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Yonah Mountain’s name is really a Spanish word! OMG!

Yonah Mountain’s name is really a Spanish word!  OMG!


“Everybody” knows that Yonah Mountain means Bear in Cherokee and the Cherokees lived in Georgia for thousands of years.  NOT!

While the Nacoochee Valley was occupied by Native Americans, official Georgia State maps labeled Yonah Mountain as Mt. Noccosee,  which is the Anglicization of the Creek and Chickasaw word for bear, nokose.  The most southerly range of mountains in Georgia was labeled the Yeonaha Range.  The Native occupants of the Nacoochee Valley sold their lands to a group of families from Burke County, NC in 1822.  Most took their share of the money and moved to the Creek Nation in Alabama.  The 1828 Georgia State Survey labeled the range of mountains around Mt. Yonah as the Yeona Mountains.  A US Government gold mining map in 1830 labeled Yonah Mountain as Mt. Yeona and the whole gold-bearing range of low mountains, the Yeoha Mountains.  In 1833, Baldwin Craddock’s Map of Georgia, changed the spelling to Mt. Yonah.   In the middle 1800s, tourist guides began explaining the meaning of Yonah as “meaning bear in Cherokee.” 

Until the 1830s  Yonah Mountain usually went by its Creek name, Nokose – the word for bear.

None of the Native place names in NE Georgia are ethnic Cherokee words other than perhaps being proper nouns in the Cherokee language.  They are either Creek, Uchee or Arawak words. However, most residents of this region assume that all the Native place names are Cherokee . . . merely because they are “Indian words.” in fact, both rivers flowing through the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation are Creek words that have no meaning in Cherokee. This is the reason that when I merely quote archaeological texts and dictionaries, those who are on the dole of the Eastern Band of Cherokees casino profits can sometimes get away with labeling me “controversial” or a “radical subversive, seeking to undermine our true, God-given history.”  It seems that nobody ever looked up the word, yona, in a real Cherokee dictionary.  It means “Rocky Mountain Grizzly Bear” and is a loan word from Plains Indian languages.  The Cherokee word for a Eastern Black Bear is entirely different.

Yeona appeared on surveyors maps in 1828 and this federal government map in 1832.

Ever since having several long conversations with Dr. Brett Kennedy of Wise, Virginia between 2003 and 2005,  I became increasingly convinced that there had been a significant colonization of the Southern Appalachians by non-English-speaking peoples in the late 1500s and 1600s.  You might remember Brett as the man, who brought the attention of the Melungeons to the world.  It was Brett that first exposed me to the many eyewitness accounts of these anonymous settlers in colonial archives, which had been erased from the American History textbooks.  He was convinced that many Sephardic Jewish mining settlements in North Carolina had been wiped out in the late 1600s by the Cherokees.  He had found considerable evidence that the Cherokees killed all the Jewish males, who typically were married to Creek or Shawnee women, then kept their youth and children as slaves, concubines or adopted children.  However, there was at least one band of mixed blood Jews in North Carolina, who were allowed to join the Cherokee Alliance.  They were described by James Adair in his 1775 book, A History of the American Indians.

The last time that I chatted with Brent on the phone, he had just discovered that most of the Cherokee words describing female relationships such as mother, sister, grandmother, etc. were identical or very similar to their counterparts in the languages spoken in eastern Turkey and Armenia.  Also, the Cherokee prefix for tribe or nation, ani, meant the same in those languages.  This got him a free vacation in Turkey, where the Turks trumpeted to the world that the Cherokees were originally Muslim Turks, who had been forced to convert to Christianity. 

Brent returned home to a legion of anonymous death threats from self-described Cherokees.   Shortly afterward, he had a massive stroke immediately after dining at a banquet in his honor.  He almost died, but lost much of his mental capacity and ability to use his hands and legs.   I have always suspected that this was an assassination attempt.   

Later on I did some research and was surprised to learn that the eastern half of Turkey was predominantly Christian until the late 1600s.  Turkish Muslims killed, enslaved or exiled around 6 million Christians from that region between 1500 AD and 1700 AD.  Over a million other Christians were enslaved from the coastal villages of Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal.  All of the galley slaves, sailors and infantrymen used in the repeated invasions of Europe by the Ottoman Empire during this era were Christians.  The Turkish leaders found joy in the fact that whether they won or lost a battle with the nations of Europe, many Christians would be killed.  When Spanish and Italian forces captured Christian combatants of the Ottoman Empire, they were typically freed, but not normally repatriated. Thus, vast numbers of nation-less Anatolian Christians were wandering the world, just as the same time that Caucasian colonists were appearing in the Southern Appalachians.

