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?
In 2014, members of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation interviewed Mrs. Louise Maddox to learn more about these artifacts. It was during one of these meetings that Mrs. Maddox explained one of the monuments still existed and was actually handed down to her from family members over the years. Mrs. Maddox states that her great, great grandfather William Williams of Cherokee decent, was in possession of one of the great statues at the beginning of the Indian removal in the 1830's. And during one of the confrontations, William Williams removed one of the statue's from an existing location at Yamacutah, to an area she referred to as Bean Town or what may have been referred to in Mr. Wilson’s writings as “Bead Town” in an effort to protect the statue from being destroyed, an area that stayed with her family throughout the many years since that time. The exact location of Bean Town is not marked on a county map for reference, though Mrs. Maddox was able to pinpoint the area that the statue has rested on since its removal from Yamacutah in the 1830's.
Immediately after learning of the location of the statue, members of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation set in motion the immediate plan to recover and preserve this amazing discovery with the approval of Mrs. Maddox. In September 2014, Mrs. Maddox donated the statue to members of the Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
Statue Head recovery. The image on the right provides an outline showing the weathered features of the statue head. The outline is provide as an example of the type of motif features upon the surface of the grotesque anthropomorphic head and many not represent the exact motif in its original form. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation.
Throughout the years, many artifacts have been discovered in Georgia, but one can truly say none have been as large as this carved head from quartzite. The head weighs approximately 200 lbs and still contains remnants of baked on clay, along with pigments of color, suggesting the statue was once painted.
Though Yamacutah has shed some light onto the dark mystery of what once occupied its borders along the Oconee river, there are still many unanswered questions. What happened to the concentric circles with the smaller human like statue that once resided within the perimeter? Were the smaller carved stones just pushed into the river or plowed under over time? We may never have all of the answers but it doesn’t stop us from trying.
Statue Head showing blue pigment. Credit: Jordan Blyden
This year has been a busy year for members of Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation. Efforts have produced the location of Tumbling Shoals and the Yamacutah colony. As time passes it is hoped that more discoveries can be made and answers provided.
There are two levels of art. One the grotesque anthropomorphic head, and two, other motifs such as these bird pairings and a dragon face. We are sure the head would have been covered in clay and painted with other such possible features. Credit: Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation
Featured image: Yamacutah Statue Head showing blue pigment. Credit: Jordan Blyden
All images are copyright Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation and have been used with permission.
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