While the Indian mound is essentially a mildly offensive tourist trap, the tiny village of Sautee — just down the street — is in my opinion well worth the visit:
Located in Georgia, just outside of Helena, there is this Indian mound that really impressed me, at least until I learned from online sources (such as Atlas Obscura) that it had already been excavated, and then replaced (and is therefore a replica rather than the original) — a fact that none of the signs at the location tell you … nor one shared with me by locals.
The area in which it sits could best be described as countrified yuppie. It’s all gift shops and locally made artesian soaps cheeses and art etc., none of whom I suppose have any motivation to tell the truth about historical mound their shops are adjacent to. Not only did the locals not share the actual facts with me, I was, I would argue, actively misled by them. I can’t remember if it was the saleswoman at the racist antiques store across the street (which sold Sambo dolls and ‘Song of the South‘ DVD’s) or one of the other locals business people who initially assured me that the mound was an Indian burial mound that had been kept in “almost pristine condition” in large part because of the gazebo that a local farmer had opted to place on the top, that kept him and future farmers from leveling it.
In fact, if you look closely and read the sign, and then go to this site, you’ll discover that the sign is mostly a pack of lies!!!! There is no evidence that DeSoto visited, and archeologists are fairly certain that the mound predates any Cherokee habitation of the area.
Consider for instance “legend” that is associated to the mound:
“The legend of the Nacoochee Indian Mound states that Indian lovers from opposing tribes are buried within the mound. Sautee, a brave of the Chicksaw Tribe, and Nacoochee, the daughter of a Cherokee Chief fell immediately and hopelessly in love when a Chicksaw 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 idyllic 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. Almost 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 and died there. The Chief, overcome with remorse realized the greatness of love and buried the lovers, still locked in death, near the banks of the Chattahoochee River as a burial mound.”
Seems a bit TOO Romeo and Juliet for my tastes… that and the fact that the mound is listed on the National registry of historical places may, in actuality, have more to do with it’s having been located on the estate of L.C. Hardman, a former Georgia Governor, than anything else. … none of which I learned till I started researching the location for this blog post.
I have to say that in retrospect, as someone who has deep personal connections to the Native American community, I felt a bit ‘ripped off’ by my experience at this location. On the upside, it’s not someplace I went out of my way to see, it just happened to be along the drive… but that said, some honesty would be appreciated! I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering this is located just outside of Helen, GA, (notable only for German architecture and restaurants — only one of which is any good — it is essentially a tourist trap aimed at anyone in search of a little touch of a Bavaria in the midst of the Appalachian foothills).
That said, directly adjacent is one of the actual gathering points (of which there were many) for the Trail of Tears… a forced relocation (that for those Native Americans not affluent enough to purchase transit devolved into an ultimately genocidal/ethnic cleansing) of the south eastern United states, during the administration of Andrew Jackson.
That said, I did find one major “FIND” a bit further down Unicoi turnpike… first you’ll find a very cute “village/crossroads” (not more than few stores) of Sautee Nacoochee which includes the ridiculously picturesque Old Sautee’s Store and market,
walking distance from which you’ll find the Folk Pottery Museum of Northeast Georgia, a museum for the Traditional pottery of the area, built as an annex to a converted historic school, which now serves as the Sautee Nacoochee Center, a gallery and visual arts center for local artists (and a lot of what they have for sale — and at affordable prices considering it’s original art… are, at least in my opinion, really good)