Ten miles west of Siler City, in a rural community lies one of North Carolina’s best-known legends. While not a ghost story in the truest sense, the Devil’s Tramping Ground is a must have for any collection of North Carolina stories.
It seems that 300 years ago settlers in the area were puzzled over the 40-foot circle that lies among the trees. And with no other reasonable explanation…they went with the devil did it.
For generations residents and storytellers tell that this huge bare circle is a result of the Devil, pacing around and around all night while plotting and planning more evil to visit upon the world. Isn’t it nice to know that right in Chatham County was the source of all the world’s woes? The stories approach true legend status as year after year teenagers (and some old enough to know better) travel out there to test the stories that nothing placed in the Devil’s path would remain there. For that is one of the more interesting turns of the tale…it seems the Devil would quickly throw out any objects left in his circular walkway. Stories abound of people who attempted to spend the night and failed, or awoke to find themselves and their camping gear outside the circle. It is true that for many many years nothing grew in the circle, and it remained clean and clear.
Unfortunately it seems modern day trash is a bit much for Satan. That or he’s simply tired of picking it up. Evidence of parties and visits remain despite the prominent “no dumping” signs surrounding the area. Apparently such visitors choose to believe the tales of bad luck that follow anyone who removes a ‘souvenir’ from the Devil’s Tramping Ground. I do believe they may take that a bit too far. The circle is no longer as large as it was once reputed to be.
So if it isn’t the Devil and his insidious path then what could cause such a natural anomaly? The possible explanations are numerous. Theories ventured forth have included the possibility that it was a natural salt lick for deer and wildlife (recent scientific testing does show a startling high salt content in this spot), perhaps it was a site of an old mill that utilized the power of mules or oxen turning a wheel for hours on end. Early settlers thought that perhaps it was a place that Indians had used for secret and powerful tribal ceremonies – perhaps even the burial place of Chief Croatan, and the great Spirit even now kept the place bare as a reminder of the horrors the Indians had suffered. More esoteric possibilities include a Druidic influx and the use of this spot as a place where power was drawn through ritual…such power that it left it’s mark by the barrenness of the soil. Some even claim that UFO’s have caused the circle.
However none really fit what we do know. Reported testing in years past showed that the soil was sterile around the circle, as well as high salt and acidity content of the soil. It seems odd that it exists in a perfect circle. It seems odd that for generations it did appear to remain clear of any growth or bits and pieces, at least around the perimeter, if not in the center. To our knowledge right now, no one has dug up the circle looking for (or finding) a buried Indian Chief, or anyone else for that matter. If a formal such dig has been done we would love to know the results.
A visit many years ago showed us a somewhat barren circle in the woods just off a rural country highway. While it was a bare spot, it was not the magnitude one would expect from the fantastic legends. And apparently Satan didn’t mind a few beer bottles in his lair. A burned out stump and the setting sun allowed us some attractive photos... but not a single spooky feeling. Admittedly there was no trash or growth in the perimeter path around the circle. And we allow that whatever did cause the creation of the Devil’s Tramping Ground, it certainly is a natural mystery. It seems unlikely that – no matter what explanation you subscribe to – the effects would remain for so many years and yet they have.
No collection for NC legends is complete without the contemplation of the Devil’s Tramping Ground. A legend that has stood for hundreds of years surely warrants more than a passing thought. If you are wanting to see it for the fact you can say you have been there – a chance to see a legend up close and in person, then a visit is surely in order. At the present time, to the best of our knowledge the property is still open and available for visitors – indeed it was well marked by a sign at the time we saw it. If you are looking for a ghost... or even the Devil himself, we suspect you’d have better luck elsewhere.
From Siler City, take State Road 1106 South for ten miles. At Harpers Crossroads turn right onto State Road 1100. Approximately two miles down this road, you will see a gravel parking area on the left and a little further back the Devil’s Tramping Ground. If in doubt ask any local resident…most likely they can point you right to it.