Select Page

Focus on Mount Yonah and the Nacoochee Valley


The preceding article gave considerable attention to the Nacoochee Valley and Yonah Mountain.  Want to learn more?

Location:  Northeast Georgia on the southern edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

GPS Coordinates: 4° 38′ 15″ N, 83° 42′ 49″ W

Etymology:   Nacoochee is the Anglicization of the  Uchee or Cherokee pronunciation of the Creek word, Nokose,  which means “bear.” *   Yonah means “bear” in Cherokee.  Mount Yonah was named Mount Nocossee, until after the Native American occupants of the valley had departed.  See map below.

*In the language spoken by Georgia’s Creek Indians and in Maya, an internal “S” sound is pronounced something like “jzhē.”  So originally, Nokose (Nacoochee) was pronounced Nō : kō : jzhē.

Click images to enlarge them.


Geology:  The Nacoochee Valley was created by an ancient line of volcanoes that crossed the much older Blue Ridge Mountains.  Yonah Mountain, which dominates the valley, is the core of an extinct volcano.  The oldest cone in this chain is extinct also and named Curahee Mountain. It is near Toccoa, GA and the South Carolina state line.  The newest volcanic cone of this chain is Pigeon Mountain near Lafayette, GA and the Alabama state line.  Pigeon Mountain last had a minor eruption in 1857 . . . yes, that’s 1857 as in “just before the Civil War.”


The Pigeon Mountain volcano range in northwest Georgia.

The Pigeon Mountain volcano range in northwest Georgia.

These ancient volcanoes spewed forth gold, copper, zinc, rubies, sapphires, garnets and diamonds, which natural erosion has revealed on the surface.  The nation’s first major gold rush occurred here.  Some households in the region still support themselves by panning for gold.

The famous Chattahoochee River begins on the slopes of Brasstown Bald Mountain to the north several miles and then flows through the valley.  The Soque River begins on Tray Mountain and then flows through the valley.


The beloved Nacoochee Mound with Mount Yonah in the background


The proto-Creek town of Nokose. The royal village of Hontaoase was located immediately to the east.

The proto-Creek town of Nokose. The royal village of Hontaoase was located immediately to the east.

Although found laying flat, the Nacoochee Petroglyph Boulder was probably mounted in the ground vertically and functioned as a stela.

Although found laying flat, the Nacoochee Petroglyph Boulder was probably mounted in the ground vertically and functioned as a stela.

Native American history:  The Nacoochee Valley was a favorite hunting ground for humans during the Late Ice Age.  Artifacts from all cultural periods have been found here.   During the Woodland Period the permanent population began to grow.  Numerous small burial mounds, stone cairns and vertical stone monoliths were erected.

Around 750-800 AD, the construction of a large proto-Chickasaw town and the massive Kenimer Mound immediately to the east marked the beginning of intensive human occupation of the Nacoochee Valley that lasted around 900 years.


Virtual reality images superimposed on a satellite image of the village of Sautee.

The downtown of this Native metropolis was located immediately north of the Kenimer Mound in what is now the quaint village of Sautee, GA.  The complex included over a dozen modest platform mounds and a Mesoamerican style ball court that today is 240 feet wide and 380 feet long, if one include the three terraces constructed for fans.  The ball court is illustrated in the slide show on the lower right hand corner of this web page.

Until the late 20th century the ruins of a stone temple on top of the Kenimer Mound were visible.  However, a newcomer to the valley scooped up the stones to build the foundation and chimneys of his new house.

In 1939, archaeologist Robert Wauchope surveyed the Nacoochee Valley.  He found almost continuous development in which villages were separated from each other by anywhere from 100 yards to an quarter of a mile.

The Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley.

The Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley.

Europeans arrive

According to the 1658 book by French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort,   six survivors of Fort Caroline were invited to settle in Northeast Georgia in late 1565 by the King of Apalache, if they agreed to marry Apalache wives. Some or all may have settled in the Nacoochee Valley.  Soon thereafter,  the king began inviting European Protestants and Sephardic Jews to settle in the more northerly regions of his kingdom, which were thinly populated.

A later Apalache king became more hospitable to Spaniards.   In 1646,  he allowed the Spanish to build a pack mule road from St. Augustine to the Nacoochee Valley that was later extended to the Tennessee Valley.  A Spanish trading post was constructed in the Nacoochee Valley.  On maps of the late 1600s, the polyglot village that grew up around the trading post is named Apalache.

