Saura Keyauwee

The following information is quoted directly from The Saura and Keyauwee in the Land that Became Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham, by Ethel Stephens Arnett; published by The North Carolina Delta Kappa Gamma Society, copyright 1975.

This book is also listed on the “Research & Resource Books” page linked to the index page, and may be purchased through used-book dealers.


Three men, who lived for a time among the American Indians in the land that became North Carolina, left the best accounts of the first inhabitants of this state.

First John White, who came with the second group of Englishmen to set foot on present-day North Carolina (1585), painted from life pictures of Indians, which are copied in this book.

Second, John Lawson, who wrote the first History of North Carolina, actually traveled (1701) 1,000 miles and visited with tribe after tribe in order to learn Indian ways of life. He began his book with the statement that earlier English writers about America had been interested in the New World mostly as a trading center. He described such historians: “‘Tis a great Misfortune that most of our Travelers, who go to this vast Continent in America, are Persons of the meaner Sort, and generally, of a very slender Education; who being hired by Merchants to trade amongst the Indians, in which Voyages they often spend several years, are yet, at their Return, uncapable of giving any reasonable Account of what they met withal in those remote Parts; … I have, in the following Sheets, given you a Faithful Account thereof; wherein I have laid down Everything with Impartiality and Truth.” After eight years of association with the Indians, his book was published in 1709; and since then it has been considered the most authentic record on Indian life in North Carolina in the early 1700s. Lawson’s history is especially important to this account, because he visited the Keyauwee tribe for several days.

Third, William Byrd, who is famous for his History of the Dividing Line (1728) between North Carolina and Virginia, is particularly valuable to this description because he furnished more information than any other writer on the Saura tribe.

Although these men recorded their impressions in two different centuries, so strong was Indian adherence to their traditional dress and customs that John White’s late sixteenth century drawings were similar to the Indian life and customs described by Lawson and Byrd in the early eighteenth century.

This account of the Saura and Keyauwee is based mainly on the records of these three men – on White for the illustrations and on Lawson for the story. Other accredited books on Indian life in North Carolina have been consulted….

[end of foreword, pages VII-VIII]



The soil of Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham Counties never lets us forget that it once belonged to the American Indians. In many sections of these North Carolina counties the earth his constantly giving up arrowheads, stone axes, beads, seashells, pieces of pottery, and crude farming tools as reminders of former Indian life. Called the “Red Men,” they were the first people now known to have lived in this New World.

From what place did these first settlers come? According to John Lawson in his History of North Carolina, the Indians’ answer to that question was, “Where the sun sleeps our forefathers came thence.” It is now believed that between 20,000 and 30,000 years ago Indians began to follow the wild animals of Asia through northeastern Siberia, as they wandered by way of the Bering Strait into Alaska. This passageway was at times a broad stretch of land, estimated at 1300 miles across, over which men and beasts traveled in search of food.

These people, now known as Early Americans, depended mainly upon the use of animal products for their existence – animal meat furnished food and animal skins provided clothing and shelter. As great herds of large mammoth, bison, buffalo, giant bear, and smaller prey roamed out of Alaska into Canada and down the river valleys east of the Rocky Mountains, the people followed. For thousands of years this gateway to the New World was open; and as the people multiplied they gradually scattered and eventually spread themselves all over North and South America.

Now that we know how the Indians came to this country, other questions arise: who were these people and why were they called Indians? Written records about them tell us that they belonged to the Mongoloid race. That means that they came from a racial stock that is native to northern and eastern Asia, which stock is distinguished as one of the major racial divisions of mankind. Detailed descriptions of the physical features of the Mongoloid race easily match those of the full-blooded Indian.

Why, then, were these people of Asian descent called Indians? The answer is simple. When Columbus discovered America in 1492, he thought he had found a new route to India, and from that belief the American natives thereafter were called Indians. For 483 years that mistaken name has remained unchanged.

