Ocmulgee National Monument: Wikis


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Ocmulgee National Monument
IUCN Category V (Protected Landscape/Seascape)

The earthlodge at Ocmulgee
Location 1207 Emery Highway Macon, Georgia, USA
Coordinates 32°50′12″N 83°36′30″W / 32.83667°N 83.60833°W / 32.83667; -83.60833Coordinates: 32°50′12″N 83°36′30″W / 32.83667°N 83.60833°W / 32.83667; -83.60833
Area 701.54 acres (2.84 km²)
Established December 23, 1936
Visitors 130,281 (in 2005)
Governing body National Park Service

Ocmulgee National Monument preserves traces of over ten millennia of native Southeastern culture, including Mississippian mounds. It is located on the east bank of the Ocmulgee River, within the city limits of Macon, Georgia. It is located on the Fall Line, where the rolling hills of the Piedmont meet the Atlantic Coastal Plain.


National Monument

The Works Progress Administration sponsored large-scale archaeological digs at the site between 1933 and 1942, and portions of eight mounds were excavated.[1] On June 14, 1934, the park was authorized as a National Monument, which was formally established on December 23, 1936, under the National Park Service. As a historic unit of the Park Service, the National Monument was administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 15, 1966. In the early 1990s, the area was put into a large renovation, and the site was made into its present manifestation. In 1997, Ocmulgee National Monument was designated as a Traditional Cultural Property, the first such site so named east of the Mississippi River. Ocmulgee has a visitor center that houses an archaeological museum that interprets the cultures of the Native Americans who had inhabited this site. A short orientation film and gift shop are also available in the visitor center.

Great Temple Mound

The park is 702-acres and has 5½ miles (9 km) of walking trails. Near the visitor center is a reconstructed thousand-year-old ceremonial earthlodge. Visitors can reach the Great Temple Mound via a half-mile walk or the park road. Other features in the park include a burial mound, temple mounds, prehistoric trenches, and the site of a colonial British trading post.

The main section of Ocmulgee National Monument is accessible from U.S. Route 80, off of Interstate 16 (which passes through southwest edge of the monument). It is open daily except Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Lamar Mounds is an isolated unit of the monument, located in the swamps about 3 miles (5 km) south of Macon. The Lamar Unit is open on a limited basis.


Fireplace of the earthlodge, encircled by 47 molded seats, the high chiefs or priests sat on the eagle platform

Ocmulgee (pronounced "oak-mull-ghee") is a memorial to the antiquity of people in Southeastern North America. From Ice Age hunters to the Creeks of historic times, there is evidence of at least 10,000 years of human habitation. The Macon plateau was inhabited during the Paleoindian, Archaic, and Woodland phases, but the major occupation was ca.950-1150 in the Early Mississippian phase.[2] During this period an elite society supported by skillful farmers constructed a town of rectangular wooden buildings and earthen mounds atop the plateau, including a huge pyramidal temple mound, and at least one burial mound. Circular earth lodges served as places to conduct meetings and ceremonies. One of these earth lodges was reconstructed by archaeologists; it carbon dates to 1050, and has a raised earth platform of an eagle with a forked eye, a motif of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, shared with other Mississippian cultures. The 55 ft. Temple Mound was built atop a high bluff overlooking the riparian flood-plain. Magnetometer scans have revealed the mound to have had the only example in any Mississippian culture site of a spiraling staircase, which faced the flood-plain.

Pipes, necklaces, and a pottery vessel with a lid the shape of a human head, found at Ocmulgee

As this large early ceremonial center declined, ca.1350 a new one emerged in the swamps downstream, built by the Late Mississippian Lamar Phase peoples. It had two mounds, including a unique 'spiral mound', and was protected by a stockade. Lamar pottery was stamped with complex designs, like earlier Woodland peoples but unlike the pottery of the Macon plateau culture. Many archaeologists believe the Lamar were related to the earlier Woodland inhabitants, who, after being displaced by newer migrants, developed a hybrid culture. In 1540 the expedition of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto traveled through the chiefdom of Ichisi, thought to be the Lamar site.[3] The Spaniards left a trail of destruction in their wake as they wandered throughout the present-day Southeastern U.S. in a failed search for precious metals; their deadliest legacy was probably not guns or steel but the pigs they brought, which went feral and spread diseases that American Indians had no immunity to.[4] In the aftermath of de Soto's expedition, the Mississippian cultures disappeared. Hierarchical chiefdoms crumbled, replaced by loose confederacies of clans, without the agricultural surpluses necessary for the corvée system that raised and maintained the great earthen mounds.

By the late 18th century, the largest confederacy in present-day Georgia and Alabama was the Muscogee (Creek). The ancient Mississippian mounds at Ocmulgee were a pilgrimage site; according to Muscogee oral tradition, they were 'the place where we first sat down,' after their ancestors ended their journey from the west.[5] In 1690, English fur-traders from Carolina built a trading post on Ochese Creek (Ocmulgee River) near the mounds; Muscogee villages from the Chattahoochee settled near the post, fleeing Spanish attempts to bring them into the mission province of Apalachee. The English referred to both the river and the peoples living along it as Ochese Creek, this was shortened to Creek and later applied to all Muscogee peoples.[6] The village that grew up next to the trading-post was called Ocmulgee Town, a name later given to the river. Ocmulgee means 'bubbling waters' in the local Hitchiti language, referring to the flood plain.

