On East Main Street in Franklin, NC, there is a strange i little park almost wholly dominated by an artificial hill covered in carefully maintained grass.
Traffic whizzes by,and no one seems to pay the mound much attention. Which is just as well, since something about it seems to want to keep a low profile and repel visitors.
No one knows what that might be.
Known as Nikwasi Mound, it is at least 1,000 years old and may be a great deal older than that.
It’s one of the few ancient sites that have never been excavated. Mounds in other &
places have contained things like human burials, stone sculptures, and artifacts made of copper or formica, but this one continues to keep its secrets.
It is a good deal smaller than it once was. A few centuries of erosion and neglect have worn it down since the time it was surrounded by a Cherokee town of the same name as the mound here (sometimes spelled Nequassee, Nucassee, or Noucassih). The Cherokees never claimed to have built the mound, but said they only maintained and used it. It was probably built by an earlier people usually called the Mississippians. According to legend, it may contain an ulunsu’ti crystal from the forehead of an uwkteng, the giant snakes that live in deep holes or in caves near high mountain passes. It is also said to contain the Cherokee’ most powerful allies.
The Cherokees considered the mound to be inhabited by a race of powerful spirit-beings called the Nunne’hi, who also had other “townhouses” inside Pilot Mountain in Surry County, and at the head of the Tugaloo River in Oconee County, SC.
According to folklorist Gary Carden, Nunne’hi, means “those who live anywhere.”
“In ancient times,” he says, “smoke from their underground townhouse could be seen emerging from the top of the mound. (They also fished in the sky and hunted deer on
the bottoms of rivers.) Since they were favorably disposed towards the Cherokees, they
often gave them advice, socialized with them (they loved to dance) and even came to their rescue in a battle fought near the mound.”
Anthropologist James Mooney recorded the story of this battle when he visited among the Cherokees in the 1890s. According to what the Cherokees told him, the warriors of the old town of Nikwasi kept scouts constantly on guard, looking for danger. One morning before daybreak, their lookouts saw an enemy approaching and at once gave the alarm.
The Cherokees considered the mound to be inhabited by a race of powerful spirit-beings called the Nunne’hi, who also had other “townhouses” inside Pilot Mountain
The Nikwasi men rushed out to meet the attack, but after a long, hard fight they found themselves overpowered and began to retreat. Suddenly a stranger stood among them and shouted to the chief to call off his men. He himself would drive back the enemy.
The Nikwasi fell back along the trail, and as they came near the townhouse, they saw a great company of warriors coming out from the side of the mound as through an open doorway. Then they knew that their friends were the Nunne’hi, the Immortals, although no one had ever heard before that they lived under Nikwasi Mound.
The Nunne’hi poured out by the hundreds, armed and painted for the fight But the most curious thing was that they became invisible as soon as they were outside the settlement, so that although the enemy saw the glancing arrow or felt the rushing tomahawk, they could not see who sent it. The invaders tried to retreat and hide, but the Nunne’hi arrows went around the rocks and killed them from the other side, and they were defeated.
When the battle was over, the fighting Nunne’hi went back into the mound.
And they may still be there…
In the Civil War, when a strong party of Federal troops came to surprise a handful of Confederates posted in Franklin, they saw so many soldiers guarding the town that they retreated without making an attack.
Today, some people believe that it is possible to hear drumbeats from deep within the ancient mound, where the Nunne’hi are said to have their living quarters. We hope no one ever digs into the place to find out if they are really there.
Some things need to remain a mystery.
Here’s a great overview of the efforts to preserve the mound in Franklin, NC