Richard Thornton | Jun 3, 2017 | 15
Where in the heck was Coweta?
Throughout the 1700s, Coweta was often the most powerful town and tribal unit of the Creek Confederacy. The town of Coweta was the capital of the Creek Confederacy between 1717 and 1755.
The ten year long Chattahoochee Water War between Alabama, Georgia and Florida has spilled over into the interpretation of history. Where was the Creek Capital Town of Coweta? In Alabama or Georgia? It is a question that vexes residents of the heavily armed border towns of Columbus, GA and Phenix City, AL. The US Army has even established a large military post there to keep the peace between the warring factions . . . Fort Benning.
History professors from the respective states greet each other with piercing glares, pouting lips and clinched fists, while attending academic conferences. It is only a matter of time before the academicians begin dueling each other with I-pads and laser pointers.
At stake are the reputations of several generations of academicians. The presumed location of Coweta in either Phenix City or Columbus was used as a benchmark to interpret broad swaths of colonial archives, Native American History and even archaeological sites. Yes, final determination of the location of Coweta will invalidate the interpretations of numerous archaeological reports and university published books on the Creek Indians.
Uh-h-h . . . guys and gals, did you every think of looking at maps rather than citing your favorite professor as the authority on this matter?
“God is in the details!” – Architect Mies Van Der Rohe
Etymology: Koweta/Coweta is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek tribal name, Kvwetv, which was derived from the Itsate-Creek tribal name, Kowe-te. Kowi-te means “Mountain Lion People.”
Before we look at the maps, there is some pertinent evidence provided by Georgia’s colonial archives:
- In his presentation of the “Migration Legend of the Kashite (Cusseta) People” in June 7, 1735 to the leaders of Savannah, Principal Chief Chikili used the ethnic names Koweta and Apalache interchangeably. Later in his speech, he explained that they meant the same. The Apalache were shown by European maps from the mid-1500s to around 1700 to occupy the Georgia Mountains . . . hence the name Appalachian Mountains. Apalachen meant “Apalaches” in their own language. Chikili also stated in his speech that after the Koweta allowed the Cusseta to settle on their lands, the Cusseta have always lived across the river from them . . . on the eastern side.
- In Koweta tradition, their “motherland” was along the headwaters of the Little Tennessee River in extreme Northeast Georgia and the area of the North Carolina Mountains around Franklin. There is a cluster of town sites there with mounds, most notably the Coweeta Mound. The Cherokees now claim to have built this mound, but Coweta has no meaning in their language.
- Indian Springs was always considered especially sacred to the Coweta Creeks. When assembling the fraudulent 1825 Treaty of Indian Springs, Gen. William McIntosh reserved a square mile around the springs for himself, based on his direct descent from Emperor Brim, the first leader of the Creek Confederacy.
- The Creek Confederacy in its current form was created in 1717 at a site on the Ocmulgee River, near present day Macon, GA. Emperor Bemarin (Brim) was elected its High King (Principal Chief).
- Kashihta, Cusseta, Cusate, Cussataw, Cauche, Kaushee, Coushatta and Cushate are all Europeanizations of the same Upper Creek town name . . . Kaushi-te
- Between 1734 and 1746, Creek leaders frequently walked between Coweta and Savannah. After that date, it became very rare for any leaders of the Creek Confederacy to be in Savannah . . . implying a much greater distance involved. Meetings were held at midpoints such as Indian Springs or later, Fort Hawkins.
Looking at the maps
1681: Dr. Henry Woodward established a trading post at the town of Coweta, on the shoals of the Upper Ocmulgee River in present day Butts County, GA , near where Indian Springs is also located. Throughout the 18th century, French maps consistently labeled the region around Indian Springs as “Caouitas” or “Cohuitas” (Cowetas).
Simultaneously, Woodward established another trading post among the Itza-te speaking Creeks on the Lower Ocmulgee River at the town of Tama. A few years later, competitors built a trading post about halfway between those establishments at the village of Itzase (Ichese, Ochesee). This large village was probably located at Amerson Park in Macon. Archaeologists have confirmed a large 17th century town being located there.
