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What you are never told at New Echota National Historic Landmark

What you are never told at New Echota National Historic Landmark


With your donations this summer, I am purchasing a LIDAR scan of a square mile around the Alec Mountain Stone Circle next week!

Several foolish government policies enacted during the administrations of Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton involved the centralization of control over cultural resources. Centralization of power is a key element of both fascism and communism.  I am certain that Mr. Bush and Mr. Clinton were barely aware of the most radical policy changes, but they have had as drastic impact over the security of Native American heritage sites in the Southeast as the impact of NAFTA on the economic health of the region’s towns and rural communities.  Historic preservation organizations pushed these bills through because initially, the changes brought a largesse of federal funds to be distributed to local communities by newly expanded state bureaucracies.   Archaeological organizations pushed for these changes because they thought it would give them complete control over archaeological sites. 

In the Southeast, the changes initially took the form of stratified exterior control of Native American heritage sites.  Regional planning agencies were given federal funds to hire “historic preservation planners.”  State governments were given much more generous federal grants to expand their historic preservation efforts.  The theory was that highly qualified architects and archaeologists would be hired by the states to roam the countryside and provide technical assistance at the local level.  In reality, the new laws created a new creature known as “historic preservation planners,” who far too often had no technical qualifications and were essentially paper-pushers, who spent half their time attending “historic preservation” conferences.  The other half was spent twiddling their thumbs and handing out printed packets, which told citizens how nice historic preservation is.  Several large Native American tribes supported the centralization because they were promised vast sums of federal money to establish Tribal Historic Preservation Offices.

We woke up one morning in 1989 to see maps distributed by US Dept. of the Interior to newspapers around the country, which showed that the Cherokees had formerly occupied most of the Southeast. All of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky and western Virginia were designated the “traditional tribal lands of the Cherokee Nation.”  The three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes were to be given millions of dollars per year to have control of thousands of archaeological sites, where their ancestors never lived.  The period from 1987 to 1990 is exactly when the Cherokees radically changed their official history from being a tribe from the Great Lakes region, who moved to the Southern Highlands during the late 1600s, to being a Master Race that had built most of the mounds in the Southeast.  These maps were the basis of heavy political pressure to have Etowah Mounds, Ocmulgee Mounds and Moundville, Alabama re-designated as “Cherokee Heritage Sites” in the 1990s.

The official NAGPRA map was critical because the federal funds to dispersed to federally-recognized tribes were based on the acreage of land, which had been designated their “traditional homeland.”  The map eventually changed slightly because the Muscogee-Creek and Seminole Nations were able to persuade several Congressmen in Georgia and Florida to raise cane about it.  However, as you can see, the map is still grossly inaccurate and unfair to the real indigenous tribes of the Southeast.   According to the map, the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Miccosukee, Catawba and Shawnee never existed.  All of the Chickasaws ancient homeland in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee was designated “Cherokee” or “Unknown Tribal Affiliation.”  Most of the Creek’s ancient homeland in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina was designated either Cherokee or “Unknown Tribal Affiliation.” 


Keep in mind that in Scandinavia and the British Isles,  archaeological sites and historic buildings are the domain of city and county governments.  In both regions local volunteers play a major role in the protection and the study of archaeological sites.  Volunteers with metal detectors are particularly valued, because of their ability to find previously unknown archaeological sites. The county town architect’s office, where I worked in Sweden, employed two professional archaeologists.

In 2000, pressure from the Georgia Council of Professional Archaeologists, powerful real estate developers and its own bureaucracy caused the State of Georgia to seize all copies of the state’s archaeological site index from city and county planning offices. Local officials were told that regional and state historic preservation planners were better qualified to interpret the contents.   Henceforth, elected officials and planning commissions would not know if a proposed development impacted an important archaeological site until it was too late to stop it.  However, the built-in delay of information reaching local officials meant that private archaeological consulting firms would get contracts to carry out emergency excavations before the site was destroyed.  Their fees were to be paid by the private developers, not government!

Even in good times, regional planning agencies in the Southeast began re-assigning or laying off historic preservation planners.  The Great Recession gave regional agencies the excuse to lay off the rest of the historic preservation planners.  Today, they mainly can be found only in large metropolitan planning agencies or in especially historic cities like New Orleans, Charlottesville, Mobile, Charleston and Savannah.  In truth, today there is no one minding the chicken coop.   The vast majority of archaeological studies are being done at federally-funded transportation-related construction sites, because federal laws require environmental reviews prior to disbursement of funds. 

