Collection: The Trail to Yupaha

Mayan and Creek Similarities

Many, many suns ago, I was awarded a fellowship by Georgia Tech to spend a summer studying the indigenous architecture and town planning of Mesoamerica. The grant involved visiting all of the major archaeological sites in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. In addition, I was to photograph at least 2500 professional quality color slides for the Georgia Tech library.  The education I received seemed only a little relevant to an architectural career in the United States, but it would make interesting conversation for dates and parties.  Besides . . . Relaciones Exteriores (their State Department) let me ship home 125 kg (275 pounds) of indigenous textiles, building material samples, a large chunk of fresco, obsidian weapons and utilitarian Pre-Columbian ceramics. They were for educational purposes, mind you! The Mexican Consul in Atlanta was a graduate in architecture from Georgia Tech, so the “red carpet was rolled out for me.”  He arranged for me to be an official guest of the Institutio Nacional de Anthropoligia Y Historia (INAH).  Its director was the world famous archaeologist, Ignacio Bernal.  My curriculum would be based at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, directed by Dr. Roman Piña-Chan.  Piña-Chan was an equally famous archaeologist.  His mother was Maya. The debut of the fellowship involved a tour of all six floors of the great museum. Only one floor is open to the public.  The Mexican Consul had...

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French Colonizing Expeditions

A small temporary fort was established by Captain Jean Ribault in Port Royal Sound, SC in 1562. Seventeenth Century French maps state that members of this colony traveled to the “gold-bearing mountains of the Apalache,” and claimed the territory for the King of France. Only French maps of the period provide an accurate description of the entire Savannah River system, but no archives have been found that collaborate such a journey. In 1564, after establishing Fort Caroline somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the Altamaha River, Captain René Goulaine de Laudonniére dispatched several expeditions up the Altamaha River to the sources of its tributaries in the foothills of the mountains. He had learned from tribes on the coast that important trading activities occurred along this route. The Apalache Indians traded gold, copper, silver, greenstone, mica and crystals mined in the mountains to provinces in the Piedmont and Coastal Plain.  Control of this trade route was a major cause of warfare between the provinces in the lower elevations.  Greenstone was the most desired commodity because it was the only stone suitable for axes and wedges to split wood. The two longest expeditions lasted six months and two months; the longest one being commanded by La Roche Ferriere. These expeditions provided the names of the provinces between the mountains and the sea.  One was named the Mayacoa or Maya...

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Hernando de Soto Expedition to Georgia

The earliest recorded visit of Europeans to the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains was in 1540.  De Soto’s Conquistadors spent several summer weeks at the capital of Kvse (pronounced Kău-shĕ in Itsate-Creek, but known as Kusa in English.) Kvse means “forested mountains” in Itza Maya. Florida Indians told Pánfilo de Narváez in 1528 that the Apalachee People, who lived in the mountains many days to the north, mined and traded gold. The people, whom the Spanish called Apalache, called themselves the Palache, which is the Creek word for the Biloxi Indians. This is not general knowledge because the media has relied on commentaries about de Soto, rather than actually reading the chronicles. Just before heading north from the Florida Panhandle in 1540, de Soto was told that the capital of the Apalache province in the mountains was named Yupaha. Yupaha means “Horned Lord.” The Florida Indians stated that Yupaha had much gold. De Soto set off to find Yupaha, but his chroniclers never mentioned the town again.  Historians have traditionally assumed Yupaha to be a fable. After leaving Kusa, de Soto passed through the towns of Tali-mochase (New Tali), Itapa, and then, what the chroniclers wrote as Ubahali.  However, this would be a typical manner that Castilians would write the word, Yupaha-le, which is a Coastal Plain Itsate  word meaning “Horned Lord People.”  So Yupaha really did exist.   It...

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The Migration Legend of the Kashita People

One of the many aspects of the contemporary Creek Indians that non-indigenous anthropologists seldom understand is that the Creeks are an assimilated people, composed of diverse ethnic groups, many of whom were originally enemies.  The Itsate-speaking Creeks were the main players in the mound building business.  However, they were decimated first by European diseases. and then by English sponsored slave raiders. By the early 1700s, the Muskogee-speaking minority were clustered in present day west-central Georgia and east-central Alabama. They were less affected by the holocausts that killed off 90-95% of the Itsate-speaking Creeks. The Muskogees came to dominate an alliance of remnant Creek towns. However, up until the American Revolution, the Itsate language was still the predominate language among Georgia Creeks.  By the time of the Indian Removal in the 1830s, Muskogee language and traditions dominated the Creek Confederacy. What survives today in Oklahoma are primarily Muskogee cultural memories. Many Oklahoma Creeks are not even aware that their ancestors dominated northern Georgia, western North Carolina, eastern Tennessee, much of South Carolina and even a wedge in south central North Carolina.  The western Creeks do not think of themselves as a “mountain people,” and have no cultural memories of such a period.  Fortunately, one legend of an earlier time survives elsewhere. The exception is the Migration Legend of the Kas’hita People which was presented to Governor James Oglethorpe in written...

