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Native American History of Cherokee County, Georgia
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Cherokee County located in northern Georgia. It is part of the Atlanta Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its county seat is Canton. It is named after the Cherokee Indians.
Cherokee County is bordered on the north by Pickens County and the northeast by Dawson County. Forsyth County adjoins Cherokee on its eastern side. The section of Fulton County that was formerly Milton County forms its southeastern boundary, while Cobb County forms its southern boundary. Bartow County forms most of its western boundary, while Gordon County forms a short section of Cherokee’s
Cherokee County is located in the Upper Piedmont, Blue Ridge foothills and Pine Log Mountains geological regions. The first two regions are characterized by underlying rock strata of igneous and metamorphicized igneous rock. The Pine Log Mountains are the result of an ancient geological boundary known as the Cartersville Fault. Extremely ancient rocks were pushed up through the fault when a section of a continental plate that was part of Africa collided with the North American plate. That section of the North American plate was covered with sedentary rocks. The Pine Log Mountains contain many minerals and semi-precious stones. In the late 1800s and early 1900s iron ore was mined commercially. Mines for semi-precious stones continued operation until the late 20th century.
The Pine Log Mountains consist of small to medium height peaks reaching up to about 2,300 feet above sea level. The terrain of the remainder of the county generally consists of rolling hills and valleys or ravines formed by streams. There is a gorge about 200 feet deep created by the Etowah River between Ball Ground and Canton.
The sections of the Etowah and Little Rivers passing through Cherokee County have some alluvial flood plains. The largest alluvial flood plains along the Etowah River were covered by Lake Allatoona in the late 1940s. There are permanent or seasonal wetlands paralleling the streams that flow into the Etowah. The Etowah River has some swamps and seasonal wetlands along its much broader flood plains. The top soils are thin over most hills and steep slopes, while much deeper near streams.
Cherokee County was on the border of the old Cotton Line, which marked the northern limit of cotton species grown before the Civil War. Cotton was grown in river flood plains in the southern part of the county before the Civil War and in some other locations after the Civil War, when cotton cultivars with shorter growing seasons became available.
Cherokee County is drained by the Etowah and Little Rivers. The confluence of the Etowah and Little River is now under Lake Allatoona. The Etowah River is relatively narrow and extremely deep throughout most of Cherokee County. One section near Ball Ground is 25 feet deep during normal water flow. The largest Native American trade canoes could have navigated its waters, until the river reaches the Allatoona Mountains, and reverts back to a shallow mountain river.
The Etowah River flows through the northeast, central and southwest sections of the county. It begins at a mountainside spring on the Blue Ridge Mountain chain west of Dahlonega, then flows south-southwestward through Dawson and Forsyth County. It is joined by the Amicalola River in Dawson County. Beginning near the Cherokee-Dawson County line, the Etowah becomes much deeper and flows slower. It was sufficiently deep to support large trade canoes once the channel deepened. Etowah is the Anglicization of the Creek word “Etalwa” which means “a large town.” That word is derived from the Itza Maya word e-tula, which also means “large town.”
Cherokee County contained numerous creeks that generally flow fast and clear. The major streams include: Allatoona, Stamp, Sixes, Shoal, Soap, Salacoa, McKaskie, Kelogg, Smithwick, Cane, Canton, Pine Log, Byrd, Long, Hickory Log, Noonday and Cagle Creeks.
The Etowah and Little River Basins in Cherokee County contain one of Georgia’s most important concentrations of Native American settlement sites. Specific sites have lent their names to several Native American cultures in the region. There are no large mounds in the county, but several town sites with modest mounds. The Kellogg Creek site lent its name to the Kellogg Phase or Culture. The Stamp Creek site lent its name to Stamp Creek style pottery. The Woodstock site on the Little River in Woodstock, lent its name to the Woodstock Culture.
The Ball Ground Mounds in the town of Ball Ground and along the Etowah River (Site # 9CK1) mark the location of one of the mother towns of the Creek Indian People. Settlement here possibly predates that of Etowah Mounds downstream. European maps show this town last occupied by the Apalachicola Creeks from around 1645 to 1763 or later. Prior to that time, the region was occupied by Muskogeans (proto-Creeks) associated first with Etowah Mounds and later by the Province of Kusa.
Numerous texts and even a historical marker describe a Battle of Taliwa in 1755 that was supposedly fought along the Etowah River near the Cherokee-Cherokee County line. These texts go on to state that the Cherokees won all of northern Georgia in this battle. The story first appeared in the 1820s when attorneys for the Cherokees were trying to stop forced re-location to the Indian Territory. An exhaustive study of colonial archives in 2008 by the History Department of the University of Oklahoma could find no mention of the Battle of Taliwa or treaty with the British at that time that gave the Cherokees all of North Georgia. An official map of the British Army produced in 1780 showed all of Georgia west of Brasstown Bald Mountain and south of the Nacoochee Valley being occupied by branches of the Creek Confederacy.
In fact, the Cherokees lost a series of devastating battles to the Koweta and Upper Creeks during1754 and 1755. Their towns and villages in Georgia, southeastern Tennessee and even a section of the Hiwassee Valley in North Carolina were burned. The Koweta Creeks reclaimed the territory that had been theirs before 1715. The Cherokees were forced to sue for a peace that ended a 40 year long war.
