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Native American History of Floyd County, Georgia
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Floyd County located in northwest Georgia. It is part of the Rome, GA Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its county seat is Rome. It is named after John Floyd, a member of the U. S. House of Representatives representing a district in Georgia.
John Floyd was born in Beaufort, SC and was a carpenter when he moved to northeastern Georgia. Upon the outbreak of the CreekCivil War in 1813, Floyd was named a Brigadier General in command of the First Brigade of Georgia Militia, plus 400 Georgia Creeks. Floyd led his army to one victory at the Redstick village of Autose, where he was severely wounded. The Georgia Regiment saw very little action afterward. Nevertheless, Floyd’s brief service soon led to him being elected to Congress. Another Georgia regiment composed entirely of Creeks, Cherokees and Yuchi, led by a Creek Brigadier General William McIntosh, saw extensive combat throughout the Redstick War.
Floyd County is bordered on the north by Walker County, GA and the northeast by Gordon County, GA. Bartow County, GA adjoins Floyd on the east side. Cherokee County, AL adjoins Floyd on its western side. Polk County, GA forms its southern boundary. Chattooga County, GA forms Floyd’s northwestern boundary.
Rome contains one of Georgia’s largest inventories of 19th century historical buildings and sites. Being located in the confluence of the Etowah, Oostanaula and Coosa Rivers, it was always an important center of Native American occupation. A large Muskogean town was once located where Downtown Rome now sits. During the mid and late 19th century it was a “steamboat” town that boomed from cotton trade. It is now the home of three colleges, Berry, Shorter and Floyd. Berry College is located on the largest college campus in the world, approximately 26,000 acres.
Floyd contains two houses and several sites associated with the Cherokee occupation of the region in the late 1700s and early 1800s. These include the site of the Battle of Etowah Cliffs near Downtown Rome. The plantation homes of Cherokee leaders Major Ridge and his son, John Ridge are located in Rome. Major Ridge’s last home in Georgia, which is located on the Oostanaula River in Rome, is now called the Chieftains and is maintained as a museum dedicated to the history of the Cherokee People.
Floyd County is located in the Ridge and Valley geological region. The eastern part of the county is located in the Great Appalachian Valley section of the Ridge and Valley geological province. It contains multiple strata of Paleozoic sedimentary rocks deposited when eastern North America was flooded by the ancient Iapetus Ocean. Dolomitic limestone, limestone, sandstone, mudstone and shale are the dominant rock formations of the county. Caves are common in the county. When the City of Rome was first founded, settlers found Native American burials carved into the mudstone cliffs along the Etowah River. All the artifacts and skeletons associated with these burials have disappeared from public view. It is not known which Native American culture excavated the tombs.
There were once large permanent or seasonal wetlands paralleling the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, plus streams that flow into them. Many were drained in the late 20th century to allow for the expansion of Rome, but seasonal flooding still occurs in Rome’s expansive floodplains. The top soils are thin over most hills and steep slopes, while within the Etowah and Oostanaula River Basins, they can be very deep and fertile.
Floyd County is below the old Cotton Line, which marked the northern limit of cotton species grown before the Civil War. It is farther north than many areas in Georgia where cotton production is not possible, but because of its relatively lower elevation, growing seasons are longer. After the Civil War varieties of cotton were introduced with shorter growing seasons. After their introduction, much of the countryside in northwestern Georgia was covered in cotton fields. The wealth produced by cotton continued to cause Rome to boom, until the boll weevil struck the region, shortly after World War I.
The Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers drain the entire county. They flow from the county’s southeastern and northeastern corners, across its midsection to join in Downtown Rome, then the Coosa River flows westward into Alabama. The Coosa River eventually becomes the Alabama River and then, the Mobile River, before flowing into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
Etowah is the Anglicization of the Creek word “Etalwa” which means “large town.” That word is derived from the Itsa-te Creek and Itza Maya word e-tula, which also means “large town.”
Oostanaula is a Chickasaw town name, also written in Georgia as Eastanolee, derived from the Tamale-Creek word, estvnole, which means “Affectionate People.” There is an Eastanolee, GA in the northeastern part of the state, which was also Chickasaw. Residents there incorrectly call it a Cherokee word and ascribe a variety of meanings to it.
Floyd County contained numerous creeks that generally flow fast and clear, except near the rivers. Major streams in the county include: Armuchee, Johns, Big Cedar, Little Cedar, Toms, Dyke, Lavender, Mt. Hope, Beech, Silver, Spring and Vanns Creeks . Cave Springs, in the southwestern corner of the county is note for a large stream of fresh water that comes out of a cave in the center of the town at a volume of over 2,000,000 gallons a day.
