Kituwah historical marker

Kituwah (Q-57)

Cherokee mother town. Council house stood on mound here. Town was destroyed, 1761, by James Grant's forces.

Location: US 19 (between ZJ Hyatt Rd. & Galbraith Creek Rd.) NW of Bryson City
County: Swain
Original Date Cast: 2007

“We are all Kituwah people,” a greeting once used by Western Cherokees when meeting their Eastern brethren, reflects a sense of common origin. Kituwah, on the Tuckasegee River nine miles from the present Cherokee reservation, has long been considered one of the seven Cherokee “mother towns.” It was the first village established by the groups that became the Cherokee, thus making it arguably the most important mother town. Evidence suggests that the site was inhabited sporadically for nearly 5,000 years beginning in 3,000 B.C. Associated with the village was a mound, site of the town house and a religious/political center. Cherokee tradition holds that the tribe’s “great council fire” burned perpetually atop the mound. Members from each new Cherokee community traveled to Kituwah to gain embers for their own council fires.

The reverence Kituwah receives in tribal lore substantiates its primacy for the Cherokee. The settlement most likely maintained prominence throughout the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1721, the village had a population of 288 people, but its size changed considerably over time. No description of Kituwah exists, but William Bartram in 1775 observed other towns with “plantations of Corn, Beans, etc. up to the council-house, which was a very large dome or rotunda, situated on top of an ancient artificial mount.” Bartram also noted that Cowee was by then “esteemed the capital town.” Kituwah likely declined as Cherokee villages, by 1750, had developed to the south and east. In 1761, a British force led by James Grant burned the village. Intermittent habitation continued, including occupation by Chief Yonaguska in the 1820s, until whites claimed the land in the 1860s.

The Kituwah mound remains a cultural and spiritual center for the Cherokees, but plowing has worn it down to a fraction of the original size. Today the mound is five feet high and about 170 feet in diameter. Recent investigation of the village site using gradiometers have located 15 burials, and specialists estimate there could be over 1,000 graves. In 1996, Cherokee elders purchased the 309-acre tract in an effort to preserve the site.

James Mooney, Historical Sketch of the Cherokee (1900)
Jerry L. Cross, “Kituwah: Ancient Town of the Cherokee” (Research Branch, Division of Archives and History, 1984)
William Bartram, Travels of William Bartram (1792)
Robert J. Conley, The Cherokee Nation: A History (2005)
Gary Goodwin, Cherokees in Transition: A Study of Changing Culture and Environment Prior to 1775 (1977)
Manataka American Indian Council website:

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