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Footnote: Many Native towns on Chattahoochee River never shown on maps

Footnote:  Many Native towns on Chattahoochee River never shown on maps

 

For those of you just joining us at the People of One Fire,  since last autumn, as a professional activity, I have been intensely analyzing the entire Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola River System, in order to determine its true history before being ceded by the Creek Confederacy.  The highlights of this comprehensive study are being reported to POOF readers.

Right now I am trying to determine more specific locations (GPS coordinates) for the Native towns and villages along the river between Columbus, GA and Chattahoochee, FL.   It is a very difficult task involving the cross-referencing of many sources from the early 18th century to the late 20th century.

One thing has become perfectly clear.  There were many, many more towns and villages than shown on the maps . . . and often their names were different than shown on the maps.   The maps being used by most scholars only provide ethnic identities, not town names.

This error started on the very first maps from the early 1600s.   Initially, cartographers only showed two or three large towns for the entire 550 mile length of the Chattahoochee.  Then, beginning with the 1721 Barnwell map, shown above, the cartographer put dots on the maps and tribal names beside them.  By that, I mean that you see such labels as “Cowetas,”  “Echetes” and “Cussetas” rather than the actual names of towns and villages.  The tribal label could potentially represent several towns and villages.   Worst still,  there were definitely several towns and villages on the river, which were not members of the Creek Confederacy.  They were left off the maps.

As time went on, the accuracy of the maps declined.  Later generations of mapmakers often just copied the names of tribes without checking to see if they had moved.  I have found several examples of academicians writing dissertations or published papers about certain Creek towns, which were no longer located at the site and in the time frame that the academician was writing about.  Published maps from the 1700s do not reflect the population density of the Chattahoochee Basin.

The overall picture that is coming from this research is that until after the French and Indian War, the Chattahoochee River, south of what is now Roswell, GA, was densely occupied by towns and villages, which were either members of the Creek Confederacy or on good terms with the Creek Confederacy.  Perhaps 75% of the Confederacy’s population was concentrated in this corridor.  In regions with substantial flood plains, the villages were often in sight of each other.  After the French and their Native allies vacated present day southern and central Alabama THEN the members of the Creek Confederacy spread westward into that region.

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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.

6 Comments

  1. rwburden@utk.edu'

    Over the years I often wondered why were many of my proud Creek Elders and Ancestors not formally request through the Dawes records.
    There were likely the issues that many indigenous peoples have struggled with for eons. My only desire at this time is to formally recognize a heritage that I am passing on to my daughter and to her daughters.

    I remember the stories of my grandfather telling of his native heritage.
    I have shared this with members of formally recognized nations and have, not unexpectedly, met with reactions ranging from total sckeptism to mold interest to hostility. Unfortunately, I have rarely met with sincere interest or advise.
    But this two I can understand – too many empty promises.

    Thoughts, criticisms, general comments?

    Reply
    • Hey Cousin Ray

      First of all, we were Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks. Originally, we were the majority in Georgia, but by the early 1800s, many Itsate’s had moved to Florida rather than being forced to be a minority in a Muskogee-Creek dominated Creek Confederacy. When I first began working for the Muscogee-Creek Nation, I “showed off” the handful of Creek words that I remembered from my grandparents. They were names of some animals and plants. Most were different from Muskogee Creek, so some of the Oklahoma Creeks told me that I couldn’t be a Creek. I later figured out that the words I remembered would be perfectly understood by Florida Seminoles . . . because their ancestors came from the same part of Georgia where our mothers lived.

      There was something else that put a wall between Northeast Georgia Creeks and the Muskogee Creeks. I didn’t learn it until this past year. Our Creek ancestors were Patriots during the American Revolution. Many of the Upper Creeks in Alabama and NW Georgia were British Allies. Beginning during the American Revolution, the dispatched Tory Creek leader, Alexander McGillivray, dispatched Upper Creek war parties to attack both white and Creek Patriots in NE Georgia. These raids would continue until around 1791. So I grew up thinking that the Muskogees were the Enemies of the Creeks. I was in my early 20s before I realized that Muskogees were Creeks too. Of course, there are probably at this time a bunch of Oklahoma Creeks, scratching their head in disbelief after reading this comment.

      Our respective families look much more like the Highland Mayas than Muskogee Creeks do. The Itsate Creek language contains many Itza Maya words. In fact, an anthropologist told me awhile back that he thought I was much more Kekchi Maya than Creek. A female anthropologist sent me photos of Kekchi Mayas, who look just like our mutual ancestors.

      Reply
  2. scottandmolly@MSN.COM'

    Richard, have you considered making maps of Georgia/Alabama at 25 year intervals showing the Towns of Creek and non-Creek peoples? I realize it would be a mammoth undertaking but it would be a treasure for those wanting the true story of the history of the different ethnic groups of the Southeast.

    Reply
  3. scottandmolly@msn.com'

    Richard, have you considered making maps of Georgia/Alabama at 25 year intervals showing the Towns of Creek and non-Creek peoples? I realize it would be a mammoth undertaking but it would be a treasure for those wanting the true story of the history of the different ethnic groups of the Southeast.

    Reply
    • Oh, I would love to do that and quite qualified to make maps – I am also a city planner. However, I have been living below poverty level since the 2008 Recession began and can’t afford to do many freebies. The People of One Fire is a freebie, by the way.

      Reply
      • SCOTTANDMOLLY@MSN.COM'

        Richard, I can personally relate to your economic situation. I want you to know that I am so thankful for the resource you have provided in this freebie POOF website. I have absorbed the information you have supplied first through CREEK-SOUTHEAST Digest and now in this POOF website. As a history buff, I am always wanting the latest accurate information of the past and I am never offended nor fearful of new evidence that might overturn previous, long-held interpretations of the past.

        I would appreciate it if you could write an article about the origin, language, culture of the Alabamon Creek tribe that had Towns located at the confluence of the Coosa/Tallapoosa Rivers during the mid and late 18th Century. They were pro-French until after the 7-Years War. I speculate that they entered the Confederation rather late but would like more knowledge on this.

        Reply

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