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Research Update: Dhegiha Peoples once occupied much of Eastern Alabama and Western Georgia

Research Update:  Dhegiha Peoples once occupied much of Eastern Alabama and Western Georgia


Strong architectural evidence has been found that suggests the Asheville, NC area was originally Dhegiha-Chickasaw!

The Dhegiha Peoples include the Kanza, Osage, Ponca and Quapaw Peoples now living on the Western Plains, but were formerly from east of the Mississippi River.  They are closely related to the Biloxi, Chattot, Mandan and Arikara Peoples. There is little doubt that in the Southeast, these eight tribes were once the same ethnic group.  Their language was classified as Siouan by academicians, but would have been unintelligible to the Siouan Peoples of the the Upper Mississippi River Basin.  My research also suggests that western Cuba was occupied by Dhegiha, Uchee, Southern Arawak and Cho’i-te Maya peoples, whose cultures had blended by the time the Spanish conquered Cuba . . . but they were not Taino Arawaks. 

By interpolating Kanza, Mandan, Caddo and Biloxi dictionaries with eyewitness accounts from the Colonial Period and archaeological reports, I have been able to identify a vast area of the Lower Southeast, which originally contained either proto-Mandan and proto-Kanza villages.  Their presence has generally been unrecognized by contemporary archaeologists because (1) Most Dhegiha did not build large mounds. (2) They made the same styles of pottery as Muskogeans. (3) They lived in farmsteads, hamlets and small villages composed of earthberm structures within provinces dominated by either Muskogean mound builders or large Chickasaw towns. (4) Most Southeastern anthropologists have no clue what the various indigenous town and village names mean or even what language they come from.

There was a very important exception to the lack of large mounds in Dhegiha Villages.  Alabama Creek Keeper,  Ghost Dancer, told us that in the oral history of the Alabama Muskogee, the large sophisticated towns along the Mississippi River were often built by hybrid Dhegihan-Muskogean peoples.  My architectural-linguistic research tends to confirm this.  Now having a Kanza Dictionary, I am now able to translate several town and village names, recorded by the chroniclers of the Hernando de Soto Expedition . . . words that have eluded me for years.

Alabama Creek cultural memory is reinforced by the migration legend of the Mandan People.  Creek tradition has the Mandan originating in the area around Chattanooga, Tennessee. Their elite were Chickasaws.  They were called Napo-si by Muskogees and Napooche by the chroniclers of the De Soto Expedition.   Mandan cultural memory starts on a great river, which they assume was the Mississippi.  The ancestors of the Mandan were initially primitive hunter-gatherers.  On the east side of the river were a very advanced mound-building people, who constructed large towns, but spoke the same language (Dhegihan) as the Mandan.   Once they learned agriculture from their sophisticated cousins, the proto-Mandans migrated almost the entire length of the Mississippi then up the Missouri, where they eventually settled during the 1700s in North Dakota.

The Quapaw Migration Legend places their origin on the coast of South Carolina in the vicinity of Myrtle Beach. However, several Dhegihan and Northern Caddo (e.g. Pawnee) tribes have migrations legends, which state that their ancestors came down from the heavens, after living on other planets.

Now the Caddo-speaking Pawnee is another interesting situation.  One of their principal divisions is the Kawi or Kowi.   Of course, the origin of dominant Koweta Branch of the Creek Confederacy was the Itstate-Creek ethnic name Kawi-te or Kawi / Kaw ~ Eagle People.  Kowi was also a town on the Upper Tennessee River, which was later occupied by the Cherokees.  A branch of the Caddo was definitely in Northwest Georgia.  One of the satellite villages of Kusa, visited by De Soto, is the Northern Caddo (Paunee) word for pumpkinvine.  The village’s name has no meaning in any Creek language, Panoan, Itza or Kanza.  A large creek (essentially a small river) joins the Etowah River at Etowah Mounds.  Its name is Pumpkinvine Creek!  We are finding more and more evidence of an ethnic Brunswick stew in the Southeast’s past.

I was able to find several brief references in Alabama and Georgia archaeological reports about “earthlodge houses” along the Coosa River in Alabama and Georgia, West-Central Georgia and along the Lower Flint River in Southwest Georgia.   Most statements are vague and did not describe what they actually found in their excavation.  However, Brockington Associates did fully excavate an “earthlodge house” on the Dog River in Douglas County, GA in the early 1990s.   The house’s footprint was accidentally discovered during construction of a dam on this small river.  

