The Nacoochee Valley . . . Ancient Crossroads of the Americas
The Nacoochee Valley has been continuously occupied by mankind since the Ice Age. Some of it villages were almost continuously occupied from the Early Woodland Period (c. 1000 BC) to the Early Colonial Era (c. 1600 AD). In its hay day, it was the “Atlanta International Airport” of the Southeast . . . a Native American metropolis.
Although vacationers today may think of the Nacoochee Valley as a scenic place to get away from it all, until around 1600 AD this beautiful valley was a thriving commercial node, where some of Eastern North America’s most important trade paths intersected. People and goods from the South Atlantic Coast, Chesapeake Bay, Florida, Gulf Coast, Tennessee Valley, Mississippi Basin, Great Lakes, Appalachian Mountains and Southern Piedmont passed through here. You will learn how research has recently discovered that settlers also came here from much farther away – Southern Mexico, Eastern Peru, the Amazon Basin and Caribbean Islands. After around 1600, it contained both Creek Indian villages, plus new settlements of Spanish-speaking Sephardic Jewish miners, married to Native American women.
Until around 1600 AD, this eight mile long corridor was once one of the most densest populated valleys north of Mexico. Individual villages or neighborhoods varied from 100 yards to a quarter mile from each other. About 225 years after the valley became almost uninhabited, it again was briefly filled with humanity as the location of the first major gold rush in the United States. Eventually, the miners left and the valley went back to sleep until the late 20th century.
The Paradoxes of a Forgotten Past
The Nacoochee Valley was comprehensively surveyed in 1939 by the famous archaeologist, Robert Wauchope. Three generations of archaeologists, since then, have for the most part ignored the valley. Wauchope was the first anthropology professor at the University of Georgia . . . AND YET . . . when a team of professors and students from the University of Georgia cursively examined the Kenimer Mound for two days in 1997, their report closed with this comment:
“There is no surrounding occupation. There is no “village”. Perhaps there is a true small village of this period in the floodplain of the river nearby, but its location has not been identified as of this writing.”
In fact, Robert Wauchope had excavated a necklace of villages or neighborhoods, each one containing mounds, that completely surround the hill on which the Kenimer Mounds are built. Their footprints are still visible on satellite photos and quite obvious on LIDAR imagery. Wauchope published the descriptions of these villages in a famous book, sponsored by the Society for American Archaeology . . . THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF NORTH GEORGIA. Why the University of Georgia academicians were ignorant of this book, we can only speculate.
The Kenimer Mounds were the acropolis of a large town. On the other hand, Wauchope never even visited the Kenimer Mounds, despite being told by locals that they were on top of the hill. He couldn’t believe that such a large structure could be a mound. This strange fact is one of the many paradoxes that characterize the Nacoochee Valley today.
My Grandmother Mahala (“teacher” in Creek . . . aka to most as Granny Ruby) never mentioned Etowah Mounds and maybe once or twice, briefly referenced Ocmulgee National Monument. Yet . . . she frequently talked about the Nacoochee Valley being “our sacred place.” She and my grandfather went on their honeymoon to Tallulah Falls and the Nacoochee Valley. I thought this was odd, since she was Creek. All the state historical markers and local tourist brochures described the Nacoochee Valley as being the home of the Cherokees for a thousand years.
It was only a decade ago, when I realized that mostvillage names in the Nacoochee Valley were Creek words. It was only a year ago that I learned from an 1820 map that Mount Yonah (“bear” in Cherokee) did not get its Cherokee name until almost two decades after all the Indians were gone from there. As you can see on the map at the left, while Indian territory, this mountain was called Noccosee, which means “bear” in the Creek languages. How could this be?
The answer came from studying the factual history of Cherokee occupation in Georgia and the earliest history of white settlement in the Nacoochee Valley. The Native American villages in the Nacoochee Valley were never listed on treaties or in government documents as being Cherokee until the Treaty of 1794. Such villages as “Noguchee” and “Saute” are listed on 20th century lists of Cherokee villages in books written by white academicians, but not back then. They were actually members of a forgotten tribe called the Elate, which means “Foothill People” in Itsate (Hitchiti).
The Elate were Itsate-speaking Creeks, who did not want to be associated with the Muskogee-speaking Creek Confederacy. By necessity, they stayed on good terms with the Cherokees, but they never considered themselves Cherokees. The 1785 Treaty of Hopewell specifically established the Georgia-North Carolina line as the boundary between the Elate and the Cherokee Nation. The Elate’s land was stolen from them by the US Government in 1796 and given to the Cherokees. In the eyes of the Federal government, the Elate’s no longer existed. However, there is no evidence that any ethnic Cherokees moved to the Nacoochee Valley or that any major Cherokee leaders even ever visited there. One continues to see only Native American residents with either English or Creek names. Furthermore, the Nacoochee’s Native American inhabitants had no role in the governance of the Cherokee Nation, after it moved to Georgia. The main body of Cherokees, who had moved from Tennessee to Northwest Georgia in the 1780s, had little or no interest in the territory they now owned is present day Habersham, White, Towns, Union, Dawson and Lumpkin Counties, Georgia.
