From Fort to Casino: The Catawba Nation and the Opposite Carolinas – Stuart Marshall

North and South Carolina continue to be divided about most things, including how to prepare pulled pork. In North Carolina, the vinegar-based style reigns supreme, but mustard flows south of the border. Beyond barbecue, travelers might notice some striking differences on either side of the line—with North Carolina known for its rural beauty and mountain landscapes, and South Carolina for its southern charm, stately mansions, and palmetto trees.

Any reader from either of the Carolinas is sure to cringe at these generalizations. This contrast, though, is firmly rooted in early American history. Even before they were states, one traveler crossed the “imaginary line” between the Carolinas and immediately noticed that they were “very opposite in character.”1  And the physical line—the state boundary between the two Carolinas—also continues to cause considerable anxiety. From 1993 to 2016, the states collaborated to resurvey the contested boundary once and for all, but individuals caught along the line remained troubled by the two states’ differences and jurisdictional issues. 

Few have a deeper understanding of boundary issues than the region’s Indigenous inhabitants whose presence there long predates the troublesome lines on maps. For the Catawba Nation, the boundary between the Carolinas has been a headache since the two provinces split in the eighteenth century. One renowned Catawba leader, Nopkehe, or “King Hagler”—a name which, historian James Merrell suggests, “hints at an unusual talent for diplomacy”—successfully leveraged the disputed boundary between the two Carolinas. During the French and Indian War, Hagler negotiated with both Carolinas to build a fort for the protection of his people, whose enemies came to include the Cherokees. Ultimately, the noted contrast between the two Carolinas—including their diplomatic stances with Native nations—tipped the balance. Though North Carolina began construction on a fort for the Catawbas, the better deal came from the more powerful government to the south. South Carolina’s fort was a symbolic anchor for the Catawbas, who fell south of the line when the Carolinas finalized their common boundary in the 1770s. They remained strongly affiliated with South Carolina through the Revolutionary era and beyond.2

Figure 1. This map from the 1760s shows the location of the fort constructed by the province of South Carolina (bottom left) While the fort itself was short-lived, it was yet another claim that South Carolina had to an exclusive alliance with the Catawbas. Samuel Wyly, “Title unknown/”Catawba Lands, 1764″,” (1760). Map. South Carolina Department of Archives and History.

In March 2020, after years of complications, the Catawba Nation gained federal approval to construct a tribal casino, as is their right as a federally recognized sovereign tribe. Controversy stemmed from a 1993 settlement when the tribe gave up all land claims in North Carolina, with the understanding that they could still take land into trust there. But after this settlement, South Carolina enacted anti-gaming policies, preventing the Catawbas from building a casino in the state. The Catawba Nation moved forward with plans to construct their casino by taking land into trust just across the state boundary in the city of Kings Mountain, North Carolina—an homage to the Catawba role as Patriots in the Revolution (though not the actual site of the Patriot victory at Kings Mountain in South Carolina). The tribal government recognizes the casino site as outside of their original reservation, but well within the ancestral territory of the Catawba peoples.3

Figure 2. This imaginative 1770 map of North Carolina depicts the “Catawbaw Indian Tribe” reservation falling on the north side of the boundary. This land was the subject of a bitter boundary dispute between the Carolinas that remained unresolved until shortly before the American Revolution. John Collet, J. Bayly, and S. Hooper, “A compleat map of North-Carolina from an actual survey,” (1770). Map. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

Richard Sneed, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, asserted that the casino plan is “nothing more than a modern-day land-grab by the federal government of Cherokee aboriginal lands.” He suggested that the Catawbas should work within their “home state” in their effort to build a casino, as Cherokees have done in North Carolina. But Catawba Chief William Harris insists, “the Catawba are just as much a North Carolina tribe as they are a South Carolina tribe.” Harris applauded the Eastern Band’s success in “lifting their people out of poverty” through casino revenue and hopes that his people can do the same.4

Figure 3. This map outlines the boundary between the Carolinas that was settled in 1772, indicating the reservation promised to the Catawbas by South Carolina. Note that while the “Cataba Nation” is shown in South Carolina, “King’s Mountain” is shown in North Carolina. Unknown, “A Plan of that part of the boundary between the states of North and South Carolina, lying between that part of said boundary marked in 1764 and the old Cherokee boundary line. Fixed and marked by commissioners appointed by each respective colony, now states, in June A.D. 1772.,” (1772). Map. Library of Congress. Public Domain.

