July 27, 2010

Legend of the Azgen

"The Shawnees", Black Fish said, "cannot tell you that you are allowed to settle in the Can-tuc-kee lands. We have never owned that land. It belongs to the ghosts of murdered Azgens - a white people from an eastern sea. Their bones and ghosts own and occupy every hill and valley of the country. They protect the game there and have more and better right there than any of the Indian tribes, including our own Shawnee nation, because they do not need or use material food themselves and do not like it. Long ago our fathers and our grandfathers killed off the Azgens, but we now fear more the spirits of these people than our fathers and grandfathers feared them when they were flesh."

Black Fish paused and there was a murmured assent and nodding of heads among the assemblage. "When our food is all gone," he continued, "and our squaws and children starving, we appeal to the ghosts of the white mothers who were killed there and, by saying the right words, we are allowed to kill an elk or deer or bear or buffalo. But," and now his voice lost its almost chanting quality and he fastened an unfriendly gaze on Bullitt, "we are never allowed to kill the game wantonly and we are forbidden to settle in the country of Can-tuc-kee. If we did, these ghosts would not rise from their caves and mounds and slay us, but they would set father against son and son against father and neighbor against neighbor and make them kill one another."

~ Chief Black Fish of the Shawnee, quoted from Allan Eckert's The Frontiersmen pgs. 65-66

Though the Legend of the Azgen people has its genesis in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, the tale directly relates to Ohio and her history. During the frontier era, and the numerous Indian wars and treaties that followed, the Indian tribes of Ohio maintained that Kentucky was a sacred land and off-limits to everyone. The Indians could hunt in Kentucky, but could never make permanent settlement. This notion of a sacred game preserve, of course, paved the way for the untamed wilderness that great explorers like Simon Kenton and Daniel Boone discovered on the frontier. The frontier accounts of Kentucky's wilderness were astonishing. It was often described as a bounty of game, where one could hardly take a single step in the forest without scaring off at least one animal.

The origin of the Azgen legend will probably never be known, but it shows up in traditional Cherokee and Shawnee folklore. The Azgen were a race or tribe of white people who lived in North America prior to the arrival of the Native Americans. The Indians called them the "Moon Eyed People", due to their nocturnal habits. Some legends even go so far as to claim that the Azgen were very small and perfectly white. Nonetheless, the Indians maintained distance and respect for the Azgen.

Who exactly were the Azgen? Theories range from the fabled tale of Prince Madoc, ancient Europeans, and Norse peoples, to the Knights Templar and the Lost Colony of Roanoke. The Cherokee legend of the Azgen states that when the Cherokee first arrived in their country (Tennessee), they found the land possessed by the Moon Eyed People who could not see in the daytime.

The Cherokee legend also states that the stone earthwork atop Fort Mountain in Georgia is a remnant of a war between the Azgen and the Creek Indians. The Azgen lost the war and moved north, deeper into the mountains and began to live in the subterranean environment. Another version of the legend says that the Cherokee drove the Azgen away from their village at Hiwassee at the mouth of Peachtree Creek near present Murphy, North Carolina, and the Azgen fled into Tennessee.

Fort Mountain was allegedly the second of three "forts" (earthworks) constructed by the Azgen in the southern United States. The first fort was near DeSoto Falls, Alabama. The second fort was Fort Mountain, Georgia. And the third fort was Old Stone Fort near Manchester, Tennessee. Those who believe the Prince Madoc origin of the Azgen people tie in the forts with the alleged arrival of Prince Madoc at Mobile Bay, Alabama. According to their interpretation, the followers of Madoc would have constructed the forts as they progressively explored the southeastern United States.

Some have even connected the Mandan Indians to the Azgen. According to this interpretation, the Mandan are the descendants of the Azgen and migrated to the west from their homelands in the mountains of Appalachia. The differences of the Mandan tribe compared to other Indians was noted by french explorer "The Sieur de la Verendrye" in 1738 and even Louis and Clark in 1804, among others. These innate differences were also explored by George Catlin in his book Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians. The Mandan Indians were exterminated by smallpox and are now considered to be extinct.

Whatever the origin or nature of the Azgen legend may be, it is hard to ignore the fact that the Indian tribes of Ohio regarded Kentucky as sacred land, and land worth fighting for. In this vein of thought, it is also hard to ignore the importance of the Ohio country to the Indians. For a time, the tribes maintained the Ohio River as a boundary between white settlement and native lands, with Ohio being the so-called Middle Ground, a place that everyone wants and none can have. Ohio still holds her sacred secrets today, and we will perhaps never know the true importance of the state to the hearts and souls of the native peoples.