“The land to me is very sacred, and we should all think of it as being sacred – any land, all land out there…”
– Marie Junaluska

Cherokee and the Qualla Boundary provide a unique opportunity to visit Cherokee people where they live, work, and raise their families. In this nation-within-a nation, about nine thousand members of the Eastern Band maintain their culture and their communities on a small remnant of their ancestral homelands. Despite entrance signs and a North Carolina historical highway marker describing this as the “Cherokee Indian Reservation,” this land is not a reservation because the Cherokee people themselves own the land, about sixty thousand acres that the federal government holds in trust.

When you visit the town of Cherokee, you will find tribal members working as bankers, business owners, managers, police officers, EMT’s, schoolteachers, nurses, homemakers, and clerks, as well as basket makers and storytellers. Day by day they continue to balance modern life with Cherokee traditions. Many individuals dedicate their lives to carrying on Cherokee traditions and passing them to the next generation. The whole community remains close-knit despite the presence of millions of visitors every year from fifty U.S. states and dozens of foreign countries. In fact, the Cherokee community continues to welcome visitors – not just a legacy from century of tourism, but a heritage from the oldest Cherokee values: respecting differences and including outsiders…

For an in-depth look at each one of the interpretive centers along the Cherokee Heritage Trails, including complete articles and quotes, detailed information on all the historical sites, amazing full color photography depicting the land and its people, stories from many of the Cherokee Elders and much more about the wonderful Cherokee culture, make the Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook a part of your personal library.

Sites in Cherokee

The Museum of the Cherokee Indian, a non-profit organization located on the Qualla Boundary, tells the story of the Cherokee people and sets the scene for the Cherokee Heritage Trails. Here the Cherokee community presents its perspective on its own history and culture. The museum’s new high-tech exhibit, installed in 1998, takes the visitor from 11,000 years ago to the present. Cherokee people were involved in creating the exhibit: elders as well as scholars consulted on the script; life size figures were created from full-body casts of local people; and many of the voices in the audio portions of the exhibit come from tribal members. This new award-winning exhibit combines artifacts with interactive technology, special effects, and colorful graphics.

At the Cherokee Voices Festival in June, Cherokee people demonstrate crafts, tell stories, perform music, and do traditional dance. Elders who do not usually travel long distances to festivals often participate in this event. Throughout the summer and fall, Cherokee artists and crafts people exhibit and demonstrate inside the museum. Because of its arts activities, the museum has been designated a Primary Arts Organization by the North Carolina Arts Council. In addition to public events, the museum sponsors classes taught by Cherokee master artists for Cherokee youth and adults in order to help preserve and perpetuate the language, music, basket making, and other traditions…

Contact: Bo Taylor, Executive Director.
Museum of the Cherokee Indian, 589 Tsali Blvd. P.O. Box 1599 Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-3481 www.cherokeemuseum.org

The Qualla Arts and Crafts Co-op sells only the best quality crafts, hand-made with natural materials by Cherokee people. Here you will find meticulously made baskets, pottery, woodcarving, bead work, jewelry, dolls, blowguns, and other items. But the co-op is more than another crafts store. For more than fifty years, it has provided year-round income for Cherokee crafts people by buying crafts during the winter as well as during the summer tourist season. Profits are shared with all co-op members, who must be enrolled in the Eastern Band. The co-op has helped Cherokee traditions survive, and has held high standards for their quality. In the process, it has become one of the most successful Native American crafts cooperatives in the country.

In addition to the sales area, an exhibit room provides information on crafts traditions through displays of materials, photographs of the process of creation, and examples of work. The Qualla Co-op is a non-profit organization that has been active in supporting crafts throughout the region as a member of the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild and one of the founding members of Handmade in America. Its work and its members have been documented in three videos: “Cherokee Basketmakers,” “Cherokee Woodcarvers,” and “Cherokee Potters.”

Contact: Vicki Cruz, Director, Qualla Arts and Crafts, P.O. Box 310 Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-3101

Oconaluftee Indian VillageThe Oconaluftee Indian Village and Living History Museum portrays an eighteenth century Cherokee village on a large site on the mountainside above the town of Cherokee. Cherokee people demonstrate carving, weaving, pottery, dugout canoe making, flint knapping, blowgun making, and other traditional crafts as they would have been done in the 1700’s. They work in a setting of natural beauty and authentic reconstructions of Cherokee architecture. Expert guides lead you along the village’s paths, among streams and rhododendrons, taking you to houses constructed of woven saplings plastered with mud, early log cabins, and brush arbors. Their tour includes stops at a council house and dance grounds, where guides lecture on Cherokee history, culture, language, government, and traditions. When the hour-long tour is finished, you can also visit a nineteenth century cabin and Cherokee garden.

