Two rednecks’ lust for gold on Georgia’s Sawnee Mountain leads them straight into a horrifying encounter with an ancient mountain haunt.
While our story is fiction, there is an actual Sawnee Mountain in Georgia! Read after the story about the real place and its gold mining past.
Table of contents
Chief Sawnee’s Gold – Audio Story
Bill Morgan and Tom Edwards sat nursing their umpteenth beers in Fat Daddy’s Saloon, a loud, smoke-filled, neon-lit honky tonk in the foothills of the North Georgia mountains. Fat Daddy’s had always been their bar of choice on the weekends, but ever since Bill and Tom lost their jobs at the bottling plant, they were there almost every night, drinking away the last dollars they had.
If you hung out in Fat Daddy’s long enough, the same things would happen every night like clockwork. The phone behind the bar would ring precisely at seven, as Mrs. Floyd would call making sure her husband hadn’t snuck over there after work. At eight-thirty, Little Jake would lose yet another pool game to Mike “The Mouth” Kilbey, and he’d hear about it the rest of the night. At nine-thirty, someone would play “Whisky River” on the beat-up old jukebox. And at ten o’clock, sitting alone at the end of the bar, Chief “B.S.” would tell his tired old tale of the gold in Sawnee Mountain to anyone who would listen.
Now, some of you young folks may not know what “B.S.” stands for, but you older folks surely do. Bill gave the Chief that name because he got tired of hearing the same old stories coming out of his mouth. The Chief was an old Cherokee with long grey hair, wrinkled, leathery skin, piercing eyes, and a beaten up hat with some sort of turkey feather sticking out of the brim. His ancestors had lived and hunted in the North Georgia mountains long before the white man arrived. And he knew those mountains so well that he could hike through them blindfolded if he had to.
That didn’t matter much to the good ol’ boys at Fat Daddy’s, who considered the Chief a weird outsider. But maybe it was their dire employment situation that led Bill and Tom to suddenly pay attention to the Chief as he told his story to another unsuspecting drunk. He always started his tale by talking about the Trail of Tears, and how Chief Sawnee, one of the most respected Cherokee leaders in Georgia, refused to go. Instead, Chief Sawnee hid in the North Georgia mountains with his loyal braves, and when he died he was buried in the mountain which now bears his name. According to the story, he was also buried with a large stash of gold coins, which his remaining braves buried with him.
This was the part of the story where everyone in the bar would laugh at the old man and tell him he was nuts. “It’s true,” the Chief insisted, “The gold is buried with Chief Sawneee deep in Sawnee Mountain. But it’s protected by his spirit. I can tell you how to get there, but I’d never go in myself. I don’t need gold bad enough to have a ghost hounding me for the rest of my life.”
Well, maybe the Chief didn’t want the gold that badly, but Bill Morgan certainly did. He moved two barstools down toward the old man and said, “Tell you what, Chief. You draw me a map, and I’ll go up and get that gold. I’ll even give you a cut of it.”
Tom looked at his friend in disbelief. “I ain’t goin’ bushwackin’ up there on some wild goose chase!” he said.
Bill put his arm mockingly around the Chief and grinned a phony grin. “It ain’t no wild goose chase, is it, Chief? That gold’s up there, and we’re gonna get it!”
The Chief took a long, contemplative swig of beer, then stared at Bill with his black, piercing eyes. “You two church going men?” he asked.
“What difference does that make?” asked Bill with a chuckle.
“Like I said, the gold is protected by Chief Sawnee’s spirit,” the old Cherokee answered. “If you go in there, you gotta go in with a pure heart. So a church going man will stand a better chance with the spirit than a sinful one.”
Bill rolled his eyes, grabbed one of the bar napkins and said, “Yeah, whatever. Draw us a map on this napkin and we’ll go see if your story’s true or not.” Then winking at his friend Tom he whispered, “If Chief B.S. is right, we’re gonna be rich this time tomorrow. Besides, what do we got to lose?”
After the Chief had drawn the map, Tom followed Bill as he staggered out of the bar. Bill tossed his keys to Tom and said, “You drive. I’ll show you where to go.”
“You can’t be serious,” answered Tom. “C’mon, you’re drunk. There ain’t no gold up there. Besides, it’s dark out.”
But Bill wouldn’t be swayed. “C’mon, I need your help. We’ll just take a quick look, I promise.”
