The name of our beloved river comes, like so many of our local names, from the Native Americans who were here before us. Before the Europeans re-drew the maps, the river formed the boundary between the terrotory of the Creek Indian tribes (to the south and west of the river) and that of the Cherokee tribes (to the north and east). This name is not from the Cherokee language, but from the Creek (“Muskogean”).
The word “Chattahoochee” appears to mean “painted rocks” in the Muskogean language group. (Likewise, the city of Chattanooga’s name is thought to have meant “home in the rocks,” based, more or less, on the same word for “rock.”) The Creek Indians apparently named our river for the striking cliffs and outcroppings that we see (and sometimes jump off of) in Atlanta and northwards.
The river runs 436 miles from “Coon Den Ridge” somewhere in the north Georgia mountains near Blairsville, Georgia, to where it merges with the Flint River at the Alabama line, at that point forming the Apalachicola River that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. The Chattahoochee supplies 70% of metro Atlanta’s drinking water.
Written by Jack Lyle
Sources: Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, http://www.ucriverkeeper.org/; U.S. Geological Survey: Geographic Names Phase I data compilation (1976-1981), http://geonames.usgs.gov/apex/f?p=gnispq:3:0::NO::P3_FID:354236.