LOCAL LEGENDS OF NORTH CAROLINA
Owing chiefly to the fact that the Cherokee still occupy western North Carolina,
the existing local legends for that section are more numerous than for all the rest
of their ancient territory. For the more important legends see the stories: Agân-
unitsi’s Search for the Uktena, Atagâ′hĭ, Hemp-carrier, Herbert’s Spring,
Kăna′sta, The Great Leech of Tlanusi′yĭ, The Great Yellow-jacket, The
Nûñnĕ′hĭ, The Raid on Tĭkwali′tsĭ, The Removed Townhouses, The Spirit
Defenders of Nĭkwăsĭ′, The Uwʼtsûñ′ta, Tsulʻkălû′, Tsuwe′năhĭ, The Uʻtlûñ′ta.
A KWĔ ʻ TI ′ YĬ : A spot on Tuckasegee river, in Jackson county, between Dick’s
creek and the upper end of Cowee tunnel. According to tradition there was a
dangerous water monster in the river there. The meaning of the name is lost.
ON ONONALUFTEE RIVERBureau of American Ethnology nineteenth annual report pl. xix
photograph author, James Mooney 1888.
A TSI ′ LA – WA ′ Ĭ : “Fire’s relative,” a peak, sometimes spoken of as Rattlesnake knob,
east of Oconaluftee river and about 2 miles northeast of Cherokee or Yellow
Hill, in Swain county. So called from a tradition that a ball of fire was once seen
to fly through the air from the direction of Highlands, in Macon county, andalight upon this mountain. The Indians believe it to have been an ulûñsûtĭ (see
number 50), which its owner had kept in a hiding place upon the summit, from
which, after his death, it issued nightly to search for him.
B LACK ROCK : A very high bald peak toward the head of Scott’s creek, northeast
of Webster, on the line of Jackson and Haywood counties. Either this peak or the
adjacent Jones knob, of equal height, is known to the Cherokee as Ûñ′wădâ-
tsuʻgilasûñ′, “Where the storehouse was taken off,” from a large flat rock,
supported four other rocks, so as to resemble a storehouse (ûñwădâ′lĭ) raised
on poles, which was formerly in prominent view upon the summit until thrown
down lightning some fifty years ago.
BUFFALO CREEK , WEST : A tributary of Cheowa river, in Graham county. The
Cherokee name is Yûnsâi′ĭ, “Buffalo place,” from a tradition that a buffalo
formerly lived under the water at its mouth (see Tsuta′tsinasûñ′yĭ).
C HEOWA MAXIMUM : A bald mountain at the head of Cheowa river, on the line
between Graham and Macon counties. This and the adjoining peak, Swim bald,
are together called Sehwate′yĭ, “Hornet place,” from a monster hornet, which,
according to tradition, formerly had its nest there, and could be seen flying about
the tree tops or sunning itself on the bald spots, and which was so fierce that it
drove away every one who came near the mountain. It finally disappeared.
D ĂKWÂ ′ Ĭ : “Dăkwă′ place,” in French Broad river, about 6 miles above Warm
Springs, in Madison county, and 30 miles below Asheville. A dăkwă′ or monster
fish is said to have lived in the stream at that point.
D A ′ʻ NAWA -( A ) S A ′ʻ TSÛÑYĬ : “War crossing,” a ford in Cheowa river about 3 miles
below Robbinsville, in Graham county. A hostile war party from the North,
probably Shawano or Iroquois, after having killed a man on Cheowa, was
pursued and crossed the river at this place.
D ATLE ′ YĂSTA ′ Ĭ : “Where they fell down,” on Tuckasegee river, at the bend above
Webster, in Jackson county, where was formerly the old town of Gănsâ′gĭ
(Conasauga). Two large uktenas, twined about each other as though in combat,
were once seen to lift themselves from a deep hole in the river there and fall
back into the water.D ÂTSI ′ YĬ : “Dâtsĭ place,” just above Eagle creek, on Little Tennessee river,
between Graham and Swain counties. So called from a traditional water monster
of that name, said to have lived in a deep hole in the stream.
