This handsome, illustrated book chronicles the history of the Lower Chattahoochee River and the people who lived along its banks from prehistoric Indian settlement to the present day.
In highly accessible, energetic prose, Lynn Willoughby takes readers down the Lower Chattahoochee River and through the centuries. On this journey, the author begins by examining the first encounters between Native Americans and European explorers and the international contest for control of the region in the 17th and 19th centuries.Throughout the book pays particular attention to the Chattahoochee's crucial role in the economic development of the area. In the early to mid-nineteenth centurythe beginning of the age of the steamboat and a period of rapid growth for towns along the riverthe river was a major waterway for the cotton trade. The centrality of the river to commerce is exemplified by the Confederacy's efforts to protect it from Federal forces during the Civil War. Once railroads and highways took the place of river travel, the economic importance of the river shifted to the building of dams and power plants. This subsequently led to the expansion of the textile industry. In the last three decades, the river has been the focus of environmental concerns and the subject of "water wars" because of the rapid growth of Atlanta. Written for the armchair historian and the scholar, the book provides the first comprehensive social, economic, and environmental history of this important Alabama-Georgia-Florida river. Historic photographs and maps help bring the river's fascinating story to life.
About the Author
Lynn Willoughby is an independent scholar and author of Fair to Middlin': The Antebellum Cotton Trade of the Apalachicola/Chattahoochee River Valley.
Read an Excerpt
Flowing Through Time
A History of the Lower Chattahoochee River
By Lynn Willoughby
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 1999 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Rising from the Bering Strait that separated Asia from North America, a land bridge conducted the first humans into the Americas over ten thousand years ago. These ancient explorers wandered in search of a land where game was more plentiful and the weather more forgiving. Other groups followed. Some of the bands settled in the northern or western regions; others trekked eastward. Centuries passed in this manner before the first humans roamed into the Chattahoochee River valley.
Armed with their spears, the valley's first human residents stalked mastodons and mammoths in the forests above a roaring river, swollen by the melting snows of the Ice Age. These nomads followed the herds that sustained them. Since they made no permanent settlements, little was left behind as proof of their existence in the river valley except their heavy flint spearheads. Modern archaeological digs have uncovered mankind's first mementos at Bartlett's Ferry, north of Columbus, Georgia; at Fort Benning; on a creek near Seale, Alabama; and on a river bluff north of Phenix City.
The warming trend that thawed the Ice Age continued over the next two thousand years, drying and warming the floor of the Chattahoochee Valley. By about 3,000 B.C. the climate had come to resemble our modern-day weather, and the valley brimmed with food. The people who lived in the Chattahoochee Valley between 8,000 and 1,000 B.C. were hunters and gatherers. They followed the food sources with the seasons. In the spring and summer they camped near the river to fish and gather clams and mussels. In nearby woods they foraged for berries, wild fruits, and roots. In fall and winter they roamed the forests in search of nuts and acorns. All year long they hunted game. Although the gigantic mammoths and mastodons had disappeared from the valley, other, smaller animals were now in abundance. Hunters manufactured smaller, lighter weapons to kill the white-tailed deer, raccoon, rabbit, squirrel, wild turkey, and black bear. At two places along the Chattahoochee, archaeologists have found the remains of the flint factories where the archaic artisans chipped away at pieces of flint and quartz to craft their spear tips.
Archaeologists have labeled the next period of human habitation along the Chattahoochee (which lasted from 1,000 B.C. to A.D. 700) the Woodland period. By around 4,000 B.C., the Indians had learned to make stone axes and other heavy tools used to clear openings in the forest and hollow out trees in order to fashion dugout canoes. Floating down the river, the archaic people transported loads too heavy to carry on foot. In this way they conserved the precious calories required to find food and shelter. During the Woodland period, the tribes of the Chattahoochee region were in regular contact with other peoples living in distant parts of North America. In their dugouts they floated downstream to the Gulf of Mexico, and by paddling to the mouths of other river systems they floated into the heart of other regions.
