Gaduniha “Where They Have the Soil For Growing Things”

“My family has always grown corn, ever since I was little. They used corn for skinned corn – hominy, for cornmeal, bean bread, popcorn for wintertime by the fire. We’d listen to the stories and pop some corn…”
– Marie Junaluska

The Cherokee Middle Towns stretched along the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries from its headwaters to its passage through the Smokies – towns every few miles, surrounded by fields and connected by trails and by the river. Today one can explore the world of the Middle Towns by driving scenic highways, or by using some of the same means of travel used by the Cherokees a thousand years ago – walking the banks of the Little Tennessee River, or canoeing on it. The main interpretive centers for the area of the original Cherokee Middle Towns can be found at the Scottish Tartans Museum on Main Street in Franklin. The Scottish Tartans Museum also tells the story of the relationship between the Cherokee and early Scots traders and Scots-Irish settlers.

But the spiritual center for this area lies at the Nikwasi Mound, near the Little Tennessee River, now downtown Franklin. This mound still stands at something near its original height, unlike most other mounds throughout Cherokee country, which have been farmed down to ground level, or bulldozed for development, or excavated and their contents removed. The center of the Nikwasi Village, a “white” (peace) town, this mound once supported a townhouse in which the sacred fire burned constantly.

Sites in Franklin

Once the center of a thriving Cherokee village, the Nikwasi Mound now stands at the center of the town of Franklin. Not only has it escaped destruction by excavation, farming, and development, Nikwasi Mound remains something like its original size. Its stature can not be appreciated driving by on the street, because the level around the mound has been filled for modern construction. Only when one stands at its base can one appreciate the sheer bulk and graceful lines of this earthen construction, which was once even larger. Originally crowned with a large townhouse, this mound held the ever-burning sacred fire, and was the dwelling place of the immortal spirit-beings, the nunnehi. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians asks that visitors not climb the mound or walk on its top, in order to help preserve it.

Because the mound has not been excavated, no one knows its age, but its location among the Middle Towns makes it typical of sites from perhaps a thousand years ago or more. One of more than a dozen such villages strung along the banks of the Little Tennessee, Nikwasi was home to generations of Cherokee people, whose fields and orchards filled the bottom land around it.

Contact: Franklin Town Office 188 West Main St. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-2516

Contact: Macon Co. Historical Society, 6 East Main St. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-9758

Little Tennessee River GreenwayWithin sight of the Nikwasi Mound, about twenty-five yards east, the Little Tennessee River Greenway follows the river, passing through the Nikwasi village site, and passing near the Tasse village site upstream (south) about a mile. From the Nikwasi Mound, the greenway lies within easy walking distance, across the street and down North East Main Street. There parking space and a covered picnic shelter are available; the greenway, however, is closed to vehicles. Hiking and bicycling are permitted.

When completed, the Greenway will follow six miles of the Little Tennessee River, beginning at its confluence with Cartoogechaye Creek (Macon County Rec Park), passing the entrance of the Cullasaja River (junction of Depot St. and Wells Grove Rd.), and the entrance of Watauga Creek (near Lake Emory), all tributaries with village sites. Bridges cross the river as the greenway switches from bank to bank, often following the old trading path. The Greenway follows the high power transmission line recently completed by Nantahala Power & Light Company, now owned by Duke Power.

Contact: Barbara MacRae, Nantahala Power & Light Co. 1 NP&L Loop, Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 369-4500 x4525
Website for the Greenway:

The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center stands on East Main Street near where a Scots trader lived with the Cherokee in the early 1700’s. Many Cherokee women married Scots and English traders in the early 18th century, and many Cherokee leaders including Principal Chief John Ross were of Scottish descent (John’s father was Daniel Ross, and his grandfather was a MacDonald.) Today, some members of the Eastern Band claim Scottish ancestry also.

The Scottish Tartans Museum, a non-profit organization, serves as one of the interpretive centers for the Cherokee Heritage Trails. Its main exhibit presents the history of the tartan over the past two thousand years. Exhibit panels briefly tell the history of the Scots-Irish and early settlers in Macon County as well as the relationship of the Scots and the Cherokees. The earliest Scots in the area were traders among the Cherokees, and a display case with two full-size figures depicts this relationship.

