The recorded history of the Jocassee Gorges area dates back to 1539 when Hernando deSoto explored the area. South of what is now Lake Jocassee Dam was once Keowee Village or Keowee Town, the capital of the Lower Cherokee Indians. Keowee Village was located just across the Keowee River (Oconee side) near the confluence of Crowe Creek and Keowee River. In 1690 James Moore led a British expedition through the area in search of gold.
Current area names are derived from the Cherokee language (Blue, 1997). Names such as "Jocassee," "Keowee," "Toxaway," "Eastatoee," and "Oconee" reflect the Native American history of the area. Keowee meant "The Place of the Mulberry" and "Uk-OO-Na" (Oconee) meant "watery eyes of the hills." This word undoubtedly described the many springs, streams and creeks that drain off the Blue Ridge Escarpment.
The Vale of Jocassee was home to the Cherokee Indian Nation. It now lies some 300 feet beneath the surface of Lake Jocassee, near the Toxaway River and Whitewater River confluence, approximately one-half mile north of Jocassee Dam. Jocassee and its meaning are derived from the legend of a Cherokee maiden. Chief Attakulla and his Oconee tribe, known as the "Brown Vipers," lived on the west side of the Whitewater River. The Eastatoees, a rival tribe, lived on the east and were called the "Green Birds." It is likely that the Green Birds received their name from the Carolina parakeet ( Conoropsis carolinensis ), a species that became extinct in 1904. This was the only endemic parrot of North America. The Eastatoee area was the last site the species was recorded in South Carolina. Legend has it that a young warrior named Nagoochee lived among the Green Birds but was not afraid to enter Brown Viper hunting grounds. One day while hunting in Brown Viper territory (probably the area known as Musterground today), Nagoochee fell and broke his leg. Nagoochee was convinced he would perish in the wilderness, when he heard the singing of Jocassee, Chief Attakulla's daughter. Jocassee took Nagoochee back to her father's lodge and nursed him back to health. They fell in love and Nagoochee stayed with the Oconee tribe. Later during a fight between the tribes, Jocassee's brother, Cheochee, killed Nagoochee. When Cheochee returned from battle with Nagoochee's head dangling from his belt, Jocassee didn't say a word. She slipped into a canoe and onto the water. As Jocassee still gazed at the head of her lover, she stepped into the water. Legend claims that she did not sink but walked across the water to meet the ghost of Nagoochee. The name Jocassee means "Place of the Lost One."
By the late 1700s, trade routes between the Cherokees and Europeans were well established (Hembree and Jackson, 1995) . Keowee Village or Keowee Town was a central "hub" along the Indian trading path that connected Cherokee towns and villages throughout eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina, and northwestern South Carolina with the Atlantic Ocean. In 1732, traders delivered more than 200,000 deerskins, which had resulted from trading with Cherokees, to Charleston. Cherokees became well supplied with European firearms, ammunition, tools and clothing. In 1730, Sir Alexander Cummings came to Keowee Village from England and made a treaty of friendship with the Cherokees. By the mid 1700s, however, the relationship among the Cherokees, European settlers, and traders was growing tense. In response, the colony of South Carolina placed a trade embargo on the Cherokees in 1751, and Governor James Glen ordered construction of Fort Prince George just across the river from Keowee Village in 1753 (McKown, 1988). The tensions between Europeans and Cherokees escalated and resulted in the war on the Cherokees in 1759-1760. In November 1785, General Andrew Pickens hosted a large gathering of Indian chiefs along the banks of the Keowee River. On November 28, 1785, a treaty was signed that gave all of the "Jocassee Gorges" land area, with the exception of northern Oconee County, to the United States. It would not be until December 1835 that the Oconee mountains of Jocassee Gorges were ceded to the United States. This controversial treaty, signed by a very small representation of Indians, granted the United States all the Indian territory east of the Mississippi.
The unique and rare natural resources of the area were observed and noted as early as 1788, when French botanist Andre Michaux discovered a rare wildflower with pink-white blossoms at the confluence of the Toxaway and Whitewater rivers (now under Lake Jocassee). This rare wildflower, the Oconee bell, is native to only a few counties in the Blue Ridge area.
