Living History: The Funk Heritage Center, Part II

Chattooga, Talulah, Toccoa, Hiawassee, Elijah, Waleska, Etowah, Chattahoochee, Enota, Amicalola, Dahlonega, Chickamauga

The long ago, original inhabitants of Georgia’s northern counties, lying between Atlanta and Chattanooga, Tennessee, live on in the names they gave to places, in their burial mounds scattered over the region, in the facial features of families with names like Cloud and McDaniel, and in the houses they left behind when they were forcibly evicted from their ancestral lands.


Chief John Ross House, Rossville, GA, circa 1940

Native American history in northern Georgia is as complicated as it is poignant and ancient. While the Cherokees are perhaps more familiar to most readers due to accounts of the 1838 Trail of Tears, the Creek and other lesser known tribes made significant contributions to the area and are believed by historians to have been the actual original inhabitants of that part of the state.

The Creeks, who built the burial mounds that dot northern Georgia, are believed to have been an amalgamation of the remnants of up to twenty separate tribes of the Mississippian cultue that existed independently of one another before the ravages of disease brought by Europeans forced a unity among the survivors, who may or may not have spoken the same dialect. The Muskogee or Creek Confederation arose as a loose alliance of Muskogee-speaking peoples.


Cherokee depicted in 1762 drawing


Linguists believe the Cherokee may have originated in the Great Lakes region during prerecorded history because their language is related to the Iroquois family of languages. They may have been pushed east and south after being defeated in wars with rival tribes. Whatever the case, by the time European explorers happened upon them, the Cherokee claimed approximately 40,000 square miles in the heart of the mountain southeastern United States.[1]


Boundary Lines: Blue – original boundary of Cherokee lands, Red – boundary at close of the American Revolution, Green – boundary at the final cession

funkheritage-indains1The Funk Heritage Center at Reinhardt University in Waleska, Georgia (Cherokee County) is a National Park Service Trail of Tears designated interpretive center, but it so much more. The building known as the Hall of the Ancients (feature image on home page) contains exhibits detailing how Native Americans of the Etowah River Valley lived from early times prior to the arrival of Europeans up to 1838, the time of removal or  Trail of Tears. The Hickory Log exhibit includes artifacts dating as far back as 2000 years and explains how these invaluable historical items were rescued by archeologists prior to the building of the Walmart in Canton, GA. At the center of all is a 5 ton, 11X4 feet boulder covered in carved concentric circles. The petroglyph was found in the 1940’s on a farm near the Etowah River, which flows through the heart of Cherokee County. The meaning of the carvings has not been determined, but speculation ranges from ancient Creek or Yuchi Indian origin to a possible ancient Irish connection.[2]


Reinhardt Petroglyph

In our recent communications, Dr. Joesph Kitchens, Funk Heritage Center Executive Director, generously shared his thoughts regarding the center in relation to Southeastern Native American culture and history. Asked about the participation of Native Americans in the Center’s planning and programs, Dr. Kitchens responded as follows.

My contacts with the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band have been defined by specific undertakings and have not come from tribal governments or their highest officials. We receive no funding from any tribal government. We received the help of the Eastern Band Historic Preservation office in Cherokee, NC on our Hickory Log project. Russell Townsend, who heads that office was also kind enough to participate in our archaeology conference funded by the Georgia Humanities Council. Chief Justice Troy Wayne Poteete of the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), who is also national director of the Trail of Tears Association, has visited and advised us and was a help in our Hickory Log fundraising project. He and I have remained in contact discussing plans for the next phase of our exhibit expansion. The distances and expenses involved in utilizing Cherokee and Creek presenters has been at times a constraint, but we have used a number of them over the years. The National Parks Service and its National Trail of Tears, Georgia Chapter have been helpful.

