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Mystery of the “Towns County, Georgia Indians” and your Peruvian Arawak DNA . . . solved! – Part One

Mystery of the “Towns County, Georgia Indians” and your Peruvian Arawak DNA . . . solved! – Part One

Since 2006, the People of One Fire has repeated received letters from people living as far north as Ohio, West Virginia and southwestern Virginia, who were totally perplexed by the DNA reports that they received back from genetic testing labs.  They thought that their Native ancestors were Shawnee or Cherokee, but the labs said that their ancestors came from Peru . . . not any “famous” South American people, mind you . . . strange names like Asheninka, Amuesha, Chamicuro, Apurinã, Piro, Caquinte, Conibo, Shipibo and Kashibo. 

The tribes ending in “bo” . . . we solved a few years ago.  Those are Panoan tribes from eastern Peru.  The original name of the Holston River in northeast Tennessee was the Shipi-sippi  or Shipibo River.  Your ancestors in northeastern Tennessee were Chiskas!  The Conibo and Caushibo became the Georgia Apalache, Konasee and Kusa (Kaushe) divisions of the Creeks. However, the other tribes are Southern Arawaks . . . from northern Peru and the western Amazon Basin. That didn’t make any sense . . . at least at first. 

What in the heck were these South American Arawak peoples doing in such diverse places as Ohio, Southwest Virginia, Tennessee and the highest mountains in Georgia?   The answer will not be found in any university-published anthropology book, because Southeastern anthropologists are opposed on religious grounds to the concept that Indigenous Americans were intellectually capable of migrating long distances, after they traveled 25,000 miles from western Asia to traverse the entire Americas.

The Towns County Indians

Where would you expect to find the tribes still living in the Southeastern United States with the highest percentage of Asiatic DNA?  An obvious guess would be the Miccosukee and Seminole bands that live in the Everglades of southern Florida.  Both of those peoples are originally from the Southern Highlands. However, in the heart of the Southern Appalachians, north of the Nacoochee Valley and east of Brasstown Bald can be found families that can look like almost full-blooded Native Americans. They consistently show very high percentages of Native American DNA, even though their genetic make-up is typically compared by commercial labs for similarity to Algonquians of northern Quebec.

Locals call these almost invisible peoples the Towns County Indians, Hightower Creek Indians or the Coosa Creek Indians. Families living in the lower mountains or foothills often call themselves Cherokee, but they cannot connect their family with any Cherokee recorded on any official government roll.   Extended family clans of this unique people can be also found in the remote areas of Stephens, Habersham, White, Rabun, Union, Gilmer and Fannin Counties in Northeast Georgia, plus Clay and Macon Counties in North Carolina. 

The Coosa Creek Indians in Union, Fannin and Gilmer Counties are obviously the descendants of the Upper (Coosa) Creeks.  They look like Upper Creeks, who were very, very different than the Cherokees in appearance.  Coosa Creek women can be 5′-10″ to 6 feet tall.  All Coosa Creeks have raptor noses and deep, penetrating eyes with tall, lanky physiques.  There was a large Upper Creek town near Blairsville, GA until after the American Revolution.  Over 3,000 Upper Creeks were living in the Cherokee Nation of Georgia in 1836.  Of those, only about 800 were captured by federal troops, because their names and farmsteads were not on the “pick up” lists for Cherokees.

Nevertheless, the Town County Indians are distinctly different in appearance than the Coosa Creek Indians.  Since World War II, some “Towns County Indians” have moved out of the mountains for economic opportunities elsewhere in the United States. Apparently, most have intermarried with their Caucasian neighbors. However, there are still many descendants, who still retain enough of their aboriginal DNA to be viewed as a very special and unique population.

In the 20th century, some of these families were given BIA numbers by the Federal government as “Cherokees,” but in truth, they are neither Cherokees nor Muskogee-Creeks.  When the Cherokee Nation was given that area of Georgia in 1794, it did not consider these people Cherokees and thus, they had no role in the tribal government.  Apparently, many families were in such remote locations on the eastern fringe of Cherokee territory and so “non-personed” by Cherokee leaders that federal troops missed them in the roundup prior to the Trail of Tears. 

I also found descriptions of large groups of Native peoples from outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation in Rabun, Habersham and Stephens Counties, fleeing to the rugged mountains of Towns County, GA.  These families were legally citizens of the State of Georgia, but the federal troops were also rounding up anyone, who looked like an “Injun” outside the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation.  This was totally illegal, but the whites wanted free land and so no one, who had the right to vote, protested.

Whatever their origin or origins, the Town County Indians deserve to be federally recognized as a separate, unique tribe.  They meet ever criteria set by the US Bureau of Indian Affairs.

A dangerous encounter with a wild savage in the Jawja Mountains

In 2003, I had an experience deep within the Blue Ridge Mountains, north of the Nacoochee Valley, which I would not be able to explain for eight years.  I was looking for the ruins of an ancient, mountaintop stone ring, which was last mentioned in the 1880s. It was east of Unicoi Gap and north of Tray Mountain. In the old, crudely sketched map, the site appeared to be on an isolated, cone-shaped peak just in the Towns County Line.  

I noticed a well-traveled horse trail, headed in the right direction from a gravel US Forest Service road, and so parked my Explorer and began hoofing it along with my herd dog companion.  That trail forked, so I took what looked like an old wagon road from the 1800s in the supposed direction of the ruins.

