On the basis of language, ethnologists divide the American Indians living north of Mexico into about sixty stocks which are subdivided into about a hundred and sixty-five tribes. The stocks represented among the Indians that formerly inhabited South Carolina are the Iroquoian, the Siouan, the Muskhogean, the Yuchian, and the Algonkian. All but a few small or briefly resident tribes are assigned to the first three of these stocks, which thus comprise almost all the Indians who formerly lived within the present South Carolina. These three extending far beyond Carolina, are the richest of all the stocks north of Mexico in literary and historical records and are also the largest and strongest.
Northeast of the Catawba-Santee waterway were the numerous tribes of the Siouan stock, the southern portion of the great mass of Siouan tribes extending in a long narrowing triangle to the Potomac above Washington. South of the Congaree-Santee were a number of little Muskhogean tribes, a stock extending beyond the Mississippi. The northwest third of the State was occupied by the Cherokees, of Iroquoian stock, the most powerful of the tribes occupying her borders in historic times, though barely able to hold their own with the shrewd and warlike Creeks, the great Muskhogean confederation extending across Georgia and Alabama and meeting the Chickasaws of northern Mississippi and western Tennessee and the formidable Choctaws (both fellow Muskhogeans) in the south of the present Mississippi. The Cherokees were mountaineers, inhabiting very scatteringly an area of about 40,000 square miles in the extreme northwestern corner of South Carolina, northern Georgia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee; but in addition to the territory over which their villages were scattered, they generally made good their claim to vast hunting grounds of about ten times this extent spreading into eight modern states.
The tribes of the low country were numerous and small; those of the up country, few and generally large. Any exact location of many of them is impossible, for the ranges of the smaller ones were vague. An idea of the general location of many tribes may be derived from the streams bearing their names. But caution is necessary here, for tribes frequently extended along only part of a river and sometimes shifted their residence to an entirely different region. Our information regarding all within our present bounds except the Cherokees and the Catawbas is very slight. War, pestilence, whiskey, and systematic slave hunts, says James Mooney, nearly exterminated them before anybody had thought them of sufficient importance to inquire about their habits or beliefs. Of all Indians the least known are those of Virginia and the Carolinas.
Beginning at the point where the Catawba River enters the State and extending south and southeastward to the coast, covering the region between the North Carolina line and the Santee River, lived fourteen or more of the South Carolina Siouan tribes. Ethnologists agree that the ancient home of the Siouans was in the Virginia-Carolina region, from which they spread to the northwest. Siouans occupied all North Carolina east of the mountain-dwelling Cherokees except the portion lying to the east of the seventy-seventh meridian and a long wedge from Cape Lookout to Raleigh held by the Tuscaroras of the Iroquoian stock.
Most important of the South Carolina Siouans were the Catawbas, living mainly to the south of the line dividing the Carolinas along the Catawba River. They maintained a standing enmity with the Cherokees, next to whom they were long the most powerful body within South Carolina. Catawba was not only the name of a tribe but was a group name also including the Waterees lower down the river, the Congarees below them, the Santees along the stream named for them, the Waxhaws near the Catawbas, the Seewees extending perhaps for thirty miles along the coast around Bull’s and Seewee Bays and inland to about Monck’s Corner, and the Enos, to the north. The name Zantee is today borne by a Siouan tribe in the Dakotas.
Smallpox and whiskey contributed more than all their wars to destroy the Catawbas. They were said in 1700 to have 1,500 warriors, in 1750 only only 400, and in 1787 only 150, at which date they remained the only organized tribe in South Carolina, except that the Cherokees still held a tiny strip in the extreme northwest. With the single exception of the Yemassee War in 1715 the Catawbas were always friendly with the whites. In 1763 they were confirmed in the possession of an area fifteen miles square, one corner of which, just east of the Catawba River, still appears as a sharp angle jutting into North Carolina. By 1826 this reservation of 225 square miles had been leased to whites. In 1841 the Catawbas sold to South Carolina their equity, but in 1842 the State gave them a small part of it for residence. All but a few of those who then went in dissatisfaction to the Cherokees in North Carolina soon returned. Their few score descendants, largely of mixed blood, numbered in 1942 forty-five families living on a reservation of 652 acres in the southeastern corner of York County, partly by their own labor and partly on State aid, and eighteen families, almost all working in cotton mills, in Rock Hill. In 1944 they were made citizens and placed on enlarged lands under Federal supervision.
The Cheraws, who during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries lived to the eastward of the Catawbas on both sides of the line dividing the Carolinas, were also of the Siouan stock. Formerly much more numerous, they had extended north of the Catawbas to the Cherokees on the headwaters of the Broad in North Carolina, where De Soto in 1540 found them. The mountain-dwelling Cherokees called the trail leading up a certain river valley and on eastward over the Blue Ridge the Suwali-nana, i.e., the Cheraw path, which on the tongue of the white man became the Swannanoa. The Cheraws seem to have been driven from their home on the Dan in Virginia by their hereditary enemies, the Iroquois of New York. By the time of the American Revolution they appear to have been absorbed into the wasted body of the Catawbas.
Also as Siouan are classed the tribes of the Peedees, the Waccamaws and the Winyaws (or Weenees). All these petty tribes were worn down under their feudish little wars, drunkenness, and general bad habits or were desolated by the greatest terror, the smallpox, which before 1700 had already, says Lawson, destroyed many thousands.
The Siouan classification of the obscure tribes between the Santee and the North Carolina line by James Mooney is confessedly “open to question at many points.” Of them we know less than of any others.
- South Carolina, A Short History 1520-1948, By David Duncan
- Wallace, University of South Carolina Press, Columbia, 1961,
- Chapter 11, The Indians of South Carolina, pp 5-7