Delighting thousands of visitors annually, from kindergartners through senior citizens, “The Village,” as it is locally known, makes history come alive. Its interpretation of Cherokee culture by contemporary Cherokee people, is based on both scholarly research and Cherokee oral tradition.

Contact: Manager, Oconaluftee Indian Village Cherokee Historical Association, P.O. Box 398 Cherokee NC 28719.
Phone 828 497-2315 – May – October.
Phone 828 497-2111 – Off season .

In the middle of downtown Cherokee, the Oconaluftee Island Park has become a haven for walking, wading, picnicking, and just sitting by the river. All summer, children build dams and dikes of river stones out from the shore to make wading pools, and then the winter rains and spring floods wash the stones back to the shoreline, ready for another season of creative rock piling. In addition to the natural magic of water, sun, and river stones, this park has talking trees.

Created by the Eastern Band and the agricultural extension office, Talking Trees at Oconaluftee Island Park gives voice to the trees through audio installations on a walking trail around the island. The push of a button activates voices in Cherokee and English languages speaking for the black cherry, yellow poplar, Carolina silverbell, shortleaf pine, sycamore, butternut, red maple, flowering dogwood, and the river itself. Traditional Cherokee religion believes that all living things are our relatives and can speak to us in a spiritual sense. Here one can enjoy the stories of trees as well as walking, picnicking under the gazebo, or just sitting with one’s feet in the river.

Contact: Agricultural Extension Office, 876 Acquoni Rd. Cherokee NC 28719.
Phone: (828) 554-6931

Sites Near Cherokee

Mingo Falls

Mingo Falls, called Big Bear Falls in the Cherokee language, cascades two hundred feet nearly straight down past granite boulders and rhododendrons one of the most beautiful waterfalls of the mountains. But you must hike up to meet it—161 rough-hewn steps built along the rushing creek that descends from the falls. At the top of the stairway a short path leads to a bridge at the base of the falls, a safe place to stand and take in the sight. Cherokee people who live on the Qualla Boundary enjoy this waterfall as one of the beautiful places to visit on tribal land.

As you travel up Big Cove Road to Mingo Falls, you enter a part of the Qualla Boundary that is geographically remote, where people speak the Cherokee language a little differently, and where many of the old traditions are practiced. Kalvnyi, the Raven Place, as Big Cove is known in Cherokee, is a large watershed around Raven’s Fork and its tributaries. Big Cove’s remote woods and creeks have been home to some of the Eastern Band’s most respected tradition bearers, who have kept alive and passed on to succeeding generations the myths, songs, dances, and medicine formulae of the Cherokee.

Contact: Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, P.O., Box 455 Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-2771

Willliam Holland Thomas MarkerWilliam Holland Thomas Marker at Campground Cemetery

A white child whose father died before he was born, William Holland Thomas became the adopted son of Yonaguska and helped the Cherokees remain together as a tribe on their land in western North Carolina through Removal the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and after. He was known as Will Usdi, or Little Will because of his short stature, but his efforts played a large part in enabling the Eastern Band to continue to live in the mountains of western North Carolina as they do today. At Campground Cemetery, near the original location of Quallatown, a large granite marker commemorates this “friend and benefactor of the Cherokee people.”

Located at the corner of the Campground Cemetery, this marker symbolizes Thomas’ importance to the Cherokee, although his actual remains lie in the Hazelwood Cemetery in Haywood County. Many of Thomas’ papers and diaries, along with his portrait and his traveling trunk now belong to the Museum of the Cherokee Indian. Thomas helped the Cherokee to remain in North Carolina after the Trail of Tears and to acquire legal rights, serving as their representative from 1839 to 1867, a period in which the rights of Native people were not generally recognized. He also organized and led the Thomas Legion, made up of Cherokees and mountaineers, which fired the last shots of the Civil War in North Carolina.

