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Post Script . . . Why Native Americans should monitor descriptions of colonial history

Post Script . . .  Why Native Americans should monitor descriptions of colonial history

 

A long time POOF member, who is also a member of a state-recognized tribe in Alabama, emailed me last night.  His opinion was that most Native Americans or descendants of Native Americans were not particularly interested in what the Spanish, French or English did . . . and probably would prefer to see our articles focus on Native American culture, traditions and issues.

Well, Sam, here is one the problems with focusing on indigenous traditions.  The only Native American peoples in the Southeast, who had a writing system at the time of European Contact, were members of the Creek Confederacy . . . and we still have not figured out that writing system!   Think of all the wealth of information I was able to glean from just a few 288 year old documents, which consisted of the English translations of written Creek documents. Apparently, very soon after those documents were translated, the Creeks forgot how to write in their own system.

The biggest obstacle to relying solely on indigenous sources is the Native American holocaust.  The population of the Southeast declined by between 90% to 95% between 1500 AD and 1700 AD.  By 1720,  Florida’s indigenous peoples had been virtually exterminated. In 1653, the Parakusate (High King) of Apalache bragged to Richard Briggstock that he didn’t have worry about either the Spanish or the English because he had over 7,000 soldiers in two days walking distance of his capital. His soldiers were already learning how to use firearms and steel weapons.  After the 1696 smallpox plague, the Kingdom of Apalache ceased to exist.  Virtually all of its educated elite were dead.

 

National Geographic portrayed the Toasi Creeks as being short and barbaric, when in fact they were a foot taller than the Spanish and wore clothing.

Combating the eurocentric viewpoint by academia and the media

Since virtually all the written Colonial Period sources, except the Creek Migration Legends, were made by Europeans, academicians have almost consistently evaluated artifacts and archaeological evidence from a European perspective.  The third generation of archaeologists began using the opinions of respected members of the first and second generations as “facts” rather than going back to the primary sources.  Add to that the general cultural ignorance of most folks in the USA these days and you have a mess.  The historians and anthropologists are using false locations for Chicora and Fort Caroline as benchmarks for locating every Native people in the Lower Southeast, except the Cherokees.  Even though there is no evidence of the Cherokee’s presence until the late 1600s,  academicians use “faith-based” science to place them in the Southern Appalachians anyway.

When National Geographic Magazine published an article about Hernando de Soto’s journey from Florida to Northeast Georgia, they hired a Vietnamese-American artist to paint the illustrations for the article.  He did beautiful artwork, but his images of the Florida Apalachee and Creek’s ancestors were entirely wrong.  The De Soto Chronicles stated that the Florida Apalachee wore skirts made of Spanish moss or grass. The artist portrayed them to look something like the Lakota!   This painting above portrays the first contact between the Toasi Creeks and De Soto’s Expedition on the Ocmulgee River in central Georgia.  The artist portrayed the Toasi as diminutive Amazonian hunters.  In fact,  the De Soto Chronicles stated that the Toasi were a foot taller than the Spanish.  They had medium length hair in a bun and wore turbans.  Their men’s tunics and women’s dresses displayed brightly colored and ornate patterns.  They wore sandals.

If I had back then the professional credibility that I enjoy now, I would have reamed National Geographic for those paintings.  However, I didn’t and so 300 million Americans and Lord knows how many other people in the world went on thinking that the Creek People were ignorant, primitive savages until given the blessings of civilization by Europeans.

Here is another example.  In the May/June 2005 issue of Archaeology Magazine,  the dean of Florida anthropology,  Dr. Jerald T Milanich wrote an article entitled, “The Devil in the Details.”   The article was the report on his analysis of the water color paintings created by Jacques Le Moyne, the resident artist and mapmaker at Fort Caroline.  Milanich came to the conclusion that Le Moyne never saw any Indians or else created artistic fantasies for European consumption.

The reason for Milanich’s condemnation of Le Moyne’s artwork was that the Natives he portrayed did not look like Florida Indians.  They had the cultural traits of the more advanced peoples of northwestern South America.  He was right about his observations, but wrong about his conclusion.

