The Year That Cherokee Archaeology Became a Lie
Rather than doing the difficult, time-consuming research work necessary to identify the real origins of the Cherokee People and resurrect their true artistic traditions, Caucasian academicians and bureaucrats, beginning in 1970s, created myths that in their provincial minds, glorified their State of North Carolina and made its mountainous region more attractive for tourism. The Cherokee People were betrayed and are still being betrayed by academicians, archaeologists, commercial artists and their own bureaucrats.
Forty years later, the big lie has grown to such a gargantuan stack of cards that those associated with it, must frantically deceive, bribe, bully and publish books of highly questionable content in order delay an inevitable collapse of those same cards. Sooner or later, the public is going find out about the mass deception that occurred.
There was an authentic and beautiful Cherokee artistic tradition, which was different than that of the Muskogeans. Unfortunately, the only example I know of it is David Crockett’s vest on display at the Alamo. Meanwhile, the North Carolina Cherokees, in particular, steal art from other Native cultures and then label it their own. The cover of the new Cherokee dictionary has the Official Seal of the Alabama-Coushetta Nation on its cover, but the inner face labels it, traditional Cherokee art.
Oh what tangled webs mortals weave, when they at first start to deceive.
It was not always that way
March 1976 . . . In quick succession I received a Masters degree in City Planning, passed the national exam for membership in the American Institute of City Planners and was hired as a department head at a large planning consulting firm in Midtown Atlanta. The previous year I had prepared the Urban Design plan for Midtown, so this was especially exciting.
The firm hired me to manage the preparation of the Comprehensive Plan for Charleston, SC. A young Mayor Riley had demanded (for obvious reasons) that the project be directed by a person with credentials in city planning, urban history and historic preservation architecture. While the in-house staff in Charleston City Hall was gathering the data, my boss looked around for something to keep me busy for six months and pay my salary.
“Richard, you look like an Indian, are you Cherokee? Many of the Indian Reservations are environmental disasters. Jimmy Carter has released millions of dollars to promote community planning and environmentally sound site development for Indian housing. We want you to be a consultant to Indian tribes and housing authorities around the country, until Charleston gets going. ”
Of course, I was Creek, but that was fine with the Department of the Interior. I was a member of a state recognized tribe and there were no federally recognized Creek tribes in the United States in 1976, so not having a BIA card didn’t really matter. None of the tribes I worked with around the United States ever questioned my authenticity. Creeks had a reputation for being “brainy” anyway. Western tribes were flattered that a Creek architect was sent to them by the feds rather than the usual New England “Indians” with blue eyes, sandy hair and Ivy League attitudes.
My first project, in April 1976 was at the Qualla Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina. The tribe’s leaders were the “salt of the earth” . . . really decent, friendly folks. The baskets and stone carving of the North Carolina Cherokees were absolutely amazing – world class works of art. Many Pueblo tribes back then would only accept North Carolina Cherokee baskets as payments for their pottery. There were a couple dozen “Cherokee chiefs” wearing Sioux war bonnets on “the Strip,” but this was as much a joke with the Cherokees as it was the tourists.
I was shocked when Chief Arniche told me that Creeks had once lived where the reservation was. He said that there were very few people in western North Carolina when the Cherokees arrived, though. The mounds were abandoned, so the Cherokees built their town houses (council houses) on top of them.
This affable Cherokee head of the Qualla Housing Authority drove us down to the Birdtown Community on the reservation, to show me a massive five sided mound and Creek town site. Ten years later that mound would be made unrecognizable by a sewage treatment plant and subdivision. By the way, Arniche is a Sephardic Jewish family name.
As I studied environmental problems in outlying areas of the reservation, other friendly Cherokees would show off smaller mounds near their communities. It was their way of saying that “Hey, this is your ancestors’ land too, so you should share our pride in it.”
The brochures given to tourists in 1976 stated that the Cherokees did not build any mounds. The Cherokees arrived in the North Carolina Mountains about the same time that the English arrived in the Carolinas. The brochures echoed what Chief Arniche said . . . that the mound builders’ towns were deserted when the Cherokees arrived.