Contact : Cherokee United Methodist Church P.O. Box 367 Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-2948 or 7274

Side Trips Around Cherokee

Kituhwa was the first Cherokee village, and the Kituhwa Mound was its center, according to Cherokee myth and legend and according to the beliefs of Cherokee people today. Bordered by the Tuckaseegee River and the low hills of the Smokies that rise all around it before giving way to the slopes of Thomas Ridge and Clingman’s Dome, the Kituhwa Village held the sacred fire. This place named the Cherokee people: Ani-Kituwagi was what they called themselves. While they also called themselves Ani-Yvwiya, the real people or principal people, and their neighbors used the word Chalaque, meaning people of the fire, the name of this particular place distinguished them as a people from all others.

Contact: Tribal Historic Preservation Office of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, P.O. Box 455, Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 554-6852

The Mountain Farm Museum depicts rural agricultural life in the Appalachians, and serves as the center for the National Park Service as you enter the Great Smoky Mountains National Park from the Cherokee side. Although presented as an Appalachian farm, it also represents Cherokee farms during the same period, 1820 – 1920. During the summer, living history demonstrations of farm life include some Cherokee people from the Qualla Boundary. A new walking trail along the Oconaluftee River connects the Mountain Farm Museum and the Qualla Boundary and provides interpretation on wayside signs about the cultural and spiritual significance of mountains for the Cherokee.

Situated in an open field below high hills, the farmstead includes a two-story log house from the 1840’s. The house is furnished, down to the leather britches (dried beans) hanging by the fireplace. Historic structures include a large barn, pig pens, corn cribs, split rail fence, drovers’ barn, and outbuildings. Inside the visitor center, a new hands-on Discovery Center allows visitors to explore the diversity of the mountain ecosystem.

Contact: Oconaluftee Visitors Center, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 150 Hwy. 441 North Cherokee NC 28719

Phone: 828 497-19o4.

According to Cherokee legend, the giant Judaculla jumped from his farm high on Tanasi to the creek below, landing on a rock. The scratches made by his landing can be seen today on “Judaculla Rock,” located on Caney Fork. The spirals, circles, squiggles, and figures carved into this large soapstone rock suggest maps, messages, and the iconography of legends, but have not been interpreted. The rock itself may have served as a source of soapstone for making bowls during the Archaic period, about five thousand years ago. The carvers who removed the bowl forms created the hollowed-out surface of the rock that now exists. Designs carved into the surface of the rock include crosses in circles, hands, spear throwers, and sun symbols that may come from the Mississippian period of Cherokee culture. (C. 900-1500 A.D.)

The rock itself lies among meadows and low hills on an ancient trail, with a spring nearby. Above Judaculla Rock, in the watershed drained by Caney Fork, several legendary sites associated with Judaculla mark the rough high country that separates the watersheds of the Tuckaseegee River and the Pigeon River. His farm was Judaculla Old Fields, about a hundred acres on the slope of Tennessee Bald that can be viewed from the Blue Ridge Parkway. Judaculla’s Dance Hall became known as Devil’s Courthouse. Beyond them, Looking Glass Rock and Pilot Knob are also associated with Judaculla in Cherokee stories.

Contact: Jackson County Administration Office 401 Grindstaff Cove Rd. Sylva NC 28779
Phone: 828 586-7580 (Judaculla Rock is owned and preserved by Jackson County.)

The Mountain Heritage Center of Western Carolina University sits on an old Cherokee town site on Cullowhee Creek, which drains into the Tuckaseegee. The village mound was located between the Mountain Heritage Center and the Continuing Education Building near Cullowhee Creek, which runs through campus.

At the Mountain Heritage Center, displays and exhibits feature Cherokee artifacts. Their permanent exhibit provides information on the origins of white Appalachian culture, “The Scots-Irish Migration.” Their annual festival, Mountain Heritage Day, attracts 40,000 people and regularly features some Cherokee craft demonstrators and performers. For more information on this event, see the end of this chapter. Western Carolina University offers a minor in Cherokee studies and maintains a satellite office on the Qualla Boundary.

Contact: Pam Meister, Director, Mountain Heritage Center Western Carolina University Cullowhee NC 28723
Phone: 828 227-7129
Website: http://www.wcu.edu

“Some men were working over in what we call Cataloochee now. A big storm came up lightning, thunder, rain, a big wind storm. And they saw it coming. It was coming fast, and they were looking for shelter…”
– Jerry Wolfe in a workshop to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park interpretive staff, 5/ 24/ 2001.

This high valley was used for hunting by the Cherokee and their ancestors and was home to them and to white Appalachian settlers before becoming part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934. Today, visitors can marvel at old growth trees on Boogerman Trail, can sight abundant wildlife, including newly-released elk, and can find still-standing Victorian houses and old country churches.