In summer 2021, the Catawba Nation opened the preliminary facility of the “Two Kings Casino Resort”—named for King Hagler and the Battle of Kings Mountain. The Nation had effectively lobbied with both Carolinas—a balancing act perhaps not seen since the time of King Hagler. The casino appeared to have gained support from both sides of the boundary and both sides of the political aisle, but allegations of corruption have since plagued the project. Congress recently denied the Eastern Band’s challenge, but the operation is now under federal investigation after reports surfaced indicating that politicians who supported the project may have indirect stakes in the profits. Though nearly two and a half centuries have passed since the original boundary between the Carolinas was drawn, many continue to wager their futures on that imaginary and divisive line.5

Stuart Marshall is a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, with a research focus on the Native South and a dissertation on Eastern Cherokee sovereignty in the Civil War era. His article, “Facing East from Tryon Mountain: New Vantages on the ‘Great Wolf,’ Rogues, and Regulators,” can be found in the January 2022 issue of the North Carolina Historical Review.

Twitter: @_StuartMarshall.

Read Marshall’s article “Dividing the Carolinas: Indians, Colonists, and Slaves in the Prerevolutionary Boundary Dispute, 1763–1773” in EAS’s Winter 2023 issue.

  1. Josiah Quincy, Southern Journal (1773), in Portrait of a Patriot: The Major Political and Legal Papers of Josiah Quincy Junior, Volume III: The Southern Journal (1773), Daniel R. Coquillette and Neil Longley York, eds. (Boston: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 2007), 248–252 (quote); Joseph T. Glatthaar, The March to the Sea and Beyond: Sherman’s Troops in the Savannah and Carolinas Campaigns (New York: New York University Press, 1986), 146; Catherine O’Neill, “Between the lines: Changes to the border between states leave residents frustrated,” WRAL News, July 13, 2018,; Jeffrey Collins, “NC, SC state line isn’t where folks thought it was,” NBC News, March 23, 2012,
  2. James H. Merrell, “‘Minding the Business of the Nation’: Hagler As Catawba Leader,” Ethnohistory 33, no. 1 (1986): 58, 60, 62; James H. Merrell, The Indians’ New World: Catawbas and Their Neighbors from European Contact through the Era of Removal, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 162, 198, 221–222; Arthur Dobbs to the Board of Trade, August 30, 1757, in Colonial Records, 5: 783–784, in Documenting the American South,
  3. Jim Morrill, “Federal officials open door to a Catawba Indian casino 35 miles west of Charlotte,” Charlotte Observer, March 13, 2020,; “Written Testimony of William Harris,” May 1, 2019, U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs,; Holly Kays, “Congressional hearing explores Catawba casino,” Smoky Mountain News, May 8, 2019,
  4. Scott McKie, “Senate Committee holds hearing on Catawba ‘casino’ bill,” Cherokee OneFeather, May 7, 2019,; “Written Testimony of William Harris,” May 1, 2019.
  5. Joe Marusak, “ ‘I got a jackpot!’ Hundreds pack Catawbas’ NC casino on opening day,” Charlotte Observer, July 1, 2021,; Steve Bittenbender, “Catawba Nation Announces Name for $273M North Carolina Casino Resort Project,”, August 30, 2020,; Edward Martin, “Key South Carolina influencers paved the way for North Carolina’s new casino,” Business North Carolina, November 1, 2022,