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Unraveling the mysteries of Kawshe (Coosa) . . . the Commoners Precinct

Unraveling the mysteries of Kawshe (Coosa) . . . the Commoners Precinct


Things make a lot more sense now than 11 years ago, when I created the first computer model of Carters Bottoms!

In July 1540, an entourage of nobles and a large band from the capital of the province of Kawshe (Coosa) greeted the members of the Hernando de Soto Expedition on its outskirts.  The king of Kawshe was carried on a litter. The Spanish had never seen such a large indigenous town, north of Mexico.  The capital contained at least 3,000 houses in eight precincts, plus more villages were spaced about 3-5 miles apart along the major rivers of Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama. The king of Kawshe stated that there were roughly 500 people each in the Elite and Commoners Precincts of the Capital. The leaders of the Kawshe and De Soto Expedition formally met each other in the inner sanctum of the Elite Precinct, where commoners were not allowed.  The king stated that commoners had first established their village then later the nobility established the capital on the south side of Talking Rock Creek.  De Soto, who the King of Spain had named the Governor of La Florida was awed and soon stated his intent to return and make Kawshe (Coça in Late Medieval Castilian) the North American equivalent of Mexico City. 

Hernando de Soto was only allowed to bring his officers and priests, plus a small ceremonial guard detail, into the Inner Sanctum of Kawshe.

At the formal meeting inside the Plaza of the Nobles, Hernando de Soto was invited to post his men in the Elite Precinct.  He declined and instead directed them to build a camp on hill immediately to the south of the precinct, where the nobles and military officers of Kawshe lived.  It makes perfect sense, if you look at the terrain.  The hill had a commanding view of both precincts, plus was ringed with large boulders, which would make perfect cover for the Spanish swordsmen, arquebusmen and crossbowmen.   However, as far as I can tell I was the first and last professional investigator to study this hill.  Of course, the US Army Corps of Engineers had not erected any signage in this archaeological zone either, but there a jeep trail passing through, which fishermen use.

That’s right . . . De Soto’s campsite is in pristine condition.  It has never been plowed and never excavated by archaeologists. The only location, where his conquistadors lingered longer, was at their winter camp in Anihaica (“Elite-Place of” in Peruvian Arawak) in present day Tallahassee, Florida.  I have read the archaeological reports of Charles C. Jones (1860),  Cyrus Thomas (1886), Warren Moorehead (1926), Robert Wauchope (1939),  Arthur Kelly (1967) and David Hally (1970).  None mention visiting either the section of the Elite Precinct above the flood plain of the Coosawattee River or the hill where the Spanish camped.

A mythical world of speculations, chiefdoms and pottery with English names

Read almost any professional paper by a Southeastern anthropology professor or archaeologist and it will say that our ancestors lived in chiefdoms and “paramount chiefdoms.”   The term chiefdom means that these were authoritarian polities, created temporarily by a “big man”.  Horse manure! 

Many eyewitness accounts from the Colonial Period clearly state that the Creeks and their ancestors had representative democracies.  The Great Sun or High King was elected by these representatives and basically functioned as a ceremonial head of state or High Priest.  He or she derived all his or her power from a consensus of elected leaders. 

On June 7, 1735  High King Chikili of the Creek Confederacy initially introduced himself to the leaders of Savannah with “I Chikili, huana of the the western town.”  Huana is a Peruvian word, which means “priest.”   There were two towns, named Apalachicola, the older one was on the Savannah River, the newer or western one was on the Lower Chattahoochee River.  Chikili considered his role as leader of the Creek Confederacy as a temporary, elected position, but his honored position as a priest as permanent.

When in June 2006, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced that the Lower Reservoir at Carters Lake would be substantially drained for one day, August 22, for the first time in 35 years, I had been doing architectural research for the Muskogee-Creek Nation for six months.  At that point, I was very kornfuzed about the real history of the Lower Southeast’s past.  I was instructed to base my research on published archaeological reports.  I was authorized to correct mistranslations of Creek words.  There were a lot of them in these reports.  Instead of consulting Native American dictionaries, the academicians quoted other academicians opinions of what the words meant.   However, I quickly discovered that museum exhibits,  online references and the most recent archaeological papers often made statements that starkly conflicted with what was said in the actual reports on these excavations.

The MCN had funded a non-intrusive geomagnetic archaeological survey of all of the section of Etowah Mounds within its moat.   I was supposed to build a 6 feet by 8 feet model of Etula (Etowah Mounds) based on the maps created by the archaeologists.  Even though the MCN was paying for the work, the archaeologists claimed that their maps were their private property and refused to cooperate with me.  They had no clue that in the real world, engineers, architects, surveyors, geologists and realtors work for the client and share their work to insure that the client’s needs are being met.  The US Geological Survey agreed to produce infrared and near visible light images from raw satellite data of the Etowah River Valley, which I could use for laying out the model, but there was going to be a two month waiting period.

