“An optimist expects his dreams to come true; a pessimist expects his nightmares to.” – Dr. Laurence J. Peters
Historians, even those of anomalistic tendencies, spend a lot of time fussing over whether the first non-native inhabitants of North America were Vikings, Celts, Templars, Chinese, or whether the question is pure ethnocentricism and thus moot, since the true discoverers of the Americas are the Siberian migrants who crossed the Bering Strait land bridge some 10,000 years ago. This is all irrelevant, as even Native Americans (who undeniably were around before Europeans got an inkling that the world wasn’t flat and started claiming everything in the name of Queen and Country) seem to indicate that the original inhabitants of the Americas were nocturnal monsters, creatures of the night variously referred to as the Azgen or the “Moon-Eyed” People. Recently, theories that Welsh Prince Madoc established a colony somewhere in the American Midwest (or perhaps the Carolinas) about 300 years before Columbus are all the rage, but this seems part of a strange compulsion to prove that Columbus was an asshole. While Columbus was a bit of a whiner, his opinions (apart from the whole world being round thing) were pretty standard for his contemporary Western Europeans. Okay, I guess that means he was indeed an asshole, but if anyone wants to emphasize that Norsemen beat Columbus to the New World, let’s point out that the Vikings patented the Northern European style of raping and pillaging, spending a lot of time slaughtering their neighbors, so had a successful Viking colony been permanently established in North America, the natives wouldn’t have fared any better. And while Chinese Buddhist monks arriving on the Pacific Coast in the 5th Century A.D. would explain a lot about California, not to mention probably setting an unbeatable record for the world’s longest takeout delivery, they didn’t appear to hang around. Of course, the big-eyed, albino monsters had them all beat by thousands of years, apparently inhabiting a stretch of territory between modern West Virginia and Georgia, perhaps as far west as Arkansas, and the mythologies of tribes such as the Cherokee and Shawnee unabashedly admit that they wiped then out. We are at heart a nasty little species bent on taking other people’s stuff (land, livestock, and ladies being high on the list).
By the time Europeans started meandering into the frontiers of Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, they had noticed a few oddities about the geographic dispersion of native populations. The Shawnee were the big kahunas in the Ohio area at the time, thus in 1773 a gentleman named Thomas Bullit was sent on a mission to Chillicothe, Ohio to request permission from the Shawnee to open up some land in the then pristine Kentucky. The Shawnee politely responded that the Europeans were on crack, since even though the Shawnee would use the Kentucky region as a hunting ground, they absolutely refused to set up any of their own permanent settlements there, as they pointed out that they didn’t own the land, rather it was in the possession of the ghosts of the murdered Azgen tribe, and that putting down any roots there was a sure fire way to incur the wrath of these moon-eyed, nocturnal specters. Obviously, the land hungry Europeans found this amusing and went right ahead setting up farms and whiskey distilleries and were perfectly happy to ignore the fact that Kentucky was largely uninhabited and nicknamed by natives, “The Dark and Bloody Ground” (Frost, 1853, p246). An oft quoted conversation between Thomas Bullit and Shawnee Chief Blackfish about the “murdered ghosts of the murdered Azgens—a white people from the eastern sea” is ubiquitous on the internet, but was part of a fictionalized account in Eckert’s 1967 novel The Frontiersman, and is of course immediately seized upon by fans of the Church of Latter Day Saints as evidence that the Book of Mormon correctly depicts a bunch of unruly white people crawling about ancient North America preaching the gospel. Again, this is part of that weird need to say that Columbus didn’t discover America (which he obviously didn’t, and I don’t care), but nonetheless to establish that some gregarious Caucasoid was running around the Eastern seaboard at an early date. Luckily, we have ample evidence in the oral traditions and records of exploration that indicate that the strange critters running about Appalachia long before European colonization, while a pretty shade of white, also had extremely creepy eyes, and were in fact nocturnal. In short, monsters who were clearly still lurking around in roughly 1500 A.D. (as noted by Spanish Conquistador Panfilo de Narvaez), but weren’t seen very much after that.
