Indian Villages of Harnett County

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Project Description

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Proposal Letter

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Biographies by Homemakers Clubs

Biographies by Friends of the Library


Indian Villages of Harnett County

In the beginning was the land. A land of rolling hills and fertile bottoms covered with forests of long leaf pine for the most part. There were also mighty oaks, tall poplars, massive elms, beaches and walnut trees. White boled sycamores were outlined against the green of the other trees.

Through this great forest ran scores of streams, emptying their waters into a great river which snaked its tawny way from northwest to southwest across the county. It was a beautiful land.

In the shade of the enveloping treetops herds of deer and occasional buffalo grazed. This kept down the undergrowth so that a man riding freely on horseback could see as far as two hundred yards in all directions.

There were other animals. Wolf and beaver predominated but there was plenty of muskrat, raccoon, opossum, bear, rabbit, squirrel and wildcat.

In the trees, birds of many kinds sang, twittered or remained silent, according to their nature. At certain times the sky would be darkened by migrating clouds of passenger pigeons, ducks and geese.

There were also Indians.

They had made and marked trails through this country -mostly along the routes of grazing animals, which they hunted for food and raiment.

They were here when the Legion of Restless men and the following hordes of permanent settlers came along those same paths and up the muddy Cape Fear.

First mention of them occurs in a patent for 320 acres of land issued to Peter Parker, Jr., in 1746. The beginning corner was on, the, "southside of a Great Creek at a place where the Indians lately felled a bear tree."

That must have been a wondrous sight! .A frightened bear climbing desperately to the trunk while the Indians hacked enthusiastically at it with their stone axes.

The Great Creek is now Parker's Creek which empties into the Cape Fear just below the Chatham-Harnett line.

Other early land grants in the same area call for corners. "at a pile of stones supposed to be Indian graves.”

As a matter of fact, there were Indians in the vicinity as late as the time of the War Between -the States. From what pitiful little we know about them, we suppose they were Members of the Tuscarora Nation.

In 1774, John Ray patented 100 acres, "joining John McLean on Upper Little River known by the name of the Indian Graves land." Ray and McLean later had considerable litigation over this patent.

These particular graves were once a mound, roughly circular with diameter of about forty feet and as high as a man's head. Cultivation over a period of 180 years has reduced the ground to a mere ridge in the surrounding terrain. It is located near the mouth of Indian Branch some five miles from Lillington. From the size of the mound and the prevalence of Indian artifacts in the area, it was evidently used by the Indians as a town site over a period of many years.

Over in Eastern Harnett on the plateau between Juniper Creek and Stewart's Creek another Indian settlement was located. Highway 15A cuts right through the center of its burial mound.

There are other sites of Indian Villages in Harnett County. The best known is in Western Harnett, four miles beyond Cameron Hill on the road leading to Cameron. It is a burial mound, but it doesn't now mark the locations of an Indian Village. Rather, it designates the spot where over a hundred Indians from Drowning Creek were slain the Day the Birds Quit Singing.

The massacre probably occurred a few years prior to the coming of the first white settlers for they became familiar with the story of what happened on that day. Down the years has come the interesting tale of the hunting party of Drowning Creek warriors striding along parallel with a huckleberry bog which marked the head of one of the prongs of Cypress Creek.

The Indians who lived along the Cape Fear and its tributaries in Harnett had warned these Drowning Creekers to stay out of that particular area- it was THEIR hunting ,ground.

Ordinarily, the Indians from Drowning Creek would have heeded the warning. But in this year a drought had dried up their country. Food was scarce for the deer and moved away to better grazing grounds. Anyway, the deer meat from the Sandhills had a better flavor. Besides, the squaws found the hides of the Sandhills deer chewed better when they went to making them up for moccasins and wearing apparel. Too, the hunting partly counted over a hundred braves. .What enemy would dare attack them?

Nevertheless, there was one warrior in the party who was definitely uneasy. As he walked along the edge of the bog he tried to solve the problem of his fears. Something was wrong, he told the chief, but that worthy merely patted his tomahawk and grunted at him.

As the head of the column neared the tip of the bog, he essayed another warning to the chief. The next time a hunting party went out, the chief told him, he wouldn't be with it. . He would be back in the lodges with the women and the old men and boys.

