Research Update: Almost continuous chain of towns, villages and farmsteads along Chattahoochee River in mid-1700’s
The People of One Fire is continuing its virtual canoe voyage down the Chattahoochee River, but also a private sector client is supporting archival, cartographic and geospatial research, which will provide Native Americans and the general public the specific locations of 18th and 19th century Creek Confederacy towns, along with their GPS coordinates. The findings are astounding. While Colonial and Federal Period maps show anywhere from seven to twelve Creek tribal names along the Middle and Lower Chattahoochee River, Flint River and Apalachicola River, we found that there were hundreds of settlements and thousands of farmsteads. The Creek population was far larger than has been assumed.
What happened to the Itsate (Hitchiti), Apalache, Tamauli, Chicksaw, Panoan, Tupi-Guarani and Arawak speaking peoples, who were the original occupants of most of Georgia? Native Muskogee-speakers were a tiny minority until Muskogee was adopted as the official parliamentary and trade language by the Coweta-Tuckabachee dominated New Creek Confederacy in 1717. Did they become extinct or all move to Florida?
Many Creeks are showing up with non-Muskogee, Indigenous American DNA test markers. The answer is that the non-Muskogee speakers concentrated on the east side of the Chattahoochee River . . . from Peachtree Creek to the confluence of the Flint River. As can be seen below in the 1755 John Mitchell Map, from 1721 onward and for unknown reasons, tribal towns with non-Muskogee names were left off the maps. Near present day Eufaula, AL on the east side of the river, I found a cluster 11 villages, including Eufaula, with either Panoan (Peruvian), Itza Maya, Arawak or Tupi-Guarani names. These villages were originally much larger towns in the Coastal Plain of Southeast Georgia.
Note Captain Aleck Town on the east side of the Chattahoochee above. Alek is a Tupi-Guarani word meaning “medicine”. The Alek-mani (Medicine Makers) originally lived on the north side of the Altamaha River, where they (according to several colonists at Fort Caroline) cultivated Cinchona (Quinine) trees. The medicinal bark from these trees was traded to tribes all over the Southeast and made the Alekmani wealthy. By the 1700s, Alek had become the Creek word for a medical doctor.
Because of the dense pattern of prehistoric and historic settlement sites, most of the corridor from Helen, GA in the Blue Ridge Mountains southward to the Gulf of Mexico, unless inundated by 20th century lakes or commercial development, is eligible for inclusion within either a National Historic District or a National Park. The corridor, beginning at Peachtree Creek in Northwest Atlanta southward, was densely settled by members of the Creek Confederacy in the 1700s and early 1800s. That evaluation also goes for the drainage basins of Nickajack, Peachtree, Nancy, Utoy and Sweetwater Creeks in Metro Atlanta.
The general public is just not aware of this fact. The museum and lake at Sweetwater Creek State Park are built on the site of a Colonial Period Creek town, yet its museum only mentions the Cherokees, who NEVER occupied that area. The museum also exhibits the famous Sweetwater Petroglyph, but does not mention that it is a typical example of Arawak art . . . Arawaks being one of the occupants of the area before the Creeks. This perversion of history was only possible because the historic preservationists in surrounding Douglas County, did not know where most Uchee, Panoan, Arawak and Creek town sites were.
The map featured above is merely a small section of that corridor, which I labeled the Re-kackv or Broken Arrow Tribal Town Cluster. Broken Arrow also occupied the area in Alabama around Fort Mitchell. Most maps don’t even mention this tribal town. This type of settlement density is seen for about 300 miles along the Chattahoochee-Flint-Apalachicola River System. The greatest population density in the 1700s was between present day Columbus and Fort Gaines, GA.
Maps merely labeled major ethnic groups
Archaeological investigations along the Chattahoochee River in the late 20th century found that the river corridor was always a major center for advanced indigenous cultures.