Albinoes, have at all times been observed among the different races of men. In America, however, they seem to have been assembled together in certain districts, in greater numbers than appears to have been noticed in any other part of the earth. The account given of them by Wafer, (Descrip. Isthmus of America, 107) is a conspicuous instance, and so well known, that it seems unnecessary to repeat his relation. Indeed, we should scarcely have noticed the Albino variety, had we not thought it of some little importance to preserve the memory of a Cherokee tradition, which seems to declare, that anciently there was some remarkable instances of this variety of men in Georgia or Louisiana, sufficiently numerous to be remembered in Indian tradition. “The Cherokees say that when they first arrived in the country they now inhabit, they found it possessed by certain moon-eyed people, who could not see in the day.” (Barton’s New Views, xliv.) This is apparently though obscurely substantiated by Alvaro Nunez, in his relation of the expedition of Narvaez. (Purchas Pilg. iv. 1520.) “Some of the Indians brought many people before us, the greater part whereof were squint-eyed, and others of the same people are blind, whereat we greatly marvelled; they are well set and of good behaviour, and whiter than all the rest that we had seen until then” (McCulloh, 1829, p23-24).
Now a substantial population of albinos living in North America prior to the Age of Exploration is a somewhat less parsimonious explanation for the oral traditions of Native Americans, but only slightly less so than small, but prosperous groups of European colonists, and additionally, Cherokee legends are clear as to the nature of the “moon-eyed” people, and so evidently aware that they were not the European colonists that they would later become familiar with, it stretches credulity to imply that these moon-eyed folks were anything other than creatures of the night. First we need to understand a few things about the history of the Cherokee. The Spanish were the first Europeans to encounter the Cherokee (Hernando De Soto in 1540 A.D.) in the vicinity of Georgia, but the prevailing theory and according to their own oral traditions, is that the Cherokee were actually an Iroquoian people originally from the Great Lakes, and migrating to Southern Appalachia (Kentucky, Tennessee, the Carolinas, and Georgia) sometime in the 15th Century A.D. Linguists estimate that the split between the Iroqouis and Cherokee languages is traceable to roughly 1800 B.C. We may hypothesize that ancient migrations of the forerunners of the Cherokee from the Great Lakes would have made their way through West Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee down to Georgia and the Carolinas, appearing as a prominent tribe in Southern Appalachia from 1000-1500 A.D., and settling sites of the previous Mississippian culture (from about 800 A.D. to contact with Europeans). This is why early archaeologists often confused the Cherokee with earlier Mississippian remnants (such as those of the much ballyhooed “moundbuilders”). Suffice it to say, it’s not unreasonable to assume the Cherokee first encountered the moon-eyed people in their inexorable migration Southward, perhaps stumbling across them in the hills of northern Appalachia (Kentucky) as they worked their way through displacing a number of tribes to establish their home in the South. The Algonquin-speaking Shawnee of Ohio maintain that they wiped out the local moon-eyed population (hence their fear of residing in Kentucky and angering the Azgen ghosts), but it does suggest that as Algonquin and Iroquoian offshoots spread south, where they didn’t summarily wipe out the moon-eyed people, they potentially may have pushed them southward in front of them (which would be in keeping with the historical pattern all over the earth, of one group displacing another, resulting in yet another be pushed from their ancestral homelands). As the Cherokee moved into Tennessee, they began to encounter remnants of the moon-eyed people.
Barton in 1797 says: “The Cherokees tell us that when they first arrived in the country they found it possessed by certain moon-eyed people, whom they expelled.” Haywood says: “The invading Cherokee found white people near the head of the Little Tennessee, with forts extending down the Tennessee as far as Chicamaugua Creek.” Elsewhere he speaks of this extirpated white race as having extended into Kentucky and and Western Tennessee. He describes their houses as “small circular structures of upright logs, covered with earth.” The definite history of the Cherokee begins with the year 1540, at which date we find them already established in the mountains of Carolina and Georgia (Powell, 1903, p65).