D EGAL ʻ GÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where they are piled up,” a series of cairns on both sides of the
trail down the south side of Cheowa river, in Graham county. They extend along
the trail for several miles, from below Santeetla creek nearly to Slick Rock
creek, on the Tennessee line (the first being just above Disgâ′gisti′yĭ, q. v.), and
probably mark the site of an ancient battle. One at least, nearly off Yellow creek,
is reputed to be the grave of a Cherokee killed the enemy. Every passing
Indian throws an additional stone upon each heap, believing that some
misfortune will befall him should he neglect this duty. Other cairns are on the
west side of Slick Rock creek about a mile from Little Tennessee river, and
others south of Robbinsville, near where the trail crosses the ridge to
Valleytown, in Cherokee county.
D IDA ′ SKASTI ′ YĬ : “Where they were afraid of each other,” a spot on the east side of
Little Tennessee river, near the mouth of Alarka creek, in Swain county. A ball
game once arranged to take place there, before the Removal, between rival teams
from Qualla and Valleytown, was abandoned on account of the mutual fear of
the two parties.
D ISGÂ ′ GISTI ′ YĬ : “Where they gnaw,” a spot where the trail down the south side of
Cheowa river crosses a small branch about half way between Cockram creek and
Yellow creek, in Graham county. Indians passing gnaw the twigs from the laurel
bushes here, in the belief that if they should fail to do so they will encounter
some misfortune before crossing the next ridge. Near is a cairn to which each
also adds a stone (see Degalʻgûñ′yĭ).
D UDUÑ ′ LĔKSÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where its legs were broken off,” a spot on the east side of
Tuckasegee river, opposite the mouth of Cullowhee river, a few miles above
Webster, in Jackson county. The name suggests a tradition, which appears to be
D ULASTÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Potsherd place,” a former settlement on Nottely river, in Cherokee
county, near the Georgia line. A half-breed Cherokee ball captain who formerly
lived there, John Butler or Tsan-uga′sĭtă (Sour John), having been defeated in a
ball game, said, in contempt of his men, that they were of no more use thanbroken pots.
D UNIDÛ ′ LALÛÑYĬ : “Where they made arrows,” on Straight creek, a head-stream of
Oconaluftee river, near Cataluchee peak, in Swain county. A Shawano war party
coming against the Cherokee, after having crossed the Smoky mountains, halted
there to prepare arrows.
F RENCH B ROAD RIVER : A magazine writer states that the Indians called this stream
“the racing river.” This is only partially correct. The Cherokee have no name for
the river as a whole, but the district through which it flows about Asheville is
called them Un-ta′kiyasti′yĭ, “Where they race.” The name of the city they
translate as Kâsdu′yĭ, “Ashes place.”
G AKATI ′ YĬ : “Place of setting free,” a south bend in Tuckasegee river about 3
miles above Bryson City, in Swain county. It is sometimes put in the plural
form, Diga′katiyĭ, “Place of setting them free.” In one of their old wars the
Cherokee generously released some prisoners there.
G ATUTI ′ YĬ : “Town-building place,” near the head of Santeetla creek, southwest
from Robbinsville, in Graham county. High up on the slopes of the neighboring
mountain, Stratton bald, is a wide “bench,” where the people once started to
build a settlement, but were frightened off a strange noise, which they
thought was made an uktena.
G I ʻ LĬ ′-D INĔHÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the dogs live,” a deep place in Oconaluftee river,
Swain county, a short distance above Yellow Hill (Cherokee) and just below the
mound. It is so named from a tradition that two “red dogs” were once seen there
playing on the bank. They were supposed to live under the water.
G ISEHÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the Female lives,” on Tuckasegee river, about 2 miles above
Bryson City, Swain county. There is a tradition that some supernatural “white
people” were seen there washing clothes in the river and hanging them out upon
the bank to dry. They were probably supposed to be the family of the Agis′-
e′gwa, or “Great Female,” a spirit invoked the conjurers.
G REGORY BALD : A high peak of the Great Smoky mountains on the western
border of Swain county, adjoining Tennessee. The Cherokee call it Tsistu′yĭ,
“Rabbit place.” Here the rabbits had their townhouse and here lived their chief,the Great Rabbit, and in the old times the people could see him. He was as large
as a deer, and all the little rabbits were subject to him.
