Monday, September 4, 2017

Stone Mountain - Sacred Mountain of the Apalaches?

The Appalachian Mountains were named for an Indian tribe…and it wasn’t the Cherokee.

How could that be?

Exploring how the Appalachians got their name has led me down some obscure trails.  In the process, I rediscovered the lost history of Stone Mountain in Georgia.  It is a wild story spanning many centuries, many countries, many disciplines, and many documents.

Appalachia Gets on the Map

Spelled in various ways, “Appalachian” was one of the first place names created by European explorers in North America.  After landing near Tampa Bay, Hernando De Soto and his band of conquistadors met the Apalachee Indians in the Florida panhandle near the Gulf Coast.  The Spaniards spent the winter of 1539-1540 at the main village of the Apalachees in present-day Tallahassee.

The De Soto party was neither the first nor the last group of European adventurers to cross paths with the Apalachees. In 1562, Diego Gutierrez (associated with another Spanish enterprise in La Florida) published an unprecedented map of the Southeast, which featured an inland range of mountains labelled “Apalchen.”  This was the first map known to depict a variation of “Appalachian.”

Gutierrez Map of 1562 showing Apalchen [sic] Mountains

In 1564, Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière landed on the Atlantic Coast near today’s Florida-Georgia border.  His aimed to establish a French Huguenot colony and oversaw the construction of Fort Caroline on the St. John’s River (or possibly the Altamaha).  Jacques Le Moyne, the first European artist known to visit North America accompanied Laudonnière.  Le Moyne created a map of the Southeast and it includes “Apalatci” in roughly the same location as “Apalachen” on the Gutierrez map. 

Le Moyne Map and Detail

This raises an obvious question.  If the Apalachees lived in the Florida panhandle, why was a mountain range hundreds of miles to the north named for them? 

To understand the native groups of the Southeast, it helps to be knowledgeable of the river systems they occupied.  The Apalachicola was the main river flowing through Apalachee territory on its way to the Gulf.  Two rivers, the Flint and the Chattahoochee, joined to form the Apalachicola.   It is entirely conceivable that Apalachee Indians could have followed their nearby river upstream, and eventually, all the way to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee, which originated in the rugged mountains of north Georgia.

Treasure from the Mountains

It becomes clear HOW they could have done so. But was there any reason WHY they would have done so?  

Here’s one possibility:

Jacques Le Moyne painted a scene of natives obtaining gold from streams that flowed out of the “Apalatcy Mountains.”

The Theodore De Bry engraving based on the Le Moyne painting bears this caption:

"A great way from the place where our fort was built, are great mountains, called in the Indian language Apalatcy; in which, as the map shows, arise three great rivers, in the sands of which are found much gold, silver, and brass, mixed together. Accordingly, the natives dig ditches in these streams, into which the sand brought down by the current falls by gravity. Then they collect it out, and carry it away to a place by itself, and after a time collect again what continues to fall in. Then they convey it in canoes [downriver] … The Spaniards have been able to use for their advantage the wealth thus obtained."

If Le Moyne’s narrative is to be believed, then the Appalachian/Apalachen/Apalatcy Mountains had a lot more to offer than just pretty scenery:

M. de Laudonniere had been sending out men to explore the remoter parts of the country, more particularly those in the vicinity of the great King Outina, the enemy of our own neighbor, and from whom, by the channel of some of our Frenchmen who had got into relations with him, a good deal of gold and silver had been sent to the fort, as well as pearls, and other valuable articles….

La Roche Ferriere…returned to the fort reporting that he had certain information that all the gold and silver which had been sent to it came from the Apalatcy Mountains, and that the Indians from whom he obtained it knew of no other place to get it, since they had got all they had had so far in warring with three chiefs, named Potanou, Onatheaqua, and Oustaca, who had been preventing the great chief Outina from taking possession of these mountains. Moreover, La Roche Ferriere brought with him a piece of rock mined in those mountains, containing a sufficiently good display of gold and brass. He therefore requested permission of M. de Laudonniere to undertake the long journey by which he hoped he could reach these three chiefs, and examine the state of things about them.