A section of the 1693 Morden Map of North America.

There is no mention of the Cherokees on this 1693 map of Great Britain’s North American colonies. Morden showed the only Native American occupants in the Southern Highlands to be the Apalache and the Shawnee.

A British army unit observed  Spaniards smelting gold in the Nacoochee Valley from a distance around 1693.  All descriptions of a Spanish presence in the Georgia Mountains ended during the Queen Anne’s War, which lasted from 1701 to 1707.

In 1828,  gold miners working for South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun on Dukes Creek in the Nacoochee Valley discovered the ruins of a Spanish colonial village.  The ruins of several timber cabins were unearthed along with many 16th or 17th century European tools.  The artifacts unearthed included a Spanish cigar mold, so evidently cigar tobacco was cultivated at the colony.

The artifacts were inspected and validated by pioneer archaeologist, Charles Jones, Jr. in the 1850s.  However, there has been absolutely no interest among Georgia archaeologists to search for the European settlements in the Nacoochee Valley.  It seems to be taboo, just like the “Mayas Thing.”

Eleanor Dare Stones

It was Wauchope who became aware that in the early 20th century eight stone tablets had been found by a local farmer in an Apalache mountainside tomb, that were inscribed with Elizabethan English sentences.  They were messages to her father, John White.  Most told him where to find her.  She was in the proto-Creek village of Hontaowase (Offspring of people who make plants grow with water).  The last one was her grave marker.  She had married an Indian chief and thus was given a royal burial in a tomb.

View of northeast slope of Mt. Yonah. The footprints of the houses of the royal village of Hontaowase can be seen in an infrared image of the valley beneath Mt. Yonah.

View of northeast slope of Mt. Yonah. The footprints of the houses of the royal village of Hontaowase can be seen in an infrared image of the valley beneath Mt. Yonah. They are immediately to the east of the commoner’s village, where the Nocoochee Mound is located.



Satellite image showing probable location of Hontaowase. What appears to be the footprints of European buildings in the lower righthand corner was the site of an English trading post.

At the time,  there was a national sensation concerning the discovery of what appeared to be the grave stone of Virginia and Anias Dare,  Eleanor’s daughter and husband.   Wauchope urged the owner to give the eight tablets to Dr. Haywood Pierce, Jr at Brenau College, about 25 miles away.  Both the Nacoochee tablets and the original grave marker found on the North Carolina coast were declared authentic by a team of scientists from Harvard University.

Wauchope ventured up to the man-made cave (tomb) where the Dare Stone Tablets were found.  While poking around in the soil, he found another stone tablet.  It was different than the others.  Most of the tablet displays the profile of a mountain range,  Apalache glyphs, which we believe is a sample of the Apalache writing system.  On the right, however, are the English letters A and D.  In the top right is a small letter R.   Wauchope apparently never showed this tablet to Dr. Pierce.  A little over a year later, Wauchope moved Chapel Hill, NC then served in the OSS during World II.  After the war, he was hired by Tulane University where his interests shifted  to Mesoamerica.

In 1959,  Wauchope returned to Georgia during the summer with his family to re-examine the sites in North Georgia in preparation for finally writing his report on the 1939 expedition.  However, the landscape of Georgia had changed so starkly in the previous 20 years that he had great difficulty finding many of the sites.  They were near rivers and in the interim, the Corps of Engineers had damned the major rivers in North Georgia.  Only the Nacoochee Valley retained anything resembling its Depression Era landscape.

This stone tablet, found to the probable burial tomb of Eleanor Dare contains a mixture of map symbols, Apalache glyphs and Roman letters.

This stone tablet, found near the probable burial tomb of Eleanor Dare contains a mixture of map symbols, Apalache glyphs and Roman letters.


By 1940,  a play about Eleanor Dare at Brenau College was being viewed as competition for the outdoor drama,  The Lost Colony, being performed on Roanoke Island, NC.   After several obviously fraudulent “Dare stones” were “found” in the Atlanta Area,   North Carolina economic interests hired a free lance journalist to write an article in the Saturday Evening Post that accused Dr. Pierce of fraud.

A University of North Carolina anthropology professor wrote a professional paper stating that the eight Dare stones, found in the Nacoochee Valley, were obviously fakes because there was no such Cherokee word as Hontaoase.    This academician and the author of the Saturday Evening Post article accused the discoverer of carving the stones in order to get a reward from Dr. Pierce.  Both were apparently unaware that these tablets had been found several decades before the announcement of the Dare Stone found on the North Carolina coast and that it had been Robert Wauchope, who had urged the owner to give them to Dr. Pierce to be analyzed.

