Valley of Nacoochee, Georgia, April, 1848

I now write from the most charming valley of this southern wilderness. The river Nacoochee is a tributary of the Chattahoochee, and, for this country, is a remarkably clear, cold, and picturesque stream. From the moment that it doffs the title of brook and receives the more dignified one of river, it begins to wind itself in a most wayward manner through a valley which is some eight or ten miles long, when it wanders from the vision of the ordinary traveler and loses itself among unexplored hills. The valley is perhaps a mile wide, and, as the surrounding hills are not lofty, it is distinguished more for its beauty than any other quality; and this characteristic is greatly enhanced by the fact, that while the surrounding country remains in its original wilderness the valley itself is highly cultivated, and the eye is occasionally gratified by cottage scenes which suggest the ideas of contentment and peace. Before the window where 1 am now writing lies a broad meadow, where horses and cattle are quietly grazing, and from the neighboring hills comes to my ear the frequent tinkling of a bell which tells me that the sheep or goats are returning from their morning rambles in the cool woods.

And now for the associations connected with the valley of Nacoochee. Foremost among them all is a somewhat isolated mountain, the summit of which is nearly three miles distant from the margin of the valley. It occupies a conspicuous position in all the views of the surrounding country, and from one point partially resembles the figure of a crouching bear, from which circumstance it was named the Yonah Mountain – Yonah being the Cherokee for bear. The mountain bear seems to be proud of his exalted position, and well he may, for he is the natural guardian of one of the sweetest valleys in the world. Its height is nearly two thousand feet above the water in its vicinity.

But the artificial memorials of Nacoochee are deserving of a passing notice. On the southern side of the valley, and about half a mile apart, are two mounds, which are the wonder of all who see them. They are perhaps forty feet high, and similar in form to a half globe. One of them has been cultivated while the other is covered with grass and bushes, and surmounted, directly on the top, by a large pine tree. Into one of them an excavation has been made, and, as I am informed, pipes, tomahawks, and human bones were found in great numbers. Connected with these is an Indian legend, which I will give my readers presently.

Many discoveries have been made in the valley of Nacoochee corroborating the general impression, that De Soto or some other adventurer in the olden times performed a pilgrimage through the northern part of Georgia in search of gold. Some twelve years ago, for example, half a dozen log cabins were discovered in one portion of the valley, lying upwards of ten feet below the surface; and, in other places, something resembling a furnace, together with iron spoons, pieces of earthenware, and leaden plates were disinterred, and are now in the possession of the resident inhabitants. In this connection might also be mentioned the ruin of an old fort, which may now be seen a few miles north of Nacoochee valley. It is almost obliterated from the face of the earth, but its various ramparts can be easily traced by the careful observer. Its purpose we can easily divine, but with regard to its history even the Indians are entirely ignorant.

Connected with the valley of Nacoochee are the following legends, which were related to me by the “oldest inhabitant” of this region.

In this valley, in the olden times, resided Kostoyeak, or the “Sharp Shooter,” a chief of the Cherokee nation. He was renowned for his bravery and cunning, and among his bitterest enemies was one Chonesta, or the “Black Dog,” a chief of the Tennessee. In those days there was a Yemassee maiden residing in the low country, who was renowned for her beauty in all the land, and she numbered among her many suitors the famous Kostoyeak and four other warriors, upon each of whom she was pleased to smile; whereupon she discarded all the others, and among them the Tennessee chief Chonesta. On returning to his own country he breathed revenge against Kostoyeak, and threatened that if he succeeded to the hand of the Yemassee beauty the Cherokee’s tribe should be speedily exterminated. The merits of the four rival chiefs was equal, and the Yemassee chief could not decide upon which to bestow his daughter. Kostoyeak was her favorite, and in order to secure a marriage with him, she proposed to her father that she should accept that warrior who could discover where the waters of the Savannah and those of the Tennessee took their rise among the mountains. Supposing that no such place existed the father gave his consent, and the great hunt was commenced. At the end of the first noon Kostoyeak returned with the intelligence that he had found a gorge – now called the gap of the Blue Ridge as well as Rabun Gap – where the two great rivers ” shake hands and commence their several journeys, each singing a song of gladness and freedom.” In process of time the Yemassee chief was convinced that Kostoyeak told a true story, and he was, therefore, married to the long-loved maiden of his choice.

