top of page

Yésah: Journeys of the Occaneechi

Yésah is a Tutelo-Saponi word which means “the people.” The yésah formed numerous bands, yet they were one people, united by common ancestors and customs.

OPEN THROUGH 4-11-2021

Seal 3.png
Beverly Payne 2.png

On behalf of the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation and as a board member for the Orange County Historical Museum, I would like to welcome you to the museum’s newest exhibit, “Yesah:  Journeys of the Occaneechi.”  This exhibit in many ways has been a collaborative effort between the two organizations.  We are excited to share with you the story of the physical and cultural journeys made by the Occaneechi along with some treasured artifacts that date from prehistoric times to the present.  I hope that you will be inspired by the rich history of my tribe.



Beverly Payne



This exhibit showcases the Occaneechi.


It examines the journeys they made over time both physically and culturally, sometimes unnoticed, but always as an integral part of our community.


Projectile Points

Gift of Chapel Hill Museum

Loan from Carl S. Durham

The projectile points in the exhibit represent 18 different tribal groups who lived in the NC Piedmont over thousands of years.


Axe Head, Knife Blade, and Awl

Gift of Chapel Hill Museum

Loan from Carl S. Durham

The knife blade and awl were found on Durham Bros. Dairy Farm near White Cross.  An awl is a tool Used for marking surfaces or piercing holes in leather or wood

IMG_0685 2.JPG

Pottery Sherd

Gift of Chapel Hill Museum


Pottery sherds are important artifacts.  Unlike bone tools which can look similar over time and place, pottery is more easily identifiable according to era and region.  Sherds help archaeologists identify technological and artistic changes as well as points of contact with other people.  Since many pots were used directly in fires for cooking, they broke easily and few whole vessels exist. 



Lead Shot and Clay Pipe Fragments

Loan from UNC Research Laboratory of Archaeology

These artifacts were discovered at the Fredericks Site in Hillsborough.  They are an example of the English trade items possessed by the Yesah.  The bullet serves as a reminder of the importance of guns and the arms race between the Occaneechi, the Iroquois, and other adversarial tribes.

Rabbit sticks.png

Rabbit Sticks

Loaned and made by John Blackfeather Jeffries

Like a boomerang, curved rabbit sticks are thrown at small game.  The rabbit stick has been used since prehistoric times.  The knowledge of how to make and use them has been passed down through generations.  During the 1930s when people couldn’t spare money for the cost of a bullet, Native Americans were able to use this ancient technology to help put meat on the table.


Iroquois Ball-Head War Club

Loan from John Blackfeather Jeffries


This weapon was typically made from beech saplings that grew horizontally and upward from a riverbank in order to preserve a natural curve without cutting across the grain and reducing strength.  The root-ball of the sapling provided the round mass for the ball head.  After contact with European traders, the Iroquois often added metal spikes to the ball.


Bone Sewing Needless

Loaned and made by John Blackfeather Jeffries

Needles like these were used since prehistoric times with sinew or leather thread to bind clothing and other items.

Strawberry Corn.jpg

Strawberry Corn:  Cob, Seeds, and Necklace

Loan from Vickie Jeffries


Strawberry corn is a rare and endangered type of Yésah corn.  It only grows 4 to 6 feet tall with one or two cobs no more than 20 inches from the ground.  The sap of the plant itself is almost like sugarcane.  Mature corn, when ground for hominy or mush tastes as though it has been sweetened with maple syrup. 


Beaded Purse

Loan from Beverly Payne


Beverly Payne carried this purse at her 1999 wedding to Lester Betts Jr.  It was a gift to her from Mary Parker Jeffries (1912 – 1998).

Screen Shot 2021-08-08 at 1.21_edited.jpg

Bark Basket

Loaned and made by John Blackfeather Jeffries


Bark containers have been used for gathering beans, berries, and nuts, hauling water, and storing items.  This one is curved to allow it to rest stably on a person’s thigh.  Bark is harvested once a year in the spring and early summer.  Birch bark is the most pliable and easy to use.


