The Settlement & Gold Rush
First Pioneers to the Helen Valley
Few visitors strolling through Helen today are aware of its dramatic history. Some are curious and ask about the origins of the alpine motif. But few would imagine the area as a lush riverside bottomland home to pioneer families, their crops and livestock, or imagine cannons of highpressure water blasting hillsides away and the sound of stamp mills pounding ore continuously to release gold.
Helen’s history and that of the surrounding areas begins with some of the earliest native hunter-gatherers in North America. They formed advanced native chiefdoms with monumental architecture and intensive agriculture. Included are stories from the Colonial period, where traders, settlers, and militia units first interacted and clashed with Cherokee towns and villages.
Treaties that displaced the native groups from the area permitted mountaineer settlers to come to the Helen Valley in the early 1800s. Originally seeking fertile land for farming and raising cattle, the 1828 discovery of gold on Dukes Creek in Nacoochee Valley brought a new intense interest to the area.
Gold Discovered In and Around Helen
Gold was first discovered near Helen in 1828. Scores of prospectors came to the area to seek their fortunes. Many of those same folks left the area for the California Gold Rush of 1849. But for the next 75 years there were at least three more episodes of gold mining efforts in the Helen area, including the 1890s' use of hydraulic water cannons that had devastating effects on the landscape.