Tales of the Moon-Eyed People

statue of the moon-eyed people
Is this how the Moon-Eyed People looked?

Cherokee legends tell of a short, white, blue-eyed race living in the Blue Ridge and Smokies hundreds of years before Columbus. They called them the Moon-Eyed People. Archaeology, historical records, and other tribal legends support these tales. Are they true?

Childhood Threats and Moon-Eyed People

Stories and legends of life in the Blue Ridge Mountains were part of my childhood. My Scots-Irish ancestors settled near Asheville, NC, in 1760. Many of them are still there.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my grandmother occasionally mentioned the Moon-Eyed People. Usually, it was a ploy to get me to come inside after dark. When the moon came out, she explained, the Moon-Eyed People roamed looking for wayward children to kidnap. They would get me if I didn’t come in.

As I grew, I forgot about her threats. When she passed away in 1991, I came into possession of a three-volume set of books by Frank L. Fitzsimons titled “From the Banks of the Oklawaha.” The books are based on Fitzsimons’ radio show about the history of Hendersonville, NC, my ancestral home turf. A few of my ancestors are prominently mentioned in Volume III. The first chapter of Volume I is titled “The Moon-Eyed People” and offers a synopsis of the legendary tribe.

Cover of the book From the Banks of the Oklawaha
This book begins with a tales of the Moon-Eyed People

Twenty years later, with Google at my disposal, I surfed dozens of websites purporting to offer proof, or disclaimer, or expansion, on the Moon-Eyed People legends. I found the information captivating but not conclusive.

The Legend of the Moon-Eyed People

The legend of the Moon-Eyed People is a fascinating piece of folklore associated with Native American tribes, particularly the Cherokee, in the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

These people had physical characteristics that were distinctly different from the Native Americans. Descriptions of the Moon-Eyed People of Appalachian lore are consistent in a few key ways:

  • Short Stature: They were significantly shorter than the Cherokee people.
  • Pale Skin: Their skin was remarkably pale or even white.
  • Light Eyes: They had blue or light-colored eyes
  • Bearded: Some accounts mention them as having beards, which would have been unusual for Native Americans of the region.
  • Nocturnal: They were said to be “moon-eyed” because of their sensitivity to daylight, meaning they could only see well at night.

It’s easy to see why Old World settlers would conclude that the Moon-Eyed People may have been Europeans. After all, Native Americans didn’t wear beards, were dark-skinned, and had brown eyes.

Fort Mountain stone wall
Remains of the Ft. Mountain wall (L,Wikimedia) and an AI rendering of how the wall may have looked 2,000 years ago

The tales also suggest that the Moon-Eyed People were skilled builders credited with constructing stone fortifications and mounds. One of the most notable constructions attributed to them is the ancient stone fort found on Fort Mountain in Georgia.

A common theme is the conflict between the Moon-Eyed People and the Native American tribes, particularly the Cherokee. It’s said that the Moon-Eyed People were eventually driven out of their homeland due to these conflicts. According to some versions of the tale, they went westward, disappearing from historical records.

Is There Any Proof of Their Existence?

There is limited direct evidence of the existence of the group. It makes a fascinating tale, though.

The primary source of information comes from Cherokee oral histories. These stories consistently describe the moon-eyed people, suggesting a shared cultural memory. Some early European settlers documented the Cherokee legends, lending some credence to their existence.

Theories about their Origins:

  1. The Madoc theory: Some stories link the moon-eyed people to Welsh explorers centuries before Columbus. Legend has it that Madoc, a Welsh prince, sailed to the Americas in 1170, over three hundred years before Christopher Columbus in 1492. They colonized the Appalachian area and intermarried with the locals. Hundreds of years later, as European settlers arrived, they found that the local Monacan language resembled Welsh and began calling them “Welsh Indians.” However, there’s no historical evidence of a Welsh presence that far back. I’m unsure if linguists have weighed in on this theory, but it comes up regularly. It’s more likely the moon-eyed people, if real, were a later group of Europeans who had limited contact, leaving minimal historical records.
  2. A Distinct Native American Tribe: The moon-eyed people could have been a separate group of Native Americans with unique physical characteristics. Conditions such as albinism could explain their pale skin and light-sensitive eyes. However, extensive intermingling among tribes in the region makes the existence of an isolated group less likely.
  3. Prehistoric Mound Builders: In Ohio, some link the moon-eyed people to the Adena culture, which is known for extensive mound building. Whether the Adena were a lighter-complexioned people is unknown, and the connection is speculative.
  4. Exaggeration or Pure Storytelling: Like many legends, the stories might be based on a kernel of truth but embellished over time. Exaggeration and symbolism within oral traditions are typical.

No conclusive archaeological or historical evidence exists to prove the moon-eyed people existed. This makes their story a fascinating mystery of Appalachian folklore.

What Do You Think?

Despite the lack of evidence, the legend persists. It’s a captivating narrative. It certainly motivated me to come inside when Grandma warned me of the threat of the Moon-Eyed People.

Here’s a compelling account of the Moon-Eyed People from podcaster J.D. Phillips:

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