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Presenting the Apalache Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

Presenting  the Apalache Nitty Gritty Dirt Band


Fresh from its command performance before Don Hernando de Soto, the band above performs its blockbuster hit, “Maya Blue.”

Fantasy?  Nope . . . the real fantasies in the Southeast’s history can be found in the official state history textbooks your children read, the state historical markers (or lack there of) describing the history of a region, prior to the arrival of settlers from the Old World and even in academic papers.  The cultural level of our Uchee, Chickasaw, Shawnee and Creek ancestors has been intentionally “dumbed down.”

Read the De Soto Chronicles, the Report of Juan Pardo and the Apalache Chronicles!  When Hernando de Soto’s Conquistadors arrived at the northern outskirts of the great town of Kawshe (Coça ~ Kusa), they were greeted by a parade of the town’s elite, led by a large orchestra.  The king of Kusa was born on a litter, followed by a crowd of the town’s most important citizens.  The chroniclers stated that the people of Kusa played at least 32 different wind and percussion musical instruments. The wind instruments varied in sound from that of a bassoon to that of a piccolo. 

The probable location, where the king of Kusa greeted De Soto is here on an old Native American road, about two miles north of Carters Lake.

The State historic marker at the probable location, where the leaders of Kusa met the Spaniards does not mention the aboriginal people of the region, but does briefly mention the Cherokees. ” OLD FEDERAL ROAD –  The route veering southeastward is a remnant of the Old Federal Road, northwest Georgia’s earliest vehicular way and the first thoroughfare linking Tennessee and Georgia across the Cherokee Nation. Permission to open the highway was granted by the Indians in 1803 and confirmed by treaty in 1805.   * Actually, this section of the road was here long before it was called the “Federal Road” or “Nancy Hughes Turnpike.”   For thousands of years, it connected the Etowah River with the Great Smoky Mountains.

The trace, which followed the course of an early Indian trading path to Augusta, became a noted route down which Kentucky and Tennessee cattlemen drove stock to markets in Georgia and South Carolina. The site called “Bloodtown” was a resting point for stock drovers.” 105-7 GEORGIA HISTORICAL COMMISSION 1954.”   In 1990,  a state marker was placed at the Carters Lake Visitors Center, which gives a general description of the De Soto Expedition.

Earlier in the De Soto Chronicles . . . they state that when De Soto’s small army crossed the boundary in present day Southwest Georgia between the people the Spanish called Apalache and the lands that later became the Creek Confederacy, they noticed a stark cultural change.  The proto-Creeks averaged a foot taller than the Spaniards. While the Florida Indians wore clothing made from Spanish Moss or deer hides, the new people wore bright colored and patterned cloth apparel. 

Woodwind instruments made from river canes and gourds

No museum exhibit shows Southeastern indigenous men wearing kilts or tunics as this engraved rock displays.




Men wore tunics in cool weather and in formal occasions. As can seen in the indigenous art prior to the 1700s, the men of Etula (Etowah Mounds) wore kilts into battle and leather helmets with copper crests. The Apalache and Chiska warriors word split cane hats.  Charles de Rocheforts’ book (1658) stated that the Apalache in North Georgia wore colorful tunics and the conical split cane hats.  These hats seemed to be a fantasy on his part, until I looked closely at the art created by mound builders in the Creek homeland.  Several showed men wearing conical hats and kilts.  Apparently this art had been ignored by historians and later, anthropologists, for two centuries.

The adult men and female leaders wore cloth turbans. Men, who had proven themselves in battle wore mustaches.  Leaders wore beards. The king of Okate (Okute) wore a beard, which reached to his belly button.  The towns in this new region were described as being much larger and well-planned.  Their plazas were dotted with large wooden statues, but they stated that they did not worship the statues,  only one invisible God.  There was no a sacrifices of either humans or animals.  The shedding of all blood was banned within two miles of a temple or sacred shrine.

The capital of Kusa in 1540 AD. De Soto probably entered the town from the upper left corner of this image.


