Native American History of Cobb County, Georgia
Cobb County located in northwestern Georgia. It is part of the Atlanta Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its county seat is Marietta. Located at the southern tip of the Appalachians, the county contains several isolated mountains. Kennesaw Mountain, in particular, is visible from much of the northwest Atlanta suburbs.
Cobb County is bounded on the northeast by Cherokee County and on the northwest by Bartow County. The section of Fulton County that was formerly Milton County forms its eastern boundary. Paulding County forms its western boundary, while Douglas County forms is southwestern boundary.
In 1932 Milton County (on the north) and Campbell County (on the south,) merged with Fulton County. Cobb County ceded the City of Roswell and a section of land along Willeo Creek to Fulton, in order to make the original section of Fulton contiguous with Milton.
Geology and hydrology
Cobb County is officially located in the Upper Piedmont geological region, which is characterized by underlying rock strata of igneous and metamorphicized igneous rock. However, it contains several mountains, so some sections of the county are identical in appearance to the Southern Appalachians.
The Upper Piedmont terrain generally consists of rolling hills and stream valleys, but can seem semi-mountainous. This is because high mountains once stood at these locations, but have eroded to large hills through the eons. The section of the Chattahoochee River passing Cobb County generally has a narrow flood plain. There are few permanent wetlands paralleling the streams that flow into the Chattahoochee. The top soils are thin over most hills and steep slopes, while much deeper near streams.
Georgia’s famous gold bearing lands include the northern and western sections of Cobb County. Gold is still panned from some of its streams. The city of Acworth was a booming gold-mining town in the mid-1800s. Ruins of gold mines and gold-related industries can be seen along County Line Rd. in western Cobb County.
Cobb County was north of the old Cotton Line, which marked the northern limit of cotton species grown before the Civil War. There were few, if any, cotton plantations until the late 1870s when a new variety of cotton was developed which thrived in the river valleys of northwestern Georgia. As a result relatively few slaves were owned in antebellum Cobb; at least as compared to counties in central, west and southern Georgia.
Cobb County is drained by the Chattahoochee and Etowah Rivers. The county’s largest stream is the Chattahoochee River. The river flows along Cobb’s southeastern boundary. Throughout much of the river’s passage along the edge of Cobb, there are many rapids and very narrow flood plains. The river has all the characteristics of a mountain river. Only the smallest of dugout canoes could have passed through the series of rocky shoals and rapids. It is the most southerly location in the eastern United States where native trout can thrive. The Chattahoochee River joins the Flint River in deep southwestern Georgia to form the Apalachicola River, which flows through Florida into the Gulf of Mexico.
The Etowah flows near Cobb County’s boundary with Bartow and Cherokee Counties. It has a very different character than the Chattahoochee. Until it reaches the Allatoona Mountains near Acworth the channel of the Etowah is relatively narrow and can be as much as 25 feet deep. It was an ideal transportation corridor for large freight canoes. A series of shoals between the Allatoona Mountains and Etowah Mounds in Bartow County forced the large trade canoes to disembark. However, below Etowah Mounds, the river again becomes narrow and deep. As a result, large Native American towns tended to locate on the Etowah River, not the Upper Chattahoochee.
The popular explanation of the meaning of Chattahoochee is that it is Creek word meaning, “River with the shining rocks.” This is probably not accurate. Until the late 1700s, there was a large Creek town with several mounds, where Six Flags Over Georgia is now located in Douglas County. In the Itsate (Hitchiti-Creek) language, it was named Cata-hvci (pronounced Chata-hawchee,) which means “Red River.” The river at this town site is often clay red and contains no visible stones. When most of the Creeks were forcibly deported to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma,) they called a principal river through their lands, the Red River.
Cobb County contained numerous creeks that generally flow fast and clear. However, it is typical for the Upper Piedmont for some small streams (branches) to flow through narrow, swamp-like corridors of saturated soil. The major streams include Willeo, Sope, Rottenwood, Sweetwater, Noses, Nickajack, Powder Springs, Allatoona and Noonday Creeks.