You see . . . Jacques Le Moyne was never within the boundaries of the State of Florida.  All of his scenes were painted near the Altamaha and Satilla Rivers in present day Georgia.  That’s because Fort Caroline was on the Georgia Coast. 

Le Moyne painted Georgia’s indigenous peoples.   All of Fort Caroline’s indigenous neighbors spoke either Panoan or Tupi languages from South America.  Those who survived the onslaught of Spanish imperialism quickly moved to south-central Georgia, the Lower Chattahoochee River Basin, the Georgia Mountains or Central Alabama.  They eventually became members of either the Creek Confederacy, Yamasee Confederacy or the Elate Confederacy.

So how are Native American scholars going to fight this deeply embedded spider web that mixes inaccurate 20th century speculations with superficial accounts of the Early Colonial Period, unless we analyze the original eyewitness accounts of European explorers and do a better job of interpreting them?  That is why you see POOF articles again and again doing detailed analysis of the European explorers and early colonies.

Now you know!

 

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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.

10 Comments

  1. cassiehall0017@gmail.com'

    Mr. Thornton,

    I noticed your suggestions made above:

    “Combating the eurocentric viewpoint by academia and the media

    Since virtually all the written Colonial Period sources, except the Creek Migration Legends, were by Europeans, academicians have almost consistently evaluated artifacts and archaeological evidence from a European perspective. The third generation of archaeologists began using the opinions of respected members of the first and second generations as “facts” rather than going back to the primary sources. Add to that the general cultural ignorance of most folks in the USA these days and you have a mess.”

    “So how are Native American scholars going to fight this deeply embedded spider web that mixes inaccurate 20th century speculations with superficial accounts of the Early Colonial Period, unless we analyze the original eyewitness accounts of European explorers and do a better job of interpreting them? That is why you see POOF articles again and again doing detailed analysis of the European explorers and early colonies.”

    It would seem you have made an argument of distrust for European credibility which you then suggest our heavy reliance upon further European accounts with some new measure of assumed credibility? This seems paradoxical; how would one suppose Europeans could ever be credible sources if they are also crafty liars who you suppose to have the willingness to manipulate our historical accounts as it suits them at different points in time? How do we know that accountability in relaying accurate information would provide historians reliable and wholly inclusive of the indigenous peoples encountered during some of their supposed initial ventures into unfamiliar territories? Who was guiding these expeditions in terms of Natives? What do we know of their accountability and the accuracy of what they would have communicated being both understood and recorded by these Early Europeans reliably and with true accuracy? Did the Natives ever prove to intentionally misrepresent their cultures or mislead the Europeans who presumably had their own special interests and variances among their end-goals? In light of your latest observations and assertions, it appears the endeavor holds little hope.

    Reply
    • Hey Cassie

      I find those reports that were made to kings or high officials to be very reliable, since the author would not dare lie to their ultimate boss. The problem is the interpretations of these reports or worse still, they were ignored in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. For example, all French and Spanish reports to their respective kings state that Fort Caroline was at slightly north of 31 degrees latitude. That’s the mouth of the Altamaha River. All European maps place Fort Caroline at the mouth of the Altamaha River. However, the National Park Service royally screwed up in 1950 and accepted ownership of a tract of land on the St.Johns River that local economic boosters claimed was the site of Fort Caroline, even though nothing has ever been found there. Since then politicians have pumped untold millions of dollars into that false location so that it is now a 72 square mile national park . . . still with no 16th century French artifacts being found.

      What we have found over and over again was that early explorers described advanced indigenous cultures in what is now Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. Early 19th century American scholars dissed these accounts because then it would imply that their ancestors stole the lands of civilized peoples, not savages. The best example is the account of the Kingdom of Apalache in Northeast Georgia by late 17th century ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort. He described a civilization with stone structures, which mixed Peruvian and Maya traditions. The book was very popular in Europe. The Apalache capital, Melliot, appeared on most 17th century maps. However, in the early 1800s, New England professors dissed the book, because it described indigenous peoples in Georgia, who lived in large towns, built pyramidal mounds and wore woven clothing. Because there was already extreme political friction between the North and South, the professors reasoned that since white southerners were inferior to white northerners, the previous Native inhabitants were also inferior to northern Indians. De Rochefort’s book is still considered a reliable and important reference in Europe, but POOF researcher, Marilyn Rae, found it in the “Fantasy and Utiopia” bin of Brown University’s library. It not had been checked out since the 1920s. The book contained a note from a Brown professor stating that “the book’s contents should be ignored since it describes Indians in the Georgia Mountains, who built towns on the sides of mountains with stone . . . obviously ludicrous.”

