Legend of Pete

Legends are sometimes popularly regarded as historical, even though legends are often not documented historically. However, these stories or wives’ tales can often outlast a community’s recollection of actual historical occurrences. The stories, in a sense, become an equally significant part of our history and our community. 

Sugar Hill had such a story — the legend of Pete — that is still prevalent on the tongues of many who grew up in this part of Gwinnett County along the Chattahoochee River. The unique aspect about legends is that these stories usually have some element of truth. Old wives’ tales like the legend of Pete, even when taken with a grain of salt, are serious business but also a lot of fun.

Prior to the creation of Lake Lanier and even up until the population growth experienced all across Gwinnett County, Sugar Hill was an isolated part of the state. Heavily wooded, with hills and numerous creeks, this area was ideally suited for hiding things. Illegal moonshining, for example, was prevalent in this area along the Chattahoochee River. Even today, hikers often comment about the wooded isolation of the trails that now connect neighborhoods like Wild Timber, Laurel Park and Twin Creeks. Old stills remain in the woods and are only occasionally discovered by hikers who wander off the more popular trails. The property between the Sugar Hill Golf Course and the Chattahoochee River, which can be seen when playing a round of golf, is thickly wooded and appears impenetrable to sunlight.

The legend of Pete, and other similar stories, like Big Foot, the New Jersey Devil and the Mothman, evolve out of the same isolation that makes illegal activities like moonshining possible. Jon Payne, former Commander for American Legion Post 127, remembers the prevalence of the legend of Pete when he was a child growing up in Sugar Hill and Buford. The old wives’ tale told the story of a creature that lived in the woods along the Chattahoochee River. Children were warned not to go into the woods. Men and women of the time would talk about unusual and blood curdling screams coming from along the river corridor. No clear description of Pete has ever been given. Even though there have been likely, alleged and actual sightings of bobcats, panthers and coyotes, the physical characteristics of Pete are a mystery lost to the misty memories and wives’ tales of the past.

Much like the tales of black panthers that were common and still are common in the north Georgia mountains, the legend of Pete certainly also incited stories of sightings that were told at schools, churches, barbershops and wherever gossipers gathered. Grandfathers and uncles, for a good laugh, undoubtedly scared young boys with the legend of Pete. Mothers and fathers, to instill discipline, certainly used the legend of Pete as a threat of what might happen if a child wandered too far from home.

Humans were created to love stories. We listen to stories, and we tell stories. The legend of Pete is not a common legend in Sugar Hill like it was 30 years ago. Maybe Pete was real, but the creation of Lake Lanier and all the growth that is prevalent in modern times slowly pushed him out of our woods and out of our minds. The Cherokee once inhabited the area that includes Sugar Hill, and they cherished legends and origin stories steeped in the mythology of creatures like Judaculla. The legend of Pete could linger from those far away times before settlers first arrived in Sugar Hill along the Chattahoochee River. Or perhaps Pete was a story created by moonshiners to scare people and keep them from discovering their moonshine stills. History does not provide a final answer, but the legend of Pete is still an important part of our story as a community. If the legend of Pete is told, the story will always maintain an element of truth.

Brandon Hembree serves as mayor of Sugar Hill. He is a 20-year resident of the city, and he uses his interest in history to detail Sugar Hill’s rich past. 

FEATURED PHOTO: The area behind Island Ford Baptist Church and the Laurel Park neighborhood in Sugar Hill are places where some of the past activity revolving around the mysterious creature Pete are said to have taken place. Photo by Brandon Hembree. 

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