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Nikwasi Mound, North Carolina

with an amazing legend Mississippian/Cherokee Mound & Village

Located on East Main Street (between Palmer & Main) in Franklin, NC.

By Dr. Greg Little

Portions of this article and the illustration above are from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.

Nikwasi is the site of a large Cherokee village once located in what is now central Franklin, NC. The village, next to the Little Tennessee River, focused on a large, circular, truncated (flattop) mound. The mound has never been excavated but is known to be at least 1,000 years old. The mound is today about 15-feet high and once had a massive wooden structure, forming a domed building, on its top. Nikwasi has a legend associated with it (extending into pre-Cherokee antiquity) and there is evidence that the legend is based on actual events, although the legend itself is a bit incredible. According to the legend the people living in the area around the mound gathered around the site at a time they were being invaded and attacked by hostile tribes (believed to be the Creeks) coming from the south. At dawn the attacking force approached the people gathered around the mound and the defenders of Nikwasi, who were greatly outnumbered, tried to fight them off. At the moment the Nikwasi defenders were about to be overpowered, a “stranger” appeared in their midst. The stranger called out to the chief of the Nikwasi to retreat so he could defend the people. As the story is told, the Nikwasi warriors closed in around the mound and a doorway on the side of the mound opened. From this portal a horde of fierce warriors emerged. The warriors came to be known as the Nunne’h, their term for the immortals. Oddly, the Nunne’h were invisible to the attacking force, but not to the people of Nikwasi. The Nunne’h unleashed a massive volley of spears and arrows on the attacking force, causing a wave of fear and a quick retreat. As the attacking force fled, the legend relates that they were followed by the invisible Nunne’h and more arrows and spears were flung at them. When the retreating force reached a nearby ridge a volley of weapons killed half the attacking warriors, who finally gave up on the invasion and fled back south. The mysterious immortals then returned to the Nikwasi mound and reentered the portal, which closed after them.

In 1730 thousands of Cherokee attended a council at the village and in 1761 the British burned and destroyed the surrounding village and used the wooden, domed structure atop the mound as a field hospital. When the British left, the Cherokee returned and rebuilt the town. In 1776 colonial troops destroyed the town, but the Cherokee returned and rebuilt it once again. Treaties in 1817-1819 ceded all the land around the mound to the colonialists who eventually built the town of Franklin at the site. While the mound is intact, the land adjoining the mound has been built up and leveled. Until that time a sacred fire was kept burning on the mound and it was known as a “peace” and sacred site.

In the summer of 2009, a ground penetrating radar project was performed on the mound. One large object was identified deep in the mound and a cluster of three smaller objects was also found. Treaties and ordinances prohibit any excavation or intrusive methods to enter the mound, so the objects will remain an unsolved mystery.

Thursday, June 20, 2024