Just a hint of fall in the mountain air already has many of the trees bursting into color, which has many people from our area taking the short ride into the hills near Helen. Along this path, an old Indian mound stands at the junction of Highways 17 and 75, just south of Helen near the Chattahoochee River. It is a familiar landmark to many travelers, but a mystery to newcomers.
Legend has it that Indian lovers from opposing tribes are buried in this sacred place known as the Nacoochee Mound. The story relates that Sautee, a brave of the Chickasaw Tribe, and Nacoochee, daughter of a Cherokee Chief, fell immediately and hopelessly in love when a Chickasaw band stopped in Cherokee territory at a designated resting place. The two lovers met in the night and ran away to nearby Yonah Mountain to spend a few days together. When they later confronted Nacoochee’s father with the idea of creating peace between the two nations, Chief Wahoo ordered Sautee thrown from the high cliffs of Yonah Mountain while Nacoochee was forced to watch. Immediately, Nacoochee broke away from her father’s restraining hands and leaped from the cliff to join her lover. At the foot of the cliff the lovers dragged their broken bodies together and locked in a final embrace. The Chief, overcome with remorse, realized the greatness of love, and buried the lovers, still locked together in death, near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in a burial mound.
Though it is a very touching story, in reality, the Nacoochee Mound is an old burial site that was probably placed there long before the Cherokee Tribe inhabited the area. In fact, an excavation that began in 1915 unearthed 75 burials in the mound.
Graves were discovered at varying levels, showing that the burials took place over a number of years. Differences in artifacts found indicate a slight change in the culture, due possibly to the influence of civilization. Within the mound, none of the remains were preserved well enough to enable exact measurements of the bodies.
Since the Cherokee Tribe later used the mound as a site for their townhouse and ceremonial rites, they were obviously ignorant of the original purpose of the artificial hill. They also erected an estimated 300 dwellings in a village on the surrounding flatland near the river.
Of the 75 skeletons unearthed, 56 were of adults, 7 of adolescents, 4 of children, and 8 were unidentifiable as to age. With respect to orientation, the dead were interred with the head directed in varying compass directions. One was buried in a sitting position, two were buried in a face down position, but the direction of burial bears no special significance as to age. Of the determinable burials, 47 were flexed in varying degrees. Six were flexed backward, and four were buried extended full length. Artifacts were found with only 27 of the burials, the others had no accompaniments for any description.
The Nacoochee Mound is located in White County, two miles south of Helen on property that once belonged to the L.G. Hardman Estate. Dr. Hardman was a former Governor of the State of Georgia. Today, however, the mound, the Chattahoochee River here, this potion of the Nacoochee Valley, and the Hardman Estate are all part of Smithgall Woods, which is owned by the State of Georgia.
During the summer of 1980 Nacoochee Valley, in which the Mound is located, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district. It is a beautiful place to see from the road during any season of the year, but is especially beautiful during the fall!