Native American trade routes between the Appalachians and the Sea

When I reached for the first time the acropolis, 700 feet up the Track Rock agricultural terrace complex,  I uttered about ten, “Oh my gosh’s” that were followed by, “Why in the heck is this place HERE?  The theme song of the Last of the Mohicans was playing in my head the whole time I was there.  Much of that beautiful movie was filmed on or near my former farm in North Carolina.

Things got really kornfuzing, however, when we learned that there were people living east of Track Rock Gap and Brasstown Bald Mountain in Georgia, who carried significant quantities of Quechua AND Maya DNA, even though their BIA card said that they were Cherokees.  Yes, that’s the same DNA carried by the people of Peru and our favorite Pocahontas, Q’orianka Kilcher . . .  welcome to POOF, Q’orianka!  What in the heck is Quechua DNA doing in the Georgia Mountains? We can explain the Maya DNA, but Quechua???

Does the Quechua DNA give credence to the French colonial archives that describe cinchona trees (quinine) being cultivated on the coast of Georgia near the Altamaha River? ALL European maps show Fort Caroline being located about 12-16 miles inland on the Altamaha. The native people around Fort Caroline were called the Alekmani.  They were arch-enemies of the Timucua, who lived farther to the south.  The Alecmani called their king a paracus.  This is a Peruvian word dating back to the Moche Culture. In the 1700s, there was a Creek village on the Lower Altamaha named Alecktown.  By then, "alek" was also the Creek slang word for a medical doctor. There is also an Aleck Mountain southeast of Brasstown Bald Mountain. Were the Alekmani particularly skilled in medicine?

There are no DNA markers for the Cherokees, but a History Channel consultant noted very different DNA patterns between the Georgia Quechua-Maya and the North Carolina Cherokees 45 miles to the north on the Qualla Reservation.  The region around Track Rock Gap was Creek until 1785, so we suspect that these people were an isolated population bypassed by the Cherokees, but assigned to them by federal bureaucrats. All the Native American place names in the county where they lived are Creek words, so we also suspect that at least some Upper Creeks in Oklahoma may carry Quechua DNA.

Many Georgia and South Carolina Creeks carry a trace of Maya DNA. However, another surprise was that the Cherokees whose roots were in the vicinity of Murphy and Hayesville, NC often carry Maya DNA. These towns are due north of Track Rock Gap.  Cherokees from this area apparently do not carry Quechua DNA.

It will take some serious archeological, forensic and botanical studies to fully answer the “Why in the heck” and “What in the heck” questions, for in 2012 we have discovered several smaller terrace complexes in Georgia and Virginia. However, macro-analytical techniques, like we planners use in regional studies, partially answered the first question.  

This new scenario of the Native American history of North America was mind-boggling to me, until I looked at a topographic map of the region without state boundaries or interstate boundaries.  Brasstown Bald Mountain is the hub of almost all major trade routes in the Southeast.  The reason is that many of the major rivers in the lower Southeast (north of Florida,) either begin on the slopes of Brasstown Bald or within walking distance of this tall mountain.

This will surprise you.  The Chattahoochee River begins on the southeast slope of Brasstown Bald.  The Hiwassee River’s source is about one mile north of the Chattahoochee’s on Brasstown Bald.  One of the tributaries of the Nottely River begins at Track Rock Gap.  The source of the Coosa River begins about five miles west of Brasstown Bald on Coosa Bald.  The Toccoa River begins 10 miles to the west of Track Rock Gap. The Etowah River begins 26 miles southwest of Track Rock Gap. The Little Tennessee River begins 28 miles to the east. The Savannah River begins 32 miles to the east.

Whenever possible, Native Americans hauled bulk goods by canoes.  Unlike the Quechua, they had no beasts of burden.  When rivers were too shallow or rocky for canoes, the major trade routed paralleled their channels. Major towns developed along these riverine trade routes. There was an equally important reason for aligning trade routes to the rivers.  The rivers interconnected geological regions within the interior of North America with the ocean. Each region produced raw materials or finished products that were scarce in other regions.  Regional surpluses and scarcities resulted in commerce.

Regional trade goods

It is strongly recommended that all of you, who are interested in the Southeastern Native Americans, read Three Voyages as translated by Charles C.  Bennett. It is the memoir of Captain René Goulaine Laudonniére, commander of Fort Caroline and describes the attempts between 1562 and 1565 of France to colonize North America. It is available on  It is also the most detailed and credible account of Native Americans in the Southeast at the time of European Contact.

As a member of Congress, Bennett pushed through an act creating the Fort Caroline National Memorial in 1950.  He did not publish the translation of de Laudonniére’s book until 2001.  His book continued to equate the May River of the French with the St. Johns River of Florida, even though, obviously the St. Johns does not flow from the Georgia Mountains down to Florida. Nevertheless, one does get an objective look at Native American societies that were still thriving in the 1560s.  The great Native American Holocaust must have occurred a little later.

Several French Huguenot expeditions went up the Altamaha River from Fort Caroline to both the Piedmont and the Appalachian Mountains.  De Laudonniére gives very interesting information about the Native American trading system in the Southeast.  One of his men, Pierre Gambie was setting up a trade network when Fort Caroline was massacred by the Spanish.  Because he was stranded in North America, Gambie married the daughter of a native king. He eventually became king of a province in central Georgia, himself.

At least in the 1560s trade was extremely important for Native American provinces in the Southeast.  Provinces fought over control of trade routes.   Apparently, the actual transportation of the goods was by merchants, who easily passed through all provinces without being affected by wars.  It is known that the Yuchi were heavily involved with trade.  However, the Tamale-Tamatli-Tamahiti seemed to have controlled trade between the Lower South and the Upper South and Midwest. Tamaule means  “Merchant People” in the language of Tamaulipas State, Mexico. Tamatli means “Merchant People” in Totonac and some dialects of Creek. Tamahiti means “Merchant People” in Itza Maya and Itsate-Creek.

The most valuable commodities came from the Southern Highlands.  By far the most necessary of these was a type of very hard greenstone that occurs near the gold deposits in northern Georgia.  This stone was used by all the provinces in the Piedmont, Coastal Plain and Florida to made wedges and axes. Other traded commodities from the mountains included red ocher, mica, copper, flint, hickory nut oil, hickory nut butter, gold, quartz crystals, marble and silver.

The memoir of René Goulaine Laudonniére does not state what the Native peoples of the Piedmont and Coastal Plain traded to the mountain provinces in order to obtain their valuable commodities. It is known that the white and colored clays of the Upper Coastal Plain were considered the best raw materials for pottery and stuccoing building.  For sure, the coastal tribes traded shells to inland provinces.  Perhaps some bulk agricultural commodities were shipped northward.  There must have been other commodities, which the Apalache, Koweta and Kusa living in the Georgia Mountains, would have accepted in trade. This is a major question that has not been fully answered by anthropologists and historians.

There is so much that we still don’t know.

Have a great weekend! 

Richard Thornton, Editor

Architect & City Planner



People of One Fire is a national alliance of Muskogean scholars and their longtime friends:

Creek – Seminole – Choctaw – Chickasaw – Alabama – Koasati – Apalachee – Yuchi – Houma – Natchez - Shawnee

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Note to new readers: We include the Shawnees because perhaps a thousand or more Shawnees joined the Creek Confederacy.