La Roche Ferriere, who, having reached the mountains, succeeded by prudence and assiduity in placing himself on a friendly footing with the three chiefs before mentioned, the most bitter enemies of King Outina. He was astonished at their civilization and opulence, and sent to M. de Laudonniere at the fort many gifts which they bestowed upon him. Among these were circular plates of gold and silver as large as a moderate-sized platter, such as they are accustomed to wear to protect the back and breast in war; much gold alloyed with brass, and silver not thoroughly smelted. He sent also some quivers covered with very choice skins, with golden heads to all the arrows; and many pieces of a stuff made of feathers, and most skilfully ornamented with rushes of different colors; also green and blue stones, which some thought to be emeralds and sapphires, in the form of wedges, and which they used instead of axes, for cutting wood. M. de Laudonniere sent in return such commodities as he had, such as some thick rough cloths, a few axes and saws, and other cheap Parisian goods, with which they were perfectly satisfied.

Before the French could fully exploit the wealth of the mountains, Spaniards came north from Saint Augustine and crushed the French colony.

French Pastor Comes to America

One hundred years after Laudonniere’s failed Huguenot project, another Frenchman came to the Southeast.   Charles de Rochefort (1605-1683) was a Protestant pastor sent to minister to French-speaking Protestants in the Caribbean.  

After his visit to the New World, he published Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l'Amerique (Natural and moral history of the Antilles) (1658).  The first part of the book focused on the Caribbean islands, but a later chapter was devoted to the Apalachee Indians.

The Apalachites are a powerful and generous Nation, which continues to this present planted in the same Country of Florida: They are the Inhabitants of a gallant and spacious Country called Apalacha, from which they have received their name…

This people have a communication with the Sea of the great Gulf of Mexico or New Spain, by the means of a River, which taking its source out of the Apalachian Mountains, at the foot whereof they inhabit, after it hath wandered through many rich Campagnes, disembarks itself at last into the Sea near the islands of Tacobago: The Spaniards have called this River Rio del Spirito Santo but the Apalachites call it still by its ancient name of Hitanachi, which in their Language signifies fair and pleasant. On the East-side they are divided from all other Nations by high and far-spreading Mountains, whole tops are cover’d with snow most part of the year, and which separate them from Virginia: on the other sides they adjoin to several inconsiderable Nations, which are all their friends and confederates.

Indeed, “Hitanachi” and “Rio del Spirito Santo” were names applied to the Apalachicola River.

Cofitachequi = Cofachite?

Rochefort described the long history of a struggle for control of the mountains waged by the “Apalachites” and the “Cofachites.”  If the Apalachites in Rochefort’s book were actually Apalachees, then who were the Cofachites?  Here’s the most likely explanation:

After Hernando De Soto left the Apalachees in 1540 and meandered north, on his way toward the mountains, he reached the Cofitachequi chiefdom in the vicinity of Columbia, South Carolina.  The Cofitachequi society reflected the vestiges of Mississippian culture, but was in decline when De Soto reached them.   In one of the most picturesque and memorable scenes recorded by his chroniclers, De Soto encountered the “queen” of that realm:

Some Indians brought (the Lady of) Cofitachequi on a litter with much prestige. And she sent a message to us that she was delighted that we had come to her land, and that she would give us whatever she could, and she sent a string of pearls of five or six strands to the Governor. She gave us canoes in which we crossed that river and divided with us half of the town…

She was young and of fine appearance, and she removed a string of pearls that she wore about her neck and put it on the governor's neck, in order to ingratiate herself and win his good will... And the Indians walked covered down to the feet with very excellent hides, very well tanned, and blankets of sable and mountain lions which smelled; and the people are very clean and very polite and naturally well developed.

