. . . and other funny stories about how academicians, bureaucrats and politicians fudged Southeastern Native American history in the late 20th century
Native American Heritage Month
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
From 1977 to 1987, I was on the front row seat in Asheville, watching fake Native American history being created by academicians and politicians. During the first half of this period, I was either Director of the Downtown Asheville Revitalization Program or Director of the Asheville-Buncombe County Historic Resources Commission. Afterward, I lived in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley for seven years then arrived back in Georgia just in time to fight an attempt to change Georgia’s Native American history so Cherokee casinos could be built near Etowah Mounds, the Nacoochee Valley and the Track Rock Terrace Complex. Then the efforts to promote fake Native American history jumped onto the stage of national media.
It was during the “Mayas In Georgia Thang” controversy in 2012. A clandestine alliance of aging Georgia archaeologists from the late 20th century . . . Cherokee tribal cultural historic preservation officers . . . US Forest Service employees in Gainesville, GA, Asheville, NC and Atlanta, GA . . . several anthropology professors at the University of Georgia . . . and state/federal law enforcement officers in Gainesville, GA, Commerce, GA and Murphy, NC . . . joined forces to stop or discredit any national TV program that discussed the Track Rock Terrace Complex in Union County, GA.
In early March 2012, an old email address that I had used in 2006, while acting president of the Georgia Chapter of the Trail of Tears Association, had gotten into the emailing list of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian then jumped to the Eastern Band of Cherokees Tribal Cultural Heritage Preservation Office. They seemed to think that I was a Cherokee tribal member, employed by the National Park Service. I knew enough about the inner workings of the NPS to play a passive role in their mistake. Former NPS Director, Roger Kennedy, had funded my two year camping journey through the Southern Appalachians. We had known each other since December 1990! See The Shenandoah Chronicles.
Due to alliance members mass-copying discussions of strategies and propaganda, my “pre-approved” email address was soon into the email server systems of most of the alliance members . . . most notably the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma and the US Forest Service. A female senior US Forest Service administrator in Asheville, NC emailed the North Carolina Cherokee Tribal Cultural Heritage office with an idea. Tell the other federally-recognized tribes that a crazy white man in Georgia is trying to steal the Cherokee’s history. This suggestion was sent to their counterparts in the Cherokee Nation, who then sent the bogus claim to the Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles and Catawbas. Their email letter included an urging for the former Southeastern tribes to band together to stop this assault on their shared heritage. Later, an underling in the Muskogee-Creek TCHPO was offered money by the USFS to betray his tribe.
I recognized the USFS official’s name. She was Caucasian and had been out to my farm in the Reems Creek Valley of North Carolina many times. . . either wearing a black robe to perform rituals around a circle of candles with the other members of my ex-wife’s sisterhood . . . or to haul manure from our barn to put in her garden. She knew good and well that I had substantial Creek Indian heritage. My Mexican and Creek artifacts were on the wall of the living room where they did their occult rituals. So everything was going full circle back to the weird Cherokee thang in Asheville City Hall . . . 35 years earlier.
Meet the stars of our telenovela, the Chickasaw!
In 1700 AD, Chickasaw provinces could be found from present day Paducah, Kentucky to the Chickasawhatchee River Basin in deep southwest Georgia. According to the “Creek Migration Legend,” presented to Georgia Colonial leaders in 1735, the Chickasaw were one of four original members of the first People of One Fire . . . now called the Creek Confederacy. The Muskogee-speaking Creeks were not! The Chickasaw were also members of the most recent Creek Confederacy, but most Chickasaw towns dropped out, when they found out that they would have to speak Muskogee in political meetings.
The Chickasaw People compose the only ethnic name, mentioned by the chronicles of the Hernando de Soto Expedition (1539-1543), which are now a federally-recognized tribe in the United States. And yet . . . there was definitely a conspiracy among 20th century Department of Interior bureaucrats and academicians in certain states to erase their existence from the history books. Don’t believe me? Look at the official US Congress/Department of Interior Official NAGPRA map. (1991 – Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act) It tells you that the Chickasaw and Choctaw never lived in the South. A similar official map, published by the Dept. of the Interior, assigns all of the Chickasaw’s original territory to the Cherokee!
