This article was submitted by author Michael Jeffcoat in 2013. A version of it also appeared in The State
newspaper. Here, Jeffcoat explores a site located on the North Edisto River, near present-day Swansea
, that he believes served an important purpose for both Native Americans and early European settlers. He calls the site the Indian Head, which is the name used in historical references to the site, including multiple hand-drawn plats, held by the SC Department of Archives, and South Carolina Statute No. 995, which was "an act for establishing a road from the north side of the Orangeburgh bridge, up the country to the Indian Head."
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The Indian Head: South Carolina's Ancient Meeting Place
There are known ancient meeting places throughout the world. Many of these are at sites of geographic significance and some, like Stonehenge in England, are manmade, monuments that reflect man's ingenuity and desire to claim his position in relationship to the earth's natural wonders. In North America, the indigenous people of these lands known as Native Americans found special meaning in the natural features of the earth. It was at these places they often met, camped or settled given that appropriate resources to sustain life were present or nearby. Evidence of this can be found at basic natural features like Carolina Bays. There were values assigned to these places depending on what the site offered. There were neutral "high ground" meeting places like mesas that allowed leaders or members of different tribes to meet in the open as an added means of security, allowing them to see far distances to avoid surprise attacks. There were also places with natural wonders that symbolized a presence or place of the "Great Spirit". These "places of the Great Spirit" made excellent neutral meeting places for leaders or members of different tribes. Some of these places provided security through seclusion. In addition, these places of significant natural feature were landmarks to define the location of resources, points of travel and to define territories. Like the Greek agoras and the Roman curias the scale of the meeting place often reflected the number of people who could attend at one time. The smaller meeting places accommodated few people and was a reflection of a place where meetings of higher importance were held.
In the United States at the "heart" of the state of South Carolina, in the state's oldest geological region was a small and ancient meeting place. It was known in the 18th century by its English name as THE INDIAN HEAD. It was located at a unique water feature where leaders of Native American tribes came to meet. This water feature was a place where water breached the surface of the earth and ran across the surface a short distance before returning to the earth. While what it exactly symbolized to the Native Americans may never be known, it is possible that it symbolized a "circle of life" where all things coming from the earth, return to the earth.
Analysis of the existing tribes within the state of South Carolina in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries shows that The Indian Head was in an area that was central to many of the tribes and at a center point between the Congaree and Savannah Rivers slightly above the north fork of the Edisto River. It was located approximately center point, between the Fall Line/Sand Hills region of the Upper Coastal Plain and the Orangeburgh Scarp. It was near the crossing point of ancient main paths that ran east from the South Carolina coast to Mississippi and points further west and, that ran from the north to the south. These paths were used for travel and for trade for many centuries. By most definitions and at many levels, The Indian Head was at the center of a regional "super culture" of tribes.
"The Indian Head" is an English name that appears on government and private documents in the 18th century. The origin of the name in English suggests that the name is descriptive of a particular place significant to Native American activity as would have been chronicled by early British inhabitants or visitors of this region. It is likely that the place became of diminishing importance to these tribes after 1683/4 when the Caciques of the Native American tribes conveyed the land comprising most of the state to the British. It is not known when The Indian Head was no longer used as a meeting place by the tribes but it is likely that it was at some point after the conveyance and before the middle of the 18th century.
A map by Mouzon, dated 1775, showing the location of the townships formed by the townships acts of 1736 provides that The Indian Head existed in a "cone-shaped" region between the townships of Orangeburgh, Amelia, and Saxe Gotha and, between the Congaree River and the north fork of the Edisto River. The "cone" is very narrow along the Congaree River and much wider along the north fork of the Edisto River, as defined by the boundaries of the townships of Saxe Gotha and and Orangeburgh at point where they meet the river. The orientation of the "cone" suggest an area of controlled passage from the north approach at the Congaree. The Indian Head rested in the larger Orangeburgh District which rested mostly in a larger area known as Bull Swamp, an early and informal tribute to the members of the Bull family who for generations demonstrated a concern for the welfare of these indigenous people. Later, in the 19th century "The Indian Head" would eventually rest in a much smaller region and perhaps as a final tribute and act of preservation of the place and the legacy of the Bull family, in a newly formed township named Bull Swamp Township which is present day Swansea, South Carolina.
Perhaps, The Indian Head's greatest legacy is shrouded in an intriguing and, until the writing of the book, unsolved mystery about the colonial settlement at Big Pond Branch. At the time of the Civil War, the settlement was of significant industry and development. It has been described as a "self-contained community and economy". Today, a couple of colonial structures and structures of the early to middle 19th century still exist. One central question has been asked by scholars, historians and others interested in its history. The question most people ask when knowing the history is why the settlement was not destroyed by Sherman's troops despite the presence of these troops at the edge of the settlement. The settlement was left untouched by Sherman's "scorched-earth" campaign while the surrounding towns of Orangeburg, Lexington and Columbia were destroyed. The answer to this mystery and this central question are found in the significance of The Indian Head's centuries-long history prior to the Civil War.
For The Indian Head, her existence and the facts of her history were fleeting like her life sustaining waters which were brought to the surface for only a short time before returning to the depths of the earth. Through forensic research across many disciplines her history like her once significant waters surge up for the first time to reveal a history spanning thousands of years and involving influential men of each modern period including our greatest Native American leaders, Lachlan McGillivray and Alexander McGillivray, fathers of our colonial backcountry like Andrew Pickens and Benjamin Hawkins and, four United States Presidents. The influence of these men is woven around the everyday lives of the earliest indigenous people of the backcountry and the earliest European settlers to provide a history that has been as unknown yet significant as The Indian Head.
The implications created by the known existence of The Indian Head are vast and far reaching across many types of studies. It was a physical place but today it is an information crossroads connecting the past, the present and the future through knowledge that can be gathered. There is a diversity of significant information across multiple cultures to be gleaned, studied and utilized. There are anthropological, archeological, geographical, geological, genealogical, ethnological, economical, political and theological data to be harvested. From understanding ancient civilizations that once occupied the lands of the United States to the shaping of a Euro-American culture that became the dominant force of the present day "America", The Indian Head, its known purpose and its course to obscurity, provide valuable and inexhaustible information from the perspective of each beholder.
All who ever touched the waters of "The Indian Head" described it in astonishment as "ICE COLD!" These local individuals were very familiar with the cold spring and well waters of the region in which they lived.
The Indian Head – known today as Little River (now extinct) – was a unique water feature where water surged from the ground and ran about five times as long as it was wide before returning to the earth. It rests on private lands. This place and surrounding lands are, at the time of publication (2013), largely owned by the descendants of the earliest known landholders of the 18th century. The region remains as obscure and private as it has for centuries.