Thus rebuffed again, the uneasy warrior dropped back into line and renewed his watch on the dense undergrowth of the bog. Then the answer to the riddle came to him. The birds in the bog were silent -silent because they were afraid of something in the swamp.

"BirdsĄ" he shouted. "There are no birds singing! Run!”

But his warning came too late. A cloud of arrows hissed from the bog, felling dozens of the hunting party. Then the Cape Fear Indians sprang from their perfect concealment in the bog. Their war whoops sounded and their tomahawks rose and fell as they went about their dreadful butchery.

Only a few of the hunters escaped to carry the tale of the disaster to Drowning Creek. And there was sorrow in the lodges as the women raised their drawn faces to the sky and wailed mournfully for their men whose bodies lay moldering in a circular mound in the Sandhills Country.

Back about 1940, a party from Chapel Hill made a partial excavation at one edge of the mound. Their finds indicated the slain warrior had been dragged from where they fell and dumped in groups. In one section about three cubic feet in area, thirteen skulls were found. One of these had the back end bashed in. Inside was the broken blade of the tomahawk that killed the brave. He was probably running when struck down from behind. That was the only weapon discovered in the small area they explored, the victors probably taking the others as loot.

The red men moved from Harnett as the white men moved in. There is no recorded instance of trouble between the two races in this area. As far as the Indians were concerned the white man brought two powerful allies with him; a whiskey bottle and smallpox. He didn't need to use gun or knife when he had these two to work for him.

So the Cape }'ear Indians moved or died, save for one small tribe in Buckhorn. They, too, in time left and today Harnett has no Indians save a small settlement in the lower end of the county around the Black River.

They are members of that mysterious race called the Croatans in Harnett and Robeson, Malungions in South Carolina and Redbones in Tennessee. Dozens of theories have been proposed as their origin, none of them. satisfactory, save to the author. Back in the early part of this century, Hannibal L. Godwin, Harnett's only representative to the United States Congress, was engaged in a hot political race to retain his congressional seat. He campaigned among the Croatans and promised to introduce a bill in Congress declaring them members of the Cherokee race if they would vote for him.

Godwin won the election but failed to get his bill through". Much to the displeasure of the Croatans going around claiming they were Cherokees.


This was taken from the Book, "They Passed This Way", a personal narrative of Harnett County History, by Malcolm Fowler.


In 1955 when Malcolm Fowler wrote his history of Harnett County entitled They Passed This Way he stated that the Croatan Indians of Harnett County maintained only one Indian School, an elementary school called Maple Grove, located near Erwin. Indian high school age pupils had to ride school buses more than 60 miles daily to Robeson County where Indians were more numerous and consequently there were more schools.

When the U. S. Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, outlawed racial segregation in public schools as a violation of the 14th amendment guaranteeing equal protection of the law, some parents of Indian Children in Harnett, already had filed a suit in the courts asking that the Harnett County Board of Education be required to open the Erwin and Dunn High Schools to Indian pupils.

With the later implementation of integrated schools as one result of the U. S. Supreme Court decision, Indian pupils were assimilated into the Erwin and Dunn schools. Maple Grove school was closed. The building was later used as a sheltered workshop for the retarded.

As early as 1887 the North Carolina General Assembly had authorized a teacher training school for Indians in Robeson County, long known as the State Normal School for Indians.

By 1941 it was renamed State College for Indians, later shortened to Pembroke State College. Until 1945 only Indians from Robeson County were eligible for admission, but in that year the Legislature opened the college to all Indians regardless of residence.

Harnett Indians could attend a four year college!

With the U. S. Supreme Court outlawing segregation in 1954, Pembroke College was opened to all qualified students without regard to race or national origin. In 1969 the college gained University status and in 1972 became a component of the University of North Carolina System.

And in 1992 proposed legislation to give Croatan Indians tribal status was pending in the United States Congress, but had not been approved.


Written by: Lois Byrd, President Of Friends of the Library, August, 1992

Source: The North Carolina Manual, 1990

Quilt Square: Designed by Paul Soublet

Row 1 Number .3

Embroidery and Applique: Debbie Sox