The Secret History of the Earthlodge-buildings Siouans in Alabama and Georgia

Part 15 of “The Americas Connected” series

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

Archaeologists have know since the 1950s that at the time of the Hernando de Soto Expedition (c. 1540 AD) that the Middle Tennessee River Basin and the southern/eastern side of the Coosa River Basin were occupied by peoples, who built earth-berm houses, identical to those constructed by the Mandan, Kansa, Arikara, Oto, Osaage, Quapaw and Pawnee in the Missouri River Basin two centuries later. The Quapaw Migration Legend actually begins on the South Carolina Coast near present day Georgetown, SC . . . during early colonial times.

Excavations at New Echota National Historic Landmark

Underneath the partially re-constructed Cherokee capital of New Echota are located strata of much denser occupations than that of the five-year presence of Cherokees at that location.  Visitors to New Echota State Historic Site near Calhoun, GA are told that the original Cherokee name for New Echota was Gansagi-yi then it was changed to Ustanauli before finally being renamed Newtown or New Echota.  Gansagi-yi means “Place of the Kansa (Kansas) People” and actually Ustanauli was originally a Chickasaw town, two miles upstream and on the north side of the river.  The Chickasaw lived on the north side of the river, while the Kansa lived on the south side.

It was a pattern seen in Georgia archaeology from the 1880s onward.  Archaeologists were hired from other regions of the United States, who had no knowledge of the state’s indigenous Native Americans, to interpret the past.  They created orthodoxies about the state’s past without any consultation with Creek and Uchee elders and scholars. The People of One Fire’s research had repeatedly found examples where the pioneer archaeologist of the Southeast, Charles C. Jones, Jr. of Savannah, was far closer to the truth in 1873 than professionally educated archaeologists a century later.

In March 1954, the small archaeological team began work on the section of New Echota owned by the state.   Once the team was working a 100 yards away or more from the Worcester House, they were finding little evidence of a historical Cherokee occupation.  What they found instead was a deep layer of strata, associated with pre-19th century indigenous occupations of the land. You see . . . the maximum permanent population of New Echota never exceeded about 50 men, women and children . . . several of whom were whites.

To his credit, Larson realized that he did not know diddlysquat about the pre-Cherokee occupation of the region.  He brought in Joseph Caldwell, who had been doing work for the National Park Service and Smithsonian Institute at Ocmulgee National Monument and Lake Allatoona, which is about 25 miles south of New Echota. 

Caldwell found that the layer immediately below the shallow scattering of Historic Cherokee artifacts, were much more substantial deposits of artifacts associated with the Colonial Period Creek and Chickasaw Indians.  Below that layer were artifacts associated with the Proto-Creek Lamar Culture and below that were artifacts typical of the McKee Island site near Guntersville in North-Central Alabama, which were dated to about 1300 AD.*

*The Kansa Migration Legend states that their tribe once lived on an island in a river. When their population outgrew the island, they moved to another river valley, where an advanced people taught them how to farm and plan large towns. The Kansa word for town is the same as the Chickasaw word for town . . . tama. Tama was borrowed from tama in the Totonac, Huastec, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek languages, where it means “to trade.”

Once the slightly larger team identified likely locations to find Cherokee artifacts, they did have some success. The group recovered a Spanish coin dated 1802, crockery, household wares, remains of boots and shoes, a small quantity of lead, and 1700 other artifacts. They identified 600 items as having belonged to the Cherokee. In addition to the standard finds and remains of many buildings, Larsen and Caldwell astonished the world by discovering much of the type once used to print the Cherokee Phoenix.

On March 13, 1957, following the news of these archeological finds, the State of Georgia authorized reconstruction of the town of New Echota as a state park. They reconstructed such buildings as the Council House, the Supreme Court and the print shop of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper.  The state then purchased and relocated several authentic Cherokee log buildings from other parts of North Georgia.  They include a common Cherokee cabin representing a home of an average family, a middle-class Cherokee home, including outbuildings and Vann’s Tavern. It was one of 14 taverns, owned by Vann.  The Worcester House was restored to its 19th-century condition.

Astonishingly, despite over a century of plowing, the archaeologists were able to discern the original gridiron pattern of New Echota’s streets and drainage ditches.  New Echota was laid out by surveyors in 1827 and abandoned as the seat of tribal government in 1832.  Its maximum permanent population was perhaps 50 people or less.  Large numbers of Cherokees did camp out there during controversial meetings of the National Council.  Therefore, it is an extraordinary feat of archaeological skills for Lewis Larson and Joseph Caldwell to have found the little used streets.

Other parts of New Echota are not open to the public, as they are private property. Across from the New Echota park are two farmhouse sites formerly owned by white men who had married Cherokee women. These sites are now part of the Elks Lodge and Golf Course.

Building a museum as propaganda

In 1963, The State of Georgia constructed a museum for introducing the New Echota site to visitors, which includes a memorial to the Trail of Tears.  Its exhibits are completed focused on Cherokee history.  New Echota, until 1973 was called a historical park and that indeed is its best description.  Most of the original blocks laid out for the town are empty and covered with grass.

