American Indians in Henderson County

The following information was obtained from archaeologists, archaeology journals and reports, and many other sources. For more information, visit

Special thanks to archaeologist Benjamin A. Steere for his interest in Cherokee archaeology and studies in Henderson County.

For hundreds of years, the Cheraw and Catawba fought the Cherokee. They were bitter enemies.
The lands claimed by the tribes changed many times during these hundreds of years.
Both Cherokee and Catawba studies and tradition indicate that at some point the Cherokee and Catawba arrived at an agreement recognizing the Broad River and its tributaries (refer to geography class notes) as the “dividing line” between the tribes (possibly about 1600).
But, even before this “treaty,” Cherokee villages were located farther west than Henderson County, primarily because of the heavy fighting between the tribes.
After the agreement between the two tribes, the Cherokee claimed the land west of the Broad River and its tributaries (note geography of Henderson County) and the Catawba claimed the land east of the Broad River and its tributaries.
The Broad River was called “Eswau Huppeday” (Line River) by the Catawba.

Archaeological evidence proves that the Cherokee had villages in Henderson County during the Archaic Period (see timeline).
Archaeological evidence indicates Catawba villages in Rutherford County and McDowell County.
As of this date, no archaeological studies have evidence of the Catawba or Cheraw having villages in Henderson County. But, some evidence possibly indicates they did have villages in Polk County.
No archaeological evidence has been found in Henderson County indicating that the Cherokee had villages in the county later than 1000 BC.
Almost all artifacts found in Henderson County and studied by archaeologists date from the Archaic Period, with the most recent from the early Woodland Period (1000 BC to 1000 AD).
It appears that villages in Henderson County were abandoned hundreds of years prior to Spanish and English exploration in the late 1500s and 1600s.
It is surmised that Henderson County was a “no-man’s land.” With bitter fighting between the tribes for hundreds of years, it would not have been safe to have villages in this region.
It is also surmised that the county was a “neutral” territory separating the two tribes. Both tribes used paths through the county for trading and hunting.
The Broad River and its tributaries (Continental Divide) was the mutual boundary. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, when the Cherokee signed the treaty in 1767 with British Gov. William Tryon, they were giving up none of the land they claimed in North Carolina.

Ancient artifacts have been found throughout Henderson County.
Archaeological studies have confirmed an ancient village along Mills River near the intersection of N.C. 280 and N.C. 191.
Studies have proven archaeological sites in the Seven Falls area and the Follies area of Etowah and other locations along the French Broad.
Numerous artifacts have been found near the following locations:
1. Creeks and streams along Howard Gap Road (Indian trading path), particularly at the “ridge” and near the Hungry River
2. Cane Creek in the Fletcher and Hooper’s Creek regions of the county
3. Bat Fork Creek and other streams in the East Flat Rock area
4. Green River, particularly in the Green River community
5. Sugarloaf Mountain and other sections of Edneyville
6. Rocky Broad River in the Gerton and Bat Cave communities
7. Pacolet River area and streams in the Mountain Page community
8. The “flat rock” in Flat Rock (Cherokee tradition indicates that the large granite rock was a trading center where the tribes met for trading. They brought families and a “peace” truce was declared. It was NOT a ceremonial center or a religious center. The rock was at the top of the Saluda Trail, a major Indian trading path connecting several tribes from South Carolina to Virginia.)

Petroglyph and pictograph sites have been identified within Henderson County. At the web site, go to the rock art map.!ut/p/c4/04_SB8K8xLLM9MSSzPy8xBz9CP0os3gjAwhwtDDw9_AI8zPyhQoY6BdkOyoCAGixyPg!/?ss=110811&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&cid=stelprdb5209551&navid=150140000000000&pnavid=150000000000000&position=Not%20Yet%20Determined.Html&ttype=detail&pname=National%20Forests%20in%20North%20Carolina-%20History%20&%20Culture

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Artifacts and mounds were found along Cane Creek in the Fletcher and Hooper’s Creek regions of Henderson County in the late 1800s by J.W. Emmert with the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution.
It must be noted that there are some conflicting reports on the Cherokee in relation to mound building. Some anthropologists and archaeologists state that mounds, such as the ones described below in the Smithsonian report, were Cherokee in origin. Other experts disagree and state that mounds, such as the ones described below, were built by peoples of the Mississippian Mound-Building culture (Cheraw), who were eventually displaced by the Cherokee.

