Unearthing History: The Nacoochee Mound

Where: Sautee-Nacoochee, Georgia

Trip Date: The first eighteen years of my life.

After the last several weeks of exploring exotic locations in Michigan I decided I would keep this week’s traveling simple. So I traveled right outside my back door. Just outside of Helen in the Nacoochee Valley—only a few miles from where I grew up—is the Nacoochee Mound, locally referred to as simply “the Indian Mound.”


Sautee-Nacoochee Mound

The Nacoochee Mound, nestled on the bank of the Chattahoochee River beneath Mount Yonah.

The Legend

Local legend—because there are always local legends—has quite the story to tell about the origins of the mound. A Chickasaw warrior named Sautee fell in love with Nacoochee, the daughter of the chief of a rival Cherokee tribe. When the chief found out, the couple ran away to the nearby Yonah Mountain. But the Cherokee warriors soon caught up, and the chief ordered that Sautee be thrown from the mountain’s high cliff. Unable to bear life without her love, Nacoochee wrenched herself free of her father’s grasp and followed Sautee over the edge where the two shared a final embrace as they died.

Yonah Mountain

Mount Yonah, known for the distinctive rock face. Yonah comes from the Cherokee word for bear.

Full of remorse, the chief realized the error of his ways and had the couple buried—still embracing—near the banks of the Chattahoochee River in the shadow of the mountain under the mound. And there was peace in the world, forever and always.

The Truth

However, recent archeological studies have determined that while the Chickasaw did inhabit this area, the Cherokee may not, in fact, have had settlements in the Nacoochee Valley at all. The area was first settled nearly two thousand years ago, sometime between 100 and 500 AD. Between the years of 1350 and 1600 the site was home to part of the South Appalachian Mississippian culture, and pottery artifacts similar to those produced by nearby Etowah tribes have been unearthed here.

So as romantic and appealing as the Sautee-Nacoochee story is, it is more likely that the mound was simply a traditional burial site for a local native tribe. A 1915 excavation of the mound discovered some 75 human remains within the mound. But the truth has never deterred a good story. The valley and nearby community of Sautee-Nacoochee are actually named for other nearby native settlements.

The Mound Today

Around 1890, Captain John Nichols—who owned the land at the time—dug a few feet off the top of the mound and constructed the gazebo that now stands as a local landmark.

The Gazebo

The gazebo built atop the mound in 1890.

The mound and gazebo now sit in the middle of a private field, surrounded by grazing cows. Set against the backdrop of Yonah Mountain, it makes for a very picturesque image.

Grazing cows

Cows grazing around the mound.

The Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center has a more comprehensive history of the area and artifacts on display.

By | 2017-08-18T00:30:45+00:00 August 18th, 2017|Georgia, History|5 Comments

About the Author:

James is an artist and illustrator currently working in Georgia.


  1. Morton McInvale August 18, 2017 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Artistically hidtorical

  2. Margaret Ellen August 18, 2017 at 2:44 pm - Reply

    Great story, I love that mound and area. Thanks James !

    • James McInvale August 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Thank you!

  3. Linda Clarke August 18, 2017 at 4:31 pm - Reply

    The Inky Atlas is a real treat, James. Your talent for drawing and painting is something I envy. You have a great eye for detail, and I love the bright, vibrant colors you use.

    Your stories are interesting and entertaining, and it’s fun when your sense of humor pops up.

    Thank you for sharing. I enjoy your charming and delightful paintings and stories. I hope you will continue The Inky Atlas for a good while.

    • James McInvale August 18, 2017 at 5:27 pm - Reply

      Thank you Linda! I plan on doing this as long as possible.

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