1721 Barnwell Map of Southeast America

Ocmulgee Bottoms in Recorded History

On March 3, 1540, the Hernando de Soto Expedition departed a Native town in the Florida Panhandle. 1 Contemporary scholars labeled the indigenous people in this region, the Apalachee. Actually, according to 17th century ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, they called themselves the Tula-halwase (Tallahassee) which means, “Offspring from Highland Towns.” 2 The real Apalache lived in northern Georgia. The Florida Apalachee began as a colony. One of their towns was named Apalache, so the Spanish gave that name to the whole province. This was a common practice by the Spanish. The coastal province of Guale named after a village of the same name on St. Catherines Island, GA. 3

When the expedition reached a river, De Soto ordered that they build a crude boat, which ferried the conquistadors, their horses and their swine to the other side. From there the expedition marched into the Chickasawhatchee Swamp, which was in the Province of Capachequi (Spanish) or Kvpeceke (Muskogee-Creek.) The word means “Wood Ash Lye People” and is still a Creek clan in Oklahoma. 4

From Capachequi, the Spaniards headed northward until they reached a major river, which is now presumed to be the Ocmulgee. 1 This was in the Province of Toasi (Offspring of Toa) With great difficulty, they ferried their men and animals across this river and entered the capital town of Toa. De Soto’s chroniclers described the town as being much better planned that Florida indigenous communities and also having more substantial architecture.

The expedition traveled northwestward along the Ocmulgee, passing through several small villages, until it arrived at a town, whose occupants had fled. 5 Meat was still cooking on a barbecoa. Continuing northward along the river they came to a large town on an island, which was the capital of the Province of Ichesi (Spanish), In Itsate Creek this could be interpreted as either Icesi or Itsesi .  Depending on the interpretation of the Europeanized word, the word could mean either “Children of Corn” or “Offspring of the Itza.” 6 The people in this town were friendly so De Soto ordered a cross hewn from wood and placed on the top of a mound in the center of the town.

French Huguenot Expeditions

In 1564 and 1565, Captain René de Laudonnière, commander of Fort Caroline, dispatched at least six expeditions to explore the interior Florida Française (Georgia). 7 Several went northwestward up the May River in search of mountains that were described by coastal natives as containing gold and silver. Several Frenchmen were in northern or central Georgia when Fort Caroline was massacred by the Spanish in September of 1565.

The indigenous people living immediately south of Lake Tama were described as the Onithea-koa or Onithea People. “Koa” is an Arawak and northern South American suffix for “people.” 8 Those living north of Lake Tama were described as the Maya-koa, or Maya People.

The reader should understand, however, the Maya Indians as a whole, never called themselves Maya. This ethnic name was derived from the name of a province on the northwest tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, named Maiam. The Castilian letter “y” is pronounced like an English “ē.” It is significant, however, that the Province of Maiam was established by initially illiterate Itza Maya invaders around 1000 AD. The original capital was Chichen Itza, but later became Maiapan. 9 Maiapan was still the capital in 1500.

Richard Brigstock Expedition

In 1653, Royalist Barbados was under siege by a fleet dispatched by the English Commonwealth. 29 Royalist Richard Brigstock led a small party to visit the European colony in the Kingdom of Apalache in Northern Georgia. 30 English Catholic, Edward Bland, had visited the same region in 1646, but no chronicles of his visit have yet been discovered. 31

Brigstock did not provide Charles de Rochefort with any eyewitness descriptions of the Ocmulgee Bottoms, but did relate what the High King of Apalache said about its history. The Paracusa of Apalache said that the original homeland of the Apalache was in the region around Lake Tama, i.e. Ocmulgee Bottoms. 32 He said that his people were attacked by the Kofitachete and they had to temporarily abandon the region. This might explain the sudden abandonment of the acropolis at Ocmulgee around 1150 AD. The Apalache called the Ocmulgee Bottoms, the Province of Amana. The Kofitachete had eventually agreed to settle east of Amana. This is probably the province of Cofita, mentioned in the De Soto Chronicles. Amana was re-settled by a different people, probably the Ichisi, but they recognized the Paracusa of Apalache as their High King.

Late 17th century Carolina traders

Within a relatively short period after Carolina was colonized in 1670, traders made contact with the Native People living on the Ocmulgee River. Those living in the Ocmulgee Bottoms were called Ochesee (the Ichisi of De Soto.) Those living north of the Fall Line were called the Ocmulgee (Oka-mole-ke = Water Swirling People.) 33 The corridor south of Ocmulgee Bottoms, including the Forks of the Altamaha (confluence of the Ocmulgee and Oconee River) was the Province of Tama, occupied by a people called either the Tamate, Tamatli or the Tamale. These words are the various ways of saying Merchant People in Itza Maya, Nahuatl and Huastec. South of Tama was the lands of the Yamasee Confederacy.

