Catawba Tribe

“As to our Liveing on those Lands we Expect to live on those Lands we now possess During our Time here for when the Great man above made us he also made this Island he also made our forefathers and of this Colour and Hue (Showing his hands & Breast) he also fixed our forefathers and us here and to Inherit this Land and Ever since we Lived after our manner and fashion…” ~Catawba Chief King Hagler or Nopkehee~ (ca. 1700—1763)-

Group of Catawba Indians Rock Hill SC. Wikipedia.

Group of Catawba Indians Rock Hill SC. Wikipedia.

Catawba Flag.

Catawba Flag. They live in the Southeast United States, along the border of North Carolina near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina. They live in the Southeast United States, along the border of North Carolina near the city of Rock Hill, South Carolina.


From the earliest period the Catawba have also been known as Esaw, or Issa (Catawba iswä, “river”), from their residence on the principal stream of the region. The tribe is known as both,  the present-day Catawba and Wateree rivers Iswa.

The original homeland of the Catawba before contact is uncertain. De Soto’s expedition in 1540 apparently went directly through their homeland but did not mention a name that can be attached to them with any certainty. Pardo’s expedition during 1566-67 was the first to mention the Iswa, a branch of which would later become known as the Catawba.   Contact by British colonists from Virginia  was made in 1653.

Hostility with the neighboring Cherokee existing from a period before the Europeans. When the a large number of refugee Shawnee arrived in South Carolina after fleeing the Iroquois during 1660, the Cherokee gave them permission to settle as a buffer between them and the Catawba. The Catawba and Shawnee (or Savannah) were soon at war with  each other. At almost the same time, the Yuchi entered the area from the Cumberland basin, and the Catawba also fought with them.

To make additional problems for the Catawba, the  Iroquois with help from other tribes, went into foothills of the Appalachians to South Carolina to fight the Shawnee. Unfortunately,  Iroquois raids against the Shawnee frequently struck the Catawba and other neighboring tribes instead. The fighting was not localized, and Iroquois warriors were often forced into a hasty retreat with angry Catawba warriors in hot pursuit all the way to Pennsylvania.

With the sudden influx of so many new native enemies, the Catawba turned to the British. They found what they were looking for in the form of firearms. The colonists also found what they were looking for in the form of an ally. Warfare between the Iroquois and Catawba continued with very few interruptions for almost 100 years. Since both tribes were British allies, the British wanted an end to it.   The Iroquois, however, saw things differently. They were allies of New York. Whether this automatically made them allies with Virginia, the Carolinas, or their native allies was a different matter.   With British encouragement, the Catawba arranged a peace with the Iroquois in 1706. This achievement was only temporary. The Catawba still hated the Iroquois and were too stubborn and proud to submit. Eventually, the peace collapsed, and Seneca raids resumed.

Against the Yuchi and Shawnee the Catawba were more successful. Well-armed, the Catawba kept the Yuchi at bay and eventually drove them southwest into the arms of the Creek Confederation. A Catawba victory over the Shawnee in 1707 forced most Carolina Shawnee north to Pennsylvania where they found a refuge among the Delaware and Iroquois (strange as it seems). The remaining Shawnee retreated west to the protection of the Creek.

Meanwhile, while the Catawba were defending themselves from the Iroquois and Shawnee, they rendered service to the British against the new French presence on the Gulf of Mexico. In 1703 Catawba warriors attacked the French outpost at Mobile Bay. Five years later, they joined the Cherokee and Alibamu in fighting the Mobile, the primary French trade middleman in the area. However, these efforts did not go unnoticed by the French, and shortly afterwards, the Catawba began receiving regular visits by war parties from French allies near Detroit.

By 1711 the Iroquian-speaking Tuscarora had endured so much abuse from the North Carolina colonists that there was a general uprising. Joined by other tribes, the Tuscarora War (1711-13) expanded beyond North Carolina’s resources, and they called on South Carolina for assistance. While the Iroquois threatened and Virginia procrastinated, South Carolina sent a force of 30 militia with 500 Catawba and Yamasee.   They entered North Carolina and defeated the Tuscarora in two battles during 1712.  After a truce, the South Carolina army prepared to return home, but problems arose when North Carolina refused to pay for their expenses.   The South Carolina solution was to capture several hundred Tuscarora and sell them as slaves. For obvious reasons, the truce ended right there.

