The well documented legend of the Sautee Nachoochee Yonah has been heard and shared since the first white settlers made their way through the Unicoi Trail, today referred to as Georgia Highway 17. Today's settlers in nearby Helen GA will surely hear the story from locals in neighboring towns as they explore the area.
A tragic love story, the legend began with the neighboring rivalry formed between the Cherokees and the Chickasaws. In a constant state of unrest, these two rivals were frequently engaged in acts of war. During one peace time, a small bank of Chickasaws was permitted to cross over into Cherokee land, so long as they didn't deviate from the Unicoi Trail while on their travels. Stopping to rest where two valleys met, the tribe rested in the shade provided by a giant oak tree. Curious Cherokees in the area moved closer to get a glimpse of their long hated rivals. It didn't take long for the observation to turn into a heated interaction, as the Cherokees began to taunt the Chickasaws using insults.
Among the group of Chickasaws was the Chief''s young, handsome son, Sautee. As the others bickered, he rested, daydreaming of a time when a peace could be negotiated between the two tribes. His visionary and future greatness must have shown through, as the Cherokee Chiefs sixteen year old daughter, Nacoochee,was overcome with feelings of lust and love, despite no verbal words being spoken.
That same evening, Nachoochee made her escape to meet with Sautee under the same oak tree (now named the Sautee Oak) where they had earlier exchanged glances. Despite their growing admiration for one another, nothing positive could come from their union, so long as their tribes were at unrest.
The couple secretly spent time together in a secret cave within Yonah Mountain. Despite their private affair, both felt compelled to bring their love to the Chief for approval, never dreaming that they would not receive his blessing.
To the young couples surprise, the Chief was blinded by anger when his daughter presented Sautee as the man she loved, not only ordering him away, but ordering him to be thrown from the highest cliffs of the Yonah Mountains. Nacoochee was forced to look on to her lover's demise. Overcome with grief, and unable to see a life worth living without Sautee, she too threw herself from the high cliffs. They were united at the cliff's basin, joined forever in death. Wahoo, the Chief, found the fallen couple in an endearing embrace, realizing too late that his daughter's love was in fact her fate. Wahoo becomes overcome with remorse, something he will live with the rest of his life , choosing to leave the couple united in death at the mountain's basin.
Today, that burial mound still stands at the Junction of Georgia Highway 75 and Highway 17. The valleys were renamed, one for each of the fallen lovers. While you're up visiting at the cabins in Helen, GA stop and to pay respects.