In the late 1700s European settlers began moving into the region. Settlers came to the Horsepasture, Laurel Fork, Big and Little Canebrakes, Musterground, and other portions on the Jocassee Gorges property as early as the 1780s, when the land was still under Cherokee control. The new Indian line (boundary) was finally delineated and marked around 1797.
European settlers to the Horsepasture, Laurel Fork, and Big and Little Canebrake primarily came in by way of Eastatoee Valley. The settlers, mostly of Scotch and Irish descent, had generally originated from Virginia and Pennsylvania (Wyche and Kilgo, 1997). Others came from Charleston to the Horsepasture area (Turner and Sherrill, 1997). Land grants in the Jocassee area were recorded as far back as 1791.
During this era, professional market hunters, called long hunters because of their long rifles, hunted the ridges and gorges of the property. The market hunters had a camp in North Carolina called Puncheon Camp. The hunters primarily shot bears and deer, preserved the meat and hides, and later sold them in Asheville, Greenville, Spartanburg, and coastal towns.
Over time more people moved into the mountains and mountain valleys. Early settlers traveled the area along the well-established network of Cherokee trails and trade routes. With sweat and determination, settlers carved farms and homes into the rugged and remote land of the gorges. Their life was difficult and is perhaps best described by C.T. Wyche, and J. Kilgo in The Blue Wall . "They survived by growing corn and making liquor, raising hogs and rearing children. Tough and independent, they married among themselves, forming strong ties of blood kinship. They built schools and churches, opened stores and ran grist mills .... a boy plowing a mule through rocky ground; a man hauling corn to his still in the gorge, then moving that still by night because of the rumor of a revenuer; a woman with raw hands humming a tune in a minor key as she hangs out clothes in a cold wind; a congregation singing a capella in a plain, unpainted church; a couple burying a little girl who died of diphtheria. All that living and dying. All those stories." Many thriving communities once could be found in the Jocassee Gorges.
Several schools existed in the early days in the Jocassee Gorges area. One of the earliest schools was the Laurel Fork School on Laurel Fork Creek. The Horsepasture school (1923-1940) was built to educate area youth (Simmons, 1983). This school was constructed on top of the ridge between Toxaway River and Laurel Fork Creek. The school's first teacher, Dr. Frank Finley, an Easley dentist, was instrumental in the development of the school. Dr. Finley is also well known for his line of bluetick coonhounds, developed in the Jocassee Valley. A school house also once existed near Cane Creek.
In 1916, the Toxaway Dam in North Carolina failed. The flooding down the Toxaway River removed much of the fertile topsoil and deposited rocks and boulders on the family farms. After this flood it was difficult for homesteaders to make a living off the land.
The collective local name "Horsepasture" evolved over time, beginning in Civil War days. Area residents reportedly drove their horses and cattle over the mountain to a broad valley at the forks of Toxaway River and Laurel Fork Creek. Here they successfully hid their livestock from Sherman's advancing army. This area became known as the Horsepasture and the middle fork of the Toxaway River, formerly known as the Green River, was renamed the Horsepasture River. During the "dust bowl era" of the 1920s, livestock from the West were transported by rail to the Horsepasture. Cattle were "free ranged" until grazing conditions improved in the west. Local residents conducted head counts of the cattle for the federal government.
The advent of the railroad brought the textile industry to the upstate. Around the turn of the century, many mountain inhabitants migrated from their isolated homesteads to work in the local town mills. Their land was generally sold or abandoned and auctioned for back taxes. Those who stayed in the Jocassee area primarily resided around Jocassee Valley, which became somewhat of a tourist destination. Others relied on moonshining and the timber industry that evolved.
As the timber industry emerged, partially as a result of the industrial boom in the region (Bloomer 1997), large timbers and lumber were cut to build factories and construct houses to shelter mill workers. The mountains and foothills of Pickens and Oconee counties provided the timber to satisfy much of those building needs. Another factor contributing to the emerging timber industry was the dwindling timber resources available in northeast forests. Big lumber companies looked to the virgin stands in the South for new sources of timber and began to purchase large tracts of mountain land. This would become the source of timber to supply both the local market and the nation's timber demand. These early purchases by large timber companies were the beginning of the land acquisitions that eventually led to what we now refer to as the Jocassee Gorges.