Many years later, I would learn a different version of Cherokee history. When Acting Principal Chief Charles Hicks wrote “The History of the Cherokee People” in 1826, he sent the eight handwritten chapters to Cherokee National Council President John Ross. Hicks stated that the mound builders in North Carolina had once been numerous and powerful, but had been terribly weakened by a plague. The Cherokees had arrived from the west and established their first town in the Southern Mountains at Big Tellico. The Cherokees took advantage of the plague to kill or drive off the mound builders. They burned their temples and built Cherokee town houses on their mounds. An apocalyptic smallpox plague swept through the Southeast in 1696. This may be the plague that he referred to.
A retired Cherokee school teacher, who worked at the Qualla Arts and Crafts Guild told me more surprising information. She said that the Cherokees had always been upset about the books that Smithsonian Institute ethnologist, James Mooney, had written about them. His sole source was a man known as The Swimmer. Current generations of wannabes and academicians revere The Swimmer, but to the Cherokees he was something of a BSer. The “ancient legends of the Cherokees” that now proliferate literature and the internet are actually a mixture of children’s tales and caca de toro, created by the Swimmer. Most are not real Cherokee legends.
Mrs. Deerkiller was excited that positive changes were occurring on the reservation. The Sequoyah Syllabary had never really been part of their heritage. She had been taught the syllabary by Oklahoma Cherokees. She was now teaching it to the younger teachers, who would then teach it to the next generation of students. She was also eagerly waiting a report from University of North Carolina. The state was paying a team of history and anthropology professors to research a factual history of the Cherokees.
I started work on the Charleston project in late September. Our employer promptly stopped paying us. The owner had used the contract with Charleston as collateral to obtain loans from a private factoring firm. The high interest on these loans exceeded the profits that the firm made on projects in other divisions. So on December 16, 1976 I was introduced to the people of Asheville at a televised press conference as the first director of the Asheville Downtown Revitalization Program. During the next 10 years that I lived in the Asheville Area, I maintained the friendships made on the Qualla Reservation in 1976, but also watched in dismay as the cultural and political environment seemed to change “over night.”
The Cherokee History Project
What actually happened in Chapel Hill was that the History and Anthropology Departments were given lucrative contracts by the State of North Carolina to prove that the Cherokees had lived in North Carolina for at least 1000 years. I have no clue why state politicos thought that this was important. There was absolutely nothing in Cherokee tradition or the archaeological record to back up the claim.
Of course, the North Carolina academicians did what their state employers told them to do. The North Carolina State General Assembly soon passed a law that ordered archaeologists to label all Native American artifacts found in the western part of the state as being made by the Cherokees. This embarked North Carolina anthropology and history professors on a four decade long journey of academic fraud, plus tweaking interpretations of archaeological sites in neighboring states to make them compatible with North Carolina’s version of history.
Anthropology students at Chapel Hill were suddenly being taught that the Creek names of Native towns visited by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo in North Carolina were actually “ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.” Academicians also began scrambling for reinterpretations of history that would make the Cherokees feel superior to other indigenous tribes. White North Carolinians thought by creating the Master Indian Race, it would also make North Carolina seem superior.
Congrachewlayshuns! You’uns iz the bonafied Master Race!
Since the early 1900s, archaeologists had been aware that the Woodland and Mississippian Period pottery styles in eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and all of Georgia were quite similar. Initially, they assumed that they were all made by Cherokees but by the 1970s, it was the general consensus that these styles were made by ancestors of the Creeks. To correct that undesirable trend, in the mid-1970s, North Carolina archaeologists changed the names of their pottery styles and labeled them “Cherokee.”
In his book about Cherokee archaeology, archaeologist Bennie Keel, a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, pointed out that only three radiocarbon dates of definite Cherokee villages have been found to proceed the year 1720. Those are from the 1690s. Over and over again, Keel found small hamlets of crude, round huts had been built in the early 1700s over the ruins of much larger Muskogean towns with formal plans and large, rectangular Mesoamerican-style houses. The pottery at the two occupation levels was very different . . . the Cherokee pottery being much less refined than the Creek-Lamar style pottery that preceded it. In many locations, the Muskogean town sites had been abandoned for as much as a century before being occupied by Cherokees.
North Caroliner . . . Home of the Cherokees for 12,000 years!
