In 1665 Charles de Rochefort wrote that three “kingdoms,” until the early 1600s, had controlled the lower eastern section of what is now the Southeastern United States. In 1574, these same “kingdoms” were mentioned by René de Laundonniére in his memoir, Trois Voyages. By the 1660s their control was nominal. He described Apalache as including all of what is now western North Carolina, north-central Georgia, most of northeastern Georgia, the Chattahoochee River Basin in Georgia and Alabama, southwest Georgia and upper Ocmulgee River Basin. Apalache was obviously the original form of the Creek Confederacy. Northwestern Georgia, southeastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama were dominated by the Kusa. The Savannah River Basin, southeastern western North Carolina and northwestern South Carolina were dominated by the Ustanoli. The validity of Rochefort’s statement is confirmed by the fact that throughout these three Native American polities very similar pottery, architecture and town plans could be found from around 1375 AD until around 1700 AD. Rochefort does not mention the Cherokees.
During the last quarter of the 20th century a series of books were written about the Southeastern Indians and the European exploration of the Southeast in the 16th and 17th centuries. The archaeologists who wrote them were close friends and apparently made certain that all statements in all books were in agreement. They were determined that their books would become frozen in time as the final descriptions of the pre-European Southeast. In a 2005 speech before the Society of Georgia Archaeology, one of these authors stated:
“We now know everything there is to know about the Southeastern Indians. It is time to move on to other things.”
These books had many common traits. They almost never attempted to translate Native American words and systematically labeled standard Creek Indian words as “ancient Cherokee words whose meanings have been lost.” Worst still, some authors took frontier speculations for word meanings and reproduced them as facts. In a legion of Southeastern histories, one will find that Etalwa (principal town) is the Cherokee word for a type of tree or that Tallulah (small town) is the Cherokee word for water fall.
The books primarily focused on translations of the Spanish chronicles of the de Soto and Pardo Expeditions for the interpretations of the past, but also relied on the outstanding research done by anthropologist, John Worth, at the Colonial Archives in Seville, Spain. The books generally ignored the reports of Spanish traders who went into the interior afterward to make contact with specific provinces.
With the exception of Charles Bennett’s translation of René de Laundonniére’s memoir, the books ignored French colonial archives and maps. This was odd since the French were the first Europeans to map the interior of the Southeastern United States and systematically describe its ethnic groups. Sixteenth century English explorers were also generally ignored as references. When the English reports were briefly mentioned, the authors stated that they were “exploring the Cherokee Country” or “made contact with the Cherokees” when in fact, the word “Cherokee” was never mentioned in these reports.
Any alternative interpretations of the past were ruthlessly purged from Southeastern university faculties. The first to go was the nationally esteemed Director of the University of Georgia’s Department of Anthropology, Dr. Arthur Kelley. He had angered his colleagues when he publicly stated that he thought that he had found evidence of a Mesoamerican presence along the Lower Chattahoochee River. He was forced to resign his position in 1969. In 2012 scientists employed by the History Channel found absolute proof of Maya mining activities in the very same county where Kelley found the Mesoamerican artifacts.
How Appalachian History became Fossilized Anthropology
In 1974 the United States Forest Service contracted with archaeological and museum consultants to provide exhibits within its new visitors center atop Brasstown Bald Mountain, GA. Visitors are greeted at the door with a spray-painted Caucasian manikin, wearing typical 1830ish Cherokee clothing. Most of the artifacts from 8,000 BC to the Colonial Period were labeled as being made by the Cherokees. In a small alcove on the right side of the entrance door is a low display counter labeled “Mound builders.” It states that the ethnic identity of the builders of Georgia mounds is unknown. A stooped troll-like figure wearing only an undressed deerskin over his back is labeled a “mound builder.”
The 600 year period when Native Americans reached their apogee in cultural developed is given minimal attention and understated with a few unimpressive artifacts. There is a statement that is not known which ethnic groups built the mounds. The museum also falsely states that the Cherokees always lived on all sides of Brasstown Bald. In fact, as late as a 1780, the official British map of the Southern colonies showed Brasstown Bald to be within the territory of the Upper Creeks (Coosa.) Coosa Creek is the name of a major stream that flows west of Brasstown Bald.
