Megafauna game trails, then Indian Trails, now State Highways

Last week, my quest to find the site of the 18th century Great Buffalo Lick took me on a journey along Highway 22.  Few people who travel Georgia’s state highways realize that many of these roads through the piedmont region closely follow the routes of old Indian trails.  And Indians were simply following ancient megafauna game trails.

Historical map of known Indian trails.  I think Highway 22 originally was a branch of the Pickens Trail.  According to the treaty signed with the Creek Indians in 1773, an Indian trail that closely mirrors modern day Highway 22 formed the western boundary of what was to become Wilkes County.

Recall that last week, I chased a turkey hen with my car up the gravel road that led to Kettle Creek Battlefield.  The turkey chose the path of least resistance and seemed reluctant to leave the road for the cover of the brush because it takes more energy to run though thick vegetation.  Animals don’t like to waste energy.  They need to retain as much body fat as they can so they can survive hard times when there is less food or when they can’t forage due to injury.  Therefore, animals tend to travel along paths already trodden down by other animals or created by man.

While driving on a state highway, it’s exciting to contemplate that I’m probably following a path of considerable antiquity.  The routes could be tens of thousands of years old.  Originally, a herd of mammoths or mastodons formed the trail, beating down the grass and brush, stomping flat the saplings, ripping off overhanging tree branches.  Herds of bison, horses, llamas, deer, and peccary used the trail, keeping the path an open avenue.

Photo of a game trail in Africa formed by elephants and followed by other animals.  Even though this part of Africa is open grasslands, animals prefer to travel along the same routes to avoid resistance from plants and terrain.  Photo from the book The Early Settlement of North America: The Clovis era by Gary Haynes.

The paleoIndians followed these game trails too which were more prevalent in the piedmont region for two reasons: Unlike in the coastal plain, rivers in the piedmont were rapid with lots of rocky shoals, precluding the ease of travel by boat.  And the piedmont was more forested, necessating a preference for clearly marked trails both for ease of travel and to keep from getting lost.  Indian trails in the piedmont followed high ridges and avoided frequent crossings of deep creeks or wide rivers.  When they did lead to river crossings, they converged at shallow rocky areas that were easy to ford.  A number of Indian trails converged at what’s now Augusta because there are rocky shoals here that make fording the river easy.  I’ve crossed them myself many years ago.  If it wasn’t for these shoals, Augusta would not exist.  Fort Moore was the predecessor to Augusta.  General Oglethorpe chose this site for a trading fort because many Indian trails converged here.  Because open pine savannahs and wide navigable rivers prevailed in the coastal plain, Indian trails were less common or necessary there.  State roads built after World War II no longer needed to follow these old trails because heavy machinery made it possible to flatten hills, grade uneven land, and construct large bridges.


Warning: I’m getting on my soap box about the complete destruction of Bartram’s magnificent forest.  I am bitter.

I wrote about an impressive old growth forest described by William Bartram in my April 11th blog entry.  On my expedition to find the Great Buffalo Lick, I also searched for remnants of this forest and found absolutely none. ( I assumed the state highway followed the old Indian trail.)   As I suspected, the entire forest, many square miles of “gigantic” black oaks, sycamore, sweetgum, and hickory must have been cleared by cotton farmers between 1790-1860.   Today, the area from Little River to Philomath consists almost entirely of dense stands of loblolly pine and sweetgum–a monotonous nearly dead ecosystem.  I saw only a few black oaks–none of them “gigantic.”  Instead of  a “thinly planted by nature” oak parkland, it’s practically a monocultured thickly planted tree farm.  I saw not a single tree more than a foot in diameter, whereas William Bartram traveled through 7 miles of trees that were 8-11 feet in diameter.  I estimated, based on the appearance of this loblolly pine and sweetgum second growth, that the area was one big cottonfield until about the 1930’s, perhaps reverting to field following the boll weevil infestation that broke the back of agriculture here.

I can’t believe the greedy bastards who first cleared this land for growing cotton couldn’t protect even a small park of this original forest.  We will never see how beautiful the original environment was in this area.  It was destroyed before photography was invented, and no 18th century artist chose to paint it.  Instead, these stupid, illiterate bullies used slave labor to cut every single tree down, remove every stump, burn every bit of lumber refuse, and they continued to plant cotton seed in the bare red earth until the once rich soil and landscape transmogrified into a worn out old hag of its former self.  The natural beauty of the original environment has gone with the wind.

This is one more disgraceful legacy of southern white people.  In addition to crimes against humanity (slavery and an insurrection that led to the deaths of millions) I charge them with crimes against the environment with their destruction of Bartram’s magnificent forest.  Neither did I see remnants of the Indian mounds Bartam mentions, so go ahead and consider white southerners guilty of crimes against archaeology as well. 

I condemn white southerners for their disgraceful history, and for their current political stances which are still overwhelmingly backward, racist, ignorant, and short-sighted.


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9 Responses to “Megafauna game trails, then Indian Trails, now State Highways”

  1. James Robert Smith Says:

    It’s amazing that any Indian mounds survived at all. Even as late as the 1950s Indian mounds were being leveled by developers. The ramp that once led up one side of the largest mound at Crystal River was taken down by bulldozers so that a developer could use the shell middings for infill. Fortunately he was dissuaded from taking down the entire mound complex.

    Our old growth forests are largely a memory. Even now, in the north Georgia mountains, the patches of old growth forest are being ruined by invasive pests–the hemlock will soon be effectively extinct in all of the poplar-hemlock forests of our mountains.

  2. markgelbart Says:

    Hemlock might bounce back. Some scientists conducted genetic tests of hemlock populations, and they discovered that hemlock almost became extinct thousands of years ago because of phytophagous insect infestations. There’s a good chance hemlock will evolve some kind of counter measure to the insect pests.

  3. Mark Says:

    North Alabama still has plenty of interspersed hemlocks, but you have to look hard and usually above 1200ft. I find Appalachian cottontales usually close to the easterns. I was shocked at the size of some hemlocks in Camp McDowell near Double Springs. The area was a mining slew and too hard for loggers to get to, I guess.

  4. douglas Says:

    As a “southern white mother fucker”,( isn’t this how you normally refer 2 white people south of the mason dixon line——— or are all us whities the same to you? ) why don’t you do some research on something other than white societies screw ups . I have read your post until I am sick of it. You ruined a perfectly good story about your adventures with all your white hatred bullshit. you know the reason you’re so mad and full of hate is because your black ancestors sold yor peoples into slavery in the first place. grow up mister bl

  5. Dr. Dan Twilley Says:

    hey………ALL humans are stupid and motivated entirely completely and only by selfishness…….all of you need to grow up intellectually…..

  6. Kass Says:

    Mark, What is the source of the Georgia Indian trail map in this posting? ( ) Is it from the William E. Myers’ book Indian Trails of the Southeast?

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