Who Lived in Northwest Georgia Before the Cherokees?
PART TWO of the series on New Echota National Historic Landmark
Close examination and interpolation of eyewitness accounts, historical maps and archaeological reports reveals that the region around New Echota National Historic Landmark was occupied by many ethnic groups . . . often at the same time. There is solid proof that Europeans, probably French Huguenots and Spanish Jews, were living near the New Echota site as early as 1600 AD.
New Echota was the planned capital of the new Cherokee Nation. It was laid out in 1827. The public buildings were abandoned in 1832. All houses in the village were abandoned between 1832 and 1838.
Much earlier, according to the leaders of the great capital of Kusa, upstream on the Coosawattee River . . . the area around New Echota was the original village of the Kusa People. In other words, it was the site of the mother town of the Upper Creek Peoples.
In Part One of this series, readers learned that in 1953, the State of Georgia initially hired Lewis Larson, a young man, who had just received his Masters Degree in Anthropology from the University of Michigan, to supervise five laborers in the excavation of the entire New Echota. The state soon hired experienced archaeologists, Joseph Caldwell and Clemmon de Ballou, to assist Larson. Initially, the archaeologists could find very few artifacts, which could be possibly be considered “Cherokee” (of European manufacture) but instead found several distinct strata of occupations belonging to “other” Indian tribes.
Eventually, the archaeologists determined where the very few buildings actually built at New Echota were located and they did unearth about 600 artifacts, which they could label “Cherokee.” When Georgia built a museum at the archaeological zone in 1963, the exhibits ignored the occupation of the site for at least 12,000 years by “earlier Indian tribes” and focused on the decade in which at least some Cherokees lived there. The maximum permanent population of New Echota was no more than 50 people.
There is also the question . . . just because an artifact was of European manufacture, does it mean that it belonged to the period of Cherokee occupation? The archaeologists did not run radiocarbon dating tests on any of the artifacts that they unearthed.
Unraveling archaeological mythology
When I was a student in graduate school, we were told that a mysterious people called the “mound builders” had constructed the mounds in Northwest Georgia then vanished shortly after Hernando de Soto came through in 1540. A dominant faction of archaeologists theorized that a plague had killed most of the “mound builders.” A minority faction believed that the Cherokees had driving out the Creeks from North Georgia around 1585. According to the majority faction . . . for 200 years, Northwest Georgia was uninhabited because the Cherokees thought it was cursed by the thousands of souls killed by the plague . . . then the Cherokees occupied the region. As recent as about a decade ago, I heard a prominent Georgia archaeologist tell our audience an identical story.
The belief was primarily based on a minuscule number of radiocarbon dates taken from mounds that had been intensely cultivated for the previous 250 years. The Cherokees intentionally planted corn on mounds because the soil was extremely fertile . . . plus enriched with many bones. Obviously, the newest levels of human occupation would have been eroded away by intense cultivation. Also, it was quite plausible that the people stopped building mounds, but continued to live in the region.
The second justification for the belief was a passage in the chronicles of the Tristan de Luna Expedition (1559-1561). In 1560, De Luna dispatched a 200 man expedition from Pensacola Bay with orders to travel inland to the capital of Kusa in order to obtain food. Some of the soldiers were survivors of the Hernando de Soto Expedition. They had lived in the capital during the summer of 1540.
De Soto’s officers had counted over 3,000 houses at Kusa. The village where the company from the De Luna Expedition was quartered only had 30 houses. Veterans of the De Soto Expedition stated that they must have been bewitched to believe that the Kusa, they visited in 1540 was a large town. The academicians interpreted the housing figures to mean that the population of Northwest Georgia had declined by 99% in 20 years!
Circles in the grass . . . poppycock in the museum
Georgia Tech Architecture professor Julian Harris became close friends with archaeologists Lewis Larson and Arthur Kelly, when he designed the Etowah Mounds Museum. In my Junior Year at Tech, Harris arranged for the extraordinary opportunity of having Larson and Kelly give us a tour of the archaeological zone. The, by then, very famous archaeologists also gave us copies of their archaeological report. The public and apparently, anthropology students, are not allowed to see this report. You see . . . the famous marble statues were actually found at the base of Mound C . . . in a log chamber within a stone temple. They were damaged when the temple roof collapsed from the weight of an earthen mound above them. The key, post 1995, exhibit at the museum, shows the statues being hastily dropped into a pit at the top of Mound C, while Etowah is under attack by enemies, who will burn the town. At the time of the exhibit’s creation, it was suggested that the enemy was the Cherokees in 1585, but that sign has been removed.
