Tennessee Mountain Stories

The Pot of Gold

Gold – it has the power to thrill or to kill.  Men have lost families, lives and all trace of common sense in the pursuit of this shiny rock.  Where is its value?  If you can’t eat, wear, or otherwise practically use something, value is assigned solely by trading worth.  After all, outside of our economy, those rectangular, green papers we carry around are useless. 

 I mentioned previously that The Cherokee traditionally placed no value on gold.  Despite having an incredibly rich supply of gold right in the middle of their Georgia hunting lands, they never mined it until the white man came and they saw the value he placed on the gold.  So the search for gold breeds many legends and today we explore another one.

This legend leads us to a beautiful and intriguing geological formation.  A natural bridge formed out of rock is always fascinating and it would seem people have been fascinated by this geological phenomenon for generations.  For it is under just such a structure that we find the key to today’s gold legend.  I’m including a picture looking up at this massive piece of rock with bright sunshine cascading down both sides. 

Today, this bridge is far from well-traveled roads, but it must have been on a native thoroughfare for underneath we find two Indian paintings.  The legend says it is a fox and he’s facing a pot of gold.  This was meant to be a marker that the fox is facing a gold mine. 

How does one authenticate Indian paintings?  Well, I suppose there are scientific methods, none of which have been applied to our painting, as far as I know.  However, the painting has always been there – back to the early part of the 20th century at least.  Don’t you just wish someone had written about it in the 19th century or before?

Local historian Luther Atkinson told that an aged Cherokee once came through the plateau and was asked about the painting and its legend.  He examined the painting and confirmed it was from his people, but instead of announcing riches for the taking, it warned of hunger.  What we’ve called a pot of gold, he said was an empty basket.  The painting was announcing this was a poor hunting-ground, there was no game to be had.  That’s the closest thing to expert analysis we’ve got but it hasn’t affected the legend at all.  I guess we’d rather hope for gold than mourn the missing wildlife!

As I stand awed by this incredible formation, I can’t help but wonder what my Cherokee ancestors would have thought.  Did they routinely pass by here?  Could this have been an overnight stopping point for them?  Can you see a young hunting party gliding silently over a leaf-strewn path that might be invisible to the untrained eye?  They stop under the cool shade of the bridge and listen for the movement of deer.  Then they see the sign left by earlier hunters, Don’t waste your time here, this is not a good hunting spot.  Move on.  A young man adjusts his quiver on his back, another shifts his bow to his left hand.  Cupped hands catch the sweet, cold water as it drips from the edge of the rock.  The leader looks to the sun; it is slipping westward and bathing the solid rock wall in warm light.  He decides they must press on; there’s no reason to camp where their brothers have already determined the land won’t supply the meat they are seeking.  The party slips on to the southwest, leaving little evidence of their passing.