A very small, isolated Cherokee village was located on Long Swamp Creek at the close of the American Revolution, but most Cherokees did not arrive in the region until the 1780s and 1790s. Prior to 1793, the future county was still officially Upper Creek territory, although the Cherokees were the de facto occupants by the close of the Revolution.
Northwest Georgia was awarded to the Cherokees by a treaty in 1793. After 1793, some members of other tribes, including the Cherokee, did settle in what was to become Cherokee County. After that date, the territory was officially part of the Cherokee Nation until 1838.
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Cherokee County for at least 12,000 years, perhaps much longer. Clovis and Folsom points, associated with Late Ice age big game hunters have been found in the Etowah River Valley. Many fossils from the Late Ice Age were found in a cave within Ladds Mountain in Cartersville, GA.
During the Ice Age, herds of giant mammals roamed the river bottom lands. The mastodons, saber tooth tigers, giant sloths and other massive mammals died out about 8,000 years ago. The ethnic identity of the Clovis Culture hunters is not known. They were long presumed to be American Indians, but recent research by anthropologists have revealed many similarities with the big game hunters of Western Europe. An ice cap on the North Atlantic Ocean may have permitted early humans to move back and forth between continents by paddling, while gaining sustenance from hunting sea mammals and fishing.
After the climate warmed, animals and plants typical of today soon predominated in this region. Humans adapted to the changes and gradually became more sophisticated. They adopted seasonal migratory patterns that maximized access to food resources. Archaic hunters probably moved to locations along major rivers during the winter, where they could eat fish and fresh water mussels, if game was not plentiful. During the remainder of the year, smaller streams would have been desirable camp sites.
Cherokee County was an ideal location for bands of hunters and gatherers. The county’s network of creeks and wetlands provided a diverse ecological environment for game animals and edible plants. Native Americans learned to set massive brush fires in the late autumn which cleared the landscape of shrubs and created natural pastures for deer and elk. Woodland bison probably also roamed this region until around 1740. The landscape that European settlers encountered in the Piedmont was not natural. It had been altered for thousands of years by Native Americans to create optimum environments for the natural production of food sources.
During the late Archaic Period, several trade routes developed in this region that interconnected the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, Appalachian Mountains and Great Lakes. Native Americans began traveling long distances to trade and socialize. There was an important north-south trail that paralleled the Etowah River from its confluence with the Oostanaula, 160 miles to its headwaters on a mountain near Dahlonega, GA. This trail continued through the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Little Tennessee River in the Great Smoky Mountains.
The Etowah, Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys were locations of some of the earliest permanent villages in North America. A sedentary lifestyle was made possible by abundant natural food sources such as game, freshwater mussels and chestnuts and the cultivation of gardens. Agriculture came very early here. Initially, the cultivated plants were of indigenous origin and included a native squash, native sweet potato, sunflowers, Jerusalem artichoke, amaranth, sumpweed, and chenopodium.
The early villages were relatively small and dispersed. There was probably much socialization among these villages because of the need to find spouses that were not closely related. Houses were round and built out of saplings, river cane and thatch.
The Woodland Period peoples of the region built some small mounds, but most have disappeared due to natural erosion and agriculture. Apparently, most mounds were primarily for burials, but may have also supported simple structures that were used for rituals or meetings. They were constructed accretionally. This means that the mounds grew in size over the generations by piling soil and detritus from the village over recent burials.
Archaeological evidence in the Lower Etowah River Valley suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northeast Georgia around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. They apparently settled in mountain valleys to the north of Cherokee County. The Upper Piedmont was already occupied by ancestors of the Yuchi and Southern Siouans with languages similar to the Catawba. There may have been other ethnic groups whose identities have been concealed by time. Agricultural technology, cultural traditions and DNA probably blended between these peoples. Modern “Creek” Indians may represent a genetic mix of several indigenous ethnic groups.
Muskogeans carried with them advanced cultural traditions from Mexico and the Lower Mississippi Valley. The early Muskogeans eventually formed provinces that were governed by large towns. Prior to arrival of Europeans, there were no Indian “tribes.” The large towns were usually located in the bottomlands on major rivers such as the Chattahoochee. Smaller villages located near creeks. Native Americans continued to live in what is now Cherokee County, but their populations were concentrated at a town with multiple mounds, where Summerour mounds were located and farther down the Etowah at Ball Ground, GA or at Etowah Mounds in Bartow County, GA.
Throughout the Southeast, many provinces began to share common artistic symbols and agricultural lifestyles. Societies became more organized politically with elite families, non-agricultural specialists and local leaders. This era is known as the Southern Ceremonial Cult Period, Mississippian Period or Hierarchal Period. The “Mississippian” label came from a conference at Harvard University in 1947 which adopted the inaccurate belief that all advanced Native American culture originated north of the Mason-Dixon Line along the Mississippi River. Villages located in Cherokee County would have been affected by the cultural influence of regional centers such as Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) on the Etowah River in present day Bartow County, GA and a cluster of towns in the mountains along major rivers.
