Secrets of Track Rock Gap-Part One

Chattahoochee National Forest

Union County, Georgia

34°52’57.1″N 83°52’39.8″W

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner

Georgia Institute of Technology ~ Georgia State University

Whoever heard of a major Federal government agency and a federally-recognized Native American tribe spending many thousands of dollars in a failed effort to discredit the premier of a new series on geology and archaeology (with a modest budget) on the History Channel . . . before it was ever broadcast? Whoever heard of the US Forest Service refusing to allow major television networks to film in an area that has been open to the general public for almost two centuries and then cutting down over a hundred trees to block the access trail on the site? Whoever heard of federal public relations officers calling up Georgia’s newspapers and TV stations, demanding that they not mention this new TV program? That really happened in 2011, 2012 and 2013. Seven years later the story seems ready-made for a hilarious Hollywood comedy, called “The Mayas In Georgia,” but in fact, it was portend of how dangerous, some delusional government bureaucrats officials can become, when there are no checks and balances.

Track Rock Gap Archaeological Zone covers a half square mile (320 acres). The ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru only cover about 40 acres. The distance from the top of the acropolis to the lowest walls under a power line is 600 feet (183 m). The distance from the highest irrigation reservoir to the base is 800 feet (244 m). The distance from the top of the royal tombs to the base is 1050 feet (320 m).


Perhaps the biggest irony of all the ironies during the Track Rock Gap controversy in 2011, 2012 and 2013 was that the US Forest Service bureaucrats in the Chattahoochee National Forest played a lead role in the battle to attack the fact that Mesoamericans immigrated to North America.  They had no alternative explanation, so the bureaucrats and archaeologists just attacked.

You see . . . Chattahoochee is a Mesoamerican word!   The Muskogee-Creek dictionary tells readers that it means “marked rock – river” but (like their Gringo counterparts in anthropology) the Creek professors at the University of Oklahoma did not bother to investigate the etymology of those two Creek words.  In Itza Maya Tchata means either a “stone stela” or “ancient ruins.”  Hawche is the word for a shallow river or creek in Itza Maya and Itsate-Creek.  It is the word for any river or creek in Muskogee-Creek.

Great Copal

In 1585, Richard Hakluyt, a highly respected historian and advisor to Queen Elizabeth, separately depositioned two men, Pedro Morales and Nicholas Burgiognon, who had lived at the Santa Elena Colony in Port Royal Sound, SC between 1566 and 1584.1 Under oath, which was a very serious matter back then, they both described a clandestine trade between the Spanish colonies and the Apalache* in Northeast Georgia.  It was quite dangerous because traders had to transverse a region in which the Natives were extremely hostile to the Spanish, but once there, they could obtain gold, gems, feathers and extremely valuable sassafras roots by trading glass beads and European cooking ware.  *Apalache was what the Creeks called themselves.  The Apalachee in Florida did not call themselves Apalache, until the Spanish told them that it was their new name.

Most trading was done in the Nacoochee Valley or in the trading center that is now Dahlonega, GA.  However, some trustworthy traders were allowed to continue on the Great White Path into the high mountains to trade at the large mountainside town of Copal . . . which the Spanish called Grand Copal.  Here, copal resin was burned 24/7 in the temples at the top of the town.  One trader obtained a large diamond at Copal, which he sold to the Governor of La Florida for 5000 crowns.  Copal was the Track Rock Terrace Complex.

The Kingdom of Apalache

In 1658, French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, confirmed the constant burning of copal resin in mountaintop Apalache (proto-Creek) temples.2  He stated that most of the mountaintop temples were built out of field stones laid with red clay mortar. The masonry was stuccoed with a sandy clay then finished with a light-colored clay mixed with mica. Temples in the lower elevations of the Piedmont were typically wood-framed, in-filled with clay, reinforced with vines and saplings.  They were also finished with the mica-reinforced clay.

The mica caused the temples to “glisten like gold.”  De Rochefort added that the golden colored mica on Apalache temples was the source of the Spanish myths about cities built of gold in the Apalachen* Mountains and also, the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola.  Cibola (Cipola) was actually an Apalache province on the middle Chattahoochee River. *Apalachen is the plural of Apalache.

Thomas Christie recorded the translation by Mary Musgrove.

The Kaushete Migration Legend

The original account of The Migration Legend of the Kaushete People was presented to the leaders of Savannah, GA by High King Chikili on June 7, 1735. 3  Their saga began on the slopes of the Orizaba Volcano in western Vera Cruz State, Mexico. They eventually arrived in the province of Kusa in NW Georgia and SE Tennessee, but after many generations there, were forced to flee because of a famine. In search of food, the Kaushete migrated up the Talasee (Little Tennessee) River from eastern Tennessee. The inhabitants of the higher mountains of North Carolina and Georgia were described as being an advanced culture and having flattened foreheads.  They passed a large, recently abandoned town on an island.  This was probably Chiaha.

