Select Page

Why is a Muskogee-Creek ceremonial ground called a “Big House?”

Why is a Muskogee-Creek ceremonial ground called a “Big House?”


People in Oklahoma and northern Florida are often puzzled as to why Muskogee-Creeks would call a flat, square plot of land a Chuko Rakko or “Big House?”   We Hitchiti Creeks use the word, tamapa, an Itza Maya word, which means “Trading Place” or “Market Square.”  This actually makes more sense.  In Chickasaw, tamapa eventually became tama, their word for town.


Square Proto-Chickasaw building in the Nacoochee Valley

One has to go the Nacoochee Valley in Northeast Georgia and back in history, at least to the 700s AD to get the answer.   Archaeologist Robert Wauchope discovered large square buildings in the center of villages that appeared to have seats on all four sides.  The houses near these buildings were definitely the earliest known examples of Chickasaw domestic architecture and even today, the Chickasaws build these structures.  They are basically an 18th century Muskogee Creek square, with a roof.  Note that the central column of the Proto-Chickasaw building became a large timber with a wooden eagle on top in Creek towns.

Yet . . . Wauchope found other villages in the Nacoochee Valley, occupied at the same time as the Chickasaw villages, which contained Itza Maya style houses, called a chiki.  They were associated with stone lined sarcophagi, which the Highland Mayas bury their dead in to this day.  Until pressured by Roman Catholic priests to bury their dead in church cemeteries, the Maya Commoners typically buried their dead in the floor of houses or near the houses.  We see this custom throughout Proto-Creek towns until the 1700s.

Those villages did not have these large square buildings, but had round communal structures.  The Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks call this structure a chokopa, which is Itza Maya for “warm place.”   Centuries later most Creek villages would have an open air “square building” derived from the Chickasaw and a heavily insulated conical building, descended directly from the peoples of Mesoamerica and Peru.

A Chickasaw "Big House" in Oklahoma. It is a super-sized Nacoochee communal building.

A Chickasaw “Big House” in Oklahoma. It is a super-sized Nacoochee Valley communal building.



A large communal building was built between the three largest mounds at Etula (Etowah).

While excavating the plaza between Mounds A, B and C at Etowah Mounds,  archeologists Lew Larson and Arthur Kelly found the footprints of an enormous rectangular building, used for communal purposes.   It probably could have held 500-750 people.  It was a supersized version of the rectangular buildings in the Nacoochee Valley, but quite similar to the communal building recently built by the Chickasaw in Oklahoma.   For unknown reasons,  this building is not mentioned either in the Etowah Mounds museum or in contemporary books by archaeologists. 

Botanist William Bartram was fascinated by the public architecture and town planning of the Creek People.  There was nothing like it in North America.  We can be very thankful that Bartram drew plans and three dimensional images of these structures in 1776.  No other English speaking person, before or after, did.   His drawings are my main proof when I argue with those archaeologists, who try to present us as being little different than other tribes in the Eastern United States in the 1700s.

Bartram learned that each province of the Creek Confederacy had distinct architectural traditions.  The ancient towns on the Ocmulgee and Altamaha Rivers looked little different than the towns of  Tabasco and Southern Vera Cruz before the arrival of the Spanish.  Older Coweta towns on the Chattahoochee River still put temples on top of mounds, but the newer ones were building open air squares with covered bleachers around them.   The newest Creek towns in Alabama had no mounds.  Those associated with Tuckabachee tilted their “Creek Squares” at a 45 degree angle.   Both in northwest Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, Apalachicola towns still built large square buildings that are the origin of the word, Choko Rakko or Chuko Rakko,   but also had “Creek Squares” with covered bleachers on two sides.  Choko has changed to Chuko in Oklahoma in the last 185 years.

Below are a series of models and drawings that I created for the Muskogee-Creek Nation, which are based on the drawings of William Bartram.