When Charles Hudson came to the University of Georgia from the University of North Carolina, he had been programmed to switch things to the new North Carolina Cherokee history . . . that is exactly what he did. Archaeologist Roy Dickens did the same thing when he moved from North Carolina to teach at Georgia universities. The famous archaeologist, Arthur Kelly, was head of the excavation of Ocmulgee Mounds, Director of the University of Georgia’s Anthropology Department and a major proponent of both the Creeks building the mounds in Georgia and that there were Mesoamericans in Georgia. Kelly was fired to make a space for Hudson.
By the time, Hudson and his colleagues were searching for the route of De Soto, I was Executive Director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission. These professors met in my office one morning along with two state archaeologists. I immediately noticed that none could pronounce Spanish words correctly, even though they were presenting themselves as experts on Spanish history.
We told the professors that the Lower French Broad River Valley (Asheville area) was uninhabited when de Soto and Pardo were exploring the Southeast. A large Shawnee town had been located at the confluence of the Swannanoa and French Broad Rivers until 1763 when the region changed to white ownership. The Upper French Broad River was always Creek until 1763. The Upper Piedmont, east of Asheville, was always Uchee until 1763.
I noticed that the professors were using highway maps to plot the route of De Soto. I pointed out several locations on their proposed route that were deep mountain cuts or tunnels, constructed in the 20th century. Those sections would have been impassible to horses in the 16th century. The professors had no clue what I meant by that fact.
Nevertheless, that afternoon Hudson announced at a press conference at the Biltmore Estate that a three foot high Woodland Period mound near the Biltmore House was the site of the “ancient capital of the Great Cherokee Nation, Quaxule, which was visited by Hernando de Soto in 1540.” Quaxule is the Spanish spelling of the Creek word for “Southerners.” Bill Cecil, President of the Biltmore House Corporation, promptly handed the professors a nice check. That practice would continue until today.
The description of all the fraud and cover-ups about Western North Carolina history, which has occurred in the past 40 years, would take a document the length of a doctoral dissertation . . . if one could stomach that much caca de toro. Books in Asheville’s Pack Memorial Library in 1976 that contained eyewitness accounts of Spanish-speaking colonists in the North Carolina Mountains or mining timbers radiocarbon dated to 1600 AD, have been removed from the bookshelves. However, one of the most notorious chapters would be the film produced by the North Carolina Cherokees for public television and school classrooms around the country, which claims that the “Aztecs and Mayas were their descendants.”
Two specific cases of fraud can be easily confirmed:
In 1991, history professors at UNC-Chapel Hill published a “modernized version” of a letter written in 1673 in Virginia, which is in the Virginia State Archives. The letter describes an expedition by Gabriel Arthur and James Needham to eastern Tennessee. The North Carolina professors substituted the word “Charakeys” for the names of branches of the Creek Indians in Tennessee. They inserted the name of an 18th century Creek village, Chote, as the mens’ destination. They deleted most references to “Spanyards, Portugheese and Turkes” living in NE Tennessee and SW Virginia.
They changed the name of the river to Tanasi. The Tennessee River was named the Callamaco River until 1785. Callimaco is an Itza Maya word, meaning “House of the King.” The professors cleverly used archaic forms of these words to make them seem real, but it was absolute case of academic fraud, deserving of criminal charges. The public is being told that this is merely an exact translation of the document into modern English.
People of One Fire . . . 6,000 years of Cherokee Pottery in North Carolina was an art exhibit that toured the nation in 2007 after its initial debut at the North Carolina State Museum in Raleigh. Despite our extreme objections, the sponsors stole our organization’s name for the title, not realizing that it was also the real name of the Creek Confederacy. The show was billed as an exhibit of North Carolina indigenous pottery, but all of the Stallings Island, Deptford, Cartersville Check-Stamped, Swift Creek Complicated Stamp, Napier, Woodstock and Etowah Complicated Stamp pottery actually came from archaeological sites in Georgia . . . ergo, the first 5,000 years of that 6,000 years.
I challenged a sophomoric, insolent Cherokee gal at the museum, who helped set up the original exhibit, about the labeling of Georgia pottery as being from North Carolina. Her response was that it was a fact documented by all archaeologists that the Cherokees once occupied all the Southeast, so the pottery was still made by Cherokees. That exhibit still has a website on the internet.