Read this article in Wikipedia on Henry Woodward. The author incorrectly placed Coweta and Cusseta on the Chattahoochee River in the 1670s and then went on for a paragraph with inaccurate history based on that inaccurate assumption.
1715: Ironically, the first map to show either the Cowetas or the Cherokees was drawn in 17 15 by John Beresford. It was prepared at the beginning of the Yamasee War to show Carolina Colonial officials where their Native American enemies were located. The map only shows the Coweta Creeks on the Ocmulgee River, immediately north of present day Macon. The main Coweta village and Indian Springs in present day Butts County were only shown as dots.
Notice below how minuscule these Creek villages were. If they only had 20 – 70 men, that meant that their populations were in the range of 80 to 200 persons each. This is strong evidence that about 90-95% of the indigenous population in Georgia had been wiped out by diseases, Native American slave raids and warfare.
The map also labeled both the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers as the “Coweta River.” That is highly significant. It means that the Ocmulgee River was considered the home territory of the Cowetas.
1721: The 1721 John Barnwell Map was the first to show Cowetas living both on the Ocmulgee River and on the Chattahoochee. Their location on the Chattahoochee was in the vicinity of Phenix City. There is a note on the map stating that many village that were part of the Ochesee alliance fled to the Chattahoochee in 1716 when they realized that they were going to lose the Yamasee War. Thus, there is proof on maps and in historical archives that some Cowetas were living in present day Phenix City as early as 1716.
(Below) Nevertheless, the original town of Coweta on the Ocmulgee River still existed and was labeled to be the capital of the Creek Confederacy.
Although there were now Cowetas on both the Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee Rivers, Barnwell used the symbol for a capital building to denote their location on the Ocmulgee River. This is highly significant.
1725: John Herbert was hired to create a map of the Colony of South Carolina that included detailed information about the locations of the Cherokee and Creek towns. There was a village, named Coweta on the west side of the Chattahoochee River, but not a village named Cusseta on the east side of the Chattahoochee. Note that the eastern town of Coweta was at Indian Springs! Cusseta was still located on the east side of the Ocmulgee River.
1733: The Province of Georgia was founded. Supervising Trustee Oglethorpe immediately took steps to repair the damage done by past hostilities between the Creeks and South Carolina. A local Itza-te (Hitchiti) mikko named Tamachichi ( Tomochichi in English) befriended Oglethorpe and sold him the land for Savannah. He had an Itza Maya name which means Trade Dog or “itinerant merchant.”
1735: Through the intercession of Tamachichi, the leaders of the Creek Confederacy traveled to Savannah in June 1735 to negotiate a treaty with Georgia. It was at this meeting that High King Chikili presented the famous Migration Legend. The original English translation by Mary Musgrove and Thomas Christie was lost for 285 years, but I discovered it at Lambeth Palace in the UK on April 29, 2015. It was accompanied by several other migration legends for other branches of the Creeks, including that of the Itza-te Creeks (Itza Mayas) which described their journey across the sea from the south to initially settle in present day Savannah.
1736: Apparently, after ratification of the treaty, those Cowetas, who lived on the west bank of the Chattahoochee, returned to the Ocmulgee River Basin, because . . .
1738: Emmanuel Bowen was a highly respected cartographer who produced a series of Georgia Maps between 1738 and 1754. This map was published the year before James Oglethorpe journeyed to Coweta, so its information is critical for determining where the Capital of Coweta was located in 1739.
The 1738 map still showed large numbers of Cowetas living on the west side of the Ocmulgee River, but none on the Chattahoochee River. Otherwise, Bowen showed the same villages on the Chattahoochee River that Beresford, Barnwell and Herbert did. Cusseta was still located on the east side of the Ocmulgee River the year before Oglethorpe and his small party traveled to Coweta.
1739: Despite the importance of Oglethorpe’s journey to meet with the Creek leaders to avoid war between the Muskogean tribes, descriptions of the meeting and associated journeys are vague. There is an account that described the party visiting the ruins of what is now Ocmulgee National Monument and being impressed.
