Richard Thornton | Mar 17, 2017 | 1
Holocaust . . . a fresh look at the collapse of the indigenous population in the Southeastern United States
For thousands of years, the southeastern corner of North America had maintained the densest human population north of the tropics. Indeed . . . the building of mounds and the making of pottery began there long before they appeared in Mexico. The Bilbo Mound and surrounding ceremonial pond in Savannah, GA has been radiocarbon dated to 3545 BC. Nearby, Stallings Island pottery has been dated to roughly 2340 BC.
The Southeastern United States was one of five regions in the world where agriculture began independently. It once was dotted with large towns with earthen pyramids often larger than most of the stone veneered pyramids built by the Aztecs. Yet when British settlers began penetrating the interior of the Southeast in the early 1700s, they found several regions virtually uninhabited and most others sparsely populated. What happened?
All history and anthropology books today acknowledge that there was a catastrophic decline in the Southeast’s indigenous population, between the arrival of Cristobal Colon in 1492 and the founding of the Colony of Georgia in 1733. The population drop is estimated by forensic demographers to be somewhere between 90 and 95%, maybe higher. This holocaust is explained vaguely as being caused by waves of European diseases sweeping from the coastlines and then being brought into the interior by mid-16th century Spanish explorers.
The problem is that the archaeological and eyewitness evidence only partially supports the pandemic theory of Southeastern ethnic cleansing. Large regions, especially along the Mississippi River and Black Warrior River in western Alabama, were virtually depopulated a century before Columbus sailed the ocean blue. The regions around Cahokia, Illinois and Moundville, Alabama were ghost towns in 1492. Cahokia was abandoned by 1400 AD. Moundville was little more than a religious shrine after 1400 AD.
There was a sudden abandonment of several important communities, both in the Highlands and on the coast around 1500 AD . . . 40 years before the Hernando de Soto Expedition. Nineteen years after Hernando de Soto passed through the Lower Coosa and Alabama River valleys passed through in 1540, that region was virtually uninhabited. Yet, most of the large towns in the Southern Highlands were abandoned between around 1585 and 1600. That’s long after Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo passed through.
A dense population of mound builders suddenly disappeared from the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in the 1670s. A century later, early settlers in the Shenandoah Valley described these towns and villages as looking like their occupants had just walked away one day. That holocaust could have nothing to do with the De Soto Expedition.
In contrast, the Mississippian Culture villages along the French Broad River Valley near Asheville, NC were abandoned around 1500 AD. That is the latest date of carbon samples at the Warren Wilson village site on the Swannanoa River, east of Asheville. Archaeologists of the American Museum of the American Indian, working on St. Catherines Island, GA discovered a stark population decline there around 1500 AD. Those cataclysmic events occurred four decades before the De Soto Expedition.
Several advanced indigenous societies and towns within the interior of the Southeast were still thriving in the mid-1600s, yet they were all gone by the first decade of the 18th century. Clearly, the events that brought about the near extinction of indigenous peoples in the Southeastern United States were far most complex and extensive in time span than as assumed in the Pandemic Theory.
In 1873, pioneer Southeastern anthropologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. wrote: “When English speaking settlers came into the Piedmont and Mountains of Georgia, they also encountered many stone structures throughout the landscape. There were many stone walls, stone altars and even the ruins of ancient stone buildings. Within a generation most of the stone structures were gone and almost forgotten. They had become foundations, chimneys and the walls of new buildings. No one knew who had built these mysterious structures.”
“It was supposed that such things could not have been built by Indians, since they were thought too primitive to create such architecture. It was supposed that perhaps the Spanish or Prince Madoc built them.”
The chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition made several startling statements as the conquistadors left the Florida Panhandle in February 1540 and entered coastal plain of what is now the State of Georgia. They stated that the towns were suddenly much larger and better planned. The architecture was much more substantial and included many large public buildings. Whereas the peoples of Florida only wore Spanish moss skirts or deer skins, suddenly they saw men and women dressed in brightly colored and ornately patterned woven clothing. The men averaged a foot taller than the Spanish and wore mustaches. The chiefs had goatees or even long beards. All the men and some of the women wore beards. The people worshiped one invisible god.
Even more telling is a statement made by a De Soto Chronicler as the Spanish were traversing what is now Georgia. He said that while in that region, “we never lost sight of cultivated fields or houses.”