In the late 17th century, the Ocmulgee River was called by the Muskogee-Creek name, Auchesi-hachi, which means Ochesee River in English. 34 At that time, “creek” meant a slow moving river in English. It still does in England. So Carolinians began calling the Native villages on the Middle Ocmulgee, the Ochesee Creeks, eventually shortening the name to Creek Indians. However, that word did not appear until around 1738.

In 1690 a fortified trading post was built by the Carolinians on the former Great Plaza of the Ocmulgee acropolis. 35 This became a focal point for trading activities between the Ochesee Creeks and Carolina. The Native American slave trade was in its heyday. Muskogeans would bring captured Indians, who were allies of France or Spain to the fort, along with furs and deerskins. These would be traded for European manufactured goods, such as muskets, lead balls, cloth and cast iron cooking pots.

Smallpox Plague of 1696

A horrific smallpox plague swept through the Piedmont and mountains of Carolina in 1696. 36 During this era, all of present day northern Georgia and the portion of Georgia north of the Altamaha River were considered part of Carolina. North and South Carolina had not been created either. Death rates of 90% to almost 100% were experienced among some Carolina Piedmont tribes. It can be presumed that similar population losses were experience in northeastern and eastern Georgia. This bacteriological holocaust came on the heels of 30 years of Native American slave raids. The impact was to virtually depopulate the countryside. The Kingdom of Apalache in Northeast Georgia completely disappeared from the maps after 1701. Some Apalachee remained in what is now Gwinnett County. The Apalachee River, a tributary of the Oconee River, is named after them.

Queen Anne’s War (1701-1707)

Great Britain became involved in a war on the mainland of Europe, which spilled over into North America. Spain attempted to strike the first blow by sending a force of 800 Spanish soldiers and Native American mercenaries through Southwest Georgia. 37 The Spanish intended to destroy the trading post fort at Ochesee and then strike Charleston from its back door. The Apalachicola Creeks and Chickasaws in southwest Georgia hated the Spaniards. They set up a camp on the Flint River, making it look like they were asleep then hid out. The Spaniards were lured into attacking the empty camp. Most of the Spanish force was killed when the Apalachicola Creeks and Chickasaws came out of hiding and surrounded the Spaniards.

In 1704, Colonel James Moore traveled from Charleston to Fort Ochesee with 50 men and gathered together 1,000 Muskogean warriors for an invasion of northern Florida. 38 The force virtually exterminated the Apalachee Mission system. Some Apalache immediately joined the Creek-British force and helped fight the Spanish. However, at least 3,000 pro-Spanish Apalache were taken back in chains to Charleston and sold into slavery. Most of the Florida Apalachee slaves lived short brutal lives on Caribbean sugar plantations.

John Beresford Map (1715)

When tensions were increasing on the Southeast, a Carolina militia officer, John Beresford, prepared a sketch map of the Native American tribes and French forts in the Southeast.39 It included an estimate of the number of men of military age in each tribe – or in the case of the proto-Creeks, each town. The population of Ocmulgee Bottoms was miniscule, compared to what it had been in earlier times. His estimate was as follows: Westo-15, Taskeke-60, Coweta-30, Sawake-20 and Attate-20. There is no mention on the map of either the Ochesee or the Ocmulgee bands.   The region apparently was devastated by repeated plagues. This is the first map to mention a word similar to Cherokee. It showed 200 Charakey warriors in extreme NW South Carolina and 800 Charakey warriors in extreme northeast Tennessee. It is obvious that the Cherokees had nothing like the population of 30,000 now claimed by contemporary Cherokee tourist literature.

Yamasee War (1715-1717)

On the evening of April 24, 1715 four Carolina colonial representatives were tortured to death by their hosts at the Yamasee town of Pocotaligo. 40 Soon thereafter Yamasee armies swept through the Carolina Low Country, killing hundreds of men, women and children. Almost simultaneous the Ochesee Creeks attack to the trading post fort on the Macon Plateau, killed its occupants and burned the fort. Soon after that, a combined force of Catawba and Cherokee warriors massacred two South Carolina militia units sent to suppress them. However, the Ochesee Creeks hesitated to attack South Carolina until they were certain of the direction that the war was taking. Meanwhile, about 90 out of the 100 South Carolina Indian traders in the Southeast were killed.

