The Moon-Eyed People of Appalachia:
Legend or Lost Civilization?
Stories about small, pale-skinned, blue-eyed people ascending from underground caverns in the dead of night make for great movies, books, and urban legends. But in the mountains and valleys of Appalachia, these stories may not be just fireside fables. These tales could be a historical record of a lost civilization called the moon-eyed people.
There are plenty of legends and myths born in the mountains of Appalachia. From mysterious creatures to ancient ruins of unknown origins, the Appalachian region is steeped in a rich brew of history and myth. Many of the tales told, both fact and fable, have their roots within Native American tribes like the Cherokee.
A Persistent Tradition
In the 1902 book Myths of the Cherokee, James Mooney writes of a “dim but persistent tradition” of people that preceded the Cherokee in the Appalachians. The Cherokee described these people as blue-eyed, nocturnal inhabitants they called the moon-eyed people. Mooney cites Cherokee references to a people who lived north of the Hiwassee River that they described as “very small people, perfectly white.”
One of the earliest written references to this ancient culture appears in Benjamin Smith Barton’s book New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America. “The Cheerake tell us, that when they first arrived in the country which they inhabit, they found it possessed by certain moon-eyed people, who could not see in the day-time. These wretches they expelled.” Barton also suggests that they may have been ancestors of the Kuna albinos of Panama.
The moon-eyed-people story has persisted for thousands of years among different cultures from Ohio to Appalachia. There are numerous mounds, stone structures, and other remnants from an unknown civilization throughout the Appalachian Mountains and beyond. Could the moon-eyed-people be responsible, and if so, what happened to them?
Welsh Indians and Ancient Astronomers
There are some who attribute the Cherokee stories to the influence of European-American tales of “Welsh Indians.” These tales are about a Welsh pre-Columbian voyage in 1170 led by Prince Madoc of Wales. But there is no proof that there was a prince by that name, much less a voyage to North America. It makes for a good story, but there are better theories that may clear up the mystery of this culture’s origins.
Other tribes, such as the Creek, Shawnee, and Seneca nations have their own stories of the moon-eyed people. Barbara Alice Mann, a Ph. D. scholar of Seneca descent has suggested that they were astronomers known for building effigy mounds. She thinks that they were descendants of the Adena culture, a collective of Native American groups that shared burial and ceremonial systems, from 1000-200 BC. Mann suggests that rather than driving them out of the Appalachians, the Cherokee integrated with the moon-eyed people around 200 BC.
At the southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, in the Cohutta Mountain range, there is even a plaque commemorating this legendary culture at Fort Mountain State Park. The “fort” that gives its name to the mountain appears to be more of a ceremonial formation than a defensive wall. The 885 foot long, zigzagging wall has been dated between 400-500 AD. 12 feet thick and from two to seven feet high, the wall features numerous pits, Cairns, cylinders, stone rings, and the ruins of a gateway. Its origins are uncertain but are widely attributed to the moon-eyed-people.
We may never know if the moon-eyed people were an ancient Appalachian culture or just imaginary creatures in campfire stories. But we do know that the stories of these pale-skinned, blue-eyed people of the night will surely live on.