Maps prove the real history of the Southeastern United States
It is the curse of Northern Alabama and Georgia to have their history always defined by outsiders. The first book on the history of Georgia was written by a young doctor from Maine, fresh out of medical school. He arrived in Savannah just as the Cherokees were being marched out of Northwest Georgia. The first archaeologist in the Southeast was Charles C. Jones, Jr. . . . also from Savannah . . . His interpretation of the archaeological sites in the Lower Southeast are astonishingly accurate, but later generations of archaeologists were Ivy League graduates, who were contemptuous of everything Jones said because he was from Georgia.
In 2013, a very Caucasian looking female member of the Oklahoma Cherokee Nation, who made a living in a rock band, wrote an article in “Indian Country Today” that told us, “whites were trying to steal ancient Cherokee sacred sites in the Georgia Mountains.” Of course, she never even been in the Georgia Mountains and it is the “old mountain families,” who are fighting hardest to protect Track Rock Gap from abuse by the US Forest Service.
Books and historical society websites in the mountain counties wax poetically sticky sweet when they describe the Cherokees, who lived in their counties for thousands of years. These are the fairy tales of white frontiersmen. When I tell local Georgia historians that real Indians don’t look like actor Al Pacino, they leer at me in the same manner as when I tell them that Jesus was a Jewish Rabbi, not the Anglo-Saxon Southern Baptist minister, who preached on the Constitutional right of Christians to own African slaves, be bankrupted by medical bills and carry guns in church.
Just yesterday, a sophomoric genealogist from Tennessee informed me that my ancestors couldn’t have lived in Northeast Georgia before 1838, because the Georgia Mountains were always occupied by the Cherokees. He also informed me that I had no Native American heritage. He couldn’t have gotten that information from my family genealogy, the 1937 Creek Indian Docket or a DNA report, so I guess his buddies in the Tahlequah, Oklahoma established this historical fact. Actually, I think the problem is that he thinks REAL Indians look like Oklahoma Cherokee, Reba McIntyre. These real Native Americans are basically Scottish Jews mixed with an extensive Anglo-Saxon melange.
If my Granny Ruby was alive, she would set this feller straight. Her real name was Mahala, which is the Creek word for teacher. In this case, she would teach this fellow a thing or two with the industrial strength rolling pin that she made 4 inch diameter, sour dough biscuits with. Hey cousin Ray, do your member Mama Ruby’s biscuits with Papa Obie’s sugar-cured country ham in them?
Well, the truth is . . . and there is no doubt about it . . . ethnic Cherokees, when they arrived in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama after the American Revolution, didn’t give a cat’s spit about the Georgia Mountains. They assigned the bottom lands of the major rivers in Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama to fellow Cherokees. The famous leaders of the short-lived Old Cherokee Nation never visited the Georgia Mountains and never discussed the people, who lived in its rugged valleys in either the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper or the Cherokee National Council minutes.
Of course, there were Native Americans and mixed heritage Sephardic Jews in the Georgia Mountains, but they were not ethnic Cherokees. I now have a copy of the original 1828 Cherokee survey, made by the State of Georgia. All of the names of people actually living in the mountains were either English, Muskogean or Jewish. All the village names were either English, Creek or Uchee. That’s a very different picture of the past, isn’t it?
As can be seen in the map above, in 1701, western North Carolina was called “Pays de Chouenon” or the Shawnee Country, but there were several Creek provinces along its major rivers. No word, similar to Cherokee, appeared on any map of North America or the southern colonies at this time. There were many Uchee villages on the Hiwassee, Toccoa and Ocoee Rivers. That is why the two rivers in the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation have Creek names. By 1725, the Shawnee, Creeks and Uchee would be swept from all lands north of the Hiwassee River.
In 1784, the Tennessee River had a Maya name, Callimaco, and the Little Tennessee River was called either the Tennessee, Tanasee or Talico River. Calimaco means “Palace of the King.” Originally, frontier settlers, who arrived in the Southern Highlands after the Native American occupants were forced out, created the fairy tales that are now taught as history to students and are presented as facts. They erased the existence of the many Uchee, Koasati and Chickasaw villages in the region and assumed that tribal boundaries as they were in 1800 were the same as they had always been. They assumed if a river or mountain had an “Injun” name, it was a Cherokee word.
