Forgotten Homelands of the Chickasaw
Native American Brainfood
Archaeological site 9Wh2, immediately southwest of the Kenimer Mound in the beautiful Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia, appears to be the oldest known Chickasaw village site. It was occupied from about 800 BC to around 1700 AD. During the Late Woodland-Transitional Mississippian Period (700 AD – 1000 AD) the village had an oval plaza, flanked by oval houses . . . trademarks of the Proto-Chickasaw People. It also contained two small platform mounds that in the Late Mississippian Period (1350 AD -1550 AD) were expanded into a single mound.
When the People of One Fire was first formed in November of 2006, the number one complaint by its members was that US Department of Interior maps did not accurately portray their homelands. As a result most of the federally recognized tribes in the Southeast were being shortchanged, when historic preservation & NAGPRA grants were being handed out.
Official map of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
According to the US Department of the Interior’s NAGPRA map, the Shawnee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Yuchi, Alabama, Koasati, Catawba, Saponi, Natchez, Cusabo and a multitude of South & North Carolina tribes never lived in the Southeast. Didn’t you know that the Creeks always lived in the miniscule reservation they held in 1832, just before being deported? Well, the only Creek lands in Georgia were those in a section of the southwest part of the state, stolen by Andy Jackson in 1814. Of course, the Seminoles always lived in Florida and the Miccosukee People don’t exist.
It is inconceivable that a huge tribe like the Choctaws, who have federally recognized reservations on both sides of the Mississippi, would be left off the map . . . but they are. At least in all official histories, Mississippians acknowledge the former presence of the Choctaw, Chickasaw and Natchez, even if the US Department of the Interior doesn’t.
Chickasaws in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky
The situation with the Chickasaws is a little different. The States of Tennessee and Alabama have blatantly erased the memory of a major Chickasaw presence in their official histories. Vast tracts of land that the Chickasaws ceded to the United States in 1805 and 1816 are called “ancient homelands of the Cherokee Indians” by the official histories of both states. Public school students are told that “the Chickasaw Indians also lived in small sections of the extreme western corner of our state.”
Prior to the 1720s, the capital of the Chickasaws was “Chickasaw Old Fields” on Hobbs Island, where Huntsville, Alabama is now located. It contains two Mississippian Period mounds and the footprints of many former houses. This is probably the town named Chicasa that the DeSoto Expedition visited in late 1540. At this time Chickasaws occupied all of the Tennessee River Basin, from Chattanooga downstream to the confluence of the Tennessee River with the Ohio River at present day Paducah, Kentucky. However, earlier 17th century French maps show Chickasaw territory extending up the Kentucky side of the Ohio River to near Cincinnati. It is quite possible that at least some of the Fort Ancient villages (Mississippian Period) were built by ancestors of the Chickasaws.
Chickasaws in the Peach State
Georgia can be somewhat forgiven for its cultural amnesia, because most Chickasaws are not even aware that their ancestors once had a significant presence there. Besides, Georgia’s first official state history was written by a young man from Maine, who arrived in Savannah immediately after graduation from medical school. William Bacon Stephens stayed in Georgia just long enough to write a New Englander’s Anglo-Saxon version of Georgia history then permanently relocated to Pennsylvania.
The Georgia Chickasaws are an intriguing gap in the history books. Their name is on maps up until the end of the American Revolution. No academician has explained the Chickasawhatchee River and Swamp in southwest Georgia, or the fact that in 1703, Chickasaw warriors played a key role in the catastrophic defeat of an invading Spanish army in the Battle of the Flint River in present day southwest Georgia. Their villages were near the scene of the battle.
The presence of the word “Chickasaws” on Colonial Era maps of Northeast Georgia was explained by Charles Hudson, a late 20th century anthropology professor at the University of Georgia. There was supposedly a small band of Chickasaws, containing perhaps100 people, who lived in the northeast part of the province as guests of the Cherokees for a couple of decades. However, in his book, Knights of the Cross, Warriors of the Sun, Hudson described the Napooche in northwest Georgia as also being Chickasaws. They were eventually called the “Chickamauga’s” until become vastly outnumbered by the Cherokees, who settled near their villages in the late 1700s.
Captain René de Laudonnière wrote in his memoir that one of the expeditions dispatched from Fort Caroline made contact with a powerful province northeast of Apalache that coastal Georgia Natives called Houstanau-koa. This was obviously one and the same as the 18th century Chickasaw province of Ustanau-li. After being forced out of northeast Georgia, the town of Ustanau-li first located at the confluence of the Coosawatee and Conasauga Rivers in northwest Georgia then moved to western Tennessee in the late 1700s, when Cherokee refugees filled northwest Georgia.
James Adair’s History of the American Indian tells a very different story than current historical orthodoxy. Adair’s “other” wife was of Chickasaw and Jewish ancestry. She was born in northwest Georgia in a Chickasaw village, not too far from a silver mine that has been dated to around 1600 AD.
During the First Anglo-Cherokee War (1758-1761), Adair commanded a regiment of Georgia Chickasaws that operated out of their villages in what are now southern White, southern Stephens and Banks Counties, Georgia – in the northeastern part of the state. At that time, the northern boundary of Chickasaw territory in the northeast part of the province was a line running through Yonah Mountain and Curahee Mountain to the headwaters of the Savannah River. Adair wrote that there were eight Chickasaw villages in that particular province.
