Spirited Southern Encounters—An Appeal

Oconaluftee Indian Village
778 Drama Road
Cherokee, North Carolina

Back in 2012, I was working as a historic interpreter at the Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee, NC. The village, a recreation of a mid-18th century Cherokee village on an idyllic mountainside, was populated by craftsmen, warriors and a group of British emissaries who were seeking a peaceful end to the Anglo-Cherokee War. As Sergeant Thomas Sumter—who would later be known as “The Gamecock”—I was in this village serving as a military escort to Lieutenant Henry Timberlake who was leading the expedition.

Sign for the village, 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

Sumter was being hosted by the family of Tsiyu-gan-si-ni, whose name was translated as “Dragging Canoe,” who would later be a very important Cherokee chief. Dragging Canoe’s little cabin was located in an area containing two cabins and an underground sweat house. Usually, I was the only one in the cabin and I worked hard to keep the place clean and tidy. Cherokee tradition called for a fire in the fireplace at all times even on the hottest days so I maintained the fire which did help to keep the insects away.

The author as Sgt. Thomas Sumter, 2012. Photo by Mia Shirley, all rights reserved.

The region has been part of traditional Cherokee lands for centuries, though this particular patch of land would not have likely been inhabited. Cherokee villages were always built next to a major water source and mountainsides did not provide enough flat space. Historically, there was a village at the bottom of the mountain (where Drama Drive and US 441 intersect). This recreated village was constructed in 1952 under the purview of the Cherokee Historical Association, which also operates the outdoor historical drama, Unto These Hills, in the Mountainside Theatre located across the parking lot.

The village also has a haunted reputation. Having been in operation for over 60 years, many locals have worked here and eventually returned in spirit. Employees would regularly hear voices and laughter emanating from the village in the morning before the gates have been unlocked. One employee heading to her station one morning passed another employee in costume and ready for the day. She wished the woman a good morning and continued walking past her when she realized that the woman she had just seen had been dead for some years. Another employee who led tours past “my” cabin would occasionally glance inside to see another former employee sitting on the bed. That former employee had also passed on some years before.

The entrance to the village, 2012. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

When I had one of my first experiences in the cabin, it really came as no shock. As usual, this particular day I had a fire going and was in need of firewood early that afternoon. During a lull in visitors, I stepped out and gathered some firewood and headed back to my cabin. As I rounded the sweat house that my cabin looked onto, I looked towards the cabin door. A woman dressed in the traditional clothing female interpreters wear was stepping inside my cabin. Thinking it was the interpreter who worked in the cabin next door, I quickened my pace towards the door. Looking inside, there was no one.

After putting my wood down inside the cabin, I looked out the door and the other interpreter was standing in her doorway. “Did you see a woman enter the cabin while I was gone.” I asked.

“Nope, but I haven’t been standing here long.” She answered.

“My cabin” in the village, 2012. This is taken from the same vantage point where I was when I saw the figure enter. Photo by Lewis Powell IV, all rights reserved.

I’m not sure who the woman was or if I was simply seeing things. I don’t have a history of hallucinations nor do I indulge in mind-altering drugs. Perhaps I encountered one of the former employees.

In front of the cabin with a female interpreter. The figure that I saw was dressed just like my friend. Photo 2014, all rights reserved.

Since I started this blog in 2010, I have been collecting the experiences of people throughout the South who have had spirited encounters. Have you had an encounter in the South (I define the South as including the states of Alabama, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia)? I’m primarily interested in encounters in places that are public or semi-public in nature. These include places ranging from historic sites to cemeteries, schools to businesses and public spaces in between like roads, parks and natural areas.

I would like to hear about your experiences for possible inclusion in this blog and future publications. You may contact me in the comments here or on my Facebook page. Thank you for reading!