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People of One Fire to present an in-depth series on the Southern Shawnee and Hopewell Culture

People of One Fire to present an in-depth series on the Southern Shawnee and Hopewell Culture


Such a study is long overdue . . . and never has been done by anthropologists in academia!

I came to the side door of our newly restored Colonial stage coach inn-farmhouse in response to a door ring.  A grinning National Park Service archaeologist was standing at the door with Indian pottery in his hands.  When I opened it, he shouted, “Richard, we’ve found Adena and Hopewell villages on your farm.  They are not supposed to be here!”  I knew a lot about Mexico, but had no clue what he was talking about.  A little more conversation and realized that he was referring to the mound-building cultures in Ohio.  Actually, the Adena sites are scattered all along the upper Ohio River in several states, but we will get to that later.  The team of NPS archaeologists and historians were studying the Toms Brook Civil War Battlefield on our farm in anticipation of declaring it a “key property” in the proposed Shenandoah Battlefields National Park.  In the process, they discovered where a 100 wagon, wagon train had blown up during the American Revolution. They never expected our 55 acre farm to also have a legacy going back over two thousand years.  One of the artillery redans  erected by General Tom Rosser, CSA to defend against his former room-mate at West Point,  George Armstrong Custer,  Click the blue URL here and you can learn about the Thornton Farm and the Battle of Toms Brook.

My former house and a stone wall along the driveway were ground zero for two colliding armies.

What came next was a trip to the county library to check out books on the Adena and Hopewell Cultures, so I could at least talk intelligently with the NPS professionals from Harpers Ferry.  A couple of weeks later, that was followed by a trip to the University of Virginia’s Department of Anthropology . . .  where the professor laughed at me and accused me of illegally digging up the Hopewell pottery in Ohio.   Oh well!  A few years later, I discovered a large Hopewell village site on a bend in the Shenandoah River between Maurertown and Woodstock, while restoring another Colonial Era farm for a client.  I brought in the famous archaeologist, Dr. William Gardner, whose Thunderbird Associates was the next door neighbor of my architecture office in Woodstock, to do the archaeological survey.  Gardener confirmed that this was a large Hopewell site, but could get no interest from his colleagues or the Commonwealth of Virginia to carry out a thorough investigation.

How people can say that a plat drawn by George Washington in 1754 was used at the loan closing for your home?  The boundaries of our 55 acre farm had remained unchanged since they were plotted out by a young militia colonel that year.  Shortly thereafter, he was called to active duty and dispatched to a French fort, where Pittsburg is now located, to order the French to leave.  On the way back home, his company attacked a group of French soldiers on a diplomatic mission also.  After the melee, Washington’s Indian scouts killed and scalped the French commanding officer . . . thus starting the French and Indian War.  My house was a hospital used by both sides during the Civil War.  Up the Old Back Road a half mile was Baker’s Store . . . where Mosby’s men like to grab some crackers and cheese on the way to a raid. 

It was the experience of living in a place with such rich heritage that launched my deep interest in American history.  On weekends, Jay Monahan (Katie Couric’s late husband) and I would drive around the Shenandoah Valley in awe of the historical sites, everywhere one turned. Eventually, we were appointed to the commission, which set up the American Battlefields Protection Program.

The erasure of the Shawnee and Uchee

Winchester, VA . . . up the Valley Turnpike a bit from my farm . . . openly acknowledged that the Shawnee had lived there immediately before the arrival of white settlers.  Although 18th century Virginians generally hated the Shawnee, there are many streets and subdivisions in the Winchester Area, which honor the Shawnee.

Such was not the case in Western North Carolina, where I lived prior to moving to Virginia.  While I was the first director of the Downtown Asheville Revitalization Commission, we told people that until 1763 there had been a huge Shawnee town where Biltmore Village is now located.  The name of the Swannanoa River meant “Shawnee River.”   The 1701 map of North America by Guillaume De L’Isle labeled western North Carolina, “Pays du Chaouanons” – Land of the Shawnee.  It showed the region only occupied by Creek, Shawnee and Uchee villages.  The region around Hendersonville,  Brevard and Sapphire Valley, NC had been Creek Territory until 1763.  Old Fort, Lenoir and Morganton had been Uchee villages.

However, while I was Director of the Asheville-Buncombe Historic Resources Commission,  a group of professors came through town to promote their version of the Hernando de Soto Expedition.  That morning, two state archaeologists and I met with the professors to tell them that their route, described by masking tape on a state highway map, was highly flawed.  There were no occupied Indian towns on the French Broad River during the mid-1500s.  That afternoon, after picking up large checks from the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Biltmore Estate (reportedly $25,000) the professors gave a press conference in which they announced that a dinky 18 inch high, Woodland Period mound in a pasture on the Biltmore Estate was the site of the capital of the Cherokee Nation, Guasuli, where De Soto spent the night.   The village around the mound had been abandoned for a thousand years, when De Soto’s conquistadors were rampaging through the Southeast. Guasuli was the Hispanic way was writing the name of a Proto-Creek people, the Wasaw-li, whose capital was on the Savannah River near present day Elberton, GA.   It didn’t matter.  North Carolina soon put up an historical marker on Biltmore Ave. announcing the professors’ delusion as fact.   I had a front row seat when the era of Fabricated History dawned in the Southeast.

Shortly before I left Asheville City Hall to re-enter private practice, City Manager Ken Michelove forwarded to me a letter from North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt.  It ordered all public officials to be in compliance with a law (or proclamation?) passed by the North Carolina General Assembly, which required all American Indian archaeological sites and artifacts in the mountain counties to be labeled “Cherokee.”  Say what?  Such nonsense merely enhanced my joy in getting out of government employment.  Little did I realize that this idiotic command would soon affect the interpretation of history and archaeological sites in several states adjoining North Carolina.