The conflict between folklore and archaeology

Archeologist Robert Wauchope spent a year studying the Nacoochee Valley.  He specifically stated in his 1966 book, The Archaeology of North Georgia, that the entire time he looked for a Cherokee village or Cherokee artifacts in the Nacoochee Valley, but could find neither.  On the other hand, he found large quantities of 17th century European artifacts.  What he found instead of Cherokee artifacts was a very dense occupation of the valley by people making Lamar Culture (Creek) artifacts, a sudden cessation of the appearance of Lamar Culture artifacts then a sterile layer followed by a layer containing a few 18th century European artifacts.

George Heye and his associates excavated the Nacoochee Mound in 1915.  He stated in his report that the artifacts that they unearthed were pretty much identical to those found around Macon, Georgia.  Nevertheless, in 1955, the Georgia Historical Commission erected a marker in front of the Nacoochee Mound, stated that the mound was built by the Cherokees and was the Cherokee village of Guaxule, visited by De Soto.

Between 1986 and 2006, Georgia archaeologists were under pressure to label any Late Mississippian or Colonial Period artifacts that they unearthed in North Georgia as being “Cherokee.”     The reason was that the Boss Hoggs thought that this would enable them to erect Cherokee gambling casinos in Helen (Nacoochee Valley), Blairsville (Track Rock Gap) and Cartersville (Etowah Mounds).  A 2004 excavation of the village site around the Nacoochee Mound by the University of Georgia Department of Anthropology found NO Cherokee artifacts.

An OMG moment

This morning it was drizzling so I didn’t feel inclined to haul fieldstones for my new rock walls.  There were at least 15 languages in Iberia in the 1500s.  Most, however, used the same Roman letters for sounds, but their alphabets had different sounds than the English alphabet.  Just our of curiosity,  I googled the most common Iberian spellings of Yeona and Yeoha.  That would be Lleona and Lleoja.    They were Asturian words that meant Lioness and Lion-like (originally lion’s den or “place of the lion”). So, while the Creeks thought that Yonah Mountain looked like a crouching bear, the Asturian gold miners thought it looked like a crouching lioness! 

Asturia is located on the northwestern corner of Spain, facing the Atlantic Ocean. The DNA test markers of Asturians and Portuguese are pretty much the same.   Lleoja (Asturian) or Leoja (Portuguese) is a common first and last name in western Iberia and Brazil.  The Bronze Age petroglyphs of Asturia,  the Gold Belt of Southwestern Ireland and the Etowah River Valley within Gold Belt of northern Georgia are identical. 

On a hunch, I then googled Asturia – gold.  Bingo!  From the Bronze Age until the early 1500s, Asturia was one of Europe’s most productive sources of gold . . . especially during the Roman Empire’s reign.  The article said that Asturian gold miners played a critical role in finding and mining gold in Spain’s American colonies.  However, in the New World the Asturians were usually the mine owners, while in Spain they were merely miners. 

A couple of months ago, I visited the farmers market around the corner on Amy’s Creek to find out the exact location of the Alec Mountain Stone Circle.  We got to chatting.  Several of the local people, working at the market, mentioned that their family had always thought that their dark hair and brown eyes meant that they were part Cherokee.   However, when they had DNA tests done, they had no Native American DNA but a high level of Portuguese DNA or else a mixture of Portuguese and Jewish DNA.  Methinks that their Iberian ancestors were actually Asturian gold miners. 

Now you know!


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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.



    Yonah is basic Hebrew for fish.

    • Overtons Only said it meant dove, which is what Google says for modern Hebrew. Which phase of Hebrew are you getting the definition from?


    Nice detective work Richard


    check story of Ark & Noach, Yonah is dove in Hebrew. symbolic messenger. also not rare surname in Sephardic groups even today.

    • The words first appear in written records as Yeona and Yeoha. Later a mapmaker Anglicized Yeona to Yonah then a couple of decades later some professor decided that it was the word for bear, based on a Cherokee dictionary from the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). During the time of Creek occupation, the mountain was shown on maps as Nocose or similar words, which means bear in Creek and Chickasaw.


