“. . . Including “The secret history of an enormous Native American artifact collection in Nashville.“
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
The engraved stone tablet above on the right is part of the enormous artifact collection of General Gates P. Thruston, author of the landmark book, The Antiquities of Tennessee (1897). A recent reprint of this book may be purchased from ForgottenBooks.com or Amazon.com at a modest price.
I have a copy of the original book, which I purchased on a whim from an antiques shop in Ellicott City, MD in the summer of 1992. Vivi the French Courtesan noticed it first, because she was interested in learning more American history. I also purchased a United States history book (1818) once owned by the famous David Crockett, but the antique shop didn’t notice his signature on one of the front pages.
Vivi and her young daughter was spending the summer at my farm in the Shenandoah Valley. We planned to make it a permanent arrangement as soon as my divorce was finalized. At the time, I had no clue that within a year, I would be trapped and penniless in my parents’ house in South Metro Atlanta, and in four years, would be living next to Etowah Mounds.
Notice that the warriors from Etula are wearing cloth kilts, bearing the same concentric and sun cross motifs that are on the ancient petroglyphic boulders in the Etowah River Valley. The petroglyphs are much, much older than the cloth. Pieces of this indigo blue, white and black patterned cloth were found in burials by archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead in 1925 and archaeologist Lewis Larsen in 1956. The cloth was like linen, but woven from mulberry tree fibers.
The warriors from Etula are carrying large, rectangular shields and wearing leather helmets with copper crests. Feathers are attached to the copper crests. Warren K. Moorehead found several hundred copper helmet crests in Mound C. One was on display in the Etowah Mounds State Museum, until it was remodeled in the mid-1990s.
Absolutely no drawing or diorama at Etowah Mounds has ever portrayed the warriors of Etula in kilts, leather armor and crested leather helmets. What is extremely interesting is that stone engravings from the region around the Orizaba volcano in southwestern Veracruz State, Mexico also display warriors, wearing leather armor, kilts and crested leather helmets. The famous Migration Legend of the Creek People begins on the slopes of the Orizaba Volcano, where the Kaushete (Upper Creeks) originally lived! This is a very clear example of how archaeologists and museums in the United States have “dumbed down” advanced Native American societies in the Southeast and concealed their connection to Mesoamerican civilizations.
The public history of Gates P. Thruston
Here are excerpts from the official bio of General Thruston that you will see in Tennessee publications and Wikipedia. Gates Phillips Thruston (June 11, 1835 – December 9, 1912) was born in Dayton, Ohio. He graduated as valedictorian with a Doctor of Humane Letters in Literature and Archaeology from Miami University in 1855. He received a law degree from the Cincinnati Law School. At the start of the American Civil War, he volunteered to serve in the Union Army, initially as a captain in the First Ohio Infantry Regiment. He showed great bravery in several of the battles fought in Tennessee and northwest Georgia, which resulted in him rising in rank and eventually being Judge Advocate for the Army of the Cumberland.
After the Battle of Atlanta, he was transferred to Nashville and elevated to Brigadier General and military commander of Nashville. He continued at that post during Reconstruction, soon marrying Ida Hamilton, a Southern Belle and Confederate sympathizer from a wealthy family in Nashville. After Reconstruction, he started a law practice in Nashville and was eventually named president of the State Insurance Company.
During Reconstruction, Thruston began displaying an enormous American Indian artifact collection, which he claimed was acquired while the fortifications of Nashville were being constructed. He said that he bought the artifacts from soldiers, who were building the earthen forts. Through the years he added to this collection by digging in mounds elsewhere in Tennessee and also in Pompeii. In 1906, his artifact collection, perhaps numbering over 200,000 pieces, was donated to Vanderbilt University. The public has never seen most of the artifacts in this collection, but most of the Native American artifacts in the Tennessee State Capitol Museum in Nashville were part of his collection.
It was while working on the restoration of the Adairsville Western & Atlantic Railroad Depot that I became aware that the First Ohio Infantry Regiment had burned all of the public, commercial, industrial and agricultural buildings in Bartow County, GA, including the entire towns of Cartersville, Cassville and Etowah, plus both of its college campuses. In 2006, while doing research for the Muskogee-Creek Nation, I became aware that this same regiment had probably stolen thousands of Native American artifacts from that county.
The secret history of Gates P. Thruston
A few months after I moved into the rental townhouse near Etowah Mounds, Hurricane Opal struck northwest Georgia, doing serious damage to most of its historical landmarks. I was the only architect in northern Georgia, who had significant experience in the restoration of 18th and early 19th century architecture. For the next five years, I stayed extremely busy, repairing and restoring the region’s most historic buildings . . . including the railroad depot, where the Great Locomotive Chase began. Projects funded by federal grants required comprehensive historical and architectural history reports. In the process, I also became extremely knowledgeable about the early history of the region. I also worked on the adaptive reuse of several buildings on the Savannah Riverfront.
