In the mountains of the Southern Appalachians, from North Carolina down through Georgia and Alabama; the remains of ancient stone structures line the ridges. Some of these are additions to natural rock formations, others are entirely man-made. Who built these structures? Are they the remains of an ancient war fought in the Appalachians? Are they all that’s left of the Moon-Eyed People? Let’s learn and dive into these mysteries of Fort Mountain and similar locations.
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When early European settlers first arrived in eastern Tennessee through northwestern Georgia; they discovered a continuous chain of hundreds of fieldstone structures on the mountain and hilltops between Manchester, TN, and Stone Mountain, GA. Some were merely piles of stones that archaeologists believe are cairns. Others formed small cylinders. Others were small rings. While some were complex combinations of concentric rings with some perpendicular walls. Even more so, two appear to be villages with walls. These structures baffled the settlers, and continue to be a bit of an anthropological and archaeological mystery to this day.
There are several surviving enigmatic sites in northern Georgia and western North Carolina. Consisting of dozens or hundreds of these fieldstone cairns. The two largest are located in the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield and in Ball Ground, GA near the Etowah River. When in the path of suburban development, some of these cairns have been studied by archaeologists. Artifacts in the vicinity of the cairns suggest they originate during the Late Archaic or Early Woodland eras. These are both periods of North American prehistory, dating the cairns to between 1600 BC – 800 BC.
No human skeletons have come from any of these locations. However, the soil of northern Georgia is oftentimes damp and acidic; which could completely consume skeletal remains in a little over a century. Which, if you are curious, yes this is a thing. Highly acidic soil, or “sour” soil, can decompose bones; due to targeting the organic compounds of the bones.
Some of the fieldstone enclosures, such as the one on Ladd’s Mountain, were clearly for astronomical observations and ceremonies. Other sites, such as the enclosures on Fort Mountain, GA, at Brown’s Mount, GA, and near Manchester, TN; were much larger and probably had some military functions.
Very little archaeological work has been done at Fort Mountain. But at Old Stone Fort, TN, there is evidence of some structural layouts. These were possibly the houses of priests & retainers. Or perhaps temporary shelters for attendants when seasonal ceremonies occur. Both Fort Mountain & Manchester’s Old Stone Fort had gates oriented to the solar azimuth. Which is a compass direction, utilizing the angle of the sun.
Most archaeologists assume that Fort Mountain could not have been a fortification because its rock walls only extend along the western and southern ends of the mountain. At most of the fieldstone structure sites, not enough stones create a wall high enough to stop an enemy. Generally, the volume of stones would create a wall about 18” inches to 36” inches high. The stone walls at Brown’s Mount and at the Old Stone Fort in Manchester also are discontinuous. They themselves could not have provided adequate protection against any sort of attack.
In the summer of 2005, further investigation of the surviving prehistoric fieldstone structures took place. Looking at locations within southeastern Tennessee, northwest Georgia, and at Brown’s Mount in middle Georgia. What immediately became apparent, was that there were only stone walls where the soil was very shallow. When the soil depth exceeded about two feet, earth berms, or compacted dirt and gravel, took their place. This led to the thought that the fieldstone walls and earth berms were not fortifications per se. But rather buttresses, in order to support vertical timber stakes.
Few timber stakes found by archaeologists at Woodland and Sedentary village sites in the Southeast suggest this. However, the possibility of timber fencing enclosures suggests that this tradition goes back further than those utilized in “Mississippian” towns; which dates between 900 AD – 1600 AD. For reference, these would be similar to the large timber stakes placed around Native settlements for protection.
Once more, early European settlers to the area were confused and intrigued by these strange stone structures. Originally, they believed that the formations were made by the local Cherokee tribes. However, the Cherokees, who move into the region during the late 1700s, explain that they were not responsible for them.
Some Cherokees explain to the Europeans that the Creeks Tribe made them. The Creeks were a Southeastern tribe that occupied a large region between Alabama and Georgia. The furthest back I can find in relation to the Creek was 800 AD; although I am sure there is more history, narrowing down further dates. But like all Native Tribes here in North America, they got screwed over. Ultimately being one of the tribes on the Trail of Tears.