    My own Mitochondrial DNA shows Central American and Native Americam clear back with odd markers from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea. Not sure what to make of this. That mixing was too far back and too extensive to be after Columbus.

    During the 1500s or 1600s a group of Coastal West Africans began mixing in. Then in the 1700s it showed Sardinians mixing in with a high genetic relation to the Tuareg ethnic group from Tunisia and Libya. Certain markers match tested ancient Egyptian mummies as well as modern day Lebanese. There was also at least one male during the 1700s who was from West Africa. During the 1800s it was Native American men mixing back in with these women. Then the 1900s it was exclusively Irish, French and Scandinavian merging with this female line. We are Cherokee. My mother’s father was Wolf Clan (Waya) and my mother’s mother was from the Hawk Clan. (Tawodi) also called Wodi (Red Paint Clan). We do have an origin story for the Tawodi which says we originated in the lands of the rising sun and crossed a large body of water.

    My own studies of the Phoenicians (Canaanites) leads me to believe there is some connection. The similarity between the Aztec dog-man God Xolotl, the Egyptian Anubis, and the Jackal headed dog-man of Sirius among the Dogon ethnic group of Africans is too odd to be a coincidence.

    It may be time to hang up the terms Native American and Central American. Geneticists have classified certain haplogroups as such under the outdated assumption that the only real people in the Americas when Columbus arrived were Asiatic-Pacific Islander. The Tawodi Clan has stories of white Clans in the Americas before colonization began. Red and Yellow haired freckled people who painted themselves red in order to avoid burning from the sun. I’ve also been told that our own Blue Holly Clan were a black skinned people.

    Many of the ancient sites had Creek names as you’ve stated. It’s my belief that the people called Cherokee were just various different people scattered throughout the mountains. It was a generic label that didn’t apply to any real collective when each town or village was independent. It only became accepted through the English who worked throughout the 1700s to organize them as allies. The Americans accepted the classification merely because the English did. Using the self-reported Cherokee DNA studies as legitimate in discrediting real Cherokee doesn’t fly. Extensive studies need to be done on Cherokee elders and individuals such as Wes Studied, Jerry Wolfe, etc. Because there are many fake Cherokee distorting the truth. Whatever the truth is we all need to get to the bottom of it. One thing is certain in my mind, there are no pure blooded anybodies in the Southeast. Unless they are of Nordic background. The Nordic folks who came out of Germany and Scotland kept their lines Nordic to a large degree. My Father’s line is 99.9% Irish, Scottish, and Scandinavian clear back thousands of years. His mother is I1A1 Haplogroup and his father is R-M269 (Royal Scythians) through Irish and Nordic kings. That is very rare in America today.

    • I think there is a good possibility that your original heritage was Uchee, but are descended from the Uchee in western North Carolina, who were absorbed by the Cherokee Alliance. Your genetic story is fascinating. Thank you for sharing it with us.


        Not sure about it being “originally” Uchi since all people in recent times are branches off of much earlier people’s but you may be right about the Uchi connection. The last verified female in my direct female line was a daughter of General Joseph Martin with an Indian woman in the westernmost corner of Virginia when he initially established Martin’s Station. We have no records of who that woman was but the girl was raised by Nanyehi and the girl’s mother wasn’t Nancy Ward’s daughter Elizabeth Ward. Genetics prove that she came from a different female line and didn’t have Irish mixed in as Nancy Ward did back then. Nancy Wards father was Francis Ward of Ireland. Her husband Brian Ward was her second or third cousin from her father’s side. I believe the Uchi were in the westernmost tip of Virginia, easternmost region of Tennessee and Kentucky and westernmost portion of Kentucky when General Joseph Martin was first established in that region. So it fits with your view.

        • There was also a large concentration of Uchee villages around Old Fort, Lenoir, Marion and Morganton. They were forced to leave around 1764.


            Trying to piece it all back together is work in itself. I made a typo on my last comment. I said westernmost Kentucky last but meant North Carolina. Basically the entire region that was classified as Cherokee first by the English was Uchi lands.

