The large hill located on the Bluff Unit at Santee National Wildlife Refuge is known as the Santee Indian Mound and Fort Watson.
The Santee Indians were part of the Mississippian culture, living along the Santee River for thousands of years. The mound itself is estimated to at least 1,000 years old. It served as the ceremonial site and a burial for the Native American tribe.
The site at Scott's Lake is the largest such mound discovered on the coastal plain to this date. We believe Santee tribe numbered approximately 3,000 around 1650 when the early Spanish were exploring the area. By 1715, the tribe had been reduced to around 500 people. The drop is attributed to diseases brought by the early settlers. Within 150 years of first European contact, the tribe had been extirpated.
The mound took on a new meaning at the end of the 18th century, when it was re-purposed by British troops as an outpost, which they named Fort Watson after the British Colonel, John Watson, who directed the construction of the fort. The Mound was the ideal location for such a fort since it provided an elevated vantage point overlooking the Santee River and the road to Charleston. The fort was part of a chain of British strong points that stretched across South Carolina which included Fort Mott, Granby, Ninety Six, Camden and Charleston.
On February 28, 1781, General Thomas Sumter's partisans unsuccessfully attempted to take the fort. A new campaign was led by General Francis “Swamp Fox” Marion and his Lieutenant Colonel, Harry "Light Horse" Lee.
Major Matham of Marion's Militia proposed to build towers that could fire down into the fort. The Americans pushed forward and after eight days, forced the surrender of Fort Watson. The fall of Fort Watson was an important link in the chain of events that made the British authorities abandon the back country of South Carolina.
Both the Indian Mound and Fort Watson are now protected by the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service at the Santee NWR.