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What you always wanted to know about the Appalachian Mountains, but were afraid to ask

What you always wanted to know about the Appalachian Mountains, but were afraid to ask


I am currently working on a video about the history of the Appalachian Mountains’ name.  It is a fascinating story, which reflects political and ethnic changes in the region.  During the late 20th century,  Florida academicians went to extreme measures to conceal the etymology of Appalachian in order to conceal the fact that Fort Caroline National Memorial is in a bogus location. For example . . . in his memoir, Captain René de Laudonnière, Commander of Fort Caroline, stated that the May River began as several small rivers in the foothills of the Apalachen Mountains, which joined together and then flowed southeastward to the Atlantic Coast. In the mid-1800s a Florida real estate speculator started the myth that the St. Johns River was the May River.  This sentence was left out of the book, Three Voyages by Florida historian, Charles Bennett, who claimed that his book was a verbatim translation of the original French text. The Appalachian Mountain video will be a bit more sophisticated than the first efforts on YouTube.

  • From 1525 until 1717, all of the mountains in southeastern North America were known collectively as the Apalachen, Apalache or Apalatcy Mountains.  Apalachen is the plural of Apalache in the Apalache-Creek language.  During the Early Colonial Period, the Apalache of Northeast Georgia dominated the Lower Southeast.  The region as a whole was initially known as La Florida.
  • After the French explored western North Carolina and northern Georgia in the late 1600s and first decade of the 1700s, the mountains in North Carolina were known initially as the Chaouinon (Shawnee) Mountains.  The western part of the Georgia Mountains became permanently known as the Cohuita (Koweta/Creek) Mountains, while the eastern peaks were still called Les Apalachens.
  • In 1725, British mapmaker, John Herbert, changed the name of the mountains north and east of the Hiwassee River to “the Cherokee Mountains,” while the Unaka Mountains and Georgia Mountains, south of the Hiwassee, were named the “Enemy Mountains”, because they were in the territory of the Creeks and Uchees.
  • In 1737,  British Royal Geographer, Emmanuel Bowen,  labeled all mountains in western North Carolina, “the Cherokee Mountains” and all mountains in northern Georgia, “the Apalachian Mountains.”   His labels would stick for a century, although by the tail end of the 1700s,  all of the mountains in eastern North America as a whole were being labeled the Allegheny Mountains.
  • In 1764,  not knowing that Cohuita means Coweta . . . the French word for the Creek Indians . . . British mapmakers renamed this range the Cohutta Mountains.  Great Britain had just acquired Northwest Georgia and Alabama from the French, as a result of the Seven Years War.  Today,  all regional references and tourist brochures ascribe a Cherokee origin for Cohutta.
  • In 1839, the year after the Cherokees were deported to the Indian Territory,  mapmakers changed the name of the eastern mountains in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  The middle range continued to be called the Allegheny Mountains, while the western range was called the Cumberland Mountains.
  • After the Civil War,  the label “Appalachian Mountains” began appearing increasingly for that portion of the mountains of eastern North America that were in the former Confederacy.
  • The label, “Appalachian Mountains,” was not consistently used on maps until the Franklin Roosevelt Administration in the 1930s, when the Appalachian Trail Commission was created.  Originally, this project was geared primarily toward economic development.  Planned communities were to be linked by a trail that ran from Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia to the northern tip of Maine.
  • During the Lyndon B. Johnson Administration in the 1960s, the term “Appalachian Mountains” and “Appalachia” became legal definitions all of the mountains in the eastern United States from the southern edge of New York, southwestward to northern Mississippi.  This was because of the creation in 1965 of the Appalachian Regional Commission, which offered generous federal assistance to communities in this region.  By the way, the Appalachian Regional Commission still exists, but it only awards economic research grants to state and local governments these days.
  • Beginning in the 1980s, TV programs and authors began calling all of the mountains in Eastern North America, the Appalachian Mountains.  That is the definition most commonly seen today.


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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 have several of those ancient maps I keep going back to. There are multiples of places and place names. You are getting closer to my upper East TN. neck of the woods now Mr. Richard as you’re searching for truth. And I can say things are diffently not as they seem or are being taught out of ETSU. Or what NFS says without saying. My 66 years of life experence in the woods and my ancestors say-so. All in a small are there is Sciotio, Chestoa, Unaka Springs, Unaka Mountain, Cherokee Mountain, Buffalo Mountain and Creek, Kanas City Pee Dee Ridge. It goes on and on and on. Plus much mining since colonial times. Come on up to these to my beloved mountains and poke around. It May be surprising along the banks of the Nolachucky.

    • Nolichucky was where the Chiska lived. There are numerous contemporary accounts, which state that the Chiska knew how to smelt gold, silver and copper . . . not just beat it. Right now, however, I got to find a house with a working furnace and no rat armies, before I take any long trips. I have not slept in a bed or in a heated bedroom in over eight years.