Floyd County was always a favorite location of Native Americas to hunt, fish and reside. Artifacts have been discovered on its rivers that reach back perhaps 12,000 years or longer. Extensive examples of all Native American cultural periods are represented in the archaeological discoveries made in the county.
The earliest residents of the county may have been ancestors of the Yuchi or perhaps, Southern Siouans. Muskogeans did not arrive in the region until approximately 400 BC. When visited by the Hernando de Soto Expedition in 1540, the region was ruled by the Kusa, ancestors of the Upper Creek Indians. De Soto passed through the future county in August of that year. He was held up by heavy rains and a flood at a town name Itaba.
Although most archaeologists have long assumed that the location of Itaba was Etowah Mounds, the Spanish chroniclers’ descriptions of the town exactly match the location of Downtown Rome, and do not mention any large temple mounds. In 1540 Mound A at Etowah Mounds would have been the largest occupied man-made structure in the Western Hemisphere. The Spanish would have certainly mentioned it. Itaba is the Alabama word that means “border crossing,” the point on a trail where it crosses the boundary between two provinces.
Another town visited by de Soto that may have been located in Floyd County is Yupahale. Yupahale means “Horned Lord People” in Tamale-Creek. The name of a great city named Yupaha (Horned Lord) was given by the Natives of northern Florida to de Soto in the autumn of 1539. It was supposedly a large, powerful city located near gold mines. That description seems similar to the newly discovered Track Rock Terrace Complex in Union County, GA (north central mountains.)
French maps show the Conchakee Creeks or Apalachicola occupying the Etowah River Basin until around 1764. The section of northwestern Georgia north of the Etowah Basin was then occupied by the Upper Creeks and the Chickasaw. The Chickasaw probably lived along the Oostanaula River, and along the extreme northwestern corner of Georgia. The Upper Creeks domain then extended into southeastern Tennessee, and included the Tennessee River Basin between the Hiwassee River and Chattanooga.
The first Cherokees arrived in Floyd County at some time in the late 1700s. During the Chickamauga-Cherokee War between 1777 and 1794, thousands of Cherokee refugees from Tennessee poured into northwestern Georgia and northeastern Alabama. A treaty in 1793 awarded northwestern Georgia and northeastern Alabama to the Cherokees. This became the Cherokee Nation until 1838 when most of the remaining Cherokees were forcibly removed to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma.) However, until 1838 there were long-established Creek villages on the Etowah River southwest of Rome, GA and the Coosa River, west of Rome, GA that ultimately shared the fate of the Cherokees.
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Floyd 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.
Floyd County was an ideal location for bands of hunters and gatherers. The county’s network of creeks plateaus, ravines and mountains 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.
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 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. In the opposite direction the Coosa River Trail continued all the way to the Gulf Coast.
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 intentional destruction, 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
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 Etowah, Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee Rivers. Smaller villages located near creeks.
Native Americans concentrated in what is now Floyd County along the rivers, which provided the most efficient means of transportation. The annual flooding of the Etowah River and tributaries fertilized the soils, in the same manner as the Nile River in Egypt.
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 Floyd County would have been affected by the cultural influence of the regional center of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) on the Etowah River near Cartersville.
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 stayed in Kusa for six weeks in late July and August of 1540; and probably passed directly through Floyd County on his way to Alabama. The indigenous people of Floyd County would have been immediately exposed to deadly pathogens, since most of their towns and villages were visited by the Spanish. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700 AD. Etowah Mounds was abandoned around 1585 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.
In 1776 a party of white Indian traders with Chickasaw or Cherokee wives and mixed heritage children settled along Talking Rock and Scarecorn Creeks in present day Pickens County, plus Pine Log and Oothcalooga Creeks in present day Bartow County. The leader of the settlement party in northern Bartow County (near Floyd and Gordon Counties) was James Adair, the famous Indian trader and author. On the eve of the Revolution, he had published a comprehensive book on the North American Indians. Thus, while his sons are called mixed blood Cherokees in all history books, they were actually one half Chickasaw. Some of Adair’s descendants still live in the region today. The town of Adairsville on the northern edge of Bartow County is named after him.
