The first people to live on and near Ocean Isle were American Indians who arrived here about 10,000 BC. There are many Indian arrowheads and pottery pieces in farmers’ fields around Ocean Isle. The primary tribe in the Ocean Isle Beach area was the Cape Fear Indians, but there were also a few settlements of Waccamaw, Iroquois, Catawba, Lumbee, and Choctaw Indians. All of these tribes spoke the Siouan Indian language. The Cape Fear Indians basically hunted in the winter and farmed during the summer. They fished year-round in the Ocean Isle area and gathered oysters and clams. They lived in settlements of dome shaped wigwams. The ground was the floor in a wigwam. A hole in the roof of the wigwam permitted smoke from the fire to escape.

By the year 1,200 B.C., the Cape Fear Indians here were growing corn and vegetables and gathering fruits and nuts. They kept domesticated animals including deer. They made cheese from does’ milk. They raised chickens and ducks and were good gardeners. They built wooden dugout canoes and used a variety of ways to catch fish. But life was extremely difficult. Mosquitoes and red bugs and briars and ticks and fleas and wild animals plagued the Indians everyday.


The life of Cape Fear Indians at Ocean Isle Beach changed in 1521 when on the horizon appeared a large sailing ship. It was Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quexoscame, two Spaniards. The two men and their sailors anchored and then came ashore. The Cape Fear Indians here had never seen a white man before. They did not know that Christopher Columbus had discovered America 29 years earlier in 1492. Over the next few days near Ocean Isle, Francisco Gordillo and Pedro de Quexoscame loaded up nearly 100 Cape Fear Indians and carried them off into slavery. The Spaniards had guns you see, and the Indians had only bows and arrows. One of the captured Indians was given the name Francisco de Chicora. This particular Indian identified nearly 20 different Indian tribes living in this area. The whole Ocean Isle Beach area for the next 100 years thus became known as Chicora – named after the Indian slave – Francisco de Chicora.


When early explorer John Lawson visited the Ocean Isle area, he described the Cape Fear Indians as being “tall, well-shaped, straight, handsome, with black eyes and a tawny skin color and never bald-headed, and having long fingernails. He wrote that “both the men and women Indians’ have yellow teeth from smoking tobacco and from drinking tea from the Yaupon (sic) plant with its red berries and evergreen leaves. The Yaupon plant is common in this area even today. This plant is high in caffeine. The tea would make the Indians vomit profusely which they did on purpose to “cleanse themselves.” The tea was like a de-wormer.