Peachtree Mound

Peachtree Mound near Murphy, North Carolina

Capitan Juan Pardo probably stayed here in the autumn of 1567

We are temporarily jumping out of chronological order in this series on Native American architecture. The writer is currently camped out in a mountainous bear sanctuary in the general vicinity of three Muskogean towns on the beautiful Hiwassee Rive, that were probably visited by Capitan Juan Pardo in the autumn of 1567. Mounds are still visible at the Peachtree site, five miles south of Murphy, NC and the Quanasee site near Hayesville, NC.

The Quanasee site just came to the public’s attention in recent years. Much of the site has been preserved by the City of Hayesville and is currently being investigated by an archaeological team from Western North Carolina University. Very little is currently known about this multicultural site, which probably was occupied in succession by Yuchi, ancestors of the Koasati Indians, the Kusa branch of the Creeks, Apalachee from northern Florida and a member town of the Cherokee Alliance.

Hiwassee is a Koasati or Highland Hitchiti word, which can either be translated as copperhead snake, small pit viper, or “children of the pit viper.” Cherokee tradition remembers that when they first entered this region, it was occupied by Muskogean who worshiped a serpent idol with ruby eyes, built large mounds, and lived in rectangular houses. Their neighbors and allies, the Yuchi, lived in round houses in round villages. The English called the Carolina Mountain Yuchi, the “Roundtown People.”

This is what Capitan Pardo’s chronicler, Licenciado Juan de la Bandera, writes when the expedition was traveling back from the great Tanasa-Creek capital of O’lamiko Tanasake (Royal Capital of the Tanasa People – probably on Hiwassee Island, TN) The expedition had followed the Hiwassee River all the way from the north slope of Unicoi Gap in Georgia to Hiwassee Island. The Spanish returned by a different route so they could visit another town mentioned by Hernando de Soto’s chroniclers, Chiaha. Page 267 of “An Account of Florida:”

After we, in the presence of me, Juan de la Bandera, the Captain Juan Pardo, continued the journey on October 2, 1567, arrived in a place where he found built a house and earth, which the cacique of the place, who is called Cauchi Orata, had had built for his majesty.

Cauchi is one of the proto-Creek towns in western North Carolina that we identified in an early article as being pure Maya words. The pronunciation of Kauchi = Kauxii in Chontal Maya, means “forested mountains.” This description matches the Tallulah Mound Site between Andrews, NC and Robbinsville, NC. It is a truncated pyramid facing the sunset on the Winter Solstice. Talula is the Hitchiti word for a one mound regional administrative center. The head of a talula was called an orata, which is a Creek word which means “one who makes things happen.” Orata’s were appointed officials, not elected leaders.

The next town that de la Bandera mentioned was Chiaha. Chiaha means “beside the river” in Chontal Maya. The only location which works for both the chronicles of the Pardo Expedition and the de Soto Expedition (1539-1543) is the confluence of the Cheoah and Little Tennessee Rivers. Early 18th century maps showed the Cheoah River as the Chiaha River.

On the way south from Chiaha, de la Bandera mentioned that they passed through a rugged gorge, where silver ore was found. An earlier article in our series mentioned the old Spanish silver mine in the Nantahala Gorge. Very possibly, Spanish prospectors returned to the gorge because of de la Bandera’s journal. Nantahala Gorge is one of the very few locations in the Southeast where silver ore is found. There is no silver ore located near the sites of Chiaha suggested by the 1939 De Soto Commission or the 1988 University of Georgia Study.

The Pardo Expedition apparently rejoined their original route at a town near Murphy, NC and then retraced their steps back to the South Carolina coast – the Colony of Santa Elena. Thus, they probably passed through the towns on the upper Hiwassee River twice. The Hiwassee River, first flows north from its source, then flows west.

The Peachtree Mound Site

Peachtree Mound
The Peachtree Mound is a little known town site in the North Carolina Mountains.
Photo: VR images by Richard Thornton, Architect
Satellite photo from USGS

The Peachtree Site had one of the few Hierarchal Period mounds in the North Carolina Mountains that has been excavated by professional archaeologists. The Heye Foundation studied the mound during the early 1900s in the same period that it excavated the Nacoochee Mound in the Georgia Mountains. Unfortunately, this work was done in an era when neither precise aerial photography nor radiocarbon dating was possible. Also, archaeologists of this era were primarily interested in obtaining “trophy” artifacts for their museum and benefactors in the Northeast. Little attention was given to the town as a whole, or its chronology. Most of the mound was destroyed. Farmers leveled what remained after the archaeologists left. However, many mounds are still visible on satellite color and infrared maps.