I already knew Dr. Kelly from preparing an inked site plan for him the previous year. He invited me and some classmates to go out on the plaza of Mound A to look at a remarkable phenomenon in the late autumn grass. You could see circles varying 35 to 50 feet in diameter, plus some large rectangles. Kelly believed that this was proof of a fourth occupation of Etowah during the Early Colonial Period. Kelly wanted to excavate the plaza, but never obtained funds before he died in 1979. The clique of archaeologists, who took control of Southeastern archaeology in the last two decades of the 20th century, turned the myth of a 200 year long period of no inhabitants in Northwest Georgia into irrefutable orthodoxy.
Looking at the wrong Kusa
In 2006, I was asked by a client in the Muscogee-Creek Nation to investigate whatever could be found out about the site of the great capital of Kusa. For the first time I read the chronicles of the Tristan de Luna Expedition. It described the village of Kusa as being located at the confluence of two small rivers. To the north, off at a distance a mountain ridge ran across the horizon from east to west. That was NOT the same location as the capital of Kusa. The Spanish chronicler’s description DID match the geography around New Echota.
The capital of Kusa was sited where Talking Rock Creek joins the Coosawattee River. This creek could not be described as a “small river.” One can easily wade across it. Carters Bottom, where the capital was located, is bounded on three sides by steep mountains. On the west side a ridge about 75 feet high blocks one’s view. Once cannot see off at a distance in any direction.
Unbelievable . . . University of Georgia anthropology professor, Charles M. Hudson, even wrote a novel, Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa, based on the presumption that the De Luna Expedition was at the capital of Kusa. That means that none of the professors involved actually looked at the geography of Northwest Georgia. Many of the details of Hudson’s novel are all wrong, because he actually knew very little about the cultural history of the Creek People and never learned any of the Creek languages. Unfortunately, two generations of anthropology students have assumed that the book was based on facts.
French and Spanish maps ignored . . . official Pardo route is wrong
The British were ignorant of the geography of Northwest Georgia and Northeastern Alabama until almost the eve of the American Revolution. British maps leave this region blank. It is not until the early 1790s, when the State of Georgia authorized cartographers to map the region, do we see again any sort of accurate information for the region’s rivers and Native American villages on English language maps.
There is something very odd about Spanish maps of North America in the 1560s. The royal geographers already knew that the Chattahoochee River flowed from the Georgia Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, yet today there is no known record of the Spanish exploring the length of the Chattahoochee until 1645. Both the 1562 Gutierrez map and the 1566 Chaves map place the capital town of Canos on the Chattahoochee River near Kennesaw Mountain, GA.
Kanosaw is the Muskogee Creek word for the people of the province of Canos. Conasauga is the Anglicization of the Creek word, Kanosaw-ki, Canos must be the name for the large town that once existed where Peachtree Creek flows into the Chattahoochee. This powerful province, with Kennesaw Mountain as its center of worship, completely flew under the radar of anthropologists . . . probably because the main mound was used in the 1840s as an earthen bed to support a railroad bridge across the Chattahoochee River.
Juan Pardo visited Canos in 1568! This means that the routes of Pardo, devised by late 20th century academicians in several Southeastern universities, are significantly wrong. They showed Canos to be near Charlotte, NC so that they could take Pardo on a long tour of North Carolina.
The situation is very different for French maps. As soon as the French Huguenots from Fort Caroline explored the Southern Highlands in the 1560s, we are provided the indigenous names of rivers and Native villages. All of the village and river names are Itza Maya, Muscogean or South American words. The map that Fort Carolina resident, Jacques Le Moyne, drew of the Southeast has not information on Northwest Georgia, but is quite detailed and accurate for the eastern half of Georgia all the way to the Nacoochee Valley in the mountains, where six expeditions from Fort Caroline explored.