Out of context the Brasstown Bald Visitors Center may appear to visitors to be an amusing misstatement of history by well-meaning, but ill-informed government bureaucrats, whose main responsibilities involved growing trees. It was not. The exhibit marked the beginning of a three decade long effort to re-write Southeastern history. The effort involved first stating that no one knew who built the large Native American towns and mounds in the Southeast, then creating maps that showed those archaeological zones to be in traditional Cherokee territory, then issue a series of press releases that stated as fact that these towns were built by the Cherokees. It was assumed that after repeatedly hearing the statement the public would also believe the statements to be accepted facts.
In 1976 the State of North Carolina assigned a team of professors and doctorial candidates the responsibility of proving that the Cherokees were indigenous to North Carolina. It was called the Cherokee History Project. The team found it quite easy to oblige their employers by merely in the future labeling all artifacts found in western North Carolina as being either Cherokee or Proto-Cherokee.
The regional variations of Late Mississippian pottery within Georgia are more extensive than the differences between Late Mississippian pottery in northern Georgia and contemporary pottery in western North Carolina. However, there are stark differences between 18th century Creek pottery and 18th century Cherokee pottery. Even though Mississippian Period artifacts from western North Carolina were quite similar to those found in eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia, North Carolina archaeologists intentionally created different cultural labels. This was done to proclaim that the North Carolina versions of Mississippian artifacts were fabricated by Cherokees.
Graduate Bennie Keel wrote a dissertation that affirmed that all artifacts dating from the Colonial Period in western North Carolina were Cherokee, but stated that there was no evidence to prove that Cherokees produced the indigenous artifacts found in western North Carolina prior to the Colonial Period. This angered quite a few professors in the Southeastern Archaeology Clique. His dissertation was published as a book by the University of Tennessee with the politically correct title of Cherokee Archaeology, but Keel didn’t get a teaching position in the lower Southeast afterward.
The first book to be publicly distributed from this group of Southeastern archaeology professors was, The Southeastern Indians, by the University of Georgia professor Charles Hudson in 1978. Hudson assumed that the Cherokees had always occupied the North Carolina and Georgia Mountains, and had occupied eastern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama in the 1600s. Hudson was a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He continued to preach what he had been taught there.
The second to be published was Tellico Archaeology in 1987 by the University of Tennessee’s Jefferson Chapman. Chapman made the same assumptions as Hudson concerning the Cherokees in Georgia and North Carolina then speculated that pathogens spread by de Soto had quickly decimated the Muskogean population of eastern Tennessee. He theorized that the Cherokees had spread out of the North Carolina Mountains into Tennessee during the 1600s.
Chapman made an interesting comment on page 100. One sentence refers to the 1673 journey of Thomas Needham and Gabriel Arthur “to the Cherokees.” The Needham-Arthur journal makes absolutely no reference to the Cherokee Indians. It merely states that the explorers hoped to make contact with some large Indian towns on the Tomihican River. It does talk extensively about the Tamahiti (Tomahitans) who were Creeks with an Itza Maya ethnic name. They returned to Georgia in the early 1700s. The journal does mention towns occupied by Spaniards and Africans in the Southern Highlands. That subject will be addressed in subsequent chapters.
In 1990 and 1991, New South Associates, Inc. was hired by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to study Native American village sites on the grounds of the planned Brasstown Valley Golf Course near Young Harris, GA. The Woodland (200 BC – 800 AD) and Mississippian Period (1000 AD – 1600 AD) villages were labeled as being Cherokee sites, since “they were near North Carolina.” The artifacts were also given North Carolina Cherokee archaeological labels. This was done despite the fact that USFS archaeologist Jack Wynn had just published a book that labeled the sites as having the same style artifacts as Etowah Mounds, one of the most important centers of Creek culture in Georgia.
The DNR worked closely with the Eastern Band of Cherokees on this project, but did not contact any federally recognized Creek or Seminole tribes. Within the main lodge of the Brasstown Valley Resort the state government built a $250,000 museum to display many of the artifacts discovered at the golf course site. The museum was labeled, “10,000 Years of Cherokee History.”