Col. Moore's raiding party passes the Ocmulgee trading-post, in this museum display

White tailed deer pelts and slaves captured in raids were traded for West Indian rum, cloth, glass beads, axes, swords, and flintlocks. Carolinian fur-traders took advantage of the native custom of providing wives to white traders, while encouraging slaving raids against Spanish 'mission Indians.' In 1702 South Carolina Governor Col. James Moore raised an army of 50 colonists and 1,000 Yamassee and Ochese Creek warriors, and, from 1704 to 1706, wiped out the Spanish missions of the Florida interior. 'Mission Indians'-Timucua and Apalachee-were enslaved on sugar plantations in Barbados, and Florida's indigenous population fell from about 16,000 in 1685 to 3,700 by 1715.[7] As Florida was depopulated, the English-allied tribes grew indebted to slave traders, who paid other tribes to attack and enslave their men, women and children, triggering the Yamasee War in 1715. The Ochese Creek joined the rebellion, burning the Ocmulgee trading post, and South Carolina began arming the Cherokee. Cherokee attacks forced the Ochese Creeks to abandon the Ocmulgee and Oconee and move west to the Chattahoochee, while the Yamasee took refuge in Spanish Florida. The Yamassee War led to the creation of a new British colony, Georgia, with the founding of Savannah in 1733, although Georgia did not grow profitable until the arrival of African slavery and plantation agriculture in the 1750s. Conflicts with land-hungry white settlers and other Muscogee groups led many Ochese Creeks to migrate to East Florida, where they joined with earlier refugees of the Yamassee War, remnants of 'mission Indians,' and escaped African slaves to form a new tribe, the Seminole.

The Temple Mound was built atop a bluff overlooking Walnut Creek, a tributary of the Ocmulgee River

The Ocmulgee mounds evoked awe and inspiration in early travelers. Naturalist William Bartram journeyed through Ocmulgee in 1774 and 1776, and described the "wonderful remains of the power and grandeur of the ancients in this part of America."[8] He was the first to record the Muscogee oral accounts of the mounds origins. The Lower Creeks initially had good relations with the federal government of the United States, due to the diplomacy of George Washington's Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins and Muscogee Principal Chief Alexander McGillivray, the son of a wealthy Scottish fur-trader, who won U.S. recognition of Muscogee and Seminole sovereignty in the 1790 Treaty of New York. However, after the invention of the cotton gin in 1794, Georgians were eager to turn Muscogee corn-fields into cotton plantations.

In 1805, the Lower Creeks ceded their lands east of the Ocmulgee River to the state of Georgia, but refused to surrender their sacred mounds, and retained a 3x5 mile area on the east bank called the Ocmulgee Old Fields Reserve, including the mounds on the Macon plateau and the Lamar mounds.[9] The Jefferson administration ordered Fort Benjamin Hawkins built atop a hill overlooking the mounds in 1806. The fort was a supply depot in the Creek War of 1813-1814, when the Red Stick faction of the Upper Creeks, who had joined Tecumseh's confederacy, were defeated by General Andrew Jackson. The Lower Creeks fought alongside the U.S. against the Red Sticks and in the First Seminole War, led by Chief William McIntosh, who had family ties to Georgia's planter elite through his white father, a Savannah Tory officer who tried to recruit the Lower Creeks to fight for the British in the American Revolution, and became a cotton planter. In 1819, the Lower Creeks gathered for the last time at the Ocmulgee Old Fields. In 1821, the first Treaty of Indian Springs signed away Lower Creek lands east of the Flint, including the Ocmulgee Old Fields. Bibb County was chartered in 1822, and the following year the town of Macon was founded. The Creek Council made further cession of land a capital offense, but in February 1825, Chief McIntosh and his cousin Georgia Governor George Troup signed the second Treaty of Indian Springs, ceding the remaining Lower Creek lands to the state of Georgia, and accepting relocation to the Arkansas River. Two months later McIntosh was murdered. Following the Trail of Tears, the Muscogee reorganized in the Indian Territory and in 1867 founded a new capital called Okmulgee, in honor of the sacred mounds.[10]

See also


  1. ^ Archaeology of Prehistoric native America, Pg. 601
  2. ^ David J. Holly, 'Macon Plateau' Archaeology of Prehistoric native America: An Encyclopedia Pg. 601
  3. ^ http://www.nps.gov/archive/ocmu/co/desoto.html
  4. ^ Charles C. Mann 1491: New Revelations on the Americas Before Columbus Pg. 107-110
  5. ^ http://www.sacred-sites.org/preservation/ocmulgee.html
  6. ^ http://www.nps.gov/history/nagpra/fed_notices/nagpradir/nic0540.html
  7. ^ Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settling of North America (Penguin Books: 2001) Pg. 233
  8. ^ http://www.nps.gov/archive/ocmu/co/colonial.html
  9. ^ http://www.mindspring.com/~teeth/foof3.htm
  10. ^ http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/O/OK094.html

External links



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