A brief introduction to REAL Cherokee history
Based on my own professional experiences, I am convinced that Caucasian academicians, federal bureaucrats and public relations consultants are directly responsible for the increasingly delusional version of Cherokee history now proliferating on all forms of media. The history and anthropology professors (whether intentionally or unintentionally) did not do the necessary research into historic maps, Colonial archives and linguistics, prior to making authoritarian announcements in books.
The official history of the Cherokee People has changed radically, since I traveled up to the Smokey Mountains on April 19, 1976 to be a architecture and planning consultant for the Qualla Housing Authority on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation. I had just received my Masters degree in Urban Planning the previous month.
At that time, tourists were given brochures which stated that the Cherokee were originally a northern tribe, which migrated southward during the the Colonial Period. They arrived in the southern mountains (southern West Virginia) around the same time that Charleston, SC was founded (1670). Later they entered the North Carolina Mountains and found few people living there. As their population expanded, the Cherokees resettled “mound builder” towns and built their townhouses (council building) on top of existing mounds. The Cherokees did not build mounds.
Tourists to the Cherokee Reservation in North Carolina are now told in brochures, books published by the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and museum exhibits that the towns with Maya and Creek names in Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee . . . visited by the De Soto Expedition in 1540 . . . were Cherokee towns. A sophisticated movie, first broadcast on PBS, tells visitors that the Cherokees were the first humans in the Americas and created the Clovis points . . . were the ancestors of the Aztecs and Mayas . . . created the first pottery in the Americas . . . were the first people in the Americas to cultivate corn, beans and squash . . . occupied seven Southeastern states, when Jamestown was founded AND built the first mounds . . . plus, most of the mounds in the Southeastern United States. Say what?
Readers will probably not believe my funny stories from long ago in Asheville, NC unless I first fact-check the new Cherokee History. So here we go . . .
Hicks stated that the Cherokees were initially concentrated at the confluence of the Holston and Nolichucky Rivers. They broke up into three bands in order to invade western North Carolina. The version of Cherokee history written by Hicks is quite similar to what was being told tourists in 1976, except for the fate of the mound builders (Itsate Creek towns) in western North Carolina. Hicks stated that a plague greatly weakened the mound builders, making it possible for the Cherokees to invade western North Carolina afterward. According to Hicks, the Cherokees “killed or drove off the mound builders then burned their temples on top of their mounds and then constructed Cherokee townhouses.” Several times during the manuscripts, Hicks emphasized that the Cherokee never lived south of the Hiwassee River until after the American Revolution. In other words, they never lived near the Track Rock archaeological zone in Georgia until after 1784.
The French spelled their name, Charioqui* or Charaqui, but maps from both nations placed the Cherokee as vassals of the Teonontateca, who were allies of the Huron in Quebec until 1650. They were driven southward that year by the Iroquois Confederacy. After the Iroquois massacred a large Teonontateca village, both they and the Cherokee migrated southward into what now northern West Virginia and the northern Shenandoah Valley. In Virginia they were called the Petun or Tobacco Indians. Eventually, attacked again by both Iroquois and Rickohocken slave raiders, the Teonontateca and Cherokee then moved to the southern tip of West Virginia.
*The Toronto, Canada Reference Library in Downtown Toronto contains the journals of Jesuit missionaries, who made contact with the Cherokee. Their archives also include the claim by Samuel Champlain that he gave the small tribe their name because they were responsible for portaging canoes with two wheeled carts (chariot in French) around rapids.
This story from the True North (Canada) becomes more plausible, when you see how 17th century Frenchmen pronounced the word, chariot. In English phonetics that would be chă : rē : ō . Their word for the Cherokee would be Chă : rē : ō : kē . . . ke or gi (pronounced the same) means people or tribe in several tribes of eastern North America.
