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Soque River Update: Terrace complex overlooking the valley

Soque River Update:  Terrace complex overlooking the valley


All secondary state highways in the terrain map above follow ancient Native American paths.  That has been an important asset in the identification of archaeological sites.   Unfortunately, a stark demographic change in the late 20th century makes it difficult to find anyone, who knows anything about the region’s early history.  The benchmark for the Smithsonian report is a post office in a village that no longer exists!  The report states that there are hundreds of stone ruins in the region around the Soquee Post Office,  but so far,  no one can tell me where the Soquee Post Office was located!  However, this week one man, who rides horses in the remote areas of the region, described an ancient stone terrace complex near the source of the Soque River. He is a highly credible source.  It does exist, even though past and present archaeologists missed the ruins. 

The Old Sautee Store was built in 1872, but was not called the Sautee Store until the 1920s.

Etymology and Pronunciation

Soque is the 16th-18th century English spelling of the Mixtec-Zoque ethnic name pronounced Jzhä : kē and means “Civilized.”  The letter K was seldom used in English, until made popular by Webster’s American English Dictionary. 

Sautee is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek word Svte, which is pronounced Shä : tē.  It means Sokee People.   Another Another Anglicized form of the word is Sutee

Nacoochee is the Anglicization of the Creek word, Nokose, pronounced Nö : kō : tshē.  It means “bear.”  All early Georgia maps show the village was  actually located where Cleveland, GA is now situated.

Chota is the Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Alabama word for frog.  The village was called Frogtown by early white settlers.  This village was located first, where Helen, GA is located, but later moved to an old mound site on Town Creek along the border between White and Lumpkin Counties. 

Hantaowasi was the actual name of the town, where the Nacoochee Mound sits.  The word is Apalache Creek and means “Descendants of people, who irrigated their crops.”

Research Barriers

The main problem that I am running into is that the people living in this area today now have little knowledge of what lays hidden under the trees of the mountainsides or under the ground in the stream valleys.  In the early 20th century,  the Georgia Power Company, formerly the Atlanta Electric Streetcar Company,  built a series of lakes along the Tallulah River to furnish electricity for Atlanta’s (then) metropolitan streetcar system.  Lake Burton was filled over Rabun County’s second largest town, which had a population of 200! Hundreds of affluent Atlanta families bought the land, owned for decades by pioneer families, to build vacation homes or subdivisions, like the one I live in.

Even families, who have lived in the region since the 1820s,  have absolutely no knowledge of the mounds and stone structures explored by the Smithsonian Institute’s archaeologists in 1886 and archaeologist Robert Wauchope in 1939.  There is a lady, who has lived beneath Alec Mountain her entire life, but had never heard of the Alec Mountain Stone Circle.  Her family’s presence is so ancient that they carry high levels of Portuguese,  Sephardic Jewish and Middle Eastern DNA.   They always thought that they were Cherokees, but had no Asiatic DNA.

Robert Wauchope spent a year, hunting for a Cherokee village in the Nacoochee Valley.  He didn’t find a single Cherokee artifact.   There were dense layers of proto-Creek artifacts that stopped suddenly around 1600 AD . . . then there is a layer of mixed 17th century European artifacts and Creek artifacts that stop suddenly around 1700 AD (probably the 1696 smallpox plague).  Above that layer, he only found scattered 18th century European artifacts. associated with small farmsteads,  until the layer of soil where evidence of gold-mining is found.

No obvious Native American art that could be associated with a particular tribe has been found in the 18th century layer of archaeological excavations in the Nacoochee Valley.  Archaeologists have not found a single Cherokee artifact in or around the Nacoochee Mound, even though a nearby Georgia historical marker says that the Cherokees were living at the mound when De Soto came through.   I know where the 17th century Spanish trading post and the 18th century English trading post were located.   Wauchope didn’t.   Professional archaeological work at these sites would answer a lot of questions about those two centuries.

