The Shallow Ford of the Yadkin River

The Yadkin-Pee Dee River rises in Watauga County, North Carolina, just east of the town of Blowing Rock. Its basin spans 7,213 square miles across both Carolinas as it winds 433 miles to Winyah Bay, South Carolina, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. The Yadkin River stretches 215 miles from Blowing Rock to its juncture with the Uwharrie River, where it becomes the Pee Dee.

In the 93 miles between the towns of Elkin and Spencer, there were only four places humans could easily cross , or "ford," the Yadkin River. Today, three of the historic Yadkin River fords still exist: Elkin Ford, for which the town of Elkin is named, White Rock Ford at the town of Rockford, and Shallow Ford at Huntsville. The fourth, known as Trading Ford, is now below the waters of High Rock Lake east of Spencer.

The Shallow Ford is formed by a rock shelf that spans the Yadkin River. The shelf slows the river enough to deposit silt, forming a 100-foot-long bar of sand and gravel that extends 450 feet from bank to bank. The water is typically 18 to 24 inches deep during normal levels. This bar provided a natural crossing point for the large game animals which roamed the North Carolina Piedmont long before humans arrived. Deer, Elk, Bear, Bison, and (more than 9,000 years ago) even Caribou were drawn to the spot, creating a clearly defined trail.

Native Americans on the banks of the Yadkin

The first humans arrived in this region at least 12,000 years ago. They largely followed big game and were drawn to the Shallow Ford in search of those animals. Over millennia, they developed extensive trail networks through the region.

About 3000 years ago, during the Archaic Period, humans in this area changed from highly mobile hunter-gatherer lifeways to living in semi-permanent villages. They also developing innovations such as pottery and horticulture. Around 800, gardening began to be prioritized, especially with the introduction of maize. Larger, more permanent villages began to grow along the banks of the Yadkin River. By the year 1000, the beginning of the Late Woodland Period, large villages like the Donnaha Site sprung developed every three to seven miles along the Yadkin River. Smaller settlements such as the McPherson Site, lay in between. The Yadkin’s banks were at one time home to the largest population of Native Americans in North Carolina.

Around 1450, the indigenous inhabitants began moving elsewhere due to depletion of the soil, lower game populations, and possibly warfare. It is believed that the population shifted northeastward to the Dan River. Archaeologists link the Yadkin River population with the Saura Indians who inhabited the area from the Sauratown Mountains to an area near modern-day Eden, North Carolina. The Saura moved to South Carolina around 1715, where they became known as the Cheraw. Their descendants survive today as part of the Catawba Nation.