The Sagas of Coweta and Cusseta
Koweta (Kvwetv) and Cusseta (Kvsetv) were the twin capitals of the Creek Confederacy from its founding in 1717 until 1755, when a group of leaders in Tuckabachee (Tokahpasi) pulled off a coup d’etats and moved the capital to their town on the Tallapoosa River. However, by that time Coweta and Cusseta had moved to the Chattahoochee River. At some point in time before contact with the British, these tribal towns had been located in the southern Appalachian Mountains then moved to the Upper Piedmont of Northeast Georgia then to near Indian Springs, north of Macon. However, the history of Cusseta reaches back to the massive Orizaba Volcano in Mexico. We will explain later.
All historians throughout the 20th century and unto this day have assumed that these two towns were always located on the Great Falls of the Chattahoochee River, where present day Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL now are located . . . Coweta being in Phenix City and Cusseta being in Fort Benning. However, some history professor in the past did not look at the early maps of South Carolina and Georgia, when he or she made that assumption. All those academicians, who followed, just cited his or her speculation as a fact and moved on.
Unfortunately, a presumed location of Coweta on the Phenix City side of the Chattahoochee River has caused a legion of academic papers and some archaeological reports to have flawed conclusions. When Coweta and Cusseta are placed in their actual locations between 1717 and 1827, many historical conundrums are cleared up. Nevertheless, there much more to the forgotten history of these two famous towns.
More and more . . . we are finding that the Migration Legend is a reliable outline of North American history.
Importance of the Creek Migration Legend
Over the past year since its discovery, I have been studying the original copy of the Creek Migration Legend and interpolating it with other colonial archives from that era. The document, we are studying, was a transcription, handwritten by Georgia Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie, of Mary Musgrove’s translation of Chiliki’s speech to the leader of the Province of Georgia on June 7, 1735. After a year of study, I have come to the conclusion that it is really the “official history” of one town, Cusseta, that migrated away from the main body of its parent ethnic group, the Kusate, in Southeastern Tennessee during the late 1500s.
The discovery of the Migration Legend after being lost for 285 years coincided and intermeshed with some fascinating research being done in Mexico by the Institutio Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH). Anthropologists there have discovered that there was an extremely tall ethnic group in the high mountains that form the western edge of Vera Cruz State, who are now virtually extinct in Mexico. Mexican scholars do not currently know their name, but do know that they were the arch-enemies of the Nahua-speaking peoples, who invaded Central Mexico from the north. The Kashita Creeks and the Toltecs appear to have originally been branches of this tall race. The Auia (Karakawa) Indians of Coastal Texas, the Calusa of Florida and the Tokah (Toque-Tokee) of the Carolina Highlands also apparently were related to these people. All these peoples are/were extremely tall and covered their bodies with tattoos.
Around 1200-1250 AD the Mexica, an alliance of Nahua-speaking towns in the Valley of Mexico that included the Aztecs, began a military campaign to exterminate this tall race. The ancestors of the Kashita (Cusate-Cusseta) Creeks were at this time living on the lower slopes of the Orizaba Volcano and along the Yamapo River that flowed from it. Their original ethnic name is not known, but may be Yama. The survivors of this genocide fled northward the Great White Path, a wide pedestrian road that paralleled the Gulf of Mexico.
The ancestors of the Kashita lived for awhile in the Mississippi River Basin, where they started picking up Muskogean words from their Choctaw neighbors. They then headed toward the rising sun until they arrived in the province of the Kusa in NW Georgia and SE Tennessee. They were allowed to settle near the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers. It is here that as vassals of the Kusa, they received the name Kusate. Up to this point, the Migration Legend of the Kashita People matches the Migration Legend of the Zuni People. However, the Zuni People believe that their ancestors continued eastward to the Atlantic and then traveled westward until they reached the mountain region of the Southwest, where they now live.
This is where archaeology begins to match Creek oral history. The arrival of a new people around 1300 AD on Hiwassee Island, TN was marked by the appearance of red on buff pottery – much of it checkered. That is is exactly the style of pottery that typified the mountainous region between Vera Cruz and Oaxaca in Mexico, where the Kashita claimed to have originated, until around 1250 AD. Mexica style pottery replaced the aboriginal styles. It is also the earliest form of pottery made by the Zuni. Notice how similar this style of pottery is to the ceramics made by commoners in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
The Cusate/Kusate/Kashita are first mentioned in the chronicles of the De Soto Expedition. They occupied the section of the Tennessee Valley near Bussell Island and the confluence of the Little Tennessee River. The Spanish called them Coste. As can be seen in the 1715 Beresford Map, they still occupied the Upper Tennessee River Valley in the early 1700s, but were soon pushed south of the Hiawassee River by the Cherokees. The British then called them Cusatee.
