What began in the mid-1980s as a farce created by some under-educated Southern college professors has grown into an absurdity that not a soul in the mainstream media is questioning. Particularly disturbing is that while professional archaeologists typically use the word “may”, some less-than-professional archaeologists, the media and references are stating theories as established facts. A small village site with a two feet high mound is now being described by North Carolina archaeologists as “one of the most important Native American towns in the Southeast and the location of the oldest European fort.”
It was the last place I wanted to be. The Reagan Administration had allowed bank loan interest rates to explode to 24%, destroying the livelihood of many Middle Class entrepreneurs. I was focused on getting my architecture practice going in this miserable financial environment, but friends in the Western District Office of the North Carolina State Archaeologist Office wanted me to back them up in a confrontation with a some college professors. All the professors were graduates of UNC-Chapel Hill, but one was now teaching at the University of Georgia.
The professors had given a presentation that morning to the monthly Asheville Chamber of Commerce Breakfast. They had announced that during the 1500s, two Spaniards named Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo had come through Asheville. Prior to that, de Soto had visited a Cherokee town in Burke County, NC and Pardo had built a fort there. Keep in mind that this is the mid-1980s.
I vaguely knew who De Soto was, but had no clue about Pardo. That they came through Asheville sounded cool, but my concerns were entirely elsewhere. What got my friends riled up, though, was that in the process of making their theories about De Soto and this guy Pardo work, the professors had changed North Carolina’s early history. They had called a dinky little 1500 year old mound on the Biltmore Estate, “the Ancient Capital of the Great Cherokee Nation.” They had re-labeled very old Indian village sites near Asheville as being “Mississippian” – whatever that was. The professors had also stated in the chamber breakfast that the state archaeologists backed their ”findings” completely and had worked with them in the research. That was a total lie. These professors were charlatans.
The state historic preservation planner and archaeologists explained to the professors that there were no occupied Indian village sites in the French Broad Valley during the period when De Soto and Pardo were traveling around the Southeast. It was impossible that either De Soto or Pardo could have stayed at an occupied Indian village near Asheville.
The state historic preservation planner then asked me to explain the locations of Indian tribes during the 1700s to the professors. I told them, “There is no mention in the colonial archives about the Cherokees being in western North Carolina until 1717. When the French came up the French Broad River in the late 1600s, only Shawnees lived here. There was a huge Shawnee town at the entrance to the Biltmore Estate until 1763. Above Asheville, the French Broad was occupied by my people, the Creeks. The area around Old Fort, Marion and Burke County was Yuchi. All the Indians were kicked out by the British in 1763. A few Cherokees hid around Asheville during the Trail of Tears period, but they never occupied villages here.”
From the beginning, I had noticed that these professors, who represented themselves as being experts on the Spanish, were butchering the pronunciation of Spanish words. When I pronounced such words as Guaxale and Joara correctly, the professors looked at me blank faced. They did not have clue what I was saying.
The professors were using state highway maps to determine de Soto’s route. They were completely ignorant about the geography of the North Carolina Mountains, yet had already marked the route of de Soto. At that point, I realized that I was wasting my time and had an appointment elsewhere. I left the meeting while the archaeologists were still arguing with each other. That afternoon, the professors gave a press conference at the Biltmore Estate repeating what they had said at the breakfast meeting, including that they were backed by the state archaeologists. They then picked up a check from the Biltmore Estate, and traveled 60 miles west to the Cherokee Reservation, to pick up another check from the Cherokees.
I assumed at the time that these yokels, disguised as anthropology professors, would have no credibility outside of North Carolina because they were so ignorant of Spanish language and culture. What I didn’t realize was that they were also ignorant of Muskogean language and culture. During the following decades, they would create a mythical history of the Cherokees as a substitute for that ignorance.
And yet . . . the outlandish statements made that morning long ago are now enshrined in a legion of books and online references as irrefutable facts. My friends in the State Archaeologist Office were eventually required by the governor to sign a statement endorsing the false belief that the Cherokees had lived in North Carolina for at least 1000 years, plus that De Soto and Pardo had come through Asheville. They soon left North Carolina in disgust. Not too long after that I moved to greener pastures in Virginia.
Ironically, by the time that the report on the Hernando de Soto Expedition was actually published as a book named “The De Soto Chronicles,” the Asheville route had been dumped. The book took De Soto on a 400 mile detour through the extreme northwest corner of North Carolina and across a vaguely described trail that doesn’t exist, to the northeastern tip of Tennessee. The book does not explain why De Soto would take this detour when his chronicles repeatedly stated that he was heading directly west to visit the great town of Kusa in northwest Georgia. However, the detour gave the authors time to provide the reader extensive verbiage about the mythical culture of the Cherokees that they had created . . . not telling the reader that De Soto never passed through any town or village with a Cherokee name. Archaeologist Charles Hudson repeatedly labeled Native American towns with standard Creek names . . . ancient Cherokee words, whose meanings have been lost.
The facts on the two Juan Pardo Expeditions
Dr. Chester DePratter (University of South Carolina) was a member of the De Soto Route Consortium, whom I never met. In 1987, he wrote a paper on the Juan Pardo Expedition. In the paper, DePratter specifically stated that the routes of de Soto and Pardo were determined by their committee without consulting the journal of the Pardo Expeditions, prepared by Juan dela Bandera. Bandera was Pardo’s notario (lawyer-journalist) and right hand man, who accompanied him everywhere. The reason give was that Bandera was obviously “geographically confused.” According to DePratter, tf his routes for Pardo had been followed by the professors, then the previously adopted routes for De Soto would have been invalidated. That should have been a warning to the archaeology profession, but it wasn’t heeded.