The fact that Columbus was greeted by friendly natives does not necessarily mean that they were the first human beings ever to set foot on this soil. Lawson in his history called attention to the remains of much earlier inhabitants when “we found, in digging of a Well that was twenty-six foot deep, at the Bottom thereof, many large Pieces of the Tulip-Tree, and several other sorts of Wood,” which grew naturally only in the New World. Other items were which found in digging were pieces of “Earthern Pots,” and they inspired thoughts of earlier wanderers who did not stay long periods at certain sites; they continued to travel with no particular place they could call home.

In the first half of the 1900s, serious investigation of early relics was undertaken in Piedmont North Carolina. In Archeology of the Eastern United States (1952), a chapter was included on: “The Cultural Sequence of the North Carolina Piedmont,” by Joffre L. Coe, Director, Laboratory of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Coe gave special thought to “The Guilford Focus,” which was descriptive of the Piedmont area. “All kown Guilford sites are small,” he wrote. “The remains found at one place are usually scant.” Very detailed study on some of the early findings suggest a close relationship of Piedmont Indians and western types, such as the Mohave. Relics of these earlier groups point to the fact that “they lived as isolated families and moved frequently, leaving behind scattered stone chips of their manufacture and an occasional lost or broken tool. What became of these people and their culture is unknown.”

Scholars who have made a special study of the American Indian believe that some of these roaming Early Americans reached what is now known as North Carolina about 10,000 years ago. By that time they were moving in family groups, which thought nothing of following the animals for hundreds of miles in order to find better hunting grounds. During centuries of rambling the Red Men had learned to vary their meat diet by adding wild berries, nuts, and vegetables to their food. They were beginning to enjoy the advantages of a brand new country.

[pages 1 – 4]



As early as 1200 A.D. some of these wandering families had decided to live together and were beginning to settle in small villages. These settlers then built permanent houses, cleared broad fields, and enjoyed community life. Three such settlements have been positively identified as having been located about 300 years ago on the land which is known today as Piedmont North Carolina.

The exact arrival time of these human beings is not known, but records about them have enriched the pages of history. These first-known inhabitants of this area have been recorded as two separate Indian tribes, one called the Saura and the other the Keyauwee. The Saura tribe is known to have settled in two villages, Upper Saura Town and Lower Saura Town in the northern part of North Carolina; and the Keyauwee tribe built its village about 75 miles south of the Saura. The space between these settlements served as one great unfenced pastureland for wild beasts, a large wildlife area for birds and small animals, and rich farmland for village farmers and occasional dwellers outside of the settlements.

Interesting stories have been preserved about the Indian tribes which are the first people known to have lived on the very land we walk on today. Of course the Red Men never fenced themselves in by land lines, but when the White Men took over the New World they divided the country into carefully marked sections. If Indians were known to have spent some time in one of these places, they were included in the history of that area. Therefore, even though no boundary lines were drawn around the Saura and Keyauwee while they lived in Piedmont North Carolina, when Original Guilford County was first created the early records of its territory included the history of these two tribes as its first settlers.

[pages 5 – 6]



The Original County of Guilford was first established over 200 years ago. At that time it was about three times bigger than it is today, and for that reason it is called “Original Guilford” in this story until it was divided into three parts. It was a long stretch of land which ran north to the Virginia State line and south into the heart of Piedmont North Carolina. The county courthouse was located near the center of the large division. Soon the people who lived at the most southern or most northern boundaries of this new country began to complain, because of having to go such long distances to pay their taxes, or to take care of other business matters.

Indeed, at that time the only ways of travel were by foot, on horseback, or – a little later – by horsedrawn gigs, carriages, or stagecoaches. Therefore, the people living in the southern and northern areas of Original Guilford asked the State General Assembly to divide their long county into three parts, and the request was granted. The three parts were then called Guilford (1771), Randolph (1779), and Rockingham (1785).