Also, using the Great Recession as an excuse,  the States of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia permanently laid off most of their most qualified personnel at Native American Historic Sites.  Many sites were closed while others were reduced to being open only a few days a week.   Those reduced operating hours still exist today, even though the economy is booming.   New Echota State Historic Site only has maintenance personnel.  Everything else is done by volunteers or part-time employees. 

Why volunteers are needed

A history professor in Oregon, who is a member of a federally-recognized tribe, wrote me two days ago with several questions.  She didn’t understand why laymen volunteers would be needed to carry out what sounded like to her to be actually an archaeological survey in the Southern Appalachians (This year’s survey of the Nacoochee and Soque River Valleys).  She asked, “Shouldn’t archaeologists with the state government, federal government, a federally-recognized tribe or a university anthropology program carry out such efforts?”

Stone walls, stone mounds, stone effigies, petroglyphs and stone building ruins are definitely within the realm of architecture.  POOF volunteers never disturb the soil. I tried to explain the weird attitudes of this generation of archaeologists in the Lower Southeast, but I don’t think that she understood me.  I am certain that Arthur Kelly, Lewis Larson and Phillip White would have been delighted to join us and would have been a lot of fun to have around.  The last studies of the stone structures in the Northeast Georgia Mountains were carried out by those three gentlemen between 1951 and 1959 . . . and they just saw the tip of the iceberg.  The fact is, with the exception of a couple of archaeology professors in Alabama, most of the profession is afraid to even discuss these stone structures.

POOF’s  Winter of 2016-2017 Study was on the Lower Coosawattee River.  I thought new subscribers might be interested in learning about some of our findings.  This will give you a hint of what we might discover this winter.

Surprising amount of information left out of the New Echota Museum exhibits

New Echota was the planned capital of the Cherokee Nation between 1827 and 1832.  The town never had more than 59 permanent residents, although the temporary population, including the campers, would burgeon during meetings of the National Council or Cherokee Supreme Court.  The state-owned museum at New Echota infers that the Cherokees always lived in North Georgia.  In fact, though, there were ethnic Cherokees living on or adjacent to the site of the capital only between around 1795 and 1832.   Prior to that time, the site was the original settlement of the Province of Kaushe (Kusa) and a Kansa village, called by the Cherokees Gansagi-yi (Place of the Kansa People). Upstream three miles was the Chickasaw village of Ustanauli.  Both Gansagiyi and Ustanauli were reoccupied by a few Cherokee log cabins.  A stage coach inn had been established at Ustanauli by 1800, as indicated by the map  above.  Ustanauli always had a larger population than New Echota.

A team of archaeologists led by Joseph Caldwell excavated the New Echota site in the mid-1950s, but usually did not dig any deeper than the level near the surface, which contained artifacts from the brief Cherokee occupation.  Caldwell did excavate two wells, which contained fascinating Cherokee artifacts.  Visitors are NOT told that the site was occupied by ancestors of the Kansa, Upper Creek and Chickasaw Indians for over 3000 years before it was taken over by the Cherokees.  That is just the tip of the iceberg, however.   You will be astonished to learn what information POOF researchers found in published archeological reports, books from the Colonial Period,  satellite imagery and field trips that is not mentioned in any state museum.

(1)  The Great Appalachian Valley in Northwest Georgia was an isothermal zone during the Ice Age.  It did not get exceedingly hot or cold during the changing of seasons, so that grasses now typical of the Midwestern Prairies thrived year round.  This enabled herds of large mammals to graze up and down the valley . . . in particular, mastodons and bison.  Numerous Clovis and Dalton points have been found in this region, which infer a sizable human population.  Many fossils of Ice Age animals have been found in the caves of Northwest Georgia.

(2)  In 1939,  the famous archaeologist Robert Wauchope surveyed the Etowah, Coosawattee and Oostanaula Rivers.  However, because he spent most of his time in the Nacoochee and Upper Etowah River Valleys, he did not have time to seriously excavate any town sites along the Coosawattee and Oostanaula.  Instead his laborers dug a series of test pits.  In these pits, he found artifacts from all occupation periods from the Ice Age to the Cherokee Occupation.   He believed that the valley was densely occupied during the Woodland and Mississippian Periods.

(3) Wauchope identified 24 town or village sites and several mounds.  Using ERSI satellite and USGS infrared imagery,  I was able to identify several more probable sites, bringing the total to 34.

(4) By far, the largest town site is immediate upstream on the north side of the Coosawattee River in a bend.  It is denoted as two archaeological sites, 9GO3 and 9GO8, but appears on infrared as one large town with several large mounds, which have been covered by sediment.