Around 1765, the Cherokees had recovered enough from their catastrophic defeat by the British colonists to attack the Chickasaw villages in northeast Georgia. Supposedly, the Chickasaws were driven out of the region, but the Koweta Creeks then claimed the Chickasaw territory. Until 1818, the boundary line between the Cherokees and Koweta Creeks followed the former norther boundary line of the Chickasaws.
In 1776, the Cherokees cut a secret deal with the British Army and without warning attacked frontier settlements in the Carolinas and Virginia. They could not easily attack the Georgia frontier because Creek territory lay between them and the Anglo-American settlers. Settlers on the frontier were outraged and began attacking any Indian they encountered. James Adair moved his mixed-heritage Chickasaw heritage family to Oothlooga Creek, near his wife’s birthplace. At some point in time between 1776 and 1785, the Chickasaws left NW Georgia, but Adair’s mixed-blood sons chose to join the Cherokees. It is possible that some of the other Northwest Georgia Chickasaws chose to remain with the Cherokees.
A forgotten archaeological discovery
There is something very surprising about past archaeological work in the Nacoochee Valley. Virtually no house footprints or artifacts from the 1700s that might be associated with the Cherokees, have been found anywhere in the valley, yet the population density of the Proto-Creek (Lamar Culture) population in the 1600s was extremely dense. Archaeologist Robert Wauchope explained this anomaly by first stating that the Cherokee population was obviously very sparse and not continuous. Secondly, he suspected that because of the brevity of their presence, the Cherokee artifacts were in a thin layer of soil that was quickly plowed away by European settlers.
Nevertheless, tourist brochures and local history books dwell on the Cherokees and barely mention other tribes. In fact, the most recent book published on the history of the Upper Chattahoochee River Valley states as a known fact that the Cherokees lived there for thousands of years and built all the mounds in the region.
In 1939, archaeologist Wauchope was hired by the WPA to carry out an archaeological survey of all the counties in northern Georgia. Once he entered the Nacoochee Valley in the Northeast Georgia Mountains, Wauchope realized that he had entered an extraordinary archaeological zone that contained permanent village sites going back to at least 800 BC. He spent a disproportionate time that year in the Nacoochee Valley, exploring and excavating key archaeological sites.
Wauchope made a surprising discovery at certain village sites in the valley. The oval floor plan was first identified at the Eastwood Site (9Wh2). It contains houses and artifacts from the Early-Early Woodland Period (Dunlop Pottery), Late-Early Woodland Period (Deptford Pottery), Middle Woodland Period (Swift Creek Pottery), Late Woodland Period (Napier Pottery), Transitional Mississippian Period (Woodstock Pottery), Early-Middle Mississippian Period (Etowah I & II Pottery) and Late Mississippian Period (Lamar Pottery). No European or Cherokee artifacts were found.
During the Late Woodland and Early Mississippian Periods, the residents of Site 9Wh2 built oval houses around an oval plaza, while those in most other villages, before that time built round houses. All of the Middle and Late Mississippian (Lamar Culture) houses were rectangular. This is the oldest known oval plaza and site of oval houses in the Southeastern United States.
At the northern end of the village plaza were two modest mounds, each about 40-60 feet in length. During the Middle and Late Mississippian Periods, these mounds had been joined together and made substantially taller. Apparently, they were originally burials of single individuals or families then later platforms for temples or the houses of leaders.
There was something else unusual about this village. The Late Woodland and Early Mississippian burials were oval shaped, even those defined by stone slabs. Elsewhere in the Nacoochee Valley, Early and Middle Mississippian burials were rectangular stone box graves. It appeared that during the Late Mississippian and Lamar Period, cadavers had been sporadically inserted into the walls of the hybridized mound, accompanied with few or no artifacts.
Wauchope also unearthed a very unusual style of council house at the Eastwood Site. The building looked out over an oval plaza. This large structure was square with rounded corners. Four wooden posts symmetrically supported the roof. However, there was a much large timber post in the center that rose from a raised hearth. The wrap-around hearth would have given the communal space an usual architectural effect.
Oval plazas were standard details of Colonial Period Chickasaw villages. During the Late Mississippian Period they were also constructed in the Koasati towns of eastern Tennessee and the Kusate towns of southeastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. However, the Koasati and Kusate houses were rectangular.
Oval houses are atypical of Georgia, but are commonplace at Mississippian and Proto-historic Chickasaw village sites in Northern Alabama and western Tennessee. They were also found at the Late Woodland-Transitional Mississippian village site of Simpson Field in Anderson County, South Carolina. This village site is about 60 miles east of the Eastwood village site. Archaeologists working at Simpson Field were puzzled by the oval houses, but did not have the intellectual curiosity to pursue the matter further.
The orthodox explanation of the Chickasaw presence in Georgia by anthropologists and historians is that a single band lived in northeast Georgia in the mid-1700s. Wauchope’s discovery suggests that the Northeast Georgia Mountains was where the Chickasaws evolved from being hunter-gatherers to being agriculturalists. Did the Chickasaws have any cultural memory of being in Northeast Georgia?
I telephoned LaDonna Brown, a Chickasaw archaeologist, who is employed by the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. She said that the Chickasaw People have a tradition that in ancient times, they migrated far to the east, but then they returned to their more westerly homelands. However, she said that today they do not know exactly where they went in the east. Now they know!
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