North Carolina academicians and Cherokee tribal bureaucrats have a big, gaping hole in their arguments supporting the Big Lie – linguistics. When the Hernando de Soto Expedition was passing through Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, its chroniclers did not mention one town with a Cherokee name . . . not even a single Cherokee word. Most of the tribes and towns had either Muskogean or Itza Maya names. The only exception, Chiska, had a Panoan name from Peru, which means “bird.” There is a tribe with the same name in Peru.
Worse still is the fact that all of the rivers in western North Carolina with Native American names, are Creek words. The Oconaluftee River, which flows through the Cherokee Reservation, means “Oconee People – massacred.” Yet, the Museum of of the Cherokee Indian now claims that the Cherokee have lived on the lands of their reservation for 12,000 years that that the Cherokee created the Clovis points, plus were the makers the oldest pottery in North America . . . which is found in Southeast Georgia. The Swannanoa River’s name (it flows through Asheville) is derived from the Muskogee Creek word, Suwani Owa, which means “Shawnee River.”
Censorship of the Asheville Downtown Revitalization Plan
It is standard procedure for Comprehensive Plans and Urban Design Plans to include a chapter on the cultural history of a locale. In the Asheville Downtown Revitalization Plan, I included about a page of history prior to the arrival of Anglo-American settlers in the region and assumed few people would even read that chapter. Wrong!
Summarizing what I said . . . Many indigenous peoples had lived in the French Broad River Valley over the past 10,000 years. Between around 1000 AD and 1500 AD, a Muskogean people had occupied the region around Asheville. They lived in modest villages with square houses and didn’t build mounds. In the center of the village plazas appeared to be corrals, form by log palisades. It was not known which specific tribe that they belonged to, why they left the region or where they went.
Of course, I now know by looking closing at the architecture that they were Chickasaw! See section on the Warren Wilson Village Site.
The Cherokee never lived as a tribe in Asheville. Their name was not on any maps of western North Carolina until 1717. The earliest known radiocarbon date for a Cherokee village in western North Carolina in 1720 . . . although they probably started settling in WNC around 1700 or slightly earlier. Between 1725 and 1764, the boundary between the Shawnee and Cherokee was 35 miles to the west of Downtown at Soco Gap. After 1764, the Cherokee’s eastern boundary was the 84th parallel, which runs 90 miles to the west, through Murphy, NC.
The Shawnee were the last Indians to live where Asheville was today. They arrived in the region around 1600 AD. Swannanoa (River) is the Anglicization of the Muskogee-Creek words meaning “Shawnee River.” Until 1764, they occupied a large town, where Biltmore Village was now located. There were also small Shawnee villages where Downtown Asheville now stood, plus two more where Reems and Beaverdam Creeks joined the French Broad River.
To the north of Asheville and east of the Blueridge Mountain escarpment was the land of a Uchee tribe named the Wataree. The Cherokee called them Watagi. Frontiersmen called them the Wateree or Watauga.
The region around Etowah, Hendersonville, Brevard, Sapphire Valley and Highlands was occupied by Creek villages until 1764.These Creeks built modest mounds. I now know that this was the homeland of the Muskogee-speaking Creeks.
Until around 1700, the region west of Soco Gap was occupied by Creeks, who lived in large towns and built fairly large mounds. The names of their provinces correspond to major tribes within the Creek Indian Confederacy or the Seminole Tribe.
The city manager cracks down
We were about ready to print the final version of the Downtown Asheville Revitalization Plan in 1978, when I received a call from City Manager Ken Michelove’s secretary and told to report immediately to his office. Asheville Mayor Roy Trantham had received letters from Gov. Jim Hunt and Senator Jim Broyhill demanding that Asheville remove from the Revitalization Plan all references to any Indian tribe other than the Cherokee. The letters referred to “complaints,” but did not say who made the complaints. A state senator, representing Asheville, had also sent letter to Michelove, which reminded him that the North Carolina General Assembly had passed a law in 1976 stating that all Native American artifacts and archaeological sites in western North Carolina had to be labeled “Cherokee.”