As already mentioned, the first-known people of these three counties were the Saura and Keyauwee tribes. That was about the only positive information about them for a while, but later when Indians were more thoroughly observed it was learned that they spoke a Siouan language; that Indians were identified by the language they spoke. Whereas today we describe ourselves as having dual citizenship in North Carolina and the United States, Indians described themselves as belonging to a tribe of a certain linguistic group. According to the United States Department of the Interior, “On the basis of common words or language, there are eight major Indian linguistic groups … within each of these linguistic families, distinct social or cultural similarities were also present.” Both individuals and tribes, which observe Indian customs, are distinguished one from another by the language which their group speaks. When historians wrote that the Saura and Keyauwee spoke a Siouan language, that meant that these were tribes of a great group which later became known as the Sioux.

In early America the Sioux was a large and powerful group. Only the Iroquois and Algonquian were larger. The Sioux was divided into two parts: the Eastern Sioux tribes, which lived in Virginia, North Carolina, and South Carolina; and the other Sioux tribes, which lived in the West.

The Western Sioux became famous in history for their victory over the white intruders and the United States army at the Battle of Little Big Horn (1876). Gold was discovered on the Western Sioux Reservation and prospectors rushed to the area, thus breaking the treaty which had provided the Reservation to the Sioux “forever.” In the hope of keeping their Reservation for themselves, the Sioux, led by Chief Sitting Bull and war leader Crazy Horse, with the aid of the Cheyenne, killed the great Civil War Officer General George A. Custer and his entire force in that famous battle in Montana Territory. The Sioux is listed by the United States Department of the Interior as one of the eight great Indian groups of today.

The Saura Lived in Rockingham
The Saura Indians were first met by the European incomers in their village southeast of the present-day site of Asheville. Here the Spanish Explorer Hernando De Soto spent a number of pleasant days with them in 1540. It has been suggested by some historians that during the next 100 years the Saura had left that place and had gone farther northward to avoid trouble with still more southerly Indians, who had pushed their way into the North Carolina area in order to expand their territory. It is known that sometime before 1700 the Saura had settled in two villages – Upper Saura Town and Lower Saura Town – on the Dan River in what is now Rockingham County. When Surveyor William Byrd of Virginia was determining the Dividing Line between North Carolina and Virginia in 1728, he came across one of the Saura homesites in Rockingham County, a few miles from present-day Eden. Although Byrd never saw the Saura, he was so impressed with the beauty of the place, which the tribe had selected for a home, that he later went back and bought a total of 26,000 acres of land in that area. In connection with his History of the Dividing Line Byrd wrote A Journey to the Land of Eden (1733), and in that account he described the land of the departed Saura: “…then on a sudden the scene changed, and we were surprised with an opening of large extent where the Sauro Indians once lived, who had been a considerable nation. But the frequent inroads of the Senecas [a division of the Iroquois] annoyed them incessantly and obliged them to remove from this fine situation about thirty years ago…. It must have been a great misfortune to them to be obliged to abandon so beautiful a dwelling, where the air is wholesome and the soil equal in fertility to any in the world. The river is about eighty yards wide, always confined within its lofty banks and rolling down its waters, as sweet as milk and as clear as crystal. There runs a charming level of more than a mile square that will bring forth like the lands of Egypt, without being overflowed once a year. There is scarce a shrub in view to intercept your prospect but grass as high as a man on horseback. Toward the woods there is a gentle ascent till your sight is intercepted by an eminence that overlooks the whole landscape. This sweet place is bounded to the east by a fine stream called Sauro Creek, which, running out of the Dan and tending westerly, makes the whole a peninsula.

“I could not quit this pleasant situation without regret but often faced about to take a parting look at it as far as I could see, and so indeed did all the rest of the company.”

Although there was evidence that human beings had once lived on this land, no one was left at the place to greet Byrd and his companions. The Saura was one of the larger Indian tribes, at one time having its population recorded as 1,200 people. Its members were friendly with fourteen other large tribes and a number of smaller groups in the Carolinas.

