The Ocmulgee River at Macon
|- left||South River|
|- right||Yellow River|
|Source||Confluence of South, Yellow, and Alcovy rivers|
|- location||Lloyd Shoals Dam, Georgia|
|- location||Hazelhurst, Georgia|
|Length||255 mi (410 km)|
The Ocmulgee River (ok-MUHL-gee) is a western tributary of the Altamaha River, approximately 255 mi (410 km) long, in the U.S. state of Georgia. Noted for its relatively unspoiled and gentle current, it provides the principal drainage for a large section of the Piedmont and coastal plain of central Georgia.
It is formed in north central Georgia southeast of Atlanta by the confluence of the Yellow, South, and Alcovy rivers. Since the early 20th-century construction of LLoyd dam for electric power generation for Macon, these rivers join as arms of the Lake Jackson reservoir. The Ocmulgee River flows from the dam southeast past Macon, which was founded on the fall line. It joins the Oconee from the northwest to form the Altamaha near Lumber City.
Downstream from Lake Jackson, the river flows freely and is considered relatively unspoiled among the rivers of the region. Its low gradient of approximately 1 ft/mile (24 cm/km) gives it a wide and peaceful current along most of its course; it is a popular destination for canoeing. It receives treated wastewater from 13 facilities along its course. The river is a popular destination for catfishing and bass fishing.
On June 2, 1932 George W Perry caught the world-record Largemouth Bass in Montgomery Lake in Telfair County, Georgia. The fish weighed 221⁄4 pounds. While the record has not been broken, it was tied in 2010. Montgomery Lake, now shallow and silted in, was an oxbow lake on the Ocmulgee River.
Archeological excavation in the Ocmulgee River valley has revealed evidenced of continual occupation by ancient indigenous peoples beginning between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago. They left spear points and tools; later peoples were identified by characteristic pottery and, in the Woodland period, the first earthwork mounds. The chiefdom of Ichisi was located between modern Macon and Perry on the Ocmulgee River. The capital town was probably located at the present-day Lamar archaeological site, a part of Ocmulgee National Monument.
More recently, the banks of the river were inhabited by people of the Mississippian culture between the 10th and 12th centuries. The river passes the remnants of several prehistoric Native American villages at Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon. For this reason the Ocmulgee site is also referred to as the "Macon Plateau". It was established around 950 CE by a population that most likely migrated from the Tennessee River Valley, based on pottery evidence. The inhabitants established a chiefdom, which was common for the Mississippian area. The site has eight, distantly spaced, large platform mounds made of earth and an earthen lodge. Within the lodge, forty-seven seats were formed in a bench around the perimeter of the room. Across from this was a three-seated bench in the shape of an eagle effigy; it likely was used by the chiefdom leaders. About 1150 CE, the people abandoned the site.
In 1540 the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto traversed the region and baptized Native American converts in the river. His expedition had conflicts with some of the natives, drew from their resources, and exposed many to new infectious diseases. These produced epidemics and high fatalities, as the Native Americans had no immunity to the diseases.
In the 18th century, the Hitchiti, later part of the Creek Indian confederation, lived near present-day Macon in Ocmulgee Fields. The name of the river probably comes from a Hitchiti words oki, "water", plus molki, "bubbling" or "boiling".
Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton gin stimulated development of short-staple cotton plantations in the uplands, where it grew well. The gin mechanized processing of the cotton and made it profitable. Demand for land in the Southeast increased, as well as demand for slave labor in the Deep South. In 1806, the U.S. acquired the area between the Oconee and Ocmulgee rivers from the Creek Indians by the First Treaty of Washington. That same year United States Army established Fort Benjamin Hawkins overlooking the Ocmulgee Fields. In 1819 the Creek held their last meeting at Ocmulgee Fields. they ceded this territory in 1821.
In the same year, the McCall brother established a barge-building operation at Macon. The first steamboat arrived on the river in 1829. During the 19th century, the river provided the principal water navigation route for Macon, allowing the development of the cotton industry in the surrounding region. In 1842 the river was connected by railroad to Savannah. The river froze from bank to bank in 1886. In 1994 devastating floods on the river after heavy rains caused widespread damage around Macon.
Major creeks that flow into the Ocmulgee River include:
- Tucsawhatchee Creek
- Echeconnee Creek
- Alligator Creek
- Big Indian Creek
- Coley Creek
- Big Horse Creek
- Flat Creek
- Folsom Creek
- Horse Creek
- Jordan Creek
- Limestone Creek
- Little Ocmulgee River (Gum Swamp Creek)
- Little Shellstone Creek
- Little Sturgeon Creek
- Mossy Creek
- Otter Creek
- Richland Creek
- Sandy Run Creek
- Savage Creek
- Shellstone Creek
- South Shellstone Creek
- Sturgeon Creek
- Sugar Creek
- Ten Mile Creek
- Snow, Dean (2010). Archaeology of Native North America. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. pp. 208–209. ISBN 978-0-13-615686-4.