1742: An alliance of British Redcoats, Georgia militia. Carolina Rangers and Creek Indians thwarted the invasion of Georgia by Spanish forces, numbering thousands of men. Oglethorpe was appointed a Colonel and later, Brevet General, to command these forces. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to capture the virtually impregnable Castillo San Marco. Elements in the colony, who had constantly badgered Oglethorpe because of his opposition to slavery in the colony, used the defeat to make false charges against him. Oglethorpe was called back to England in 1743 by Westminster Palace to face those charges. He was cleared of all stains on his reputation, but never returned to America.
1746: After Oglethorpe’s departure, relations between the Creek Confederacy and new colonial government deteriorated rapidly. Chikili had trusted the British completely because of his deep friendship with James Oglethorpe. When that trust proved to be misplaced, Chikili lost the support of his people and resigned.
Chikili was replaced by Malatchi, who immediately began playing Great Britain, France and Spain against each other. The Great Falls on the Chattahoochee was an ideal location to practice trilateral diplomacy, since it was much closer to France’s Fort Toulouse and Spain’s Pensacola. It is in this year that the seat of government, ie Koweta, plus its twin town of Cusseta, probably moved to the Chattahoochee River, because . . .
1747: Emmanuel Bowen’s 1747 Map of Georgia showed radical changes in the locations of Creek towns. By 1747, both Koweta and Cusseta had moved to the east bank of the Chattahoochee River. This is the first map to show Cusseta on the Chattahoochee River. The capital of the Creek Confederacy was established where Downtown Columbus is today. Bowen’s map does not display any major Creek villages on the Ocmulgee or Oconee Rivers.
1755: After leading the army of Coweta in a spectacular victory over the entire Cherokee Nation in 1754 . . . thus ending the 40 year long Creek-Cherokee War . . . Malatchi died unexpectedly. The teenager, who replaced him, proved incapable of holding the Creek Confederacy together. A faction of leaders from Tuckabatchee and the Hillabee towns on the Tallapoosa River seized the reins of power. Tuckabatchee became the capital and the newly established Coweta on the Chattahoochee declined in importance.
1776: Tuckabatchee moved to an ancient town site with mounds on the Chattahoochee River near Six Flags Over Georgia at the onset of the American Revolution. It remained there until 1725. Late 18th century maps started showing a second Coweta on the Alabama side of the river, approximately near the mouth of Upatoi Creek.
1810: Between 1804 and 1810, William McIntosh established a village for Coweta Creeks at the location on the Alabama side of the river where Coweta’s has settled in 1716. This event most likely happened after the 1805 Treaty was ratified, which ceded all Creek lands east of the Ocmulgee River, except the six square mile Ocmulgee Reserve around the mounds, which was held to be sacred by the Creeks.
The village of “McIntosh’s Cowetas” was in Russell County, AL opposite the mouth of Bull Creek. On the other side was a village of mixed-heritage Creeks that developed around Marshall’s trading post.
1824: This was the last map of Alabama or Georgia to mention a Creek village named Coweta. It was located where “McIntosh’s Coweta’s” had been on the 1810 map.
- Between 1716 and 1824, there were three Creek villages named Coweta on the west (Alabama) side of the Chattahoochee River. None were ever labeled as Creek capitals by maps. There was no village named Cusseta at the Great Falls of the Chattahoochee shown on maps until 1747. In 1739, Cusseta was on the east side of the Ocmulgee River, not the Chattahoochee River.
- A highly reliable map published the year before the 1739 meeting between Oglethorpe and the Creek Confederacy does not show any village named Coweta in present day Alabama.
- When the Creek Confederacy did establish a capital town on the Chattahoochee, named Coweta, it was located approximately where Downtown Columbus is today.
- Thus, any archaeological report or history text that interpolates history based on the presumption of Oglethorpe’s 1739 meeting being in the present day Columbus-Phenix City Area is probably erroneous.
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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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