The Heye Foundation archaeologists determined that the artifacts in the mound were very similar to those in northern Georgia produced by the ancestors of the Creeks. They assumed that “the Creeks” had occupied this town. Definitely though, a oval-shaped plaza was superimposed with a smaller crescent-shaped village. (See site plan above.) It is not clear whether the small, crescent-shape village or the large town came first. Neither town plan is typical of the last occupants of the site, the Cherokees. The Heye archaeologists found a few Colonial Period manufactured items near the surface, which apparently was associated with a brief Cherokee occupation of the site.

The largest mound at the Peachtree site was oval shaped and faced due south. It was about 25-30 feet high when new. Oval shaped mounds were typical of the Lamar Culture, which was directly ancestral to the modern day Creek Indians. Mounds built by the Kusa-Creeks of this cultural period were oval, but faced west. Such is the case of the nearby mound in the Nacoochee Valley. Okonee Creek mounds were pentagonal. Tamatli-Creek and Apalachee mounds did face south, but were extremely linear. Only the Kowite–Creeks (Mountain Lion People) of the area east of Franklin, NC and south of Asheville, were known to have built oval shaped mounds facing south. During the 1700s, the Kowete or Coweta in English also had many towns in the Colony of Georgia.

Another interesting feature of the town site is the cluster of three mounds across the river. They are in the lower left hand corner of the site plan. They marked the angle for the sunset on the Winter Solstice. As the size of the mound changed, a different angle was needed to mark the sunset.

The last Muskogean to occupy the Peachtree Mound Site were probably Apalachee from Florida, who like many Lowland Muskogean peoples (such as the Tamatli-Creeks near Murphy, NC and the Okonee-Creeks on the Oconaluftee River in the contemporary Cherokee Reservation) maintained colonies in the mountains. The Apalachee were idol worshipers, whereas the ancestors of the Creeks were monotheistic. Until around 1690, Spanish, French and English maps showed the Hiwassee Basin to be occupied entirely by the Apalachee. The name of the Appalachian Mountains comes from these colonists.

Around 1714 English traders supplied muskets to the Cherokees, which enabled them to drive the Muskogean and Yuchi from the Hiwassee River Valley. From then until 1838, the region was occupied by the Cherokees.

Conflicts in chronology –- a commentary from the writer

Several readers have written that they came upon archaeology books and web sites, which presented information that conflicted with this series on Cherokee history. First of all, the official Cherokee history presented to tourists changed in the 1990s. Prior to that time, from 1750 till 1990, the Cherokee consistently stated that they did not build any mounds and arrived in the North Carolina Mountains shortly before the White Man. They found very few Native Americans living in these mountains and generally absorbed them into their egalitarian alliance. It must be remembered that what is now the Cherokee Indian Tribe, was originally a loose political alliance of at least 14 mountain provinces that spoke different languages or dialects.

The source of the conflict between actual history and what tourists are told, is the Cherokee History Project, funded by the State of North Carolina in 1976. Politicians instructed the project team to find proof that the Cherokees had lived in North Carolina forever – or at least 1000 years. The team made no effort to consult the Native ethnic groups, who actually had occupied the region prior to the Cherokees. Pottery that professional archaeologists from the Smithsonian Institute had labeled identical or very similar to Creek pottery in the Georgia Mountains, was re-labeled “different” and Cherokee. All Native words recorded by the 16th century Spanish explorers of the Southern Highlands are either Maya or Muskogean (Creek, Koasati, Alabama) All Native words that the North Carolina Cherokee History Project labeled “ancient Cherokee words whose meaning has been lost” could easily been found in contemporary Muskogean Indian Language dictionaries. The project was simply an example of extremely sloppy and ethically questionable scholarship.

Thornton, Richard. People of One Fire. Web. Georgia. 2010-2013. Digital Rights Copyright 2010-2013 by

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