(5) Between New Echota and 9GO3 is a massive impact crater.  It may be a sinkhole, but its perfect ellipsoid shape is more typical of a meteor or comet strike.  The pond does not appear on Google Maps, but as seen above, it is clearly visible on ERSI GIS imagery. This could be one of the most important Paleo-archaeological sites in the United States, but no one in academia seems to know it is there.  Being surrounded by Woodland, Mississippian and Colonial Period villages, the sediment beneath the pond undoubtedly also contains such things as wooden dugout canoes.

(6)  The map above also would tell archaeologist exactly where to dig to study important Cherokee farm sites and the old stage coach inn.  Again, there is has been no interest in the archaeological profession in studying these sites.  There was a great deal of local media attention and public interest in the region’s Native American history during the 1970s, when university archaeological teams, funded by local civic groups and governments were studying the area.  Interested evaporated when cultural resource management was centralized in Atlanta.

(7)  Along the Coosawattee and Oostanaula Rivers, there are seven state historical markers that describe aspects of the region’s brief Cherokee history.  There are NO state historical markers, which mention its thousands of years of Muskogean and Kansan history.  There is not even a federal or state historical marker at Kaushe (Kusa) which was one of the largest indigenous towns in North America (over 3,000 houses) and hosted the Hernando de Soto Expedition for several weeks.  The Kusa site is owned by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

(8) We talked to several local residents, who have state-designated archaeological sites on their properties.  Most stated that they had found “arrowheads” and pieces of pottery on their land, but NONE knew that they owned official archaeological sites.

(9) Small silver crosses have been found along the Coosawattee River.  Today, the archaeology profession universally accepts Charles Hudson’s interpretation that these crosses were handed out by priests accompanying the De Soto Expedition.  POOF members did some research.  The crosses bear no resemblance to the crosses, mass-produced in Mexico in the 1500s to hand out to Indians.  They also bear no resemblance to the crosses worn by peasants and middle class townspeople in Spain and Italy during that period.   What they do resemble are the crosses worn by peasant girls in France during the 1500s and 1600s. 

Magnifying the cross revealed several letters

The Coosawattee Crosses have one feature, which further links their origin to the French.  At the center of each cross was a Cross of Languedoc!  It is the symbol of the French Protestant Church.  No Roman Catholic priest would have dreamed of giving out such a cross to Southeastern Indians.  However, there is a book, which explains this particular “fact” left out of the history books.  In 1654,  English explorer Richard Briggstock told French Protestant ethnologist, the Rev. Charles de Rochefort that several survivors of the French Protestant’s Fort Caroline, were given sanctuary by the Apalache-Creeks in North Georgia.  These French Huguenots eventually converted the Apalache elite to Protestant Christianity!

(10)  Early maps of Northwest Georgia contain a detail, which reinforces the French connection to the Coosawattee River Valley and a Georgia location for Fort Caroline.  South of the Coosawattee River are the villages of Satilekoa and Satile.  The words survive today as the place name Salicoa Creek and Sutalee Creek.  Both words, of course, or described as being the names of famous Cherokee chiefs.  If mentioned at all, Georgia academicians, who describe these villages as some of the oldest Cherokee towns in Georgia . . . but they can’t translate their names.  There is a good reason.  They are Panoan words from Peru and refer to a powerful Native province on the Satilla River in Southeast Georgia, which was immediately south of Fort Caroline.  Fort Caroline couldn’t be in Florida, if it was located 35 miles north of the Satilla River.  The Satile disappeared from the Georgia coast after being the main players in the massacre of the Spanish at Fort San Mateo.  Now we know where they went.  Being so buddy-buddy with the French Protestants, it makes sense that they might be open to conversion to French Protestant Christianity.   That explains the presence of French Protestant crosses along the Coosawattee River.



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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.


  1. Ooh-h, some wannabe Cherokee does NOT like factual history based on historic maps and official dictionaries!


    Richard, Good for you!!! Don’t be waiting for any University type for help as they never made any effort to find the ancient stones since the 1950’s. They also never went looking for the Viking settlements… one was found by 2 people from Denmark…and some of the Vikings could have made their way to the Georgia islands. The Cherokees did use the symbol of the Nordic cross but what about the Creeks? Thanks for your articles.

    • The most sacred symbol of Creeks and Uchee was the Sun Wheel (Nordic Cross) which we call “Sacred Fire.”


    Thanks! I will look forward to more information on this. Traveled through the Smokies & into the Cherokee Nation with a tour through the museum last fall, a beautiful & informative place, but these new discoveries & (iffy)? past history may have to have some serious updating. Thanks! A. J.


    The map also provides a huge area in which to place casinos. All that tax free money.


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