The next generation of white settlers even changed some of the place names from Creek to Cherokee, because whites were angry at the Creeks and Seminoles for doing such an un-Christian thing as giving sanctuary to runaway slaves. You will see in the maps, that as late as 1820 two of the few Cherokee place names in North Georgia had Creek names . . . Yonah Mountain and Walasi-yi were then Noccosee (Bear) Mountain and Chota (Frog) Town.
In 1874, pioneer Southeastern archeologist, Charles C. Jones, Jr. realized that the “Mound Builders” in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and Georgia were the ancestors of the Creek Indians. His observation would be ignored for over a century.
In the 1890s and early 1900s, archaeologist William Holmes of the Smithsonian Institute studied examples of all Native American pottery from throughout the Eastern United States. He published a book in 1903, which stated, “Despite the repeated statements of (James) Mooney that the Cherokees are indigenous to North Carolina, it is obvious that the Muskogeans have the strongest claim to all of the Mound Builders pottery in the Southern Appalachians.” His monumental research project is ignored to this day by archaeologists.
In 2008, a team of history, anthropology and law professors from the University of Oklahoma traveled to Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina to study Colonial Era archives and maps. They discovered that the “Battle of Taliwa” was a fairy tale and that the Cherokees had no presence in Georgia before 1716 and a minimal presence until the closing days of the American Revolution. All of the river and stream names in Northeast Georgia, except Toccoa, but including Chattooga and Tugaloo, are of Creek or Chickasaw origin. Actually, my grandmother considered the Nacoochee Valley as her sacred mother town. She and my grandfather went there and to Tallulah Falls on their honeymoon.
So without further ado . . . here are the key maps for understanding the real Native American history of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina.
After the Koweta-Cherokee Treaty of December 1754, Koweta owned the lands south of the Hiwassee River in Georgia and North Carolina. Itsate Creeks were encouraged by Koweta to return to their homelands in Northeast Georgia as far north as present day Clarkesville, GA. They remained in southern Habersham and White Counties until 1818, when their lands were ceded. The Kusate or Upper Creeks continued to occupy the lands from Hiawasee, GA to Hiwassee Island, TN. The Cherokees never rebuilt Quanasee near Hayesville, NC, while the Kusate maintained a fortified Red (garrison) Town at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely River near present day Blairsville, GA. At this time, Choestoe, GA in present day Union County was occupied by Uchees of the Rabbit Clan. The Chickasaws continued to occupy all of northern Alabama and extreme northwestern Georgia.
In the December 1785 Treaty of Hopewell and the 1786 Treaty of Augusta, the Cherokees were secretly given all Creek and Chickasaw lands north of the Etowah River in north-central and northwest Georgia as “hunting grounds.” Because of the chaos caused by the Chickamauga War, the Creek Confederacy did not find out about the land theft until 1790, at which time, it declared war on the State of Georgia. Throughout the 1780s, the Upper Creeks and Chickasaws continued to allow Cherokee refugees to settle on their territories in northwest Georgia and what is now, northeast Alabama. By the end of the decade, the Cherokees had become the majority in this region.
HOWEVER, even as late as 1838, over 3,000 Upper Creeks lived in the Georgia-Alabama Cherokee Nation. Only 800 of those Upper Creeks were captured and forced to emigrate with the Cherokees, since their names were not on the roster of Cherokee citizens. If you are tall, slim and have a raptor like face . . . and your ancestors avoided the Trail of Tears, you are an Upper Creek, not a Cherokee. The vast majority of Native Americans in the Cherokee Nation, who did not go to the Indian Territory were Upper Creeks and Uchees. Until the US Forest Service purchased the Cohutta Mountains in Georgia and Tennessee, there were Uchee and Upper Creek hamlets located there.
Kennesaw is an Anglicized Creek word meaning “Konas People.” The Konas People were originally from Eastern Peru and were visited by Captain Juan Pardo in 1567 and 1568. In northeast Georgia the Creek-Cherokee boundary continued to run through Curahee Mountain, Yonah Mountain and present day Clarkesville. A trading post, Fort Clarke, had been built where the Clarkesville Downtown Square is now, to serve the needs of my Creek ancestors in southern Habersham County, GA. When their lands were ceded in 1818, they remained in the region because they had become totally assimilated with their white neighbors.