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Understanding the Obsession with All Things Cherokee

Many history buffs in the Georgia Mountains are obsessed with all things Cherokee. They assume that Creek place names such as Oconaluftee, Coosa, Oostanaula, Oothlooga, Etowah, Chattooga, Nottely, Yahoola, Enota, Tesnatee, Soque, Nacoochee, Tallulah, etc. are Cherokee words. The myths can all be traced to the presumptions made by the first white settlers to enter the region. That’s right . . . the main river on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation is an Itsate Creek word meaning “Okonee People – isolated.”  The name has no meaning in Cherokee. The Okonee were major players in the mound-building business, who eventually joined the Creek Confederacy.  They were mainly located in northeastern Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp basin in southeast Georgia. One of the current myths that resulted from this obsession is that the Cherokees occupied all of northern Georgia until 1838. This myth even permeated the archaeology profession until the late 20th century. Prehistoric artifacts were being classified as Cherokee, when they couldn’t have possibly been so.  The fact is that by the time the Cherokees arrived in the Georgia Mountains, they were using muskets and cooking in iron pots.  Approximately 85% of the Native American place names in both the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains are either Muskogean or Maya Indian words. This obsession is ironic for many reasons.  There were only a handful of Cherokees in the extreme northeastern...

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Discerning Facts and Myths About Track Rock Gap

In general, Loubser treated Cherokee legends as possible facts, while not discussing Creek Indian traditions whatsoever. Loubser first described two interpretations of the stone ruins that were provided to him by the staff of the Eastern Band of Cherokee’s Cultural Heritage Preservation Office.  Both interpreted the stone ruins as being burials. One version of this Cherokee legend is that the piles of stone at Track Rock Gap are the graves of great Cherokee warriors. There may be Cherokee burials at Track Rock Gap.  However, no stone burial cairns are associated with any known Cherokee village sites in North Carolina or eastern Tennessee.  There are many stone cairn cemeteries in the Georgia Piedmont. They are either located in territory occupied by the Creek Indians until the land was ceded to Georgia, or areas that the Cherokees only briefly occupied from the 1780s to the early 1830s.  Archaeologists have been able to date only a few of these cairns.  Radiocarbon dates ranged between the Late Archaic to the Middle Woodland Periods (1600 BC – 750 AD.) Another version provided by the EBC Cultural Heritage Preservation Office was that the stone ruins were the burials of thousands of Creek warriors, who were killed when the Cherokees conquered Georgia. The Cherokees did not conquer Georgia. In 1754, they suffered a catastrophic defeat by an army sent by the Creek town of Koweta, at...

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Interpretation of the Track Rock Gap Petroglyphs

As a major portion of its professional services to the U.S. Forest Service in the year 2000, Stratum Unlimited, LLC prepared graytone renderings of the six main boulders at Track Rock Gap. These renderings will be of incalculable value to the citizens of the United States in the future.  Because they remained exposed to the elements, the petroglyphs deteriorated at an accelerating pace in the early 21st century.  Acidic rainwater is the primary culprit.  The renderings of the Track Rock petroglyphs are presented on a website sponsored by the USFS. Johannes Loubser provided only generalized interpretation of the images on the Track Rock boulders. There are abstract animals and portions of the human body which are obviously that.  As he stated, there is substantial evidence that several ethnic groups carved images on the boulders over a period of many years.  Some images were carved on top of others.  It is his interpretation, or lack of interpretation, of the abstract images, which is questionable.  He provides an explanation that these are merely graffiti created by Cherokee hunters! All of the abstract images on the Track Rock petroglyphs are either standard symbols, utilized by the Creek Indians, or else are Itza Maya glyphs. Most can be seen on the art found around Etowah Mounds and also the Judaculla petroglyphs near Cullowee, NC. The images at Track Rock that are found around...

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Track Rock Gap Archaeological Survey

In the year 2000 the district office of the U. S. Forest Service in Gainesville, GA contracted with South African archaeologist Johannes Loubser to study the Track Rock Petroglyphs. Loubser operates under the professional name of Stratum Unlimited, LLC. Loubser’s published paper on the Track Rock survey was co-authored by Dr. Douglas Frink of Worcester State College in Massachusetts. This article is a brief analysis of that survey.

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The Track Rock Terrace Complex

In mid-July, a member of the Unicoi Turnpike Preservation Association,  telephoned me after reading an article that I had written in the Examiner. That particular column was about archaeological sites in western North Carolina.  He was also a member of the Towns County, GA Historical Society.  The Union County-Towns County line runs across the peak of Brasstown Bald Mountain, which contains Georgia’s highest elevation.  Brasstown Bald is immediately to the east of Track Rock Gap. The outdoor enthusiast was primarily interested in what I knew about the use of the Unicoi Turnpike during the Trail of Tears Period (1836-1838.)  The Unicoi Turnpike was a 19th century road that improved an ancient Native American trade path between the headwaters of the Savannah River in northeast Georgia and the confluence of the Tennessee and Little Tennessee Rivers near Loudon, TN.  He wanted to know if I thought it was used to move Cherokees to prison stockades in the summer of 1838. I wanted to talk about the evidence that I had found which indicated that Spanish explorer, Juan Pardo, had used the Unicoi Trail in 1567. I thought perhaps Spanish Jews had followed the trail to settle the Georgia and North Carolina Mountains.  He was only mildly interested that subject, and was primarily focused on preserving the sections of the Unicoi Turnpike that might have been traveled by Cherokees. The Unicoi...

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Pre Darmos Casada

An inscription on a rock on Hoopers Bald contains the late Medieval Castillian words “PRE DARMOS CASADA – SEP 15, 1615” and an inscription on a boulder at Track Rock Gap contains the name “Liube 1725” a Jewish name… the significance of these inscriptions in South East United States are identified in this article.

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