Between 1567 and 1569, Captain Juan Pardo traveled through much of present day South Carolina, plus the Southern Highlands. He passed through regularly spaced towns and many villages. He never mentioned plagues or evidence of recently depopulated regions.
Nevertheless, Pardo’s chronicler, Juan de la Bandera, did mention one event, which suggests climate had something to do with a population collapse. Pardo’s company of soldiers was marching from Port Royal Sound, SC to the province of Chiaha in the Great Smoky Mountains. Their passage was abruptly stopped at the Blue Ridge Escarpment on the northern edge of South Carolina in December 1667. Heavy snow fall made the trails in the Southern Appalachians impassible. The trails did not melt off until early April. The long term accumulation of snow only occurs on the tops of the highest mountains today. Obviously, the winters in the Southeast were much colder in that era.
In 1615, a Jewish wedding was memorialized at 5400 feet above sea level on Hooper’s Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains. Part of the inscription on a stone boulder is visible today. The rest is covered by dirt. It states, “PRE DARMOS CASADA – SEP 15, 1615.” The director of the University of Tennessee’s Department of Anthropology has interpreted these words as being Latin and meaning, “Land we will hold.” It is actually Ladino Castilian and means, “Prayer we will give, married September 15, 1615.”
In 1646, the Governor of Spanish Florida, Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla, wished to open up trade between St. Augustine and the large Native populations in North Georgia and Eastern Tennessee. Initially a pack mule road was constructed to the Nacoochee Valley in Northeast Georgia, where a fortified trading post was built. The road was later extended to the Tennessee Valley. It is now known as the Unicoi Trail. Unicoi is derived from an Apalache-Creek word meaning “path along water.”
In 1653, Barbados planter, Richard Briggstock, visited North Georgia and described Northeast Georgia as the home of a powerful indigenous kingdom named Apalache. The High King of the Apalache told Briggstock that at his call, over 7,000 warriors could be at his capital within 24 hours.
The famous French explorer, Robert de La Salle, visited a Chiska refugee village in north central Tennessee in 1683. They said that most of their people in northeastern Tennessee had been wiped out by an invasion by Spaniards with firearms. He persuaded this village and some Shawnees, who had also been attacked by the Spaniards to move to St. Louis to be under the protection of the French.
Historians have completely ignored this passage, because there is no record in the Spanish colonial archives of any expedition from St. Augustine that traveled the 470 miles north to attack the Chiska. They forget that there are numerous eyewitness reports all the way up to the 1780s by Colonel John Tipton and Colonel John Sevier of very old Spanish-speaking Jewish villages in Southwest Virginia, Northeast Tennessee and Western North Carolina. In his book about the North Carolina Mountains, the famous North Carolina historian went into detail about the large numbers of Spanish Jewish gem miners living in the Toe River Valley of North Carolina, which is immediately east of the region in Tennessee, where the Chiska lived.
In 1684, French cartographer, Jean Baptiste de Franquelin, published a map which not only showed the Spanish road to Northeast Georgia and the Tennessee River, but many large towns in that region. The Cherokees were not mentioned on his map. By 1721, most of these towns had apparently either been abandoned or moved elsewhere. Nevertheless, European maps dating up to 1707, show Western North Carolina occupied by branches of the Creeks and Shawnees, plus makes no mention of the Cherokees anywhere.
In 1693, the Governor of Carolina, John Moore, observed Spanish-speaking miners smelt gold in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia. The presence of these miners is reinforced by the repeated discovery of 16th and 17th century Spanish artifacts in this valley.
On June 7, 1735, the Principal Chief of the Creek Confederacy, Chikiri (Chikili in English) gave a speech to the assembled leaders of Savannah, which included the presentation and recitation of the Migration Legend of the Kashita People. Chikiri’s speech was translated by Mary Musgroove. Her translation was recorded by Colonial Secretary, Thomas Christie. The full transcription was discovered in April 2015 after being lost for 285 years. The Creek leader made two statements that were quite significant. He used the word Apalache and Koweta interchangeably throughout the speech, but then near the end, explained that they meant the same thing. In other words, the Koweta Creek Confederacy was considered to be the continuation of the old Apalache Kingdom.
Secondly, Chikiri stated, “We were naked and the English gave us clothing.” In other words, by the 1680s, when Charleston opened up trading posts with the Creeks, they had forgotten how to make cloth. In one generation after 1653, the Creeks had loss all knowledge of how to weave and dye cloth. Only a sudden holocaust of unimaginable devastation, could have completely wiped out all the people, who knew how to make clothing.
