The Catawba

Catawba traditional territory: Along the banks of the Catawba River in North and South Carolina (modern York and Lancaster counties)

Catawba today: reservation near Rock Hill, York County, South Carolina (see below for contact information)

Please note the publication date for the source information contained in the following article was 1920.

Contributed by: 
Paul R. Sarrett, Jr. Aug. 11, 1998                         (

"The Indian Tribes of North America" By John R. Swanton, Pub. 1920
This list the Native Americans, History; Place Names; Sub-divisions;

Catawba tribe. - Significance unknown though the name was probably 
native to the tribe. Also called:
Ani'ta'gua, Cherokee name. 
Iswa or Issa, signifying "river," and specifically the Catawba River; 
originally probably an independent band which united early with the 
Catawba proper. Iroquois name.
Oyadagahroenes, Iroquois name.
Tadirighrones, Iroquois name. 
Usherys, from Iswahere, "river down here"; see Issa.

Catawba Connections.- The Catawba belonged to the Siouan linguistic 
family, but Catawba was the most aberrant of all known Siouan languages, 
though closer to Woccon than any other of which a vocabulary has been 

Catawba Loction.- In York and Lancaster Counties mainly but extending 
into the neighboring parts of the State and also into North Carolina 
and Tennessee.

Catawba Subdivisions. - Two distinct tribes are given by Lawson 
(1860) and placed on early maps, the Catawba and Iswa, the latter 
deriving their name from the native word meaning "river," which was 
specifically applied to Catawba River.

Catawba Villages. - In early days this tribe had many villages but 
few names have come down to us. In 1728 there were six villages, all 
on Catawba River, the most northerly of which was known as Nauvasa. 
In 1781 they had two called in English Newton and Turkey Head, on 
opposite sides of Catawba River.

Catawba History.- The Catawba appear first in history under the 
name Ysa, Issa (Iswa) in Vandera's narratives of Pardo's expedition 
into the interior, made in 1566-67. Lederer (1912) visited them in 
1670 and calls them Ushery. In 1711-13 they assisted the Whites in 
their wars with the Tuscarora, and though they participated in the 
Yamasce uprising in 1715 peace was quickly made and the Catawba remained 
faithful friends of the colonists ever after.
Meanwhile they declined steadily in numbers from diseases introduced 
by the Whites, the use of liquor, and constant warfare with the Iroquois, 
Shawnee, Delaware, and other tribes. In 1738 they were decimated by 
smallpox and in 1759 the same disease destroyed nearly half of them. 
Through the mediation of the Whites, peace was made at Albany in 1759 
between them and the Iroquois, but other tribes continued their attacks, 
and in 1763 a party of Shawnee killed the noted Catawba King Haigler. 

The year before they had left their town in North Carolina and moved 
into South Carolina, where a tract of land 15 miles square had been 
reserved for them. From that time on they sank into relative insignificance. 
They sided with the colonists during the revolution and on the approach 
of the British troops withdrew  temporarily into Virginia, returning 
after the battle of Guilford Court House. In 1826 nearly the whole 
of their reservation was leased to Whites, and in 1840 they sold all 
of it to the State of South Carolina, which agreed to obtain new territory 
for them in North Carolina. 

The State refused to part with any land for that purpose, however, 
and most of the Catawba who had gone north of the State line were 
forced to return. Ultimately a reservation of 800 acres was set aside 
for them in South Carolina and the main body has lived there ever 
since few continued in North Carolina and others went to the Cherokee, 
but most of these soon came back and the last of those who remained 
died in 1889. A few Catawba intermarried with the Cherokee in later 
times, however, and still live there, and a few others went to the 
Choctaw Nation, in what is now Oklahoma, and settled near Scullyville. 
These also are reported to be extinct. 

Some families established themselves in other parts of Oklahoma, in 
Arkansas, and near Sanford, Colo., where they have gradually been 
absorbed by the Indian and White population. About 1884 several Catawba 
were converted by Mormon missionaries and went to Salt Lake City, 
and in time most of those in South Carolina became members of the 
Mormon Church, although a few are Baptists. Besides the two divisions 
of Catawba proper, the present tribe is supposed to include remnants 
of about 20 smaller tribes, principally Siouan. 

Catawba Population.- Mooney (1900) estimates the number of Catawba 
in 1600, including the Iswa, at 5,000. About 1692 the tribe was supposed 
to contain 1,500 warriors or about 4,600 souls; in 1728, 400 warriors 
or about 1,400 souls; and in 1743, after incorporating several small 
tribes, as having less than that number of warriors. In 1752 we have 
an estimate of about 300 warriors, or about 1,000 people; in 1755, 
240 warriors; in 1757, about 300 warriors and 700 souls; and in 1759, 
250 warriors.

Although there is an estimate accrediting them with 300 warriors in 
1761, King Haigler declared that they had been reduced by that year, 
after the smallpox epidemic of 1760, to 60 fighting men. In 1763 fewer 
than 50 men were reported, and in 1766 "not more than 60." In 1773 
there was estimated a total population of 400; in 1780, 490; in 1784, 
250: in 1822, 450; in 1826, 110. In 1881 Gatschet found 85 on the 
reservation and 35 on adjoining farms, a total of 120. 

The census of 1910 returned 124, and in 1912 there were about 100, 
of whom 60 were attached to the reservation. The census of 1930 gave 
166, all but 7 in South Carolina Connection in which they have become 
noted. The Catawba, whether originally or by union with the Iswa, 
early became recognized as the most powerful of all the Siouan peoples 
of Carolina. They are also the tribe which preserved its identity 
longest and from which the greatest amount of linguistic information 
has been obtained. 

The name Catawba itself was given to a variety of grape, and has 
become applied, either adopted from the tribe directly or taken from 
that of the grape, to places in Catawba County, NC.; Roanoke County, 
Va.; Marion County, W. Va.; Bracken County, Ky.; Clark County, Ohio; 
Caldwell County, Mo.; Steuben County, NY.; Blaine County, Okla.; 
York County, S. C.; and Price County, Wis. It is also borne by an 
island in Ohio, and by the Catawba River of the Carolinas, a branch 
of the Wateree.


The Catawba is an active tribe and received federal recognition in 1993.

Contact Information
Catawba Indian Nation - Chief Gilbert Blue
P.O. Box 188
Catawba, SC 29704
Phone: 803-366-4792
Fax: 803-366-9150

Back to Native Americans of South Carolina Page

SCGenWeb Home Page

Copyright 2003 Victoria Proctor
All rights reserved.