In December of 1715, a delegation of “Creek” leaders was invited to the neutral Yuchi town of Tugaloo for a diplomatic conference. 41 All historical markers and Cherokee histories call Tugaloo a Cherokee town, but ALL maps of the early 1700s label it a Hogeloge (Yuchi) town.42 It is not clear, who these “Creek” leaders were, because neither the word Creek Indian, nor the Creek Confederacy existed in 1715. In fact, 1715 is the first year that even the word Charakey is seen in a British document.

The version of events at Tugaloo most commonly seen in online media is that 12 “Creek” leaders were killed in an argument. 43 The Cherokees then switched from being enemies of South Carolina to allies. The Creek version of events was that 32 “Creek” leaders were killed in their sleep then the Cherokees swept through northeast Georgia capturing Creek lands. History does verify that 40 years later the Koweta Creeks executed 32 Cherokee chiefs then declared the Creek-Cherokee War over. 44

Because of the lost of leaders and the Cherokee switch to the British side, the Muskogeans in Georgia did not play a major role in the Yamasee War, and soon sued for peace again with South Carolina. 45 During the war, most of the Muskogean towns and village in eastern and central Georgia relocated to the Chattahoochee River. Those in western North Carolina relocated to southwest Georgia. By then the Cherokees had achieved “most favored” status and the Creeks would have secondary priority for access to munitions until Georgia was founded in 1733.

Colonel John Barnwell Map (1722)

1721 Barnwell Map of Southeast America
1721 Barnwell Map of Southeast America. Used with permission of Yale University and People of One Fire.

This map was prepared after the King George I revoked the charter of the Carolina Proprietors and made South Carolina and North Carolina separate Crown colonies. On the map Barnwell renamed the May River, the Altamaha or King George River, to assert British claims to what is now southern Georgia. [See Barnwell map as part of this article.]

On his map Barnwell wrote that “The Ochesee Creeks deserted the Ocmulgee River and now live on the Chattahoochee River.” Still living in the Ocmulgee Bottoms were the Taskeke, Colima, Attate and Coweta Indians. Obviously, they were not considered Ochesee Creeks in 1722.

Founding of the Colony of Georgia (1733)

Relations between the British colonists and the Creek Indians were excellent from the start. While the Creeks always distrusted the South Carolinians, they considered the Georgians to be their closest allies and best friends.46 Many of the conferences between the leaders of the young colony occurred either at Indian Springs, north of the Ocmulgee Bottoms or in the vicinity of the mounds of the ancient town site on the Macon Plateau.

The Ochesee Creeks on the Chattahoochee River no longer were dominant in what was now a full-fledged Creek Confederacy, except that it was called the Coweta Confederacy and Coweta was the word typically used for Creek Indian by both the British and the French. Oglethorpe founded the town of Augusta within Creek territory in order to dominate the Indian trade in the Southeast. It was considered an “Indian town” in which members of all tribes were free to walk around and socialize with the locals.

Visit by General James Edward Oglethorpe (1739)

Governor Oglethorpe traveled the trading path through the mounds and old cultivated fields at Ocmulgee on his way to Coweta which was then near present day Carrollton. Here he met Creek leaders. One of his Rangers wrote a short description of what is now Ocmulgee National Monument. 47

Map by Emmanuel Bowen (1747)

1747 Bowen Map of the Southeast
1747 Bowen Map of the Southeast

This was the first British produced map to show all of the territory that would eventually become the State of Georgia after the founding of the Colony of Georgia. [See map attached to this article.] It showed Ocmulgee Bottoms occupied by the Kaonita, Kowetas, Taskeke, Echete (Itsate), Colima and Attasees. The Echete (Itsate) were shown on the 1715 Beredford Map as occupying the northeast corner of Georgie. Apparently, most did not want to be part of the Cherokee Alliance. All but one of the Echete villages in NE Georgia disappeared from subsequent maps. The Cowetas were originally from Northeast Georgia and the section of the North Carolina Mountains, east of Franklin, NC. Perhaps these were some of the tribes invited to the conference at Tugaloo.

John Mitchell Map (1755)

This famous map only shows the Koweta and Echete still living in Ocmulgee Bottoms, but there may have been other villages that Mitchell was not aware of. He lived in England. 48

William Bartram (1774)

1755 Mitchell Map
The famous map of North America published by John Mitchell in 1755 precisely notes the locations of Creek and Alabama villages on the Alabama and Chattahoochee River systems.

Bartram traveled on the Lower Creek Trading Path from Augusta through Ocmulgee Bottoms on his way to visit Tuckabatchee. 49 He recorded his visit in his journal, which later in his life, became his famous book.

