoochee Valley, is seeking volunteers to help map the hundreds of ancient archaeological sites in the Chattahoochee and Soque Headwaters Area. In 1939, archaeologist Robert Wauchope, documented several dozen village sites within the bottomlands of the Nacoochee Valley, but did not explore the rugged lands elsewhere in Habersham and White Counties.   Copies of our map, photos and GPS coordinates will be given to county and state officials.

This region has been continuously occupied by mankind since the Ice Age.  Archaeologist Robert Wauchope found 35 Clovis Points, dating from around 10,000 BC, accidentally while looking for evidence of much later activities by humans.  Wauchope discovered at least a dozen village sites that were first occupied around 1200-1000 BC then almost continuously occupied from then until the Great Smallpox Epidemic in 1696. 

Many different peoples have lived in the Nacoochee Valley over its 12,000-year history. Prior to Anglo-American settlement in 1822, the region contained Chickasaw, Creek, Itza Maya and Spanish place names, plus some words from Southern Mexico and Eastern Peru. According to English explorer, Richard Briggstock, a party of English colonists settled there in 1622.  

Spanish or Portuguese-speaking gold miners definitely lived in the region during the 1600s. There were eyewitnesses.  The Florida State History textbook states that Florida governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla constructed a fortified trading post in the Nacoochee Valley in 1646.  This fact is left out of the Georgia State History textbook.  The fort was located approximately where the Chattahoochee Stables are now situated.  In 1653, the fort was visited and sketched by English explorer, Richard Briggstock.  Briggstock noted that a small Roman Catholic mission had been added to the fort by that time. In 1693,  Governor James Moore led an exploration party of mounted British Redcoats to the edge of the Nacoochee Valley. They beat a hasty retreat, when they observed dozens of gold smelting furnaces being worked by Spanish miners.  Two Spanish gold mining villages were uncovered by Georgia miners during the Gold Rush.  Both were described in detail by several Georgia newspapers.  Robert Wauchope stated that hundreds of 16th century and 17th century Spanish artifacts had been found by farmers in the Nacoochee Valley.

Wauchope searched for a year, but could find no villages with typical Cherokee artifacts in them. None have been found since then.  Most likely, the relative few Indians, who lived in the valley from 1700 to 1820 were the Elate or Elachee, an Itsate-Creek word, which means “Foothill People.”    They were not ethnic Cherokees, but were subject to the governance of the real Cherokees, who after 1795 were concentrated in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama. After selling their lands to the white settlers, most of the handful of Native inhabitants settled within the Creek Nation in Alabama.

The official 1776 map of the Province of Georgia showed all lands west of present-day Helen, GA and south of Yonah and Currahee Mountains to be in the territory of the Creek Confederacy. This map estimated that only 100 Cherokees lived in Georgia, which then extended to the Mississippi River.

Clarkesville began as a fortified trading post to serve the Pro-American, Creek-speaking Natives, who lived on both sides of the Creek-Cherokee dividing line.  Between 1785 and 1818, the northern halves of Habersham and White Counties were in the Cherokee Nation, while the southern halves were in the Creek Nation. The Soque and Elate peoples in the northern half spoke dialects of Itsate-Creek and had no role in the governing of the Cherokee Nation.  East of the Chattahoochee River in present day southern Habersham, the occupants were Uchees and Cusseta Creeks.  The region west of the Chattahoochee River was occupied by Chickasaws, who were members of the Creek Confederacy. The Creek-speaking people in Northeast Georgia had increasingly less political influence in the Creek Confederacy.  Thus, many, perhaps most, elected to assimilate with their white neighbors. 

Creek and Soque descendants in Northeast Georgia typically have a “Creek knot” on the back of their heads.  This physical feature was inherited from the Mayas.

Surprising facts

Most of what local residents think is the history of the region was mythology created by a group of white settlers, who arrived in this region from Burke County, North Carolina in 1822.  They renamed two landmarks with Cherokee words, but the settlers evidently had inaccurate Cherokee dictionaries.  You see that below!  Eyewitness accounts, colonial archives, historic maps and official treaties provide the factual history of the region. University published dictionaries give much more accurate meanings for the surviving Native American place names than those speculations made by early settlers. 

Yonah Mountain is the Cherokee word for “grizzly bear”.  If an actual Cherokee had named the mountain, he or she would have called it,  a-li-so-qua-lv-di – the Cherokee word for a black bear. There were NO grizzly bears in Georgia!   At least as late as 1820, official state maps labeled Yonah Mountain as being Nocosee Mountain, which is the Creek Indian word for bear. 