Of course, wanting to keep my job, I did as I was instructed. At the time, I knew very little about my own Creek heritage and was mainly focused on continuing studies in Mexico. In fact, I spent two weeks in Tepotztlan, Morelos later than year. Not terribly upset about the censorship, I just thought the people involved were “strange birds” and that North Carolina had some strange laws in regard to Native American history. Within days, the colonial era maps and archives that I based that short chapter on, disappeared from my office overnight.
Warren Wilson Village Site
First, I should explain that Creek towns and Cherokee villages were distinctly different. Creek towns, even as late as those built initially in Oklahoma were precisely planned and laid out by professional architect-surveyors, known as taliya. Until the early 1800s, Creek towns were always fortified by timber palisades, guard towers and defensive ditches. All Creek towns and villages had central plazas, plus chunky courts and a stickball field. Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks stated that once the Creeks were able to get firearms again from the French and later, the Colony of Georgia, the Cherokees found it impossible to capture a fortified Creek town. There was much more trade and traffic between Creek towns, so the only hope of getting a scalp was to attack small groups of travelers, traders or hunters.
Cherokee villages were usually much smaller and the buildings were randomly placed. Until they were able to obtain axes If the village had a plaza, it was because the earlier Muskogean town at the site had a plaza. The Cherokees relied on being able to see long distances from mountaintops in order to resist invaders. They never built fortifications around their sprawling villages, other than perhaps a crude fence made from saplings and vines that might keep a deer out of a garden, but would not stop someone carrying a hatchet or axe.
Throughout the time I lived in Asheville, archaeology classes excavated a small village site on the Warren Wilson Campus. The professors were well aware that the architecture and pottery was almost identical to that of contemporary Muskogean towns in northern Georgia and eastern Tennessee. At that time the way that archaeologists avoided ruffling political feathers was the label the previous occupants of Western North Carolina as “mound builders . . . a mysterious people who lived in the region for a few centuries then disappeared. No one knows who these people were.”
The official article on the Warren Wilson archaeological site in the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s archaeology laboratory website now states:
“Warren Wilson (31BN29) is a late prehistoric Cherokee village, located along the Swannanoa River on the Warren Wilson College campus . . .” The academicians have no clue that the Chickasaws once lived in North Carolina or that Cherokees never built palisades or large square houses. To read the rest of the website go to: https://ancientnc.web.unc.edu/indian-heritage/by-time/mississippian/warren-wilson-mississippian/
Why Southeastern university professors faked DeSoto’s route
Fast forward a few years and I am director of the Asheville-Buncombe Historic Resources Commission. I received a memo from Asheville City Manager Ken Michelove, which asked me to host a meeting between staff members of the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office and a group of university professors from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Later, I received a call from a NC SHPO archaeologist, explaining that the professors were studying the route used by Spanish explorer, Hernando de Soto, through North Carolina.
Great! This was going to be a total waste of my time. I vaguely knew who Hernando de Soto was, but it had nothing to do with my professional concerns. Very few buildings in Asheville dated before 1885. I was planning to escape the Byzantine madness of Asheville City Hall soon and start my own architecture practice. I was trying to score points with the real estate community. We were trying to get a National Park Service grant for the restoration of an ornate Victorian mansion on Biltmore Avenue that locals called the “Canine Chateau.” It was the home of Asheville’s most famous prostitute . . . an international call girl, who lived there with her poodles in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Each morning she would take a walk around the Grove Arcade with her poodles, waiting to see if a telegram had arrived, which invited her to take a voyage or tour Europe with some wealthy married man.
The professors showed up late with state highway maps rolled up in their arms. They had just spoken at the Chamber of Commerce breakfast and received a $500 check afterward. (Equals $1000 today).
The professors immediately unrolled their maps. They had marked De Soto’s route with masking tape, generally following interstate highways. It was immediately obvious that they knew little about the terrain in the North Carolina Mountains, but in the comfort of their university offices had already decided where all the Native American towns were and the route that the conquistadors took.
I really didn’t even want to be there, but became suspicious after a University of Georgia professor, named Charles Hudson, presented himself as an expert on Spanish colonial history, but mispronounced every Spanish word. Just to be sure that he was a fake, I told him: “Varias ciudades semínolas de las montañas de Georgia hablaban español, no una idioma Creek.” (Several Seminole towns from the Georgia Mountains spoke Spanish, not a Creek language.) He looked at me blank-faced. I had to give him that information in English.