Take a look at the maps in Alabama and Georgia from the 1700s and early 1800s. Most locations of Creek and Uchee settlements are labeled with such words as Echtetees, Ocmulgees, Cowetas, Uchees/Euchees, etc. Historians, students and Native American descendants in our era assumed that these dots and labels represented single villages. Twentieth century historians and ethnologists estimated the population of the Creek Confederacy based on the dots printed on historic maps that they thought represented the only significant towns.
It is obvious that they way-underestimated the Creek population. Between 1725 and 1776, the vast majority of the +/- 3,200 Overhill Cherokees were located in a 36 mile long corridor of the Little Tennessee River, between the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee River. There were eight Cherokee villages in this corridor. As can be seen in the featured map, a densely populated corridor ran along both sides of the Chattahoochee River through the Creek Confederacy for over 200 miles. There were many other Creek towns and provinces along other rivers.
From 1721 onward, mapmakers left out the names of non-Muskogee-speaking towns on the east side of the river, but they also only labeled clusters of Creek towns and villages, unlike in maps of the Cherokee Nation, which labeled individual villages . . . even if they had as few as 50 residents. Today, Creeks call these clusters, Tribal Towns, but they were more or less equivalent to townships in the Midwest or small counties. Each contained at least one chokopa-chukofa (rotunda), a Creek square, a dance ground and a ball field . . . plus several villages and farmsteads.
Typical of what was overlooked in the maps was the village of Aputaw in what is now eastern Muscogee County, GA. The village was founded immediately north of Upatoi Creek in 1790 by a group of families from nearby Cusseta. It appeared on no maps until 1727, when surveyors employed by the newly created Muscogee County located 33 houses and farmsteads there that had recently been abandoned by their Creek owners. That means the population of this talufa must have been at least 125 persons. That’s about the same population of all the Cherokees in the Province of Georgia in 1776 . . . which then included present day Alabama and Mississippi.
Here is another example of the current situation. In 1825 the Marquis de La Fayette stayed at an inn in Fort Mitchell. He recorded in his memoirs that a town had grown up around all sides of the fort composed of mixed-heritage Creeks and white men with Creek wives, who provided commercial services to the Creeks. Nearby was the large Creek village of Broken Arrow. Maps just show a fort, but not a sizable town around the fort, a concentration camp with crude huts next to fort and a large Creek town about 1/2 mile away.
It is well documented that in the 1830s, Fort Mitchell functioned as a concentration camp. There are official US Army records of hundreds of captured Creeks being imprisoned at a concentration camp next to the fort, prior to deportation to the Indian Territory. This went on as late as 1843. Hundreds of Creeks died there of sickness or being shot while trying to escape. There was also the large Creek town of Broken Arrow in the valley adjacent to Fort Mitchell until around 1832. Neither the local historical society that maintains Fort Mitchell National Historic Landmark, nor the State of Alabama and the National Park Service seem to aware of these well-documented facts. The state government does not contribute a penny to the maintenance of Fort Mitchell. Currently, archaeologists seem to be completely disinterested in studying the multi-cultural period Fort Mitchell Archaeological Zone or locating the mass graves of Creek internees.
The politics of a concealed treasure along the Chattahoochee
In general, archaeologists have tried to keep these sites a secret under the excuse that they would be pilfered by artifact poachers. However, the poachers are typically locals, who know exactly where to dig. As a direct result, law enforcement officers, Native Americans, historic preservationists, elected officials and regional planners do not know where the Creek-Uchee-Arawak heritage sites are and thus find out too late to prevent their destruction. In fact, we found several cases in which Creek descendants unknowingly sold properties to developers or commercial enterprises that were destroyed by grading activities. Each stated that they knew some “arrowheads and pieces of pottery” could be seen on the surface of their tracts, but they assumed that if there was something important on their land, “the county officials would have told them.” Land Disturbance and Building Permits were issued by local government officials before anybody knew that mounds or Creek villages were being destroyed.