The Kaushete then followed the Great White Path (US 129) from the Talasee River until they came to a great town on the side of a mountain near Brasstown Bald in Georgia.  When the people of that town refused to give the Kaushete food, the Kaushete claimed to have massacred and sacked the town.  The Kaushete then fled southward, with an army of flattened forehead warriors in pursuit.  When they arrived in the lower mountains, the Province of Apalache, they were given sanctuary and food under the condition that the Kaushete give up their warlike ways.  Apparently, the drought was not as severe in the Georgia Mountains.  From then on, the Kaushete and Coweta always paired their towns on opposite sides of a river.

This the first British map to mention the Cherokees!

Historic maps tell the real history!

Of the three soil samples taken so far at the Track Rock Terrace Complex so far, the oldest radiocarbon date is 1018 AD.  Both the Eastern Band of Cherokees in North Carolina and members of the two federally-recognized Cherokee tribes in Oklahoma have published articles in the national media and issued press releases, claiming that the Cherokees carved the Track Rock petroglyphs and built the stone structures on the mountainside nearby.  They also claimed to have lived in the Georgia Mountains for many centuries.  All maps produced during the Colonial Era tell a very different story.

  • Most European maps in the 16th and 17th century labeled the southern Appalachian Mountains as the Apalachen Mountains.  Apalachen is the plural of Apalache.  Apalache or Palache is what the Creeks called themselves until the 1759s, when the word, Muskogee, appeared.
  • Mid-18th century maps produced in England labeled the Georgia Mountains the Apalachen, while labeling the mountains, north of the Hiwassee River in North Carolina, the Cherokee Mountains.  French maps labeled the Georgia Mountains, the Cohuita Mountains, which was their word for the Creek Indians.  The mountains in southeastern Tennessee and northern Alabama were labeled by the French, the Cusate Mountains, which is their word for the Upper Creeks.
  • Mid-17th century French and Dutch maps place them in Quebec, immediately east of Lake Erie.
  • French maps from 1674 to 1705 placed the Cherokees in southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia, except they didn’t use a word like Cherokee.  Instead they were labeled an Algonquian name, which means “Cave Dwellers.”   Even today, most Midwestern tribes and all Southeastern tribes, except the Creeks, use a word that means “Cave Dwellers” for the Cherokees.
  • The first British map to use a name like Cherokee was drawn by South Carolinians, John and Richard Beresford, in 1715.  It showed the Cherokees concentrated in the extreme northeastern tip of Tennessee and southwestern tip of Virginia.  All of the Tennessee River was shown to be occupied by Creek, Chickasaw or Uchee villages.  A French fort and two Upper Creek villages were located on Bussell Island, where the Little Tennessee and Tennessee Rivers join.
  • The 1717 map of North America by Royal French geographer, Guilaume DeL’Isle placed the Cherokees in the same northeastern tip of Tennessee, but also showed eight small villages in the northwestern tip of South Carolina as being allied with the main body of Cherokees.  No Cherokee villages are shown in North Carolina.
  • The 1725 map of South Carolina by John Herbert showed the Cherokee villages located in a narrow corridor between the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee villages.  There were now only a few Cherokee villages in northeastern Tennessee.  The mountains south of the Hiwassee River were labeled the Enemy Mountains.
  • The 1746 Map of the Cherokee Nation showed the Cherokees living in the exact same area. They had no villages east of the tributaries of the Savannah River or west of present day Helen, GA , which is east of Brasstown Bald and Track Rock Gap.  An Upper Creek town, named Kusa, was located near Blairsville, GA and a Uchee village was in the Choestoe Valley, south of Track Rock Gap.  Coosa Creek in Union County (Blairsville) is named after that Creek town.
In 1780, Track Rock Gap was still in Creek territory! The Chattahoochee River on the far left, with the Creeks being on the west side.
  • All British maps produced during the French & Indian War (1754-1763) show the boundary between the Cherokees and Creeks to be approximately the North Carolina-Georgia Line.  The line then turns southward at the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River. 
  • In 1776, botanist William Bartram had to quickly flee the Cherokee Country, when the Second Cherokee War erupted.  He was staying at a Watauga village in present day Franklin, NC.  Although assigned to the Cherokees, the Wataugas were really a Uchee tribe and friendly with Bartram.  Bartram stated in his famous book that “20 miles to the south was the safety of the Creek Nation.”

The first official map of the State of Georgia, published in 1785, labels most of North Georgia “Upper Creeks of the Muskoghee Creek Confederacy.  The Cherokees were shown to only be living legally in Towns and Rabun Counties in the northeastern tip of the new state.  However, we now know via genetic testing that the Natives here were NOT ethnic Cherokees, but members of tribes, whose land had been given to the Cherokees.  In1785, the State of Georgia secretly signed a treaty with the Cherokees that gave them most of northern Georgia as “hunting lands.”  

