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Kennesaw, Conasauga and Conestee . . . what these words really mean

Kennesaw, Conasauga and Conestee . . . what these words really mean


(Above)  Dr. Christopher Martin, a poet and former English professor at Kennesaw State University and Dr. David King, an English/film studies professor at Kennesaw State University have absolutely no qualifications to be translating Native American place names in Georgia . . . yet their recent etymology of the word, Kennesaw, got into Wikipedia via an equally unqualified public relations employee at Kennesaw State University. It has proliferated into virtually ALL the references of the world, because “troll” computers now copy Wikipedia articles into a legion of other websites.  This is typical of the ludicrous situation that Southeast’s indigenous peoples have to deal with these days.


The Uchees, Creeks, Chickasaws and Seminoles in the Deep South, who somehow avoided deportation to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma), learned that the only way to survive in their new hostile environment was to keep a low profile and NOT advertise their heritage.  Pogroms against Uchee and Creek families in North Georgia, who were citizens of Georgia, occurred as late as 1855.  All their property was seized by local sheriffs and militia units.  They were marched in chains to the Alabama Line. It was not officially legal for Native Americans in Georgia to vote, own real estate, attend public school, hold a professional license or testify in court on their own behalf until Jimmy Carter was governor of Georgia.  Carter also invited Native Americans in Georgia to form state recognized tribes several years before the Muscogee-Creek Nation even reconstituted in Oklahoma.

As a result, even today’s Creek and Uchees in Alabama, Georgia and Florida tend to be non-assertive when others fabricate a false history of the Southeastern United States.  Although typically quite successful in their chosen careers, something deep inside their upbringing makes them hesitant to becoming visible publicly.

Throughout the 20 years that I was living in locations outside Georgia, my mother and grandmother would periodically send me angry letters, complaining about articles or maps published in the Atlanta-Journal Constitution or things that a new generation of archaeologists were saying about our ancient Uchee and Creek town sites.  Until the 21st century, the AJC was considered a statewide newspaper and was delivered daily to communities throughout Georgia.

My mother’s family was of Creek and Uchee heritage on the Savannah River in Northeast Georgia.  My grandmother had a Creek first name, Mahala, but went by the name, Ruby.  As a young woman, she hand-made Creek pottery and wove Creek-style baskets.  The family celebrated the Green Corn Festival each June at a family reunion, but did not advertise its Creek heritage until relatively recently.  However, my grandmother kept a box of old family photos in her desk in which her relatives and ancestors was sometimes dressed in traditional Creek-Seminole clothing and other times dressed in “mainstream” clothing of the times.

My mother and grandmother never complained publicly . . . just ranted to me. My mother was former Georgia Teacher of the Year, held a Six Year Degree in Education and was on the curriculum advisory committee for the state history text, but NEVER complained to the committee about dubious changes in the state’s syllabus for Early Georgia History . . . just to me!

The only time I have knew my grandmother to write an expletive was when the AJC published an article, which quoted archaeologists in a consulting firm, which had been working on a 1500 year old village site, just northeast of Track Rock Gap in Young Harris, GA (Towns County). The work was done on a contract with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

The newspaper headlines announced that their work had proven that the Cherokees had lived in Georgia for 1,000 years and were the builders of Etowah Mounds and Ocmulgee Mounds. Accompanying the article was a map labeling all territory in Georgia, from Savannah northward being always Cherokee.  As a result, even today, one can find articles sneaked into references such as Wikipedia, which describe “the Cherokees living around Macon or Savannah.”

Fact:  About 80% of the Native American geographical names in Western North Carolina are either Creek or Itza Maya in origin. They have no meaning in Cherokee other than being proper nouns.  That includes the Oconaluftee River, which flows through the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation.  The percentage is about 95% for North Georgia. Two of the Cherokee place names, Yonah and Walasi-yi  Gap, were added at least a decade after the Cherokees had been forced out of Georgia. 

Zell and Shirley Miller

What the article didn’t say was that the field archaeologists were from North Carolina and recent graduates of UNC-Chapel Hill.   They knew next to nothing about the Native American history of Georgia.  The managers of this firm were in Atlanta, but they were trying to flatter Governor Zell Miller and his wife, Shirley . . . who then claimed to be Cherokee.  Some Georgia developers were also trying to attract a Cherokee casino to Miller’s hometown of Young Harris.

Zell Miller was a highly respected governor and US Senator. While studying the Track Rock site, I met the Millers at the Blairsville, GA Walmart.  They are both very nice folks, but absolutely have no Native American features.  When younger, Zell did strongly resemble a close friend of mine, Harry Lerner, who was an Ashkenazi Jew from Hungary.  Perhaps, he and Shirley are both partially descended from some of the earliest European colonists in the Southern Appalachians.

If you think that was just poppycock from the 1990s? . . . until very recently the official bio in Wikipedia on Tomochichi, (actually Tamachich) the Creek chief who befriended the colonists in Savannah, stated that he was the chief of a powerful Cherokee town near Savannah named Yamacraw.  It took two weeks of me personally battling with anonymous Purple Gate Keepers, associated with Wikipedia, to get that corrected. By the way, Yamacraw (actually Yamakora) only had about 75 citizens . . . and they were renegades from several branches of the Creeks.