Afterward, the GA DNR sent out a national press release stating that the archaeological work in the Brasstown Valley proved that the Cherokees had been in Georgia for over 2000 years. The press release was accompanied by a map showing the Cherokees always occupying the northern half of Georgia, including the Creek mother town (900 AD) of Ocmulgee Mounds.
At the same time that the Brasstown Valley Golf Course was being developed, the Georgia Department of Transportation was constructing major improvements to US Highway 76 that separated the golf course from the grounds of the new Brasstown Valley Resort. The archaeologists working for the DOT utilized Jack Wynn’s book as their reference for interpreting artifacts from the same villages studied by the DNR’s archaeologists. Their report describes the same villages as being associated with the cultural development of Etowah Mounds – an ancestral Creek town.
During the early and mid-1980 the anthropology professors at the universities of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama collaborated to firmly establish the route of Hernando de Soto through the Southeast. The group set de Soto’s route through Asheville, NC even though they had been told in person that there were no occupied towns in the French Broad River Valley during the 1500s and that no 16th century European artifacts have been around Asheville.
The De Soto Chronicles was finally published in 1994. It was essentially a modern translation of the descriptions of de Soto’s journey written by five 16th century Iberian authors. Excerpts of the translations were provided along with accompanying maps. There was some interpretive material accompanying the maps to explain why they professors put the route where they did. No effort was made to translate the Native American words recorded by the chronicles.
The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521-1704 was published by Charles Hudson in 1994. This book describes itself as providing information on lesser known Europeans who explored the interior of the Southeast after the de Soto Expedition. It does describe the Pardo expedition and four minor incursions up the Altamaha River between 1567 and 1610. It does not mention the six exploration parties sent into the interior by the French between 1562 and 1568. The book states, “For almost a century after 1610 no European explorers entered the interior of the Southeast.”
The book therefore concludes that the occupants and events within the Southern Highlands during the 17th century might always remain a mystery. Actually, there were numerous Spanish, French and English visitors to the Southern Highlands during the 1600s. However, the world they described totally conflicts with the official history created by the group of Southeastern anthropology professors in the 1970s and 1980s. That world will be described in the following sections of this series.
Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun by Charles Hudson was published in 1997. Even though the voluminous de Soto Chronicles only devote a couple of paragraphs to the short period that de Soto passed through the town of Guaxale (means Southerners in Creek) Hudson devoted extensive discussion to this town, calling it the principal town of the Cherokee Nation. He presented the Cherokees as full participants in the Mississippian culture and made no mention of other ethnic groups living in western North Carolina. He placed Guaxale at a two feet high bulge on the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC, which is now known to be the remains of a round, council house built around 250 AD. As stated early, no European map exists that ever placed the Asheville Area in Cherokee territory.
Three Voyages was published by Charles C. Bennett in 2001.This book is a translation of the 16th century memoir of Captain René de Laundonniére, commander of Fort Caroline between 1564 and 1565. The book contains extensive descriptions of the indigenous peoples of the Appalachian Mountains. It was de Laundonniére who named the Southern mountains in honor of the Apalache, who lived there.
Bennett, a U.S. Congressman, devoted over 60 years of his life to the promotion, designation and protection of the belief that Fort Caroline was built on the St. Johns River near present day Jacksonville. That belief was always an impossible dream. The St. Johns River was inaccessible to sea craft until the 1850s, when a new channel was dredged by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. During the American Revolution, flat-bottomed, Georgia militia galleys, especially designed to skim OVER the marshes at high tide, could not make it through the mouth of the St. Johns River.
The May River that flowed past Fort Caroline was shown on all Spanish, French and English maps to be one and the same as the Altamaha River in Georgia. The Altamaha is the only river that directly connects the South Atlantic coast with the Georgia gold fields, as described by de Laundonniére. Bennett’s book differs from the French language memoir and its original English language translation by Richard Hakluyt (a friend of de Laundonniére) wherever the text describes a location that could only be the Altamaha River. For example, where de Laundonniére wrote that an exploration party paddled northwestward from Fort Caroline on the May River to reach the Appalachian Mountains, Bennett substituted “went to the Appalachian Mountains.”