Contact: Scottish Tartans Museum 95 East Main St. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-7472

Macon County Historical MuseumOne block from the Scottish Tartans Museum, down Main Street in Franklin, on Courthouse Square, a large bronze plaque on a brick monument tells the story of the battle of Etchoe. Although the battle took place about seven miles south of here, it is commemorated here as well as in North Carolina Historical markers closer to the site. Franklin’s town square also includes a marker noting William Bartram’s passage through this area.

Just down the street, on the same block, the Macon County Historical Society, preserver of Nikwasi Mound, has a small museum. Mostly dedicated to the history of white Appalachian settlers, the museum also has a collection of stone points and tools as well as a Bible in the Cherokee language.

Contact: Macon County Historical Society 36 West Main St. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-9758.

Side Trips

Wayah Bald rises to 5342 feet, named wolf, wa ya for the wolves that once lived on its slopes. Wayah Gap was called Atahita, “Where They Shouted.” All of Wayah was known to the Cherokee: their trails crossed it, their stories refer to it, their hunters used it, and their Middle Towns stood within sight of its distinctive shape on the skyline to the west. More than 11,000 years ago, hunters camped near the springs on its crest, leaving spear points behind.

Wayah, like numerous other mountains in the Southern Appalachians, had a bald near its crest. These resemble the open spaces that the Cherokee kept cleared near their villages to attract game. Their legends say that the nunnehi, the immortal spirit beings, kept these balds cleared on the high peaks so that the eagles could catch rabbits. Scientists have no explanation for the existence of the balds, but over the past 200 years, since the Cherokee Removal, and with the closing of open range and the suppression of fire, the balds have begun to grow over.

Contact: U.S. Forest Service Wayah District 90 Sloane Rd. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-6441

Approach to Standing IndianStanding Indian, Yvwi tsulenv-yi, encompasses the headwaters of the Nantahala River in a horseshoe-shaped basin whose two sides are formed by the 5,000 foot peaks of the Nantahala and Blue Ridge Mountains. Still rich in game, with bear, deer and wild turkey, this area was known to and used by Cherokees of the Middle Towns, although they left few signs of their occupation. Cherokee people today come here to gather ramps in the spring, and some consider this a sacred site.

Its original Cherokee name means, “Where the man stood,” Yvwi tsulenv-yi, which refers to a stone formation shaped like a man that once stood on the side of the mountain. At some point, this formation broke, leaving only the bottom of the form. It can be seen among other rock outcroppings by hiking up Kimsey Creek Trail and then taking the trail to the top of the ridge.

Contact: U.S. Forest Service Wayah District 90 Sloane Rd. Franklin NC 28734
Phone: 828 524-6441

Bridal Veil FallsIn Cherokee language, Cullasaja means sweet; that name may have described the taste of the water in this river, or the beauty of its waterfalls. Cherokee settlements here included Sugar Town and Honey Locust place. From Franklin one can travel through the Cullasaja Gorge, with the option of stopping to walk behind waterfalls, before finally reaching Whiteside Mountain, legendary home of the Cherokee monster Spearfinger. Between Franklin and Highlands, the road ascends along the Cullasaja River, passing Cullasaja Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and Dry Falls. Cullasaja Falls drops spectacularly into the gorge, but care should be taken in stopping to look from the narrow road between the bluff and the drop-off. Farther up, Dry Falls can be viewed – a trail with safety rails leads behind the falls itself, whose sound fills its ravine. Bridal Veil Falls drops like sheer lace from an outcropping that hangs out over the old road, creating a drive-through waterfall.

In Cherokee stories, waterfalls can be doorways to other worlds: the world of the nunnehi, (the Immortals), or the world of the little people. And water itself is respected as the Long Man, with his head in the mountains and his feet in the sea. The sacred ritual of going to water provides physical and spiritual cleansing prior to ceremonies or ball games, as well as renewal for daily life. Cherokee traditions prohibited putting anything unclean in the water, including any human waste. Several years ago, local groups tried to prevent the town of Highlands from discharging their sewage into the Cullasaja, but failed. Their protest signs still stand along the highway and river.