Many timber companies have held title to this property. Saluda River Lumber Co., Montvale Lumber Company, Southern Lumber Company and Carolina Timber Company were some of the owners of the Horsepasture property. The more recent owners were Appalachian Forest Corporation, Poinsett Lumber Company and Crescent Resources, Inc. Appalachian Forest Corporation built a logging railroad into the Eastatoee Creek area for the purpose of shipping harvested logs from the mountains to the sawmills in Pickens. The railroad followed the easiest grade into the coves and hollows of the property. The company's primary interest was to harvest yellow poplar and oak timber that grew in the mountain coves and mid slopes of these rugged hills. Often times the railroad bed was constructed next to the stream bed itself. Horses were used to skid the logs downhill to the rails. The logs were then loaded on rail cars and shipped to Pickens where they were sawed into lumber. Today, remnants of the old railroad system (grades and railroad iron) are evident along some of the stream beds.
Poinsett Lumber Company, a subsidiary of Singer Sewing Machine Company, took possession of the land around 1939 and abandoned the railroad system. Poinsett constructed roads into the mountains and hauled the logs out on trucks to its Pickens mill. Hardwood lumber was used to build sewing machine cabinets. Singer's timber operation continued for 24 years. At the end of its ownership, Poinsett had completed one rotation and had begun to harvest the timber a second time.
In 1963, Duke Power Company (a Duke Energy Company, or DEC) formed Carolina Land and Timber Company, which purchased an 83,400-acre tract of land in the Horsepasture area from Singer Corporation and private landowners. Duke Power Company (DPC) announced construction of the Keowee Toxaway Project on January 2, 1965, and began development in 1967. The construction resulted in the formation of 18,400-acre Lake Keowee and 7,500-acre Lake Jocassee.
Carolina Land and Timber became Crescent Land and Timber Company (currently Crescent Resources, Inc., a Duke Energy Company) in 1969. Crescent Resources has managed the Jocassee property since that time. Similar to previous timber companies, Crescent's goal was to generate income from commercial timber harvest. Under Crescent's management consideration was given to social and environmental concerns for the first time. Crescent Resources continued to harvest timber and began reforestation efforts to meet future forest products needs.
In December 1964, the South Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (currently the SCDNR) negotiated a formal agreement with Duke Power Company and Crescent Resources Inc. (CRI) to include the lands of Jocassee Gorges in the department's Game Management Area Program (currently WMA Program). Although past timber companies had allowed access to hunting and fishing, this landmark agreement established formal public access.
The agreement also led to more intensive wildlife management programs. A SCDNR wildlife biologist was assigned to the area in 1965. Deer and wild turkey stockings began that year. Seventy-five deer from South Carolina's coastal plain counties were stocked in the Horsepasture over a four-year period. Four turkey hens were released in 1965. Additional wild turkey stockings (25 birds) were completed in the 1970s.
Fish management efforts in Jocassee Gorges streams date back at least to the 1930s when the Chief Game Warden for South Carolina managed trout stocking from the Cleveland State Trout Hatchery, Table Rock State Hatchery, and Walhalla National Fish Hatchery (SCDNR, 1935-1962). A trout stocking program during this period was necessary to provide fishing opportunities following the stream habitat devastation caused by logging and public access. Jocassee Gorges stream monitoring efforts began in 1965 with the hiring of the first area SCDNR fishery biologist. Fish habitat and populations were investigated and improved. Trout stocking efforts continued with a higher level of monitoring and improvement of techniques. In 1966, some of the first instream habitat improvement structures were placed in Little Eastatoee Creek, on Duke Property.
Biologists have long recognized the tremendous biodiversity of plant and animal life in the Jocassee Gorges area. They have conducted preliminary surveys of plant and animal communities and have documented the occurrence of rare, threatened and endangered elements. Eastatoee Gorge Heritage Preserve (374 acres) was transferred from Duke Power Company to the SCDNR in 1979 in recognition of the extremely diverse flora occurring there.
Those participating in hunting, fishing, hiking, nature observation and other forms of outdoor activity have benefited greatly from wildlife, fisheries and law enforcement efforts conducted under the WMA Program. The WMA Program on the Jocassee land over the past 34 years has served as a catalyst for a very positive cooperative working relationship between SCDNR, DPC, and CRI (Van Lear et al., 1994; and Van Lear et al. 1996). This positive relationship fostered the Jocassee Gorges land acquisition project for the state of South Carolina.