Stories from the Cherokee About Track Rock Petroglyphs

There are a number of Cherokee accounts for the origin and meaning of Track Rock that were recorded in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  Many of these stories were reported as being literal accounts for the origin of the carvings.  However, it is very important to remember that any interpretation of these accounts should consider metaphor in any understanding.  The people who took down the stories heard them and reproduced them in the context of their own world-view.  At the same time, Native informants may well have tailored what they said to the known interests or biases of the people with whom they were interacting.  Lastly, there were likely meanings and understandings of the figures that the informants did not share with the people recording the stories because it was privileged information.  The following section includes summaries of some of these stories, as well as an interpretation of what they may mean.

 

Judaculla’s In-laws

The earliest known reference to the Track Rock petroglyphs dates back to the late eighteenth century. At a town located in a river valley somewhere in the North Carolina and Georgia region a purification ritual was being conducted in which Indians from the town prepared to be adopted by Judaculla, an invisible man who has taken a wife from one of the town’s women.  Unfortunately for the townspeople, a shout by two anxious warriors interfered with the ritual and made it impossible for them to join Judaculla in his mountain top townhouse.  Because Judaculla’s parents-in-law managed to properly fast and pray, they became the only two townspeople qualified to visit his mountain top townhouse. On their way to Judaculla’s abode, near Brasstown in north Georgia, the parents-in-law “made the tracks in the rocks which are to be seen there” (Haywood 1823:280). Haywood states that the “tracks in the rocks” in this instance refer to Track Rock.  Judaculla, who is also known as Tsulkâlû′,or “Master of the Game”, is a giant who came from the land of the dead spirits in the west to visit the Cherokees, stayed a while as a friend and helper, and departed west again. The markings in the rock may well have served as a warning to people that they were approaching a sacred or dangerous area. Judaculla did not like people to approach his abode.

 

Flood Story

Two stories associate Track Rock with flooding.  One story asserts that the world was once deluged with water, and people and all animated beings were destroyed, except one family, together with various animals necessary to replenish the earth.  Their canoe landed at Track Rock and here the whole troop of animals was disembarked, leaving the impressions as they passed over the rock because it was soft after being under water for a long time.  This story is a metaphorical allusion to the Going to Water purification ritual and the resultant ability to hear and see departed spirit people.

The second flood story claims that the petroglyphs were made while the surface of the newly created earth was still soft and many birds and animals came fleeing through the gap to escape some pursuing danger.  It is very likely that this story is a variation of the creation story in which the twin sons of Kana'ti “started up the mountain to where their father kept the game. When they got to the place, they raised the rock and the deer came running out…[followed by] droves of raccoons, rabbits, and all the other four-footed animals…last came great flocks of turkeys, pigeons, and partridges” (Mooney 1900:243).

 

Battle Commemoration

Other stories reported that a battle occurred here between the Creeks and Cherokees, and that these carvings were made to commemorate that event.  Some local informants reported to early American visitors that it always rains when anyone visits the spot in sympathy for the dead.  The closest known battle to have occurred between Cherokees and Creeks was in Slaughter Gap near Blood Mountain, south of Track Rock Gap. Circumstantial evidence suggests that among other functions, Judaculla Rock (in North Carolina) was used as a convenient three-dimensional picture-map to plan and commemorate battles against neighboring groups, such as the Battle of Taliwa against Muskogee-speaking Creeks.  A similar function of Track Rock is possible, since preparing for and commemorating important raids was as much a shamanic task as was preparing and expressing thanks for a hunt, rain-making, or healing the sick against evil spells; all being tasks that involved the continual co-operation with and consent from the spirit world.

 

A Sanctuary of the Great Spirit                  

A late tradition asserts that the area around Track Rock was the sanctuary of the Great Spirit.  When people came near, he became upset and commanded the elements to proclaim his power with thunder and lightning, along with deluges of rain.  This account is a variation of the Judaculla story at Judaculla Rock, particularly expressing the general Cherokee belief that if not properly approached, powerful spirit helpers, such as Judaculla, could cause damage to a vision questing person, through sensations such as thunder, lighting, and earthquakes. 

 

Hunter’s Carvings

Another story maintains that the carvings were made by hunters while resting in the gap.  Hunters resting at petroglyph boulders bring to mind the hunter who rested and performed rituals at seven stops along the Pigeon River in North Carolina, at least one stopover being the place where Judaculla and his family left their tracks on a petroglyph boulder.  Moreover, the mere effort that it must have taken to peck and carve the images on the Track Rock boulders suggests that they took commitment and persistence instead of being the product of idly passing the time by creating graffiti. A person seeking a vision or trying to achieve a purpose is often metaphysically equated with a hunter. Viewed in terms of related Cherokee accounts, such as the hunter in the Judaculla story, resting might have had vision quest or other ritual connotations.

 

For More Information

For more information on Cherokee myths and culture, see the following sources:

 

Haywood, J.  
1823    The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee, Up to the First Settlements therein by the White People, in the Year 1768. George Wilson, Nashville.
Lanham, C.  
1849    Letters from the Alleghany Mountains. Geo. P. Putnam, New York.
Mooney, James  
1891    The Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees. Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1885-86. Government Printing Office: Washington D.C.
190    Myths of the Cherokee. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1897-98.  Part 1, Government Printing Office: Washington D.C.
1982b  Cherokee Theory and Practice of Medicine. The Journal of Cherokee Studies 17:25-29.
1982c  The Cherokee River Cult. The Journal of Cherokee Studies 17:30-36.
Mooney, J. and F. M. Olbrechts
1932    The Swimmer Manuscript: Cherokee Sacred Formulas and Medicinal Prescriptions. Bureau of American Ethnology Bulletin 99, Government Printing Office: Washington D.C.
Stephenson, M. E.
1871    Geology and Mineralogy of Georgia. Globe Publishing Company, Atlanta.
White, G.
1854     Historical Collections of Georgia. Pudney & Russell Publishers, New York.