Now Tom knew he had done plenty of stupid things himself after one too many beers. And his friend Bill had always been there to bail him out off trouble. So with a heavy sigh, Tom grabbed a couple of flashlights from the back of his truck and said, “Alright, which way do we go?”
For hours it seemed, Tom drove Bill’s truck up the curvy, two-lane road that led up into the highest elevations in North Georgia. The lights from town disappeared, and soon they were enveloped in darkness, alone on the road, with only the intensely bright stars above keeping them company. In fact, Tom had never seen stars so beautiful and bright. Or perhaps he was always too busy to notice them. Maybe those Cherokees back then didn’t have it so bad after all, he thought to himself.
“There it is!” Bill suddenly screamed.
Tom slammed on the brakes and looked where Bill was pointing. On the side of the road stood a wooden, unoccupied lean-to with a big black pot inside. A crudely painted sign nailed to a tree above it read BOILED P-NUTS $1.00. Tom rolled his eyes – these tourist traps were a dime a dozen up in the hills, especially in the fall when the leaf watchers drove up in their shiny SUVs from Atlanta. Tom looked at the map scrawled on Bill’s napkin. Indeed, the Chief had drawn the peanut stand with a long dotted line behind it, indicating a dirt road. Tom turned onto the dirt road behind the peanut stand and plunged deep into the dark forest.
For several miles, the dirt road was in surprisingly good shape. But then it suddenly worsened, with Tom’s truck rocking violently in the deep ruts. Thick clouds of dust blanketed Toms’ headlights, obscuring what little of the road he could see. It was obvious that no one had been down this old hunting road in years. Tom was just about to turn around when the road suddenly dead-ended into a thick, impenetrable wall of old-growth trees.
Bill looked at the map clutched in his sweaty hands, grinned and said, “We’re here!”
Where’s “here,” Tom thought to himself as they exited the truck. The woods surrounding them were pitch black and silent, save the loud crickets that seemed to be everywhere. Tom followed Bill as he plunged into the old growth forest, the trees wider and taller than anything he had seen before. The ground rose up steeply before them, and all the beer Tom had consumed that night quickly perspired from his body. He was now totally sober, wondering what in the world they were doing out there.
Panting and exhausted, Tom rested against a tree. After a few minutes passed, he noticed that Bill’s flashlight beam had disappeared. He called out Bill’s name, but only the crickets answered him. “Bill?” he called out again, but there was still no answer. Now worried, Tom cried out as loud as he could, “Bill!!” Bill’s faint voice drifted back from somewhere in the darkness. “Hey, man! I’m over here! Look over…” “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!! “
Tom ran frantically in the direction of Bill’s screams, his flashlight beam bouncing off the ominous trees. He screamed his friend’s name over and over, but only the mocking crickets called back. Then his flashlight beam cut across a small cloud of dust floating in the distance. He ran in that direction, only to suddenly freeze in his tracks, his eyes widening. A few inches from his feet was a yawning black hole, leading straight down into black, uncharted darkness.
“Tom, you up there?” screamed Bill hoarsely from somewhere in the dark depths.
Tom pointed his flashlight into the hole, revealing a rocky pit nearly fifty feet deep. Bill looked up at him from the bottom, a bleeding gash on his face, but he was standing. He then gave Tom and boyish grin and said, “Look here what I found.”
Bill turned on his light, and Tom could see that he was standing in some sort of cavern entrance, with numerous holes in the walls leading God-knows-where. In the dancing beam, he could also see eerie paintings on the walls – pictures of the universe, of animals, of warrior figures and strange tribal masks. On the ground beside Bill’s feet, Tom swore he saw a human skull buried below the nose in red clay.
But it was what he saw next that made his jaw drop. Sparkling in Bill’s flashlight beam was a dirty burlap sac, filled with gold coins! Bill looked up at Tom and grinned. “What do ya’ know,” he said, “the Injun was right!”
They wasted no time hauling the bag of gold out of the pit and running back through the woods. Bill had sprained his ankle slightly in the fall, but that didn’t stop him from making a beeline toward the truck. And as they roared back to town, they whooped and hollered out the open windows, listing all the things that gold was going to buy them – sports cars, motorcycles, beach houses, beautiful ladies. But they agreed that the first thing they would do is march right back to that bottling plant and tell their old boss to…well, you can imagine the rest.