Yonah Mountain was one of the most sacred places of the proto-Creek People, who then called themselves Apalache.  English explorer, Richard Briggstock, reported in 1653 that each autumn, the Apalache would climb the mountain in order to give prayers to the semi-domesticated Painted Bunting birds, who lived in temples on the mountain slopes.  The Painted Buntings would then carry the prayers to the Sun Goddess, who supposedly lived in Mexico.

Alec Mountain contains an ancient stone circle that is in the shape of a slight ellipse.  Alek is the Creek word for medicine, which evolved into also being the Creek word for a medical doctor.  Alek was also the archaic (Pre-Germanic) Swedish word for medicine.

Soque is the Mixtec-Zoque word for “civilized”.  The correct Native American pronunciation of the word is Jzhō : kē.  The Zoque or Soque People of Mexico were the direct descendants of the Olmec Civilization.  The Miccosukee (Mikosoke) People of southern Florida are the direct descendants of the Soque in Northeast Georgia.  According to their Migration Legend, a large band of Zoque left Mexico to escape persecution from a powerful civilization, probably the Totonacs.  They traveled along the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and then up the Chattahoochee River to what is now extreme Northeast Georgia. At the time that Charleston was settled in the 1670s, the Soque were one of the most powerful and sophisticated tribes in the Southeast. Early white settlers said that their clothing and headware looked “just like Mexican Indians.”  They practiced many Mesoamerican traditions.  Within a few years about 90% of the Soque had perished in plagues or English-sponsored slave raids. Most Soque moved south and joined the Creek Confederacy, but later moved to Florida.

Sautee is the Itsate-Creek word for Soque. The word has no meaning in Cherokee.  The Native American village of Sautee was located at the confluence of Sautee Creek and Rogers Creek, near where GA Hwy. 255 and 255A intersect.  This was also the location of the original Anglo-American hamlet named Sautee in the 1800s.

Nacoochee is the Anglicization of the Creek word for bear, Nokose.  The pre-1840 maps of Georgia placed the village of Nocosee roughly where Downtown Cleveland is today, not in the Nacoochee Valley. The name suggests that the original inhabitants of this town were members of the Chickasaw Bear Clan.

Chattahoochee has several interpretations.   A New England professor in the mid-1800s said that it meant “Marked Stone River” in Creek.   However, those words in Creek are Hose Chato Hawche.  The word literally means “Red River” in Muskogee Creek.  This is a more probable explanation since the Creeks named the largest north-south river in their new lands within Oklahoma, the Chata Hawche or Red River.  

Chickamauga is the Anglicization of two Chickasaw words, chika mauka, which mean “place to look out.”  The oldest known village with traditional Chickasaw style architecture (Eastwood Mounds) was located in the Nacoochee Valley, just east of the Kenimer Mound.

Itsate was the real name of the current village, named Sautee. The Presbyterian Church and old high school there were built on top of Native American mounds. The word is Itza Maya and means “Itza People.” 

Chote was the original name of Helen, GA and is an Itza Maya word that means “Cho’I People.”   Their original home was the coastal marshlands of Tabasco State, Mexico.

Hontaowase was the name of the elite village just west of the village around the famous Nacoochee Mound.  The word is Apalache-Creek and means “Descendants of People who irrigated plants.”

Chota was an Elate-Creek town on Town Creek in northwestern White County.  Chota means “frog” in the Creek and Chickasaw languages.  Some maps labeled this village, “Frogtown.” 

Walasi-yi was a name given to Frogtown Creek by local historians in the mid-1800s.  The actual Cherokee word is walosi.  Walosi-yi means “Frog-Place of.” 

Tesnatee Creek is the Anglicization of the Itsate-Creek word, Taenasi-te, which means “Descendants of Taino (Arawaks) People.   It was a small Muskogean tribe in northern South Carolina, whose remnants settled in Northeast Georgia in the 1700s.

Apalu was the name of a large town at the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Chestatee Rivers, as shown on a 1590 map.  It was visited by French explorer, Laroche Ferrière in 1564 or 1565, The word is in the Panoan language of eastern Peru and means “From Peru.”