Enraged at these events, Chonesta assembled his warriors, and made war upon the fortunate Cherokee and his whole tribe. The Great Spirit was the friend of Kostoyeak, and he was triumphant. He slew Chonesta with his own hand and destroyed his bravest warriors, and finally became the possessor of half the entire Tennessee valley.

Years rolled on and Kostoyeak as well as his wife were numbered among the dead. They were buried with every Indian honor in the valley of Nacoochee, and, to perpetuate their many virtues in after years, their several nations erected over their remains the mounds which now adorn a portion of the valley where they lived.

The other legend to which I have alluded is as follow: The meaning of the Indian word Nacoochee is the ” Evening Star,” and was applied to a Cherokee girl of the same name. She was distinguished for her beauty and a strange attachment for the flowers and the birds of her native valley. She died in her fifteenth summer, and at the twilight hour of a summer day. On the evening following her burial a newly-born star made its appearance in the sky, and all her kindred cherished the belief that she whom they had thought as lovely as the star, had now become the brightest of the whole array which looked down upon the world, and so she has ever been remembered (as well as the valley where she lived) as Na-coo-chee; or the Evening Star. The spot of earth where the maiden is said to have been buried is now covered with flowers, and the waters of the beautiful Nacoochee seem to be murmuring a perpetual song in memory of the departed.

That my letter may leave a permanent impression upon my reader’s mind, I will append to it the following poem written by a Georgia poet, Henry R. Jackson, Esq.

Mount Yonah- Vale of Nacoochee

Before me, as I stand, his broad, round head
Mount Yonah lifts the neighboring hills above,
While, at his foot, all pleasantly is spread
Nacoochee’s vale, sweet as a dream of love.
Cradle of Peace! mild, gentle as the dove
Whose tender accents from yon woodlands swell,
Must she have been who thus has interwove
Her name with thee, and thy soft, holy spell,
And all of peace which on this troubled globe may dwell!

Nacoochee – in tradition, thy sweet queen
Has vanished with her maidens: not again
Along thy meadows shall their forms be seen;
The mountain echoes catch no more the strain
Of their wild Indian lays at evening’s wane;
No more, where rumbling branches interwine,
They pluck the jasmine flowers, or break the cane
Beside the marshy stream, or from the vine
Shake down, in purple showers, the luscious muscadine.
Yet round thee hangs the same sweet spirit still!
Thou art among these hills a sacred spot,
As if shut out from all the clouds of ill
That gloom so darkly o’er the human lot.
On thy green breast the world I quite forgot
Its stern contentions – its dark grief and care,
And I breathed freeer, deeper, and blushed not
At old emotions long, long stifled there,
Which sprang once more to life in thy calm, loving air.

I saw the last bright gleam of sunset play
On Yonah’s lofty head: all quiet grew
Thy bosom, which beneath the shadows lay
Of the surrounding mountains; deeper blue
Fell on their mighty summits; evening threw
Her veil o’er all, and on her azure brow
A bright star shone ; a trusting form I drew
Yet closer to my side ; above, below.
Within were peace and hope life may not often know!

Thou loveliest of earth’s valleys! fare thee well!
Nor is the parting pangless to my soul.
Youth, hope and happiness with thee shall dwell,
Unsullied Nature hold o’er thee control.
And years still leave thee beauteous as they roll.
Oh! I could linger with thee! yet this spell
Must break, e’en as upon my heart it stole,
And found a weakness there I may not tell –
An anxious life, a troubled future claim me! fare thee well!


Topics:
Letter,

Locations:
Nacoochee Valley,

Collection:
Lanman, Charles. Letters from the Alleghany Mountains. New York: Geo. P. Putnam, 155 Broadway. 1849.

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