Native American History of Pickens County, Georgia
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Pickens County located in northern Georgia. It is part of the Atlanta Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area (SMSA.) Its county seat is Jasper. It is named after Colonel Andrew Pickens, who commanded Patriot units in one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War, which was fought in Pickens county.
Pickens County is bordered on the north by Gilmer County and the east by Dawson County. Gordon County adjoins Pickens on its western side. Cherokee County forms its southern boundary. Bartow County forms a relatively short section of Pickens’ southwest boundary.
Geology and hydrology
Pickens County contains sections of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Marble Valley and Pine Log Mountains geological regions. The Blue Ridge Mountains, which run along the eastern side of the county, are characterized by underlying rock strata of igneous and metamorphicized igneous rock. The official southern terminus of both the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian Trail are located in Pickens at Mt. Oglethorpe. However, during the 1950s and 1960s, several chicken houses and private real estate developments were constructed on top of the Appalachian Trail, thus negating its use for public recreation. In 1999, the marble monument marking the start of the Appalachian Trail was relocated to downtown Jasper, since it was no longer relevant. Mount Oglethorpe, at 3,288 feet above sea level, is the highest point in the county.
The Marble Valley is the largest deposit of marble in the world and underlies most of Pickens County. It consists of ancient metamorphic rocks such as marble, travertine and slate that were formerly sedimentary rocks. The terrain of the remainder of the county generally consists of rolling hills and valleys or ravines formed by streams. Washington, DC’s most famous monuments contain marble from Pickens. In recent years architectural uses for marble have become of minor importance. The primary uses now for Pickens’ famous white marble are animal feed additives, anti-acid tablets, toothpaste fillers and gravestones for cemeteries owned by the federal government such as Arlington National Cemetery.
The Pine Log Mountains are the result of an ancient geological boundary known as the Cartersville Fault. They consist of small to medium height peaks reaching up to about 2,300 feet above sea level. 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 sections of the Etowah and Little Rivers passing through Pickens 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.
Pickens County was north of the old Cotton Line, which marked the northern limit of cotton species grown before the Civil War. It had no plantations and few African slaves. As a result, the county was predominantly pro-Union during the Civil War. A Union militia cavalry unit from Pickens guided General Sherman’s army around fortified Confederate positions during the Atlanta Campaign of the Civil War.
Pickens County does not contain any rivers. The northern part of the county drains into the Coosawattee River. The southern part of the county drains into the Etowah River. Both the Coosawattee and the Etowah are tributaries of the Coosa River, which eventually becomes the Alabama River and then, the Mobile River, before flowing into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico
Coosawattee is the Anglicization of a hybrid Cherokee-Creek word meaning “Place of Old Kusa.” That name refers to the location of the capital of the proto-Creek Province of Kusa, which is now underneath Carters Lake in Gordon County, GA – very close to the Pickens County Line. In Cherokee, Kusa is pronounced Kü-sha(, and is now the most common Cherokee name for all Creek Indians. The people of Kusa called their land, Kvse, which is pronounced ka(ü-she(. It is an Itza Maya word meaning “forested mountains.” The capital of Kusa was at the confluence of Talking Rock Creek and the Coosawattee River.
Etowah is the Anglicization of the Creek word “Etalwa” which means “a large town.” That word is derived from the Itsa-te Creek and Itza Maya word e-tula, which also means “large town.”
Pickens County contained numerous creeks that generally flow fast and clear. Most contain either native or stocked trout. The major streams include: Talking Rock, Talona, Clear, Bull, Bluff, Darnell, Long Swamp, Scarecorn, Little Scarecorn, Salicoa, Rock, Sharp Mountain, Soap, Town and Wildcat Creeks.
In August of 1540, Hernando de Soto sent an exploration party up Talking Rock Creek to look for gold. In fact there are major gold deposits in the Etowah River Basin. However, the conquistadors encountered “witches” near Sharp Mountain in eastern Pickens County and turned around before reaching the gold bearing terrain. The name refers to petroglyphs that are on some boulders near the creek.
Native American occupation
Pickens County is near two of Georgia’s most important concentrations of Native American settlement sites; the confluence of Talking Rock Creek and the Coosawattee River, and the entire Etowah River Valley. However, there has been very little archaeological study within the heart of the county. There are concentrations of former village sites along Talking Rock, Talona and Long Swamp Creeks. Several of those along Long Swamp Creek contained low mounds built during the Swift Creek, Napier, Woodstock and Etowah I periods (200 AD – 1250 AD.)
The earliest residents of the county may have been ancestors of the Yuchi or perhaps, Southern Siouans. The ancestors of the Creeks did not arrive in the region until approximately 100 BC. French maps show the Conchakee Creeks or Apalachicola occupying the Etowah River Basin until around 1764. The first Cherokees arrived in Pickens County in 1776. They were the wives and children of white men, who were trying to avoid being caught in the middle of a bloody war between the Cherokees and American Patriots. At that time, however, most of northern Georgia officially belonged to the Upper Creeks, descendants of the 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-Pickens 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 its confluence with the Etowah River near Pickens County 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 mixed blood Cherokees and white men married to Cherokee wives were the de facto occupants by the close of the Revolution.
Native American Cultural Periods
Archaeologists believe that humans have lived in Pickens 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.
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.
Pickens 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 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. A secondary trail interconnected the Etowah and Coosawattee Rivers and ran through present day Pickens County.
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 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 northwest Georgia somewhere around 400 BC, after migrating from west-central Mexico. They also apparently settled in mountain valleys to the north of Pickens County. The Upper Piedmont was then 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 Pickens 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 Pickens 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.
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 stayed in Kusa for six weeks in late July and August of 1540. The indigenous people of Pickens County would have been immediately exposed to deadly pathogens, since their villages were satellites of Kusa. 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.
Early Cherokee settlements and Chickamauga War: 1776 AD – 1794 AD
In 1776 a party of white Indian traders with Cherokee wives and mixed heritage children settled along Talking Rock and Scarecorn Creeks in present day Pickens County, plus Pine Log and Oothlooga Creeks in present day Bartow County. 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.
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 Pickens County was officially part of the Cherokee Nation. What is now Gordon and Bartow Counties had by far, the largest Cherokee populations, but there were still at least 200 Cherokees in present day Pickens. Many of the present day counties in the eastern part of the Cherokee Nation had less than 100 Cherokees in 1832, when a census was taken. The census of Cherokees, however, included white men married to Cherokee women, such as was common in Pickens.
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.
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 Pickens 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 Fort Newman in the Blaine Community, what is now the northwestern part of Pickens County on GA Route 136.
By October of 1838, some Cherokees had been removed from what was to become Pickens County. Many Cherokee women, who were married to white men, stayed in the region, because they were not required to relocate. Others took state citizenship and renounced membership in the Cherokee Nation. 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. Descendents of prominent mixed blood Cherokee family names such as Saunders (Sanders), Dunn, Parker, Quinton, Harnage and Thompson can still be found in Pickens County.