There was a severe drought and a pandemic in the Southeast beginning around 1585. It was the primary reason that the Roanoke Island Colony was abandoned. Simultaneously, the Little Ice Age was beginning, which made the North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains iffy locations for growing Indian corn. Archaeologists have found many, many large town sites in North Georgia, Eastern Tennessee and Western North Carolina, including Etowah Mounds and Kusa, that were abandoned around this time.
The direct ancestors of the town of Cusseta began as a band of Kusate, who left the Tennessee Valley during this starving time and headed eastward up the Little Tennessee River. The famine is specifically mentioned in the Migration Legend. They lived for awhile in a fertile valley that is now the heart of Graham County, NC. The main highway through this county is Talula Road (the Itsate Creek word for town.)
The Kashita then headed southward again on the White Path, which is now US Hwy. 129. White Path is a Maya and Creek term for a major road that interconnects cities and provinces. The route goes past several Early and Middle Mississippian platform mounds before crossing the Hiwassee River in Murphy, NC. Here the Kashita encountered a large town that had been abandoned just as the Kashita entered the Andrews Valley. The warriors of this town attempted to ambush the Kashita, but failed.
The Kashita continued southward until they saw Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald. They could hear drum sounds coming from its top . . . probably a regional warning system. Continuing southward they viewed a large town on the side of this mountain. Its occupants had flattened foreheads. As can be seen in the painting on the left, the Itsate Creeks in North Georgia still practiced forehead deformation in 1735. This is obviously the Track Rock Terrace Complex because the stagecoach road that became US 129, originally went through Track Rock Gap.
The occupants of the large town refused to provide food to the hungry Kaushete and responding with the red arrows of war in response to the white arrows of peace, launched by the Kaushete. The Kaushete responded by sacking the mountainside town and killing all, but two of its occupants. The Kaushete filled their tummies with the food reserves at this large town then most headed southward. Until after the American Revolution, there was a large Upper Creek town, named Kusate (Cusseta) at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely River, five miles west of Track Rock Gap. This strongly suggests that some of the Kaushete remained in Union County, GA. Most of the Cherokees bypassed this area after the American Revolution. Therefore, to this day there are descendants of the Kaushete (Upper Creeks) in Union and Fannin Counties, GA.
The Migration Legend places the first contact between the Old Apalache Kingdom (Palache) and the Kaushete in the lower mountains of Northeast Georgia on the Great White Path (US Hwy. 129). This would put the location somewhere in the vicinity of Dahlonega, Cleveland or Helen, GA. Apparently, the Kaushete were allowed to settle at the headwaters of the Savannah River. Until after the American Revolution there was an Upper Creek town named Cusseta in Stephens County, GA on the Savannah River.
Before we go any farther, it should be explained that the Coweta, Tuckabatchee and Tanasi (Tensaw) Creeks were incubated far to the north of their late 17th century locations . . . in the mountains between Clayton, GA, Franklin, NC, Highlands, NC, Brevard, NC, Hendersonville, NC and Asheville, NC. That is why virtually all of the Native American place names in that region are Muskogee-Creek words that have no meaning in Cherokee. They include Coweta, Coweeta, Cowi (Mountain Lion), Chauga (Black Locust), Cullawhee (White Oak), Etowah (town), Keowee, Oconee, Tamasee, Saluda (Buzzard People), Swannanoa (Shawnee River), Toxaway (cooking shed), Tuckaseegee, Tanasee, and Tennessee. Until around 1785, the Little Tennessee River was called the Tanasee River, while the Tennessee River was called the Callimaco (Maya word), Hogeloge (Uchee word) or Cusate (Creek word) River.
Mysterious Horsemen: A 1570 map, produced in the Netherlands, showed the European colonies of Santa Elena, Melilot and St. Augustine, plus the former location of Fort Caroline at the mouth of the Altamaha River. However, no mention was made of either of Coweta or Cusseta. Around 1600, the Spanish in Florida heard rumors that a band of over 100 Europeans, were seen riding horses back and forth across the Georgia Piedmont and Mountains. When the Spanish sent a company of soldiers to investigate, they were told that they would be killed if the ventured past the Georgia Fall Line.
At the time that the British first made contact with Coweta and Cusseta, the royal family governing them was named Bemarin. It is a French Norman and Sephardic Jewish family name. The British Colonists shortened the word to Brim. They called the first High King of the Creek Confederacy, Emperor Brim.
As late as the 1770s, there was a band of Mestizo Creek Indians on horseback, known as the Bohurans, who dominated the territory claimed by Coweta in Northeast Georgia. Bohuran is Spanish Ladino, Turkish & Arabic for “nobles.” These equestrian Creeks had Spanish, French, Moorish, English and Dutch names.