The Creek’s first encounter with Europeans was in 1540 when they fought against Hernando de Soto. De Soto was a knight and explorer from Spain and was moving through the American Southeast; when his party came into conflict with the Creek. Now there are some early theories that De Soto and his party constructed the stone structures for defense; in particular that of Fort Mountain in Georgia. However, this theory was challenged as early as 1917. Historians point out that de Soto was in the area for less than two weeks. Which gives them little time to build a stone fort at the top of a mountain.
Other Cherokees’ accounts have a legend that these mysterious sites came from the “Moon-Eyes”. Supposedly there was even a temple that had once stood inside the fortification. Containing a giant stone snake with ruby eyes that may have had some connection here.
According to Cherokee tradition, the moon-eyed people lived in the lower Appalachia region before the Cherokee came to the area during the late 1700s. The people were said to be called “moon-eyed” because they saw poorly during the day. While they could see and be more active during the night. Descriptions of them being small in stature, the men bearded, light-eyed, and having pale white skin. For this reason, they were strictly nocturnal and lived in underground caverns. The legend goes that the Moon-Eyes constructed these stone structures up and along the mountains. However, shortly after finishing, they simply disappeared from the region.
The origins and specifics of the “Moon-Eyed” people are in high debate. Pretty much since the story came to settlers back in the late 1700s. Stories are pretty much all over the place. Some stories say that these Moon-Eye people simply vanish; others say neighboring tribes ran them out; such as the Creek or Cherokee.
A lot of historians believe that perhaps the description of pale-white could be referring to Albino individuals; who may have been ostracized and formed their own tribe of sorts. Benjamin Smith Barton, an early historian on the matter, also supported the albino theory. Even believing that they were possibly the ancestors of the Kuna people of Panama. A people who have a high incidence of albinism, and who at the time had the name “moon-eyed”. When European settlers hear the Cherokee stories, the Europeans originally see them as being gray-eye Europeans. The stories devolve to the point that most White Settlers assume that the stone structures and stories were Celtic in origin. Specifically, that of a colony from Welsh, led by Prince Madoc.
In 1170 Prince Madoc and his brother, Riryd, sailed from the North Wales Coast in two ships, the Gorn Gwynant and the Pedr Sant. They sailed west and supposedly landed in what is now Alabama here in the USA. Prince Madog then returned to Wales with grand stories about his adventures, encouraging others to travel back with him. In 1171, new party sails from Lundy Island, but never return.
This second voyage is thought to have landed at Mobile Bay, Alabama. Before traveling up the Alabama River, which now happens to have several of these mysterious stone forts. Again forts said by local Cherokee tribes to have been constructed by “Moon-Eyes”, or pale white people. The dating of these structures, as we’ve gone over, date several hundred years before the arrival of Columbus, and even the Cherokee who later moved into that region. Furthermore, one of these structures is to have a similar design to Dolwyddelan Castle in North Wales. But, this Castle was from the late 13th century, so much later than Prince Madoc’s departure. Although, perhaps this connection is simply cultural.
To add further evidence to Prince Madoc’s party’s existence in North America. Early explorers find evidence of possible Welsh influence with native tribes of America along the Tennessee and Missouri Rivers. In the 18th century, one local tribe was discovered that seemed different to all the others encountered before.
Known as the Mandans, this tribe, when discovered by Europeans, had many members with more Caucasian traits. Such as blue eyes, lighter skin, and lighter, even blond, hair. However, the connection between Prince Madoc and the Mandan has since been highly discredited by modern scholars. The Mandans occupied more northern sections of the land, getting as far south as perhaps Ohio, at best. A more likely culprit for the Native’s European traits could be that from interbreeding with surviving Norse explorers.
In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier writes of the Cherokee leader Oconostota’s story from 1783. About local mounds made by white people who were pushed from the area by the Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were Welsh from across the ocean.
There you have it, the mysterious stone structures like Fort Mountain, and the “Moon-Eyed” people! Nobody knows which of the many legends and theories is true and which are false. Current legends say the sounds of distant drums, flickering lights, and the images of men wearing bearskins, haunt around these locations. But the truth behind the origins may never be known, they may simply remain buried, waiting to be unearthed.
EP 57 – The Mystery of Fort Mountain & The “Moon-Eyed” People. Produced by Shane Cummings; Audio Editing & Research by Shane Cummings.
Intro & Outro music “Creepy Regrets” by AnMo.
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