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Lesson Four

Wed, 05/08/2013 - 16:57 -- Lamar

Long before Europeans set foot on Native North America, there was a continental-wide trail system that connected the Hudson Bay with the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic with the Pacific. This was the transportation and trading routes for all travel. 


Eastern Cherokee History: Filling in the Black Holes

         Major updates November 20, 2013 -  See Geography Lessons/#7, 8, 9, 11 and 12

Most published history relating to Cherokee Indians is a general history beginning at or before 1700, leading up to and through the Chickamauga War and on to the 1838 Removal and the Trail of Tears. Then most writers turn their pens to the West. This website is focused on the Cherokees hidden away in the mountains of Western North Carolina from 1776 to the recognition of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians by Congress in 1866. Hence, it is a history of those who chose to remain. Our challenge is to identify the events in this history that were significant in what has been termed the ethno-genesis of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Qualla Boundary.

Nikwasi Mound









Artist's depiction of Nikwasi Mound around 1600.  The 1721 Barnwell map shows the connecting paths between the Middle  and Valley Towns.  When the Cherokees were forced from the Tuckasegee and Little Tennessee Rivers after the Treaties of 1817-19, the "Westward-Ho" land speculators identified Nikwasi as the future Franklin and the seat of government for the new county of Macon. Citizen Cherokees living all around the area were ejected from their homes. 

These black holes of history may be defined as two eras: the decade(s) immediately following the 1776 Rutherford-Williamson invasion that burned about 52 Cherokee towns and settlements.  New research shows that perhaps a dozen more military raids burned and looted the Middle, Out and Valley Towns over and over again. They paid bounties for scalps and larger bounties for Cherokee slaves. Later, with the land cleansed and purged by the sword and flame, these same ex-military leaders marched into Western North Carolina with land grants to themselves for hundreds of thousands of acres of Cherokee land.

While this was going on, the American nation at large was focused on the Chickamauga War in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia, Governor Blount of Tennessee and the relocation of the Cherokee capital at New Echota. The interior of the old Cherokee Nation, surrounded by rugged mountains, and laying along the Valley, Little Tennessee and Tuckasegee Rivers, is shrouded in historical darkness. From 1776 to 1794, with the eyes of the federal government looking in another direction, state-sanctioned, shadowy military operatives and vigilantes made raid after raid across the mountains into the Middle and Out Towns of the Cherokees. Most historians stop short with the well known account of the joint NC/SC Rutherford-Williamson Expedition of 1776 where 52 Cherokee towns and villages, orchards and crops were destroyed. The rest of the story is untold. Hundreds, if not more,  Cherokees likely died by starvation during the winter of 1776-77. This left the heart of the old Cherokee Nation vulnerable to repeated guerilla raids led primarily by John Sevier of Tennessee and Charles McDowell of North Carolina. The devastation of a decade of this military purging and near-simultaneous smallpox epidemic reduced the Cherokee population, resources and resistance to a bare minimum. North Carolina declared that they owned all Cherokee lands in the state by "right of conquest" and defied the Federal Government to make treaties with the Cherokees as if they were sovereign. Land speculators who became generals, colonels and privates during the war became land speculators again and the 1790s attest to the fact. The mountain Cherokees never recovered enough to do little more than appeal to the President of the United States that whites were violating the treaties and pouring over the North Carolina line into their lands. Because the white intruders settled over the line, the governed coerced the Indians with the Treaties of 1817-1819 to solve the problem by moving Indians out of the way of the illegals. Because the treaties allowed for Cherokees to become citizens who could remain, North Carolina ejected them and because American citizen Cherokees rights were violated, we have tens of thousands of documents including court records, testimonies, affidavits, claims, spoilations, surveys, settlements to fill in the second black hole of Eastern Cherokee history. 

It is the hope of Wild South, that some members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, students or otherwise, would become involved with sorting out the record and write their own story into this website. I know there are some young folks with technical skills who can get the maps, tours, essays, and graphics on this site ten-fold as fast as my aging self. 




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Over a thousand miles of Cherokee trails have been mapped across the region in and adjacent to Western North Carolina. The early Indian trails had evolved logically and inevitably, the result of thousands of years of Native Americans’ interactions with animals, tribal migration, relocations, population shifts, and lifestyle changes due to European contact and trade. They evolved within a landscape of obstacles and destinations, following corridors that combined efficiency with the path of least resistance. Geological features were the key factors that led to the establishment and development of village sites and trail locations. Dividing ridges, passes and gaps, springs, river shoals, shallows, waterfalls, fords, and valleys all determined where trails and sometimes even tribal boundaries were ultimately established. Travel routes formed along paths with good camping sites with springs, and natural shelters, such as rock overhangs along bluffs. Today, it is not uncommon to find abandoned Cherokee or pioneer roads that are ten or fifteen feet deep, reminiscent of the Natchez Trace in Tennessee and Mississippi. There are hundreds of remnants and many miles of preserved trails in the backwoods of the southern Appalachians. These historical corridors and trail remnants are being identified, mapped, recorded so that Cherokee geography can be preserved and take its place in the heritage of all Americans.

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