Earliest descriptions of Coweta and Cusseta
The first mention of Coweta was by French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, in 1658. He said that in 1653, English explorer Richard Briggstock traveled from northward Melilot to a valley in the higher mountains where Spaniards were mining sapphires and rubies. Briggstock passed through a district administrative town named “Cohuita,” which was a few leagues south of the Spanish mining village. Sapphires and rubies are abundant around Franklin, NC and Sapphire Valley, NC. That would put Coweta in the Dillard Valley, GA or , Clayton, GA areas. De Rochefort did not mention a name similar to Cusate or Kaushete.
Some horrific happened between 1653 and 1675 that unfortunately, may have been related to De Rochefort’s extremely popular book, l‘Histoire Naturelle et Morale des isles Antilles de l’Amérique. It was republished at least a dozen times in French, Dutch, German and English. In 1653, the Paracusite (High King) of Apalache bragged that over 3,000 warriors lived within a few hours walk of the capital and 7,000 lived within two days of the capital. Yet in 1675, most of the Apalache capital’s satellite towns had been abandoned and Coweta had moved about 115 miles south of its location in 1653.
In 1675, Dr. Henry Woodward journeyed from Charleston to the Upper Ocmulgee River to establish trade with twin towns named Coweta and Cusetaw. These towns were on a major trade route (Nene Hvtke Rakko ~ Great White Path) that led from the falls of the Savannah River to the shoals of the Ocmulgee River to Indian Springs and then on to the Chattahoochee River at another set of shoals. Woodward called the Upper Ocmulgee River the Coweta River and the Lower Ocmulgee River, Ochese Creek. The location could only be a known Lamar Culture – 18th century Creek town archaeological zone in eastern Butts County, GA (See below) about 33 miles north of Ocmulgee National Monument. Early maps clearly show Coweta to be about that distance north of Ochese.
British maps during the first two decades of the 18th century called the Altamaha River either by its French name of May River or “The River of the Cowetas.” French maps only called the Ocmulgee River, Le Riviere de Cohuitas. The French sometimes called the Upper Tennessee River, Le Riviere de Cosates, but more often called it Caskenampo, which is Koasati for “Many Warriors.”
Woodward built a trading post here that apparently remained in operation until 1715 at the beginning of the Yamasee War. He also built a trading post near the Forks of the Altamaha to serve the Itstate-speaking Creeks in the Tama Province. In 1680, a group of investors built a large trading post at Ichese (Ochese in English). It was located near present day Macon, GA.
Coweta and Cusseta appear on European maps
From the beginning, both Custate and Coweta were tribal names in addition to being specific towns. The French called the Kusate, the Cosate and showed them occupying what is now East Central Tennessee. No French map showed a separate town named Cussata in the Georgia Piedmont until after it had already been noted on maps produced in the new Province of Georgia.
The 1701 Map of Louisiana and Mexico by Guillaume De Lisle (on the left) showed numerous Coweta villages in Southeast Tennessee, Northeast Georgia and on the the Lower Coosa River. For reasons, unknown De Lisle’s portrayal of the Altamaha, Ocmulgee, Oconee and Chattahoochee Rivers was far less accurate than maps produced in the late 1500s and throughout the 1600s. In contrast his portrayal of the Alabama-Coosa River was much more accurate.
John Beresford’s map of South Carolina was made at the onset of the Yamasee War after the tribes, involved in the burning of trading posts along the Upper Ocmulgee River, had relocated to the Chattahoochee River. That is the reason that the words are all in the plural. At this time the Cowetas occupied a small village in the vicinity of present day Macon, a large town upstream and a small village at Indian Springs.
Note that each one of these small villages remaining are the pathetic remnants of a entire tribe. This map portrays a region about 1oo miles across. The death rate from plagues and Native American slave raids must have been higher than 95%. The Oconees once occupied much of Lower Northeast Georgia and had about six towns with large mounds. In 1715, they only had 70 men of military age.
The 1718 Humbert Map seems to be an update of the Beresford Map, created a year after the Creek Confederacy had formed and signed a peace treaty with the Colony of Carolina. Creeks living in Alabama and southwest Georgia continued to trade some a Fort Toulouse, but the British had lower prices and much larger quantities of trade goods. This map shows concentrations of Caouita (Coweta) villages on the Middle Chattahoochee, Lower Flint and Midddle-Upper Ocmulgee Rivers, but the largest concentration, by far is now around present day Macon, GA. Note that the map clearly labels “An Old French Fort” at the mouth of the Altamaha River. William Bartram would visit this ruin in 1776. It is not clear what anyone ever thought that Fort Caroline was on the St. Johns River.