A Toltec style human sacrifice knife was found and photographed in one of the earliest burials within the Nacoochee Mound by archaeologist George Heye in 1915.  Numerous obsidian blades, apparently from Mexico, have been found in the soil west of the Nacoochee Visitors Center.  In 2017,  the famous archaeologist and Maya expert, Garth Norman, found an obsidian blade on the edge of the parking lot of the Nacoochee Community Center.  It was a special type of obsidian found near the site of the famous city of Teotihuacan in Mexico.


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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.



    Fascinating reading. I have to explore this site more. My South Georgia family had moved there from western North Carolina and I find the stories and naming conventions explored in this blog to be fascinating. I always had an interest in all of the Indian names thru the state and their meaning but other projects got in the way and I never got to follow thru. I will definitely continue to follow your essays closely. I live in Tippecanoe county in Indiana. Site of the Battle of TIppecanoe. Home of Tecumseh, the Prophet and Prophetstown. Tecumseh was in the Southeast recruiting allies when his brother, “the Prophet’, initiated the battle but it became a catastrophe for the Indian Confederacy. Previously the area was a site for a French Fort and a common roundevous site for the local Indians and French trappers, circa early 18TH century. The Feast of the Hunters Moon is celebrated there the first weekend in October every year. All participants must wear genuine period clothing, all articles sold must be built to period technology. Visitors can dress normally. Participants from all across the nation as well as many tribal representatives, ambassador from France, historians, etc. 60,000-80,000 participants and visitors over a 2 day period. 50 years ongoing for the Feast.
    Great fun, lots of food but period food and cooking utensils only. Bring boots because it occasionally rains but the fervor and fun is never doused.


    Invaluable information
    Thank you for the post.

    • I do know that several Proto-Creek towns appear to be models of constellations.


    Hi, Richard,
    Thanks for all your remarkable efforts to reveal the true history of the earliest American peoples…you really have uncovered amazing info with persistent and impeccable scholarship and fieldwork.
    And no doubt northern Georgia river valleys are incredibly rich with yet discovered very ancient history, and for a while at least, are still accessible to the intrepid few willing to get outside and do the hard work of on-site research. Only wish I were much younger to join you with it. Ancient stone structures have to be among the most interesting of these unresolved mysteries, because, like the huge effigy mounds and giant earthworks of the Ohio focus, along with metal smelters (including for iron) also found in Moundbuilder association, they simply should not exist…according to entrenched mainstream academics. And certainly these, along with other cultural items (like perfect examples of Bell Beaker pottery found in mounds throughout the eastern woodland US), should not be nearly identical to Bronze Age and Iron Age European structures and materials. That might imply fairly frequent trans-Atlantic crossings even as early as 2200 BC, or much earlier. Or of other evidences for great northern migrations to here of peoples from the south and middle continents of this hemisphere, from the earliest times. Bight my tongue!
    In any case, if somehow overlooked (though I doubt it), wanted to send you a reference to similar efforts to catalogue those many stone structures in the Etowah River valley just west of you:
    The Ancient Rock Walls of Bartow County – by William Phillips;
    Please keep the articles coming…so much enjoy reading them.
    Ed Guidry

    • Excellent article! You know that I lived in Bartow County for four years after returning to Georgia and was a member of the Etowah Valley Historical Society. However, back then no one ever talked about these walls and I didn’t dream that I would be doing fulltime Native American research in 2018! You do know that Alec as in Alec Mountain is a pre-Germanic Swedish word that means the same in Creek. Thank you for your assistance.


    Too bad there are no higher education venues to teach things like these (elsewhere, wasn’t one American university established for Native American students(??))… Have to wonder if that might be feasible in the future, or not.

    The prospects would probably be better in Albequerque, Santa Fe, the greater San Francisco area, or the Northwest, than in the “Solid South,” although that might not impede an “outreach” department in the South.


    Dear Richard,
    I cant thank you enough for your articles which are both enlightening and inspiring a new age of explorers into the SE Native American History and Anthropology .
    While being interested in our genealogy, my husband and I both kept finding our interest in native Americans kept refreshing itself.
    I had just finished reading Place Names of Georgia , Essays by John H. Goff, Colonial Augusta and Guardians of the Valley both by Cashin… (all worth reading again) when I fortuitously came across your e-site.
    My husband is a native of Cumming, GA where we still live. My husband is of Cherokee heritage and luckily through DNA he was able to find long lost family in Oklahoma. I grew up being told of my families’ South Georgia/Florida Okefenokee swamp heritage.
    How would we contact you to find out how we could be of some help in your research.


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