            There may have been a small body of the initial Cherokee core who were up north of the Great Lakes in Canada and but they were likely nothing more than a small group or possibly a single Clan. Another group who went into forming the Cherokee were called the Ridke Hoogans or Rickahockans by the early Dutch. In Scandinavian the name meant “Mountain People” and they waged war on the English in Virginia as the English tried to spread west initially. The Powhatans allied with then during Opechanacanoughs war against English. The Dutch claimed they were Middle Eastern or Iberian people allied with the French and mixed with Natives and West Africans. Some of them were definitely absorbed by the Cherokee. At this point I’m leaning toward a view of the Cherokee as a Confederacy, not an actual Tribe. The genetic admixtures of real Cherokee vary way too much to maintain the tribal designation.

            Moving forward the Cherokee Nation will have a future but any attempts to retain a Tribal identity are futile in my opinion.

            What do you know of the Uchi prior to English arrival during the Spanish and French squabbles over trade with the Chiaha?

          • Jag taler skandinaviska mycket bra. it’s not Scandinavian. Rika Hoken is Dutch and means “Kingdom High.”

            I am also part Uchee, and did the research for the state/federal recognition of the Savannah River Uchee.

            The original homeland of the Uchee was along the Salkehatchee, Lower Savannah and Ogeechee Rivers. Until a horrific smallpox and malaria plague around 1751, the greatest concentration of the Uchee was in this region and called the Water Clan. Their capital was on the Ogeechee River and called Cofita by the De Soto Expedition. Three large mounds are still visible at the town site. Uchee is the Irish Gaelic word for water. That makes sense because the Creek words for the Uchee all mean either “Water People” or “Descendants of the Ocean.” Uchee was the only word used by British and American officials until some frontiersmen in Tennessee began writing the word as Yuchi. The Bear and Rabbit Clans were in the Southern Highlands. Their Raccoon Clan was in the Piedmont. The Tokah-Re were in the headwaters of the Savannah River and in the Tennessee Valley. Any Native provincial name that ends in re, ree, li, le, lee originally had some Uchee living there. Re is the Pre-Gaelic Irish word for province or kingdom. Southeastern Indians rolled their R’s so hard that Europeans often wrote the sound down as an L. LOL


            Are there some good books that you could suggest on the Uchee to read more on them? Curious with what you said about the Water Clan because one of my ancestors was named Ama’asvyi (Waters Mixed). She was also called Ama’itzayi or Ama’itcheyi. I’m trying to figure out who her mother’s people were.

            Her father Cheucunsene (Dragging Canoe) was born K’itza’kulka or K’itche’kulka and given the nickname Chia’kanesgi (Otter Lifter) by Oconostota of the Cherokee in 1740 when him and his Natchez mother Ollie were relocated to the Cherokee from the Chickasaw refugee village of Falacheco. My mitochondrial DNA shows “Central American” and matches folks from Guatemala and the Amazon. Dragging Canoe was born Natchez but his male DNA descendants named Conseen among the Cherokee today carry his Y Chromosome and show Mayan heritage. Whoever his daughter’s mother was, her people also came from “Central America”. Was a little surprising to see such a high percentage of “Central American” and low percentage of “Native American”. Not sure why they aren’t classified together but geneticists must have their reasons.

          • You are trying to put a Cherokee label on non-Cherokee ancestry. During that period, most the growth in the Cherokee Tribe came from the seizure of female wives and concubines in slave raids. Most of my “Native American” DNA was also labeled Meso-American. The situation with the Natchez is a little different. When the French killed or enslaved most of the Natchez, the survivors fled eastward. The Creeks and Cherokees settled Natchez villages on the frontier between their main body of villages. So the Creek Natchez were in the vicinity of Pine Log and Waleska, GA while the Cherokee Natchez were on the north side of the Blue Ridge in Cherokee County, NC. When NW Georgia was given to the Cherokees in 1785, most of the Creek Natchez moved to the Creek part of South Carolina, where they live today. They have a state recognized tribe, which I believe should be federally-recognized.


            Are there some good literary books or references for information on the Uchee? Would like to read more on those folks.

          • No there are no good books on the Uchee. Academicians have completely forgotten that their motherland was the Savannah Area and that most of what we know about them is contained in the observations by early officials of the Province of Georgia. My cousin Ray holds a doctorate and has Uchee blood from both sides of his family. Perhaps we should jointly write a book on them.

          • Yes, the people of South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama consistent called the Uchee. The Yuchi spelling came much later from frontiersmen in Tennessee . . . who didn’t realize that the homeland of the Uchee was the Savannah, GA area.


    My husband’s family is Melungeon and they’ve always claimed their Portuguese heritage along with Welsh.


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