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What in the heck were the Apalachicolas doing in the Appalachian Mountains?

What in the heck were the Apalachicolas doing in the Appalachian Mountains?

Would you believe that there was a fourth occupation of Etowah Mounds that no one is talking about? The labeling of Upper Creeks, Middle Creeks and Lower Creeks by British officials originally had no relevance to where the branches of the Creek Confederacy lived. 

Overnight, I received several personal emails about the 1703 map,  which heads the article on Cofitachequi.   They were all puzzled by the placement in bold letters of “Conchaqui ou Apalachicola” by French cartographer Guillaume de l’Isle over much of Northeast Alabama, Northwest Georgia and North-Central Georgia.   They asked, “Isn’t that a mistake?  The Apalachicola were down on the Apalachicola River in Florida.  All the books and references say so.”

One remarked, “This map shows the Kowetas (Caouitas) in small print and living in isolated locations of Tennessee and Georgia.   I thought that the Kowetas were the biggest and most powerful branch of the Creeks back then and the Apalachicolas were kind of like a step-sister.”


Who are the Apalasicora (Apalachicola)?

Although now assumed to be a small tribe from the Florida Panhandle and extreme southeastern Alabama,  the Apalachicola were actually the “rank and file” people of the Apalache Kingdom, whose capital and elite lived in northeast Georgia (see map).   The word merely means “Apalache People” in the Apalache Language, which was a mixture of Panoan (Eastern Peru),  Itsate (southern Mexico) and Muskogean (NE Mexico).  Aparasicora literally means “From-Ocean-Offspring of” but probably infers descent from the first civilization of Peru, the Paracus,    In case, you are now thoroughly confused,  a Muskogean R is pronounced like a rolled L.  A Muskogean S is pronounced similar to sh, tsh or jzh.

Saddle-shellAccording to French maps, the Conchaqui and Apalachicola were the same people –  Conchaqui merely being their French name.  The French label was derived from the frequent use of conch shells and pottery shaped like conch shells in their rituals.  In fact, for decades American archaeologists have been puzzled by the discovery of bowls shaped like conch shells in NW Georgia and SE Tennessee.  They have labeled them “Dallas Culture saddle shell bowls.”

Last gasp of the Apalache Kingdom

None of the 17th century maps of what is now the interior of Southeastern United States jive with the official orthodoxy found in university published text books.   The last book published on the Southeast in the 17th century was The Forgotten Centuries by Charles Hudson and Carmen Chaves Tesser [1994].   The book ends by stating that the period between 1610 and 1674 was a time of silence, when nothing is known about what was happening in the interior of the Southeast.

Not true.  The problem was that Hudson used his adoring students to do his research and they were just that . . . neophytes.   They lacked the broad swath of knowledge and professional expertise in a wide range of subjects to adequately interpret the evidence from the past.  Their teachers didn’t know the meanings of Native American words and in reality, knew diddlysquat about the complexities of Muskogean history, so the evidence was ignored.

In contrast,  people like Marilyn Rae are an incredibly valuable asset for the People of One Fire because while at Boston College, she became proficient in the Iberian languages, plus acquired a broad knowledge of Late Medieval and Renaissance Iberian history.  Marilyn has continued to study these subjects in the decades since then.  She is now learning Cherokee in order to build on that base.

The map below was produced in 1701 by Guillaume de l’Isle.  Despite being two years older than his better known 1703 map of the Southeast,  this map contains detailed information on the names and locations of Muskogean villages.  We learn that the Kowetas had four villages on the Coosawatee River while the Conchaqui or Apalachicola had 20 villages on the Etowah River.    At this time, all the Kusate (Upper Creeks) were living in Tennessee.   The entire Coosa-Alabama River System was called the Conchaqui River at this time.  The Chattahoochee River was called the Hitanacha or the  Rio de Espiritu Santo.