Several days passed after their discovery, and Tom became concerned that he hadn’t heard anything from Bill since then. Tom’s phone calls to Bill’s home went unanswered, and nobody at Fat Daddy’s had seen him, which was very unusual. Had Bill left town with his share of the gold?
So one day, Tom drove over to Bill’s place to check up on him. Bill lived in an old trailer home on some barren and overgrown family farmland several miles out of town. He saw Bill’s truck in the driveway, went up to the door and knocked, but there was no answer. He then tried the doorknob, and was surprised when the door suddenly creaked open. Tom’s stomach turned as he was greeted by an awful smell, worse than any barn or latrine he’d ever run across. Covering his nose and mouth, he walked cautiously into the trailer. He noticed a light burning in Bill’s bedroom. He walked over to the door and peaked inside.
What he saw next froze his blood. There was Bill lying on his soiled bed, horrifyingly thin, his eyes bulging out of his pale, skeletal face. Tom could see Bill’s exposed rib cage underneath his filthy shirt, heaving up and down with each pained breath.
“What happened to you?” Tom blurted out. But Bill didn’t answer. “Can you hear me?” Tom asked. Again, Bill didn’t answer, but instead rolled his eyes, as if directing Tom toward his bedside. Tom moved toward him and leaned close to Bill’s face. And in a painful, hoarse whisper that took every ounce of his strength, Bill said:
Tom grabbed Bill’s arm, but it wouldn’t move, as if it were super-glued to the bed. He tried his other arm and his legs, but still he wouldn’t budge. Tom knew that Bill was too frail to resist him. Something else was holding Bill on the bed – something powerful and invisible.
Tom lunged for the phone to call for help, but it was dead. Frantic, he ran into the kitchen, heated up a bowl of canned soup, then brought it to Bill’s bedside with a glass of water. But Bill spit up everything Tom tried to put in his mouth, his eyes deliriously rolling back in his head. As Tom watched his friend suffer, his mind suddenly crossed that line between the real and the surreal. That moment when you finally realize you don’t really know everything about how this world operates, and anything is possible.
So without thinking, Tom grabbed Bill’s share of Chief Sawnee’s gold, still sitting in the burlap sack in the closet. He then rushed home, grabbed his share, and sped back up into the hills. Past the “Boiled P-Nut” stand, down the old hunting road, through the creepy, old growth forest, and up to the edge of the deep pit. And with tears in his eyes, he called out to the skeletal remains below: “I’m givin’ you your gold back, Chief Sawnee! I don’t need it, and I’m sorry I took it! I’ll never bother you again. Just please let my friend go – please! He’s my only friend in the world! And that’s the only thing that matters to me! I swear!”
And with those words, he tossed the bags of gold coins back into the pit. Then using his bare hands, he shoveled dirt, rocks, branches, anything he could find over the hole, so no one else would ever find it. He then bolted back to his truck and sped back towards town.
Tom knew he had to find a phone fast, and the closest one was at Fat Daddy’s a few miles away. The sun was quickly setting over the hills, and he knew that Bill didn’t have much more time. Tom knew he’d get strange looks wandering into the bar with his filthy clothes and cut, bleeding hands, but he would find a way to explain it later.
When Tom finally roared into the Fat Daddy’s parking lot around ten o’ clock, he was surprised to find it empty. The lot was usually full on a Saturday night – maybe they closed early, Tom thought fearfully. Tom was relieved to find the door unlocked. He ran inside and found it dark and empty. He ran behind the bar, grabbed the phone, and dialed Bill’s sister in a neighboring town. She picked up her cell phone after one ring. “Bill’s been rushed to the hospital,” she said in a panicked voice. “He called me a few hours ago and said he couldn’t get out of bed. The doctor says he’s lucky to be alive. Now I’m trying to get Mom on the phone. He looked awful, Tom. What happened to him? Do you know?”
Tom couldn’t answer, but the news of Bill’s condition sent waves of relief through him. He assured her that he would head straight to the hospital, then hung up the phone.
“You’ve been up to Chief Sawnee’s cave, haven’t you?” said a sudden voice from the darkness.
Tom nearly leapt out of his skin. Sitting at the bar was old “Chief B.S.,” nursing a beer.
“What do you know about it?” was all Tom could say.
