Like A Local: A history of Native Americans in South Carolina

The native inhabitants of South Carolina


We've all heard the story about the pilgrims meeting the Native Americans and throwing a huge dinner party.

But did you know there were thousands of different tribes across the nation and 29 right here in South Carolina? The tribe that existed in Richland and Lexington counties along the river were the Congaree. Not a large tribe, maybe a thousand or so spread across several villages. The were doing just fine until European colonists "discovered" the area and it pretty much went downhill from there. They brought war over land territory with the added bonus of smallpox. This forced the Congaree to join forces with the Catawba tribe that lived north of the area we know as Columbia, toward York County. The Catawba (which means "River people" were fierce warriers and to be feared in battle. The other large tribe in the area, taking up the eastern half of the state were known as the Creeks. They had large battles, East vs West. It wasn't quite like Biggie and Tu Pac, but you get the idea. It didn't matter anyway, because the Euros invited themselves to the party and that's pretty much all she wrote.

As their numbers dwindled, so did many of the existing tribes, along with many of their traditions and languages. Thankfully, a few tribes survived and still live today on reservations given to them by the government. Those are the Catawba Indian Nation, The Ediso Natchez-Kusso, The Wassamasaw, The Santee, The Waccamaw, The Beaver Creek, The Pee Dee, Chicora, and the Cherokee. Of those state recognized tribes, only the Catawba have been federally recognized.

Thankfully, the existing 2,500 or so catawba are keeping their traditions and culture alive and you are welcome to go check out the reservation in Rock Hill. It's a great way to learn some history, and since they've been around for 15,000 years, it doesn't get more local than that!