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

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


Absolute proof has been found of Spanish-speaking gold miners bringing Florida Apalachee laborers to Northeast Georgia in the 1600s and the British bringing Florida Apalachee to Northeast Georgia in the early 1700s!

Research by People of One Fire members from 2013 through 2016 answered the mystery of why Panoan DNA from eastern Peru appears in many Uchee and Creek descendants in eastern Georgia, Coastal South Carolina and the section of the Chattahoochee River Basin from Eufaula, Alabama southward.  What Muskogee-Creeks in Oklahoma think to be “their own” traditions are actually inherited from the Panoan Peoples of eastern Peru.  That includes the Sacred Black Drink (same word), Creek Square, stomp dancing, Creek long shirt, Creek ribbon dress, Swift Creek stamped pottery, Napier Style stamped pottery, clan names, the names of most food crops except corn (it’s a Maya word), the titles of village chiefs and clan mothers . . . even the Creek word for a canoe. 

Yet there were two other major ethnic groups in the heart of the Southeastern United States that went unrecognized by anthropologists, until People of One Fire researchers began seriously studying our past without any preconceptions.  They were Caribbean Arawaks and Southern Arawaks.  The descendants of both peoples, who actually spoke languages incomprehensible to each other, became divisions of the Creek Confederacy.   The most puzzling were the Southern Arawaks, whose DNA appears in descendants ranging as far south as the Gulf Coast and as far north as Ohio and West Virginia . . . but whose cultural traditions seem to have completely disappeared.

Fast forward to 2010

I had been living in a tent with my three herd dogs in the Southern Appalachians now for six months. Fed up with being constantly hounded by all three levels of law enforcement in North Carolina, I crossed the state line back into Georgia at Hiawassee. 

There was such a huge difference in the Sheriff’s Department in Towns County, GA.  When I asked directions for a campground where I could keep my dogs unleashed, the friendly deputy called his brother on the phone to find out the best location for dog lovers.  We then talked about dogs for awhile.  He said growing up he had one like mine that he dearly loved.  He called the dog, “Shep.”

After setting up my camp, I returned to Hiawassee to get a quick meal at a local “family style” restaurant and then drove on in the twilight of sunset to buy supplies at the supermarket.  There were two pretty senoritas working the only open cash register, who were wearing authentic Native American jewelry and no wedding rings.  I got ready to show off my Spanish, knowing that very few rural Georgians can speak Spanish to their new Latin American neighbors.

Closer to the check out, I heard them speaking with Southern drawls. They were definitely not Cherokees. They had small noses, small ears and gracile physiques.  They were too short to be typical North Georgia Hitchiti Creeks or Upper Creeks.  I figured that they must be two of those pretty Creek women in South Alabama, Southwest Georgia or the Florida Panhandle.

When it was my turn at the check-out, I explained that the former director of the National Park Service was paying me to do research on the early history of the mountains. I told them that I was Creek and was just curious as to what Indian tribe were they in.  

The introduction was necessary, because I didn’t want them to think that I was some homeless male predator.  Actually, I was a homeless bum at the time . . . but still a Southern gentleman.

The older young lady said, “Oh some folks call us Cherokees, but we are real different than the Cherokees up in North Carolina.  We call ourselves the Town County Indians.”    The younger gal, who was in her early 20s, chipped in, “Yeh, my brother was married to a Cherokee gal from up in the reservation for awhile.  Our family couldn’t get along with her at all. She would just go crazy for no reason sometimes and drank a lot.  She eventually went off with a guy from Atlanta. She didn’t even come back for the divorce trial.”

What the heck?  Real Indians, who look like people in Latin America, living in Towns County, Jawja . . .  Who are these people?  The answer would come about a year and a half later.

The BIG South American surprise

Fast forward to the spring of 2012 . . .  Not long after the experience in Hiawassee, I had stumbled upon the nearby Track Rock Terrace Complex.  I planned to hand off the ball to Georgia archaeologists and get back to my professional work in colonial architecture.  Instead a clique of Georgia archaeologists attacked me personally like a pack of crazed, starving hound dogs going after fresh ham.  It was obvious that People of One Fire researchers would have to do the work that other scholars should have done long ago.

One of the research projects involved DNA.  Through my architecture column in the Examiner, I sent out a call for DNA reports from Native American descendants from the Southeast, whose DNA also included indigenous peoples from outside the United States. 

As expected, the Creeks in South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Central Alabama often found that they carried at least some Maya DNA test markers.  Creeks in Georgia had the highest levels of Maya ancestry.  It generally ran about 10-12% of their total Asiatic DNA.  No one from Oklahoma responded, so we still don’t know how common Maya DNA is among Muskogee Creeks. 

The first big surprise was that members of a Cherokee band that is located on the edge of North Carolina, just north of Georgia’s Brasstown Bald Mountain also carried Maya DNA test markers.  In fact, their DNA profiles were pretty much identical to Georgia Creek profiles and very different from those Cherokees living on the Qualla Reservation, about 45 miles away. 

Duh-h-h-h, of course, we should have known.  The main Cherokee town in this area of North Carolina was Itsa’yi.    Itsa’yi means “Itza Mayas – place of” in English!

Very early in the process, a college student in Virginia hesitantly emailed me.  She wrote, “Mr. Thornton, is it okay if we send you DNA reports with South American DNA instead of Maya DNA?”  I live in the mountains of Southwest Virginia.  People always said that we were Cherokees, but all our family remembers is being enemies of the Cherokees.  All the Indian families in our county are getting back reports that say we are from South America.   That does not make any sense.  We don’t know anybody in our family history, who was from South America. I thought the test results were probably flukes, but told her to please tell her friends that their DNA results were welcomed too.

As soon as I posted the Youtube video that the young lady made about her South American DNA, I was hit with an avalanche of DNA reports from the Lower Southeast with South American or Arawak DNA.   Creeks from SE Alabama were showing up with DNA typical of the Amazon Basin.   Creeks, who traced their ancestry from the Georgia Coast were showing up with DNA typical of eastern Peru.  Creeks in central Alabama and western Georgia were showing up with both Maya and Arawak DNA.   I continued to suspect that the commercial DNA labs were using faulty methodology, but was beginning to wonder.

Then a bombshell arrived in my email.  An executive with Dave & Buster’s Restaurant chain was one of those “Towns County Indians,” but his family was on the rolls of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.  He had paid for a very sophisticated DNA analysis.  He was at least 25% indigenous American, which means he was probably more like 50% or higher in reality.  Typical DNA tests of card-carrying Cherokees in Oklahoma and North Carolina show them to be 0-2% Native American.  However, all of his indigenous DNA was FROM PERU!  The high tech test even broke down, which specific ethnic groups, he was descended from.  One was a Southern Arawak tribe.  The other was a Panoan tribe.  There did not appear to be any Quechua (Inca) in his ancestry.

Fourteen other residents of Towns County sent me their DNA reports.  Most of these people were not members of the Eastern Band of Cherokees.  Six submitted DNA profiles similar to that of the restaurant executive.  The others either had an almost equal mix of South American and Maya DNA or else profiles identical to North Georgia Creeks with about 10% of it being Maya DNA.  

Obviously, the picture that the Anthropology profession had painted of the Southeast’s Pre-Columbian history was wrong. At some time in the past, South American peoples had settled in the Southeast in large numbers.  What we thought were Muskogean traditions had actually been imported from Mesoamerica and South America.

The Georgia Apalache

The significance of some of this mysterious South American DNA remained a mystery for a year. Meanwhile, Marilyn Rae, who grew up in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, was puzzled by her DNA reports.  She is a direct descendant of the last hereditary principal chief of the Cherokees,  Pathkiller.  Yet her DNA reports showed her having much more of the typical DNA test markers carried by Sephardic Jews than her former husband, who was a practicing Sephardic Jew.  Her report also said that she carried Apalachee DNA from the Florida Apalachees.  That was a real mystery, because (a) where did the lab get Apalachee DNA test markers? . . . and (b) Southeastern anthropology books said that the Florida Apalachee were “Southern Muskogeans.”  Why would a Cherokee carry Southern Muskogean DNA?

Then in 2013 . . . while searching with the key words “Apalachee and Apalache, Marilyn discovered a long-forgotten book, written by French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort in 1658.  It contained 2 ½ chapters that described the indigenous peoples of North Georgia in the year 1653, when they were visited by Englishman, Richard Briggstock.  At that time, most of Georgia, the eastern edge of Alabama, western North Carolina, the eastern end of Tennessee and the southwestern tip of Virginia was part of a confederated kingdom called Apalache. Its capital was in Northeast Georgia. In 1653, the capital was in Northeast Metro Atlanta.  However, the last English map to mention Apalache showed the capital (Domus Regae) to be in the Nacoochee Valley, where the village of Sautee is today.  That’s immediately south of where the Towns County Indians are concentrated.

Illustrations in De Rochefort’s book showed the elite of the Apalache, dressed just like the indigenous people of Satipo Province, Peru.  Many of their customs seemed to be from South America.  There was a problem, though . . .  the Georgia Apalache were NOT the same ethnic group as the Florida Apalachee. Marilyn was still stumped.

Peruvian Arawaks in the Southeastern United States.

Further examination of the DNA test reports on the Towns County Indians revealed a MAJOR problem.  The Apalache Creeks were Panoans.  The Towns County Indians carried typical DNA test markers of major Southern Arawak tribes in Peru, such as the Ashaninka.  Was there a connection between the mystery of the Town’s County Indians and the bizarre DNA profile of a direct descendant of Pathkiller?

The first breakthrough came in 2016. I found that an Ashaninka-Spanish dictionary from Peru would translate all the surviving Florida Apalachee place names except Apalachen.  Apalachen was a Peruvian Panoan-Georgia Apalache word.  For over a century, Southeastern academicians have been labeling the Florida Apalachee a “Southern Muskogean” people.  They were absolutely wrong.  We now know that the so-called “Mississippian” cultural traditions that the Florida Apalachee displayed at the time of European Contact were the result of a colony established among them around 1050 AD by the Georgia Apalache.

The Itsate and Apalache Creeks in Georgia called the Florida Apalachee, Tula-hiwalsi.  The word means “Descendants of towns in the mountains.”    They weren’t talking about the Appalachian Mountains. They were referring to the Andes Mountains!

So, the ancestors of the Florida Apalachee were Arawaks from Peru or the western Amazon Basin.  Then I learned that both the Amazonian Arawaks and the Florida Apalache both dressed like Polynesians.  They wore skirts made from grass or Spanish moss. They also covered their bodies with tattoos like the Polynesians.  That pretty much sewed up the cultural connection.

Several other, less sophisticated tribes in Florida also wore grass skirts.  They were also probably Southern Arawaks, but they are pretty much extinct now, except for some tiny remnant populations, who joined the Seminole Alliance.  Evidently, Polynesians settled in northwestern South America at some time in the ancient past.  This would explain why the languages and cultural traditions of the Southern Arawaks were so radically different than their Arawak cousins in Colombia, Venezuela, Guiana and the Caribbean Basin.

Hopewell Pottery on the Apalachicola River and headwaters of the Little Tennessee River

Anthropology students need to study more the archaeological reports of previous generations in their profession.  They might be surprised how far off base their current “beliefs” are grounded. Between late 2011 and December 2017, I was paid to analyze all available archaeological reports in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, southern South Carolina, western North Carolina and southeastern Tennessee.  One of the biggest surprises came at the confluence of the Apalachicola River and Chipola River in the Florida Panhandle.

In the mid-20th century, before radiocarbon dating was generally available, archaeologists excavated the villages of newcomers on the Chipola and Apalachicola River, who were much more advanced than the people who preceded them and immediately followed them. They made pottery that was pretty much identical to the earliest types of Hopewell Style pottery in southeastern Ohio.  They only lived in the region briefly and then disappeared.  Those few contemporary Florida archaeologists, who are aware of the culture, label it “an extension of the Hopewell Cultural Network.”  I am not so sure.  Several decades later, a graduate student produced a summary of radiocarbon dates of sites along the Apalachicola River for her dissertation.  The Chipola sites are concurrent or possibly precede the radiocarbon dates of the earliest Hopewell sites in Ohio.  She did not catch the significance of the Chipola radiocarbon date because her dissertation was mainly focused on the occupants of the region after 1000 AD.

While I was still living in Asheville, NC, a young archaeologist, employed by the State of North Carolina, briefly visited the Otto Mound on the Little Tennessee River, just north of the Georgia State Line. At the lowest levels of village’s occupation, she also found simple Hopewell Style pottery.  She interpreted the discovery to be proof that the Hopewell People (whoever they were) established a trading center at the site.  Maybe so, but I am not quite so sure.  She was only at the site for part of a day and merely dug some test pits.  No radiocarbon dates were obtained. 

Since then some more proto-Hopewell potshards have been found downstream along the Little Tennessee River. If publicized at all, they are described by the academicians as proof that the Hopewell Cultural Network extended to western North Carolina.  Cherokee authors take it a step further and announce that these potsherds are proof that the Cherokees invented the Hopewell Culture.

What the evidence seems to indicate to me (call it a theory) was that the progenitors of the Hopewell Culture came from the south . . . far south . . . like the Upper Amazon Basin and Andes Mountains.  After all, the geometrical earthworks in southeastern Ohio are virtually identical to the geometrical earthworks in the Upper Amazon Basin of eastern Peru and western Brazil . . . except construction of earthworks began much earlier in South America. 

Some bands of immigrants worked their way northward until they became the elite of some local proto-Shawnee.  This evolved into the brilliant Hopewell Culture. 

Some immigrants liked the mild winters of Northwest Florida and Southwest Georgia and became the Weeden Island Culture.  Their descendants blended with their Georgia Apalache elite to become the Tula-hiwalsi . . . or Tallahassee People.  

Maya DNA in the Town County Indians?

That is easy to explain.  The four proto-Creek towns in the Nacoochee Valley were Itzate, Hontaoase, Choite and Nokose.  Itzate was the big town, where the Kenimer Mound is located and is what the Itza Mayas called themselves.  Hontaoase is Muskogean and means “Descendants of People Who Irrigated Their Crops.”   Cho’i-te is the name of the cousins of the Itza Mayas who lived in the lowlands of Chiapas and Tabasco in Mexico.  They speak a language that is similar to Miccosukee in Florida.  Nokose is the Muskogean word for bear.  That town was probably occupied by members of the Uchee or Creek Bear Clan.

Present day NW Metro Atlanta was originally the Province of Aparu, which means “From Peru.”  Its capital, at Peachtree Creek, was Pakanahueri.

So why do Marilyn Rae and the Towns County Indians have Southern Arawak DNA?

During the five years that I was the planning and historic preservation consultant for Smyrna, GA, we found numerous, but unusual petroglyphs on the boulders of Nickajack Creek, which flows into the Chattahoochee River just downstream from the confluence with Peachtree Creek.  I eventually figured out that they represented a combination of Spanish mine claim symbols and the emblems of Florida Apalachee clans.  In other words, Spanish speaking gold prospectors brought large numbers of Apalachee laborers with them when they ventured into northern Georgia.  The Georgia Gold Belt passes through Cobb County, where Smyrna is located.  The ruins of large commercial gold mines are still visible in the western part of this county.

There was a huge proto-Creek town in between those two creeks on both sides of the river.  Late 16th century and 17th century maps show its name to be Apalou, which is the Frenchification of Aparu . . . which means “From Peru” in Panoan.  By the late 1700s, this town was labeled Pakanhuere (Peachtree People in Georgia Apalache).  They gave their name to Peachtree Street!

1684 – Jean Baptiste Franqueline Map

In 1646, Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla ordered construction of a pack mule road from St. Augustine, FL to the Nacoochee Valley, where a fortified trading post was constructed.  By the 1680s, the settlement was labeled Apalache on English maps.

In 1693, Governor James Moore briefly entered the Nacoochee Valley with a small company of mounted Redcoats, but quickly departed when he realized that the smoke rising from numerous gold smelters were being manned by locals, who spoke Spanish. From 1670 until 1693, British maps show a town named Apalache in the Nacoochee Valley, but French maps during the same period show a large Creek tribe covering most of North Georgia, called the Apalache-te or Apalache.  The “te” suffix is Itza Maya. 

Is it possible that the Spanish-speaking community in the Nacoochee Valley was actually composed of Sephardic Jewish gold miners and Florida Apalachee laborors.  It sure looks that way.  One of the many strange discoveries made in the Nacoochee Valley by gold miners during the 1820s and 1830s was a barracks like building, constructed like a European structure, but containing Native American pottery, mixed with Colonial Period artifacts!

And then there are those two mysterious Spanish names on old maps of the Georgia Gold Belt.  Immediately south of present day Dahlonega, GA, where US 19 crosses the Chestatee River, was the village of Nuevo Potosi.  Potosi was the mining town in Peru than produced unimaginable wealth for the Spanish empire.  To the southwest of that village was a village named Acosta.  It apparently was on the Upper Etowah River somewhere.  Wikipedia tells us, “Acosta is a Spanish and Portuguese surname. Originally it was used to refer to a person who lived by the seashore or from the mountains (encostas). It comes from the Portuguese da Costa (cognate of English “coast”), which in Spanish became de Acosta.” 

Typical American History texts tell us that during the Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), combined Carolina militia and Creek or Yamasee armies ravaged northern Florida, virtually eradicating the Spanish mission system. Several thousand nominally Christian Indians from Florida were marched to Charleston, SC and sold into slavery.  The actual number of Apalache and Timucua slaves sold in Charleston has not been determined.  However, a closer look at Carolina archives reveals that hundreds, if not well over a thousand Apalachee joyously greeted these British and Creek invaders as liberators.  They asked to return back to Carolina with them.  These civilized Native Americans were settled along the Upper Savannah River in what is now Rabun, Stephens, Habersham, Hart and Elbert Counties, Georgia.  Their name appears on maps until after the American Revolution.  There is no solid information as to what happened to them.

The 1722 map by John Barnwell states that the Florida Apalachee near Fort Moore fled northwestward at the onset of the Yamasee War in 1715.

Those living south of the mountains either assimilated with the white settlers, the independent Itsate Creek bands or else the Muskogee Creek Confederacy.  Those in the mountains probably became associated with the Elate Confederacy.  However, in 1794 the Elate were hoodwinked into having their land given to the Cherokee Tribe.  Some Elate probably over the generations intermarried with ethnic Cherokees. However, it is obvious now that the ancestors of the Towns County Indians were those Florida Apalachee – mixed with Itstate Creeks from the Nacoochee Valley – who elected to keep their own identity.  They moved so far up into the mountains that even the Federal soldiers couldn’t find them.

There is absolute proof that the indigenous people in the Nacoochee Valley maintained their separate identity and that they did not consider themselves Cherokee.  Most of the land in the Nacoochee Valley was sold to a land speculator from Burke County, NC in 1821.  If the Cherokee Nation considered this land their sovereign territory, the land could have only been legally sold by the Cherokee National Council.  However, the payment went directly to the indigenous inhabitants of the Valley not to the National Council.  Some POOF members have ancestors, who lived in the Nacoochee Valley prior to the land sale.  Their ancestors moved to the Creek Nation in Alabama afterward.

An identical situation occurred at the same time in what is now Northside Atlanta, which was once the heart of the ancient province of Aparu.    “Creek” towns and villages along Peachtree Creek, sold their land directly to DeKalb County.  It was identical situation in which, if any Creek mikko sold his people’s land, independent of a treaty of the national council with the United States, he would face the death penalty.  Yet there was no protest from the Creek Nation.  Apparently, its leaders considered the residents of Aparu not “real” Creeks, just like their counterparts in New Echota considered the inhabitants around the Nacoochee Valley as not being “real” Cherokees.

Marilyn, now I know why I instinctively drove you and your daughter to the Nacoochee Valley, when you visited here in October 2013.  Your Sephardic and Florida Apalachee ancestors once lived there.



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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.



    On another post I told you people see me they speak Spanish or tell i’m a Indian. My grandpa was from towns county they were Fosters they came from Buncumbe county N.C. In 1752 or before one of them had 16 kids and they were Jewish.That might answer where the Jewish dna came from.


    I grew up in Oklahoma believing that I was part Cherokee, but mostly northern European. So it was a real surprise to me when my DNA test showed that I was 5% Peruvian and 10% Spanish. Now I see on your web-site that the result isn’t so unusual and it’s been very interesting to read about. One thing I wonder about though, is how did the Peruvians get to Georgia. Is it known if they migrated or were brought there by the Spanish?

    • Judy, at the time of the early French and Spanish explorations of the Southeast, a major portion of the region was occupied by peoples, who had migrated northward from northwestern South America. The Creek and Panoan (Peru) words for the Yaupon Holly and Sacred Black Drink are the same word . . . asi.


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