But the Chattahoochee waters served as more than a transportation artery. The river was also a natural trail marker for overland travel. Trails shadowed the river on both banks and also paralleled its tributaries. Travelers knew that any path that followed a creek downstream led to the river. By following a trail in an upstream direction one eventually came to the river's headwaters, which were not far removed from those of adjacent river systems. Short trails connected one waterway to another. This was the logical way to travel from the Chattahoochee region to the Flint River valley to the east or the Coosa/Tallapoosa/Alabama waterway to the west.
Following the trails that connected one river system to the next, the natives walked as far as the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Through trade with distant people, the Chattahoochee Indians acquired exotic materials like marine shells and salt from the Gulf Coast, mica from the Appalachians, flint from the Flint River valley, copper from the eastern Tennessee region and even from the Great Lakes area, and obsidian from as far away as the Rockies. So whether or not they traveled by water, the Woodland people relied on the rivers to find their way in the wilderness.
By way of the flowing waters, the Woodland Indians communicated and traded with each other and also shared their spiritual beliefs and culture. Around 1,000 B.C., the Chattahoochee people, influenced by Indians to their west, began to place great significance on the burial of their dead. The burial mounds that these people erected along the Chattahoochee Valley required thousands of hours of labor by the entire tribe.
On the banks of the Chattahoochee near present-day Fort Gaines, Georgia, Woodland Indians left a monument to a complex set of spiritual beliefs that they shared with Indians throughout the Midwest and South. Around two thousand years ago, these early Chattahoochee residents built what would become known as the Mandeville site, which is today covered by the impounded waters of Lake Walter F. George. Before its watery interment, archaeologists found a burial mound with copper and silver trinkets buried along with the cremated remains of humans. A second mound was the site of religious and secular ceremonies. Inside the Mandeville platform mound, the archaeologists found a human figurine, a pipe with a bowl shaped like a bird, and pieces of exotic minerals, including copper, quartz crystals, and mica.
The huge Kolomoki complex, located on a tributary of the Chattahoochee River near the present-day town of Blakely, Georgia, provides further evidence of the complexity of the Woodland-period civilizations. Of the nine mounds that stand impressively today as a relic of the Woodland people, two have definitely been identified as burial mounds. These people apparently kept the burial and construction of these mounds in continuation over many years. Recent excavations have revealed a highly ritualistic manner of putting to rest the corpses of those whom they revered.
Fanning outward from an imposing platform mound measuring 56 feet high, 325 feet long, and 200 feet wide, as many as two thousand people lived at Kolomoki. Basket by basket, they piled up the earth to create their temples to the spirit world. Without draft animals to carry the loads of earth, the construction took dedication and organization. It is estimated that it took 875,000 man-hours to complete "Mound A" alone. In addition to the earthworks at Mandeville and Kolomoki, Woodland people left a stone enclosure atop Pine Mountain and occasional stone cairns on both banks of the river.
The Woodland Indians lived in harmony with nature. Indeed, William Winn has deemed these people "the greatest naturalists the Valley has ever known": "They knew the river itself, and its many tributaries, better than we know the streets on which we live. They swam and fished in its waters, used it as a broad highway to travel throughout the Valley, stretched out on its banks to take in the warmth of the winter sun, listened to the hiss of rain striking its surface, and heard the strange, sad, rustling sound of wind in the cane that grew on its banks."
It is unclear what became of the Woodland Indians, but after their passing, a final civilization would rise and fall on the banks of the Chattahoochee before the advent of the Europeans into the Southeast. The period from A.D. 700 to 1400 saw the flowering of the "Mississippian Culture," so called because it was related to the large mound complexes of this era found along the Mississippi River valley. Likewise, the Mississippian villages of the Chattahoochee Valley were usually located near the river or its larger tributaries. Like their predecessors of the Woodland period, the Mississippians constructed large, flat-topped platform and temple mounds. Encircling these seats of government and religion were wide, open plazas and extensive villages.
Although the Woodland people had raised some of their own food, their major preoccupation was in hunting and gathering. While supplementing their diet with game, the later peoples of the Mississippian period were the first in the Chattahoochee Valley to systematically cultivate the vegetables that were their mainstay: beans, squash, pumpkins, and, most important, corn.