Wauchope and White got kornfuzed

Robert Wauchope used the 1886 Smithsonian archaeological survey of the Soque and Nacoochee Valleys for his initial investigations in 1939. He then went door to door in the Nacoochee Valley to learn where local families had acquired artifacts or recognized mound sites.  Wauchope did not try to find the fieldstone turtle on Goat Island in the Tallulah River that Smithsonian Ethnologist, James Mooney visited in 1886,.  Goat Island was by 1939,  Billy Goat Island on Lake Burton.  Nevertheless, the half acre turtle effigy was independently confirmed by two Atlanta men, who owned vacation homes on Lake Burton.  It was described as covering at least a half acre and being 2-3 feet high.  The archaeological site is on the south end of Billy Goat Island, directly opposite the Magness Fishing Camp.  This is a must see for our survey team, but will require either canoes or motor boats to access . . . plus the permission of the Georgia Power Co.

Wauchope took a drive up what is now GA Hwy 255 from Robertstown to Lake Burton and became thoroughly confused. The village of Soquee and the Soquee Post Office (near Lake Burton) didn’t exist when Robert Wauchope came through the region.  In 1886,  the village of Sautee and the Sautee Post Office was was near the intersection of present day  GA Highways 255 and  255A in Habersham County. Many of the pioneer families had already been dislodged by the acquisition of hundreds of thousands of acres for the Chattahoochee National Forest. Apparently,  there was no one along his route, who could explain the changes in the landscape of the region.   Wauchope also did not know that both the Indian village of Sautee and the original white settlement of Sautee were not at what is now called “The Old Sautee Store” and the Sautee Community, which are in White County. Unfortunately,  Wauchope assumed that the Smithsonian archaeologists had confused Soquee with Sautee and so placed 1886 Soquee Community and the 1886 Sautee Community at what in 1939 was called the Sautee Store.  The vainly tried to find the hundreds of stone ruins in the new Sautee Community, but ultimately came to the conclusion that they had all been destroyed.   Instead of a horseshoe shaped stone ball court,  he did find a horseshoe shaped earthen ball court near the Sautee Store.

The inconsistencies between the 1886 and 1939 descriptions of the locations of archaeological sites and regional geography baffled me for several years.  One hint of the region’s real history came from the ERSI GIS software.   If you search for “Sautee” it takes you to near the intersection of Routes 255 and 255A.  If you search for “Sautee-Nacoochee Post Office,” it takes you to the village that all people today know as Sautee.  That information, plus searching and searching in old maps finally unraveled the confusion.

Lake Burton was constructed in 1919.  Soquee was located immediately south of Lake Burton at the intersection of two major Native American trails.  The village changed its name to Batesville in the mid-1920s.  The cluster of many stone ruins are going to be found in the vicinity of Batesville.  However, I still have not determined where the Soquee Post Office was in 1886.  A large stone ball court is located near the old post office site.

In 1903,  the Nacoochee Institute was constructed on top of some old Native American platform mounds, where the Sautee-Nacoochee Community Center is now located.  After the main building burned,  the school merged with the Rabun Gap School in Rabun County. After the Nacoochee Institute was constructed,  the community around absorbed much of the public activities that previously occurred in Sautee.  Eventually,  the village around the school became known as Sautee and most of the buildings in the old Sautee were abandoned abnd ultimately demolished.

The terrace complex

Earlier this week a prominent businessman in Batesville told me a fascinating story.  A few years ago,  he had permission to demolish a stone wall that was part of many stone walled terraces and building ruins, to use on new construction on his farm.  He had removed some of the stones when a strange-looking man walked out of the forests and came up to him.  The stranger told him that he was destroying an ancient sacred structure, built by Native Americans.  The businessman stopped tearing down the wall and found his stones elsewhere.



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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.



    Will you be investigating the Batesville location?

    • Yes, the weather is not cooperating with us. We are getting rain every weekend!


        Will you be taking volunteers?

        • Yes! Please write us at Right now, rain is forecast for again next weekend!!!! Do you live in the vicinity of Batesville. We are trying to find local people, who can direct us to stone ruins.


    I am a student who is just beginning, this is the oldest article I can find. I would love to be able to see older articles that have been on this website and also to be able to see primary sources if they have been printed. Thank you for Your Work and commitment in bringing the truth about the American southeast.

    • All you have to do Miles is use the search engine on POOF or Google People of One Fire – Totonacs Using one of our key words like archaeology or mounds will give yo a list of articles.

      Richard Thornton


        Thank you so much!


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