of the Cohutta Mountains, a small mountain range at the southern end of
the Appalachian Mountains, Fort Mountain takes its name from the remnants
of a stone formation located on the peak.
This ancient 885 feet-long zigzagging rock wall was built from stones
that are from the local area around the summit. It is up to 12 feet
thick and up to seven feet high, but generally rises to a height of
two or three feet. The wall, which is scattered with 29 pits, cairns,
small cylinders, stone rings, and ruins of a gateway, is said by some
sources to have been built around 400-500 AD, while other sources say
that the date has not been determined.
There are several theories as to who might have built this
wall. Early visitors referred to the formation as a fort,
speculating that it was built by Hernando de Soto to defend against
Indians around 1540. However, this theory was contradicted
as early as 1917, when a historian pointed out that de Soto was in the
area for less than two weeks.
Two other legends say that the wall was built either by
the Moon-eyed people according to
Cherokee lore or
is contributed to a Welsh prince
who was said to have made his way to America in 1170.
According to Cherokee tradition, the moon-eyed people
lived in the lower Appalachia region before the Cherokee came to the
area during the late 1700s. The people were said to be called
"moon-eyed" because they saw poorly during the day and could see very
well at night. They were also described as being small in stature, the
men bearded, light-eyed, and having pale white skin. One early
historian described them as albinos who were possibly the ancestors
of the Kuna people of Panama, who have a high incidence of albinism.
The Cherokee, who drove them out of the region, say
that these people built the ancient structures in the area.
Supposedly, a temple had once stood inside the fortification which
contained a giant stone snake with ruby eyes.
The moon-eyed people were first mentioned in a 1797 book by Benjamin
Smith Barton. Later documentation tells of similar accounts, such as an
1823 book, The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee,
which tells of of a band of white people who were killed
or driven out of
Kentucky and West
Who were these moon-eyed people? Some say they might be
of Welsh descent. This story tells of a prince named
Madoc (or Madog) ab Owain Gwynedd, who fled his
homeland after the death of his father, which had created a Civil War
among his seven sons. The sons were to fight to determine who
would rule their father's lands.
To avoid the bloodshed, Madoc set sail with his brother
Rhirid and a few followers in 1170 and was said to have landed
somewhere around Mobile Bay, Alabama. Some time later, Madoc returned
to his native country and recruited more followers who returned on ten
ships to settle in America. After setting sail, they were never heard
from in Wales again. Some speculate it was these colonists that built
the fortress wall. Allegedly, the Fort Mountain stone work wasn't the
only one they built. Legend also attributes one near DeSoto
Falls, Alabama, which is said to be nearly identical to the setting,
layout, and method of construction of Dolwyddelan Castle in Wales, the
birthplace of Madoc. Minor fortifications in the Chattanooga,
area are also attributed to these Welsh people.
In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote that
the Cherokee leader Oconostota told him in 1783 that local mounds had
been built by white people who were pushed from the area by the
Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were
Welsh from across the ocean. Madoc's travels, first told in print
about 1584, had also been told in Welsh songs and stories since the twelfth
Were these descendants of Madoc's colonists the
Many generations of explorers, archaeologists, geologists, and historians
have wondered about the identity of the unknown
builders and the purpose of their handiwork. Some believe that the
wall had a a ceremonial function since it lacks certain
characteristics necessary for defensive purposes, such as its
relatively low height and the lack of water within the wall.