In 1817, the Creek Confederacy sold the southern halves of White and Habersham Counties to the US government. Habersham’s official history mentions this fact, while White’s history talks about the Cherokees occupying all of their county for thousands of years. Southern White County was formerly occupied by Chickasaws, who were members of the Creek Confederacy, but not ethnic Muskogee Creeks. In 1821, the Creeks ceded most of their remaining territory in Georgia. All that remained were lands owned by cronies of halfblood Creek leader, William McIntosh, who was executed by the Creeks in 1825, for signing a fraudulent land cession treaty.
Also, in 1821, Daniel Brown, a real estate speculator from Burke County, NC, purchased the fertile valley lands from the Nacoochee Valley’s Native American inhabitants for 20 cents an acre. They then moved to the traditional Creek areas of Alabama. Had the sellers been Cherokees, they could not have sold the land without approval of the Cherokee National Council. The money from the land sales would have gone to the Cherokee Nation, not the Native families in the Nacoochee Valley. The Cherokee Nation typically got around $1 an acre that it sold to the federal government!
Brown apparently never lived in the valley, but in the following year, parties of homesteaders arrived from Burke County, a gold mining region about 60 miles northeast of Asheville, NC. These people had lived at least 130 miles from the nearest Cherokee village and probably had never even seen an Indian, until they arrived in the valley. There were a few Native families, still living in the rugged mountains to the north of the Valley, who were definitely not ethnic Cherokees, but whom the North Carolina transplants called “Cherokees.” They had no clue that all the place names were Creek, not Cherokee . . . nor that Creeks and Chickasaws had been living immediately south of the valley until 1817. Five years later, the valley was packed with gold miners from all over the nation.
The stage was set for creation of a totally bogus history of North Georgia. The dominant mountain in the Nacoochee Valley was not changed from the Creek word for bear, Nocosee, to the Cherokee word for bear, Yonah, until the Cherokees had already been expelled from Georgia.
The forgotten work of famous archaeologists and historians
When I began work on a definitive history of the Nacoochee Valley 16 years ago, I was astounded that the writings of three famous archaeologists, who worked in the valley between 1859 and 1939, had almost completely been forgotten . . . even by Georgia’s current crop of archaeologists. In 1873, Charles C. Jones, Jr. wrote about the discovery of Spanish mining villages in the Nacoochee Valley and the fact that the artifacts and mounds in the valley were identical to those around Macon, GA. In 1911, the leading expert in the United States on Native American pottery, wrote an article for the Smithsonian Institute in which he described all of the Pre-Colonial Period pottery of the North Carolina and Georgia Mountains being made by Muskogeans, not Cherokees. In 1915, archaeologist George Gustav Heye also described the artifacts in the Nacoochee Mound as being very similar to those in Middle Georgia.
The most convincing arguments come from Robert Wauchope’s work in the Nacoochee Valley. For a year, Wauchope vainly looked for a Cherokee village site and could not find one. What he found instead was a continuous occupation in the valley from about 1000 BC of people with the same cultural traditions as the Creek Indians, living elsewhere in Georgia. The upper layers of occupation, beginning perhaps as early as the 1570s, was filled with European cast iron cooking ware, tools and weapons . . . even the rusting hulks of ancient arquebus firearms, swords and halberds. These were weapons that long predated the founding of Georgia in 1733.
In contrast . . . books by several, highly respected, late 20th century anthropology professors stated that NO EUROPEANS visited the North Georgia Mountains until the early 1700s or later. A legion of articles and books by the current generation of academicians state that the “presence of Spanish-speaking miners and colonists in the Southern Appalachians is an unsubstantiated rumor.”
The statements by these professors are absolute malarkey. There are numerous, highly credible books by European and South Carolina authors from 1565 to 1693, which provide eyewitness accounts by explorers, who described the Native American inhabitants, and later the forgotten European colonists, in North Georgia. The most detailed account was by Richard Briggstock, a planter from Barbados, who spent several months in North Georgia in 1653 as the guest of the High King of Apalache. His account contains a drawing of what appears to be the conical hill and Chattahoochee River immediately east of the Nacoochee Mound.
Two Spanish traders at Santa Elena, SC regularly went to North Georgia to trade for gold and gems between the late 1560s and early 1580s. They called the Track Rock Terrace Complex, Grand Copal, because its priests incessantly burned copal incense from the temple on top. As late as 1693, Governor James Moore of South Carolina described seeing Spanish-speaking gold miners and hostile Creek Indians in the Nacoochee Valley . . . an unsubstantiated rumor?
Newly published book – THE NACOOCHEE VALLEY . . . ANCIENT CROSSROADS OF THE AMERICAS
Just published, is a book that provides an accurate and chronological account of the Nacoochee Valley’s history . . . from 300 million years ago, when it was a land of belching volcanoes until the present. Unlike the many people, from Corra Harris in 1910 . . . to the several archaeological reports of the late 1800s and 1900s . . . to the tourist-oriented booklets of recent decades . . . the author is the first person, who can translate the many Native American place names in the Valley. All, but Yonah, Soquee and Chickamauga are Itsate-Creek words . . . his Native ancestry. Chickamauga is a Chickasaw word. Soquee is the Anglicization of a Mexican ethnic name. Most anything written about the Native American history of the valley before this book is essentially mythology.