Charles Bennett did one more thing to disguise the Altamaha River location of Fort Caroline. On page 94 of his book, Three Voyages, he provides a map of the locations where explorers from Fort Caroline visited. The Altamaha River is shown as being relatively short and not being visited by the French. Bennett drew the Savannah River to its sources in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both the gold deposits of Dahlonega and the precious stone deposits of Franklin, NC are shown to be on tributaries of the Savannah. He placed the Utina Indians south of Jacksonville, FL on the St. Johns River, when it is well documented that a mission for the Utina (Santa Isabel de Utinahica) was built near the confluence of the Altamaha and Ohoopee Rivers. Untinahica means “Place of Utina in Arawak.”
A second, somewhat revised, edition of The Juan Pardo Expeditions by Charles Hudson was published in 2005. The book assumed that after Pardo was ordered by the Viceroy to find the most direct route between Santa Elena (South Carolina) and the silver mines in northern Mexico, he instead traveled northward on a 300 mile detour to explore north-central North Carolina. It also assumes that all native towns in the mountains were Cherokees and that all towns in the Catawba River Valley were Siouan (Catawba.) Catawba is actually the Anglicized form of the Creek Indian word Katapa (Place of the Crown) which is how it is spelled in the Spanish chronicles.
Hudson assumed that the town of Joara was pronounced Jō- ăr-ă in Castilian and therefore, since it sounded similar to Suala, it must be the same town. Joara is actually pronounced Wă-ră. None of the many Native American words in Pardo’s chronicles were translated, however. Translation and ethnic identification of these indigenous words would have provided a very different image of the region.
The series of books on the Southeastern Indians and European explorers stopped after the book on Pardo was published. Comprehensive archaeological study of the Etowah Mound site in northwestern Georgia has continued under the guidance of archaeologist Adam King of the University of South Carolina. King wrote one book on Etowah Mounds in 2003. Undoubtedly, more will follow.
(↵ returns to text)
- Rochefort, Charles, History of the Caribby-Islands (1665 in French, 1666 in English) Chapter 8, “Paysage au Apalache.”↵
- America Unearthed, History Channel, Season 1, Episode 1, “The Maya-Georgia Connection.” In this TV show the University of Minnesota Mineralogical Laboratory found a 100% match between attapulgite mined in Attapulgus, GA and the Maya Blue stucco applied to the buildings in the Maya city of Palenque in Chiapas State, Mexico.↵
- Keel, Benny, Cherokee Archaeology, A Study of the Appalachian Summit, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1977.↵
- Hudson, Charles, The Southeastern Indians, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1978.↵
- Chapman, Jefferson, Tellico Archaeology, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1987, pp. 99-100.↵
- The Travels of James Needham and Gabriel Arthur through Virginia, North Carolina, and Beyond, 1673-1674, edited by R. P. Stephen Davis, Jr. Southern Indian Studies 39:31-55, 1990.↵
- Brasstown Valley Golf Course and Country Club web site – Also, report by New South Associates, Inc.↵
- Wynn, Jack T., Mississippian Period Archaeology of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990.↵
- The author is a personal witness to this information being transmitted. He was the first director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission.↵
- Lawrence Clayton (Editor), Edward C. Moore (Editor), Vernon James Knight Jr. (Editor), Charles Hudson (Contributor), Dr. John E. Worth (Contributor), Eugene Lyon (Contributor), Jeffrey P. Brain (Contributor), John H. Hann (Contributor), Frances G. Crowley (Contributor), David Bost (Contributor), Rocio Sanchez Rubio (Contributor), Charmion Shelby (Contributor), Eduardo Kortright (Contributor), James A. Robertson (Contributor), Paul Hoffman (Contributor) The De Soto Chronicles: The Expedition of Hernando de Soto to North America in 1539-1543 (Two Volume Set) Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1994.↵
- Hudson, Charles, and Tesser, Carmen Chaves, The Forgotten Centuries: Indians and Europeans in the American South, 1521-1704. University of Georgia Press, Athens.1994.↵
- Hudson, Charles, Knights of Spain, Warriors of the Sun, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.↵
- Bennett, Charles C., Three Voyages, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.↵
- Bennett, Charles C., Three Voyages, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2001.↵
- Hudson, Charles, The Juan Pardo Expeditions: Exploration of the Carolinas and Tennessee, 1566-1568, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990, Revised Edition, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.↵
- Adam King, Etowah: The Political History of a Chiefdom Capital, Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 2003.↵