According to Lawson, who had once visited for a few days in a number of these different villages, although there was a close bond of friendship among the tribes which shared a similar language, they spoke in different dialects. It was also noticeable that these various tribes might perform similar tasks differently, yet all of them had reached about the same level of development in their customs and mannerisms. And usually about the same degree of progress was apparent in the different linguistic groups.

It seems that the Saura was a well known tribe, for its name is mentioned in so many different spellings. The tribe name Saura was sometimes written Sauro and Souro. It was called Sara by the Catawba Indians, Suwali by the Cherokee, and Xaulla by the Spanish. Frederick W. Hodge in his Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico gave eleven different ways of spelling the name in one paragraph: “Charraws, Chawraw, Saras, Saraus, Saraw, Saura, Sauro, Sawraw, Sualy, Xuala, Xualla.” The name by which that tribe is now best known is Cheraw. (However, because that tribe was known as Saura as long as it remained in Rockingham County, and because local landmarks still bear that name, this story uses the name Saura as it was used at the time this tribe lived in the Rockingham area.) A number of conjectures have been listed as the possible meaning of Cheraw, but no positive definition of the name has been cited.

Indian Footprints Were Found in Guilford
In the mid-1700s when the Quakers first came to New Garden (now Guilford College), they found great open grass-covered spaces, so that very little clearing was necessary for them to prepare fields for growing their food. Some people thought that this places without trees could have been farmland where the Indians had once planted corn, or were spaces kept cleared of forests so that small wild growth could flourish for birds and small animals.

Although the Quaker minutes of 1764 stated that from the Cheraw, as they called them, the Quakers had bought and paid for the land on which they then lived, there was no mention of an Indian village in that particular place. However, some detached Indian families as country dwellers still lived in the area that became Guilford, for a few of them were seen walking around after the 1740s and 1750s when the White Men came to the region. A small number, perhaps two or three families, lived in the neighborhood of present-day Buffalo Church and were seen by the new white settlers from time to time.

It should be remembered that Indians required the use of large sections of wooded land and smaller places covered with grassy growth in order to assure good hunting. Both the Saura and the Keyauwee must have enjoyed the space which became Guilford County, because of its splendid forests and ground-covering plants which, as in Rockingham, often grew as high as a man on horseback.

The white settlers of Centre Community in southern Guilford have reported that some Indians met and befriended William Hockett, when he came alone as the first white man to establish a home in that part of Guilford County. In fact, Hockett’s friends, who later joined him, said that it was because the Indians were so kind to them that their early settlement grew rapidly, whereas without such attention it might have perished. There was no known Indian village at Centre Community and it is thought that the Red Men of that place were some who had strayed away from the Catawba tribe which had a village farther south. Although the Catawba were not classed as Original Guilford Indians, they knew the land well; and some of their scouts helped American General Nathanael Greene draw up his plans for the very important Battle of Guilford Court House.

The Keyauwee Lived in Randolph
North Carolina’s first Historian, John Lawson Surveyor-General of the Province, together with five traveling companions, visited many Indian tribes of the state during 1701. It is very pleasing to learn that this journey of 1,000 miles took him to one of the Original Guilford tribes, the Keyauwee, which numbered about 500 people. Their village was located on Caraway Creek in the area now known as the Caraway Mountains in Randolph County, about fourteen miles south of High Point, and it gives us a good idea of Indian life at that time. Lawson’s account of the visit is almost as vivid as a motion picture. He wrote that he and his company came to a village with a high wooden wall around it and large cornfields planted up to the doors of the cabins. Nearby was a great bottomland which would have easily kept 100 cows. All this was surrounded by very high mountains, so that no wind ever troubled the Keyauwee. At the top of one of the mountains there was a cave in which 100 men could have sat very comfortably to dine.