In 1721, Colonel William Barnwell was stationed in what is now Darien, Georgia . . . supervising the construction of Fort King George. At the same time, he was drawing the most detailed and accurate map of the Southeastern North America during the Colonial Era. All subsequent British maps, such as the 1755 John Mitchell Map was based on Barnwell’s map, except they lacked the detailed information on tribal names and locations. Since the French continued to claim Florida Francaise (South Carolina and Georgia) Barnwell changed the name of the Altamaha River from the May River to the “Coweta or King George or Altamaha River.” However, that same year, Royal Geographer John Sennix, continued to use the name, May River, on his map of North America. Sennix also produced the last map to show Fort Caroline’s ruins on the south side of the mouth of the Altamaha River.
Barnwell stated on his map that the Muskogean tribes that had been hostile to South Carolina in the Yamassee War had relocated to Chattahoochee River. He said that “the 1000 warriors are the most military Indians in North America, but now are at peace with us.” However, the capital town of Coweta remained at its location in present day Butts County, GA. this can be seen on the map on the right and the map detail on the left, below. Barnwell placed a smaller village labeled “Cowetas” on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River. It initially was located in the vicinity of Phenix City, AL, but a decade or so later moved southward about 12 miles.
Barnwell did not show a town named Cusseta on either the Chattahoochee or Ocmulgee Riverm but showed Cussettas living at at the headwaters of the Oconee and Savannah Rivers. This is significant. Because in the next map produced in 1735, the only towns named Cusseta were on the Savannah and Ocmulgee Rivers.
As can be seen on the map on the right, above, in 1721 the Cusate and Cullasee Creeks were the primary inhabitants of Northeast Georgia. The Cullasee (means Descendants of Culla . . . ie from Cullawhee, NC) lived slightly farther south than the Cusatte. Cusseta was the northern outpost of the Creek Confederacy during the 1700s up until the 1780s. It was located in present day eastern Stevens County, GA at the junction of the Tugaloo and Savannah River. It can be seen on almost all maps of that era.
The 1725 George Hunter Map of South Carolina is well known among historians because it has been widely publicized on the net by those researching Cherokee history. In fact, it is often called 1725 Map of the Cherokee Nation, by those who only looked at the Appalachian portion of the map. The map clearly shows villages with Creek names in North Georgia, but those focused on Cherokee history typically don’t recognize Muskogean words.
This map was published shortly after Colonel George Chicken persuaded the Cherokees to chose an “emperor” and form a tribe that joined together at least 14 bands. However, the 1721 Barnwell Map contains many more names of Cherokee villages, but treats them as individual tribes. Also, between 1721 and 1725 most of the Itstate Creek villages in North Carolina and the northeast tip of Georgia left the Cherokee region and relocated on the Upper and Middle Ocmulgee River. This can be seen when comparing the maps.
The Hunter Map is the only map from the early 1700s that shows Coweta and Cusseta located across the Upper Ocmulgee River from each other. In his June 7, 1735 speech to Georgia colonial officials, High King Chiliki stated that the people of Coweta and Cusseta had always lived across the river from each other. That would not be the case, when they relocated to the Chattahoochee River in 1746/
The French produced the first reasonably accurate map of South Carolina and Georgia in 1735, but it still showed mountains extending southward into Spanish Florida. Gone were the farcical descriptions of the Savannah, Altamaha, Oconee, Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee Rivers that one sees on Guillaume De Lisle’s map. This map clearly shows the Creek Captial of Coweta to be in what is now Butts County, GA . . . several miles above the confluence of Tobesofkee Creek with the river. He did not place a village named Coweta on the Chattahoochee River. It is highly likely that Emmanuel Bowen, a British mapmaker was the cartographer of this map, since the drafting style is identical to the later maps that he produced for the British Crown and the Trustees of the Colony of Georgia.
In 1738, Emmanuel Bowen, a highly respected British mapmaker started out with the 1735 French map and then added details obtained from British Colonial authorities in Savannah. He eliminated the fictional mountain range in South Georgia and used the names of islands that had been adopted by the British Crown. There is no mention of a French fort near Darien on this map. The map clearly shows that the main body of Cowetas aka “The Caouita Nation,” are located along the Upper Ocmulgee River. Neither Cowetas or Cussetas are shown on the Chattahoochee River. This map was made just before James E. Oglethorpe’s famous trip to the Capital of Coweta, so here is little doubt that he went to a location on the Upper Ocmulgee River.
In 1747, the year after Malatchi was elected High King of the Creek Confederacy, Emmanuel Bowen, was paid to produce another map of the Province of Georgia. There are no Creek villages shown on the Ocmulgee River. The Creeks were still living there in hamlets and farmsteads but the capital towns of Coweta and Cusseta had moved to the eastern side of the Chattahoochee River, where Columbus, GA is now located. The 1755 John Mitchell Map labeled the Upper Ocmulgee River location of Coweta as Coweta Old Town.
A smaller Coweta village was shown downstream on the future Alabama side of the river. It is not clear if this village relocated earlier from the Phenix City, AL area or if the village had always been there, but inaccurately located on earlier maps.
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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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