Chattahoochee is not a Cherokee word either, but it is a real river.  Provincialism runs deep in some areas of Dixie.

Today, much of the Nacoochee Valley is protected by a large national historic district, but there is have been almost no efforts to make the public aware of its rich archaeological resources.   Tourist brochures, written by the Florida transplants, who now predominate the area, describe the Cherokees as “living for thousands of years in these mountains.”    Didn’t you know that Nacoochee was the name of a Cherokee princess, who fell in love with a Chickasaw brave named Sautee?   Like Romeo and Juliet, they jumped off of Yonah Mountain together when fulfillment of their love was forbidden by her daddy, the Cherokee chief . . .  yeh right.

A real estate speculator is trying to convince the Eastern Band of Cherokees into buying the Kenimer Mound because he thinks that it will enable him to build a gambling casino next door.  Meanwhile,  school children play soccer regularly on a thousand year old Itza Maya ball court that was discovered by Robert Wauchope and quickly forgotten.   Live rolls on.


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.



    This is fantastic! As a relative “newcommer “(25 years) and from the Catskills in NY, I find the similarities of the regions, very interesting.


      Where did you find the evidence of Mt. Yonah being an extinct volcano? I’d like to see for myself where the USGS has declared Mt. Yonah an extinct volcano, considering I live at the foot of it.

      • Geology class at Georgia Tech. LOL It’s common knowledge. There is no danger of it erupting. The volcanic cones in NE Georgia date back to the dinosaurs or earlier. You know that hemispherical stone hill, which is east of the Nacoochee Mound? That is also the knob of a smaller volcano. NOW the situation at the Pigeon Mountain Volcanic Range near Lafayette is a whole different matter. One of the cones is merely dormant. It last erupted in 1856. I have this bad feeling that this one will erupt again. There are frequent small tremblers near it and under it.


        I’m pretty sure this guy is wrong on the volcano theories. Yonah and Currahee are composed of metamorphic granitic gneiss and are not igneous rocks. They cannot be volcanic cores. Pigeon mountain being a dormant volcano is also a major stretch. Pigeon Mountain is a spur off of Lookout Mountain which is part of the Appalachian Plateau (formerly called the Cumberland Plateau). Pigeon Mountain is a limestone (sedimentary rock) mesa like mountain with a sandstone (sedimentary rock) cap formed when an ancient sea bed was raised by thrust faults. It is riddled with caves (I have explored several) and the top of the mountain has sag ponds and peat bogs on top of it. These create sink holes which look like craters and are common in all karst areas. The Pigeon Mountain eruption was probably a build up of methane gas from a peat bog that filled a cave and exploded. A similar event happened in Winder, Georgia with a peat bog called Nodoroc. Fault lines run all through North Georgia, but they are not volcanic. The only volcanic “core” that we have in Georgia, as far as I know, is Graves mountain in Lincoln county. It was once a volcanic island that was part of the Carolina superterrane… and that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

        • Actually, I was required to take geology at Georgia Tech as part of the architecture coursework. “This guy” is absolutely correct. There is a line of extinct volcanoes across Georgia from Currihee to Pigeon Mountain. They spewed forth the gold, copper, zinc, garnets, rubies and diamonds found in North Georgia. The farther east one goes, the more eroded they are. Pigeon Mountain Range is definitely an extinct volcanic range, except for Pigeon Mountain, which is classified as dormant since there are a lot of minor trembles occurring underneath it. We are required to use seismic design standards in northwest Georgia because of the danger of minor earthquakes. There is also a dormant volcano east of Asheville, NC in the Black Mountain Range.


            Well this guy is has been studying geology in Georgia for more than 30 years, has been trained by some the iconic geologists in the world of the last century, and is a respected educator and researcher in my own right, and anyone who claims that these are extinct volcanoes is sadly misinformed. And if one insists that they are in the face of geologists presenting the actual facts as were outlined very well in the previous post, then that person is a dangerous and unreliable source of scientific information.

