There have been as many versions of the legend of Nacoochee as there have been cows grazing the fields of that lush White County valley.
Fairly consistent, though, is Nacoochee cast as an Indian princess whose name means "evening star," and she dies as the result of some Indian lovers' triangle.
One popular account has her Indian chief father throwing her lover Sautee off Yonah Mountain, where she then leapt to her death. Other versions have her throwing herself in front of her lover to take an arrow, tomahawk or assorted other weapons aimed at him from a rival.
Emory Jones, a White County author, in his book "Distant Voices, The Story of the Nacoochee Valley Indian Mound," explores the various legends and believes none of them, yet encourages readers to believe whichever one is to their liking. Similar stories about Indian lovers dying tragically together are the stuff of legends in other locations, he points out.
As for the Nacoochee story, even the names of the characters seem to have changed over time.
Merton Coulter's book on George Walton Williams, whose family were pioneer settlers of Nacoochee Valley, goes into great detail about the various stories. He quotes printed versions dating back to the 1850s, each seeming to vary the cast and names of the characters.
One of the earliest versions is found in The Southern Banner, published in Athens in June 1835. Titled simply "Nacoochee" and unsigned, the lengthy article tells the story of the chief's daughter, her lover Cushtaree and his rival Wocklochnah.
In this version, Nacoochee is described as "a lovely being possessing all the requisites of a woman; light, airy and commanding in her figure and deportment, which at once struck the beholder with peculiar force and admiration. She was so natural, unaffected, easy and innocent in all her actions and movements that everyone was led to love and respect her. She was the ministering angel to the sick, the aged and infirm."
Nacoochee was the sole caregiver for her aging father, "Big Bear," or "SkigusutahYona."
After her father died, Nacoochee's only support was her father's friend, "the brave Cushtaree, a young warrior of fine appearance and ardent passions." This was the first love for both Cushtaree and Nacoochee. His only enemy was a rival, "the dark and malignant Wocklocknah," who also loved Nacoochee, but whom she resisted.
Nacoochee and Cushtaree were walking through the valley one day "plucking gay flowers ... until they arrived at a beautiful and picturesque natural mound." There they reposed until the villain Wocklocknah appeared "like an infuriated tiger whose rage is whetted by hunger."
The bad Indian hurled a barbed hatchet at the good guy. Nacoochee fainted in Cushtaree's embrace, but her lover "rose like an angry lion" and took the blow from Wocklocknah in one of his arms. Nevertheless he drew his hunting knife, and the rivals engaged in a titanic struggle.
You know the rest of the story if you've heard any of the Nacoochee legends. She awakes, and shrieking, throws herself in front of Cushtaree to protect him, only to suffer a deadly stab from Wocklocknah that also kills her lover.
Nacoochee and Cushtaree, this story goes, were buried in the mound on which the fight occurred. The Southern Banner wrote that "to this day traces of their tomb" could still be seen. A single pine tree stood guard over their graves. The Chattahoochee River flowed by the base of the mound.
Many assume or speculate the two lovers were buried at the famous Indian mound seen in the valley at the intersection of Ga. 17 and Ga. 75. That would make the story even more appealing, but that apparently wasn't the mound mentioned in that early version of the story.
Neither is there proof that they were buried at another mound at the other end of the valley.
While this 1835 Southern Banner story goes into great detail about the fate of Nacoochee and her lover, just because it was published 176 years ago about the time the Cherokees were going to be run out of Georgia makes it no more credible than any other of the legends.
No matter, though. As Jones says in his book, "Facts should never get in the way of a good story."
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.