n the low, rolling hills of southern Chatham County, south of Siler City in the woods near Harper's Crossroads, lies one of the most famous places in North Carolina and perhaps one of the most haunted places in the world.
The Devil's Tramping Ground is a mysterious, perfectly round and absolutely barren circle about forty feet in diameter in the pine woods of Chatham County. Not a tree, not flower, no lowly weed or even a single blade of grass will grow in the limits of the circle. Seed sowed there refuse to sprout. Any vegetation transplanted there will wither and die.
And, what's even more strange, any object left in the circle at dusk will have been violently moved outside its bounds by dawn.
Dogs tuck their tails between their legs and whimper when brought near and will dig their heels into the sand, refusing to be brought into the circle.
Men have tried to spend the night in the circle, but not one has succeeded and remained sane. Something they see on their vigils drives them out of their wits, never to recover. For the Devil's Tramping Ground has earned it's name. It's said that here that the Devil himself walks at night.
In his Tramping Ground, the Devil spends his nights pacing around and around in a circle and turning his bitter mind towards ways to bring human souls to damnation. The scorching heat of his cloven hoofprints is what kills the vegetation and has rendered the soil barren. He angrily brushes aside anything left in his path, his great strength easily able to toss aside the heaviest objects. And, because when he walks in his private spot on earth, the devil drops the illusions with which he disguises himself when he appears to men, and in his natural state the face of this fallen angel is so horrible that no man can see it and remain sane.
The mystery of the Devil's Tramping Ground has been known since Chatham County was founded shortly before the War for Independence. From generation to generation, the story has been passed down, and despite efforts by scientists to explain this barren patch of land, no satisfying explanation has ever been given.
So if you're driving on State Road 1100 in rural Chatham County at night and you pass a curve in the road where there's a narrow path leading off into the woods, if you see a shadowy figure moving between the trees it's best to drive away as fast as you can and never look back until you're long, long gone.
his is the classic version of the Devil's Tamping Ground story. Other explanations have been given for the cause of this barren patch of woods over the years, including the story that the place was the site of a battle between two rival tribes of Indians, the weaker one being so powerfully defeated that they fled from the mainland entirely onto the Outer Banks and became the Croatan tribe that befriended the lost colonists. Others say that the site is the burial ground of a great Indian chief named Croatan, and that the gods keep the spot barren out of respect.
More recently, the idea has been put forth that the soil in the Devil's Tramping Ground is barren because the circle was the site of a UFO landing, and radiation from its extraterrestrial engines has permanently exterminated the grass.
The Devil seems to have come to Chatham County with the Scotch-Irish settlers who arrived in North Carolina during the Eighteenth century, populating the course of the Cape Fear River, the Uwharries and the Appalachians. The settlers, mainly immigrants from Ulster and the counties along the border between England and Scotland, carried with them a particularly rich oral tradition, in which the Devil frequently played a part. The Devil seems to have been so much a part of Scots life that even James I, who ascended to the unified throne of England and Scotland in 1603, wrote a book on demonology and Shakespeare is said to have written the supernatural elements into Macbeth with a though towrds pleasing the superstitious king. Much of Southern American folklore and folk music owes its shape to the Scotch-Irish, and the demon-haunted world they lived in remains with us in the ghost stories they brought with them. They've also left behind their habit of giving place-names which recognize the Prince of Darkness — apart from the Devil's Tramping Ground, North Carolina has a Devil's Rock, Seven Devils, Kill Devil Hills, Devil's Branch, Devil's Chimney, Devil's Nest, four Devil's Elbows, two Devil's Forks, a Devil's Knob, the Devil's Tater Patch, and many, many more.
Despite these many honors, the Devil seems to be fading away from North Carolina ghost stories, as more modern culprits like aliens and axe murderers take his place — more relevant to contemporary anxieties, perhaps, but with decidedly less personality.
s for the Devil's Tramping Ground itself, most visitors find the spot slightly disappointing. The barrenness of the soil seems to result from the place being a naturally occurring salt lick, a phenomenon not at all uncommon in the pine forests of the Carolinas. The site has also shrunk significantly this century, it's diameter now measuring around twenty feet. The salt content of the soil also seems to have naturally faded enough so that grass now grows in the circle, and the chief thing keeping the clearing free of other vegetation is the constant tramping it receives not from the Devil, but from local kids who use the place as a party spot. It also seems that the Devil has moved on, or modern litter is simply too much for him to cope with, as the site is well-litered with empty Slim Jim wrappers and beer cans.