Traveling west out of Asheville, North Carolina and crossing the border into Jackson County, one can trace the Caney Fork River along toward the little Tuckasegee community, following NC Highway 107 heading out of the nearby campus town of Cullowhee. There, off a gravel road running between two pastures, is one of the most underrated–and often overlooked–wonders anywhere in the Eastern United States.
Known today as “Judaculla Rock”, the strange stone mound protrudes from the earth just as it did centuries ago, much earlier even than the Cherokee Indians had begun to inhabit the region. According to most estimates by geologists, the stone’s markings date back as much as 3000 years, though on Raliegh-based group a number of years ago supposed that some of the petroglyphs covering the boulder could be twice as old as previous estimates, if not more.
Of all the curious symbols that appear along the stone’s surface, one particular image stands out among the rest, resembling vaguely a hand-like imprint. According to legend, this portion of the stone marks the place where an ancient Cherokee god of the hunt, known as “Tsul’Kalu’,” had leaped from a nearby mountain, and landing within the valley below, had steadied himself against what is now Judaculla Rock. This is, in fact, merely one of several legends regarding Tsul’Kalu’ that still exist, many of which have some fairly remarkable tie-ins with mysterious discoveries of “giants” alleged to have existed in the ancient Americas.
What got me thinking about this initially was a recent interview with researcher Mike Mott, where he discussed repeated allegations that the Smithsonian Institute has engaged in cover-ups regarding anomalous discoveries in the Americas. In at least a few instances, these involved the bones of what appeared to be “giant” bodies recovered from a number of burial mounds throughout the Eastern United States. While many such discoveries have been reported, and were even discussed in the reports of the Smithsonian’s Ethnology Bureau throughout the late 1890s, it seems very strange that such information nonetheless seems to have simply “vanished” from record after that period. Conventional modern explanations claim that soil displacement and erosion had caused the bones of normal-sized bodies to move over time; however, it seems odd that trained scientists with the Smithsonian Institute would have been responsible for such faulty judgement in the official reports they had given, even if it had been more than 100 years ago.
So what does any of this have to do with “Tsul’Kalu’,” a mythic Cherokee god of the hunt, and the seldom discussed stone in Western North Carolina alleged to bear his handprint? In the anthropologist James Mooney’s book Myths of the Cherokee, on page 391 of modern editions he detailed a strange story of “The Giants from the West”:
James Wafford, of the western Cherokee, who was born in Georgia in 1806, says that his grandmother, who must have been born about the middle of the last century, told him that she had beard from the old people that long before her time a party of giants had come once to visit the Cherokee. They were nearly twice as tall as common men, and had their eyes set slanting in their heads, so that the Cherokee called them Tsunil’kälû’, “The Slant-eyed people,” because they looked like the giant hunter Tsul’kälû’… They said that these giants lived very far away in the direction in which the sun goes down. The Cherokee received them as friends, and they stayed some time, and then returned to their home in the west. The story may be a distorted historical tradition.
Tsul’kalu’, of course, was said to be the mythic giant with slanted eyes associated with the initial legend of Judaculla Rock (Judaculla also being a Westernized variation of the earlier “Tsul’kalu'” name). But I found it quite interesting that there was this additional legend associated with “slant eyed giants” that also had to do with this region. Additionally, some modern folklorists have drawn a parallel between Tsul’kalu’ and the Eastern varieties of alleged “Bigfoot” encounters, noting that the Cherokee god of the hunt was believed to live near the summit of steep mountains, and often in caves, which bears similarity to Sasquatch reports and legends more prominent in the Pacific Northwest.
Above: researcher Casey Fox and I scale the mountainside above Judaculla Rock in search of caves rumored to exist there. Photo by Brian Irish.
While it is easy enough to accept these stories as being mere myths or legends the Cherokee people had once told, it still seems strange that, in conjunction with such odd stories, there remain these troubling reports of “missing” skeletons that the Smithsonian Institute was said to have recovered time and time again… skeletons of very large stature. Could there be any more to the stories pertaining to the possible existence of giants in the Ancient Americas, some of which were well known to the Cherokee hundreds of years ago? Even more troubling, if these beings did actually exist, what would be the Smithsonian’s reason for keeping this information from the public, if they had in fact recovered such large, anomalous specimens?