1701 Map by De Lisle

1701 Map by De Lisle

An earlier version of the Creek Confederacy was geographically associated with the Alabama-Coosa-Etowah River system and led by the Apalachicola.   We now know from the “Original Creek Migration Legend” that the first “People of One Fire” was formed by the Alabama, Chickasaw, Kusate (Cussata) and Apike (Abeika).  Apparently, the Apalachicola and Coweta became members.   Apparently,  the alliance collapsed during the Yamasee War, because even though the Apalachicola continued to live in NW Georgia until  at least the 1760s,  the name of the river changed to Coosa.

This cartographic information ties directly to some intriguing photographs I saw in 2006, while doing research on Etowah Mounds for the Muscogee-Creek Nation.   In 1955,  Lewis Larsen asked the state Parks Department to strip the sod off on the area around the largest earthworks at Etowah Mounds.  Aerial photographs were then made from a low flying airplane or helicopter to determine potential excavation areas.

On the large plaza were revealed two lines of extremely large, perfectly round building footprints, adjoining a massive rectangular building with a rectangular wing.  There appeared to be 12 round buildings, about 50 feet in diameter.  They were also perfectly aligned.  I had never seen any village plan like this one in the Southeast.  Also, being in the topsoil, these structures post dated when it was believed that Etowah Mounds were abandoned . . . around 1600 AD or earlier.

I have not been allowed access to the 1955 photos again by the Antonio Waring Archaeological Laboratory at the University of West Georgia, but was able to enhance 2015 satellite imagery to prove that I was telling the truth.   The residue of black earth is no longer round after 60 years of mowing and rain, but you can still see the footprints of buildings, when mono-spectrum enhancement is used.


I showed copies of the photos to several Georgia archaeologists and asked them, who could have built such an unusual site plan?  I received that oh-so-typical Cheshire Cat grin that means, “You ignorant peasants are so stupid.”   I was told that they were “Cherokees.”   It was obvious that they didn’t want to say anymore.

No way Jose’.  Cherokee houses were about 15 feet in diameter and scattered randomly around a village site.  Also, in 1818, the Rev. Elias Cornelius, a Natural Science professor at Yale University, visited Etowah Mounds, when it was still in the Cherokee Nation.  He said that the ruins were completely covered in trees about 40 to 100 years old. Three Cherokee “chiefs,” who accompanied him, told him that their people did not build the mounds and they didn’t know who did.  They did not live there because the site was “haunted.”

1818-EtowahMounds-DetailThe entire site had been covered in trees when they arrived in the Etowah Valley about 25 years earlier. In 1818, there were at least 14 mounds associated with the site; five on the south side of the Etowah River.  The big mound was also shaped very differently than what you see today.   Mound A was extensively “mined” in the 1800s by amateur collectors, who paid the owners of the property $200 a day to dig there.

Now we know that the Apalachicolas are the primary candidates for a fourth occupation of Etowah Mounds in the 1600s.  However, to admit that would mean that a dozen or more archaeology books would have to be re-published.

It turns out that this very unusual site plan for the last town at Etowah does jive with the drawings of Apalache towns that were published in Charles de Rochefort’s book in 1658.  The royal family and priests lived in rectangular compounds, built of stone and plastered with clay.   The elite such as merchants and military commanders lived in large round houses, typical of South America.  The commoners, who spoke a language more similar to modern Muskogee, lived in small rectangular houses.

In the background of this 1658 engraving, you can see large round houses. It the foreground is royal compound where the king and priests lived.

In the background of this 1658 engraving, you can see large round houses. It the foreground is royal compound where the king and priests lived.  On the right, you can see much smaller  “Creek-style” rectangular houses, where the commoners lived.

And 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.



    I had long wondered how one village, Apalachicola, in the Florida panhandle, gave its name to an entire mountain range over a hundred miles away. But if the Apalache actually dominated a portion of those same mountains, then naming them Appalachian, makes sense.

  2. The Apalachee River in Northeast Georgia actually flows through the region where the Highland Apalache towns were most concentrated. It is now Northeast Metro Atlanta and contains a surprising number of stone architecture ruins.


    That mound a 1818 drawing, is almost exactly the shape of the Rocky Mound east of Century, FL .


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