Since 2002, North Carolina Cherokees have been claiming that the Cherokees invented Swift Creek pottery. Swift Creek is a stream in Macon, GA. Since the People of One Fire exhibit, they have also been claiming to have invented the first pottery in the Americas. They don’t know that the Stallings Island pottery came from Stallings Island near Augusta, GA and that the absolutely oldest pottery is found in the Amazon River Basin of Brazil.
The constant prevarications coming out of the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina cannot be condoned, but at least they can be explained. White academicians told a bunch of fibs in 1976, and subsequent generations of culturally isolated North Carolina Cherokees don’t know any better . . . besides the fibs were flattering.
However, the continued participation by Southeastern archaeologists and academicians in this ever expanding scope of cultural fraud destroys any pretense of their claim for being either professionals or intellectuals. What I have noticed since the year 2000, is an interlacing web of professional papers, books and TV documentaries, which bit by bit are moving archaeologists in other parts of the Southeast to adjust their own state’s histories to be compatible with those of North Carolina.
The authors, who get sizable grants from the Eastern Band of Cherokees’ casino profits, cite each other as references. They rely on New Age occultists to be watchdogs over the internet. Remember in 2012, when all references to the Creek Indians, including Etowah Mounds National Historic Landmark, were deleted from the Wikipedia articles for counties in North Georgia?
Television programs also perform an important propaganda role by making asinine statements like “The Cherokees were the first people to grow corn, beans and squash,” “The Cherokees were the first people in the Americas” or “The Aztecs and Mayas are descended from the Cherokees” . . . seem to be sanctioned by PBS and the State Boards of Education, who distribute these films to individual schools. John Q. Public assumes that these programs are factual history approved by professional historians, rather than the result of bureaucrats not having the gonads to tell the Cherokees to go back to their reservation and delete all the manic delusions from the films, before they can expect the films to be shown to public school children.
These academicians, archaeologists and film makers are being paid with casino money to create propaganda, which will expand further the fabrication of history. In my dictionary, such activities are defined as prostitution.
Surprising facts about the Qualla and Snowbird Cherokees
Visitors to the reservation are told that it has been the home of the Cherokees for either 10,000 or 12,000 years. That is absolutely not true. Frenchmen explored the region in the 1690s. They found it occupied by branches of the Caoueta (Creeks.) French maps continued to show no Cherokees in the region until 1717. In 1763, the eastern boundary of the Cherokee Nation was moved 45 miles west of the center of the reservation to the 84th longitude line. At the time of the Trail of Tears, the Oconaluftee River Valley was thinly settled by white families and some Cherokee families who illegally lived high up in the mountain coves.
These off-reservation Cherokees formed the bulk of those Cherokees, who escaped the Trail of Tears. They were soon joined by some Georgia Cherokees, who lived off the reservation in remote mountainous locations. They could not legally own land in North Carolina, so a friend of the Cherokees, Will Thomas, bought a large tract of land for them that became known as the Qualla Boundary. After hatred of the Southeastern Indians subsided, the Qualla Boundary became a federally recognized Indian Reserve, held in trust by the Department of War. It later was transferred to the Department of the Interior.
The Snowbird Reservation is to the west of the Qualla Boundary. It was originally occupied by Soque People, who the federal government had grouped with the Cherokees. They were living outside the Cherokee Nation in 1838, but were forced to go on the Trail of Tears also. Many escaped and returned home, where they were eventually awarded a reservation also. The Snowbird Cherokees are called “Moon Faces” by the Qualla Cherokees, because their men often look like the Zoque People of Mexico, who created the Olmec Civilization. They were probably, originally the same people – Soque and Zoque.
The main river through the Qualla Boundary Reservation is the Oconaluftee. It is not a Cherokee word, but an Itsate Creek word which means, ” Oconee People – Cut-off.” “Cut-off” is an 18th century term, which means “massacred.” The main location of the Oconee Creeks was due south in Northeast Georgia.
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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.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
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- Map: South American and Caribbean Peoples in the Southeast (1540 AD) - June 21, 2017
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