The People of One Fire can provide you factual information, which will enable you to challenge false statements made by Southeastern academicians, archaeologists or bureaucrats . . . but you have to take responsibility for your own heritage.  If you depend on someone else to do it, the chances are that the outrages of the past thirty years will continue.  More false information will appear in references and more Creek and Uchee mounds will be bulldozed.

The ancient province of Kanos

All of the Native American words featured in this edition of POOF have as root, the provincial and town name of Kanos.  Both Kanos (Castilian = Canos) and Kanosi (Canose) are mentioned in the chronicles of the Juan Pardo Expedition, written by Notaria Juan de la Bandera in 1569.  The chronicles only vaguely describe these towns as being in the highlands northwest of the Spanish colony of Santa Elena on Parris Island, SC.

Currently, we cannot be certain about the origin of the ethnic and town name, Kanos. Canos (Spanish spelling) was a city state during the late Formative Period in Peru. It was conquered by a Moche city state around 100 AD . . . a date which coincides with the appearance of the first few examples of “Swift Creek” style pottery at the Mandeville Site on the Lower Chattahoochee River.

Kano is a bow and arrow in the Paino languages of Peru.   Paino cultural traits and words definitely appeared in Georgia during the Woodland Period.   For example, the Paino and Creek words for Yaupon Holly and the Sacred Black Drink are both, ase.   The Creek and Panoan word for a village chief or the leader of a neighborhood in a large town is orata.  The Creek and Panoan words for lima beans, sweet potato and canoe are talako, aho and pira.   The Itza Mayas also used the word, talako, for lima beans.

The most likely location for the “Canos” mentioned by De la Bandera is Tugaloo Island at the headwaters of the Savannah River.  It is an old town site, dating back to around 400 AD, which began with Swift Creek cultural traits and continued those traditions until around 1000 AD, when Itza newcomers introduced new cultural practices.  Archaeologist Joseph Caldwell determined that the large town on Tugaloo Island was sacked and burned around 1700 AD then replaced by a small village with non-Creek cultural traits.  However, it is likely that the original Canos was on the Chattahoochee River.

A large Proto-Creek town in present day Smyrna (Cobb County, GA) across from Peachtree Creek’s mouth, was probably the original Kanos.

Creek tradition and archaeological evidence suggests that Kanos was originally what archaeologists label “the Woodland Period Cartersville Culture.”  They were very early agriculturalists and mound builders, who seem to have been a hybridization of indigenous Uchee peoples (Deptford Culture) with South American immigrants.

This advanced culture first appeared on the Lower and Middle Chattahoochee River, but created its largest towns on the Upper Chattahoochee and Etowah Rivers, farther north.  The people of this culture evolved into making Swift Creek pottery, which actually first appeared in Peru among the Conibo People.  The Conibos today still weave fabrics with “Swift Creek” designs on them.

There was a Creek village, named Kanosaw, in present day Cobb County, GA immediately east of Kennesaw Mountain until around 1794, when all of northwest Georgia was given to the Cherokees by the United States as a new home. In 1784, the Cherokees had been give the Creek’s lands south to the Etowah River without the knowledge of the Creek Confederacy.  The boundary was extended southward to a line through Kennesaw Mountain in 1794 then later extended to Peachtree Creek.

There is an ancient worship site at the foot of Kennesaw Mountain, consisting of many stone cairns and a well-preserved stone circle.   We can assume that this was one of the places, where the Kanosi (Itsate Creek) or Kanosaw (Muskogee Creek) worshiped.

All Native American place names in the Lower Southeast, ending with “saw” are derived from Muskogee-Creek words.  All those with “tee, te or ti” at the end are Itsate Creek or Itza Maya words. Most Native America place names in this region, ending in “see” are either Creek or Chickasaw in origin.  The “si” suffix means “descendants of.”

The arrival of Muskogean (proto-Chickasaw) and Itza Maya immigrants either pushed the Kanosi farther north into the mountains or relegated them to commoner status in the larger towns that developed in North Georgia.  The Kanosi, who settled on the Hiwassee River in extreme North Georgia, plus Clay and Cherokee Counties, North Carolina were called the Quanasee by the Cherokees and incorporated into their alliance in 1725.


Professors Martin and King told the world . . . “The name “Kennesaw” is derived from the Cherokee word gah-nee-sah, meaning cemetery or burial ground.”

Horse manure!   The official Cherokee Dictionary, published by the Cherokee Nation, provides two words that mean “cemetery” in English . . .  didanisohdii and junadanisohdii.  Their on-line dictionary cannot even translate the syllables in the make believe definition of Kennesaw.

This is typical of what Creeks, Uchees and Chickasaws deal with over and over again.  Some Caucasian professor or amateur historian throws in an imaginative Cherokee meaning to a Creek, Uchee or Chickasaw word and everybody believes them.