So many newcomers have moved into the Nacoochee Valley in the past 25 years that even its 20th century history is being forgotten. For example, they don’t know about the important role that poultry industry pioneers, Jesse Jewell, Lee Arrendale and Tommy Arrendale had in the economic development of the region. They don’t know about the Gainesville and Northwestern Railroad or the filming of the movie in 1951, “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain,” when almost all the roads in the valley were unpaved. They certainly don’t know about the ruins of Spanish mining villages found in the valley by American gold miners or the strong evidence, which suggests that the survivors of the Lost Roanoke Colony spent the rest of their lives in the Nacoochee Valley.
The eight Dare Stones, found in a Nacoochee burial cave around 1911, have recently been proved to be authentic by a forensic geologist. From 1940 until 2012, Georgians unfortunately believed the false statements by some unqualified North Carolinians, who announced that because a few stone tablets found elsewhere were obviously forgeries, the Nacoochee Valley stones were also fake. The name of the Native village, where Eleanor Dare lived is called Hontaoase on the stones. The village was apparently located where Dukes Creek joins the Chattahoochee River. A University of North Carolina professor told the national press that Hontaoase couldn’t be a real place, because it was not a Cherokee word. Duh-h-h-h . . . so the Chattahoochee is not a real river because it is a Creek word? Actually, until this book was published, no one realized that Hontaoase is a Creek word, meaning “Descendants of people, who irrigated their crops.”
The book is divided into three chapters. The first chapter is a brief overview of the geological history of the region, which explains the abundance of gold and precious stones. It also explains why archaeologist Robert Wauchope found so many Clovis points in the Nacoochee Valley, when he wasn’t even looking for them.
Chapter two is a detailed account of the archaeological expeditions in the Nacoochee Valley, beginning in 1859 with Charles C. Jones, Jr. John P. Rogan, after being fired from Etowah Mounds in the mid-1880s, secretly removed the top third of the Nacoochee Mound and sold its trophy artifacts. George Gustav Heye, founder of the National Museum of the American Indian, completely excavated the Nacoochee Mound in 1915. Almost all the artifacts were hauled back to New York City. Many have disappeared since then into private collections, but at least Heye rebuilt the mound to its current appearance. This chapter contains dozens of restored photographs and drawings by the Heye Expedition that have never been seen by the public.
In 1939, archaeologist Robert Wauchope planned to spend a month in the valley, but ended up spending a year. The section of the chapter devoted to Wauchope’s work includes detailed descriptions of his discoveries – 41 archaeological sites . . . including the GPS coordinates and archaeological site numbers. The rediscovery of the dozens of sites studied by Wauchope was made possible by the assistance of the White County GIS technician, who provided our research team LIDAR scans, infrared imagery and high resolution topographic maps.
The third chapter is a detailed timeline of the recorded history of the Nacoochee Valley, from 1564 to 2016. The readers will be astounded by the detailed history from the 1500s and 1600s that has been left out of American and Georgia history books. In many cases, the information came straight from official Virginia or Florida state history books or else was published in European history books, but never absorbed into American history books. Richard Briggstock, who spent much of 1653 in North Georgia, was the first cousin of Edward Bland! He visited the trading post in the Nacoochee Valley and mentioned that the Spanish had been allowed to establish a small mission in association with the fortified trading post. This has been completely left out of the history books.
The Nacoochee Valley . . . Ancient Crossroads of the Americas can be currently purchased on line from the publisher, who has plants in several parts of the United States and Europe. It will be available on Amazon.com and several other online sources by Christmas season. The book contains 104 pages in full color, printed on the highest quality, acid free, glossy white card stock. The 101 rare historic maps, photographs, satellite images, archaeological drawings and architectural renderings will remain flawless for many generations. The general public has never seen most of the images in the book.
The cost of the printed book is $39 + shipping + sales tax (if applicable). The Adobe PDF digital copy is identical to the printed copy and may be downloaded for $15. To order this book from the publisher, doubleclick: The Nacoochee Valley
An inexpensive condensation of this book has also been published, which contains a description of the work done by archaeologists and and articles about all of the Nacoochee Valley’s known Native American sites. It is entitled, The Nacoochee Valley, a Guide to Native American Sites and retails for $16. To order this book from the publisher, doubleclick: Guide to the Nacoochee Valley.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- What is the difference between Coweta, Cohutta and Kaweta? - June 18, 2018
- Native American appointed special prosecutor to bust crime in Georgia - June 16, 2018
- Archaeologist Arthur Kelly found Paracus-style skulls on Etowah River - June 13, 2018
- Downtown Cancun, Mexico in August 1970 - June 12, 2018
- My color slides survived eight years in an oven . . . but there was another surprise that made me weep! - June 10, 2018