Over the centuries, the Apalachites and Cofachites competed for control of the mountain region.  Periods of violent warfare alternated with interludes of truce:

Both parties laid down their arms, and the Cofachites went to fetch their Wives, Children, cattle, Baggage, and the Souldiers they had left near the great Lake of Theomi… From that time the Apalachites gave the name of Caribbians, or as the French would have it, Caraibes, to those new comers...this word Caraibes signifies, in their language, a sort of people added, or suddenly and unexpectedly coming in strangers…

Worship at Olaimi

Relations between the two groups remained tense.  According to Rochefort, one source of contention was a difference in religious beliefs and practices. The Apalachites saw a need to convert the Caribbians.  With the success of their evangelizing, the Apalachites convinced some of the Cofachites/Caribbians to worship with them on the Mountain of Olaimi:

Many left the Province of Amana wherein they had their habitations, and went into that of Bemarin, the principal Province of the Apalachites, whence they ascended into the Mountain of Olaimi, upon which the Apalachites made their solemn Offerings; and upon their invitation the Caribbians had participated of those Ceremonies and that Service: these priests, whom the Apalachites call Jaouas, which is as much as to say, Men of God, knew that the seeds of Religion are not so easily smother’d in the hearts of men; and that, though the long Wars they had had With the Caribbians had hindered the exercise thereof, yet would it be no hard matter for them to blow up, as we may say, those sparks in them which lay hid under the ashes.

Where, exactly, was this Mountain of Olaimi, the holy mount of the Apalaches?  Several sites have been suggested, including Lookout Mountain, Tennessee and Stone Mountain, Georgia.  Between the two, my vote would go to Stone Mountain, northeast of Atlanta, simply because it rises within a few miles of the Chattahoochee River.

Holy Mountain Near Track Rock Gap?

Josiah Priest in American Antiquities (1832) provided another possible location, in the vicinity of Track Rock Gap near Blairsville, Georgia.  Priest had definite ideas about what might have caused the tracks in the rock:


Among the subjects of antiquity, which are abundant on the American continent, we give the following, from Morse's Universal Geography, which in point of mysteriousness is not surpassed, perhaps, on the globe. In the State of Tennessee, on a certain mountain, called the enchanted mountain, situated a few miles south of Braystown, which is at the head waters of the Tennessee river, are found impressed in the surface of the solid rock, a great number of tracks, as turkies, bears, horses, and human beings, as perfect as they could be made on snow or sand. The human tracks are remarkable for having uniformly six toes each, like the anakims of Scripture; one only excepted, which appears to be the print of a negro's foot….  

Not far from this very spot, are vast heaps of stones, which are the supposed tombs of warriors, slain, perhaps in the very battle this big footed warrior was engaged in, at a period when these mountains, which give rise to some branches of the Tugulo, Apalachicola, and Hiwassa rivers, were in a state of soft and clayey texture. On this range, according to Mexican tradition, was the holy mountain; temple and cave of Olaimi, where was also a city and the seat of their empire, more ancient than that of Mexico. To reduce that city, perhaps, was the object of the great warrior, whose track with that of his horse and company, still appear.

We are of the opinion, that these tracks, found sunk in the surface of the rocks of this mountain, is indubitable evidence of their antiquity, going back to the time when men dispersed over the earth, immediately after the flood.

A Mexican Connection

An 1833 article by Constantine Samuel Rafinesque discussed the Zapotecas and Miztecas of Mexico, and identified a possible link with Mount Olaimi, and even Mount Olympus:

The Theogony, Cosmogony and religion of the Miztecas and Zapotecas was also very different from the Mexicans, although they had latterly adopted their bloody rites of the god of evil. The Miztecas of Cuilapo according to a book written by a parish monk in the Mizteca language and figures, ascribe their origin to a god and goddess named Lion snake and Tyger Snake dwelling in Apoala or heavenly seat of Snakes before the flood. They had two Sons (or nations) an eagle called Wind of 9 Caves, and a Dragon or Winged Snake called Wind of 9 Snakes. They were driven from Apoala for their wickedness and perished in a great flood.

In Apoala we find the Tlapala or ancient seat of the Mexicans: which is perhaps the Apalachi mountains of North America, where was once the holy mountain, temple and cave of Olaimi (see Brigstock) which name recalls to mind the Olmeras! and all these names answer in import and sound to the Olympus of the Greeks.

Pilgrimage to Olaimi

Abbé Orsini (Mathieu) mentioned Olaimi in Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God: With the History of the Devotion to Her; Completed by the Traditions of the East, the Writings of the Holy Fathers, and the Private History of the Jews (1856):  

All nations have had consecrated places whither they made it a duty to repair, at certain commemorative periods, to obtain favours more easily from the divinity, by visiting the sites which they believed sanctified by his presence or by his miracles.