During the terrible days of 1776, the Cherokees, without warning had attacked white and non-Cherokee Indian settlements in the Carolinas. Angry Patriot militias were killing any Cherokee they found. Cherokee refugees from North Carolina soon began filtering into the Georgia Mountains after a counter attack by the Carolina and Virginia militias destroyed most of the Lower and Middle Cherokee villages. Apparently most of the Cherokees initially concentrated near where the white men were developing farms and building grist mills.
The main body of Cherokee hostiles surrendered to the Americans, and renounced their alliance with Great Britain in 1777. However, the Overhills Cherokee faction led by Dragging Canoe refused to surrender, and ignored orders from the tribal leaders to cease hostilities. He moved his renegade band to a Chickasaw village named Chickamauga that was located on the Tennessee River near the northwestern tip of Georgia. Chickamauga is probably derived from the Chickasaw words chika mauka, which mean “place to look out.” Many texts state that they are Creek words meaning “bloody water,” but this is incorrect.
More and more Cherokees settled in and around Chickamauga. Hostile Cherokee villages were established in northwest Georgia mountain valleys that relocated each year to avoid detection The Chickasaws became a minority and the Chickamaugas became known to history as Cherokees. As more and more whites settled in Tennessee, the tide of the guerilla warfare turned in favor of the United States. Undisciplined militia units attacked any Cherokee farmstead or village encountered – even those which were on amicable terms with the United States. Many neutral Cherokees were forced out of Tennessee into northwest Georgia and northeastern Alabama. This is how the Cherokees came to live in northwestern Georgia.
Chickamauga Cherokees attacked the white settlement of Cavett’s Station on the French Broad River. They massacred most of their prisoners. To avenge their deaths, Col. John Sevier led an army of Tennessee Militia in their pursuit. The Chickamaugas and their Upper Creek allies were camped on large, mountainous hilsl overlooking the confluence of the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers, when the Tennesseans overtook them. A considerable percentage of the Native Americans were women and children.
On October 17, 1793 the Tennesseans surrounded the two hills and staged a surprise attack. The number of Native American casualties has never been ascertained, but the Cherokees stated afterward that over 800 of their number died. Many of the deaths were non-combatants. This cruelty was to avenge the Cherokee execution of women and children at Cavett’s Station. The surviving Cherokee guerillas fled to remote villages in the Georgia Mountains. However, some bands of Chickamauga Cherokees continued to stage guerilla attacks for almost another year. In the mean time, northwest Georgia was rapidly becoming a Cherokee territory rather than Upper Creek.
Note: The majority of “Cherokee Histories” found online, and even in books, state that this battle was fought near Etowah Mounds in present day Cartersville, GA. This is not correct. The error is the result of self-appointed Cherokee historians, who are not from northwestern Georgia, presuming that the Cherokee village of Itawa-yi was at the mounds. Once that was done, a legion of other historians copied an erroneous version of the battle.
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. Some Upper Creek towns also joined with the Chickamauga Cherokees, but this was done in defiance of the Creek Confederacy. Tennesseans were mad at the Upper Creeks for almost capturing Nashville. It was explained to the Creek Confederacy’s leadership that the land theft was a “clerical mistake,” but they were promised that their other Sacred Lands, the Ocmulgee Bottoms, would be theirs forever. Within a generation, this was lost too.
From 1793 to 1838, what was to become Floyd County was officially part of the Cherokee Nation. What is now Bartow and Gordon, the largest Cherokee populations. Wealthy mixed blood Cherokees established plantations on the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers. They owned many African slaves. It is recorded that Major Ridge, alone, owned at least 93 slaves. The socio-economic character of Floyd County became much more like the rural Southeast in the Cotton Belt, that traditional Native American.
Numerous survivors of the catastrophic Cherokee defeat at Etowah Cliffs (1793) across from Downtown Rome, GA, fled to the remote village of Pine Log, GA. Several of these refugees, or their sons, became important figures in Cherokee history. Most eventually moved to the area around Rome, GA in the early 1800s, but by then they had kindled the Cherokee renaissance. The plantation homes of both Major Ridge and John Ridge still survive in Floyd 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 Floyd County into 160 acre land lots. Planters 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.
By October of 1838, most Cherokees had been removed from what was to become Floyd County. Several of the wealthiest mixed blood Cherokees took temporary refuge in Tennessee, then returned to Georgia, where they could be protected by white kin until they were declared state citizens. Many Cherokee women, who were married to white men, stayed in the region, because they were not required to relocate. Other families took state citizenship and renounced membership in the Cherokee Nation.
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