The archaeologists were puzzled by the presence of Lamar (Proto-Creek) pottery in a house that was clearly not Creek.    They had no explanation other than perhaps this was an isolated farmstead, because it did not fit their profession’s understanding of the Southeast’s past.  Being an anomaly, which conflicted with orthodoxy, the discovery was quickly forgotten, even though the quality of the archaeological work was excellent.  Most likely, the current generation of archaeologists in Georgia and Alabama have never even heard of this discovery. 

1865 – The Kanza man on the left is wearing a Kanza tunic, which is identical to those in eastern Peru.  Both men are wearing Creek-style turbans.

Mystery of their Panoan cultural traditions

There is one mystery about the Kanza (Kaw, Kansa, Kansas) People, which I cannot yet explain.  As you can see in the compared photographs above, the hat worn by a famous Kanza chief in 1850 is identical to that of a Shipibo (Panoan) chief in Satipo Province, Peru.  All of the early drawings of the Kanza, after they arrived on the western plains, show them wearing traditional eastern Peruvian clothing . . . which was also worn by the Apalache-Creeks of Northeast Georgia. Both the Kanza men and women were wearing  Peruvian-Creek style turbans in their day-to-day activities.  The earliest photographs show most Kanza still wearing Panoan clothing, but some have switched to Lakota style “Plains Indian” clothing.   Only after the American Civil War do you see a significant percentage of Kanza wearing Plains Indian garbs.


18th century drawing puts the Chickasaw in Asheville

Recently I stumbled upon a sketch of a late 18th century Chickasaw village in Northeast Alabama.  What immediately caught my eye was the ceremonial stockade in the center.   This was a puzzling feature of a village excavated on the Warren Wilson College campus near Asheville, NC.   This village was abandoned around 1500 AD.   Of course, North Carolina archaeologists now label everything west of Charlotte . . . including their grandmother’s flower planter . . . Cherokee . . . but the Warren Wilson site clearly had nothing to do with the Cherokees.  For that matter,  the Cherokees never lived in the Asheville Area.  During their largest territorial size, their eastern boundary was the Pigeon River in Haywood County, NC.   

The central palisade is never seen in Proto-Creek or Uchee villages, so I also was puzzled by it.  The houses in the village are obviously Muskogean.  The sketch on the left strongly suggests that the branch of the Chickasaw in Northeast Alabama formerly also lived in the French Broad and Swannanoa River Valleys around Asheville.

Some “earthlodge houses,” typical of the Kanza villages in the Coosa River Valley have been found in the flood plains of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers near Ashevile.   They are labeled Cherokee earthlodges.  Although their excavations were not discussed in detail, references were made to Chisca houses being dug into sides of hills in NE Tennessee, while the discoveries near Asheville were interpreted to be proof that “the Cherokees invented earthlodges” and therefore were probably the occupants of Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, GA.

Apparently,  after the Chickasaw moved away, the region was later occupied by Southern Shawnee.  Until 1763 there was a large Shawnee Colonial Period village where Biltmore Village and the entrance to the Biltmore Estate are now located.  Swannanoa is the Anglicization of the Muskogee words,  Suwani Owa  or Shawnee River.

What I have been finding is that Kanza farm villages and Chickasaw towns were often paired together.  Chickasaw and Kanza share several words, whereas I could not find any Muskogee words in their language . . . just a couple of Itsate-Creek words.

Thank you!

A big thanks goes to the Kaw Nation in Oklahoma for sending me their beautiful history book and a Kanza Language dictionary.  Also, I would like to thank all those, who are supporting my research with cash donations, plus gifts of dictionaries, maps, anthropology books, software and hardware.   The new software and hardware that were donated in December 2017,  is making possible much more sophisticated research techniques. 

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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, seems perfectly logical that these peoples were pushed North in Georgia/Alabama by the Maya/ Itza migrations in the 800-1000 AD time period or do you think the Dhegiha peoples arrived later? Many different translators were needed by De Soto’s men’s march though Georgia in 1540. Great research!! and Thanks for the articles.


    Richard Thornton, a follow up to yesterday’s e-mail, the petroglyph I believe I’ve found is in NW Georgia.


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