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The moon-eyed people are a race of people from Cherokee tradition who are said to have lived in Appalachia until the Cherokee expelled them. They are mentioned in a 1797 book by Benjamin Smith Barton, who explains they are called "moon-eyed" because they saw poorly during the day. Later variants add additional details, claiming the people had white skin, that they created the area's pre-Columbian ruins, and that they went west after their defeat.
In his 1902 Myths of the Cherokee, ethnographer James Mooney described a "dim but persistent tradition" of an ancient race who preceded the Cherokee in lower Appalachia and were driven out by them. Accounts often describe this race as having white skin and credit them with building the ancient structures in the area. The earliest recorded mention of this race appears to be in Benjamin Smith Barton's 1797 book New Views of the Origin of the Tribes and Nations of America. Citing the authority of Colonel Leonard Marbury, Barton wrote that "the Cheerake tell us, that when they first arrived in the country which they inhabit, they found it possessed by certain 'moon-eyed-people,' who could not see in the day-time. These wretches they expelled." Barton suggested these "moon-eyed people" were the ancestors of the albinos Lionel Wafer encountered among the Kuna people of Panama, who were called "moon-eyed" because they could see better at night than day.
Mooney links Barton's "moon-eyed people" story to several similar accounts. One was by historian John Haywood who wrote in his 1823 The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee of "white people, who were extirpated in part, and in part were driven from Kentucky, and probably also from West Tennessee", attributing this to Indian tradition, although later Haywood mentions that in the 17th century the Cherokee encountered "white people" on the Little Tennessee River, and describes fortifications left by French that were surrounded by "hoes, axes, guns, and other metallic utensils", adding that the Cherokee found no aboriginals when they arrived. Mooney cites two further independent accounts from Cherokee individuals of his time, of a people who lived north of the Hiwassee River when the Cherokee arrived there, and then went west; one of these describes them as a "very small people, perfectly white".
The Encyclopedia of Appalachia says that at Fort Mountain State Park in Georgia there is a set of various size boulders that have been associated[specify] with the ruins of man-made stone fortifications attributed to the moon-eyed people. The Moon-eyed people are noted in a historical marker in Fort Mountain State Park, Chatsworth, Georgia.
The Cherokee tradition may have been influenced by contemporary European-American legends of the "Welsh Indians". These legends attributed ancient ruins to a Welsh pre-Columbian voyage; some versions specifically connect this voyage to a prince named Madoc. In an 1810 letter, former Tennessee governor John Sevier wrote that the Cherokee leader Oconostota told him in 1783 that local mounds had been built by white people who were pushed from the area by the ascendant Cherokee. According to Sevier, Oconostota confirmed that these were Welsh from across the ocean. Historian Gwyn A. Williams notes this is "a beautiful example of the way minds were working in the late eighteenth century – and of the power of suggestion which white minds could exercise over red".