Small Towns are Fine as Long as You Wear Underwear and Stay Out of The Newspaper

By Emory Jones

They say The Nacoochee Valley Indian Mound, just south of Helen, GA, is the second most recognized landmark in the state, surpassed only by Stone Mountain. I don’t know how “they” determine such things, but the mound, with its trademark gazebo, is definitely famous.

In all the centuries the mound was in the hands of Native Americans, it grew higher and taller. But shortly after Europeans arrived, at least two feet was shaved from the top. It would have likely been plowed under completely—the fate of hundreds of other mounds if Captain James Nichols hadn’t built that little gazebo on top in the 1870s.

Hardly an hour passes without someone taking a picture, and the mound is featured in countless drawings and paintings. An artist named Thomas Addison Richards even painted it back in 1847. The old mound is always well-groomed and camera-ready, but did you ever wonder how it stays that way?

Only a handful of people can say they’ve even set foot on it—even fewer can say they’ve mowed it. But, someone has to, and White County volunteers (that means no pay) Paul Brown and Mike Kaiser kept the ancient mound mowed from 2007 until The Hardman Farm State Historic Site opened in 2014.

From the time settler Daniel Brown came along in 1822, the various property owners kept the mound looking good, mostly by sling blade and hand-scythe. Today, the work is done with weed eaters, but it’s still a big job; that hill is higher than it looks from the highway.

“One person can weed-eat it in about four hours,” says Brown. (No relation to first owner, Daniel Brown). “It takes two people less time, but, it’s still a chore. I can’t imagine doing it with a scythe or sling blade. But, that’s how they did it back then.”

Brown had been mowing the mound by himself for about a year before he persuaded Keiser to help him in 2008. “It was a bit like Tom Sawyer talking Ben into whitewashing that fence in the Mark Twain story,” says Kaiser. “I’m still not sure how he got me to do that because it’s hard work. But, we had fun doing it.”

Both men say they half-expected to experience some mystical event on the mound or at least hear spirits, but they never did. “You’d be surprised how many people have asked about that,” says Brown. “Maybe the weed-eaters scared the spirits away. But even so, that mound is a sacred place.”

Kaiser agrees. “You may not hear anything, but you can feel something,” he says. “It is a special spot, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to help take care of it.”

People are protective of the mound, and Brown and Kaiser often saw motorists stop to take pictures while they were working. “Some folks thought we were using metal detectors instead of weed-eaters,” says Kaiser. “And they didn’t much like that.”

So many people would stop to watch them work, they developed what they call “The Weed-Eater Waggle.” “We’d just wave back with our weed-eaters,” says Brown, laughing. “At least to the friendly ones.”

While they didn’t hear any Indian voices, Brown and Kaiser do admit to having some deep thoughts out there. “When we’d finished mowing, we’d always sit, talk and reflect for a while,” says Kaiser. “It’s a mighty fine place for that.”