The following year the South Carolinians returned, this time with more than 1,000 Catawba and Yamasee, and the Tuscarora were quickly crushed by the onslaught. After the Tuscarora had left, the Catawba and Yamasee found they were subject to the same abuse that forced the Tuscarora to fight.  British traders routinely seized the wives and children of Catawba warriors and sold them as slaves to pay for debts (usually whiskey).

For this reason, the Catawba joined the general uprising of 1715 in the Carolinas (Yamasee War). Several British forts fell at first, but the colonists brutally repressed the revolt. The survivors were forced to make peace during 1717, but  many small Carolina tribes disappeared completely in this conflict.   The Catawba, however were not one of these. They absorbed many of the refugees and, perhaps because of past service and legitimate grievances, were soon back in the good graces of South Carolina.

Despite their incorporation of other tribes, the Catawba population was in a decline. Only 1,400 were left in 1728 after 70 years of warfare, whiskey and disease. A terrible blow came in 1738 when a severe smallpox epidemic killed over half of them.  By this time the Catawba could only field 120 warriors from a population of 700. The Catawba had escaped Iroquois domination but had paid dearly. Peace with the Iroquois was reconfirmed at Albany in 1759, but the Shawnee remained a dangerous enemy.

The Catawba were used as scouts by the British army during the first years of the French and Indian War (1755-63), but a second smallpox epidemic (1759-60) once again took half of them leaving the survivors demoralized. With only 60 warriors left, the Catawba served as scouts against their old enemies during the Cherokee War (1760-61), but this was their last important contribution.

During 1758 they had abandoned their last towns in North Carolina and now lived entirely within South Carolina. Through the treaty of Pine Hill (1760) and Augusta (1763), a fifteen mile square reservation was established for them along the Catawba River near the North/South Carolina border, but the murder of the last important Catawba chief Haiglar(or Hagler) by a Shawnee war party during 1763 is generally regarded as the end of Catawba power.

From the beginning, the Catawba reservation suffered from encroachment by white colonists. Between 1761 and 1765, many simply ignored the boundaries. A Catawba protest to South Carolina in 1763 was answered with a promise to evict the trespassers, but nothing was ever done. Despite this the Catawba supported the American cause during the Revolution, serving as scouts.  When a British army invaded South Carolina, the Catawba withdrew north into Virginia but returned after the Battle of Guilford Court House (1781).

With the South Carolina government unwilling to move against its white citizens, the Catawba land base continued to shrink. By 1826 virtually all of the reservation had been either sold or leased to whites. Crammed into the last square mile, 110 Catawba lived in poverty. In 1840 the Catawba sold their land to South Carolina at the Treaty of Indian Ford. This was a state, not federal, treaty and probably was a violation of the Nonintercourse Act. The Catawba moved north across the border, but North Carolina refused to provide land for them, so many were forced to return.

Despite past differences, the North Carolina Cherokee generously invited the Catawba to join them. Many did, but this did not last. By 1847 most of the Catawba had left the Cherokee and returned to South Carolina. All that remained for them was 600 acres of their old reservation, and obviously this could not support them. The possibility of moving to the Choctaw section of Oklahoma was explored but ultimately rejected A second attempt to relocate the Catawba west to the Choctaw in Oklahoma also failed during 1853.

Still residents of South Carolina, Catawba soldiers fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War, but the census of 1910 could only locate 124 Catawba. Although recognized by South Carolina, the Catawba did not receive federal recognition until 1941. In 1959 they petitioned Congress to terminate their tribal status, and tribal landholdings were distributed among the membership during 1962. The final tribal role call of that year gave a population of a little over 600. After termination, many Catawba emigrated to the Choctaw in southeast Oklahoma. After a change of heart in 1973, the Catawba tribal council was reorganized and recognized by the state of South Carolina. During 1994, the Catawba regained federal recognition after a lengthy court battle.

Culture Then

The Catawba lived in villages of circular, bark-covered houses, and dedicated temple structures were used for public gatherings and religious ceremonies.The Catawba were sedentary agriculturists, who also fished and hunted for game.  The men were good hunters and the women were known for their pottery and baskets, arts which they still preserve.  The Iroquois called the Catawba “flatheads” because they, as well as many of the other Siouan-speaking tribes of the area, practiced forehead flattening of male infants.

The Catawba religion has a creator (Manatou), and sometimes is said to have a trinity. This trinity consists of Manatou, the creator, Kaia, the turtle, and a third being who is sometimes said to be the son of Manatou. It is likely that the three beings have always been deities in Catawba culture. The conversion of some members to Christianity may have influenced the Catawba stories so that the three beings reflect the trinity in the Christian religion.In approximately 1883, tribal members were contacted by Mormon missionaries. Numerous Catawba were converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and some migrated to Utah and neighboring western states, though most of the Catawba who converted to the LDS Church remained in South Carolina. LDS church membership remains high among the Catawba.