Native American occupation
Present day Cobb County was apparently heavily populated throughout the period from 1000 BC until about 1600 AD. Although the county itself is classified as being in the Upper Piedmont, it is located at the juxtaposition of several geological zones, the Piedmont, Allatoona Mountains, Great Appalachian Valley and the Ridge & Valley Province. The geological variety created multiple ecological environments, which increased opportunities for the acquisition of food and raw materials.
Until 1793 the occupants of all of Cobb County were Muskogeans, ancestors of today’s Creek Indians. Between around 1000 AD and 1375 AD the many Native towns and villages in present day Cobb were part of a large province dominated by Etalwa (Etowah Mounds) which was located immediately north of Cobb’s boundary with Bartow County. The larger towns in Cobb contained at least one temple mound and one burial mound. At the time of European Contact (mid-1500s) the area was within the territory held by the Kusa Creeks. During most of the 1700s, the Upper Etowah River was occupied by the Apalachicola Creeks or Conchakees. They were associated with the Creek Confederacy, but spoke a different language than the Muskogee Creeks. Many of the Native American place names that the public assumes to be Cherokee words are actually Apalachicola. There are very few geographical place names in Northern Georgia that are definitely of Cherokee origin.
In 1793, the federal government gave the Etowah River Valley to the Cherokees. The southern half of Cobb County remained nominally within the territory of the Creek Confederacy until 1821, but the thinly populated area was primarily occupied by mixed bloods and white traders with Native wives.
Kennesaw Mountain’s name is presumed by virtually everyone to be a word of Cherokee origin. It is not. It is derived from an Itsate (Hitchiti Creek) word, kanos-sawa, which literally means “skunk-raccoon” in Itsate, but is actually an agglutinated label for the Hognose Skunk. The Hognose Skunk is the largest of all skunks and is indigenous to the Southern Appalachians. It has the body form of a raccoon, but the markings and “perfume” glands of a skunk.
Cobb County once contained numerous mounds, stone cairns and Native American cemeteries. Most were destroyed in the 20th century by private land owners or county utility construction. Those that remain are primarily in protected flood plains or on federally owned land in either the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park or the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.
Within the boundaries of the Kennesaw Mountain is a significant archaeological site that it believed to have been constructed in the Archaic or Early Woodland Period. This archaeological zone is not open to the public. It appears to be a cemetery consisting of over 100 field stone burial cairns. There are similar sites on a privately owned hill immediately east of Ball Ground, GA and in Track Rock Gap in Union County, GA. A Track Rock Gap cairn was radiocarbon dated to 1014 AD, so the Kennesaw Mountain cairns may be much younger than presumed.
On islands in the Chattahoochee River within the National Recreation Area are several low, oval shaped mounds. They are believed to date from the Late Woodland (Napier Culture) to Early Mississippian (Etowah I Culture) Periods.
Most of the surviving mound and Native American archaeological sites are now located in the flood plain of Nickajack Creek in western Cobb County. Petroglyphs have been discovered on boulders along Nickajack Creek in Smyrna. They appear to be Spanish Colonial gold mine claims, but also include symbols associated with the Southeastern Indians. The Native symbols made have been carved by Apalachee laborers brought along by the Spanish on gold-prospecting expeditions.
There was once a large Creek Indian cemetery dating from the 1700s and early 1800s along the Chattahoochee River, adjacent to a county water treatment plant. However, it was destroyed in the 1990s, when the water treatment plant was expanded.
Native American Cultural Periods
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Cobb 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 Chattahoochee River Valley. 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.
Archaic Period (8,000 BC – 1000 BC)
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.
Cobb 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. 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 east-west trail that ran from the shoals on the Savannah River (now Augusta) to the Chattahoochee River in Cobb County; and then to the land of the Chickasaws in southwestern Tennessee.
Woodland Period (1000 BC – 900 AD)
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 numerous mounds. 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.
The occupants of the region around Cobb County prior to around 200 BC were probably Southern Siouans. Up until the end of the American Revolution, British and French maps showed the Catawba occupying the region between Metropolitan Atlanta and the Nacoochee Valley in northeast Georgia. The Siouans were probably pushed out of major river valleys by Muskogean immigrants.