The state’s leaders feared being surrounded on three sides by the powerful Creek Confederacy.  At the same time as the signing of the Cherokee treaty, the Creeks had reluctantly signed a treaty giving away a strip of land in Northeastern Georgia, not knowing that they had been left with only about a 25 miles strip, east of the Chattahoochee River.  The Creeks declared war on the State of Georgia, but not the United States, in 1790, when they found out about the secret treaty.

Track Rock Gap between 1800 and 1970

Little is known about the occupants of the area around Track Rock Gap 1785, when it was given to the Cherokees and 1832, when the stone ruins are first mentioned. Linguistic analysis of surviving village names in the Georgia Mountains reveals only Creek, Itza Maya, Uchee and Panoan (Peru) names . . . suggesting that these people were allowed to remain by their Cherokee landlords. However, to the white settlers all Indians were “Cherokees.”

The first mention of Track Rock Gap comes from an anonymous traveler, who passed through the gap in 1832, after the State of Georgia had divided up Cherokee lands and distributed to whites in a lottery.  He noticed the stone ruins, but did not see any Cherokees living nearby.  

Dr. Mathew Stephenson, Director of the new mint in Dahlonega passed through the gap in 1834 and described the petroglyphs in writing as being symbols scratched in the rocks by Cherokees. 4 He called the location, Enchanted Mountain, and used a geologists hammer to cut off a section of a petroglyphic rock. He did not mention the stone retaining walls. By the 1840s, the University of Georgia had this rock, which contained the carved imprint of a human foot. After the Civil War, the ruins were generally unknown outside of the immediate area around Union County.  Perhaps after a generation of so, the locals assumed that early pioneers had built the walls.

Because of its steep slopes, Track Rock Gap was primarily used for pasturage.  However, elderly residents of Union County can remember when some of the ancient agricultural terraces on the lower elevations were used for gardening. They say that several of the crude retaining walls in this section were stacked by local farmers.

Even though the mountainsides of the gap were privately owned from 1832 until the early 20th century, the slopes were a popular place for Union County residents to picnic and young couples to court. After World War II, when teenagers began “dating” at an earlier age, Track Rock Gap was a popular place for teenagers and young adults to “make out” as was the lingo in the late 20th century. The partying steadily declined as the old wagon road deteriorated and the vegetation grew denser under US Government ownership.

The former corundum mine at Track Rock Gap

Mining was a major component of Union County’s economy for many decades. There were commercial gold mines in the vicinity of Track Rock Gap until the early 1950s. Corundum, a semi-precious stone used in abrasives, was mined in Track Rock Gap during the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. Garnets and rubies are speckled across the surface of large boulders in the upper levels of the archaeological zone.

The federal government began buying cut-over timberland in the Georgia Mountains as early as 1911. In 1922, new legislation from Congress enabled the USFS to purchase private lands with designated boundaries by imminent domain. However, in the cash-strapped Southeast of that era, most owners of steep mountainsides were delighted ot trad teir wornout land for greenbacks. The Chattahoochee National Forest was created in 1936. By the 1940s, much of Track Rock Gap was owned by the US Forestry Service.

Severe damage has occurred to the stone retaining walls, cairns and building walls under the “stewardship” of the US Forest Service. Trees and vines burst apart many stone structures. For many decades, the USFS viewed its role as only growing trees, putting out forest fires and selling timber to create income for the federal government. Nowadays, there is very little timber-harvesting in the Georgia Mountains and virtually all of their usage has become recreational.

In the late 20th century, the US Forest Service allowed a timber company to harvest trees on the lower elevations of the archaeological zone. Many walls and terraces were severely damaged or completely destroyed. Only a few building walls have partially survived into the 21st century. The vast majority of trees in the Track Rock Archaeological Zone are hardwoods. Theoretically, they are grown to produce furniture, but the furniture industry has moved overseas and its wood primarily comes from tropical rain forests. Even to this day, the USFS seems think that its prime directive is growing trees that nobody wants to harvest, rather than preserving and restoring one of the most spectacular archaeological sites in North America.

In Part Two this study will examine a series of federally-funded construction projects and consulting studies, which set the stage for Track Rock Gap becoming a political football in 2011.


1. Thornton, Richard (2013) Earthfast, Morrisville, NC: Lulu Publishing:  p. 130.

2. Rae, Marilyn & Thornton, Richard (2013) The Apalache Chronicles, Fort Lauderdale: Ancient Cypress Publishing; p. 96.

3. Thornton, Richard (2015) Transcription of the original copy of Chikili’s Speech to the People of Savannah – June-August, 2015. The original manuscripts were lost for 285 years, but found by the author in a wooden box in a storage room at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury in London, England.

4. White, George (1855) Historical Collections of Georgia, New York City: Pudney & Russell; pp. 656-659

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.