The Legend of Sautee and Nacoochee



Sautee and Nacoochee painting
Painting of Sautee and Nacoochee. 

Is there a story from childhood that still captivates you to this day? I grew up hearing The Legend of Sautee and Nacoochee. My grandmother would tell it to me from a porch swing, pointing to Yonah Mountain where the tragic ending occurred. As a child, I believed it was a Native American legend, but now it seems much more likely that it was actually first told by early white settlers. Since it’s called a legend, I suppose it’s possible that some kernel of truth could exist somewhere in the telling. But whatever the origin of the tale, I wanted to share it with my followers. Please let me know what you think of the tragic story of these two ill-fated young lovers. I’d also love to hear the stories of your childhood.The Cherokee and Chickasaws were two neighboring tribes that inhabited the area known today as the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley. The Cherokee people were often at war with the Chickasaw people. According to the legend, it was during a rare time of truce that the Cherokee allowed the Chickasaw to pass through their land as long as they stayed on the Unicoi Trail. A traveling group of Chickasaw stopped to rest under the shade of a large white oak tree where two trails crossed at the junction of the valleys. As they rested, a group of Cherokee gathered around them, shouting insults, perhaps to provoke them into breaking the truce.

Among this group was Sautee, the handsome son of the Chickasaw chief. He dreamed of a negotiating a lasting peace between the tribes after he became chief. Among the Cherokee people who gathered that day, was Nacoochee. Her father was the Cherokee chief, Wahoo. It happens that she caught the eye of Sautee. When their eyes met, they fell instantly in love.

Sautee Nacoochee
A tapestry owned by my grandmother. I believe it was purchased in the fifties or sixties from The Old Sautee Store.

That night, Nacoochee snuck out to meet Sautee under the same oak tree where they’d first spotted each other. They decide they can convince their fathers of their love for each other, hoping their union will bring peace to their tribes. Their love for each other blinded them to the dangers they faced. 

They present their case to Nacoochee’s father. Instead of granting his blessing to the union, Wahoo orders Sautee to be captured and thrown from the high cliff of Yonah Mountain while his daughter is forced to watch. 

The cliffs on Yonah Mountain.

Nacoochee is horror-stricken to see Sautee thrown to his death, and breaks free of the braves holding her to leap from the cliff after him. Nacoochee’s father is overcome with grief and regret. He has them buried together at the ancient burial mound that still stands today in the Sautee-Nacoochee Valley. 

Nacoochee Mound 2
The burial mound where legend states the two young lovers were buried by Nacoochee’s grieving father, Chief Wahoo.
Nacoochee Mound 1
A beautiful view of the burial mound. Both these images and the painting above were taken from a YouTube video documentary about nearby Hardman Farm. 

The legend reminds me of Romeo and Juliet set in the Blue Ridge Mountains. But just like that tale of star-crossed lovers, this legend reminds us that nothing good comes from hate. Maybe we can learn something from it. Thanks for reading!

Yonah Mountain distance
Yonah Mountain as viewed from the valley.

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