During the late 20th century, mining timbers in ancient mines found in Western North Carolina and Northwest Georgia were radiocarbon dated at 1600 AD or earlier. Geologists also dated smelting fires and gem mines in the Toe River Valley of North Carolina, which were found to be from about 1590 AD or later. The information on these early mining activities was published in books of that era. However, these books have been removed from North Carolina library shelves in recent years because they clearly placed European settlers in North Carolina prior to the arrival of Cherokees. The Cherokees now claim to have lived in North Carolina for 12,000 years.
Archaeologists, working in Northwest Georgia and the Upper Tennessee River Valley in the 1970s radiocarbon dated the abandonment of Mississippian Culture towns and villages there to between 1585 and 1600 AD. One village site in Northwest Georgia was found to be covered with unburied skeletons. Another village, abandoned around 1585, contained the remains of teenage boys and girls, who had been chopped into pieces with steel blades and boiled. Sixteenth century Spaniards believed that broth made from cooking the bodies of virgin boys and girls was a cure for malaria.
The macabre discovery of boiled virgins was attributed by journalists of the 1970s to the De Soto Expedition. De Soto passed through Northwest Georgia in July and August of 1540 . . . 40 years earlier. Furthermore, there is no mention of malaria or butchering of young people. In fact, the Spaniards’ relations with the people of Kusa were quite peaceful until De Soto ordered the elite of Kusa bound in chains as his conquistadors headed west.
Meanwhile, in Northeast Georgia there is no evidence of a sudden depopulation around 1600. The Kingdom of Apalache continued to thrive for most of that century. Miners working in the Nacoochee Valley during the Georgia Gold Rush (late 1820s through 1848) found the ruins of two European gold-mining villages, in which iron and Native American artifacts were mixed. The Kingdom of Apalache did not disappear from European maps until after 1707.
In 1957, archaeologist Joseph Caldwell began excavation of a large town on an island in the Tugaloo River on the northeastern edge of Georgia. His stated intent was to prove that both Tugaloo and Etowah Mounds were built by the Cherokees. During the excavation of Etowah Mounds, Caldwell had repeated argued with fellow archaeologists, Lewis Larson and Arthur Kelly, who believed that ancestors of the Creeks had built Etowah Mounds. To Caldwell’s surprise, he found that the Tugaloo site had been occupied continuously by ancestors of the Creeks until around 1700 AD, when it was sacked, massacred and burned to the ground. Caldwell was never able to determine, who was powerful enough to destroy this ancient town.
The Evidence for Multiple Holocausts
When one looks at all the archival and archaeological evidence, it is clear that there was not a single holocaust in the Southeast that almost wiped out most of its large towns and provincial populations. There were several, which stretched from around 1375 AD to 1717. After then smallpox plagues periodically swept through the Southeast’s interior, killing up to 1/3 of some tribes, such as the Cherokees, each time.
The “ethnic cleansing” of the Middle Mississippi River Valley and the region around Moundville, AL occurred long before the arrival of Columbus. Other areas of the Southeast were “genetically erased” in time periods that varied from eight years after Columbus’s first voyage to about 25-30 years after the founding of the Carolina Colony in 1770. This strongly suggests that multiple villains were at work.
The Bubonic Plague
The pathogen, Yersinia pestis, caused mass deaths in Europe and Asia from around 500 AD or earlier until well after Europeans began exploring the Americas. Even though infected fleas carried by certain rodents in the Desert Southwest still carry this horrific disease, anthropologists rarely discuss the possibility that it had a role in abandonment of Mississippian Period towns. During the past century, bubonic plague cases also occurred in South Carolina, Louisiana and Texas. The last case in South Carolina was in 1983.
The bubonic plague hit Norway in 1349 and soon killed about 30-40% of the population. It struck Iceland in 1402 and soon killed about 50% of the population. In both Norway and Iceland, their intelligentsias were almost exterminated. As a result, both countries were forced to petition Denmark to annex them afterward in order to have people capable of governing and educating the survivors. This seems to be a situation similar to the Creeks in the early 1700s, who barely resembled their sophisticated culture in 1653.