Apparently, during the period after the American Revolution, the Nacoochee Valley, although within the Cherokee Nation, was occupied by Creek, Uchee and remnant South Carolina tribe families, living in dispersed farmsteads. Archaeologist Robert Wauchope searched for a year and could not find a single Cherokee village there . . . only Muskogean artifacts. Chickamauga Creek in the Nacoochee Valley is actually a Chickasaw word meaning “Place to Look Out,” although local residents assume that it is a Cherokee word. We have yet to find a single Cherokee personal name among Native Americans living in the Nacoochee Valley. They all are either English, Creek or Chickasaw words. Yes, the valley was in the far southeastern tip of the Cherokee Nation, but had no political say-so with the tribal government and is never mentioned in council records.
In the official history of the Cherokees, published by the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, it states that “Gold was discovered by two young Cherokee men in the Nacoochee Valley in 1824. Soon white gold miners drove out the Cherokees from their ancestral lands.” This is yet another one of those Cherokee fairy tales that proliferate on TV documentaries, references and tourist brochures. The Oklahoma Cherokees seem to have an attitude that because they are “big shots” in Oklahoma, they can say anything they want to about Georgia and Alabama history. Remember in 2012 when they claimed that the 200+ agricultural terraces at Track Rock Gap, GA were platforms built a 1000 years ago for performing “sacred Cherokee dances?”
In 1818, the Creek Nation ceded all the lands immediately south of the Nacoochee Valley to the State of Georgia. Unknowingly, those ceded lands were in the heart of the gold belt. At that time, my ancestors either took state citizenship and stayed put or moved southward to a rural Creek community in Northeast Georgia. Chief William McIntosh may have known about the gold all along. He started a secret gold mine in West Georgia several years before the gold rush in the Nacoochee Valley began.
In 1821, two real estate investors from Burke County, NC (still today an area for gold mining) purchased almost all the bottom lands in the Nacoochee Valley directly from its handful of Native American occupants. If these people had been Cherokees, they would have been executed for selling their lands. So by 1821, the future location of the initial Georgia Gold Rush was privately owned and fairly purchased.
Some People of One Fire members have ancestors, who at that time moved from the Nacoochee Valley to the Creek Nation in Alabama. Between 1821 and 1825, Native Americans sold almost all the land east of the Chestatee River near Dahlonega, GA. These were private land sale transactions. No one was forced out. Some Native Americans continued to live in remote coves or mountainous locations even after the region was officially outside the Cherokee Nation’s boundaries.
The announcement of gold being discovered in the Nacoochee Valley was made in 1828. By this time, the eastern boundary of the Cherokee Nation was near Dahlonega. The State of Georgia did do some dastardly things to force the Cherokees out, but the Cherokee Nation was controlled by mixed-blood Cherokee planters, who were getting wealthy off the labor of African-American slaves. They were primarily interested in holding on to the river valleys in Northwest Georgia, plus the Coosa and Tennessee River Valleys, in Alabama for their plantations. As it turned out, the Cherokee Elite did quite well out of the forced removal. Except for John Ross, they personally received large monetary sums for their real estate improvements in Georgia, and traveled to the Indian Territory in comfort.
All “Indians” were called Cherokees during this period, but really don’t know what ethnicity they were in the Nacoochee Valley, because most went by English names. Native Americans definitely worked for the gold mining companies and also free-lanced. The local Indians began making substantial purchases at the trading post in the Nacoochee Valley with bags of gold dust. Several mixed bloods became affluent from panning gold in streams up in the mountains. They took state citizenship and were not required to go on the Trail of Tears. Two “Cherokee” brothers, ten years later, traveled from Georgia to California, when gold was discovered there. They became the equivalent of millionaires because they were already skilled miners.
There are many unanswered questions about the history of the Southern Highlands . . . particularly in regard to the 16th and 17th century Jewish colonists. We desperately need more archaeological work at the probable sites of European forts and villages in Northeast Georgia, northeastern Tennessee, Sylva, NC and along the Coosa River to answer those questions.
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)
- Kansas Indians on the Coosa River of Alabama and Georgia - July 23, 2017
- We Danced to Dedicate our Lives to Creator and Our People - July 21, 2017
- Video: Ice Age forest found under the waters off the Alabama coast - July 20, 2017
- The “America Unearthed” garden . . . five years later - July 19, 2017
- Sacred Dances Meet Vital Needs of the Community by Ghost Dancer - July 19, 2017