Tribalpedia’s Questions for Comprehension and Discussion

1. Where was the original homeland  of the Catawba?

2. Who were DeSoto, and Pardo?

3. Prior to contact with the Europeans, which tribes did the Catawba have battles with?

4. What led the Catawba to  ask the British for help?

5. The Catawba were used as scouts by the British  at the start of what major war?

6. Describe the villages the members lived in back then.

7. Why were the Catawba referred to a “flatheads” by the Iroquois?

8. What religion did many of the tribe convert to?

Catawba Today

The Catawba hold a yearly celebration called Yap Ye Iswa, which roughly translates to Day of the People, or Day of the River People. Held at the Catawba Cultural Center, proceeds are used to fund the activities of the Catawba Cultural Center.

Catawba Pow Wow Rock Hill SC Catawba Website.

Catawba Pow Wow Rock Hill SC Catawba Website.

With the recognition of the right of Native Americans to conduct gambling on sovereign land, the Catawba set up such enterprises to gain revenue. In 1996, the Catawba formed an initial joint venture  to manage their bingo and casino operations, and a second venture was formed in 2004.

On July 21, 2007, the Catawba held their first elections in more than 30 years. Of the five members of the former government, only two were reelected.

The tribe also have a successful 4-year- college, located in Salisbury NC.

Catawba Myth: The Forever Boy

The Little People live in rock caves on the mountains, and some live in forests. They have fine bodies and are very  handsome. They are called Little People because many of them are no taller than your knees!

Sometimes they can be very mean or very nice, depending on the weather of the day. On cloudy days, it is bad luck to see a Little person. They could turn you into an animal and your family will never know you. If the weather was bright and sunny, a Little Person might leave you a generous gift of corn, or sweets. More often, Little People were kind and they  loved music. They spent  a lot of time singing, dancing, and drumming, but they do not like to be disturbed.

Some claim that if one hears the songs of the Little People, it is best not to follow the sound, because  they do not like to be disturbed at home, and they will throw a spell over the stranger so that he is bewildered and loses his way, and even if he does at last get back to the settlement he is like one dazed ever after.  Little People show their generous nature by helping. They might come near a house at night and the people inside can hear them talking, but they must not go out, and in the morning they find the corn gathered or the field cleared as if a whole force of men had been at work. If anyone should go out to watch, he would die.

Sometimes Little People teach lessons.  Once there was a boy names Forever Boy because he didn’t want to grow up and be a man. He just wanted to play and have fun. Helping with chores was something he never did, nor had any intentions of doing, because he knew that he would never grow up.

One day his father grew tired of his behavior and said to him, “ Forever Boy, I will never call you that again. From now on you’re going to learn to be a man, you’re going to take responsibility for yourself, and you’re going to stop playing all day long. You have to learn these things. Starting tomorrow you’re going to go to your uncle’s, and he’s going to teach you everything that you are going to need to know.’

Forever Boy was sad when his  father told him this, because he could not stand the thought of growing up. He went down to the river and he cried for a long, long, time. . He cried so hard that he didn’t see his animal friends gather around him. They were trying to tell him something, and they were trying to make him feel better, and finally he thought he understood them say, ‘Come here tomorrow, come here early.’ Well, he thought they just wanted to say goodbye to him. He went sadly back home, to wait for the next day.

The next morning he went out early, to meet his friends, but he was so sad, he could not bear the thought of telling them goodbye forever.  They were all there saying things to him, and at first he thought they were saying sad goodbyes.  Finally he began to get the sense that they were trying to tell him something else, and that is to look behind him.

As he looked behind him, there they were, all the Little People! They were smiling at him and laughing and running to hug him.  They said, ‘Forever Boy you do not have to grow up. You can stay with us forever. You can come and be one of us and you will never have to grow up. We will ask the Creator to send a vision to your parents and let them know that you are safe and you are doing what you need to do.’

Forever Boy thought about it for a long, long, time. After, he decided this was what  he needed to do, and he went with the Little People.

So remember, if you are working on something, and you place your tools down in one place, but find them in another place, that is what the Little People are doing. They are playing tricks on you so you will laugh and keep young in your heart. Because that is the spirit of Little People, and Forever Boy, to keep us young in our hearts.


Catawba  Website