I think what confused me the most back in 2006 was the discrepancy between what archaeological reports said and what the current generation of archaeology professors had adopted as “the facts.”  The powers that be within their profession in the Southeast defined facts as what a small group of “purple gatekeepers” defined as such, not what was actually found under the ground.  For example, the famous Etowah marble statues were found in the base of Mound C and dated from around 1000 AD. During the 1990s, a clique at the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology dreamed up the myth that the statues were hastily buried in a pit at the top of the mound around 1375 AD as an enemy was approaching.   Their control over information was so pervasive that even recognized experts on Etowah Mounds did not know about the deception.  They merely read the articles by their peers. Apparently, they did not read the archaeological report by the two men, who found the statues,  Lewis Larson and Arthur Kelly.  I had.   In fact, they personally handed me their report while our architectural history class from Georgia Tech was being given a grand tour of the site by these two famous men.

Ichesi was founded by the same people, who founded Etula (Etowah Mounds) a few years later.

Then there was the Lamar Village thang.  In 1973,  National Park Service archaeologists used modern techniques to excavate and analyze Ichesi (The Lamar Village).  For 40 years, archaeologists had stated that Ichesi was founded 200 years AFTER the acropolis at Ocmulgee National Monument was abandoned.   What these researchers found was that Ichesi was founded around 990 AD, a few years before Etula and by the same people.   A massive flood had cut a channel across the horseshoe bend of the original town . . . making it an island and depositing deep layer of muck.  The archaeologists, working on the Lamar Village in the 1930s, had stopped digging when they hit the deep layer of muck, containing very few artifacts.   Both mounds at the Lamar Village were about 3-5 feet taller than they appear today, because their bases are covered with alluvial soil.

From a Creek perspective, this is highly significant, because both Etula and Ichesi are Itza Maya words. Ichesi is the Europeanization of Itza-si, which means “Descendants of the Itza.”  Tamachichi had an Itza Maya name (Trade Dog) and was the mikko of Ichesi, until deposed by the Koweta Creeks.  The NPS sponsored a major conference on the Lamar Village, BUT to this day, visitors to the museum are told that the Lamar Village was founded around 1250 AD.  The same thing is said in almost all reports published by Southeastern anthropology departments.

During the 20th century the Caucasian archeologists in the Southeast had gotten into the bad habit of using English names for styles of proto-Creek pottery and then using that English name as the name of an ethnic group . . . the presumption being that a single ethnic group made all the pieces of pottery of a certain style.   Most of the pottery styles were given the English name of the land owner where the samples of that style of pottery was first identified.  The professors consistently had no clue what the Muskogean, Maya, Panoan or Arawak place names meant, which were associated with that locale and so, apparently felt more comfortable by using the names of people, who had nothing to do with the creation of the pottery or the towns or else odd ball names given to the site by locals.   Thus, the location of the capital of Kawshe is now called the “Little Egypt Site.”  The Kawshe People are known as the “Barnett Phase People.”

Contemporary academicians have also dumbed down the description of indigenous cultures in the Southeast.  The chroniclers of De Soto stated that the people of Coça (Kawshe~Coosa) maintained vast orchards of nut and fruit trees.  They had generated much wealth through the manufacture and exportation of hickory nut butter and hickory nut oil to other regions.  The Elite Capital was laid out in a gridiron pattern of streets and housing blocks.  Within the courtyards of those blocks were cultivated purple plum, apple, crabapple, pawpaw and persimmon trees.  The semi-sweet apples were said to be identical to the wild apples of Iberia and France. 

Wild Biltmore Apples are red and yellow with Eurasian leaves. They are the size of a Winesap apple. Biltmore Crabapples have smaller leaves and smaller, clustered yellow fruits.

Later in 2006, I attended my last Southeastern archaeological conference.  I had intentionally attended the event to learn more about Coosa.  The professors stated that the chronicles of the De Soto Expedition could not be relied upon because they exaggerated wildly the descriptions of Coosa and Chiaha. Native American chiefs only exchanged prestige trade goods, not commodities. There was no such thing as an indigenous purple plum and apple in North America.  Only the Mayas cultivated honey bees and grain salvia in the Americas so the people of Chiaha couldn’t have possibly consumed these food items.   For the record . . .

