Judaculla Rock

Written By Jonathan Martin

Within the Nantahala National Forest in Jackson County, an interesting petroglyph (a prehistoric carving) rests in an open pasture. Known as the Judaculla Rock, many tourists and archeologists have visited the mystic rock to admire the markings and develop theories on the origin of the large landmark.

The Judaculla Rock is a soapstone rock with numerous Native American symbols etched throughout. It is a deeply associated with the Tsu’kalu or Judaculla (meaning “he has them slanting” or “slant-eyed giant”) legend of the Cherokee. Like most Native American tribes, the Cherokee believed the spirit world influenced the things of the physical world and that every man and piece of nature (animals, weather, plants, etc.) exhibited a spirit. The gods of the spiritual world controlled the spirits, and often times the Cherokee relied on a mediation between the physical world and the spiritual world; Judaculla Rock served as a landmark for a the hunting god.

According to the tale, Judaculla was a giant who had slanted eyes along with superhuman-like powers. He selected a bride from the Cherokee tribe, but the bride’s mother and brother wanted their sister back after Judaculla had taken her into the spirit world.  To see the bride, both the mother and brother had fasted for seven days outside a cave in which their sister lived with the other god spirits. However, the brother was famished after six days, and he ate a piece of meat before the end of the seventh day. Judaculla came back into the physical world to punish the bride’s brother, and he entered through the Judaculla Rock, believed by the Cherokee as “the spirit’s stepping-stone into the physical world of mortal beings” (p. 52).

In his fit of anger, Judaculla killed the bride’s brother with a thrash of lightning, grieving the bride to the point that she wished to return to her earthly tribe. Yet, Judaculla refused to give up his wife and he compromised with the Cherokee to keep her in the spirit world. Judaculla allowed all brave and faithful tribesmen and women to enter into an eternal life in the spirit world after their deaths. After his deal with the Cherokee, the tribe discovered the markings on the Judaculla Rock, and they have since been believed to tell of how one can enter into the spiritual world.

The Cherokee declared Judaculla Master of all Game Animals and the sustainer spirit of the tribe. Tribesmen and women started several rituals that focused on honoring the giant. Other Cherokee traditions hold the Judaculla Rock to be a remnant of Judaculla’s great leap from his high mountaintop.

For those who doubt the ancient Judaculla tradition, theories have been proposed in regards to the rock’s possible practical origins. Some historians believe the etchings to be a map of the Battle of Taliwa where the Cherokee defeated the Creek tribe in 1755. Yet, archeologists and geologists refute this theory because the Cherokee were not known for etching their history on stone or rock. Subsequent archeologists have theorized that the Judaculla Rock was a remnant of a pre-historic tribe who lived at the end of the Ice Age.

Despite the mystery of the Judaculla Rock, the place remains a historic landmark to the Eastern Band of Cherokee. Some adamant Cherokee tribesmen continue to fast at the site of the rock to understand the ancient message left by Judaculla. Recent restoration efforts have been made to preserve what is left of the sacred rock.