Here we get to the heart of the political situation. Political Boss Hogg’s have succeeded in creating the appearance of government protection of Native American sites, while in practice, little exists. During the late 20th century, the citizens of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee clearly stated that they wanted Native American archaeological sites protected. By the 1980s all four states had, at least for the Southeast, progressive political leadership that passed laws protecting mounds, burials and major archaeological sites. Funds were allocated to support Historic Preservation Planners on local government staffs, who were charged with protecting prehistoric and historic sites.
After a dismal 150 year record of destroying archaeological sites, Florida has in general lived up to the intent of its original archaeological and historic preservation laws. The same cannot be said for Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee. The current situation in Tennessee and Alabama concerning protection of Native American sites is particularly bad. Each step of the process that negated legal protection for archaeological sites was accompanied in those three states by the waving of miniature American flags and the cries of promoting government efficiency and reducing taxes. Does one know of any state in the Southeast that has reduced property and income taxes for the Middle Class?
The first step was in the mid-1990s when most local governments in the Southeast other than in a few larger cities like Miami, Tampa, St. Augustine, Savannah, Macon and Atlanta eliminated staff positions for architects and historic preservation planners. Both professions are standard components of local governments in Europe, Russia, Latin America and Southeast Asia. It was argued that placing historic preservation planners in regional agencies would be a more efficient use of tax money. The cost of politicians attended conventions in Las Vegas and Hawaii had risen dramatically, so that money had to come from somewhere.
The regional protection of archaeological and historic sites was to be guided and augmented by expanded staffs in State Historic Preservation Offices. However, from the very beginning, state legislatures and department administrators did not provide adequate funds to hire experienced, licensed architects and engineers to guide the generally, young and inexperienced historic preservation planners often hired by regional agencies when funding became available. Furthermore, bureaucratic administrators did not like the idea of having people under them who were more intelligent and better educated than they were. They were a threat to their job security.
Beginning in the 2002-2004 Recession, regional agencies and State Historic Preservation Offices began eliminating historic preservation planner positions, in order to balance budgets. There was soon no one that citizens could contact locally to determine the significance of local historic sites. What many regional agencies actually did in the early 2000s was to lay off most of their professional planners with masters degrees in planning and replace them with consulting firms or worse still, people with no professional credentials.
This process had already started in the 1980s. Over and over again, I have seen people with master degrees in Historic Preservation or City Planning fired and then replaced by female teachers or secretaries, who were the mistresses of some married politician. The planning director of a county, I formerly lived in, was previously the Executive Secretary and mistress of the county commissioner. She had a two year associates degree in business administration from a local community college, but was being paid as if she had a masters degree and 20 years of experience in planning. She was also paid to be the historic preservation planner. As a result, Georgia Tech has one of the top City Planning programs in the nation, but very few graduates can get jobs in the Lower Southeast because they are professional city planners, while politically conservative politicians don’t want people smarter and better educated than them in their bureaucracies. We must have CONTROL. We must have CONTROL.
The final destruction of the regional historic preservation system occurred during the 2008-2016 Recession. One by one, regional planning agencies have fired their historic preservation planners or else have changed their job titles to being regional planners. Now there is not even anybody at the regional level to watch out for archaeological sites. State Historic Preservation Offices are now supposed to fill the gap, but their staffs have not been expanded to handle the work load. In fact, their staffs have been shrunk. These staff members are under the thumbs of the Boss Hogg’s and do what they are told . . . not what the law says they should be doing. Of course, that is what the Boss Hogg’s wanted all along.
The State of Tennessee abolished its Commission on American Indian Affairs, which was created to enforce the Native American Graves and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA). Georgia’s commission rarely meets. Georgia Council on American Indian Concerns members are not paid for their time and its only staff member has full time responsibilities elsewhere. It is not clear what Alabama’s commission does. Florida’s commission is not as active as in former years, but it is still a functioning body with a budget.
So . . . if readers of People of One Fire are historic preservationists or Native Americans, who are concerned by the preservation of Native American treasures and historic buildings in your community, there is no one else but you to do something about it. The buck stops with you.
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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.
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