  • There are many eyewitness accounts by Europeans in the 1500s and 1600s of large trade canoes plying the rivers and coastlines of the future Southeastern United States with cargoes of salt, corn, beans, seashells, white clay, greenstone, pottery, etc., plus the “prestige goods.”
  • The purple plum (prunus mexicanus) grows wild in the Lower Tennessee Valley, where the Kanza People lived before moving to the Coosa Valley. 
  • Botanists classified the Bitmore Apple (malus glabrata) a crabapple because they have only seen the cultivar hybrid malus coronaria, which George Vanderbilt created by crossing the wild apple on his estate with a domestic crabapple that had showier flowers.  I have seen and eaten the true Biltmore Apple in the Pisgah National Forest, where the US Forest Service protects one of the few surviving stands.  Neither its leaves nor fruit resemble an American Crabapple.  It is identical in every way to the wild apples of Europe . . . or the semi-domesticated apples of Europe during the Bronze Age (hint).

Then there was the Cherokee casino money thang.  Many Southeastern archaeologists and archaeological consulting firms in 2006 were tweaking their interpretation of the past to at least leave open the possibility that Etowah, Kusa, Nacoochee and Long Swamp Creek Mounds  were built by the Cherokees.  The Cherokees were re-branded by the National Park Service to be “one of the tribes, who occupied Ocmulgee Mounds.”  The Cherokees were nowhere around between 900 and 1150 AD.

What their reports would say was “the meanings of Etowah and Coosa are unknown, therefore they could be either Cherokee or Creek words.”  Mound building ethnic groups were labeled “mound builders” instead of Muskogeans or Proto-Creeks.  The archaeologists ignored official British and State of Georgia maps, which showed the Upper Creeks and Chickasaws occupying Northwest Georgia until 1785.  Instead the archaeological reports stated that the Cherokees took possession of Northern Georgia around 1585 to 1600 AD.  Many Cherokee-contract-hungry consulting firms quoted Cyrus Thomas (1887) and James Mooney (1891) . . . who believed that the Cherokees built most of the mounds in the Eastern United States and had no formal education in archaeology . . .  rather than far more reliable sources from the Late 20th century, such as Robert Wauchope, Arthur Kelly, Lewis Larson and Joseph Caldwell.

During the 1960s, Arthur Kelly had excavated test pits at all the archaeological sites in Carters Bottom to obtain radiocarbon dates and pottery samples.  David Hally had spent the summer of 1969 at the Little Egypt Site.   I ignored any of the contemporary academic papers on Kusa, which were attempting create mythology in order to get casino money.


Most commoners in the Upper Coosa and Coosawattee River Valleys were NOT Muskogeans. They were Dhegihans . . . ancestors of the Kanza People.


Figuring out the actual town plan for Kawshe (Coosa) . . . sort of

While I was waiting to get infrared imagery of Etowah Mounds, Judge Patrick Moore of the MCN authorized a small contract for me to study Kusa.  It was the equivalent of two day’s work, but I actually spent six weeks, creating the computer model.  The US Army Corps of Engineers was very cooperative.  They provided me digitized topographic maps and aerial photography of Carters Bottom before the lakes were built.  Their photographs were a bit fuzzy and lacked the resolution to pinpoint the footprints of Native American structures.  However, the County Agricultural Extension Office in Chatsworth provided me high resolution US Soil and Water Conservation maps, in which hundreds of building and mound footprints were visible.

The photograph of the area, which included the Commoner’s Village, was puzzling.   One could see dozens of dark circles, which were way too large to be rectangular Itza Maya or Muskogean houses.    They looked like the typical appearance of plowed over burial mounds.   They were also spread much farther apart than seen in typical Muskogean towns.  However, a large oval plaza was clearly visible, when I enhanced the photos.

Unlike the situation with the Elite Precinct, I could not stand on the location of the Commoners Precinct.  It had at least two feet of muck on it.  I could not see any mounds or footprints in the Commoners Precinct, when I paddled my canoe up Talking Rock Creek.  On the other hand, I was able to walk directly from the hill, where the Spanish camped, down into the residential area of the Elite precinct.  Here I took laser and GPS measurements in order to scale the aerial photographs with the topographic map provided by the US ACOE. 

Although the tops of the mounds were firm, it was impossible to stand on the quagmire at the other side of Talking Rock Creek.

What does an architect do when he or she is producing work, which is impossible to draw accurately?   One fudges.  I was very confident of my drawings for the Elite Precinct, but the only certain thing about the Commoners Precinct was the oval plaza.  I thought that perhaps the round footprints were Swift Creek Culture houses from the Woodland Period and that more recent building footprints had been scoured off by floods.  