Pilgrimages are as ancient as society itself; those of the East are, nearly all, connected with diluvian memories; indeed, those pilgrimages, whose institution is lost in the obscurity of time, have generally, for their object, the lofty mountains whereon was formed the kernel of the great nations of Asia, who choose to descend, like their rivers, from the rocky bosom of their mountains….  

The Apalachites, or Floridian savages, repair, on the return of every season, to sacrifice on Mount Olaimi, in thanksgiving to the sun who, they say, saved their fathers from a deluge....These pilgrimages are founded on traditions corrupted by time, but undoubtedly historical; in them are perceived the traces and the effects of the terror which prompted the building of the famous tower of Babel.

One Artist's Vision of Olaimi

Aerial View of Stone Mountain

Notes on the Floridian Peninsula

An 1859 book by Daniel Brinton, Notes on the Floridian Peninsula, discussed the Apalaches, their presence in Florida and in the mountains.  Brinton acknowledged lingering doubts about Rochefort’s veracity, but reeled off a long list of travelers before and after Rochefort who confirmed many of the details about the Apalaches.  This is one of the more detailed retellings of the Rochefort story:

We find a very minute and extraordinary account of a nation called Apalachites, indebted for its preservation principally to the work of the Abbe Rochefort. It has been usually supposed a creation of his own fertile brain, but a careful study of the subject has given me a different opinion. The original sources of his information may be entirely lost, but that they actually existed can be proved beyond reasonable doubt. They were a series of ephemeral publications by an “English gentleman” about 1656, whose name is variously spelled Bristol, Bristok, Brigstock, and Bristock, the latter being probably the correct orthography. He had spent many years in the West Indies and North America, was conversant with several native tongues, and had visited Apalacha in 1653. Besides the above-mentioned fragmentary notes, he promised a complete narrative of his residence and journeys in the New World, but apparently never fulfilled his intention.

Versions of his account are found in various writers of the age. The earliest is given by Rochefort, and was translated with the rest of the work of that author by Davies, who must have consulted the original tract of Bristock as he adds particulars not found in the Abbe’s history.  

Brinton restated Rochefort’s account of the religious differences between the Apalachees and Cofachites/Carribes, and an eventually schism within the Caribbian society:

Finding themselves too weak to cope openly with such a powerful foe, the Apalachites had recourse to stratagem. Taking advantage of a temporary peace, their priests used the utmost exertions to spread abroad among their antagonists a religious veneration of the sun and a belief in the necessity of an annual pilgrimage to his sacred mountain Olaimi in Apalacha. So well did their plan succeed, that when at the resumption of hostilities, the Apalachites forbade the ingress of all pilgrims but those who would do homage to their king, a schism, bitter and irreconcileable, was brought about among the Cofachites.  Finally peace was restored by a migration of those to whom liberty was dearer than religion, and a submission of the rest to the Apalachites, with whom they became amalgamated and lost their identity. Their more valiant companions, after long wanderings through unknown lands in search of a home, finally locate themselves on the southern shore of Florida.

From there, the Cofachites/Caribbes migrated to the island which still bear their name.

What of this “sacred mountain” of the Apalachees called “Olaimi”?  Brinton nominated two specific locations that might have been Olaimi:

Strange as a fairy tale is Bristock’s description of their chief temple and the rites of their religion—of the holy mountain Olaimi lifting its barren, round summit far above the capital city Melilot at its base—of the two sacred caverns within this mount, the innermost two hundred feet square and one hundred in height, wherein were the emblematic vase ever filled with crystal water that trickled from the rock, and the “grand altar” of one round stone, on which incense, spices, and aromatic shrubs were the only offerings'-of the platform, sculptured from the solid rock, where the priests offered their morning orisons to the glorious orb of their divinity at his daily birth - of their four great annual feasts- all reminding us rather of the pompous rites of Persian or Peruvian heliolatry than the simple sun worship of the Vesperic tribes.