At this time, however, they had only six guests. Moreover, despite the fact that the Keyauwee had no idea that six Englishmen would appear at their village unannounced, they served the visitors their food which was already being prepared – two young deer, a country hare, venison, turkeys, and bears!

Lawson and his companions divided themselves into two parts and its was Lawson’s good luck to be placed at the cabin of Keyauwee Jack, who was the Chief Ruler of the tribe. He was a Congaree Indian who had run away when he was a boy, but later became Chief because he had married the Queen of the Keyauwee. Lawson and the Chief had a good time together. When the Englishman began writing in a notebook, Chieftain Jack became very excited and wanted to try his hand at writing. Lawson wrote a word for him to copy and the Englishman reported of the Indian’s first effort: “It was so well [done] that [anyone] who could read mine, might have done the same by his.”

Chieftain Jack then matched his wits with his visitor by making an unusual fishhook of his own invention, and Lawson was most impressed by his host’s ingenuity. Chieftain Jack was so pleased with himself at his success that he sent for several men of his tribe to look at his handiwork. While the men were all in their Chief’s cabin together, Lawson took from his pocket a manual which had a picture of King David in it. Chief Jack was quick to ask who the picture represented. With this opportunity to search for the Indians’ religious feelings, Lawson told him that the picture was of a good King who lived what he believed was right, “doing to all as he would be done by, ordering all his Life to the service of the Creator of all things; and being now above us all in Heaven, with God Almighty, who had rewarded him with all the delightful Pleasures imaginable in the other World, for his Obedience to Him in this.” Lawson concluded with telling those present that we receive nothing here below, such as food and raiment, but what comes from that Omnipotent Being. Lawson seemed pleased that: “They listened to my Discourse with a profound Silence, assuring me that they believed what I said to be true.”

Two features connected with the Keyauwee made a great impression on Lawson: the majesty and hospitality of the one Indian Princess and the whiskers of the men! He wrote: “The Queen had a Daughter by a former husband, who was the beautifulest Indian I ever saw, and had an Air of Majesty with her quite contrary to the general Carriage of the Indians. She was very kind to the English during our Abode, as well as her Father and Mother.” About the fashion among Keyauwee men he added: “Most of these Indians Wear Mustachoes and Whiskers, which is rare; by reason the Indians are a People that commonly pull the Hair of their faces and other Parts, up by the Roots and suffer none to grow.” The Keyauwee were the only American Indians ever known to let hair grow on their faces.

One might well pause for thought at this point, but with the clear understanding that it is pure conjecture. The majestic air of the Princess, the Indians’ agreement with Lawson along religious lines, and the bewhiskered male faces, all of which are English traits, might suggest that the Keyauwee were connected with the Lost Colony of 1587. It had been 114 years since that group of white English settlers had disappeared; and a mixture of the races would have been possible.

After a very enjoyable visit with the Keyauwee (meaning of the name unknown), Lawson and his five companions, with one of the Keyauwee as a guide, departed for visits with neighboring tribes. On a stretch of 100 miles to travel, Lawson wrote that the only food his company had was parched corn, which he mentioned as having had for breakfast with as much ease as we speak of “Post Toasties” today.

During his 1,000-mile journey and the following seven years he was in the state, Lawson observed the habits and customs of the North Carolina Indians very carefully. For that reason his report on these first Americans is considered the most authoritative account of them. He also wrote that although each tribe had its own variations, there were certain basic rules and customs which all Indian groups followed. Because of these general ways of Indian life, through Lawson’s specific descriptions of the Keyauwee and other tribes he visited, we are able to envisage the known characteristics of Indian people – their physical appearances, their homes, their food, their behavior as men, women, and children, their attitudes towards others, their fun games, their marriages, their money, medicine, religion, burials, and the remnants and memorials of those who were the first-known inhabitants of the land that later became Guilford, Randolph, and Rockingham.

[pages 7 – 18]

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