The Chief took a long, contemplative swig of beer, stared at Tom with his piercing eyes, then said in a voice that seemed deeper and older than the one Tom had heard so often: “That gold isn’t going to do me no good. You’re welcome to it. But I told you to accept it with a good heart. That’s all I ask. Now use it that way. Or I’ll come back to see you again.”
With that, the Chief polished off his beer and strolled leisurely out the door. Tom looked at the Chief’s bar stool. Sitting there was the dirty burlap sack of gold coins that Tom had thrown into the pit hours earlier. Tom could hardly believe his eyes. He then charged out the door to find the Chief. But only the stiff evening breeze rolling off the North Georgia mountains greeted him. The Chief had vanished into the night.
And in the years that followed, as Tom and Bill both married and finally settled down, Chief B.S. – or Chief Sawnee, as they called him to anyone who would listen to their crazy stories – was never seen in those parts again.
-THE END –
Where is Sawnee Mountain?
Sawnee Mountain is located near Cumming, Georgia, just over 40 miles north of downtown Atlanta (Google Maps). It it now part of the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, a 963-acre county park with hiking trails, picnic pavilions, nature classrooms and an amphitheater. Sawnee Mountain’s Indian Seats Trail is one of Georgia’s most popular hiking trails, with beautiful views of the distant Blue Ridge Mountains.
At 1,946 feet above sea level, Sawnee Mountain (actually a 5 mile long ridge) is slightly higher than better known Atlanta-area mountains like Stone Mountain and Kennesaw Mountain. But Sawnee is a low mountain compared to the Georgia peaks to the north.
Is There Really Gold on Sawnee Mountain?
Locals have told tales of Cherokee gold on Sawnee Mountain for generations. During the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829, white prospectors flooded the region. These prospectors discovered small amounts of gold in the streams (now dried up) that once ran through Sawnee Mountain, especially on its southeastern slope. But attempts to tunnel into the hillsides and find the source of this stream-gold had limited success.
In 1895, two Atlanta men named Hampton and Herman set up gold mining operations on Sawnee Mountain. They employed 15 miners, including 3 who worked overnight. The Sawnee Mountain gold mines were “placer mines,” the laborious process of using stream water to separate gold from ore via panning or sluice boxes.
According to the 1896 Geological Survey of Georgia, Bulletin 4-A, a costly land title dispute ended Hampton and Herman’s mining operations. If the miners had continued working, the Bulletin stated their gold mining operations showed promise, and “Sawnee mountain can be worked with profit.” (Bulletin 4-A, page 153).
Today, placer mining pits are still visible along Sawnee Mountain’s hiking trails if one looks closely enough. More prominent are two abandoned mine shafts along the Indian Seats Trail. But don’t get any ideas like the bumbling rednecks in our story – park personnel sealed the entrances long ago with iron gates.
It was the Georgia Gold Rush that played a major role in expelling native Cherokees from the Sawnee Mountain region during the infamous Trail of Tears. Ironically, the name “Sawnee” comes from an actual Cherokee who taught early white settlers farming and carpentry skills in their wild new territory. He was so well liked the mountain range was named after him. It is believed the “Indian seats” atop Sawnee Mountain held ceremonial purposes for both the Cherokee and Creek nations.
Chief Sawnee’s Gold – Story Credits
Written by Craig Dominey and Lanny Gilbert
Told by Lanny Gilbert
Sound Design by Henry Howard
From Lanny Gilbert:
Growing up near Sawnee Mountain in Forsyth County, Georgia (when it was a small rural county, not one of the wealthiest counties in the US with a population of nearly 250,000 people) , I heard many legends concerning the Cherokee and their activities in and around the county before they were forced to leave on the Trail of Tears. My grandmother had a copy of a book called Cry of the Eagle, which detailed many legends and also had tons of factual info concerning the Cherokee, that I devoured as a kid.
Chief Sawnee (whose name was given to the highest mountain in Forsyth County, Georgia, where he is supposedly buried) probably had more legends attached to him than any other of the Cherokee. Some said he hid a large stash of gold on Sawnee Mountain, others said it was buried somewhere else. Others said that not only did he have a stash of gold, but he placed a curse on it and a spirit watches over it to this day.
We had a neighborhood “ne’er-do-well” who loved to just stop by the house and tell stories. Chief Sawnee’s Gold is an amalgam of 2 or 3 of his wild tales.