Melilot on Map from 1570 (above) and 1620 (below)

Yet in essentials, in stated yearly feasts, in sun and fire worship, in daily prayers at rising and setting sun, in frequent ablution, we recognize through all this exaggeration and coloring, the religious habits that actually prevailed in those regions. Indeed, the speculative antiquarian may ask concerning Mount Olaimi itself, whether it may not be identical with the enormous mass of granite known as “The Stone Mountain” in De Kalb county, Georgia, whose summit presents an oval, flat, and naked surface two or three hundred yards in width, by about twice that in length, encircled by the remains of a mural construction of unknown antiquity, and whose sides are pierced by the mouths of vast caverns; or with Lookout mountain between the Coosa and Tennessee rivers, where Mr. Ferguson found a stone wall… skirting the brink of a precipice at whose base were five rooms artificially constructed in the solid rock.

A Skeptic Dissents

The year after Brinton published his book, an article appeared in The Historical Magazine (1860). In “Fictitious Discoveries in America,” the writer declared Rochefort a fraud:

As long as there was some truth at the bottom, we might pardon the exuberance of fancy, the vivacity of the imagination, or the exigency of public taste, for the adventitious circumstances under which poor naked truth was buried....

Now, we intend to take up a few of these…men who have misled historians, bothered students, wasted their precious time, led them to unparalleled outlay in books, merely to enable them arrive at the fact of a writer's dishonesty.

We have placed in our heading, as the first offender, Rochefort….

Apalachites were…at war with the Cofichites, a tribe north of them. Their territory embraced six provinces: Bemarin, Amani or Amana, Matique, Schama, Meraco, and Achalaques….

Their capital was Melilot, a city of two thousand houses. Their wonderful temple stood on the equally wonderful mountain of Olaimi, near farfamed Melilot.

These Apalachites had…mainly renounced paganism and embraced Christianity, partly through the teaching of the French, who attempted to settle Florida, but more especially through some English people, who, seeking to escape from the Indian-war-vexed Virginia in 1621 to New England, were cast on the coast of Florida, and, attracting a considerable number of ecclesiastics and people of quality, laid the foundations of a colony.

Turning their attention to the benighted state of the people, these zealous English converted, in ten or twelve years, most of the officers and heads of families in Bemarin and Amana, so that, says he, they have at present among them a bishop, and several learned and zealous priests....

Some names may be borrowed from the maps of the day; others appear to be those of mere fancy. Our knowledge of the geography and physical character of the country renders the story often improbable and sometimes absurd….

Add to this is the easily verifiable fact that Rochefort plagiarized extensive passages for his book.
On the one hand, Rochefort very clearly DID plagiarize extensive passages from earlier authors.  On the other hand, that alone didn’t automatically make the information false.

An Egyptologist Weighs In

In 1883, Gerald Massey published The Natural Genesis.

Gerald Massey (1828-1907)


The Apalaches of Florida said the sun had built his own conical mountain of Olaimi, which had a spiral path winding round it, and leading to his cave-temple on the eastern side, in which four solar festivals were celebrated every year. In this instance the natural mount occupies the place of the pyramid mound erected elsewhere.

Sun Worshipers and Solar Fests

From Edward Burnett Tylor’s Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology (1891):

…Another nation of sun-worshippers were the Apalaches of Florida, whose daily service was to salute the Sun at their doors as he rose and set. The Sun, they said, had built his own conical mountain of Olaimi, with its spiral path leading to the cave-temple, in the east side. Here, at the four solar festivals, the worshippers saluted the rising sun with chants and incense as his rays entered the sanctuary, and again when at midday the sunlight poured down upon the altar through the hole or shaft pierced for this purpose in the rocky vault of the cave; through this passage the sun-birds, the tonatzuli, were let fly up sunward as messengers, and the ceremony was over.

Stone Mountain It Is

An 1893 geography book by Elisée Reclus, The Earth and Its Inhabitants, North America: The United States, included this information in a section on Atlanta:

About 12 miles north-east of Atlanta stands the so-called Stone Mountain, a huge granite mass supposed to be the Mount Olaimi of the Creek Indians.  The upper plateau, about 900 yards in circumference, is enclosed by a wall, probably the remains of an ancient fortress.


I’m not sure the mountain kingdom of the Apalaches ever existed, though there is plenty of evidence to ponder.  But if Apalachites did ascend a rocky promontory to salute the rising sun, my money is on Stone Mountain.