The Newnan Times-Herald

Religion

Ocmulgee expanded through efforts of Isakson


  • By Winston Skinner
  • |
  • Jul. 04, 2019 - 4:33 PM

 Ocmulgee expanded through efforts of Isakson

Photo by Ken Lund

Light streams through the top of a recreation of the temple lodge at Ocmulgee. The mound builders were ancestors of the Creek Indians, who lived in Coweta County prior to the late 1820s.

Ocmulgee National Monument near Macon has been expanded through the efforts of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson.

Isakson proposed legislation that would expand and protect historic lands at Ocmulgee, at Kennesaw Mountain Battlefield Park and at Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island. Ocmulgee is known for its Indian mounds and preserved landscapes that help to tell the story of the religious practices of the Creek Nation and their forebears.

Pres. Donald Trump signed the legislation into law on March 12. The bill passed by overwhelming bipartisan margins in the Senate and U.S. House, according to Isakson’s staff.

“This new law will benefit residents and visitors across much of our state,” said Isakson. “I appreciate the dedication of state, local and federal officials for working with me to see this through to preserve Georgia’s rich history, to expand recreational activities and to provide a boost for our tourism industry.”

Isakson also thanked Trump “for signing it quickly into law.”

The Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park Boundary Revision Act, Senate 88, would designate Ocmulgee National Monument as a national historical park and expand its boundaries from approximately 700 acres to approximately 2,800 acres. It would also change the park’s name from Ocmulgee National Monument to Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park.

The legislation also authorizes a resource study to evaluate potential future park expansions, which would further protect vulnerable land and allow visitors more opportunities for recreational activities. Companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jr., D-Ga.-02, and cosponsored by Reps. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga.-11, and Austin Scott, R-Ga.-08. Isakson introduced S.88 with Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., as a cosponsor.

"It is altogether unknown to us what could have induced the Indians to raise such a heap of earth in this place . . . It is reasonable to suppose, however, that they were to serve some important purpose in those days, as they were public works, and would have required the united labour and attention of a whole nation."

The naturalist William Bartram wrote those words about Indian Mounds in 1775. The cause of the building of the mounds still remains shrouded in the distant past, but it is clear the mounds were part of the worship of the Native American people in Georgia prior to the arrival of European settlers.

Little is known about the particular religious beliefs of the mound builders, and that theology almost certainly changed during the centuries the mounds were built. Scholars have theorized chief priests governed villages in those days – living atop the temple mounds.

These large mounds of earth overlooked a plaza where religious rituals took place. When one chief priest died, his temple would be demolished and a new temple would be built for his successor.

The people also built mounds for burials. Some mounds were made to look like animals. Rock Eagle at Eatonton is one of many illustrating the religious imagery of birds, which can fly into the air. There also is an effigy mound in southern Ohio that depicts an undulating serpent.

“Ensuring that the Ocmulgee Mounds receive the historical recognition they deserve will have a lasting positive economic and cultural impact in Middle Georgia,” Scott said.

Native Americans who first came to Ocmulgee during the Paleo-Indian period. The federal lands preserve traces of more than 10 millennia of Southeastern Native American culture, including major earthworks built more than 1,000 years ago by the South Appalachian Mississippian culture.

These include the Great Temple and other ceremonial mounds, a burial mound and defensive trenches. They represented highly skilled engineering techniques and soil knowledge, and the organization of many laborers.

The site has evidence of 17,000 years of continuous human habitation.

The mound builders were the ancestors of the Creeks and Cherokees, who lived in Georgia when the Spanish and English settlers came. Coweta County was Creek country and is named in honor of a half-breed Creek leader, Chief William McIntosh, who was chief of the Cowetas, a branch of the Creek nation.

There are Indian mounds in various places across Georgia. The Ocmulgee mounds near Macon and the Kolomoki Mounds near Blakely are among the best known and most visited.

Ocmulgee National Monument was originally authorized by Congress in 1934 to protect a fraction of the lands commonly known as the Old Ocmulgee Fields, upon which historic Indian mounds are located. The legislation envisioned a large park of approximately 2,000 acres, but local citizens at that time could finance the acquisition of only 678 acres by the time it opened in 1936.

“The Ocmulgee Mounds is a true cultural and archaeological treasure to Georgia and the entire nation,” Bishop said.

The new law “will help preserve its historical and archaeological significance for generations to come,” Loudermilk said of Ocmulgee. “This expansion will also increase visitors’ accessibility to hunt, fish and camp in the area, which will help generate tourist revenue for the surrounding counties. Preserving lands such as these will help educate visitors on the beauty and rich history Georgia has to offer, and is a big reason why I’m an original co-sponsor of the House bill.”

“The Ocmulgee National Monument,” Perdue said, “is one of Georgia’s most treasured historical sites.”