Why is there a Chickamauga Creek in the Nacoochee Valley?
Most Southerners and all Civil War buffs have heard of the Battle of Chickamauga and Chickamauga Creek. The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest days of the Civil War. The huge battlefield is located in extreme northwestern Georgia near Chattanooga. However, there is another Chickamauga Creek that flows past at least a dozen mounds and village sites in the Nacoochee Valley of Northeast Georgia. Why would such a major feature of the landscape have the same name?
This mystery has long puzzled Nacoochee Valley residents and tourists alike. There is a flier distributed to tourists in nearby Helen, which states that Cherokee Chief Chickamauga was a famous leader of his people, who first lived near Chattanooga then lead his band to the Nacoochee Valley after falling in love with a Cherokee princess there.
Well . . . not quite. Chickamauga is not even a Cherokee word. It is not a Creek word either.
At this moment probably a hundred angry history lovers in Northwest Georgia are calling up their congressman to complain that the “Maya Guy” is stealing their history. However, Chickamauga is neither the Cherokee nor Creek word for “bloody water” . . . despite the fact that a recent National Geographic film on the battle told you so.
Chickamauga is a Chickasaw word. It means “Place to Lookout” . . . specifically a light framed structure on top of a mountain or hill, where Chickasaw sentries stayed 24/7 to watch out for enemies and visitors. Yes, the indigenous name of Lookout Mountain is Chickamauga. I suspect that the Chickasaw word was derived from the Itsate Creek-Itza Maya-Totonac word, chiki, but don’t know for sure. One thing that we do know for sure. The name of Chickamauga Creek appeared on maps of this area of Georgia, long before the Battle of Chickamauaga.
Look at the terrain map above. Both the Lumsden Mound and the Stovall Mound were placed on steep sloped hills that provide breath-taking views of the Nacoochee Valley. Archaeologist Robert Wauchope found the oldest known Chickasaw architecture in a chief’s compound on top of Lumsden’s Hill. At the Stovall House Bed and Breakfast, visitors can still see terraces and ramps built by the indigenous occupants of the valley. My guess is that the chika mauka was on Lumsden Hill, since it directly adjoins Chickamauga Creek.
The Chickasaw People had a significant presence throughout northern Alabama and Georgia until after the American Revolution. This is why the Chickasaw were one of the four founding members of the original People of One Fire or Creek Confederacy. Yet today, much of the Chickasaw’s history has been erased from the literature. The official map of Southeastern Native American tribes, published by the US Department of the Interior, shows ALL of the Chickasaw’s homeland to be always occupied by the Cherokees. The Chickasaws are not even mentioned on the map.
At the People of One Fire website, we are trying to correct the errors of current history books. You can do your part by speaking up when you see fabricated or false history presented on television, in books or in museum exhibits.
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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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