The Leech Place

Hiwassee River

Hiwassee River, Murphy, North Carolina

The Leech Place
Murphy, North Carolina

A small little town in Murphy, North Carolina sits atop an old Cherokee Indian mythology site known as “The Leech Place”. This spot was a place where the waters of the Hiwassee river would cross and notoriously swept hapless people to the bottom of the river. The river was controlled by a giant house-sized leech who made the waters drag people under so it could consume them. Its original name was “Tlanusi-yi” or “The Leech Place”. The story is told as “just above the junction where Murphy now sits is a deep hole in the river valley above which is a rock ledge running across the stream that early people’s once used as a foot bridge. On the south side of this trail was an ascension where one could look down into the river. One day, some men crossing the bridge saw a large red object as big as a house lying on the rock ledge in the middle of the stream below them. As they wondered what it was they saw it unroll and very alive, stretching itself out in full length like a giant leech with red and white stripes along its body. It rolled into a ball and stretched again at full length, crawling down the rock, into the deep waters. When it hit the waters, the water boiled and foamed causing a column of white spray billowing into the air like a waterspout drenching the area the men had been standing, which would have swept them away into the river had they not spotted it. Legend has it more than one person was carried down into that water hole by this method with their friends finding their bodies afterwards with their ears and nose eaten off. People feared crossing this bridge afterwards. One man fearless and laughing at the legend wanted to prove the townsfolk, painted his face, put on his bucksin, headed to the river, leading the townspeople down to watch. He went onto the ledge, sang to the high spirits: Tlanu’si ge’ga digi’gge, Dakwa’nitlaste’st. I’ll tie red leech skins, On my legs for garters.” As he crossed, the waters boiled into white foam creating a great wave that rose and swept over the rock carrying him down to never to be seen again.” Legend also tells that 60 years ago before the great Removal, two women went to fish from that ledge, ignoring warning from their friends, and laid her child down on the rock to prepare her fishing line when the water rose and swept over the ledge, almost carrying off the child, with the mother barely saving it. People believe the great leech is still there as they can see something moving down below. Others say what is seen moving is the underground waterway across to Nottely river not far above the mouth where the river bends over towards Murphy and sometimes the leech goes there to make the waters boil as it used to at the rock ledge, calling this place on Nottely the Leech place as well. More about the Hiwassee River can be found at More information about the Leech place can be found at


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