With grand fanfare the professors announced that the ancient Cherokee capital of Guaxile (which Hudson pronounced as Guak-silly) was at the Biltmore Mound on the Biltmore Estate. Hernando de Soto stayed there!
I quickly interjected that the professors had mispronounced the word, Guaxile. It was pronounced Wahile. It was the Creek word for “Southerners.” The reason I knew was that it was also the word used by Northeast Georgia Creeks for the Seminoles. I then asked the professors why De Soto would make a 200-mile loop to the north, when he was supposed to be headed straight from the South Carolina coast to Coosa in Northwest Georgia. The professors’ only response was a disdainful look.
The state archaeologists, though, quickly intervened. They first told the professors that there were no occupied American Indian towns in the lower French Broad River Valley during the time that De Soto and later, Juan Pardo, were exploring the Southeast. They also informed Dr. Hudson that they had dug test holes around the Biltmore Mound. The only artifacts that they unearthed were from the Middle Woodland Period.
The professors obviously did not want to change their route. The meeting quickly ended. That afternoon, they gave a press conference at the Biltmore Estate with the same message and were given a check for $25,000. ($50,000 today) A couple of days later, deeply buried within the Asheville Citizen-Times was a brief article in which the two archaeologists again pointed out the problems with equating an 18-inch-tall mound on the Biltmore Estate with the De Soto Expedition. About two weeks later there was a featured article in which the same two archaeologists endorsed the route proposed by the professors. Guess they also had gotten a letter from the governor.
The State of North Carolina soon erected a historic marker on Biltmore Avenue, near the Canine Chateau, which stated that De Soto came through Asheville in the spring of 1540 and stayed in the important Cherokee town of Guaxile. For the next 15 years, the Asheville Chamber of Commerce used “Asheville . . . Heart of the Ancient Cherokee Nation as a marketing theme.
In 1987, Charles Hudson published his best-known book, Knights of the Cross, Warriors of the Sun. It was his version of the De Soto Expedition route. By far the longest chapter is about “De Soto in the Land of the Cherokee.” The chapter is credited to a Cherokee graduate student at the University of Georgia. The chapter took De Soto on a 325-mile northern detour on the way to Northwest Georgia by passing through the North Carolina Mountains through the northwestern tip of the state to reach the northeastern tip of Tennessee.
All of the Native American towns in the South Carolina/North Carolina Piedmont, North Carolina Mountains and eastern Tennessee are described as Cherokee communities, even though they had either Muskogean or Itza Maya names. This is explained by saying that the town names are “ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.” The book is now cited by Cherokee authors as “proof” that the Cherokees occupied all of the Southern Highlands 500 years ago.
In the year, 2000, Appalachian University announced that it was going to excavate the ancient Cherokee capital of Guaxile, so it could become an attraction for tourists visiting the Biltmore Estate. Two years later, the archaeological team admitted that they had unearthed a Middle Woodland village site, which had been abandoned over a thousand years before. The barely visible mound was actually a standard Creek chokopa (rotunda) that had been reconstructed three times.
The archaeological team saved face by announcing in the Asheville Citizen-Times that “they had discovered the oldest known Cherokee architecture.” Soon thereafter, the State of North Carolina removed its “De Soto slept here” historical marker on Biltmore Avenue.
It depends on your perspective of things
During the third week of May, 2010, I was camped out in Nantahala Gorge . . . searching for a lost Spanish silver mine that supposedly dated from the late 1500s and 1600s. On the way out of the gorge, I stopped by a convenience store on the way from the base of the gorge to its rim . . . where I found silver ore.
The convenience store clerk starred at me intently and asked, “You are some sort of Indian, but not a Cherokee. What tribe are you?”
I responded, “Creek . . . from down in Georgia.”
She instantly looked frightened and her skin turned pale. Eventually, she blurted, “Ooh! Y’all are the mean ones!”