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Upper Creeks were called Eagle Warriors

Upper Creeks were called Eagle Warriors

The Mesoamerican origin of Coosa, Cusseta, Coushata, Cusabo, Cauche & Cousaw or Why the Upper Creeks were called Eagle Warriors and Auburn Tigers are called, “War Eagles”

These common place Southeastern geographical names all have at least partial, Itza Maya roots. For decades Oklahoma scholars have pondered the origin of the word, Coosa, because it does not seem related to any other Muskogean root words. Now you will know!

A birdseye view of Kusa

A birdseye view of Kusa

The word “Coosa” is best known as the name of a major river in northwestern Georgia and northeastern Alabama. It begins as the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula River in Downtown Rome, GA then flows southwestward through Alabama to join the Tallapoosa River near Wetumka, AL. This creates the Alabama River.

Coosa Bald Mountain in Union County, GA and Cohutta Bald Mountain in Murray County, GA are the sources of the Coosa River. Coosa Creek flows northward off the slopes of Coosa Bald. It eventually joins the Nottely River, a tributary of the Tennessee River. Still today, there are a large number of families of Upper Creek descent, living in the vicinity of Coosa Creek. It is five miles east of the Track Rock Terrace Complex.

Coosa is the name used by archaeologists to describe a powerful Native American province, visited by Hernando de Soto during July and August of 1540. Coosa was also the name of a major Creek town in Alabama, near Childersburg, during the period between the late 1600s and mid-1700s. A variation of the word, Coosa, is used by North Carolina Cherokees as an ethnic label for all Creek Indians.

Deliverance

The creation of a reservoir over the site of the Capital of Coosa inspired James Dicky’s famous novel, Deliverance. The novel became a blockbuster movie, which made Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight stars overnight. The opening scenes of the movie show the construction of Carters Dam in progress and in the background, the site of Coosa.

The primary reason that a virtually unknown Burt Reynolds was hired for Deliverance, was to play a “civilized Indian from Atlanta” getting back to his roots in nature. His only prior movie lead role was in the movie, Navajo Joe, where he played a Navajo renegade. In fact, Reynolds wore a Seminole longshirt in between filming the dramatic whitewater canoe scenes in Deliverance. He also wore traditional Seminole garb in several night time fireside scenes that were cut. For reasons never explained, all references to him being a Native American were edited out of the final version of the movie.

Architectural Analysis of Coosa and Environs

Kvsa Birdseye

Birdseye view of the elite and commoner towns at Kusa, visited by Hernando de Soto in the summer of 1540.
In the background is the site of Carters Dam, which inspired the book and movie, Deliverance.

For 9 ½ years I lived in Talking Rock, GA a few minutes from the site of the Capital of Coosa. This gave me the opportunity to study the massive town site and its environs in far more detail than was possible in the brief archaeological study of two mounds, carried out when the reservoir was filling. Using computer technology I was able to create a three dimensional CADD file that merged the original US Army Corps of Engineers topography, an infrared satellite image and sketches made by archaeologists of two of the mounds. From the CADD file, I created a virtual reality model. I also canoed around the reservoir when water level was low; also on Talking Rock Creek.

On one occasion the reservoir covering the ruins was lowered, so that I could actually walk on and photograph what was left of the mounds. Most of the town site, though, is above water. It has never been studied by archaeologists. This is inexplicable since the hilltop campsite of de Soto’s expedition is in pristine condition, on federal land and apparently never been cultivated because of the rock outcrops. Glory awaits some of you archaeologists out there!

The Kvsete (Coosa People)

In 1540 the Province of Coosa was the most powerful and largest indigenous polity in all of North America. Its vassal towns stretched 230 miles from present day Knoxville, TN to Childersburg, AL and spoke several languages. The de Soto Expedition lingered at the capital for several weeks in July and August of 1540. Hernando de Soto planned to return to Coosa in order to make the town the capital of La Florida.