J OANNA BALD : A bald mountain near the head of Valley river, on the line between
Graham and Cherokee counties. Called Diyâ′hăli′yĭ, “Lizard place,” from a
traditional great lizard, with glistening throat, which used to haunt the place and
was frequently seen sunning itself on the rocky slopes.
J UTACULLA OLD FIELDS : A bald spot of perhaps a hundred acres on the slope of
Tennessee bald (Tsulʻkălû′ Tsunegûñ′yĭ), at the extreme head of Tuckasegee
river, in Jackson county, on the ridge from which the lines of Haywood, Jackson,
and Transylvania counties diverge. The giant Tsulʻkălû′, or Jutaculla, as the
name is corrupted the whites, had his residence in the mountain (see story),
and according to local legend among the whites, said to be derived from the
Indians, this bald spot was a clearing which he made for a farm. Some distance
farther to the west, on the north bank of Cany fork, about 1 mile above Moses
creek and perhaps 10 miles above Webster, in the same county, is the Jutaculla
rock, a large soapstone slab covered with rude carvings, which, according to the
same tradition, are scratches made the giant in jumping from his farm on the
mountain to the creek below.
J UTACULLA ROCK : See Jutaculla old fields.
K ÂL -D ETSI ′ YÛÑYĬ : “Where the bones are,” a ravine on the north side of Cheowa
river, just above the mouth of East Buffalo creek, in Graham county. In the old
time two Cherokee were killed here the enemy, and their fate was unknown
until, long afterward, their friends found their bones scattered about in the
N ANTAHALA : A river and ridge of very steep mountains in Macon county, the
name being a corruption of Nûñ′dăye′ʻlĭ, applied to a former settlement about the
mouth of Briertown creek, the townhouse being on the west side of the river,
about the present Jarretts. The word means “middle sun,” i. e., “midday sun,”
from nûñdă′, “sun,” and aye′ʻlĭ, “middle,” and refers to the fact that in places
along the stream the high cliffs shut out the direct light of the sun until nearly
noon. From a false idea that it is derived from unûñtĭ, “milk,” it has been
fancifully rendered, “Center of a woman’s breast,” “Maiden’s bosom,” etc. The
valley was the legendary haunt of the Uwʼtsûñ′ta (see number 45). As illustratingthe steepness of the cliffs along the stream it was said of a noted hunter,
Tsasta′wĭ, who lived in the old town, that he used to stand on the top of the bluff
overlooking the settlement and throw down upon the roof of his house the liver
of the freshly killed deer, so that his wife would have it cooked and waiting for
him the time he got down the mountain.
N UGĂTSA ′ NĬ : A ridge below Yellow Hill (Cherokee), on Oconaluftee river, in
Swain county, said to be a resort of the Nûñnĕ′hĭ fairies. The word is an archaic
form denoting a high ridge with a long, gradual slope.
Q UALLA : A post-office and former trading station in Jackson county, on the
border of the present East Cherokee reservation, hence sometimes called the
Qualla reservation. The Cherokee form is Kwalĭ, or Kwalûñyĭ in the locative.
According to Captain Terrell, the former trader at that place, it was named from
Kwalĭ, i. e., Polly, an old Indian woman who lived there some sixty years ago.
S ĂLIGU ′ GĬ : “Turtle place,” a deep hole in Oconaluftee river, about half a mile
below Adams creek, near Whittier, in Swain county, said to be the resort of a
S KWAN ′- DIGÛ ʻ GÛÑ ′ YĬ : For Askwan′-digûʻgûñ′yĭ, “Where the Spaniard is in the
water,” on Soco creek, just above the entrance of Wright’s creek, in Jackson
county. According to tradition a party of Spaniards advancing into the mountains
was attacked here the Cherokee, who threw one of them (dead?) into the
S OCO GAP : Ăhălu′na, Ă′hălunûñ′yĭ, or Uni′hălu′na, “Ambush,” or “Where they
ambushed”; at the head of Soco creek, on the line between Swain and Haywood
counties. The trail from Pigeon river crosses this gap, and in the old times the
Cherokee were accustomed to keep a lookout here for the approach of enemies
from the north. On the occasion which gave it the name, they ambushed here,
just below the gap, on the Haywood side, a large party of invading Shawano, and
killed all but one, whose ears they cut off, after which, according to a common
custom, they released him to carry the news back to his people.
