OCONEE COUNTY — The Oconee District of Sumter National Forest is home to some of the most beautiful natural attractions Upstate South Carolina has to offer.
Just past the popular Stumphouse Tunnel, a short 100-yard walk down a gently sloping path gives visitors a spectacular view to one of the area’s prized gems: Issaqueena Falls.
Many versions of the story of Issaqueena exist. One such tale tells us Issaqueena was a Cherokee girl who fell in love with an Oconee Brave, while another regales the story of a young girl named Issaqueena who was captured by the Cherokee and given the name Cateechee.
“Cateechee” then met and fell in love with a white trader named Allan Francis. Yet another variant has Issaqueena falling in love with a white silversmith named David Francis.
Regardless of who Issaqueena fell in love with, the numerous adaptations all end roughly the same way.
Issaqueena overhears her tribesmen planning a surprise attack and sets out ahead of the braves to warn her lover — naming the local landmarks of Mile Creek, Six Mile, Twelve Mile, Eighteen Mile, Three and Twenty, Six and Twenty, and finally Ninety Six along the way.
The towns of Six Mile, Ninety Six and the creeks still exist.
She then marries Allan/David/Oconee brave and starts a family. The family then builds (depending on the story) either a “stumphouse” home or a home on Stumphouse Mountain, just north of what is now Walhalla.
Her tribesmen, still seeking revenge for their spoiled attack plan, finally track down Issaqueena and chase her through the woods. She eludes her pursuers by leaping off a nearby waterfall.
The tribesmen, believing her to be dead, call off their chase and Issaqueena, who had actually landed on a ledge and hid out of sight behind the great wall of water, was able to return safely to her family and live happily ever after.
The rendition with the Oconee brave has them both throwing themselves over the falls rather then die at the hands of the Cherokee while the narrative with David Francis has the happy couple ending up in Alabama.
The Legend of Issaqueena is a prime example of local lore shaping an area but historians frequently disagree about how much (if any) truth is surrounding the story.
For one, according to local author and Cherokee language historian John Currahee, the name “Issaqueena” is actually the transplanted Choctaw word “isi-okhina” meaning “deer creek.”
“(The legend) may have some vague factual basis but the Indian maiden’s name was not given until 1895 when she was called ‘Cateechee’ in an essay,” stated Currahee. “It was not until 1898 that Cateechee became Issaqueena in a poem, the duality explained by saying that Issaqueena was a Choctaw captured by the Cherokee and given the name Cateechee among the Cherokee.
“Both the poet and the essayist owned up to inventing the two names out of thin air, although the poet seemed to know that Issaqueena did come from the Choctaw language,” Currahee said.
The poem Currahee was referring to is the epic “Cateechee of Keowee” penned by J.W. Daniels in 1898.
No matter which — if any — version of the legend a person chooses to believe, the 100-foot waterfall itself is truly a fantastic sight for all and should not be missed.
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.