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Stark climatic boundary between Asheville and Cullowhee, North Carolina set northern limits of Muskogean mound builders

Stark climatic boundary between Asheville and Cullowhee, North Carolina set northern limits of Muskogean mound builders


A couple of weeks ago, a lady from Asheville, NC wrote the People of One Fire to ask why there were no large Indian mounds in the Asheville Area, even though the French Broad River is a significant stream.  I responded by comparing Asheville’s climate with that of Franklin, NC  . . . about 60 miles away.  Franklin receives 20 more inches of rain a year, yet averages about 25% of the snowfall in Asheville.  However, the change in climate AND indigenous cultural traits are much more stark than that.

Currently, I am analyzing the major town sites with mounds near Canton, NC in Haywood County and Cullowhee, NC in Jackson County, for a private sector client.   Cullowhee is only 38 miles from Downtown Asheville, yet has a climate very similar to Franklin, NC in the winter.  Cullowhee receives 52 inches of rain a year with 6 inches of snow, while the northeastern suburbs of Asheville in the Reems Creek Valley averages 38 inches of rain with 36 inches of snow.  Even the Asheville suburb of Swannanoa, which is just beyond the Biltmore Estate, receives 22 inches of snow.  

Canton, NC, which is halfway between Asheville and Cullowhee, averages 44 inches of rain and 12 inches of snow.  It is where the Garden Creek Archaeological Zone is located.  Garden Creek began as a Woodland Period village then evolved into an Early Mississippian Period village with two mounds.  The village was abandoned around 1250 AD, when the climate suddenly worsened.   Soon thereafter, villages and towns with the same cultural traits appeared on the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee Rivers.   At the time of first European contact they were named Taskeke and Taskete.  Thus, we can be fairly certain that Garden Creek was the incubator for the Taskeke (Tuskegee) Creeks. 

Otto, North Carolina and the Dillard Valley in Georgia average 67 inches of rain a year and 6 inches of snow.  That is an enormously different climate and suitability for large scale pre-industrial agriculture than found in the Asheville Area.   The top soil in the Dillard Valley is also deeper and much more fertile than found in the Asheville Area.  There was a dense concentration of towns with mounds between Franklin, NC and Clayton, GA.


Cullawhee is the Anglicization of the Cherokee proper noun Kulla-yi, which means “Place of the town of Kulla.”   The Kulla (Kura) or Kulasi (Cullasee/Curahee) Creeks were already living in Northeast Georgia, when Colonel John Barnwell drew the first detailed map of the Lower Southeast in 1721.   At the time, they were allied with the Koweta Creeks and members of the Creek Confederacy.  However, they eventually moved to Florida and became founding members of the Seminole Alliance.


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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.



    This is an interesting approach to an answer to that question. I am interested in micro-climate. To understand your answer, I need to be told which conditions are considered ideal, Is it better to have more rain together with less snow?

    • Yes, ideal conditions for the cultivation of former tropical plants of the Americas like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, beans, green beans, winter squash and pumpkins are (1) regular moderate rains during the growing season (2) long growing seasons and (3) high humidity during the growing season. Although sun flowers, Jerusalem artichokes, summer squash and pumpkins are indigenous to the Southeast, they also thrive best in such climates. White Potatoes originated in the Andes, so they do best in a cooler dryer climate such as Idaho or eastern Colorado. European crops such as members of the cabbage family also like regular rain, but do not like high heat and high humidity. Heavy snowfall is indicative of a climate with a shorter growing season. In 1985, our farm at the head of the Reems Creek Valley, north of Asheville,NC, received snow flurries on June 6 and a severe killing frost on September 7. It was not a good year for gardening, except for our cabbages and feed beets, which are European plants.


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