S TANDING I NDIAN : A high bald peak at the extreme head of Nantahala river, in
Macon county. The name is a rendering of the Cherokee name, Yûñ′wĭ-
tsulenûñ′yĭ, “Where the man stood” (originally Yû′ñwĭ-dĭkatâgûñ′yĭ, “Where theman stands”), given to it on account of a peculiarly shaped rock formerly jutting
out from the bald summit, but now broken off. As the old memory faded, a
tradition grew up of a mysterious being once seen standing upon the mountain
S TEKOA : A spot on Tuckasegee river, just above Whittier, in Swain county, better
known as the Thomas farm, from its being the former residence of Colonel W.
H. Thomas, for a long time the agent of the East Cherokee. The correct form is
Stikâ′yĭ, the name of an ancient settlement at the place, as also of another on a
creek of the same name in Rabun county, Georgia. The word has been
incorrectly rendered “little grease,” from usdi′ga or usdi′, “little,” and ka′ĭ,
“grease” or “oil,” but the true meaning is lost.
S WANNANOA : A river joining the French Broad at Asheville, and the gap in the
Blue ridge at its head. A magazine writer has translated this name “the
beautiful.” The word, however, is a corruption of Suwa′li-nûñnâ′(-hĭ), “Suwali
trail,” the Cherokee name, not of the stream, but of the trail crossing the gap
toward the country of the Ani′-Suwa′lĭ or Cheraw (see number 104, “The Eastern
S WIM BALD OR W OLF C REEK BALD . See Cheowa Maximum.
T SI ′ SKWUNSDI ′- ADSISTI ′ YĬ : “Where they killed Little-bird,” a place near the head of
West Buffalo creek, southwest of Robbinsville, in Graham county. A trail
crosses the ridge near this place, which takes its name from a man who was
killed here a hostile war party in the old fighting days.
T SU ′ DINÛÑTI ′ YĬ : “Throwing down place,” the site of a former settlement in a bend
on the west side of Nantahala river, just within the limits of Macon county. So
called from a tradition that a Cherokee pursued the enemy threw away his
T SUKILÛÑNÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where he alighted,” two small bald spots on the side of the
mountain at the head of Little Snowbird creek, southwest of Robbinsville, in
Graham county. A mysterious being, having the form of a giant, with head
blazing like the sun, was once seen to fly through the air, alight at this place, and
stand for some time looking out over the landscape. It then flew away, and when
the people came afterward to look, they found the herbage burned from theground where it had stood. They do not know who it was, but some think it may
have been the Sun.
T SULÂ ′ SINÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the footprint is,” on Tuckasegee river, about a mile
above Deep creek, in Swain county. From a rock now blasted out to make way
for the railroad, on which were impressions said to have been the footprints of
the giant Tsulʻkălû′ (see story) and a deer.
T SUNDA ʻ NILTI ′ YĬ : “Where they demanded the debt from him,” a fine camping
ground, on the north side of Little Santeetla creek, about halfway up, west from
Robbinsville, Graham county. Here a hunter once killed a deer, which the others
of the party demanded in payment of a debt due them. The Cherokee commonly
give the creek the same name.
T SÛTA ′ GA U WEYÛÑ ′ Ĭ : “Chicken creek,” an extreme eastern head-stream of
Nantahala river, entering about 4 miles above Clear branch, in Macon county. So
called from a story that some hunters camping there for the night once heard a
noise as of chickens constantly crowing upon a high rock farther up the stream.
T SUTA ′ TSINÂSÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where it eddies,” a deep hole at the mouth of Cockram creek
of Cheowa river, in Graham county, where is an eddy said to be caused a
buffalo which lives under the water at this spot, and which anciently lived at the
mouth of West Buffalo creek, farther up the river.
