Welsh Caves, Yonah Mountain Hold Stories That Keep Native Tribes Alive


Growing up in the southeastern United States, we see the names of so many places that pay homage to indigenous people.

Chattanooga, for example, takes its name from the Cherokee phrase “Tsatanugi”, which roughly means “rock coming to a point” or “end of the mountain”, most likely referring to Lookout Mountain.

While climbing in our area, I often looked at the rocks and their markings and wondered about the people who once called these areas home.

Within these ancient places, legends abound. Here are two of my favorite tales related to nearby rock climbing sites.

Welsh Caves

Getty Images / Alabama’s Desoto State Park, home to the 104-foot Desoto Falls, offers rappelling and rock climbing opportunities, as well as a rich history.

Desoto State Park in Alabama is home to what locals call the Welsh Caves, located on a cliff near Desoto Falls. Although no one knows what these caves were used for, some believe that Welsh settlers may have used these caves in an attempt to settle Appalachia. According to encyclopediaofalabama.org, the most popular legend claims that the Welsh Prince Madoc sailed into what is now Mobile Bay, eventually heading north to establish a colony – around 300 years before the voyage of Christopher Columbus. Some believe these early settlers and natives intermarried, while others believe neighboring tribes banded together to drive out the Welsh.

But others don’t believe the Welsh were there at all. As Alabama professor and historian Dr. Ronald Fritze writes on his website, corndancer.com, most archaeologists believe that evidence of human habitation is linked to the mound-building cultures of Hopewell or of the Mississippian rather than to the Welsh settlers.

Mount Yona

Photo Getty Images/Yonah Mountain in Cleveland, Georgia takes its name from the Cherokee word for “bear.”

About three hours east of the Welsh Caves is Yonah Mountain in Cleveland, Georgia. We called it our climbing school because we learned the basics of trad and sport climbing along the routes dotting the dome.

Yonah takes its name from the Cherokee word for “bear” and is home to one of the Southeast’s most famous legends, a sort of Romeo and Juliet of the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations. According to folklore, Sautee, a Chickasaw warrior, fell in love with Nacoochee, daughter of a neighboring Cherokee chief. But their tribes were enemies, so the two met secretly in a hidden cave in Yonah Mountain.

Although their affair was secret for a while, the star-crossed lovers finally decided to share their love in an effort to bring the two tribes closer together. But when Nacoochee’s father found out, he was so angry that he ordered Sautee thrown off the top of the granite cliff as his daughter watched.

Devastated, as the story goes, Nacoochee also threw herself off the cliff. Those who believe the legend point to the burial mound below the mountain, listed in Roadside America’s tourist attractions guide as the “Indian Mound Love Tragedy Site.”

However, according to wandernorthgeorgia.com, excavations of the mound have shown that it was a burial site for the entire community, rather than just two lovers – and most likely for Native Americans of the Mississippi culture of Appalachia. of the South, known to inhabit this region. .

Why we tell these stories

I grew up about two miles as the crow flies from the top of Blood Mountain in northeast Georgia, which was named, my mom told me, after a battle between the people of Creek and Cherokee. The war is said to have started near Slaughter Creek, and so much blood was shed that the creek and the mountain turned red.

This story scared me growing up, but now I recognize these tales for what they are: legends that keep the native tribes alive, to make sure we don’t forget those who were here first. As we enter these sacred places, I hope we will remember the stories that gave them their name and the hands that touched the rock long before we were here.


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