The New Echota Museum developed an extensive depository of Cherokee archives. These documents were invaluable to two generations of researchers, but the public now has very little access to the archives.

Gansagi-yi’s  Creek name was Kawshe-haci or Descendants of the Eagle Old Town. Kaw is the Itza Maya and Itsate Creek word for eagle. The Kansa People today preferred to be called the Kaw Nation.  If the archaeologists, who worked at New Echota, had bothered to translate the Native American place names, they would have produced a very different interpretation of the archaeological site. 

The Cherokees played virtually no role in Georgia’s history until the Battle of Etowah Cliffs in Rome, GA in late 1793.  Therefore, a large proportion of the museum space was dedicated to 18th century events and personalities in Tennessee and North Carolina.  Visitors are made to believe that the prehistoric occupants of North Georgia were Cherokees when in fact, Georgia’s main legal grounds for demanding their eviction to the Indian Territory was that they were uninvited squatters, who arrived in Northwest Georgia during the 1780s and 1790s.

This museum leaves out well-documented events of history and the key Cherokee leader responsible for it all. If this was realized, visitors know “something wasn’t quite right.”  Acting Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks was almost single-handedly responsible for the Cherokee Renaissance. He wrote the Cherokee Constitution. He chose the site and the name of New Echota. He prepared the plans for New Echota. He did the surveying or directly supervised the surveyor, who laid out the streets and lots. Charles Hicks designed the original glyphs that the Rev. Samuel Worcester modified over the next three decades to create the Hicks Syllabary. It was not called the Sequoyah Syllabary until the late 20th century. Try to find Charles Hicks’ name anywhere in the New Echota museum!

Sequoyah probably never saw the Hicks Syllabary. Here is what his glyphs look like. They are almost identical to Circassian and Eastern Anatolian Medieval Script.

The Chickasaw-Jewish wife of the famous historian, James Adair, was born in the CHICKASAW village of Ustanauli near the site of New Echota.  The museum tells you that it was a Cherokee town.  The De Soto Expedition passed directly through the site of New Echota, while visiting the CREEK province of Kusa in Northwest Georgia. It was probably called Kansaki or “Old Kaushe (Coosa).  The museum makes visitors think that the Cherokees greeted De Soto.  The Cherokees were nowhere around in 1540 AD. 

All buildings at New Echota, except the Samuel Worcester House, are either re-constructions or were moved there from some other location. There is only very limited information about the appearance of the other buildings at New Echota.

In the next part of this series, we will look at several archaeological sites in Georgia, where archaeologists unearthed earth-lodges identical to those on the Missouri River and in Kansas.


  1. Yep, too much of what we learn in school was made up. Look up Susquehanna. They say it means muddy river. It’s 2 words in my language, susos kanona, corn moon. Donno how many nutty professor tile ya don’t know nuthin about injuns. So I politely told them off in our version of ani Suso Kanona:i

    Just to be ornery I asked if they ever figured out why my ancestors were trying to store berries in those big clay jars. Jars sealed with bees wax and reburned. No, nothing, so I told them this is how you make stump wine. Fill demijon with berries. Fill jar with boiling water. Wait 3 days, strain out the skins, seal with cloth or grass mats and wet clay over that. Bury it in the cellar (where meat was often stored by the old-timers) till close to New Years, the shortest day of the year. Have the young men haul a lot of it up to high, cold ridges, wait a few days, drain off the brandy and that was our rumatiz medicine. Young women could have some wine daily to prevent scurvy, but young men ate spruce tips. Women who might carry a child couldn’t because it causes abortions. The brandy was reserved ONLY for us folks old enough to be a grandparent.

    I got sneered at for it because everybody knows the fact, injuns did not have alcoholics beverages. So, invoked the 7 Rules For Dealing With Whiteman

    1) When confronted by a gossipy white, like an anthropologist, remain silent. Maybe they’ll go away and leave you alone. Be stoic, do not hint at seeing them.

    If all else fails, skip right to 7) Feed the hogs. Y’all can’t be a good redneck, I was taught, unless y’all got some redskin in ya! Then Nana tried to break her boom on my head because she blamed me for her talking like a hillbilly (West Virginia Cherokee, oi 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not having alcoholic beverages is another myth. The ancestors of the Creeks made corn beer, which is still a favorite of the Mayas and other peoples of southern Mexico. An advanced people on Lake Okeechobee grew sacred corn on mounds containing the cremated remains of their ancestors. They made the sacred corn into corn beer and tamales, which were consumed in special ceremonies, which symbolized them consuming their ancestors and therefore being one with their ancestors.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. And don’t forget vino del diablo. Pack a jar with hot peppers, pour in boiling water, seal for wine, or let it turn to chili vinegar (hot sauce). The ani Suso Kanona traded corn into Canada and Maine. Corn was made into sour mash, then distilled via freezing.


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