I have wanted to write a short article on Indian Rocks Park for some time now. Indian Rocks Park is located in the North Georgia mountain community of Big Canoe. If you just want to take a short hike through the woods or want to enjoy a meal at one of the picnic tables, Indian Rocks Park is perfect. This is a great hike to take with the kids. It’s short, easy on the legs, and it features mysterious stone cairns scattered along the trail. Indian burial mounds? Trail side shrines? Some sort of practical joke like crop circles? Opinions vary. That there was a substantial American Indian presence in this area is indisputable. In fact, the forced relocation of the Cherokees known as the “Trail of Tears” began just south of this area in 1838.
While the short loop trail is an easy hike, the stone archeological landmarks are both really interesting and in my opinon a little spooky. These cairns, defined by Webster as piles of stone heaped up as landmarks, are fairly well documented throughout early American history. In some instances, farmers created rough stone piles after clearing fields. Other times, early American landowners used stone piles to mark the corners of property. More often, the cairns were created by local American Indian populations. Again, the exact reason American Indians created the rock heaps is the subject of speculation. Described by Thomas Jefferson in his Notes on the State of Virginia, 1787:
. . . Barrows, of which many are to be found all over this country. These are of different sizes, some of them constructed of earth, and some of loose stones. That they were repositories of the dead, has been obvious to all: but on what particular occasion constructed, was matter of doubt. Some have thought they covered the bones of those who have fallen in battles fought on the spot of interment. Some ascribed them to the custom, said to prevail among the Indians, of collecting, at certain periods, the bones of all their dead, wheresoever deposited at the time of death. Others again supposed them the general sepulchres for towns, conjectured to have been on or near these grounds;. . .
But on whatever occasion they may have been made, they are of considerable notoriety among the Indians: for a party passing, about thirty years ago, through the part of thecountry where this barrow is, went through the woods directly to it, without any instructions or enquiry, and having staid about it some time, with expressions which were construed to be those of sorrow, they returned to the high road, which they had left about half a dozen miles to pay this visit, and pursued their journey. There is another barrow, much resembling this in the low grounds of the South branch of Shenandoah, where it is crossed by the road leading from the Rock-fish gap to Staunton. Both of these have, within these dozen years, been cleared of their trees and put under cultivation, are much reduced in their height, and spread in width, by the plough, and will probably disappear in time. There is another on a hill in the Blue ridge of mountains, a few miles North of Wood’s gap, which is made up of small stones thrown together. This has been opened and found to contain human bones, as the others do. There are also many others in other parts of the country.
The rock cairns located aong the Indian Rocks Park trail in Big Canoe are carefully constructed rock stacks laid out in a circular fashion. Most of the stone heaps are located on southeastern facing ridgelines. Testing for elevated levels of phosphorus (which would indicate bone) in the soil around the cairns showed that the Big Canoe rock piles were most likely not used for burial. Regardless of the true meaning of the cairns, they are really an interesting part of our local history, and the Indian Rocks Trail is a great diversion if you are visiting the area. Enjoy a picnic lunch at the nearby tables and debate what these interesting and mysterious (and slightly spooky) stone cairns really mean!
Dan February 29th, 2008