Along the Chattahoochee there are no less than sixteen significant Mississippian sites. Most of these are still visible, although the river has reclaimed several. On the Georgia side of the river these include the late stages of Kolomoki and Mandeville, as well as two sites in Stewart County (Rood's Landing and Singer-Moye), one on Bull Creek near Columbus, and three near Fort Gaines (Drag Nasty Creek, Graces Bend, and Cool Branch). On the Alabama side, there are two sites in Houston County (Omussee Creek and Spann's Landing), three near Eufaula (Reeves, Lampley Mound, and Lynn's Fish Pond), and the Abercrombie Mound in Russell County. The Chattahoochee people shared such cultural traits with the other Mississippians as shell-tempered ceramics, multistage platform mounds, fortified towns, the first extensive cultivation of vegetables, and the production of effigy pottery and triangular projectile points, as well as a similar ethos.
At Cemochechobee in Clay County, Georgia, three large mounds—a burial mound, a temple mound, and a house mound—represent the heart of this village that once covered more than 150 acres. The Rood's Landing site in Stewart County, Georgia, has been described by archaeologist Frank Schnell as "the largest and most complex Mississippi Period site known on the Georgia Coastal Plain." Its eight mounds, with associated residences and plazas and defense works, have convinced archaeologists that this site was probably the "capital of a major, complex chiefdom which must have controlled a significant portion of the Lower Chattahoochee Valley." From their vantage point on the Chattahoochee, the people of Rood's Landing could have influenced trade and transportation between the Gulf of Mexico and the Appalachian Mountains.
The mounds at Cemochechobee were abandoned about a hundred years before the coming of the first European explorers to the area. The settlement at Rood's Landing seems to have collapsed at about the time of Hernando de Soto, who was, in 1539, the first European to explore the 11 Southeast (although not the Chattahoochee region). Archaeologists are not certain what happened to the Rood's Landing and Cemochechobee people or to the other Mississippian peoples of the Chattahoochee. Most experts today agree that their civilization probably was decimated by European diseases for which they had little immunity. The initial contact between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean set off waves of epidemics of such diseases as smallpox and measles that ravaged the various regions of the Americas.
As the fevers raged in the villages of the Chattahoochee River, the chiefdom that centered around the Rood's Landing capital collapsed. Survivors from other areas moved into the depopulated areas over the next century or two. The newcomers included the Ocheesee people, whom de Soto had encountered near the falls of the Ocmulgee River; the Tomathly, Tuskeegee, and Chiaha, whom he met in eastern Tennessee; and the Kasihta (or Cusseta) of central Alabama, who relocated to the Chattahoochee in the 1600s.
In Russell County, Alabama, just south of today's Phenix City, are the remnants of an Indian village that date back to this era of drastic upheaval along the Chattahoochee (approximately 1600) and provide concrete evidence of the presence of epidemic diseases soon after the de Soto entrada. Instead of the careful laying to rest of the corpses into burial mounds, a practice that required hours and hours of intensive labor, these graves are shallow and haphazard. The people who lived here made their pottery in a very similar way to a group of people who lived on the Alabama River at about the same time, indicating the movement of the survivors from one area to another.
As the various refugee groups moved into the Chattahoochee Valley, they absorbed the local survivors. The diverse people were often unrelated to each other and even spoke different languages. Yet they formed an alliance that offered the sovereign towns a regional council in which ideas were exchanged, friendships forged, and mutual defense pacts made. This "confederacy" was dominated by speakers of Muskogean dialects. For that reason, the Chattahoochee people were known collectively as the Muskogee (or Muscogulgi, literally, "Muskogee people"). White men would later refer to all of them (Muskogean-speaking or not) as Creeks, probably because of their tendency to locate their towns on the banks of rivers and their larger tributaries.
