Catawba means "people of the river," which provides a fitting name for a people who made their home along the lush banks of the Wateree and Santee rivers running from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean.
Food was plentiful in these lands, with wild game in the dense forests and grapes, berries and nuts in the brush of the foothills. Trips to the Atlantic coast yielded fish and shellfish. The high-quality soil, mild temperatures year round and heavy rains allowed the Catawba to farm and garden with great success. Crops of corn, beans and squash were an ample food source, and gourds were grown to become useful tools such as bowls, bottles, cups and spoons.
The deep woods also provided hard wood for building square, bark-covered houses and community buildings. Like most villages, homes were generally laid out to surround a common area or square. Most villages sat along a trail that was used by British fur trappers. The Catawba traded with the British for highly prized European goods. While they welcomed white trappers, the Catawba fought neighboring tribes such as the Shawnee, Iroquois and Cherokee to keep them out of their trapping lands.
Deer skins provided the men with breechcloths and the women with short skirts, which were enhanced by capes, leggings and moccasins in slightly colder weather.
The Catawba belief system included the concept that all living things come from the sky and that good and bad spirits permeate the natural and supernatural worlds.
Though they had made their homelands in South Carolina for generations, a treaty with the American government in 1840 moved the Catawba from South Carolina to North Carolina. This ultimately left the tribe homeless, because white settlers in North Carolina refused to recognize the terms of the treaty. To put them somewhere, the government placed them on a useless strip of barren land on the west bank of the Catawba River.
Today, descendants of the Catawba are back in the traditional lands of South Carolina on a state reservation.