Archaeological evidence in the Chattahoochee and Flint River Valleys suggests that the first Muskogean farmers entered northeast Georgia around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. However, the region was probably 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.
Muskogean town dwellers (900 AD – 1784 AD)
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 Cobb County, but their populations were concentrated along major creeks that flowed into the Etowah River.
One of the earliest “advanced” indigenous towns in the United States was founded on the Etowah River in Bartow County around 990 AD. Its founders were newcomers, who carried with them many Mesoamerican cultural traits. They may have been either Itza Mayas or the hybrid descendants of both Mayas and indigenous peoples. The language that most of the Creek Indians’ ancestors spoke in Georgia was Itsate (Hitchiti in English.) The Itza Maya’s also called themselves, Itsati. There are many Maya and Totonac words in the various dialects spoken by the Creek Indians that came from Mexico.
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 Cobb 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.
European exploration period (1540 AD – 1717 AD)
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 Macon, GA in March of 1540. The indigenous people of Cobb County would have been exposed to deadly pathogens at least by the summer of 1540. Anthropologists currently believe that the indigenous population of Georgia dropped about 95% between 1500 and 1700 AD.
The Kingdom of Spain claimed all of the Chattahoochee and Flint River Basins, including Cobb County, from 1567 until 1745. This claim was based on the Juan Pardo Expedition and a surveying expedition authorized by Governor Don Benito Ruiz de Salazar Vallecilla of the Province of La Florida around 1647. The surveying and gold prospecting expedition followed the Chattahoochee River to its source at Unicoi Gap. The Governor then established a trading post in the vicinity of the Chattahoochee headwaters. The Spanish explorers and traders definitely passed through the future Campbell County on many occasions.
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 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 probable 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.
Dispersed farmsteads: 1780 AD – 1838 AD
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.
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, the northern half of what was to become Cobb County was officially part of the Cherokee Nation, but had very few Native Americans living there. While the nearby Etowah River Valley had broad, fertile bottomlands for agriculture, suitable tracts for Cherokee farming methods near the Chattahoochee River were relatively small and dispersed. Most of the Cherokee and Creek inhabitants of the future Cobb County were apparently mixed bloods or families with Caucasian males as head of the household.
In 1718 the Creek Confederacy ceded a corridor along the east side of the Chattahoochee up to Clarkesville, GA. In 1821, it ceded a much larger tract of land that included present day Fulton and Dekalb Counties, plus the southern half of Cobb. Some Creeks, who were wives of Caucasian men, or mixed heritage male heads of households, who elected to take state citizenship, remained in the region.
Cherokee Indian Removal Period: 1832-1838
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.
It was during the period when the Cherokees were fighting the State of Georgia in court that the myth of the Battle of Taliwa originated. Taliwa was supposedly a Muscogee Creek town on the Etowah River in Cherokee County, GA that was captured by the Cherokees in 1754, at which time the Cherokees “conquered” all of Northern Georgia. Actually, the Cherokees lost all of their territory in Georgia, most of the Hiwassee River Valley in North Carolina, and most of their land south of the Little Tennessee River in Tennessee in a series of catastrophic defeats in 1754 and 1755. These were all lands that the Cherokees had captured in 1715.
In 1773 William Bartram had commented that the Cherokees were totally intimidated by the Creek Confederacy and heavily in debt. The Creek Confederacy was not in debt. Taliwa is an Apalachicola word meaning “town.”
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 Cobb 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 near Canton in Cherokee County.
Apparently, few Cherokees in Cobb County actually went on the Trail of Tears. IN 1996 archaeologists excavated a cemetery near the Barrett Parkway that dated from approximately 1848 to the 1880s. Over half the remains re-interred, had Native American skeletal features. No DNA analysis was applied to the skeletons to determine if they were Creek or Cherokee.
By October of 1838, all Cherokees had been “officially” removed from what was to become Cobb County. Many Cherokee women, who were married to white men, stayed in the region, because they were not required to relocate. It is presumed that many mixed blood families elected to take state citizenship to avoid deportation. After the Cobb’s population exploded in the mid-20th century, the visibility of the county’s meztiso population disappeared, although some long term residents still proudly claim Native American ancestors.