Peaks reaching beyond 5,000 feet high encircle this 10,000 acre valley: Cataloochee Divide, Balsam Mountains, Chiltoes Mountain, Spruce Mountain, and Mount Stirling. The streams of Caldwell Fork and Rough Fork drain into Cataloochee Creek at about 3,000 feet elevation at the lowest point of the valley. People lived here in small settlements as long as 5,000 years ago, and also stayed in hunting camps. White settlers lived here from 1830-1934, and some of their descendants still hold “homecomings” at the church in Cataloochee Valley.

Almost all of the Great Smoky Mountains were logged in the early twentieth century, but some pockets of old growth trees remain, such as the stand located up Boogerman Fork Trail. Today, under the management of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Cataloochee valley offers miles of trails for hiking and horseback riding, trout fishing, camping, and picknicking. It is a favorite area for local horseback riders. The only difficulty in visiting Cataloochee Valley is its rough access road – a one lane gravel road with switchbacks ascending Cataloochee Divide from the east. Roads within the park are both paved and gravel. On the way from Maggie Valley to Cataloochee Valley, the privately-owned Cataloochee Ranch offers accommodations, dining, horseback riding, outdoor recreation, and during the summer, evening sessions of Cherokee storytelling and dance.

Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 150 Hwy. 441 North Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-1940 Cataloochee Valley Ranger

Clingman's DomeKnown as Kuwahi or Mulberry Place to the Cherokee, this high peak was one of four mountain peaks under which the bears had their townhouses, where they would gather to dance before going to their dens to sleep for the winter. According to Cherokee mythology the Magic Lake was also located here – where sick and wounded bears would go for healing. To human eyes, however, the magic lake just looked like clouds filling the valleys from the vista of the mountaintop. When Removal threatened the Cherokee, these slopes became a refuge for those who hid in their rugged terrain. More importantly, however, this mountain was held sacred by the Cherokee. The legends say that at one time, medicine people came here to fast and pray, and they received instructions from the Creator on how to live. These instructions were brought down the mountain and given to the people at the village of Kituhwa.

Kuwahi became Clingman’s Dome, named for Thomas Clingman, senator from North Carolina, who in the mid-nineteenth century disputed with Edwin Mitchell the most accurate way to measure the height of mountains. Although the senator argued that another peak in the Black Mountains was highest, Clingman’s Dome, at 6,643 feet, is the highest peak in the Smokies, while Mt. Mitchell, in the Black Mountain Range east of Asheville, is the highest peak east of the Mississippi.

Contact: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 150 Hwy. 441 North Cherokee NC 28719
Phone: 828 497-1904

Scenic Drives

Graveyard Fields along Blue Ridge Parkway“I keep going back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s statement up on top of Clingman’s Dome area – it was actually Newfound Gap – but he looked out over the terrain and he said, “The savages have had this land for so long,” and he pointed out to the beautiful mountains and he said, “They’ve done nothing. And look what we have done in only a few years.” And he pointed down to this big gap that they’d cut into the mountainside…
– Freeman Owle

The Blue Ridge Parkway ends (or begins) in Cherokee. From here, you can “ride the ridges,” seeing the vistas of Cherokee territory from the Qualla Boundary to Mount Mitchell. But the Parkway offers more than vistas. Visit the home of the first man and woman in Cherokee mythology: Kanati and Selu at Shining Rock Wilderness, south of Cold Mountain. Stop at the Folk Art Center near Asheville to shop for Cherokee baskets and contemporary crafts. Climb Mount Mitchell, highest peak east of the Mississippi, called “Black Mountain” by the Cherokee.

As you travel the Parkway anywhere from middle Virginia south you can look out at the vistas and know that everything in sight was once Cherokee territory. The Cherokee trails followed the mountain ridges, in some cases near Parkway routes. The old Indian trails and buffalo migration trails also became the Appalachian Trail in some places. The Cherokee typically lived in villages along rivers and creeks at lower elevations than the Blue Ridge Parkway, but during the winter, Cherokee men made hunting camps on the higher elevations, much like people during the Paleo-Indian period eleven thousand years ago. In Saltville, Virginia, American Indian artifacts more than 14,000 years old have recently been discovered. (The antiquity of this location has been recognized for centuries, however; a mastodon tooth from this site was sent to President Thomas Jefferson.)

Contact: Blue Ridge Parkway, 199 Hemphill Knob Road, Asheville, NC 28803-8686
Phone: (828)298-0398 for visitor information