In that morning meeting in Asheville a few years earlier, it was quite obvious who was really “geographically confused.” Those professors would have gotten lost, if they had ventured a hundred feet from a parking lot in the mountains. De Pratters report may be read in its entirety at DePratter-Pardo
1. In the fall of 1566, the governor of La Florida, Pedro Mendéndez de Avilés, ordered Captain Juan Pardo to find the closest land route between the new provincial capital, Santa Elena, and the mines at San Martin and Zacatecas in north-central Mexico. Santa Elena was located 29 miles northeast of present day Savannah, GA. It is absolutely ludicrous to think that Pardo would head north 310 miles to Burke County, NC in order to travel southwesterly to Zacatecas, Mexico.
2. Pardo’s company reached a large town that he named Joara on December 1, 1566. Joara is the only indigenous settlement that Bandera called a city. Bandera stated that Joara was 120 Spanish leagues (before 1568 = 312 miles.) This distance is the primary justification for designating the Berry site in Burke County, NC as Joara. Joara in phonetic English would be pronounced Wȁ : rä, not Jō : äh : rȁ, as Southeastern archaeologists pronounce it. However, Joara may not have even been the town’s real name, as Joara is a city in northern Leon Province, Spain. Elsewhere, Joara is defined by Bandera as meaning “lugar” in the original Spanish report. Lugar means “place” in English. “Place” may be the meaning of Wara in an unknown indigenous language.
Bandera stated that this city had many streets, temples, plazas and houses. It was the largest town that the Spanish visited. Being that Pardo also visited Cofitachequi and Chiaha, this suggests that the town at least covered 80 acres or more – the scale of Etowah Mounds in Georgia.
The natural environs of Joara was described as being at the escarpment of very high mountains and within a deep ravine where four fast flowing rivers met. It was a geography which reminded Juan Pardo of his hometown of Cuenca, Aragon (see photograph above.) Therefore, without consulting its inhabitants, Pardo renamed Joara to Cuenca.
The Berry Site, which all references now call Joara, bears absolutely no resemblance to Cuenca. I have been in both locations. The Berry Site is gently rolling Piedmont farmland with no canyons and no rushing rivers. There are mountains on the western edge of Burke County, but they are not visible from the archaeological dig.
Early snow storms had already blocked the trails in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so Pardo elected to build a fort that he named San Juan after his patron saint and garrisoned it. Pardo was then ordered to return to Santa Elena by Vice Governor Estabano de las Alas in order to protect it from attack by the French or English.
3. The following spring, Pardo was ordered to explore the interior of what is now South Carolina to find free food for the lazy colonists in Santa Elena, then head west to Joara to replenish the garrison at Fort San Juan. From there he traveled northwestward to Chiaha with the goal of reaching the fabled town of Kusa in northwest Georgia. Pardo visited Chiaha twice, but never got to Kusa because he was warned that he would be ambushed along the way.
In late March and early April of 1568, Pardo learned that all the forts, which he had built, had been massacred. Two weeks later joint French-Native American force, under the command of Captain Dominique Gourgues, massacred three Spanish forts on the Georgia coast. There may be a connection.
The terrain described by Bandero is immediately recognizable to someone like me, who has hiked and camped the Southern Appalachians extensively. There was the valley around High Point, NC, the Tuckasegee River Valley, the Little Tennessee River Gorge next to the Smokies, US 129 through Graham County, NC to the Hiwassee River and then Hiwassee Island, Tennessee. On Pardo’s return to Santa Elena, he went through Nantahala Gorge, the Andrews Valley, the Upper Hiwassee River Valley, the Nacoochee Valley in Georgia and then on down the Savannah River.
What is the Berry Site then?
The Berry archaeological site covers about 13 acres and 500 years ago, contained about 30 houses. It had a single small mound. In Muskogean terminology, it would be a talula or district administrative center, administered by the orata, or chief, who was appointed by the king, living in a much larger town. The Berry site could not possibly be Joara (the largest Native town in the Carolinas?) Neither its physical environs or is man-made features match the description of Joara in the report made by Juan dela Bandera.
Two locations in the Southern Highlanda do match the physical description of Joara and are on a line from Santa Elena to the probable location of Chiaha near Bryson City, NC. They are the mouth of Jocassee Gorge in South Carolina and the mouth of Tallulah Gorge in Georgia.
The archaeologists have found what appears to be 16th century European artifacts, but have not obtained radiocarbon dates for any European artifacts, only two 15th century dates for Native American houses. One can assume that either Europeans lived here during the Early Colonial Period or that the occupants of the village were in extensive contact with Europeans.
The structures unearthed by the archaeologists may be one of the forts erected by Juan Pardo during 1567, when he was touring the countryside searching for food. This may also be the site of a mission, established by Pardo at the village of Otari in 1567.
There is another possibility. After Santa Elena was abandoned in 1587, Sephardic Jewish refugees maintained two routes, protected by friendly Native American towns and possibly, European style forts, to reach colonies in the Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee Mountains. One followed the Savannah River. The other followed the Catawba River. The headwaters of the Catawba River flow through Burke County, NC.
This situation with the Berry Site is symptomatic of the complaints that Southeastern Native Americans (other than the Cherokees) have had for the past 25 years. In their quest for peer recognition, the Southeastern archaeologists, have far too often put architectural, ethnological and historical research in the back seat, or not considered them at all, in order to please government agencies, Native American tribes or politicians, who can write them checks.