For example, talula is the Itstate Creek word for a district administrative town with one mound. The equivalent word in Muskogee-Creek is talofa.  Hundreds of references and websites now tell readers that Tallulah is the Cherokee word meaning “tumbling waters.”  The Cherokee words for those two English words are entirely different.

Kennesaw is the Anglicization of the Muskogee Creek word, Kanosv (Kanosaw) meaning Kanos People.


Several references based in Georgia state, “The derivation of Conasaga is from the Cherokee, kahnasagah, which means “grass.”  See also Gansagi.”

Horse manure!  According to the official Cherokee Dictionary, the Cherokee word for grass is ganulv.

Gansagi does not mean grass either.  It means Kansa People in Cherokee.  The same word in Muskogee-Creek is Kansake.  The Kansa formerly lived on the Upper Coosa and Coosawattee Rivers, but during early colonial times moved west to the Mississippi River Valley and then to Kansas.  The Kansa gave their name to the State of Kansas.

After leaving the village of Guasuli in June 1540, the Hernando de Soto Expedition traveled down the Little Tennessee River.  The next village that the Spaniards encountered, they recorded as Conasagua.  That is the Muskogee-Creek word for Conas People, Kanosaw, combined with the Georgia Coastal Native American word for “people” – gua.   The remnants of these coastal tribes eventually moved to either the Upper Oconee River in Jackson County, GA or the Lower Chattahoochee River near Georgetown, GA then and joined the Creek Confederacy, but gua is not really a Muskogean suffix.

Apparently, the Conasagua represented a hybridization of the Conas People with immigrants from the South Atlantic Coast. The name Conasagua, later changed to Ganasaga by the Cherokees, also appears as a river name in northwest Georgia and the edge of Tennessee.

Conestee or Connestee

This village was also on the Little Tennessee River, not too far from Conasagua.  It was listed as Conaste in the chronicles of the Captain Juan Pardo.  When the Cherokees arrived much later in history, they called the village, Kona’sta.   Early white settlers in Western North Carolina changed that word back closer to its original phonetics, but spelled it Conestee or Connestee.  There was another village of the same name in the Blue Ridge Mountains of South Carolina near Greenville.

Conestee and Connestee are the Anglicizations of the Itsate Creek word, Konaste, which means “Konas People.”

Oh the irony of it all

Between 1963 and 1975, Dr. Michael Coe of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Department of Anthropology led a project, which was entitled, “The Cherokee Archaeology Project.”    Typical of Dixie archaeologists today, Coe was completely clueless in regard to the Creek’s ancient, complex cultural history and languages. He labeled all those Creek and Itza words in North Carolina, “Ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.”

Coe led a faction of North Carolina academicians, who were determined to prove that the Cherokees had always lived in North Carolina, so the Eastern Band of Cherokees would find it easier to be approved for a gambling casino.  They decided to use an authentic Cherokee name for the style of pottery and cultural traits found in the Western North Carolina Mountains between around 200 AD and 1000 AD.  If this culture had a Cherokee name, then the general public would assume that academicians had proven these people to be Cherokees also.

They chose the word, Conestee, for the name this Woodland Period Native American culture.


And now you know!

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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.



    Richard, We do know that the Universities have done a terrible job of rewriting the ancient history of the state of Georgia. Which is encoded in the words your have researched. Words from Peru (Para), Central America, Mexico, and symbols from different locations of the Earth. It’s not that they don’t have the data to support a thesis of sea fairing peoples that could and did cross the Atlantic Ocean, Pacific Ocean, Gulf of Mexico in the ancient days. Some people have already written books about the matter but those thesis are not taught. The Torah and Native lore clearly states there were Giant peoples on the Earth and that’s not taught either? It’s likely one of the first major cities of the world was started with the letters “Par” and predated “Tarshish” of the Bible located in Spain. These words with “par and achi” sounds were brought by Sea fairing peoples from South America. The Tokah /Tokee people (as they were called by the Creeks and Cherokees) must have had a name they used for their themselves…perhaps they were related to the sea fairing “Tarshish” people? Do you know any Native words that start with the sound “tar”? Thanks for the Great articles.

    • There are no Muskogean words that begin with Tar. I just checked. There may be Uchee words, but we still don’t have a Uchee dictionary after $700,000 being spent by the Muskogee-Creek Nation in grants to linguistic professors.


        Richard, I found this interesting article about some migrating Asian/Indo-Europeans mixed people the ancient Greeks called: “To’kʰaroi”

        China’s pyramids do look a lot like some found in Mexico? Some of these people were called the “Yueh Chi or Yuezhi” which sounds a lot like the “Yuchi” and those peoples could have taken different paths to the Americas. Groups of peoples likely related back to 3000 BC. These Central Asia mixed tribes of peoples moved into Europe, India and America over time.


    In the past, talking with an Alabama resident, I was told that one of the Barnard soldiers in the Creek war, received a land payment for military service. somehow, this land payment allowed the person to avoid deportation to the west.
    Further, I read (?) that this was common for soldiers (or widows?) to receive land, but it was most often purchased away from them.
    I have not been receiving your articles for a week or so, am I turned off? I have made no changes.


    Fascinating article Richard, Would love to see a photo of your ancester’s


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