Keep in mind that we are an interpretive center for the “Southeastern Indians” which includes the ancient Native Peoples whose ethnicity is not known or “not established,” and who date from before the time of the formation of the Nations we refer to as the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Seminole and Choctaw). Amerindians have lived at the Hickory Log site for over 2,000 years and much of the archaeological material we have on exhibition dates from the Woodland Period. And it gets more complicated still. These later tribal entities are fairly recent creations, having emerged from the wreckage of the terrible epidemics introduced by European discoverers and explorers. The Creeks for example were a fusion more than 20 peoples, not all of whom shared the same language. Our mission is to “tell the story of the Southeastern Indians and the early settlers of the lower Appalachians”-a regional thrust that keeps us focused on NW Georgia for the most part.

An important point to keep in mind is that there is no federally recognized tribal government established in Georgia-Creek, Cherokee, Creek, or Chickasaw (to mention a few possible candidates). Those who remained in Georgia after the removal are not part of the Cherokee or Creek Nation except as they have established tribal identity through a legal process to become a federally recognized tribe. Once in Oklahoma, the Cherokee found themselves pressured to surrender all their collective lands and accept personal allotments by signing the “Dawes Rolls”. The recovery of national identity and legal status came as a result of the larger Civil Rights movement and legal restructuring in the 1960s and 1970s.

… from the perspective of the Nations in Oklahoma, descendants of those who stayed behind, who were not removed, are-at least in the view of some Cherokee- not necessarily part of the continuum of Cherokee culture and experience. From a legalistic perspective they are not Cherokee. At any rate, their degree of consanguinity has been greatly diminished over generations and tribal identity is typically dependent upon continuity of blood descent. While the number of people living in our region who claim Cherokee descent seems great, few have maintained Cherokee cultural continuity-difficult in a world where they are not participants in a family and village of Cherokee. I find it ironic that the largest Native American ethnic grouping in our region seems to be Mayan-people from Guatemala or other central American countries. An acquaintance who works with Mayan families to help with their adaptation to a new social environment tells me there are more than 18,000 Mayans in greater Atlanta.


Actress portraying Mary Musgrove


Jim Sawgrass, a Muskogee who does presentations for the center


Each October, the center hosts its Georgia History Timeline program in which actors portray important historical figures including Sequoyah and Mary Musgrave.[3] In 1821, Sequoyah introduced his Cherokee syllabary. In creating written symbols for the sounds of the Cherokee language, he put his people on the path to a level of literacy that ultimately surpassed that of some of their European descended neighbors. This was one of the few times in history that a member of a pre-literate people created an effective, usable writing system. [4][5]  Mary Musgrove was a Colonial Era Muskogee Creek of mixed parentage, her father being an English settler and her mother being Creek. As a businesswoman and diplomat, she and her husband, John Musgrave, assisted James Oglethorpe in the establishment of Savannah and the colony of Georgia. School field trips for students grades K-8 are a focus of the center’s educational outreach.[6]

The Funk Heritage Center, like Reinhardt University itself, is the product of one man’s vision and desire to serve a community and its youth. These men did not achieve their goals without the assistance of others, but both of them were the driving forces behind  institutions that have grown far beyond what either of them could have envisioned. The university was founded by a loving son, Augustus Reinhardt, in memory of his father. The Heritage Center was founded using funds donated by the late James Funk, MD. Both of these visionaries were “gentlemen of Atlanta.” Though they lived in different centuries, they both left something rather unique and important on a beautiful hilltop overlooking a lovely village.

The college was established by a gentleman of Atlanta as a memorial to his father, and as long as he was able he gave it the support justified by ample means. It was like carrying a gold mine with all its profits to a starving people, only the profits in this case are very much more valuable than gold. To the barefooted boys and girls of that region, it has represented, and still represents, the dawn of hope, the illumination that belongs to knowledge, the uplifting of the spirit, and the widening of the fields of endeavor. From the first, the college has been carried on in the spirit of the broadest benevolence.

— Joel Chandler Harris, “The Little College,” an early-1900s essay about Reinhardt University

For your viewing pleasure, a Youtube video:

Native American Funk Center Artifacts Presentation


Related works of historical fiction:






1., accessed February 1, 2017.

2., accessed February 1, 2017.

3., accessed February 1, 2017.

4., accessed February 2, 2017.

5., accessed February 2, 2017.

6., accessed February 2, 2017.