Rediscovering Yamacutah, a Sacred Monumental Site Once Lost to the Pages of History
On the afternoon of April 22, 1784, Jordan Clark and Jacob Bankston two men traveling from Virginia, ventured onto what was considered by many as sacred grounds. The site was located along the North Oconee river in present day Jackson County, Georgia. The Natives of the area referred to the site as “Yamacutah”.
Yamacutah was first written about in the book “The Early History of Jackson County Georgia” originally published by W.E. White March 1914. Much of the book is dedicated to earlier writings of G.J.N. Wilson a native of Jackson County. Several notable treasures of these earlier writings are the names of the tribes, or families of Native Americans living throughout the immediate area, along with original names for creeks and rivers at the time of the first white settlers. Most of the names have been lost over time due to changes made by those to possibly simplify their original pronunciation. Names that existed long before the names “Creek or Cherokee” were introduced.
One such name that has continued to surface with endurance is Yamacutah. Many today believe the name points to some specific effigy of human form located within the county, but others understood what the name means and what was located there.
In the writings of the late Mr. Wilson, it is clear to see that Yamacutah was not a specific effigy that the Natives worshiped, but that of a sacred site that many believed a great spirit once lived. One such person that still has vivid memories of the site under its English name, “Tumbling Shoals” or “Tumbling Waters” is Louise Maddox. Mrs. Maddox, a current resident of Jackson County Georgia of 87 years, remembers seeing several concentric circles with standing monuments centered inside the circles when her grandmother took her to visit the sacred site Yamacutah around 1939. Mrs. Maddox describes standing on an old wooden bridge looking off into the distance and seeing not only the standing monuments but several other smaller carved objects standing around the circles. Mrs. Maddox states that her grandmother would not allow her to venture onto the area the circles were standing due to it being considered holy ground, even at that time.
Left: Louise Maddox 1939. Right: Louise Maddox 2015. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
In his book, Mr. Wilson states at the time of his writing about Yamacutah that few people in that day knew about a place called “Tumbling Shoals”.
“For more than a generation no road, public or private, has led within sight of them; and like most other things pertaining to the early settlement of this country by the Anglo-Saxon race, their history has never been written,” he writes.
In his writings, Mr. Wilson gives the name a Cherokee meaning but not necessarily that being the origin. The alters found at Yamacutah are described as elaborate and artistic:
About seventy-five yards from the west end of the natural rock dam they discovered a curious upright statue a little over four feet high. It was made of soft talcose rock, 13 inch's square at the bottom; but the top from the shoulders up, was a fair representation of the human figure. The shoulders were rudimentary , but the head was well formed. The neck was unusually long and slender. The chin and forehead were retreating. The eyes were finely executed, and looked anxiously to the east. It stood at the center of an earth mound seventeen feet in circumference and six feet high. Around it were many other mysteries which will never be fully explained. Only a few of them may be mentioned now.
The writer goes on to mention that etched in stone are carvings of three and five-pointed half-moons, whose horns turned in different directions, along with other unexplainable symbols carved into various rocks.
It was at the time that Jordan Clark and Jacob Bankston visited Yamacutah in 1784 that they decided to return to the area to make a permanent settlement. In June of that year they did return, along with other settlers, and began to build a white settlement that would continue to be referred to as Yamacutah or Tumbling Shoals. After this is when the mystery deepens. In his writings Mr. Wilson goes on to tell about various people that lived in the area over the many years and the various trials of life that they had to survive. Though the mention of the alters and statues disappear from his writings. What happened to these magnificent pieces of history? Would they ever be seen again?