Early historic Native American world view presented in fiction

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Charles Hudson lays out his goal in the introduction to his 2003 novel, Conversations with the High Priest of Coosa (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press; ISBN 0807854212):


This book is intended for anyone who has viewed museum displays of artifacts made by the late prehistoric Southeastern Indians or, even better, stood atop one of their earthen mounds and asked the questions: What manner of people made these things? How did they conceive of the world in which they lived? How did they explain events in their everyday lives?

To accomplish his goal, Hudson presents a series of imagined conversations between a Spaniard and the leader of a prominent leader of the Native American world. Coosa is the name we have for a the principal town of a chief-led group who lived in what is now northwest Georgia and the Tennessee Valley. In part he relies on the archival records of three Spanish expeditions into the interior Southeast, including Coosa’s territory, in the 1500s, but their information is biased and scanty.

Hudson also uses archaeological data to inform his fiction.

With the historical record revealing so little, scholars have turned to other forms of evidence in their effort to understand Coosa—particularly the archaeological record. Archaeological research on Coosa began with the inquiries of amateurs in the middle of the nineteenth century and began to be conducted professionally in the early decades of the twentieth century. It was only at midcentury, however, that truly modern research began. By the 1980s and 1990s archaeologists had accumulated enough information from excavations and surveys in Coosa country to be able to say quite a lot about the material life of the people who once lived there. Archaeologists can now describe their houses and public buildings, their means of procuring food, the layout of their villages, and many other aspects of Coosa life. Most notably, they have constructed a map of the locations of the constituent towns of Coosa, as well as the towns of other chiefdoms in the paramountcy. Interested readers can find an admirably concise account of both the archaeological and historical information on Coosa in Marvin T. Smith’s Coosa: The Rise and Fall of a Southeastern Mississippian Chiefdom (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000).

The head town of the Coosa chiefdom was called Coosa, as was their leader, or chief. Archaeologists call the site now believed to have been the village of Coosa Little Egypt. The site is now beneath the Carters Lake reregulation pool, below and west of the Carters Lake pool, in Murray County.

History—that is the records that survive—and archaeology both provide information about the past. However, sometimes neither resource provides in-depth information about some topics, like the world views of ancient peoples.

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Read more about the Coosa chiefdom here. Download or read “Archaeological Investigation of the Little Egypt Site (9MulO 2), Murray County, Georgia: 1969 Season,” University of Georgia’s Laboratory of Archaeology Series Report, no. 18, by clicking here.