Local News

Tuscarora Indians Seek Landmark Status for 18th...

Posted November 18, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Historic landmark designation is being sought for a demolished Tuscarora Indian fort where the tribe made its last stand to keep British settlers from taking over North Carolina's interior.

About two dozen Tuscaroras toured the property for the first time Monday.

The Tuscarora Council of North Carolina supports making the fort a historic site, one council delegate said.

``I think it's some of the most significant Native American history in North Carolina,'' Robert Locklear of Pembroke said as he walked the site. ``It needs to be published, it needs exposure, it needs to be told, it needs to be taught.''

With support from the landowner and state and local officials, an ad hoc group is preparing the documents needed to have about 25 acres acquired by the National Park Service and managed as a historic landmark. The group will seek federal legislation to support the designation and funding for the site, which is about five miles west of Snow Hill in Greene County.

``There is no better site to create a memorial to the Tuscarora than this place,'' said David Phelps, an East Carolina University archaeologist who has excavated part of the fort.

Dark spots in the dirt reveal the outline of stockade walls, trenches and the houses that were burned to the ground on March 22, 1713. About 800 Tuscarora are believed to have been killed, wounded or captured in the battle for the fort the tribe called Neohoroka. The defeat ended a three-year conflict and opened the North Carolina interior to colonial expansion.

``Their spirits are still not at peace,'' said Elisha Locklear, a vice chief of the tribe in North Carolina. ``No one has acknowledged that they died or were even here. We're dealing with women, the elderly and babies.''

The Tuscarora Nation, located between the Neuse and Pamlico rivers, thrived for about 1,000 years before disputes with colonists led to a war that began in 1711.

After their defeat, tribe members moved north and were adopted by the Oneida around 1722 under the Six Nations alliance.

About 1,000 Tuscarora live on a reservation near Buffalo, N.Y., and an estimated 500 live in North Carolina. The Tuscarora in North Carolina are not recognized as a tribe by the federal government.

The North Carolina site would be a fitting site for remains of Tuscaroras from throughout the United States, said Chief Kenneth Patterson of Sanford, N.Y., a representative of the Tuscarora Nation Council. Many Tuscaroras have roots in North Carolina, although they have lived farther north for generations, he said.

Elkton Richardson, a project director for North Carolina's Commission of Indian Affairs, said a historic site would teach children about an underappreciated period of state history.

``Most children have no idea that major Indian battles were fought in our state,'' he said.

Organizers would have to buy 20 acres of what are now soybean fields from George Mewborn Jr., whose family has owned the property since 1905. Establishing a historic landmark would prevent the site from being picked apart by treasure hunters, he said.

State archaeologist Stephen R. Claggett ranked the historical significance of the site with the recent discovery of what scientists believe is Blackbeard's ship.

With their network of villages in the interior of North Carolina, the Tuscarora had contained the colonists to the Tidewater and coastal areas, Claggett said.

Settlers defeated the Tuscarora by enlisting their Indian allies - the Cherokee, Yamasee and Catawba - and by getting help from the more established British colony in South Carolina.

Neohoroka, believed to have been built about 1712, was unusual among Indian fortifications because it had a European-style palisade around the outside. Inside, the structures were more traditional, consisting mostly of earth lodges partially dug into the ground with soil piled on top.

Researchers have been excavating every summer since 1990. Because the Tuscarora dug bunkers deep into the ground, many artifacts have been preserved even though the land has been plowed for soybeans and tobacco for the last 90 years.

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