During the exact same period that Norway and Denmark were devastated, the large towns now called Cahokia, Moundville and Etowah (1375 AD) were abandoned. Etowah was reoccupied about 20 years later. The other two towns were permanently abandoned.
The Bubonic Plague struck London again in 1665 and 1666. It killed over 100,000 persons. This epidemic coincides exactly with a mass die-off of advanced indigenous peoples in the Southeast. Of course, during this time, the advanced peoples in the Shenandoah Valley were wiped out.
A horrific outbreak of smallpox decimated the Mayas in the Yucatan Peninsula and the Arawaks in Cuba around 1500 AD. The Calusas and Mayacas of Southern Florida, plus the Apalachicola Creeks of the Lower Chattahoochee River Valley have cultural memories of frequent trading voyages to Cuba. These traders could have spread small pox along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts around 1500 AD, but that does not explain the abandonment of the French Broad River Valley in the North Carolina Mountains about that time.
In a series of smallpox epidemics between 1696 and the American Revolution, the population of the Appalachians was devastated. In at least two of these epidemics, the Cherokees lost around a third of their population.
Pigs can carry a lot of diseases, which are transmittable to humans. In 1539, the De Soto Expedition brought with it 13 breeding sows and an unknown number of boars. Hernando de Soto would not let the men eat many of the pigs, so by the time the expedition reached Kvse (Kusa) in Northwest Georgia, the herd had grown to 300. By the time, that the expedition reached the Mississippi River, the herd had grown to 700, even though many pigs escaped during the Battle of Mabila in southern Alabama.
In 1569, an exploration party was dispatched by the Tristan de Luna Expedition from their base in Pensacola Bay to travel to Kvse to obtain food for the starving colonists. The Spaniards found southern Alabama and the Coosa Valley all the way to near the Georgia line, virtually depopulated and starving. The wretched survivors of a great province, ruled by King Taskaloosa, stated that it had been that way since De Soto came through 19 years earlier. Many of their young men had died at the Battle of Mabila and there had been repeated pestilences since then that had killed off the others.
Meanwhile, the other provinces, which De Soto visited up in the Southern Highlands and Georgia were thriving. The pigs had accompanied De Soto’s men through those regions also. There is one difference, however. Many pigs had gotten loose during the Battle of Mabila. Evidently they thrived and multiplied. Undoubtedly, the local people hunted them and eat their meat. They also came in physical contact with the pigs’ blood and feces. This is probably what kicked off many devastating plagues in Alabama, which virtually erased several advanced cultures.
Cocoliztli – Hemorrhagic Fever
In 1545, an apocalyptic disease appeared for the first time in the Mexican Highlands and wiped out 80% of the indigenous population there. Virtually 100% of its victims died in one to four days. The symptoms were similar to Ebola Fever, except that during the later stages the victims went insane and wandered around mindlessly like zombies until dropping dead in their tracks. The disease affected only few Native victims in the Mexican Lowlands and did not kill any Spaniards!
The disease reappeared every eleven years in Mexico until something like 97% of the indigenous population had been killed by either cocoliztli or one of the other better known Old World plagues. the worst outbreaks occurred in 1576, 1587–1588, 1592–1593 and 1601–1602. It is believed that the microbe was carried by either mites or fleas, hosted by birds indigenous to the Mexican Highlands, but this is not certain.
The monarch butterfly, plus many species of birds migrate from the Southern Highlands to the Mexican Highlands and back again each year. If bird mites or fleas were the carrier, then it is conceivable that they could have brought this horrible disease back from Mexico.
Native American slave raiders
Shortly after the Colony of Virginia institutionalized the institution of slavery for Native Americans and Africans in the early 1660s, it also contracted with the Rickohocken Tribe in southwestern Virginia to be its primary slave catchers. The Rickohockens were promised firearms and munitions, plus a guarantied price for Native American slaves, if they would launch raids on all tribes that were not British allies. When the Rickohockens attacked a village, they killed as cruelly as possible all males above the age of puberty. Children and young women were the preferred slaves. Toddlers too young to walk the several hundred miles to coastal slave markets were also killed. Elderly folks were either left to starve to death or killed on the spot. Thus, a typically slave eradicated a far larger percentage of the indigenous population than those who were sold on the block to planters and slave traders.
