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Murphy, North Carolina museum exhibits mysterious statue

A newly exhibited Native American sculpture in the Cherokee County Historical Museum portrays two figures with owl-like faces and toddler-like bodies. Do they represent an unusual style of Native American art or something else?

Native American Brain Food

Wally Averett, a longtime member of the People of One Fire, writes columns regularly for the Cherokee Scout newspaper in Murphy. This one is a doozy. As Wally stated in his article, the stone statue is unlike any Native American statue ever found in the Southeast. Murphy is located in Cherokee County, NC.

During the People of One Fire’s DNA survey in 2012, several card-carrying Cherokees living in or near Murphy reported that their genetic tests revealed substantial Maya DNA test markers. These are rare among other branches of the Cherokees. Murphy is located 18 1/2 miles northwest of the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Georgia – at the confluence of the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers.

ValleyRiverTwins1The statue is about four feet high. It has all been carved from one soft soapstone boulder. The surface of the statue was apparently pockmarked by acidic soil, where it was buried for many years. The Murphy figures have the same trait of the statue of an extraterrestrial being at the Yamacutah shrine in Jackson County, GA. Neither of the statues have arms or hands. The Yamacutah statue was also carved from a soft stone.

The Upper Creeks have raptor or owl like noses as adults. There are still many Upper Creek descendants living near Coosa Creek in adjacent Union County, GA. However, the raptor-like noses develop in adolescence and are not seen in Upper Creek children.

The bodies of these figures are definitely not those of adult Native Americans. They are like human toddlers or else the infamous “Gray Aliens” associated with the 1947 Roswell, New Mexico incident. Perhaps, they could also be interpreted as the bodies of owls.

The two figures possibly are of a man and woman, since one is taller than the other. Alternatively, the two may be the “Cosmic Twins” of Itza Maya and Creek folklore.

Wally speculated that they might be representations of the “Moon Eyed People” of Cherokee lore. What do you think the two figures portray?

Many stone and ceramic statues have been found in the Etowah River Valley of Northwest Georgia, generally with finer details, and made from hard stones like marble, sandstone and limestone. Greenstone chisels and hammers, manufactured by the Apalache-Creeks near Dahlonega, GA, were used to carve such stone artifacts and also to produce copper artifacts.

See images of Northwest Georgia sculptures at the end of this article.

Found near ruins of a Native town visited by Juan Pardo

The statue was found in the early 1840s near present day Downtown Murphy, where there had formerly been a large Muskogean town with mounds. The famous Spanish explorer, Juan Pardo, would have gone through this town on his way along the Hiwasssee River to Tanasqui (Hiwassee Island, Tennessee) in 1567. At that time, the Andrews Valley, where the Valley River flows, was densely populated by a colony of the Tamatli Creeks from Southeast Georgia. Tomatla, NC derives its name from their past presence.

Lands on the west and south sides of the Hiwassee River were occupied by the Kusa-te (Upper Creeks) in 1567.  According to the recently discovered original Migration Legend of the Creek People, the Kusa-te claimed to have sacked a town on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain – probably the Track Rock Terrace Complex – then occupied North Georgia as vassals of the Apalache-Creeks.

The Kusa-te lost ownership of their lands in 1785 at the Treaty of Hopewell. However, they did not know of the secret land deal until North Carolina Cherokees began moving down into North Georgia. Apparently, many Kusate elected to stay put, and were allowed to do so, because most Overhill Cherokees were moving into the fertile valleys of Northwest Georgia

Architectural, linguistic and genetic evidence strongly suggests that many of the Tamatli Creeks in North Carolina voluntarily joined the Cherokee Alliance to become Tamatli Cherokees. In 1763, Lt. Henry Timberlake visited a Tamatli-Cherokee village on the Little Tennessee River. Even at that late date, most of its people carried Itsate Creek names and their chief was entitled a mako . . . the Itza Maya name for a king.

Just like the Tamatli houses in Southeast Georgia, the Cherokee Tamatali houses in Tennessee were rectangular, divided into three rooms and finished with white clay stucco reinforced with crushed shells. Timberlake described the houses as “glistening like pearls.” He described the Cherokee Tamatli village as being formally planned around a rectangular plaza, unlike the other unplanned Cherokee towns and villages he visited.

Cherokee village of Tamatli in eastern Tennessee.

Cherokee village of Tamatli in eastern Tennessee.

It is quite remarkable that Cherokee Tamatli houses in 1763 would be identical to those on St. Catherines Island, GA in the late 1500s and early 1600s. A Spanish engineer, visiting the Mission Santa Catalina de Guale, described the Guale houses as also having three rooms and being stuccoed with white clay, reinforced with crushed shells that made the houses “glisten like pearls.”

History of statue still remains unclear

The statue came into the possession of Felex Axley, one of Cherokee County’s first attorneys. He may have found the statue in the ruins of Fort Butler, a palisade uses to imprison Cherokees before the Trail of Tears. Fort Butler was built on top of the ruins of an ancient Muskogean town with mounds and a rectangular plaza.

Alternatively, Axley may have found the statue elsewhere in the valley or purchased the statue from someone else. However, it is documented that Axley purchased the land that Fort Butler lay on, and then used the logs to build his large house. The staff of the Cherokee County Historical Museum hopes to eventually discover more about the statue’s history, and perhaps what it means.

The Cherokee County Historical Museum is located at 87 Peachtree Street in Downtown Murphy, NC – next to the Cherokee County Courthouse.

Native American sculptures from Northwest Georgia

Famous marble statues on display at Etowah Mounds

Famous marble statues on display at Etowah Mounds

Sandstone statue from Etowah Valley

Sandstone statue from Etowah Valley

Limestone statue from Etowah Valley

Limestone statue from Etowah Valley

Ceramic statue from Etowah Valley

Ceramic statue from Etowah Valley

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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.



    I noticed the flat heads from the Etowah mounds, much like the southeastern Creeks.

    • That is true. Apparently, the Kashita Creeks (Kusate) did not deform their foreheads, because they said that the people living at Track Rock Terrace Complex looked different than them and had flattened foreheads.


    Richard I have found a stone statue three figures conjoined I guess would be the best way to describe it. How can I get a picture of it to you?



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