French marines and surveyors explored the region in the 1680s and 1690s. A trading post and fort was established on Bussell Island, Tennessee. From then until the end of the French and Indian War, French maps showed Northeast Alabama to be occupied by the Chickasaw and Tuskegee Creeks. Northwest Georgia was occupied by the Chickasaw, Kusate Creeks and Conchakee Creeks. The Conchakee were what we today label the Highland Apalache. Their capital was in Northeast Metro Atlanta at the headwaters of the Apalachee River.
The 1755 John Mitchell Map left most of North Georgia and extreme Northeast Alabama blank. It labeled the Ooostanaula-Coosawattee River System all the way to eastern Gilmer County . . . the “Locushatchee.” That’s a Creek word. The Cherokees were nowhere around. Farther downstream, all of northeastern Alabama was labeled “Abeikas or Coussa Creeks.” British maps, published in 1776 and 1780, labeled all of North Georgia west of the Chattahoochee River at Helen, GA and south of Yonah Mountain, near Helen, as being “the Territory of the Creek Indians.”
The first official map of Georgia, published in 1785, showed almost all of North Georgia to be the territory of either the Creek Confederacy or Chickasaw tribe. The Chickasaws occupied the territory north of the Oostanaula and Coosawattee Rivers. Ustanauli was shown on the map as a principal town at the Chickasaw-Creek border.
However, in reality Northwest Georgia’s ethnicity was rapidly changing. Cherokee refugees were pouring into the region, given sanctuary by their Chickasaw and Upper Creek allies. During the American Revolution, Tory men, married to Chickasaw, Creek and Cherokee women had settled in the region. Subsequent generations would call these mixed blood families, “Cherokees.” In 1784, Georgia officially gave Northwest Georgia to the Cherokees as “hunting territory”. The Chickasaw and Creeks did not find out about this land theft until around 1790, because the Chickamauga War continued to rage until 1794.
Radiocarbon dates ignored
In the late 1980s, geologists became aware of at least a dozen ancient mines in western North Carolina and North Georgia, which seemed to long predate the Georgia Gold Rush of the late 1820s. Geologists obtained radiocarbon dates for old mine timbers from several of these sites. The mine had collapsed at a site in Tomatla, NC near Murphy, but ancient trees were growing in the mouth of the tunnel. They dated from around 1600 AD. Other mines such as near Mt. Mitchell, NC and Fort Mountain, GA dated from 1585 to 1600 AD. These dates corresponded exactly to when archaeologists were saying that the Oostanaula and Coosawattee River Valley were permanently abandoned by humans.
Two books were published at the time by these geologists. They were heavily publicized while I was living near Asheville, NC and Executive Director of the Asheville-Buncombe Historic Resources Commission, but conveniently forgotten when the “New Cherokee History” was heavily promoted by a new generation of archaeologists in the 1990s and early 21st century. They were still on the library shelves in western North Carolina when I wrote an article about them in the National Examiner in 2010. The books disappeared from North Carolina libraries in 2012, during the “Mayas In Georgia Thang.”
Mysterious silver crosses
Several silver crosses have been found in Northwest Georgia, which have consistently labeled by archaeologists as “crosses given out by the De Soto Expedition.” They were discussed in a POOF article on June 29, 2017 . . . See Coosawattee Crosses.
The two crosses unearthed in a burial mound on the Coosawattee River near New Echota ARE NOT Spanish crosses. They are entirely different than the crude crosses, mass-produced in Mexico, which were given out by the De Soto and Pardo Expeditions. They appear to have been made locally . . . perhaps from silver in the Fort Mountain Mind . . . are in the form of the standard cross worn by French commoners in the 16th and 17th centuries. Furthermore, they display the Maltese or Templar’s Cross, which was the symbol of the French Protestants. These facts strongly suggest that the village, where the mound was located, was occupied for many decades after the De Soto Expedition came through.
Some of the crosses found in the Etowah Valley 25 miles to the south, are encrusted with precious stones. It is highly unlikely that the De Soto Expedition would have given out extremely valuable jewelry so early on their four year journey through the Southeast.
This cross is more likely a gift from an early 18th century French Catholic missionary or else a cross grabbed from a murdered 17th century Catholic missionary on the Georgia coast or in western Florida. Prestige items, such as bejeweled crosses, were often traded or given across many provinces.
