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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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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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