There is evidence that European diseases began affecting coastal populations as early as 1500 AD Native American traders carried the microbes northward from Cuba and then into the lowlands near the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf Coast. Shortly after the Hernando de Soto Expedition passed through Georgia in 1540, waves of European diseases began to decimate the Native American population. De Soto probably passed through or near Chatsworth and Rome, GA in late July and August of 1540. The indigenous people of Cherokee County would have been exposed to deadly pathogens some time thereafter. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700 AD.
Agricultural advancements: Almost immediately after Spanish missions were established on the coast of Georgia in the late 1500s, the ancestors of the Creeks were growing European fruits and vegetables in addition to their traditional crops. A Spanish expedition in 1600 observed peaches, pears and melons being grown in a village on the Ocmulgee River. By the 1700s, Creeks and their Kataapa allies in northern Georgia were also raising European livestock. Chickens and hogs were the first European animals acquired to supplement their turkey flocks and Mexican meat dogs. By the late 1700s, most Georgia Creek men owned horses and had become skilled herders of cattle, horses and hogs.
Creek Confederacy: The Creek Confederacy of “People of One Fire” was a political alliance formed by the remnants of many advanced indigenous provinces in the Lower Southeast. This alliance probably developed during the late 1600s. The member towns represented several ethnic groups, but the Muskogees and Itsati’s (Hitchitis) dominated the alliance. Muskogee was selected as the parliamentary language of the alliance. When British settlers first settled the coast of Georgia, Itsati was spoken by most Georgia Creeks. By 1800, a composite Muskogee language had became the spoken tongue of Creek citizens.
After the American Revolution, Creek families dispersed across the vast territory now controlled by the Creek Confederacy. There were relatively few in the North Georgia Mountains, which were controlled by the Upper Creeks. Thousands of Cherokee refugees moved into northwestern Georgia during the 1780s and 1790s. The Creeks continued to occupy the east side of the Chattahoochee River northward to Habersham County. Apparently, they also continued to live in the vicinity of Coosa Creek in Union County, GA.
In 1793, the Creek Nation was shocked to learn that the Federal government had given away some of its most sacred territory, the Etowah River Valley down to the middle of what is now Paulding and Cobb Counties to the Cherokees. The Principal Chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation is still called Etalwamikko . . . King of Etowah. The remainder of northwest Georgia was taken from the Upper Creeks as punishment for assisting the British in the Revolution. Of course, the Chickamauga Cherokees had killed over a thousand settlers between 1776 and 1793, but Tennesseans were mad at the Upper Creeks for almost capturing Nashville. It was explained to the Creeks that the land theft was a “clerical mistake,” but they were promised that their other Sacred Lands, the Ocmulgee Bottoms, would be theirs forever.
From 1793 to 1838, what was to become Cherokee County was officially part of the Cherokee Nation, but had relatively few full-blooded Native Americans living there. What is now Gordon and Bartow Counties had by far, the largest Cherokee populations. The Lower Etowah River Valley contained broad, fertile bottomlands for agriculture, suitable tracts for Cherokee farming methods. There were some bottomlands along the section of the Etowah River between Ball Ground and Canton, GA in Cherokee County.
Throughout the 1820s, Cherokee leaders and their attorneys fought the State of Georgia in courts in hope of thwarting efforts to evict the Cherokees from the state. The Cherokee’s position was that treaties between the United States and the Cherokee Nation could not be affected by laws passed unilaterally by United States Congress or the Georgia General Assembly. The State of Georgia’s position was that the Cherokees were a northern tribe, not indigenous to the state. Therefore, they could not be considered to be sovereign over any territory. Also, an agreement between the Federal government and Georgia in 1798 had promised Georgia that all Native Americans would be removed from the state after it ceded the territory that was to become Alabama and Mississippi. The United States Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the Cherokees.
Both the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the State of Georgia refused to obey the Supreme Court’s ruling. In 1832 Georgia dispatched surveyors to divide up what is now Cherokee County into 40 acre “gold lots.” Gold miners and homesteaders began occupying lots they had won in the Cherokee land lottery, even as many Cherokees struggled to remain on their farmsteads.
In 1836, a faction of Cherokee leaders, led by Major Ridge, signed the Treaty of New Echota, without authorization of the elected Cherokee government. Congress approved the fraudulent treaty anyway. It ceded all Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi and made provisions for the Cherokees to be relocated to the Indian Territory – now the State of Oklahoma.
In 1838, Georgia and the Federal government began forced removal of any Cherokee families who had neither applied for state citizenship nor moved to the Indian Territory on their own. Crude stockades were constructed to temporarily contain captured Cherokee families until they could be quickly relocated outside of the state. One of those stockades was on the Etowah River at Fort Buffington near Canton.
By October of 1838, some Cherokees had been removed from what was to become Cherokee County. Many Cherokee women, who were married to white men, stayed in the region, because they were not required to relocate. Evidently, several Native American families, who were listed with the Cherokees, figured out a way to avoid deportation. Some mixed blood Cherokee families continued to live in the region after the main body was deported.
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