No one looked at the details of late 18th century maps
The village of Yohawlee was on the Etowah River, a few miles west of Etowah Mounds. It is a Southeast Georgia Creek word, meaning “Place of the Wolves” or alternatively, Wolf Clan. Today, it is the City of Euharlee, Georgia. Since it was a Creek town, many of his Creek residents took state citizenship to avoid being forced with the Cherokees to the Indian Territory.
The current situation of Northwest Georgia’s history is best illustrated by the explanation of the name of Euharlee. I have been the architect for several projects in Euharlee, including the restoration of four early 19th century commercial buildings, a municipal recreation park on the Etowah River and a large facility for regional Little League championships. I have shown to several officials the translation of their town’s name in the official Creek dictionary. The response was essentially like I was some nutty Marxist trying to subvert the American values of their community.
The city’s official website states the following . . . note that even the word, Eufaula, is the name of a Creek town in Alabama!
“The city of Euharlee (pronounced You-Harley) take its name from Euharlee Creek, which in turn comes from the Cherokee name Eufaula, meaning, “She laughs as she runs”.
The earliest maps of Northwest Georgia, which provide the names of villages, contain some surprises. The Cherokee name for the New Echota Site was Gansagiyi. That is a translation of the Creek word, Kansaki-pa, which in English means “Place of the Kansa People.”
Kansa People? . . . They are known today as the Kansas or Kaw Indians. Their descendants live in Kansas. However, they were living east of the Mississippi River until around 1750. Kansa houses were almost identical to both Mandan and King Village houses. Their language was similar to that of the Mandans. Perhaps in the Southeast, they were merely different villages of the same people.
A few miles away was the village, written on the map as Sadilequa. Later maps labeled it Saliqua-tchi. It is on the confluence of the Oostanaula River and Salicoa Creek. Sadilequa is the Cherokee-nization of the addition of the Southern Arawak suffix for “people” – koa – to the Panoan (Peru~Southeast Georgia) word Satile. The towns of Satile, Satikoa and Satipo were to the south of Fort Caroline, near what is now called the Satilla River. They were in southern Glynn and northern Camden Counties, Georgia.
Sadilee without the “qua” is seen about 25 miles to the southeast in present day Cherokee County, GA. It has been Anglicized to Sutalee and described by local historians as “an ancient Cherokee word, whose meaning has been lost” . . . or more commonly as “a great Cherokee chief who was friendly to white settlers.”
So what is an ethnic group, whose king was a major ally of the French Huguenots between 1562 and1569, doing in Northwest Georgia? POOF will address that question in Part Three of this series.
East of Salicoa Creek about 15 miles is Talona Creek. Its original name was Taliani Creek. That combines the Muskogean words, Tali or alternatively Talasee by 16th century European explorers, with the Cherokee suffix for people. The word Talasi or Talasee means “descendants of Tula” . . . which was the original name of the Etowah Mounds.
South of Salicoa Creek and also its major tributary is Pine Log Creek. Not knowing the actual cultural history of Northwest Georgia, Protestant missionaries mistranslated the Cherokee word Ani-Natsi-yi to mean “Pine Tree” or “Pine Log.” The actual meaning is People – Natchez – Place of.
After the French catastrophically defeated the Natchez People in 1730, survivors fled eastward. The Creeks and Cherokees agreed to allow the refugees to settle on the frontiers of their respective territories. Roughly half settled in Creek territory on what is now called Pine Log Creek in present day Bartow County, GA. The other half settled on what is now Pine Log Creek in Cherokee County, NC.
The Creek Natchez and Cherokee Natchez often intermarried. After the Cherokees attacked the Carolina Frontier at the beginning of the American Revolution, a large army of militiamen, Continental Line and Creek warriors invaded the Cherokee country, causing massive devastation. Many Cherokee Natchez fled to the Natchez village in Georgia. The Chickamauga War continued on after the American Revolution ended. So many Cherokee refugees settle in northwest Georgia that the Cherokees soon outnumbered the Natchez and Muskogean residents. By the early 1790s, Pine Log was a significant Cherokee community.
Maps of Georgia from the early 1790s, list two towns with Creek names on the Etowah River in present day Cherokee and Dawson Counties. They were Nukonahiti and Hontawekee. Nukonahiti is Itsate Creek and means “People who tell stories (tales)”. Hontawekee is Muskogee Creek. Its equivalent Itsate name was Hontaoasi. Both versions mean “People, who make plants grow with water.” Both towns eventually moved to the territory of the Creek Confederacy.
