The South Carolina Frontier Experience
Oconee station & the William Richards House
This site was a frontier outpost and a meeting place between European American and Cherokees of this region during the late 1700s. The first building here, known as Oconee Station, was built as a garrisoned fort for armed troops and included a military blockhouse. Its initial purpose was to protect white settlers in the area from Indian attack. Soon Oconee Station became used as a trading post. Trader William Richards came to live on the property in 1795 and, in 1805, built a brick residence next to the station building.
Military Outposts and Trade
The sturdy stone structure at Oconee station housed as many as 30 soldiers at a time over a period of about eight years. We can only guess at the number of deerskins that passed through its doors during and since that time. Deerskin was in high demand in Europe, and Southwestern Indians responded by hunting millions of deer annually for trade. In exchange, they received weapons, cotton and linen fabrics, rum, ornaments, metal tools, and other items. European guns made it easier for Indians to hunt deer, but weapons were also valuable to them in defense against their enemies. Though trade was beneficial to both sides, it was disruptive of traditional Native American life, particularly as hunters. The Indians bartered other goods such as baskets, ginseng, and snakeroot, but deerskins remained their main trade good until Indian removal from the Southeast.
In exchange for their valuable deerskin, many Southeastern Indians received clothing made of European cotton and other fabrics, wearing a mixture of European and traditional Indian apparel. The attire of the white Americans living on the frontier also showed a blending. The fringed deerskin jacket associated with the frontiersman is European in construction but Native American in its materials and decoration. The sharing of material cultures between European-Americans and Native Americans revealed the amount of contact between these two groups and symbolized the complexity of their relationships, which ranged from inflamed animosity to friendly cooperation.
Defending the South Carolina Frontier
As Europeans and European-American settlement expanded across South Carolina, the "frontier" moved west. Beginning in 1792, Oconee Station and six similar military outposts served as the westernmost defensive points for new settlers. Scouts based in these stations roamed the frontier areas and served as an early warning network of imminent Indian attacks, giving the alarm to local white settlers. This site was the only station on the South Carolina frontier that remained in operation after 1796. Its use by the military ended after 1799, when the threat of a major Indian attack became highly unlikely. Oconee Station, with its history as a military fort and trading post, reveals the complex and changing relationships between Southeastern Indians and white settlers, as the whites gained land and as the Indian Territory was pushed westward.
Through a Traveler's Eyes
In May 1775 William Bartram, a British naturalist, crossed the Savannah River from Georgia and explored the Keowee River Valley in present-day Oconee and Pickens Counties. At that time, he was traveling through Cherokee lands. Two years later, most of this land would be lost to the Cherokee. Bartram's writings express the beauty of this part of South Carolina. Bartram was especially interested in the plants of the area. He sketched local species and described magnificent vistas.
Visitors to Oconee County today can experience the beauty that William Bartram found more than 200 years ago, including the sites highlighted on this panel.
Station Cove Falls
This site is withing Sumter National Forest adjacent to Oconee Station. It is an east mile-and-a-half from here.
Whitewater Falls and Foothills Trail
Spanning the border between North and South Carolina, Upper and Lower Whitewater Falls create the largest cascade east of the Mississippi. Here, hikers can access the Foothills trail, which winds 85 miles through dramatic terrain between the Carolinas. Additional access points to the trail are at Jones Gap State Park and Oconee State Park.
Oconee State Park
Camping, fishing, boating, and hiking are popular activities at this state park, which features recreational structures constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s.