          • Dangerous? Perhaps you should find interests other than geology and education. Anyone who was truly knowledgeable about Georgia’s geological history would know that eons ago North Georgia and some sections of western North Carolina were the scenes of intense volcanic activity. Diamonds were found on the surface of the Nacoochee Valley by early explorers and even 19th century settlers. Around 1572, the governor of Spanish Florida, Pedro Menendez, paid 5,000 crowns for a diamond that a Spanish trader obtained from the Apalache Indians living in the Nacoochee Valley. Menendez also sent samples of gold, rubies, sapphires, smaller diamonds and quartz crystals from North Georgia to the King of Spain as a gift. At the time, the Spanish called North Georgia, Apalachen. Currently, it is believed by geologists that prior to colliding with the eastern North American continental plate, the African continental plate slid over a chain of volcanic islands in the proto-Atlantic Ocean, creating a line of weak spots in the earth’s crust. It is also believed that the reason that no dinosaur fossils are found in this region is that during the period with dinosaurs reigned supreme, the Georgia Mountains were too high and cold for them to survive.

          • The Fernbank . . . of course . . . that explains it all. You’re the people, who conned the public out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, telling them that they were going to excavate the Mission Santa Isabel de Utinahica on the Ocmulgee River . . . when ALL French and Spanish archives placed Utinahica six miles up the Ohoopee River from its confluence with the Altamaha River – 50 miles south of where your people were digging. The mounds of Utinahica are still there. Then the story was changed to “we’re looking for De Soto”. You pulled political connections to get in National Geo and paid an artist to paint de Soto’s expedition wading across the Ocmulgee, when it fact the De Soto Chronicles said that they had to build rafts. You portrayed the Toasi People as being near naked and half the height of the Spanish, when the De Soto Chronicles said that the Toasi men were a foot taller than the Spanish and wore brightly colored, woven clothes. Just by showing off your email address, you have given yourself no credibility whatsoever.


    Very interesting article. I love it when I can get this kind of historical/geological info about an area. One point: the GPS coordinates at the top of the page are presented incorrectly. It should read 34° 38′ 15″ N, 83° 42′ 49″ W (not 4° 38′ 15″ N, 83° 42′ 49″ W.)

    • Sorry about the typo. I am allowed to make one mistake a day!


    Tell me where on Tesnatee Gap did you get this shot? I believe it was taken from Richard Russell Scenic bypass. I have one similar.

    • Yes, you are right. I parked my car and walked up the slope and into the woods a bit to get the shot. Some folks in the Nacoochee Valley told me that what I called Soque Mountain, they call Chimney Top. It looks even more like an ancient volcano from down on Sautee Creek.


      K, I researched and found out. 2 areas named the same thing so it was kind of confusing. 🙂


    First of all, you may be refering to the Museum of Natural History but no one associated with the Science Center, a completely separate organization, was involved with anything like that. Anyone who claims to know anything about Georgia history should know the difference. Second, despite current political winds to the contrary, facts in science do still matter, and anyone reading at least the geology part of what is written on this blog should be aware thar it is extremely misguided at best and fraud at worst.

    • You didn’t know about the diamonds did you? Arrogant people like you only attack strangers with pejoratives, when they are caught with their pants down. Otherwise, you would have provided an alternative explanation to the vent holes in igneous rocks, greenstone and presence of diamonds near these ancient cone forms.


    Hey Richard,
    I found on the internet today that on the last weekend of this month there is an open house at Graves Mountain. It is open to anyone just come from 8 til 6.
    The Georgia Mineral Club web site has more info. This is a good chance to see some of the mineral wealth of Georgia.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to POOF via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 843 other subscribers

The Information World is changing!

People of One Fire needs your help to evolve with it.

We are now celebrating the 11th year of the People of One Fire. In that time, we have seen a radical change in the way people receive information. The magazine industry has almost died. Printed newspapers are on life support. Ezines, such as POOF, replaced printed books as the primary means to present new knowledge. Now the media is shifting to videos, animated films of ancient towns, Youtube and three dimensional holograph images.

During the past six years, a privately owned business has generously subsidized my research as I virtually traveled along the coast lines and rivers of the Southeast. That will end in December 2017. I desperately need to find a means to keep our research self-supporting with advertising from a broader range of viewers. Creation of animated architectural history films for POOF and a People of One Fire Youtube Channel appears to be the way. To do this I will need to acquire state-of-art software and video hardware, which I can not afford with my very limited income. Several of you know personally that I live a very modest lifestyle. If you can help with this endeavor, it will be greatly appreciated.

Support Us!

Richard Thornton . . . the truth is out there somewhere!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Share this post with your friends!