Small circular structures of logs covered with earth don’t give us many clues as to the culture of the white, moon-eyed people, but it is clear that they were being driven before increasing numbers of tribes migrating from the north. Conflict between Chicksaws, Choctaws, Creeks, and Cherokees was common, as they all seemed to be jockeying for territory in southern Appalachia, and there is some confusion in the oral traditions as to whether the Creeks (who were actually the descendants of the previous southeastern Mississippian cultures) wiped out the moon-eyed people, and were then in turn themselves displaced by the invading Cherokee, or whether the Cherokee actually finished the job.
The Chickasaws laid claim to all the territory in Kentucky and Tennessee lying between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers, and a portion north of the former, though they had no settlements in those sections. In 1735 their warriors were estimated at hardly ﬁve hundred; but they were war-like, and generally friendly to the whites. Piomingo, a chief, was a staunch and trusted friend of the early settlers. The Choctaws and Chickasaws are believed to have had a common origin, as their appearance, laws and traditions are similar. The Cherokees were perhaps the most powerful Indian nation in the South. It is said that at one time they had sixty-four populous towns, and their warriors were estimated at above six thousand. They were continually at war, however—the over-hill towns with the northern towns, and the lower ones with the Creeks and became considerably diminished before the settlements were begun on Watauga. Later, the frontiers of Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina were greatly distressed by them. Their native land lay upon the Catawba, the Yadkin, Keowee, Tugaloo, Flint, Yoosa, Etowah, on the east and south, and on a number of the tributaries of the Tennessee on the west and north. They were a mountain people, and loved their country as the traditional William Tell loved his. War was a passion with them; but, when they took to the arts of peace, they made the most rapid strides in civilization. They claimed that they dispossessed a moon-eyed people, unable to see by day (Hale, 1899, p147-148).
The emphasis on the day-blindness of the moon-eyed people is puzzling. If these were simply Europeans who couldn’t navigate and settled down to make the best of it, why is the importance of the moon-eyed people only being able to function at night repeatedly asserted. In Helper’s account, the Creek Indians took advantage of this, and interestingly suggest that they were also unable to see during particular phases of the moon. One wonders if he just didn’t speak Cherokee very well, because the Cherokee tradition, recorded as early as 1797 is unambiguous, stating “There is a dim but persistent tradition of a strange white race preceding the Cherokee, some of the stories even going so far as to locate their former settlements and to identify them as the authors of the ancient works found in the country. The earliest reference appears to be that of Barton in 1797, on the statement of a gentleman whom he quotes as a valuable authority upon the southern tribes. The Cherokee tell us, that when they first arrived in the country which they inhabit, they found it possessed by certain ‘moon-eyed people,’ who could not see in the daytime. These wretches they expelled”(McPherson, 1915, p140). Never the less, perhaps the Creeks had a hand in the decimation of the moon-eyed people.
Of the earliest traditional knowledge of the mountainous section, or the Southern Highlands of North Carolina, it may be said that it has been handed down by the Cherokee Indians, as stated by Col. Thomas several years ago in an interview while acting as Chief of the Cherokee tribe. Long before the Cherokees came to the Southern Highlands the country was inhabited by a people known as the moon-eyed race, who were unable to see during certain phases of the moon. The Creek Indians Inhabited this section before the Cherokees, took advantage of these moon-eyed people, and during their period of blindness killed them outright. The Cherokees afterward conquered the Creeks, nearly annihilating the whole tribe (Helper, 1886, p3-4).
So by the time those nosy Europeans got around to asking the locals how they came to live in Georgia, the Cherokee had fairly well established the fact that they took it from the moon-eyed people. We’re awfully quick to say that they were just confused, and were clearly telling stories about encounters with nasty Spanish Conquistadors, who to the best of my knowledge were never here in great numbers, and didn’t get wiped out by anybody, instead handing the New World over to Europe gift-wrapped. Despite the monstrous characteristics of the moon-eyed people – the paleness of the living dead, the fear of the light, the general creepiness – scholars always want to turn them into some generic form of Caucasian that was simply misunderstood by the poor aboriginals. It takes a lot of nerve to suggest that your average hunter-gatherer is not in tune with whether a creature is nocturnal or not, and that fact alone is pretty suggestive of the fact that the moon-eyed people were not necessarily human, humans being remarkably fond of daylight.