To the east of Etowah River at Ball Ground, GA was a village and mountain named Saunee. It is the Cherokee word for Shawnee Indians. However, the “official” etymology, which is found in all references is as following: “As white settlers migrated to the area, now known as Cumming, a local Cherokee chief named Sawnee helped them adjust to the native land. As a well skilled carpenter and farmer he was known throughout the land, and the range was named in his honor. “
Of course, almost all Cherokees were deported to the Indian Territory prior to the white settlers arriving. The Cherokees certainly would not have helped white settlers steal their cabins, farms and land.
Implications of the King Archaeological Site
Earlier in 2017, POOF discussed the King Archaeological Site, about 21 miles downstream from Rome, GA. Its site plan was not typical of the Creeks in Georgia. Its houses were definitely unlike proto-Creek houses. Unfortunately, it is the only archaeological site in Northwest Georgia, other than Etowah Mounds, which has been sufficiently studied to develop a town plan. So archaeological texts from the 1980s onward began touting the architecture and site plan of the King Site as typical of the Upper Creeks, when in fact, they were extremely different.
You can learn about the King site at Analysis of the King Site.
No archaeologist ever recognized this fact, but the architecture and plan of the King Site was identical to that of the Mandans and Arikara of the Upper Missouri River Basin. The similarity was not so far fetched since the Mandans and Arikara were newcomers to the Northern Plains, when the Lewis & Clark Expedition visited them in 1804. Their origins were east of the Mississippi River and as late as 1700 AD, they had been living on the Mississippi River. The King site was abandoned in the mid-16th century. It is quite possible that it was a mother town of the Mandan People.
Interpolating archaeological discoveries
If the reader is clever enough to find old archaeological reports online and stalwart enough to troll the intentionally stiff syntax of Gringo archaeological reports (Latin American and European archaeological reports are much more readable.) you will come to a big surprise. The cultural histories of the section of Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia, north of the Coosa, Oostanaula and Coosawatee Rivers are quite different than those of the Etowah River Valley, 25 miles to the south.
This cultural boundary that was defined on the 1785 map of Georgia goes back at least as far as around 1300 AD. It was also different between around 200 AD and 450 AD. During that period, people were living in extreme northeastern Alabama and northwestern Georgia, who liked to veneer their earthen pyramids with stonework and who were also very fond of copper panpipes.
Along the Upper Coosa River and its tributaries in Northwest Georgia, the artifacts are fairly similar to artifacts found elsewhere in North Georgia between 12,000+ BC and around 1200 AD. There was a period of time, when the population of the region dropped starkly, followed around 1250 AD by major construction activity at Etowah Mounds and at its many satellite villages. Farther north, perhaps two or three villages were settled with cultural traits like the mother town, Etula (Etowah Mounds).
The re-occupied town at New Echota initially contained artifacts like those at Etula. Construction of a large platform mound was begun. However, around 1300 AD, artifacts associated with McKee Island, Alabama came to dominate the site. McKee Island is near Guntersville on the Tennessee River. This is not a locale normally associated with the ancestors of the Creek Indians. During the next few decades, new villages making McKee Island style cord-marked pottery appeared along the length of the Oostanaula and Coosawattee Rivers. Over time, the pottery made along these rivers evolved to resemble more proto-Creek Lamar Style pottery, but was never quite the same.
Around 1375 AD, an entirely different style of pottery and architecture appeared on the south side of Talking Rock Creek at its confluence with the Coosawattee River. This was the Royal Neighborhood, where Hernando de Soto’s expedition was based in the summer of 1540. It is called the Little Egypt site by archaeologists. The mounds and town plan at “Little Egypt” are very different than at most proto-Creek towns in North Georgia of that era. Most of these mounds are relatively low and linear . . . like the mounds along the Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia. On the west side of the Sun Temple Mound was a round or perhaps asymmetrical plaza for the commoners. East of the Sun Temple was an oval plaza, used exclusively for the elite.
This is where the archaeological reports stop. There are no discussions of the implications of an entirely different ethnic group occupying the heart of Northeast Alabama and Northwest Georgia.
Part Three of this series will analyze the implications of peoples from the Lower Tennessee River Valley and Southeast Georgia settling in Northwest Georgia. There will be some more surprises.
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