      In fact, we have dozens of town sites in North Georgia which consist both of stone ruins and earthen mounds. One is a 330 acre county park in Metro Atlanta.

      Reply
      • Cassiehall0017@gmail.com'

        Hello Again Richard,

        Thanks so much for taking the time to make a detailed reply to my query and expound on your ideas; sounds like you’ve made some interesting points, just added this into my reading material for today- looking forward to taking another look…
        Was surprised to get such a quick reply, sure hope all is well with the crazy weather you had- be safe!

        Reply
        • You just caught me at the right time. The tornadoes Saturday night went north of here and the tornadoes Monday night went south of here.

          Reply
  2. wrapscallionn@gmail.com'

    It is like the site of Mauvilla. All modern accounts have it somewhere in central Alabama, around Miller’s Ferry…..yet on 18th and early 19th century maps , including a ” seat of war ” map about the attack on fort mims , it is on a bend just above where Little River flows into the Mobile/ Tensaw rivers , at a place called Choctaw Bluff today. Even half of the track from Florida into Georgia is wrong.

    Reply
    • wrapscallionn@gmail.com'

      Meant lower Alabama river.

      Reply
  3. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, Thank You for your articles…as they are allowing us to have a better understanding of the Native Americans history. Which have not been well reported in history books or universities still to this day. Documents and libraries by the Natives were destroyed so all we have today to read is words of the conquerors on most accounts one sided. However, we can take that in consideration and gleam some facts like the reports of a plague reported 2 years prior to the arrival of Desoto’s army into South Carolina. That is a fact that implies a contact or a colony of Europeans had arrived to the South. Most likely North Carolina were their is Gold and fits well with one of the Viking saga’s that reported a settlement in a land that received no snow and a river that formed a “lake” before it emptied into the Sea: Pamlico sound? It was not universities that found the settlement of Vikings in Newfoundland but a man and a woman that read those old documents. History books changed?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%27Anse_aux_Meadows

    Reply
    • Mark, I am convinced that Vinland was in South Carolina for reasons that you quoted and more. Winyah (Bay) at Georgetown, SC is EXACTLY how the Gamla Norsk word for “grassy meadow” would be pronounced. It is root for Vinland and also Ven Island, Sweden, where my pedestrian village project was. Secondly, the Verrazano Voyage recorded two villages on the South Atlantic Coast with Scandinavian or English names – Norman Villa and Long Villa All other villages were given Italian names.

      Reply
      • markveale@hotmail.com'

        That Sir is why I keep reading your articles…Yes I far is I am concerned, universities have not put the dots together….”broadswords” noted in Carolina (Vinland). The small pots disease had both devastated a few euro’s towns and Native populations in South Carolina 2 years before Desoto’s men arrived:

        “The Castilians found the pueblo of Talomeco entirely deserted because the recent pestilence had been more severe and cruel there than in any other pueblo in the whole province, and the few Indians who escaped it had not yet been returned to their houses.”

        “The second on either side (this was the order in which they were all placed) had broadswords made of wood in the same form that they make them in Spain of iron and steel.” “The Inca”

        Reply
  4. jamesrhodes666@msn.com'

    We have been watching the (TV) programming relating to the history of the Popes & they directly tie into aboriginal native histories of the “Americas”-which, I believe, also makes your point. Additionally, from their point of view, anything horrible/criminal/inhuman done to natives -by flawed representatives of “god”- was totally acceptable “because the “institution” they allegedly represented was “of god.” (the small g is correct in this context) This is why we must not limit our understanding or exclude certain knowledge databases as they do allow us to-as you say-connect the dots…

    Reply

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