Nobody can say for sure who were those first pioneers to come to Appalachian Georgia. According to Cherokee legend, they were “the moon-eyed people,” light-skinned and blue-eyed. Norsemen? Welshmen? Take a look at the strange stone glyphics carved in mountain rocks near the restored Cherokee capital of New Echota and see what you think. They give the Indian version of fights with armored horsemen—perhaps De Soto’s Spaniards hunting for gold. Visitors can still try a hand at panning for “color” in the Gold Hills of Dahlonega, where the country’s first gold rush started in 1828 (Durrance, 1976, p170).
By 1775, the Cherokee were firmly established and doing pretty well for themselves in Southern Appalachia, they’d been in contact with Europeans for 200-300 years, and they still maintained that they had conquered the territory from the moon-eyed people.
In 1775, the Cherokees dwelt chiefly upon the head waters of the Savannah, the Catahoochee, the Alabama, the Tennessee, and Cumberland Rivers. They have a tradition, that they came from the west, and exterminated a certain ‘moon-eyed people’. Their territory was about one hundred and forty miles broad, from east to west; and extended from the thirty-fourth to nearly the thirty-sixth degree of north latitude. They divided it into Lower and Upper. About the beginning of the last century, they had sixty-four populous towns; and could command more than six thousand warriors (Sanford, 1819, pCLXI).
Georgia is an undeniably odd place. They have good barbecued ribs. This always makes me happy, but suspicious. Georgia is littered with strange ancient ruins, such as the fortifications on Fort Mountain State Park, clearly somebody’s last stand against invading hordes. Cherokee traditions associate these with the moon-eyed people, who despite apparently being fairly good engineers could not stem the tide of the northern tribes that were expanding into Georgia. I guess, if you can only build things at night, it does put a damper on your ability to quickly erect defenses. A few legends suggest that the moon-eyed people eventually brokered a treaty that allowed them to leave peacefully to who knows where. Perhaps they are out there looking to one day reclaim their Appalachian Empire.
Somewhere behind the dawn of history of the North American continent, some one built a fort around the summit of this fascinating peak. This fort, constructed of stone and laid out according to the most approved methods known to military engineering, is over fifteen hundred feet in length, and in places is twelve feet thick at the base. The existence of such a fortification naturally raises the question among both authorities and laymen as to how, why and when this huge, stone wall was constructed. Some ethnologists have gone back to the nineteenth annual report of the Bureau of Ethnology, made to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, and found that there was a dim but persistent tradition among the Cherokee Indians that a strange race of white people was here when the Cherokees came. Some of the stories about this unknown race went so far as to locate their former settlements, and to identify them as the constructors of some of the ancient mounds and fortifications in this country. They were known to some of the Indians as moon-eyed people, since they claimed that this prehistoric race could not see in the light of day. In 1897 Barton’s report was inclined to consider them of albino origin. Twenty-six years later, Haywood says that their fortifications in this territory extended down the river as far south as Chickamauga Creek, and that here these moon-eyed people entered into a treaty with the Indian invaders to the effect that they would depart from these lands if allowed to go in peace. Today, both the conquered and conquerors are gone, and this fort, on whose designs no modern engineer could improve, stands as a silent memorial to the invasion of the Cherokees of the South (Georgia Department of Natural Resources, 1938, p17-18).
