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The Demise of Archaeology on the Chattahoochee River in Alabama and Georgia

The Demise of Archaeology on the Chattahoochee River in Alabama and Georgia

(Photo Above)  This satellite image represents about 1/4th of a massive complex of mounds and town sites from several time periods in southeastern Alabama.  It was briefly visited by artifact collector-grave robber-pioneer archaeologist Clarence Bloomfield Moore in 1907.   When he couldn’t immediately find the trophy artifacts that he was looking for, he moved his steamboat on up the river.  The archaeological zone has largely been forgotten since then.


In the autumn of 2015, the People of One Fire embarked on virtual canoe trip down the Chattahoochee River . . . from its source on the eastern flanks of Brasstown Bald Mountain, 550 miles generally southward to its delta on the Gulf of Mexico.  While paddling past the almost continuous town and village sites in Metro Atlanta, POOF hit an all time new high for readership,  77,108 in one month! Atlantans were astounded that so much of their region’s Pre-European history was documented by two nationally famous archaeologists then forgotten in the past 50 years.

Our canoes have been parked at the River Walkway in Columbus, GA for awhile.  We are now paddling on southward.  You will be learning the little known facts about Fort Mitchell near Phenix City, AL in a couple of days.  One of the many surprises that you will learn in that article is that a fairly large Creek town grew up around Fort Mitchell.  It was described by the Marquis de La Fayette in 1825.  Ten years later that Creek town would become the nation’s first concentration camp.   Anonymous Creek graves dot the landscape around Mt. Mitchell . . . and they have never been mentioned.


Clarence Bloomfield Moore

One thing has become perfectly clear.   Archaeological study of the Chattahoochee River Basin pretty much ended in 1979.  In fact, very few people are alive today, who were alive when most of the Chattahoochee River archaeological sites received their first and only cursory visit by a professional archaeologist. All of the known “mound sites” between Columbus and the Gulf of Mexico were briefly visited by Clarence Bloomfield Moore in 1907.  Between 1959 and 1961, the US Army Corps of Engineers paid for a few of those mounds, that were about to be inundated by lakes, to be excavated by archaeologists . . . but not the whole village sites.  No Native American town site, south of Fort Benning, has ever been fully excavated by a professional archaeologist.

Keep in mind that very few of the Historic Period Creek towns on the Chattahoochee River contained mounds. Therefore, they have traditionally been ignored by archaeologists.  In most cases, their locations are not even known, except for vague information contained in Colonial Period maps.  Over and over again these towns sites have been covered by the waters of  Southern Company (Georgia Power) and US Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs without the least bit of archaeological study.

There are two exceptions.  In 1958 the United States Army funded the excavation of Yuchi Town by Sgt. David Chase and Dr. Harold Hoscher of the Smithsonian Institute.  This archaeological site is located on a remote section of Fort Benning that is in Russell County, AL. From 1966 to 1969, Harold Huscher of the Smithsonian Institute was paid by the Corps of Engineers to excavate what traditionally called “The Burnt Village” . . .  before it was covered by the waters of West Point Lake.

There has never been a comprehensive survey of all Native American sites between Columbus-Phenix City and the Atlanta Metro Area.  Locals know of many Creek town sites in that corridor that don’t even have archaeological site numbers.  Fortunately,  what is likely the largest Pre-European town site in this corridor is now within the boundaries of Chattahoochee Bend State Park.

Robert Wauchope

Robert Wauchope

In 1939  the famous archeologist, Robert Wauchope, carried out a comprehensive survey of all the Native American archaeological sites between the source of the Chattahoochee River in the mountains and Annewakee Creek in Douglas County, GA (SW Metro Atlanta).  Most of his excavation time, however, was spent in the Nacoochee Valley adjacent to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River.  His discoveries there were spectacular, but Wauchope moved away a little over a year later.  By the last quarter of the 20th century a new generation of archaeologists in the Southeast had pretty much forgotten what Wauchope discovered. As POOF discussed in an earlier article, almost all the town, village and mound sites that Wauchope documented and gave site numbers to are left out of publications by the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology.  Ironically, Wauchope was UGA’s first anthropology professor!

Between 1951 and 1954, another nationally famous archaeologist,  Joseph Caldwell, was hired by the US Army Corps of Engineers to excavate the Summerour Mounds and Booger Hollow Mound near Buford Dam that were scheduled to be inundated by Lake Lanier.  Some archaeologists remember the Summerour Mounds, but the much older Booger Hollow Mound has been completely forgotten.

In 1969, another nationally famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, was paid by the Great Southwest Corporation to supervise the complete excavation of Site 9FU14, a 2200 year old town site, discovered by Wauchope.  However, his work was stopped before he could excavate the mound and no report was published afterward.   This revolutionary archaeological investigation would have been completely forgotten now had not I been hired as a Georgia Tech architecture student to prepare the site plan.

Between 1978 and 1979,  the Carter Administration funded archaeologists to carry out a survey of the Chattahoochee River between Morgan Falls Dam and the I-75 Bridge to locate both Native American and 19th century archaeological sites.  This was a part of the creation of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area.  In 1985, an archaeologist, employed by Cobb County, GA did a survey and some test digs, where a trunk sewer was planned in the National Recreation Area.

In 1999, a team of faculty and students from the University of Georgia spent two days on the Kenimer Mound in the Nacoochee Valley, carrying out a topographic survey and digging test pits.  Their report never mentions the half dozen, contemporary village sites WITH MOUNDS, adjacent to the Kenimer Mound, which were excavated by Robert Wauchope.  They described the Kenimer Mound as being in an isolated location with no villages nearby!  Ironically,  Wauchope didn’t know that the Kenimer Mound existed.  It is so large that he thought it was a natural hill.

In 2004, a team from the University of Georgia returned to the Nacoochee Valley to survey the village around the famous Nacoochee Mound.  Again, their report did not mention the three village sites, excavated by Wauchope that were adjacent to the one they surveyed.

The situation today

There are many hundreds of Native American archaeological sites on the Chattahoochee River that have only been studied by either Clarence B. Moore in 1907 or Robert Wauchope in 1939. Well over fifty Creek and Chickasaw town names appear on 16th, 17th, 18th and early 19th century maps along the Chattahoochee River that have never been documented or assigned official archaeological site numbers.  There is much that we still do not understand about the Pre-European history of the Lower Southeast.  Resumed professional investigations of these semi-anonymous sites could well answer those questions.

The construction of a chain of dams, locks and reservoirs along the Chattahoochee River in the 1950s and 1960s destroyed many Native American sites, but many more remain in fairly good condition, except for damage from floods and plowing,  Fortunately, the Creeks were called the Creeks, because they built their towns in flood plains, where intensive development is not normally allowed.  Six Flags Over Georgia is an exception.  It was built over a town with three mounds, which was discovered by Robert Wauchope.  A surprising number of Native American sites still remain in the flood plains of he Chattahoochee River in Metro Atlanta . . . especially on the Northside.

Another big exception is Helen, GA.   Between 1969 and 1973,  all archaeological sites discovered and documented by Robert Wauchope in Helen and Robertstown, immediately to the north, were destroyed without any archaeologists, Native Americans or historic preservationists saying a word.  Few people knew these ancient sites existed because Wauchope didn’t publish his book on his work in Georgia until 1969!   The most tragic loss was a 2800 year old town with at least two mounds in the flood plain of the Chattahoochee River in Robertstown.  It was bulldozed to make a gravel parking lot for a flea market.  Think what an asset to Helen’s tourism it would have been . . . one of the oldest town sites north of Mexico  . . . and in a flood plain where permanent structures couldn’t be erected anyway.

There is a direct relationship between the demise of archaeological studies in the Chattahoochee Valley and the economic decline of the Middle Class in those two states.  Florida still is very strong in archaeological research and the preservation of Native American sites.  Its Middle Class has also not lost as much ground economically as in these two states.  Apparently,  it was the Middle Class in Alabama and Georgia that supported most the allocation of government funds for the study of Native American sites and state acquisition/operation of Native American heritage sites.   Currently,  Alabama and Georgia politicians perceive that the people pulling their strings are not terribly interested in such things.

What seems to be the only short term option for “getting back into the saddle” is for Native Americans, plus those Alabamans and Georgians who appreciate their states’ Native American heritage, to be more public and vocal on cultural heritage issues.   Politicians will feed the fledglings in the nest, who chirp the loudest.

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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.



    Hi Richard,
    Somehow I’ve lost your email address so this is the only way I can reach you. I’ve enjoyed your posts on the Chattahoochee sites and the Yuchi, etc. As I may have mentioned before, I was born and raised in Columbus, GA and Joe Mahan was a good friend of mine. Do you have his books on the Yuchi? When I was a youth we had church picnics and swimming parties at a place west of Phenix City, AL called the Uchee Reservation.
    If you’d like Joe’s books on the Yuchi let me know and I’ll scan them for you. I was on the Board of Directors of ISAC until its demise in 2003. I have DVDs of ISAC conference talks etc. going back to 1973. I can send you an index. I guess I”m sorta the “last man standing” re: ISAC.

    My friends Garth and Cheryl Norman said they enjoyed very much spending some time with you this year.

    I’d love to hear from you at starlingrd -at- msn dot c0m


    • Hey Robert

      I met Joe Mahan years ago, when we first organizing the Creeks in the Southeast. He autographed one of them. They are in the mound of book boxes along with my furniture, where they have been since Christmas Week 2009!

      Your email address is still in our address file. To reach me,


    Richard, A map you might be interested in is the “Venetian Frau Mauro” 1450-1459 world map. Notice the Gulf of Mexico and the large lake in central Georgia? Also the large lake of the North East part of the state.

    • That’s the Caspian Sea in Asia. To the right is the Black Sea and Turkey. This particular map was drawn upside down from how we normally portray maps today. It only shows Europe, Asia and part of Africa.


    Hey Richard,
    This is a link to an abstract and article about cave drawings and etchings on Mona Island off the east cost of Cuba. Most are pre Colombus but many were done by Spaniards.
    The natives on Mona were some of the first to have Spanish colonist living among them and both were teaching about their religion.
    I wish more archaeologist in the SE would take a clue from others around the world and actually try to find the real history, not a fantasy based on (insert favorite adjective).
    Keep up the good fight !!


    Hello– thank you for your work!– you are the first person I’ve found who has linked the Pee Dee’s with the Hillabee Creeks. I came across you while researching the Creek genealogy of a “Billy Cousins”, son of William, son of a (Eufallie Creek?) Chief George Cousins.
    Circa 1820’s, Billy Cousins (generally assumed to be Creek) is said to’ve married Catherine “Kate” McIntosh (daughter of Lower Creek Chief William McIntosh, by 1 of his 3 wives, Eliza Grierson, herself a daughter of Robert Grierson, the Scot trader who operated the Creek factory at the Hillabees). Chief Wm. McIntosh was killed in 1825 by Red Sticks for ceding Creek lands in the Treaty of Indian Springs.
    After McIntosh was killed, as the story goes, this “Billy Cousins” married McIntosh’s daughter Catherine Kate, & though the majority of McIntosh’s families went West to the Ind. Terr., this couple stayed in SE AL until circa 1840-42, & avoided “removal” by emigrating down over the border into the FL panhandle, settling in what’s now Walton Co., FL. (Their daughter, Sarah Ann Cousins, married a white man, Zachariah Turner, in AL in 1841, & once settled in FL, their numerous children kept a low profile, intermarried with whites, & this Cousins/Turner family are now considered Walton Co. “pioneers”. )
    Believing that Billy Cousins was a Creek, I’ve been researching “Cousins” surname in Creek records, & found little– but then I came across it more frequently in the records of the Carolina tribes– Tuscarora, Pee Dee, Lumbee.

    So am very happy to see your linkage of the Pee Dee to the Hillabi Creeks, & am hoping you’ll be kind enough to “steer’ me to more info on this PeeDee/Hillabi connection. Thank you for any help you may offer!

    • Good Morning Ann
      Yes, one can trace the Ilape (Hiilabee Creeks) from the Pee Dee River across North Georgia to their final location in Alabama. Over 20,000 Creeks in Georgia never moved to Alabama and thus become ancestors of the Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma. Most of these people were not Muskogee Creeks, but Itsate speakers like originally the Pee Dee. They either assimilated with their neighbors in Georgia or moved to either Florida or Texas. Even at the end of the American Revolution, the majority of residents of Georgia spoke Hitchiti – not English, not Muskogee. For that language to be very rare in Oklahoma, lets one know that a lot of Creeks didn’t go west.


    Richard, Have you read the book “Pickett;s History of Alabama: and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period”? It was originally published in 1851. I have the book but not with me right now so I’m not sure how much of this article might be mentioned in the book. Just curious to know if you’ve read it.

    • Yes, I have a copy of the book on my computer . . . and its contemporary counterpart for Georgia. White’s Guide to Georgia. Both books are useful for finding the locations of Pre-European town sites and Colonial Period Creek/Chickasaw town sites that have been forgotten by contemporary archaeologists.


        Glad you have it. I think I’ll read it again


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