“On the heights of these low grounds are yet visible monuments, or traces, of an ancient town, such as artificial mounts or terraces, squares and banks, encircling considerable areas. Their old fields and planting land extend up and down the river, fifteen or twenty miles from this site. If we are to give credit to the account the Creeks give of themselves, this place is remarkable for being the first town or settlement, when they sat down (as they term it) or established themselves, after their emigration from the west.”

First Treaty of Washington (1805)

After much pressure from Georgia officials and Thomas Jefferson, the Creek Confederacy ceded the remainder of their land between the Oconee and Ocmulgee Rivers. 50 The Creeks refused to give up the ruins of the ancient town in Ocmulgee Bottoms that the Creeks called Waka-te. The treaty excluded a 3 by 5 mile strip known as the Old Ocmulgee Fields Reserve.

The treaty allowed the United States to construct a road across the Creek Nation to the Alabama River now known as the Alabama Road. It also allowed both Creeks and white men to build facilities for public accommodations along this road. Much of this “Federal Road” follows the ancient Lower Creek Trading Path and eventually stretches from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans. The treaty also provided for a US Army fort to be built on the Reserve to guard the frontier along the Ocmulgee River. Almost immediately after the treaty was announced, real estate speculators and squatters occupied most of the Ocmulgee Reserve. 51 Most of the Ocmulgee Reserve was quickly and illegally subdivided.

Fort Hawkins (1806)

Fort Hawkins was constructed on a hill immediately north of some mounds in 1806. 52 It is now known that that this location was the site of a satellite village of the Ocmulgee Acropolis. Fort Hawkins was never assaulted, because most Georgia Creeks developed cultural ties with their white neighbors. Instead, it served as an administrative center for Federal activities in the lower Southeast. Fort Hawkins was used as a staging site for army units destined to combat the Red Stick Creeks in Alabama, during the War of 1812. For the entirety of its existence as a federal facility, it sat on land technically owned by the Creek Confederacy. The land was not offered back to the Creeks, when the fort was closed.

Treaty of Indian Springs (1825)

Mixed-heritage Creek leader, William McIntosh, along with a few close friends, who included two mixed-heritage sons of Federal Indian agent, Benjamin Hawkins, arranged to make a treaty with the State of Georgia that ceded all Creek lands in Georgia, including the Ocmulgee Reserve. 53 The Creek signers of the treaty put in provisions that gave them one square mile reserves, which they planned to subdivide. In addition they paid themselves for signing the treaty.   The small group of signers did not have authority to sign any treaty and ironically broke a law that McIntosh had earlier voted for, which proscribed the death penalty for those illegally giving away Creek land.

Congress considered the treaty fraudulent and refused to ratify it. In the mean time there was chaos in Georgia as the state had gone ahead and surveyed out land lots. Squatters moved in while Creek families still lived on their farms. Many mixed-blood Creeks had opted to keep their lands and become citizens of the State of Georgia. Christian Creeks were banned from most Creek towns.

Treaty of Washington City (1827)

Members of the Creek National Council signed this legitimate treaty in Washington, DC, which ceded all Creek lands in Georgia. 54 It did not specifically mention the Ocmulgee Reserve, whose original legal description stated that it would be owned in perpetuity regardless of other future land cessions by the Creek Confederacy. However, the signers of the document, representing the United States and State of Georgia, assumed that the reserve no longer existed. Fort Hawkins had been abandoned in 1824, so the federal government had no need of the land.Citations:

  1. Rangel, Rodrigo, Translation:  Clayton, Lawrence (1995) The De Soto Chronicles. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press; pp. 270-278.[][]
  2. Rae, Marilyn & Thornton, Richard (2013) The Apalache Chronicles. Fort Lauderdale: Ancient Cypress Press; p. 58.[]
  3. Guale is the Late Medieval Castilian spelling of the Creek word, Wahale, which means “Southerners.” []
  4. Martin, Jack B. & Mauldin, Margaret M. (2000) Dictionary of Creek-Muskogee. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press; p. 68.[]
  5. Rangel, Rodrigo, Translation:  Clayton, Lawrence (1995) The De Soto Chronicles. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press; pp. 270-278.[]
  6. The “si” or “se” suffix in Muskogean languages mean “children of,” “offspring of “or “satellite town of.” []
  7. Thornton, Richard (2014) The Search for Fort Caroline. Raleigh: Lulu Publishing; pp. 43, 46.[]
  8. Freelang Dictionary – Arawak[]
  9. Mesoweb Dictionary – Origin of word, Maya.[]

Thornton, Richard. Ocmulgee National Monument: A Fresh Look at Ocmulgee Bottoms. Exclusive Digital Rights Copyright 2015 by AccessGenealogy.com.

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