Photo above: Princesses of the Muscogee Creek during the Ocmulgee Indian Celebration, 2014. Right: Greater Temple and Lesser Temple Indian Mounds. Photos courtesy National Park Service.
Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park
The heritage of the Ocmulgee Mounds and the traditions of the Muskogee Creek Indians has been around for centuries, but the park itself, inaugurated in 1934 as a National Monument, has been getting increased notice since its new designation as a National Historical Park by the Trump administration in 2019, doubling its size, and a further push by area officials and residents to grow it to national park status with expansion into the the Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and down the corridor of the Ocmulgee River to Hawkinsville. While that might be a future thing, there's so much history here to explore in the newly NHP expansion, which the park thinks will significantly increase its visitation, that the time may be now to tour. Think human history seventeen thousand years old. Think Indian heritage of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Muscogee/Creek, and Seminole, all around what would become today's Georgia, both good and bad. Think the European settler history of Macon, Georgia, which even way back in 1832 was established as a city in a park, with the Indian mounds of the tribe hovering over the town.
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Ocmulgee Mounds Then
Without reaching back all those thousands of years, the Muscogee Creek heritage, which the park specifically heralds, can be witnessed with these earthen mounds that date back to 900 A.D. Mounds such as the Greater Temple Mound, the Lesser Temple Mound, the Earthen Lodge, and more, show examples of the culture and settlement on the Macon Plateau.
Native accounts of the Ocmulgee area were first reported by Europeans during the Hernando de Soto exploration of 1540, with his visit with the chief of the Ichisi, likely on the Lamar site three miles south of Macon. A British Fort was built in 1690, which the Muscogee, called Creek by the British, engaged in trade. Fort Benjamin Hawkins was built in 1806 during the Jefferson administration on Creek land near the mounds. Eventually, European colonization pushed the Creek from the area, with the Treaty of Indian Springs, 1825, leading to the establishment of Macon in 1828 during the presidency of Andrew Jackson and his policy of Indian removal west. The Trail of Tears would remove the remnants of the Indian tribes from the southeast during the 1830's. Destruction of the sacred ground of the Muckogee Creek would continue when the railroad was constructed through prehistoric mounds and sites on the Macon Plateau in 1843.
The Ocmulgee Mounds National Monument was established on June 14, 1934, including the Lamar site downriver, with approximately seven hundred acres of the cultural mounds preserved.
Photo above: Earth Lodge, 1941. Courtesy National Park Service. Below: Butterfly Bio Blitz event during the National Park Service Centennial, 2016. Courtesy National Park Service.
Ocmulgee Mounds Now
With the establishment of the National Monument in 1934 during the Great Depression, park features were preserved and established by the Civilian Conservation Corps of the Works Progress Administration. Archaeological digs unearthed eight mounds between 1933 and 1942.
Today a Visitor Center tells the story of the mounds and indigenous culture. A short film, orientation, exhibits, and visitor facilities are included, as well as a book shop. There are eight miles of trails to walk, those eight mounds, and more to visit with many of those trails leading directly to them, as well as other features of the park, some even Civil War era and battle oriented, including the Dunlap House, now used by the park superintendent.
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Things You Should Not Miss
1. Visit a mound. A bit of an of course, but you just can't visit Ocmulgee without immersing yourself in the culture of the Great Temple and Lesser Temple Mounds, as well as most of the others. Each has their own uniqueness and some have lots of steps. Go inside the Earth Lodge, a treat for visitors since the day of the CCC.
2. Take a hike. Eight miles of trails and one of the shorter ones, the Dunlap Trail, will take you to earthen works for another period of Georgia history, the Civil War. The earthworks are one of the few that survive in the Macon region and were built after the Battle of Dunlap Hill (Stoneman's Raid), July 30, 1864, and used during the Battle of Walnut Creek, a skirmish on November 20-21 of that year. Both battles took place on the grounds of Ocmulgee National Historical Park.
3. If you get the chance to visit during September's Indian Heritage Days, take advantage of the events that celebrate the Muscogee Creek heritage of the region. Another event of special interest are the March Lantern Light Tours. Check with the Visitor Center for the exact event dates.
Photo above: Egret and turtle standoff at Ocmulgee Mounds National Historical Park. Courtesy National Park Service.