        Always the spelling was Nolachucky when I was a child and before. Sometimes two separate words Nola chuckie or chucky. John Sevier’s nickname was “Chucky Jack”. His farm was along the river. Near some of the lead mining operations in the nearby mountains.


    I can sympathize with you Mr. Richard, my circumstances have changed considerably since the loss of a good job because of health issues, the recession and assorted as you said caca del toro. If someone would have told me 20 years ago I’d live in a one bedroom 400 square foot tiny house built in 1929 that originally had no plumbing I would have said nah. I don’t see that. Ahhh, but life changes things. Sometimes not by you but what comes in your path. Hopefully your circumstances will improve soon.
    I was reading a recent article on the BBC site the other day that was talking about isolated dialects. The author was quoting linguistic experts that said people from isolated pockets in the Southern Appalachian Mountains pronounce some words more similar to Old English today than those in the British Isles do today. There was another article on different speech patterns and how these were passed on in England and America.

    • My sister recently sent me an article from England that went even further. The English spoken by people in the USA and Canada as a whole is much more similar to the English spoken in England in the 1700s than what is spoken in England today. It seems that the Broad A, which distinguishes British English today is a rather new thing, which began as a fad of the aristocracy so their speech could be quickly discerned from the rising Middle Class. See . . . by using the words caco de toro you have shown yourself to be a member of the new American aristocracy.


    To believe Richard, one has to discount the 15 plus years of scientific archaeological excavation at the Berry site. Fort San Juan was the furthest north of the six forts, and so if the Berry site is not fort San Juan, but one of the other six forts, then all of the research must be reconsidered many miles to the north (and away from Richard’s place location).

    Richard has argued two fold in the past: A) that the berry site is not a fort but an early 17th century mining camp by Sephardic jews B) the Berry site is a fort but was not For San Juan, but one of the other six. Which is your latest argument Richard? A) is not compatible with the artifacts, they have distinct mid sixteenth century artifacts such as Spanish pottery…if it’s B) then how do you overlay league distance and direction? You would have to then place Fort San Juan up in Virginia?

    • It is very significant that the proponents of the Berry Site have spent thousands of dollars in promotional efforts, but not have produced a single radiocarbon date. The archaeologists excavated a small section of a palisade and called it Spanish. All Creek towns and villages had palisades. I am an expert on 16th century Spanish colonial architecture. Spanish forts were NOT built like that. The Spanish soldiers first assembled gabions, filled with dirt, to provide a temporary defense, then lined both sides of the gabions with 4-6″ timbers. A double row was used on the exterior. The form was then filled with packed dirt to form a firing terrace. Small infantry forts had small bastions on the corners so that arquebusmen could fire at anyone trying to climb into the firing terrace.

      I was Director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission when Charles Hudson and Company decided the route for De Soto and Pardo . . . bad science. They predetermined the route with state highway maps with the routes marked with masking tape. They were determined to have De Soto and Pardo come through Asheville because the Biltmore Estate and Asheville Chamber of Commerce had given them big checks. This required them to shift both De Soto’s and Pardo’s routes northward even though De Soto was going to Kusa from Cofitachequi and Pardo had been ordered by the Viceroy to find a route from Santa Elena at the bottom tip of South Carolina to Zacatecas, Mexico. In my office, two state archaeologists and I told the professors that (1) No Mississippian towns were occupied on the French Broad River in the mid-1500s. (2) No 16th century artifacts had been found in the French Broad Valley, (3) what they were calling the “capital of the Cherokees, Guaxule, was a small Woodland Period Mound, and (4) ZimmermanIsland contained Woodland Period mounds and in no way matched the geographical description of Chiaha by De Soto’s and Pardo’s chroniclers. None these professors, who presented themselves as experts on Spanish history could even pronounce Spanish words correctly. I was appalled, but didn’t dream that they would later be labeled “super stars.” That afternoon Hudson gave a press conference at the Biltmore Estate to announce that local and state historians had completely agreed with their findings. These professors, who also are the ones, who labeled the Berry Site, Joara, long ago. This was just typical of what I saw over and over again while I was in Asheville. They were constantly creating fairy tales in which history was modified for political reasons.

      Joara was described as a large town with many temples, streets and plazas that was at the base of a high canyon. A large, fast-running river ran through the town just downstream from where four small rivers. The Berry Site is a dinky village with a single small mound in a out of the way location. Do you really think that at matches the description of Joara?

      Do you honestly think that a Captain in the Spanish army, who had been ordered in writing by the Viceroy and king to find the closest land route between Port Royal Sound, SC and Zacatecas, Mexico would head 280 miles due north instead? Now on his second expedition Pardo did head north and passed through a village name Otari. There he built a casa fuerte and a small convento (mission), which exactly matches what has been found at the Berry Site. Also, we now know that there was an “underground railroad” passing through that area, beginning in the late 1500s, which conveyed Sephardic Jews from the coast to the gem mines along the Toe River in North Carolina. The little Spanish outpost at the Berry Site could easily be Otari or a somewhat later Sephardic Jewish outpost.


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