So in the 2006 computer model, I placed rectangular Muskogean-Itza houses around the oval plaza, knowing that virtually no one would discern the difference.  Things changed radically in 2017.  As I was analyzing the King Village Site last May, it became increasingly clear that many of the people, living in the Coosa and Coosawattee River Valleys of Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia were NOT Muskogeans, but rather people related to the Kanza, Osage, Quapaw, Ponca, Mandan and Arikara.  The Deghihans lived as extended families in large earth-bermed lodges.  Until faced with chronic warfare with the Lakota and Cheyenne on the Western Plains, the Kanza and Mandan lodges were widely spaces to allow for kitchen gardens being cultivated near their front doors.   That tradition would explain the wide spacing of large round footprints on the Commoners Precinct landscape.

With the help of Kanza, Mandan and Quapaw scholars, I came to realize that Caucasian academicians had created myths about them too.  They were originally from the Southeast, not Ohio.  When Europeans began exploring the region, Deghihans represented a significant portion of the region’s population. They were full participants in the so-called “Mississippian” Culture and produced the same Bartlett and Dallas Style pottery made by their Muskogean neighbors.   However, when European plagues and gold miners began to sweep through their region (unlike many of the Muskogeans) they got the heck out of Dodge . . . actually they actually migrated to Dodge City, Kansas.  Kansas is named after the Kanza!

So when late 20th century archaeologists found evidence of many villages being abandoned in Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia, they were seeing the effects of a major out-migration of the Kanza and Mandan majority.   The Chickasaws and Creeks remained in the region, albeit in much smaller numbers, until 1785 or later.

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.



    Mr. Richard, Little clues start to give meaning to place names near me that I have wondered about for 50 years. One being a area near the Nolichucky River that has been called Kanas City for my 66 years and going back many generations. Another is Plum Grove that is not to far from the above mentioned place. These places just happens to be pretty much across the river from the Cane Notch site that Dr. Franklin and students from E.T.S.U. have been examining. As well as close to petroglyphs on a large rock in a creek near by. From their film they seem to be more on that Cherokee thang though. Which yes they probably were here at some point in time, but I firmly believe there were many others as well through the ages. There are also numerous ancient mines close by as well. Plus this is “The” fertile farm area still with numerous farms. Makes me keep on wondering and searching for the real truths. I am always awaiting your next article. Thanks helping us all to understand.

    • Have you found any signs of the Spanish-speaking Jewish villages that John Sevier and Col. John Tipton observed when leading wagon trains from NW Virginia to NE Tennessee?


        No I have not. Not yet. This area has had numerous mines in the mountains close by most have been covered over by NFS over the years, but the locations are on old geological maps. There was iron ore being mined close by during the revolutionary time period. It is said many of the bullets fired during the battle of Kings Mountain came from ore mined near here. There are several places I have been searching for that may late father-in-law spoke of. My brother-in-law and I looked for a certain mine he had told him about for years in the 70’s and finally quite. I believe I have a better idea of the location now thanks to technology and studying old maps. Along with the assistance of articles by you, and my trekking thru the mountains all my life. I am still hiking but not as able bodied as I was in my 20’s. My father-in-law was of Native American decent and spent hundreds of hours searching the plowed fields along the Nolichucky for arrowheads and other pieces of the past. He knew many of the older farmers along the valley. And had a tremendous collection and could tell you where he found each piece and what it was. His collection got ravaged by greedy grown children (that knew nothing about anything he had collected except they were old arrowheads) when he passed. All should have gone instead to the middle son that was the only one that went with him and learned about the history and knowledge that he held so dear. He also recently passed and now the knowledge is gone as well as his own collection of over 50 years of walking, searching the ground, and trying to understand what was here before us. I am like you as I study my geanology and the history that surrounds these people of the past, it’s following the pieces that I find and letting them lead me to the next piece in the giant puzzle.


    I live near where Col. Tipton, Col. Sevier and Col. Love all lived in their triangle around the Buffalo Mountain. Tipton at the point, Love on the side where the Nolichucky comes through the gorge from NC, and Sevier on the other side where the Nolichucky comes down the Big Valley at a place that was called Plum Grove which is closer to the mines in the mountains.


    Once again a fascinating article Richard. I also love reading some of the replies you receive from many who obviously have something significant to tell you in the hope they may be of some help with your research. I am looking forward to your next post.

    • Yes, this is a team effort. Originally, we had 18 people writing articles, but I am about the only one left, who is willing to write regularly.


    How do you know De Soto camped on the hill south of the Little Egypt Site? From what I could find in the Chronicles there is only mention of them staying in houses. Have you found something different? If so please share as I’d love to read about it and learn more.

    Thanks for writing these articles!

    • The soldiers did not stay in the houses. The leaders of the town invited them to, but De Soto thought it not safe, so he had them camp on a hill next to the elite village. There are four different versions of the De Soto Chronicles. Some tell more about Kusa than others.


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