According to Spanish accounts, the capital was divided into at least seven villages with a total of over 3,000 houses. At the core, was a town for commoners, that was founded around 1320? AD and the actual capital town for the elite that was founded around 1375, about the same time that Etowah Mounds was temporarily abandoned. The commoners and elite were separated by Talking Rock Creek.

Kvsa Birdseye

Birdseye view of the elite and commoner towns at Kusa, visited by Hernando de Soto in the summer of 1540.
In the background is the site of Carters Dam, which inspired the book and movie, Deliverance.

Like 18th century Creek towns and the older town at Etowah Mound, the capital of Coosa was organized into streets on a gridiron pattern and squares defined by peripheral houses and interior courtyards and gardens. The acropolis contained an oval plaza for the elite that was defined by several modest mounds. To the east was a larger plaza and probable Native American ball field that was directly adjacent to Talking Rock Creek and the Commoner’s village. The residential area of the elite village is south of the acropolis and mostly above lake level. The ridge where De Soto’s men camped out is south of the residential area.

The earliest known location to contain artifacts associated with the Coosa People is at the confluence of the Coosawattee and Conasauga Rivers, several miles west of the Coosa Capital site. It has been radiocarbon dated to around 1300 AD. The Cherokees chose this place to build their capital of New Echota in 1825. This is also the location of the small village named Coosa that was visited by the Tristan de Luna Expedition in 1559. Its geography exactly matches the description in the De Luna Chronicles, while the geography of the capital as described by the De Soto Chronicles is quite different. This fact explains why the veterans of the de Soto Expedition did not recognize the village and thought that they had been bewitched.

The De Soto Chronicles contain much evidence about the origin of the Coosa People, which has largely been ignored or dismissed by historians and archaeologists. In addition to maintaining lines of indigenous red plums at the edges of cultivated fields, the people of Kusa also cultivated a large, sweet purple plum. This statement was dismissed by anthropologists because there is not wild purple plum in Georgia. There IS a large, indigenous, cultivated purple plum in Tamaulipas State that is classified as prunus mexicanus. Other bits of evidence include:

The arrival of the Coosa People in Georgia coincides with the appearance of the lima bean in North America. The Creek word for bean is talako, but in southern Mexico and South America, talako means lima bea.

Coosa Eagle

An important clue was always in our faces. De Soto’s chroniclers stated that there was a carved wooden eagle on a cane nest mounted on a timber pole in the main plaza of Coosa.

The main plaza was dominated by a large timber. On it perched a carved wooden eagle, sitting in a nest made of woven river cane.

Spanish artists illustrated the people of Coosa dressed and groomed like the Aztecs. Other drawings of the Native Americans encountered by de Soto show them wearing hair buns or straight long hair, breech cloths and nothing much else.

The chroniclers mentioned that the Coosa People cultivated a domestic apple that was mildly sweet. This statement has also been scoffed at. In fact, there IS an almost extinct apple in the Southern Highlands whose leaves, appearance and taste are virtually identical to the wild ancestor of the Eurasian apple that is cultivated today. Because they have never seen it, American botanists classified it as an aberrant type of American crab apple. About 25 years ago, a USFS scientist showed me one of the last known stands of the Biltmore Apple (malus globrata) in the Pisgah National Forest (North Carolina). It looked and tasted like a feral apple, not a crabapple.

Meaning of Kvse – pronounced Kau-she

For years I struggled with the search for an origin and meaning for Kvse, the Creek word from which Coosa is derived. The Muskogee-Creek Dictionary by Martin and Maudin was no help. It merely stated that Coosa was an old Creek tribal town. Looking in Mexican indigenous dictionaries, I found the Itza Maya word, Kaa’xi, which is pronounced like the Creek word, Kvse, and means “forested mountains.” That may be the origin, but most recently, I had a “duh-h-h-h” moment. The Upper Creeks called themselves the Eagle Warriors. I realize that most of you anthropologists have never met a live Upper Creek Indian, but the Upper Creeks do look like eagles. They have small deep set eyes and thin, straight noses with pronounced cheek bones. We know that a wooden eagle dominated the acropolis of Coosa. The only problem is that the modern Creek word for eagle is lvmhe . . . not even close!

