Native Village Youth and Education News
September 2009


The lost tribe of South Carolina
Condensed by Native Village

South Carolina: North Carolina has the Lost Colony ...  The desert Southwest has the Anasazi ... South Carolina has a combination of the two. It's called Cofitachequi.

In the 1500s, Cofitachequi was the main city of a chiefdom in the state’s interior. Hernando de Soto discovered it in April, 1540. By the 1600s, this Native American mound city had mysteriously disappeared. 

When scholars recently gathered at USC to answer questions about Cofitachequi, their answers often ended with a variation of “we might never really know the answer.”

There’s little doubt a town existed in what is now central South Carolina. A 1930s government report indicated the town was near Silver Bluff. But further examination of early Spanish accounts indicates it was on the Wateree River, perhaps near Camden.

De Soto had more luck finding Cofitachequi. He journeyed there after hearing tales from a young native of gold, silver and pearls at an interior community ruled by a female chief. De Soto forced the boy to lead him to the town. 

As de Soto’s men approached Cofitachequi, they were greeted by a woman — either the leader of the chiefdom or a trusted emissary. Various accounts say the Lady of Cofitachequi invited de Soto to the town’s temple, or de Soto forced her to take him to the temple.

Based on descriptions, the grand temple structure likely was built atop a mound. It was covered in mats made of cut reeds, and the outside was adorned with shells and pearls. Inside were amazing piles of pearls and plenty of dead bodies (likely of former chiefs), but no gold or silver.

The Spaniards were offered food and pearls, which they took. Later they abducted and forced the Lady of Cofitachequi to lead them north to the next major chiefdom. Legend has it the Lady of Cofitachequi escaped along the route and safely returned to her town.

Years later, other explorers arrived at Cofitachequi and documented the town's existence.  Then between the 1670 visit and the 1690s, Cofitachequi mysteriously disappeared.

Some archaeologists believe the natives were wiped out by slave traders who forced them into captivity in Virginia.

Others speculate Cofitachequi was wiped out by diseases brought by the Europeans,

Some wonder if they didn't disappear at all and simply moved north to join the Catawba tribe. Or perhaps they were Catawban all along.

At the recent USC meeting, Catawba tribal board member Beckee Garris spoke up.

“You’re all right, and you’re all wrong,” said Garris, quoting stories passed down through generations. “It was us, but it was also the Lakota Sioux, the Chickasaw, the Cree and the Blackfoot. You’re going to find evidence to support all of us.”

Native Village News September 2009Native Village Home Page

Background: Robert Kaufman Fabrics:

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