T USQUITTEE BALD : A bald mountain at the head of Tusquittee creek, eastward
from Hayesville, in Clay county. The Cherokee name is Tsuwă′-uniyetsûñ′yĭ,
“Where, the water-dogs laughed,” the water-dog of the southern Alleghenies,
sometimes also called mud-puppy or hell-bender, being a large amphibious
lizard or salamander of the genus Menopoma, frequenting muddy waters.
According to the story, a hunter once crossing over the mountain in a very dry
season, heard voices, and creeping silently toward the place from which the
sound proceeded, peeped over a rock and saw two water-dogs walking together
on their hind legs along the trail and talking as they went. Their pond had dried
up and they were on the way over to Nantahala river. As he listened one said to
the other, “Where’s the water? I’m so thirsty that my apron (gills) hangs down,”
and then both water-dogs laughed.
U KTE ′ NA – TSUGANÛÑ ′ TATSÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the uktena fastened,” a spot onTuckasegee river, about 2 miles above Deep creek, near Bryson City, in Swain
county. There is a tradition that an uktena, trying to make his way upstream,
became fastened here, and in his struggles pried up some large rocks now lying
in the bed of the river, and left deep scratches upon other rocks along the bank.
U KTE ′ NA – UTANSI ′ NASTÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the uktena crawled,” a large rock on the
Hyatt farm, on the north bank of Tuckasegee river, about four miles above
Bryson City, in Swain county. In the rock bed of the stream and along the rocks
on the side are wavy depressions said to have been made an uktena in going
up the river.
U NTLASGÂSTI ′ YĬ : “Where they scratched,” at the head of Hyatt creek, of Valley
river, in Cherokee county. According to hunting tradition, every animal on
arriving at this spot was accustomed to scratch the ground like a turkey.
V ENGEANCE CREEK : A south tributary of Valley river, in Cherokee county. So
called the first settlers from an old Indian woman who lived there and whom
they nicknamed “Vengeance,” on account of her cross looks. The Cherokee call
the district Gănsaʻti′yĭ, “Robbing place,” from their having robbed a trader there
in the Revolution.
W AYA GAP : A gap in the Nantahala mountains, in Macon county, where the trail
crosses from Laurel creek of Nantahala river to Cartoogaja creek of the Little
Tennessee. The Cherokee call it Aʻtâhi′ta, “Shouting place.” For the tradition see
number 13. It was the scene of a stubborn encounter in the Revolution (see page
49). The name Waya appears to be from the Cherokee wă′ʻya, “wolf.”
W EBSTER : The county seat of Jackson county, on Tuckasegee river. Known to the
Cherokee as Unadanti′yĭ, “Where they conjured.” The name properly belongs to
a gap 3 miles east of Webster, on the trail going up Scotts creek. According to
tradition, a war party of Shawano, coming from the direction of Pigeon river,
halted here to “make medicine” against the Cherokee, but while thus engaged
were surprised the latter, who came up from behind and killed several,
including the conjurer.
Y Â ′ NÛ – DINĔHÛÑ ′ YĬ : “Where the bears live,” on Oconaluftee river, about a mile
above its junction with Tuckasegee, in Swain county. A family of “water bears”
is said to live at the bottom of the river in a deep hole at this point.Y Â ′ NÛ – U ′ NĂTAWASTI ′ YĬ : “Where the bears wash,” a small pond of very cold,
purple water, which has no outlet and is now nearly dried up, in a gap of the
Great Smoky mountains, at the extreme head of Raven fork of Oconaluftee, in
Swain county. It was said to be a favorite bear wallow, and according to some
accounts its waters had the same virtues ascribed to those of Atagâ′hĭ (see
Y AWÂ ′ Ĭ : “Yawa place,” a spot on the south side of Yellow creek of Cheowa river,
in Graham county, about a mile above the trail crossing near the mouth of the
creek. The legend is that a mysterious personage, apparently a human being,
formerly haunted a round knob near there, and was sometimes seen walking
about the top of the knob and crying, Yawă′! Yawă′! while the sound of invisible
guns came from the hill, so that the people were afraid to go near it.
Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney