The mysterious case of the Atlanta socialites, who wanted to be Cherokee princesses
Long, long ago in a land faraway . . . when Metro Atlanta had less than a million residents, people went shopping downtown, wealthy families had a chauffeur, gardener and three maids, while upper middle class families struggled to pay for one maid plus a part time gardener, and middle class women were joining the workplace so they could have a part-time maid on Wednesday, plus a nicer house . . . some affluent white women in Northside Atlanta decided to shuck off the suffocating conformities of Southern Society and dress like Injuns . . . specifically Cherokee Injuns . . . or at least what they thought Cherokee women used to look like. You might consider them the first hippies, for in the late 1960s, many of their children settled in what was to become the nation’s largest hippie colony . . . the Peachtree Strip.
One of the most prominent leaders of Atlanta’s Wannabe Injuns believed that she was the reincarnation of the Cherokee Princess, Chewanee. Actually, Chewanee is an Anglicization for the word, Shewani, that Upper Creek Indians in Tennessee called the Shawnee People. That gives you a hint at how ludicrous the mythical world was that these women created. That world is still with us today.
Strange as it may seem, there is a direct connection between these eccentric pioneers and the weirdness that often is associated with pseudo-Native American History in the Lower Southeast. It explains why in 2006, newly empowered female administrators in the Georgia State Government, with great zeal, concurrently promoted the Wannabe Cherokee Cause along side the firing of male employees to make room for female managers. The latter activity is still going on blatantly in Georgia’s bureaucracy and undoubtedly in the federal bureaucracy, but the self-styled heroines soon learned that Creek women were just as hostile to the theft of their heritage as their Creek male peers were . . . perhaps more so. They backed off until the Maya-Busting in the Mountains Thang gave them new opportunities to focus the hatred of their terribly confused inner selves on one person.
In the mid-1980s, my cousin, Sam Bone, Jr. purchased a house and tract in Northside Atlanta to develop an exclusive subdivision. The house belonged to the woman, who believed she was the reincarnation of the Cherokee Princess.
When Princess Chewanee died, her children wanted nothing to do with her collection of books and Creek artifacts, which she labeled Cherokee. Sam kept the artifacts, but gave me the books and file folders. Both the books and file folders contained mildly romantic post cards and letters from Chewanee to and from other women. Many of the women had divorced their husbands and left their children in mid-life. Others, who were still married, were being urged to do the same so they wouldn’t have to live double lives.
Curious, as to who this woman was, I did some research at the Atlanta History Center. After realizing that she had denied the other side of her sexuality, Chewanee divorced her husband and lived with a Cherokee woman for two years on the reservation. She learned the Cherokee language, but apparently grew tired of the poverty and isolation on the reservation. She returned back to Atlanta, got a part time job to supplement her alimony then organized a cult of wealthy women with similar interests. For one thing, they liked to wear imitation deerskin skirts or cloth ribbon dresses, plus long hair dyed jet black, which they thought made them look Cherokee. They also had a more serious goal of placing white women in positions of power in state government and Cherokee women in positions of power in the Eastern Band of Cherokees.
One of the cult’s members was the former wife of a well known journalist. She began writing children’s story books based on fictionalized Cherokee history. She then obtained a masters degree in anthropology and did a considerable amount of archaeological work, until her Cherokee friends persuaded her to stop digging up Native American sites. She eventually became a powerful administrator of the Georgia Division of Archives and History. She used that power to change the description of Georgia’s Native American history to match the “new Cherokee history” coming out of North Carolina. Much of the current syllabus on the state’s Native Americas in Georgia History classes was written by her.
In 2006, when several white women were appointed to senior administrative positions in the Georgia State government, first on their agenda was the erasing of the history of the Creeks and the glorification of the Cherokees. Of course, these women were so ignorant on the subject, that they didn’t know that the Chickasaws, Uchees and several other tribes were also in Georgia. Since even in their maximum territorial presence in Georgia, the Cherokees only occupied about 20% of the state, their actions made no sense. Yes, they would have made no sense, unless one knew about the quasi-secret wannabe Cherokee cult in Atlanta. In the late 20th century, they had somehow become intertwined with conventional feminist groups seeking economic and political power for women.
Before you start thinking that I am a male chauvinist pig
First, perhaps we should backtrack. Creek women were always equal in all things to men. That’s the way it should be. My grandmother had her own bank account. She made a LOT of money each year selling dried fruit fried pies. My cousins and I were paid in fried pies and trips to the sliding rocks at King Hall Mill Creek, for our work in picking and slicing the fruit!
My mother was the first person in her family, who the state of Georgia allowed to graduate from a public school. At age 16, she was valedictorian of her graduating class and went on to graduate Summa Cum Laude from the University of Georgia. There were few classes in which she did not received a grade of 100. She went on later to get a Masters and Six Year Education Degree . . . was Teacher of the Year in Georgia. My sister graduated Summa Cum Laude from Georgia Tech with a degree in Systems Engineering and helped program the robot arm on the Space Shuttle. We Creek men are accustomed to being around intelligent women and respect them for it.
Finally, the Cherokee connection is understood
I still didn’t really understand why white women, who decided in mid-life that they didn’t like men, would be obsessed by all things Cherokee. The revelation came in 2010.
While living near the Snowbird Cherokee reservation in 2010, I learned that bisexuality has always been very common among Cherokee women and was never particularly condemned by Cherokee leaders. Many of the famous Cherokee women, who 25 million white women claim descent from, bore children from as many as eight different men, while simultaneously having livelong female lovers.
Male homosexuality is not quite as common among the Cherokees, but still generally accepted. That’s fine. People are born the way they are born, but why equate your sexual orientation to fabrication of history? Then I realized . . .
The world has basically become an insane asylum in the past few decades anyway . . . especially in the Middle East . . . so almost any explanation of group human behavior comes from a book on psychology. Somehow these white lesbian women began visualizing their mythical Cherokees as the good guys, because their sexual orientations were like them and they also conjured demons. The Creeks became the bad buys because Creek men and women like to hold hands and take walks in the woods to meditate with the Master of Life . . . a very evil activity.
So when these “empowered” white women focus their wrath on trying to erase factual history and replacing it with the Story of the Cherokee Master Race, they are subconsciously trying to get back at their fathers, brothers or perhaps some guy in college, who dumped them for a young woman, who was much more pleasant to be with.
That is also why all those news articles written by the public relations womenz libbers in the US Forest Service. the female anthropology professors at the University of Georgia and the semi-Cherokees in Oklahoma came off like preadolescent personal attacks against Billy Bob, because he went to the Junior High Valentine’s Dance with Katie Sue instead of her. Some people just never grow up emotionally and get over it.
And now you know!
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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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