Slave raids by Sephardic Jews
Sephardic Jewish mariners very early became involved with piracy and slave trading in the Caribbean Islands. Most were based in the Bahamas, but may have also established bases north of Florida. Their ships were built by French, Dutch and English Protestants as a means of continuing a clandestine war against the Spanish Empire. Any opportunity that the Sephardim had for getting revenge on the Spanish Catholics was welcomed.
Until the 1600s, the majority of slaves in the Americas were American Indians or Muslim prisoners of war from North Africa. Spain was often fending off attacks by the Ottoman Empire and bands of pirates from North Africa. There was a clause in the Qu’ran, which Mohamed stated that Rome would be captured by Islam within 1000 years of his life. Thus, Muslim leaders were frantically trying to make Mohamed speak the truth. Spain was also periodically attacked Morocco to expand a “zone of safety” to guard against invading Muslim armies from the south.
From the very beginning, the Spanish kings had forbidden slavery of American Indians, but also from the beginning, the Spaniards, including all the Columbus brothers had found ways of ignoring these royal decrees. They classified Native slaves as heathen prisoners of war . . . giving them the same legal status, approved by the Pope for Muslim prisoners of war. That status was obtained by attacking villages without provocation then claiming that the victims had born arms against Christians, while defending their villages.
One of the most famous cases of persecution against Sephardic Jews in the Americas occurred in Mexico in The family of the governor of the province of Nuevo Leon, Luis Carvajal y de la Cueva, was cruelly tortured by the Inquisition then burned at the stake for the crime of secretly practicing Judaism.
The initial charge against Carvjal was the he and several other Conversos (converted Jews) were heavily involved in the Indian slave trade. Carvajal was said by the Spanish authorities to have a gang of “more than sixty soldiers” and to have made a fortune capturing and selling Indian slaves. They seized large numbers of non-Christian Indians in what is now northern Mexico and Texas then sold them to sugar plantation owners in central Mexico. Later, the Inquisition tortured and burned several Conversos in what is now the State of New Mexico. They were also charged with practicing Judaism and sponsoring raid to capture Indian slaves.
Cartagena, Colombia was one of three cities of the Spanish empire in the Americans that was allowed to maintain slave markets. Until the late 1500s, most of the slaves were non-Christian indigenous peoples from the Americas or North Africa, captured in military operations, not Sub-Saharan Africans. Cartagena also became known as a city where Sephardic Jews could practice Judaism in private as long as they paid propinas to certain Spanish officials and showed their faces at Catholic masses from time to time.
The large, wealthy Sephardic community in Cartagena was heavily involved with the slave trade and with the mining of gold and silver by slaves. Then in 1610, the Spanish Inquisition showed up without warning in Cartagena. Most members of the community vamoosed before they could be burned at the stake. Where they went, nobody knows. The radiocarbon dates of gold and silver mines in Southern Appalachia strongly suggest that they or some of their brethren were already in Southeastern North America. It is quite possible that many of these families headed northward to New Jerusalem, where they would be out reach by the Inquisition.
England had established a colony in Virginia in 1607. The Dutch West Indies Trading Company had established a colony on Manhattan Island the same year that the Inquisition arrived. Already there were many Sephardic Jews living in the Netherlands. Their dream was to establish a New Jerusalem in the hinterland of Southeastern North America as a haven for all Sephardim. Meanwhile, there were numerous privateers and pirate ships, commanded by Sephardic captains in the Caribbean Sea. Thus, we have the motivation to relocate and means to get there.
The Spanish had a century old tradition of using indigenous American slaves to work their mines. The Sephardim in Cartagena had extensive experiences in both mining and trading slaves. It seems quite likely that they would again use Native American slaves in New Jerusalem. Perhaps the sudden abandonment of large towns with mounds in Eastern Tennessee and Northwestern Georgia between 1585 and 1600 had much more to do with the invasion of the region by Spanish-speaking Jewish refugees and not so much to do with diseases from the Old World . . . or perhaps both epidemics and slave raids produced cultural shocks, which ultimately erased the indigenous peoples from vast areas of the Southeast?
The Truth Is Out There Somewhere
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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- Spanish Speaking Jewish Colonists in the Nacoochee Valley . . . 1694 - March 24, 2017
- Occupation of Etowah Mounds site actually dates to at least 1000 BC - March 23, 2017
- Architect’s cabin provides convenient indoor-outdoor living - March 22, 2017
- The night from hell - March 21, 2017
- Do archaeologists own the artifacts obtained from your property? - March 21, 2017