There was a section of the Western & Atlantic Railroad Depot in Adairsville, GA which heavily damaged by fire, then covered over with new siding without major repairs. It was traced to a raiding party from the First Ohio Infantry Regiment, who were camped out near the Etowah River near Cartersville. They had started a fire at the depot then moved on to burn the W & A machine shop, a granary and a flour mill. A violent thunderstorm struck. The raiders returned to their camp. With the help of the rain, local residents were able to put out the depot’s fire, but couldn’t save the other buildings.
Further research revealed that two months after there were any Confederate troops operating in Northwest Georgia, General Sherman ordered the First Ohio Infantry Regiment to burn the towns of Cassville, Cartersville and Etowah, plus all of the commercial, industrial, public, educational and agricultural buildings in Bartow County. One school, Stilesboro Academy, was not burned because General Sherman noticed a Masonic symbol at its entrance. Cassville and Etowah were never rebuilt. That was also the situation for both colleges and all factories. There was no “Marshall Plan” for the South . . . just a clear intent to keep it an impoverished colony of the North, ad infinitum.
In 2006, the Muscogee-Creek Nation asked me to find out what had happened to the thousands of architects and hundreds of skeletons that had been removed from Etowah mounds. Most of those excavated by the Smithsonian in 1885 and Warren K. Moorehead had either been given to wealthy patrons or else disappeared. A few of the artifacts were on display in either the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian or te Peabody Museum in Boston.
Charles C. Jones, Jr. (Antiquities of the Southern Indians, particularly of the Georgia tribes -1873) stated in his book that in 1859 he observed and sketched the beautiful Indian pottery, plus large stone and ceramic statues, in almost all the Bartow County homes near the Etowah River or major streams.
Author George White wrote in 1855 that most of the families in the county maintained large Indian artifact collections, obtained from plowed fields or while hunting. There were also small archaeological museums in the colleges and courthouse. All of these artifacts were gone when residents returned to their homes after hostilities ceased . . . well, those who still had homes.
Rebecca Latimer Felton, the inspiration for Scarlett O’Hara returned to find her home still standing. She stood up in the mule wagon and said, “I swear that I will never be poor again.” Yes, that is also a scene in “Gone With The Wind.” Felton later wrote that the Yankees stationed near Cartersville in 1864 (the First Ohio) had pillaged nearly every house and farm in the county . . . stealing everything of value and all the livestock.
I also was the architect for the restoration of Roselawn, the home of the famous evangelist, the Reverend Sam Jones. Jones wrote in his biography that a 15 year old boy from a poor family was hung for trying to retrieve his family’s only mule. Several other residents of the county were shot by Union soldiers, while they were out in the woods, desperately trying to kill rabbits and squirrels to feed their family. He mused the irony of the fact that at the start of the war, Bartow County had raised a pro-Union militia to oppose the seizure of the Federal mint in Dahlonega by Confederate troops.
So, it was almost certain that the thousands of artifacts missing after the Civil War were stolen by members of the First Ohio. I have a incredibly valuable book, Atlas of the Civil War, which contains exact color copies of almost every map produced by both sides during this conflict. A Union Army map showed the camp of the First Ohio to be AT Etowah Mounds from late June 1864 till October 6, when many of its enlisted men were mustered of service. A little more sleuthing . . . their commanding officer was Lt. Colonel Gates P. Thruston.
I went back to the Atlas of the Civil War. The fortifications of Nashville were entirely in the hilly countryside, west and south of the capital. There were no Indian mounds or village sites near the fortifications. The work was not done by men of the First Ohio, but by over 2,220 slaves and black freemen, forcibly worked by the Union Army. The slaves were freed after finishing the construction of the fortifications. At the time, the fortifications were being built, Gates Thruston and the First Ohio was on a long campaign elsewhere.
In all of his autobiographical texts, Gates inferred vaguely that he was involved with the fierce fighting around Atlanta in August and September 1864. All biographies have apparently mimicked his autobiographies without fact-checking. He was not. He was 40 miles to the north in command of an isolated regiment . . . most of whose members were waiting to be mustered out of military service . . . with nothing to do but pillage and burn buildings. Here is the catch, though. Gates was one of the few people in the United States at that time with formal academic training in archaeology. For over two months, he was camped out inside Etowah Mounds with a lot of time on his hands.
What do you think Lt. Colonel Thruston was doing that summer? There is much evidence that what has been labeled “artifacts found around Nashville in 1864” actually came out of Etowah Mounds in 1864!