Discerning Facts and Myths About Track Rock Gap

Nokooshee in Autumn
A medium sized mound and town developed over the stone box graves in the eastern end of the Nacoochee Valley.

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 the end of the Creek-Cherokee War. All of the Valley Cherokee towns were destroyed.

A Cherokee delegation traveled to Charleston to beg for help from the British Army. Their leaders feared that their entire nation was about to be destroyed. The Creek town of Koweta dispatched a hit squad to Charleston, which assassinated 25 Cherokee chiefs in Charleston streets.  Six Cherokee chiefs captured while hiding in the Snowbird Mountains were burned at the stake near present day Carrollton, GA. The town of Koweta then declared the Creek-Cherokee War to be over.

The Loubser Report recanted myths give to ethnologist James Mooney in the 1890’s by an elderly Cherokee man named “the Swimmer”, who lived on the North Carolina Cherokee Reservation.  The Swimmer never saw Track Rock Gap.  The Swimmer’s stories are considered to be at best, children’s tales, by contemporary Cherokee historians.  Some of the tales appear to have been contrived or modified by the Swimmer himself, in order to entertain Mooney.

Animal Tracks

The Swimmer stated that the Track Rock petroglyphs were composed of the tracks made by ancient animals on wet clay combined with the magic symbols of Cherokee hunters. That is how Track Rock got its name. White settlers continued this legend even though they knew that carved soap stone was not the same thing as fossils.

There are fossilized footprints in some areas of the Southeast. However, they are all in regions characterized by sedimentary rock formations.  The region around Brasstown Bald Mountain is volcanic in origin. There is a dormant volcano fumarole in the Track Rock archaeological zone.

The Nûñnë’hï

The Swimmer also mentioned the Nûñnë’hï in his interviews with James Mooney. There are several different versions of the Cherokee legends about the Nûñnë’hï. In some they are a culturally advanced people, who lived in “great town houses” on top of mountains, who befriended the Cherokees, when they first arrived in the Southern Highlands. In other versions, they are a short, dark-skinned people, who built all the mounds in the North Carolina Mountains. In the latter versions, the Cherokees killed or drove off the Nûñnë’hï.   Contemporary Cherokees conceive of Nûñnë’hï being something like leprechauns.

The Serpent Idol

Winged Serpent
The Itza Mayas worshiped a feathered serpent god. The feathered serpent is a common theme of Creek Indian art.

One important Cherokee legend was noticeably missing from the Loubser Report. According to this legend the Cherokees, Creeks and Shawnees were at war with each other. The Creek capital was a great city on the side of a large mountain. At the top of this city was a large temple, built of stone.  In the temple was an idol of their serpent god with ruby eyes.  With the help of a turncoat Shawnee shaman, two Cherokee warriors stole the ruby eyes from the snake god effigy.  This gave the Cherokees the power to capture the capital of the Creek Indians on the mountain, and then all of the Georgia Mountains.

The core of this legend appears to describe the large town on the side of Track Rock Gap, but may not be. Certainly there is a fieldstone effigy of a serpent in the acropolis of the Track Rock terraces. However, there are several fieldstone serpents on mountaintops in Georgia.  The one at Track Rock is the only one associated with a major town. There may be other mountainside town sites, yet to be discovered.

At the time that Hernando de Soto visited Georgia (1540) the branches of the Creek Indians in middle Georgia did not worship any idols.  They were monotheists, who worshiped an invisible deity, quite similar in concept to the Yahweh of the ancient Hebrews. However, the Apalache did worship a pantheon of pagan deities.  Presumably, when the Apalache and Apalachicola (Pvlaci-kola) joined the Creek Confederacy, they renounced their idols.

European Maps

The fact is that all European maps show first the Apalache, then later the Apalachicola and Kusa Creeks, controlling all of the Georgia Mountains, west of Brasstown Bald Mountain until the end of the American Revolution.

  • 1640 Virginiae et Floridae Map
    This official 1640 map of the land claimed by the King of France in North America shows the Apalache as the sole inhabitants of the Southern Highlands.
  • 1718 DeLisle Map
    The map of Louisiana by DeLisle was the first European map to mention the Cherokee Indians.  He spelled their name, Charaqui.  French maps produced between 1690 and 1718, showed western North Carolina being occupied by the Apalache, Tuskegee Creeks and Shawnee.  Those same maps showed eastern Tennessee being occupied by the Kusa Creeks (Coushata,)  Yuchi (Hogeloge,)  Talasee Creeks, Chickasaw and Rickohockens (extreme northeast corner.)
  • 1755 Mitchell Map
    This famous map of the British North American colonies by John Mitchell, added the words “Deserted Charakee Settlements” across a broad swath of Georgia and North Carolina.
  • 1779 Map of Georgia
    In 1779 the Lord Cornwallis ordered a precise map to be prepared for his officers in the planned Southern Campaign.  The map shows no Cherokee villages in Georgia. A British Army sketch field map of that period lists a total of 25 Cherokee adult males in Georgia (probably at Tugaloo)  and 200 Cherokee adult males in South Carolina.  At that time, the northwest tip of Georgia was a hunting ground shared by the Creek and Muscogee (Creek) Indians.  The eastern boundary of the Creek Nation was either the Chattahoochee River or Brasstown Bald Mountain.  Whatever the case,  Track Rock Gap was clearly labeled as being in Creek Territory in 1779.

From 1554 until 1715, all European maps showed the region around Brasstown Bald Mountain in Georgia and North Carolina to be occupied by the Apalachee-Creek Indians. In the early 1690s French expeditions up the Little Tennessee and French Broad Rivers in western North Carolina only encountered Talasee-Creek, Tuskegee-Creek and Shawnee Indians.

From 1715 until 1754, Cherokee villages occupied the Hiwassee River Valley in North Carolina and the Nacoochee Valley in Georgia, while the Upper Creeks (Kusa) occupied the Nottely River Valley in Georgia and North Carolina. All of Union County, GA was in this Upper Creek Territory.  The Upper Creeks regularly attacked Cherokee towns such as Quanasee (Hayesville, NC) and Itsayi (Brasstown, NC) on the Hiwassee River from their strongholds in the Georgia Mountains. Quanasee was eventually abandoned for this reason.

The Creek Confederacy formed in the late 1600s or early 1700s in response to threats caused by European colonization. The Creek Confederacy never had a capital on top of a mountain. One or more of the provinces that joined others to form the Creek Confederacy may have had a capital on a mountain prior to the 1700’s.

Union County GA, Yupaha,

Thornton, Richard. The Trail to Yupaha. Web. 2012.

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