How I discerned the massive mound in Batesville, Georgia
At seven acres in area, it is one of the largest earthen pyramids in the United States!
Several People of One Fire readers, who live in either the Atlanta Area or Northeast Georgia, have contacted me, wanting to know how I determined that what to most everybody was a hill, was actually the principal mound of the religious capital of the Soque People. One lady told me that her family has been driving up from Atlanta to their family’s vacation cottage on Lake Burton since the 1920s and NO ONE has ever mentioned there being American Indian sites in Batesville. Actually, the postmaster at the general store in the village of Soquee changed the postal address to Batesville about the time that her family built that cottage. He was from Batesville, VA and wanted to honor his hometown.
The short answer is that I was thinking like a “Creek” historic preservation architect and urban planner, not like an archaeologist. Since the mid-20th century, anthropology programs in the Eastern United States have made it clear to their students that the quickest way to end one’s career was to discuss the possibility of direct contacts between Mesoamerica and the Southeastern United States. However, our combination of O+ blood and non-North American DNA test markers are typically labeled “Mesoamerican” by commercial DNA labs. Perhaps, the biologists and geneticists know something that the anthropology professors missed? LOL
A radical change in the Lower Southeast’s landscape
In 1959, the famous archaeologist, Robert Wauchope (plus his wife and kids in a station wagon) returned to Georgia for the first time in 20 years. He had spent all of 1939, exploring the back roads of North Georgia in search of archaeological sites. He brought along his 1939 notebook with the intent of refreshing his memories before finally writing a book on those discoveries. The report was published by the Society for American Archaeology in 1966.
Would you believe that Wauchope had a very difficult time finding those archaeological sites because the radical changes in the landscape of Georgia? Many sites were now under the waters of reservoirs on the Chattahoochee, Etowah, Savannah, Tugaloo and Savannah Rivers. He just could never find about a third or more of the others. Farms had grown up in trees. Landmarks and houses were gone. Roads had be re-routed before being paved. It is even more difficult today to figure out where Wauchope actually excavated village sites.
Imagine what radical changes have occurred in the landscape, since the leaders of the Cherokee and Creek tribes ceded the Soque’s land in 1818. Some Soques thereafter moved to the Opelika area of Alabama. Others moved to Florida. They spoke an Itsate-Creek dialect that is now called Miccosukee. They had little in common with their erstwhile Cherokee landlords.
For several years, I have been trying to match the descriptions of geography, described by Smithsonian Institute archaeologist, Cyrus Thomas, with the archaeological sites, which he studied in Northeast Georgia during 1886. Wauchope found very few of them, but I have had much better luck in recent months . . . mainly because I have the resources of the internet and satellite imagery. Batesville was a tough nut to crack . . . as they say . . . because it has been 133 years since Cyrus Thomas toured the area on horseback.
In 1886, it took a mule wagon four or more hours to reach the nearest incorporated town . . . Clarkesville. For most residents of this remote mountain valley, historic Clarkesville was very possibly the only town they had ever seen, unless they served in the Confederate Army or volunteered to serve in the U. S. Cavalry during the Post-Civil War Indian Wars out west. A lifelong resident of northwest Habersham, Taecy Cowart, told me this morning that even when she was growing up in the 1960s, it was very big deal and special treat for her family to drive into town with their old Ford. Until the late 20th century, families had no money to pay for radical changes in the landscape. The huge terraces that many generations of tourists have assumed were recent, couldn’t have possibly been made by bulldozers. That is one of several pieces of information, which eventually led me to re-examine the terrain to the west of the Old Batesville General Store.
(1) Ancient Trade Paths: Early maps show three major trade paths intersecting where GA Hwy. 255, GA Hwy. 197 and Old Chimney Mountain Road today meet in front of the Old Batesville General Store. Scholars of urban history know that any time that three major trade routes intersect, one is going to find a major Pre-Industrial Period town.
(2) The Unicoi Turnpike route: Virtually all references and tourist brochures state that the Unicoi Turnpike followed the route of GA Hwy. 17 between Clarkesville and Helen. They tell us that the path was built by the Cherokees to connect their Lower, Middle and Upper towns. However, for once, a Georgia State Historical Marker tells us the correct route. A state marker on GA Hwy. 385 states that the original Unicoi Trail, and later, Unicoi Turnpike, went north on Hwy. 385 from Clarkesville then turned northwestward onto what is now, Stonepile Gap Road. It interconnected the Soque towns near present day Clarkesville, near the Alec Mountain Stone Circle and in what is now Batesville.
(3) Construction of Unicoi Trail: French ethnographer and historian, Charles de Rochefort, wrote in 1658 that a Queen of the Apalache (proto-Creeks in northeast Georgia) ordered the construction of a road to connect the head of navigation for trade canoes on the Savannah River with the Tennessee . . . interconnecting many Apalache towns. This road was called the Uenenekoi (Road Between the Waters). He also stated that the Governor of La Florida ordered construction of road to St. Augustine to connect with a fortified trading post and mission on the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. The Spanish later improved the section of the Uenenekoi between the Nacoochee Valley and Tennesses River.
(4) Native American towns: Eighteenth century and early 19th century maps showed the Native American town of “Soquee” or “Sokee” at the location where those ancient trade paths intersected.
(5) Trees: There are many trees growing on the terraced terrain that are at least 100-200 years old. You can see some of them in the photo at the top of this article. The scuplturing of a hill into a temple mound could not have possibly happened after these trees began growing.
(6) Observations by a professional archaeologist: Smithsonian archaeologist, Cyrus Thomas, stated in 1886 that there were many stone ruins near the Soquee Post Office, which was actually the Walter J. Hill General Store. Thomas mentioned stone retaining walls, but apparently did not realize that the stone walls were retaining walls for the ancient mound. I later learned that the stone ruins had been used for constructing building foundations and chimneys in the years after 1886.
(7) Observations of an architect-planner: After examining the Google Terrain Map of the Batesville Area, I realized that the terraces and central ramp were oriented perfectly to true south and to the north to Chimney Mountain – a dormant or extinct volcano. In 1917, J. E. Lazelle, the first teacher to live among the Miccosukee, stated that in ancient times they believed that most of their gods lived atop high mountains. If there were no mountains their gods lived atop man-made mounds. The two structures on the terraces of the mound both predate the construction of paved roads or the existence of bulldozers. The Lumpkin Hill house was built in the late 1800s, while the current general store was constructed in 1904, after a smaller store, dating from the early 1880s, burned. The massive Hines Mound was constructed long before these structures, which sit upon it. Now you know!
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