Then . . . duh-h-h . . . it dawned on me. The word for eagle in several Mexican languages is “kaw.” Kaw-she or Kaw-che among the aboriginal people of Tamaulipas would mean, “Eagle – Children of.” The Tamaule spoke a Maya-Huastec dialect. The “se” suffix for “children of” is also used by all the Muskogean languages in the Southeast. Evidently, the Coosa People were very late arrivals from northeastern Mexico. They probably brought both the Mexican purple plum and the lima bean with them.

Variations of the word, Coosa

Coosa – pronounced ku/ : s?/ , “u” as in “moose.” The word is used by English speakers for both the river and the Native American province.

Coça – pronounced Ko- – sha/. This is the 16th century Castilian spelling of the Creek word, Kvse. Most American scholars, not knowing Castilian, pronounce this word just like Coosa.

Coosahatchee (Kvsvhaci in Mvskoke) – pronounced ku/ : s?/ : hä/: che-. This is a stream in northeastern Alabama. The word means “Coosa Creek.” It is a tributary of the Coosa River.

Coosawattee River – pronounced ku/ : s?/ : wa/ : te-. A Georgia mountain river that flows through Gilmer County. The word is the Anglicization of the hybrid Cherokee-Creek word, Kusa-u-we-ti-yi. Depending on how much of the word is Muskogean, the Cherokee word either meant “Place of Old Kusa” or “Place of the Kusa River People.” The problem is that Cherokee scholars never look at Creek dictionaries, when trying to determine the meaning of old Cherokee place names.

Kvse – pronounced kä/: she-. This is the original Georgia Itsate Creek name for the ancestral province that archaeologists call Coosa.

Kvsete – pronounced kä/: she- : te-. This is the original Georgia Itsate Creek name for the people who occupied the province that archaeologists call Coosa. The Kvsete spoke a dialect of Itsate.

Kvce – pronounced kä/: che- (Kauche). This is the Oklahoma Upper Creek word for themselves, the river and the ancestral province that archaeologists call Coosa.

Kvsv – pronounced kä/: shä/. This is the original Mvskoke Creek word for the Upper Creeks. In practice, most Oklahoma Creeks now use the English form of the word, Coosa.

Kusa (Ani-kusa) – pronounced ku/: sha/. This is the now the Cherokee word for all Creek Indians, but originally meant only Upper Creeks, since the 18th century Cherokees had separate diplomatic relations with each of the major branches of the Creek Confederacy. Like Itsate Creek and Koasati, the interior “s” in Cherokee words is pronounced as a “sh” sound.

Cauche was a Muskogean town in the Southern Highlands that was visited by Captain Juan Pardo. It is obviously the Castilian spelling of the Upper Creek name for themselves.

Cusseta – pronounced ku/ : se( : ta/ . This is the names of contemporary towns in Georgia and Alabama that is derived from the Anglicized version of the French word, Coushete, which is derived from the Itsate Creek word, Kvsete. It means Kusa People. The “te” suffix is used in Itza Maya, Itsate Creek and Koasati to denote an ethnic group.

Coushatta – pronounced ku/ : sha/ : ta/. This is also an Anglicization of the French word, Coushete, but is much closer to the original pronunciation.

Cousaw (Kvsv) pronounced in English ku/ : sa/. This is the Anglicization of the Mvskoke Creek word for the Kusa People and the name of an ethnic group in South Carolina.

Cusabo (Kvsepo) pronounced in English ku/ : sa/ : bo-. The Cusabo were a powerful tribe in South Carolina that later moved west and joined the Creek Confederacy. They called themselves the Kvsepo, pronounced ku/ : she( : po-, which means, Place of the Coosa. All of the word is Mesoamerican. “Po” is the Chontal Maya suffix meaning “place of.”

Now how about them thar apples?

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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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