Cherokee town houses (council houses) were built on a mound in the center of the village. Only a distinguished chief would be buried under the seat he had occupied in the town council house.
According to Cherokee elders with the Eastern Band of the Cherokee, and archeology reports, the Cherokee typically buried their dead either in the floor directly under the place where the person had died, under the hearth or outside near the house. Or, as stated above, in the case of a distinguished chief, under the seat he had occupied in the town council house.
When a burial must take place outside, sometimes the corpse was laid alongside a large rock, and a wall about 18 inches high was built on the other side of the corpse to enclose it. Then, a covering of wood or an arch of stone was laid over it as a roof and stones were heaped over the whole to create a small tomb.

Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology
to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution – 1891
By Cyrus Thomas

“Some mounds in Henderson County, opened in 1884 by Mr. J.W. Emmert, who was temporarily employed by the Bureau, present some peculiarities worthy of notice. One of these, situated on the farm of Mrs. Rebecca Conner, and perfectly circular, was found to be 44 feet in diameter and 6 feet high; a number of small trees were growing on it. The annexed cut (Fig. 35) shows a vertical section of it. The dark central triangle represents a conical mass of charcoal and ashes. The conical mass measured 16 feet in diameter at the base and 5 feet high, the top reaching within 1 foot of the top of the mound. The outer portion consisted of charcoal, evidently the remains of pine poles, which had been placed in several layers, sloping toward the apex. The inner portion consisted of ashes and coals mixed with earth, in which were found some burnt human bones, and some accompanying articles, among which were two stones with holes drilled through them. The fragments of bones and the specimens were at the base, in the center.
“A mound on the farm of Mr. J.B Alexander, 2 miles above the one just described, was examined by Mr. Emmert, and found to cover a pit similar to those explored in Caldwell County. This mound was situated on an elevated level, about a quarter of a mile from the creek, in an old field which had been plowed over for sixty years. It was 2 feet high when he explored it, but the old people stated to him that it was formerly 10 feet high, and had a “tail” or ridge running away from it 200 feet long; but the only indication of this that Mr. Emmert could see was a string of clay running where it was stated to have been. It runs in the direction of the creek bottom, where any quantity of broken pottery may be picked up. The mound, which was ? feet in diameter and composed wholly of red clay, was entirely removed to the original surface of the ground, Nothing was found in it, ┬ábut after reaching the surface he discovered a circular pit 12 feet in diameter, which had been dug to the depth of 4 feet in the solid red clay. This he found to be filled full of ashes and charcoal, but failed to find any bones or specimens in it. Although Mr. Emmert failed to find any evidence that this was a burial mound, its similarity with those of Caldwell County will, I think, justify us in concluding it was constructed for this purpose.
“Another mound on the same farm as the one last mentioned, a cross-section of which is shown in Fig. 3:5, is of the common type, examples of which are found in most of the districts: diameter 52 feet and height 9 feet; the upper layer, No. 1, red clay, about 4 feet thick, No. 2, a thin layer of charcoal, about 3 inches thick; the lower stratum or central core, No. 3, dark-colored earth. In this lower layer were found five skeletons, on the natural surface and at the points indicated by the dots, which crumbled to pieces as soon as exposed to the air. With one were sixteen large, rudely made, white flint arrow-heads, so nearly alike as to make it apparent they were the work of one individual, and with another a small pipe and some arrow-heads.
“Passing westward over the mountains into East Tennessee, we find some variations in the modes of burial, but not so widely different from those east of the range as to justify the belief that the authors of the works of the two localities were different peoples or belonged to different tribes.”