A game changer

As stated in an earlier article, a new POOF subscriber has sent me extraordinary satellite images of either Hopewell or Amazonian geometrical earthworks in Haywood County, NC.  Several years ago, I found a Hopewell style earthwork in the Andrews Valley, which actually is in sight of the new Cherokee gambling casino.  Last night, I got to thinking.   One of the first articles that I wrote in 2010 as architectural columnist for the National Examiner was on the Garden Creek village sites in Haywood County.   At the time, I was living in a tent near those sites. 

Although now labeled “a Cherokee Heritage Site,”  the archaeologists specifically stated in 1976 that no Cherokee artifacts were found in the Garden Creek Archaeological Zone.   The archaeologists described the houses at Garden Creek, but obviously did not perceive what I instantly recognized.  The houses at Garden Creek were identical in every detail to Hopewell Culture houses in Ohio. They were unlike the Fort Ancient Culture houses in Ohio, which appeared at the time that Garden Creek was occupied.  How could this be? 

The architectural discoveries now being made in the Soque River Basin Study are far beyond the scale of what I ever anticipated.  Just one of the mounds in Batesville is in almost perfect condition and covers five acres!  It most closely resembles the architecture of the Maya city of Tonina in the Chiapas Highlands.  The scale and sophistication of the ancient structures, we are discovering, mandate that I present my drawings and analyses in a more professional format than is possible with this particular website.   Therefore, the Soque River Basin Study will be presented in the new Americas Revealed website, while the People of One Fire will be focused for the remainder of spring 2019 on the Shawnee, Hopewell Culture and western North Carolina. 

The newly discovered acropolis in Batesville, GA greatly resembles the acropolis of the Highland Maya city of Tonina.

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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, Congratulations on your Great discoveries. It looks like on this French map the Chickasaw / Parakusa / Apalachi / Chiska peoples had been removed by the very late 1600’s? This implies a connection with the Coweta, French and Shawnee taking over North Georgia…and a lot of Deserted towns in North Georgia of the Mitchell map…as you know not Cherokee towns. Did the same small pots virus outbreak wipe out more that 40% in the 1690’s in North Georgia? Not impossible… by that time starting in the 1520’s at least? the Euro’s had arrived and spread the virus of small pots all over the South.
    It seems likely that when the dust had settled the Chickasaw, Apalachi, Parakusa Nobles of Melilot, had been removed from North Georgia before the 1715 (the Yamasee war)…by the Coweta Creeks with the French and a Jewish factor support against the Spanish and the Dutch settlers of North Georgia. That seems to have led to the end of first Creek confederacy with the Chickasaw parting ways with the Coweta Creeks and one factor of driving many Shawnee out of Tenn. This event of the 1690’s is likely the main factor that started the multi peoples confederacy of the Cherokee’s in the very late 16th century. William Bartram notes the Cherokee women of one town were very fair skin…a connection to the peoples of North Georgia (Dutch / Spaniards / Vikings /Alemanni) would not be out of the question for some of the DNA mix of both Creeks and Cherokees.

    • We have quite a few new subscribers from North Carolina and Tennessee, so I am going to try address their questions. No one in those states seems to be “thinking out of the box.”


    Richard, in regards to your successive site finds on private property, is there some statutory means via tax laws that would encourage land owners to preserve the archaic ruins (along with a proper historic sign)? I know of all the work various land trusts have done to preserve endangered lands (mountain bogs, for instance). Seems like there should be similar non-profit organizations for ancient historical preservation.

    The feeling is that you’re just scratching the surface of what remains hidden deep in the mountains and forests of north Georgia!

    • Absolutely, Georgia law allows for a private property owner to establish a conservation or historic preservation easement around historical or prehistoric structures. The property owner no longer as to pay property taxes on the land within the easement as long as it is conserved. When I was Principal Planner of Cobb County, we regularly used this technique to protect Civil War fortifications and Native American mounds.


    Hi Richard
    I have been an avid follower of your articles for years now and applaud your efforts to discover so many lost truths.
    I know that you have done a lot of work in North Georgia, especially in what is now the suburban area of Atlanta.
    All the time when we were kids, there was an area around Suwanee, Georgia which was referred to as Shawnee Town or Old Shawnee. There are still roads and street names which recall the Shawnee who settled peacefully in the area around what was also called ‘Standing Peach Tree’, the original ‘Peachtree Street’ for which the area is noted for.
    Just curious, do you have any recommendations for study or additional information about this ‘lost (?)’ group of the Shawnee People?
    Thanks, and Best.

    • Ed, there is not a lot of information. The Southern Shawnee were allies of the Creeks. Most likely, when the land of this Shawnee town was ceded to Georgia, the occupants moved to either the Lower Chattahoochee River or Alabama. These Shawnee would have probably, originally lived in western North Carolina before the Cherokees arrived.


    I am working on securing permission to document a large circular enclosure “Hopewellian” earthwork. There is a large cone shaped mound not far from this location. They all seem to be on the southern banks of the Valley River in the Andrews Valley (WNC).

    There are many anomalous structures in the Andrews Valley. Some, I believe, are too large and obvious to be perceived by most. I’ve found artifacts to support a strong Hopwellian culture over many years that evolved into Missippian complex then on to others in historic times. I’ve been told that the Valley River was at one time a boundary. Cherokee were stopped on the northern side and the Creek inhabited the southern side.

    If there are any readers that are in the area, I’d love to form an “expedition” of sorts to get opinions and feedback about some of these sites and to learn more about other hidden gems in the area.


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