A Conchakee (Highland Apalachicola) town in Northwest Georgia

A Conchakee (Highland Apalachicola) town in Northwest Georgia


A Tamauli town on the Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia

A Tamauli or Tamahiti town on the Altamaha River in Southeast Georgia


The town of Topahsofkee near present day Macon, GA

The town of Topahsofkee near present day Macon, GA


New Coweta, where Downtown Columbus, GA is now located

New Coweta, where Downtown Columbus, GA is now located


Tuckabatchee, on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama

Tuckabatchee, on the Tallapoosa River in Alabama ~  William Bartram is meeting with them in the square.


An Apalachicola town on Perdido Bay, Florida

An Apalachicola town on Perdido Bay, Florida ~ William Bartram is meeting with the leaders.


The following two tabs change content below.
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.



    Thank you for this input . . . In response to your point, “For unknown reasons, this building is not mentioned either in the Etowah Mounds museum or in contemporary books by archaeologists,” I suspect it’s due to a vested interest to obscure the level of “Culture” the “People” actually had/attained prior to European contact & subsequent distortion . . . Thank you again


    Thank you for this article . . . This is the only thing I’ve come across providing explanation for why my father’s family (through his father born in Lovejoy, Clayton County, Georgia) may have referred to their home as “The Big House” . . . I’ve never heard anyone else use this expression for their home


    I have asked about this town on perdido bay with local archaeologists before , and they keep telling me Bartram was mistaken, as there were no settlements on the Perdido River or bay.

    • Bartram’s map shows Perdido Bay Apalachicola town to be a little inland from the bay. He measured and created extensive drawings of the town, so I think it is quite obvious that the town existed.


    Someone claiming Muskogee-Creek membership told me about an elder relative referring to her home as “The Big House” . . . Other than my father’s family referring to their home this way, it’s the only other instance I know of this expression being used in reference to a personal home . . . Based on its apparent traditional significance/usage as mentioned above, I’ve come to wonder if it may have become a novel expression of intended Cultural Preservation/Identity

    • Choko-Rako or Chuko-Rako is the Oklahoma Muskogee term for the Creek Square, not an individual home. Eastern Creeks use the term chiki for a warm weather house and choko for a winter house.


        Having re-read the above article I noticed the following, “Both in northwest Georgia and in the Florida Panhandle, Apalachicola towns still built large square buildings that are the origin of the word, Choko Rakko or Chuko Rakko,” the point of “large square buildings” may be where my father’s family calling their home “The Big House” comes from . . . My paternal GF was born in Clayton County, GA in 1917 . . . Another bit of information has recently surfaced regarding certain family members being buried in the floor of another home . . . As well, my mother told me that when I was very young I’d refer to water as “awatagee [phonetic sp.]” & she wondered where I got it from . . . I now see that the Muscogee word is indicated to be “eau/owv” . . . I suspect this is something I picked up from at least one of my elder family members, as I spent much time with them in my early years . . . Thank you again, because since coming here I’ve been better able to contextualize these bits of information/experience


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to POOF via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 823 other subscribers

The Information World is changing!

People of One Fire needs your help to evolve with it.

We are now celebrating the 11th year of the People of One Fire. In that time, we have seen a radical change in the way people receive information. The magazine industry has almost died. Printed newspapers are on life support. Ezines, such as POOF, replaced printed books as the primary means to present new knowledge. Now the media is shifting to videos, animated films of ancient towns, Youtube and three dimensional holograph images.

During the past six years, a privately owned business has generously subsidized my research as I virtually traveled along the coast lines and rivers of the Southeast. That will end in December 2017. I desperately need to find a means to keep our research self-supporting with advertising from a broader range of viewers. Creation of animated architectural history films for POOF and a People of One Fire Youtube Channel appears to be the way. To do this I will need to acquire state-of-art software and video hardware, which I can not afford with my very limited income. Several of you know personally that I live a very modest lifestyle. If you can help with this endeavor, it will be greatly appreciated.

Support Us!

Richard Thornton . . . the truth is out there somewhere!

Pin It on Pinterest