Turtle Shell Bag

Loaned and made by John Blackfeather Jeffries

Used by Blackfeather for many years to carry personal items, this bag contains added meaning through the panels of the shell which signify the cardinal directions, seasons of the year, and hours of the day.  A special feature of the bag is the addition of a church broach worn by Jeffries' grandmother.



Loan from Vickie Jeffries


A parfleche is an embellished rawhide container.  Envelope-shaped parfleches have historically been made by women and were used to hold tools and food. Originally created by post-contact Plains Indians for use on horseback, today they carry symbolic meaning and may be part of dance or parade regalia.


Medicine Bag

Loaned and Made by John Blackfeather Jeffries


Medicine bags contain objects that symbolize well being and tribal identity.  Traditionally, they are worn under the clothing and their contents are personal and spiritual.  This one contains cedar and tobacco.


Turtle Shell Rattle with Beaded Handle

Loaned and Made by Vickie Jeffries


Rattles have been used during tribal dances and ceremonies both as a rhythmic accompaniment and a symbol.  Their design incorporates the three kingdoms:  animal, mineral, and plant. 


Turtle Shell Rattle with Mayan Amulet

Loaned and Made by John Blackfeather Jeffries


Blackfeather used this rattle at various pow-wows.  The amulet was a gift to him from a Mexican Indian.


Deer Toenail Rattles

Loaned and Made by John Blackfeather Jeffries

These rattles have been used by Blackfeather at many pow-wows.  The top rattle is hand-held while the bottom one is worn around the ankle.


Dance Sticks

Loan from John Blackfeather Jeffries

Male dancers often carry a decorated stick for Fancy Dances.  The practice is derived from the stick that Indian ancestors carried in battles. They would touch their enemies with their stick without killing them.  It was considered a significant sign of bravery


Dance Fan - Turkey and Peacock Feathers

Loan from Beverly Payne


Created in the belief that birds link the physical world to the spiritual one, each dance fan is a unique, symbolic work of art.  Craftsmen select feathers with great reverence.


Dance Fan - Hawk Feathers

Loaned and Made by John

Blackfeather Jeffries

Only Native Americans are allowed to have the feathers of federally protected birds such as eagles and hawks.  This fan was carried by his wife Lynette Jeffries.  Jingles, like those on the handle of this fan were originally made from tobacco cans.


Dance Fan - Turkey Feathers

Loaned and Made by John Blackfeather Jeffries


Unlike the other fans that were carried by women and serve a functional as well as ceremonial purpose, this fan is designed to be carried by a man and is not effective for purposes of cooling.


Baskets - Sweet Grass, Pine Needle, and Horsehair

Loaned and Made by Vickie Jeffries


Native Americans have been weaving basket for at least 8,000 years.  They were used primarily for gathering, preparing, and storing food.  The materials used vary, depending on the basket's use and the resources available to the weaver.

Beaded jewelry.jpg

Beaded Jewelry - Bracelets, Earrings, and Ring

Loaned and Made by Vickie Jeffries


Native Americans have been using beads as embellishments for thousands of years.  Originally, the beads were made from stones, shells, quills, and bones.  After European contact, glass beads became popular.  Designs were typically based on natural elements found in an artist’s environs.  With the American Indian Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, indigenous designs and materials were shared among craftsmen.


Gideons Bible

Circa 1940

Loan from Vickie Jeffries


Barthemus Jeffries (1888-1957), Deacon at Martin’s Chapel Baptist Church, used this briefcase and Bible.  With church playing a vital role in the community, deacons like Jeffries were community leaders.  Important happenings and inspirational thoughts are recorded in Mr. Jeffries’Bible.  This page notes that son Wallace Liggins Jeffries spent the night home in February 1942, and that brother Augustus V. Jeffries died in October 1947.




Church Brooch

Circa 1950

Loan from Vickie Jeffries


Worn by Katie Liggins Jeffries (1886-1971) to church and for other special occasions.



Enjoy this short film documenting scenes from the Occaneechi Band of the Saponi Nation's 2018 PowWow.

Film produced by Tye Banks.

bottom of page