The study of oral traditions, folktales, and mythologies is complicated by the fact that it is far too easy to hear what you want to hear. Ancient white people in America is a popular meme because over the years Columbus has gotten a largely undeserved bad reputation (he was just another 15th Century dude, whose notions were not particularly extreme for his times, if off-putting to modern sensibilities), and the farther back we can push the date of European occupation, the more it seems like we have a right to be here. I hate to be obnoxious (well actually that’s a lie, I love it), but assuming that right is unnecessary, since the history of the human race is one group of guys with pointy sticks driving another group of guys with slightly duller pointy sticks off their land and into less hospitable territory, and those folks doing the same to the next guy, until somebody ended up in a desert, and when they ran out of water that’s all she wrote. In this case, they just happened to be moon-eyed night stalkers squatting on the nearest arable land. Sometimes we like to look at the mythologies of our forefathers and give a little chuckle, as if that will make the monsters go away. We know how to use microwaves, but does that convey to the average modern human greater awareness of the universe, a right conferred by time alone to unequivocally declare what has and has not existed or tune it to our needs? As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares.” Keep that in mind when you close your eyes and wish the monster away. Right before he eats you.
Durrance, Jill. Appalachian Ways: a Guide to the Historic Mountain Heart of the East. Washington:U.S. Appalachian Regional Commission, 1976.
Frost, John, 1800-1859. Border Wars of the West: Comprising the Frontier Wars of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee And Wisconsin, And Embracing Individual Adventures Among the Indians, And Exploits of Boone, Kenton … And Other Border Heroes of the West. Auburn [N.Y.]: Derby and Miller, 1853.
Georgia. Dept. of Natural Resources. Natural Resources of Georgia. Atlanta, 1938.
Hale, Will T. 1857-1926. The Backward Trail: Stories of the Indians And Tennessee Pioneers. Nashville,Tenn.: The Cumberland press, 1899.
Helper, Hinton A., b. 1850. Asheville, Western North Carolina: Nature’s Trundle-bed of Recuperation for Tourist & Health Seeker. N.Y.: South Pub. Co., 1886.
McPherson, O. M. Indians of North Carolina: Letter From the Secretary of the Interior, Transmitting, In Response to a Senate Resolution of June 30, 1914, a Report On the Condition And Tribal Rights of the Indians of Robeson And Adjoining Counties of North Carolina.Washington: U.S. G.P.O., 1915.
McCulloh, J. H. 1793?-1870. Researches, Philosophical And Antiquarian, Concerning the Aboriginal History of America. Baltimore: F. Lucas, Jr., 1829.
Powell, J.W. (ed. Peet, Stephen D.) 1831-1914. The American Antiquarian And Oriental Journal v25. Chicago, Ill.: F.H. Reveell, 1903.
Sanford, Ezekiel, 1796-1822. A History of the United States Before the Revolution: With Some Account of the Aborigines. Philadelphia: A. Finley, 1819.
Zeigler, Wilbur Gleason. The Heart of the Alleghanies; Or, Western North Carolina: Comprising Its Topography, History, Resources, People, Narratives, Incidents, And Pictures of Travel, Adventures In Hunting And Fishing And Legends of Its Wildernesses. Raleigh, N.C.: A. Williams & Co., 1883.
I grew up in Rome, Georgia in an area that was contested by the Cherokee, Etowah, Coosa and Creek. I recall tales from the seniors in the area of DeSoto’s routes through the area’s hills and mountains.
It was and is a very weird area.
I discovered this interesting legend a couple years ago, and actually covered it on my blog. It seems like there’s been even more information becoming available since that first post. I’m really curious about the variations among other cultures of this “people who live under ground driven out” legend.
https://weirdlyawesomenc.wordpress.com/2012/06/25/the-strange-tale-of-the-moon-eyed-people/ Here’s my link if you want to check it out.
I have my own suspicions about them.
What’s even stranger is how many origin myths suggest the entire human race originated underground.
i Have more info on the moon eyes, and I have found more rock walls not to far from fort mountain, and I may be the only one that knows of these
i had heard the legends of these moon eyed people but not in so much depth, thank you so much for this post. The Cherokees also spoke a lot about little people, faery or something like them. They called them the “Nunna Hey” please excuse my spelling I don`t speak or write Cherokee.