The influence of this "Creek Confederation" extended from the Appalachian Mountains southward to the Gulf of Mexico and from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River. Its nucleus was formed by the twin towns of Coweta and Cusseta, located on either side of the Chattahoochee near the waterfalls that divided the river into the Piedmont and the Coastal Plain. Coweta, the political capital for which the falls would be named, stood on the western bank of the river. On the eastern side sat the peace and religious capital of Cusseta. Associated with these two capital cities were other Muskogean-speaking Creek settlements, such as Coosa, Abihka, Hothliwahali, Hilibi, Eufaula, Tuckabatchee, Okchai, and Pakana. The Hitchiti and the Alabama spoke a dialect that was distantly related to Muskogean. The Yuchi and the Shawnee who migrated into the Chattahoochee Valley spoke languages unrelated to the others. When the Natchez fled the French invaders of their homeland to the west for the Creek Confederation in the 1730s, they brought with them a language that was related to Muskogean but unintelligible to the other Muskogees.
The original towns agreed not to make war on each other, but to aggressively conquer others. Those whom they captured or subdued became allies. This period of conquest ended in the 1700s. As Europeans encroached, the Confederation took on a more defensive intent and grew stronger. The Muskogees continued to absorb newcomers, but the later Confederates were more than likely to be refugees from European aggression than the Creeks' defeated enemies. Joining the Confederation was voluntary. As new towns were settled, they were welcomed as friends who helped each other the way neighbors do. There "were no mass armies of Confederacy warriors, no central policy, and no central government. There was only good will among friends and the realization that an invading enemy was a common enemy."
During the eighteenth century, the names of over eighty Creek towns were recorded by various Europeans. The towns were spread near the heads of navigation of two different river systems: the Chattahoochee and the Coosa/Tallapoosa/Alabama to its west. The English traders of Charleston, South Carolina, probably were the first to refer to the people of the two rivers as living in either the "upper" or "lower" towns. Their trading path from Carolina forked in central Georgia. Taking the upper path led to the villages centered on the Tallapoosa River, while the lower path led to the Chattahoochee. Thus the people of the Chattahoochee River became known as the Lower Creeks.
One means of uniting the Creek people of both river systems while simultaneously decentralizing power was the system of clan identity. Every Creek belonged to a clan whose members traditionally were related by blood. Creek clans were matrilineal, which means that descent followed the mother's, not the father's, line. Each person was born into and forever remained a part of his or her mother's clan. A Creek boy was guided and protected throughout his life by his mother's brothers, not his own father. Clan members were required to defend each other, share the responsibility of raising the children, and care for the old and infirm. Members of the same clan were forbidden to marry or have sexual relations.
Since the clans were matrilocal, a young man who married left the home of his mother and went to live with his wife's people. Each Creek town was composed of several clan compounds, each headed by the oldest woman, who gathered her daughters and granddaughters with their husbands or unmarried sons. Clan elders were men related to the venerated woman. They supervised the family and were responsible for the education of the young, but they did so from afar, since they lived with their wife's family. At least fifty clans made up the Creek Confederation. The most prestigious was the Wind Clan. The others were also named for elements of nature important to the Indians. Examples are Bear, Bird, Alligator, Deer, and Fish.
The Creeks' judicial system was known as clan vengeance. In the fashion of the Old Testament's "eye for an eye," the males of one clan were required to exact a like punishment on anyone who injured one of their own. In practical terms, the rule of blood retaliation meant that "if a small boy accidentally put out the eye of a playmate, it was incumbent upon the injured child's clan to put out the eye of the other child. If a man lent his horse to a friend and that friend was thrown and killed, the clan of the dead man was required to kill the man who lent his friend the horse." If the person whose life was required could not be located, the offended clan took his next of kin to be punished in his place.
Excerpted from Flowing Through Time by Lynn Willoughby. Copyright © 1999 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of Contents
ContentsList of Illustrations,
1 The Ancients,
2 The Scramble for Muscogee,
3 Along the White Frontier,
4 A Land of Cotton,
5 The Civil War Years,
6 Moonlight and Magnolias,
7 Workin' the River,
8 The Business of Steamboating,
9 River Power,
10 Troubled Waters,
11 Will the Water Last?,