(left) Zampanas made from river cane (center)) copper pan pipes. (back row) two sided drum (right) drum made from hollowed tree trunk

The illustrations that accompanies the 16th century accounts of the De Soto Expedition consistently showed the indigenous people, encountered by the Spaniards wearing tunics.  Late 17th century illustrations of the direct ancestors of the Creeks showed them wearing tunics.  Paintings of Creek and Seminole men in the late 1700s and 1800s showed them wearing colorful tunics.  Of course, this is exactly what the Creek Long Shirt is . . . a tunic.  Twentieth century anthropologists assumed that somehow, Creeks and Seminoles started wearing tunic after exposure to European civilization.  Commercial artists, when hired to create exhibits and murals for Southeastern archaeology museums, consistently portray the “Southeastern Moundbuilders” in leather breechcloths and Northern Woodland Indian hair styles.

When the People of One Fire formed eleven years ago,  I primary goal was merely to persuade educators and book authors to study the eyewitness accounts of our ancestors in the Colonial Period and portray them accurately in museum exhibits and books.  However, as the journey to understand the past progressed, we have gone far beyond that.  We have discovered that the Americas before Columbus were very dynamic places, with constant movements of peoples and even significant contacts with the Old World during the Bronze Age. The journey continues.

One of my current projects, in addition to becoming an educational video maker, is applying my skills as an architectural model builder to learning how to make the musical instruments that you see in these images.  I made two as Christmas gifts this past fall.  What would be fun to do is create a band that only plays traditional musical instruments of the Americas.  This would do more to promote a positive image of modern Native American descendants in the Southeast than about anything else we could do.   Almost everybody, except the Wood Rats in the woods behind me, likes beautiful music.




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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.



    Sounds great, Richard! I’m in. Tell me more about the types of instruments and drums. First we’d have to figure how to make them properly, or find an expert woodwind or drum maker.

    • No complaints about my drums so far. I am a drummer. My next project is making woodwind instruments. I have a five gallon bucket full of hollowed out, dried river cane stalks.


    Hey Richard I saw a show on petrogligfs
    in Australia supposed to be done by the Egyptians and there was that sun glyf that you mention I wonder what the connection is.Thanks Jeff

    • Whoever these people were, who carried the Great Sun glyph with them, they obviously sailed all over the planet!


    Richard, A Great article. As clearly noted in the early Euro. men accounts: the people of Georgia had different houses from the Natives of Florida, spun cloth using a tree fiber, dyed the cloth, leaders wore chest plates into battle (most likely bronze), lived in well organized flat top mound cities by rivers, had domesticated turkeys, “hens” and small dogs to eat. Mr. Briggstock stated the Apalache men wore black pointed hats in 1653, perhaps similar to the Mexica artwork of Toltec King Quetzalcoatl (Kukulcan to the Itza Maya peoples) of the 9th century AD. Their use of Peruvian words, terraces and “bio char” soil indicates a connection with the peoples of the Andes that migrated as well. They were noted as being much taller than the peoples of Mesoamerica or the Spanish by the 15th century… most likely a mixing of the Peruvians, Mesoamericans and Sioux peoples had occurred in parts of the South…. as well as some Euro Bronze age to pre 1000 AD peoples migrations as well.


    I found this interesting item on a bluff over looking the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. The area is known as
    Golden Horse shoe and Spotswood’s Knights of the Golden Horse Shoe lore. This stone has 3 sides, each side smooth
    and similar. One side appears darker with the inscription some kind of Lion, panther…? It seems striped or I believe the creator used the stripes to make it life like. He appears in a left to right motion with his head and front leg in action. Close inspection does show his victim. I have a venture to guess it artist was left handed to see his work? I have struggled all my life resisting the urge of opposites. nose on the right. I was told that the natives in the valley couldn’t do this? But your work gives ?? just “who are the they limited to? I’m pretty shore they didn’t standardize designs. This is a link worth doc.

    • Calvin, I would have to look at a photo of it to have a better understanding of the images. I believe I can help you on this one.


    I would just love to hear this band Richard. Their instruments look wonderful as do their costumes.

    • Were you ever able to access our YouTube videos?


        Hi Richard, I tried all your links and no they are not accessible in my region. I am a little disappointed but not your fault.


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