About a mile later I initially thought that I had walked through a time warp.  Before me was an old farmstead, composed of log buildings with no vehicles and no electrical service.  Prior to the 1950s, such vestiges of the past were quite common in Appalachia, but they virtually disappeared in the latter half of the 20th century, when the federal government bought up most of the mountainous land in North Georgia, Western North Carolina and the eastern edge of Tennessee.  Rural electrification radically changed the lifestyles of the more accessible farms.  The log houses and log barns are extremely rare now.

Being a historic preservation architect, I couldn’t resist the temptation to proceed further and inspect authentic Appalachian frontier architecture.  However, when I got about 100 feet from the cabin, a full-blooded INDIAN came out with a shotgun in his arms – pointed at me. I could see his Native American wife and children peeking through the windows.  Fortunately, after a summer of selling my handmade pottery at Native American arts festivals, I was tan as a Mexican campesino and my dog thought all Indians were “home folks.”  He just smiled and wagged his tail . . . expecting to get a pat on the head and a piece of fry bread.

I did not dare turn my back to run, since he would have assumed that I was up to no good.  I smiled, waved, said, “How y’all doing on this beautiful fall day?”  He stared at me intently and responded, “What kind of Indian are you?  You don’t look like no Cherokee.”   The man had the same type of “Native American” accent to his English that one hears on remote Western reservations.  He was definitely not from Latin America.

Well, he didn’t look like a Cherokee either . . . more like a Purepeche from Michoacan, Mexico or maybe someone from the Andes.  Nevertheless, I asked him, “I’m part Creek.  Are you a Cherokee?”

He said, “No!  The way he said it let me know that he didn’t want to discuss the matter further.

I told him that I was an architect and merely wanted to look at his beautiful log outbuildings.  He didn’t know what an architect was, but at least was now pointing his shotgun down at the ground.  He told me that I could look at the barn, but not to get near his family or house.  I was to “get outa here” afterward.

The barn inspection was short and sweet. All the equipment in the tool shed looked like it dated from the 1800s.  The family also had an old fashion blacksmith’s shed, where they apparently made many of their own metal tools. There was a mule and horse in the pasture.   I had a feeling that those children had never spent a day in school. 

Rob Roy the Wonder Dog and I got the heck out of there.  I didn’t stop hiking at a fast pace until I was in my Explorer and headed home.

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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.

5 Comments

  1. theoldlibrary19@yahoo.co.uk'

    OMG ! What a fright you had there Richard. At least he put his gun down and let you inspect his cabin. I wonder what happened to him and his family.

    Reply
  2. kkakins@gmail.com'

    Ugh. You leave us hanging! I want to know more! Who were they? How did they come to be there? Why? When? I must know! Kind of off topic: my grandparents and relatives are from Tonkawa, Oklahoma, and my dad raised us kids on fry bread, so we all assumed we were Native American. Nope. Not a drop in us! Must have just hung out with a lot of folks who were! 🙂

    Reply
    • You build me a time machine and I will get your answers! LOL

      Reply
  3. roadscrape88@gmail.com'

    I sure as heck wish I knew which area or near which mountain you were when the encounter occurred. I know that area fairly well since I hike in search of remote, undocumented waterfalls. There aren’t too many places left in GA where a person could maintain a family in a subsistence situation without the tax assessor knowing about it. But perhaps your encounter was on remote Forest Service land, such as the Kelly Ridge area.

    The few places left wild are mostly north of Hwy 76, east of Hightower Bald to the Tallulah River. The Rock Mountain fire of fall 2016 burned over most everything east of Plumorchard Rd.

    Your articles are most interesting and definitely pique my interest. I’ve read a number of academic and historical documents, but you have really filled in some gaps in my understanding of the changing mosaic of southeastern tribes. As Bartram referred to the Creeks, “the Nation” was never routed in war by other tribes, but conned out of their land by “developers” under U.S. government authority. Then the battle of Horseshoe Bend took place and the rest became white man’s history.

    FWIW, I grew up in Florence, AL and learned after I moved away about the ancient cultural sites all around the Tennessee Valley. My dad worked for a pipeline company. Every time they dug a new pipeline trench near a creek or flood plain the machine would churn up old Indian village sites. That was in the 50s and 60s before historical assessment was done. To think that all the rock shelters and caves we played in near the TN River were used 12,000 years ago by Native Americans now seems astounding. When TVA lowers the river in winter you can still find arrowheads, stone tools, pottery shards along the river bank near the mouth of any creek (of course it’s illegal to remove any found items, but still a thrill to find them).

    I worked in the petroleum industry and lived in Tulsa for nearly 20 years. My ex-wife is 1/8 Choctaw. We had friends from several different native cultures, but rarely did anyone know anything about their culture before the Trail of Tears (my Osage friends excepted – they had their own tragedies), other than a few Cherokee that knew about the ones that moved to the west prior to 1834. I learned a lot more about Native American culture in Oklahoma than I ever learned in formal education, which launched me into learning more about what really happened instead of just what the Anglo biased history books say. Thankfully you and other dedicated researchers are gradually revealing the truth about the real history of Native America.

    Cheers,
    Bill in Roswell, GA

    Reply

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