Contact: Highlands Ranger District U.S. Forest Service 2010 Flat Mountain Rd. Highlands NC 28741
Phone: 828 526-3765

Scenic Drives

The first of the scenic drives through the Middle Towns begins in Franklin, going south along the Little Tennessee River to Dillard, Georgia, where the southernmost of the Middle Towns was located. Beginning with Nikwasi, one passes the location of a former town at the entrance of the Cullasaja. Another at the entrance of Cartoogechaye Creek, one near Otto. One near Coweeta Creek, and finally one near Dillard. This route also traces the route of the Grant and Montgomery expeditions and their battle sites. Highway 441 basically follows the old trail along the west side of the river. Vestigal stands of river cane survive near these village sites and can be seen lining the banks of the Little Tennessee in pastures along 441 south.

From the Nikwasi Mound or downtown Franklin, turn south on Depot St. At the intersection of Depot Street and Wells Grove Road, turn left and proceed on Wells Grove Road. The town of Tasse, according to the Grant expedition, lay somewhere near the confluence of the Little Tennessee River and the Cullasaja River, which Wells Grove Road crosses here. The actual location of the town may have been closer to the present location of Macon Middle School, a mile or so farther down Wells Grove Road, where many artifacts were found in the fields and where students tell stories of Indian ghosts in the school. Turn around on Wells Grove Road and proceed back towards town.

Contact: Interpretive centers at Welcome Center and Scottish Tartans Museum

Site of Cowee VillageThis scenic drive from Franklin north on Rt. 28 follows the Little Tennessee River and passes some of the town sites associated with it: Nikwasi, Watauga, Iotla, Burning Town, Cowee, and Coweetchee. The Cowee area has just been designated a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and includes historic buildings and the West farm mill as well as the original Cowee village area.

From the Nikwasi Mound, proceed west on North East Main St. to the second stoplight and turn right on Riverview Street. Follow this winding street for a good view of the river, from its west bank, and access to the northern terminus of the Little Tennessee Greenway. In just a mile or so, this street joins Rt. 28 at a yield sign. Proceeding north (straight) on 28, a North Carolina historical marker describes one of the battle sites, which is actually located on 441 south. The Macon County Airport, located a few miles off of Rt. 28, stands on the site of the old Iotla village. The Burningtown village was located several miles beyond here, giving its name to the present-day communities of Upper Burningtown, Middle Burningtown, and Lower Burningtown.

Contact: Cowee National Historic District

This scenic drive begins at Nikwasi and passes old village sites to the west and then to the north over Wayah: [****by industrial park], Cartoogechaye, Neohee (Sandtown), Aquone, the Appletree camp, and Briartown. Cherokee people and their ancestors frequented or lived at these sites from 11,000 years ago until the present day.

Travel west from Nikwasi on Business 441 to its intersection with Rt. 64, then take 64 west, a four-lane highway with pink dogwoods and euonymous planted in the median. Just a few miles from town, the Macon County Industrial Park, on the left, covers the site of a village dating to 250 AD where mica was mined and prepared for trade. Mica from this site has been identified in burials in the Hopewell Mounds (in present-day Ohio.)

Connect to Murphy on Rt. 64

From Franklin, a scenic drive on route 64 connects to Hayesville and Murphy. The road passes former Cherokee village sites of Cartoogechaye, and Sandtown, and ascends Winding Stair Gap. At the top of the gap a parking lot connects with the Appalachian Trail, provides a scenic overlook, and has drinking water running from a mountain spring. The road stays on high ground past Rainbow Springs (the entry road to Standing Indian) and on to Chunky Gal Gap before descending into the watershed of the Hiwassee River at Shooting Creek.

The name of Chunky Gal Gap refers not to a woman of ample proportions, but one named for the traditional Cherokee game, which required a smooth open area. Called gatayusti, by the Cherokees, it was known to the whites by its Creek name, chunkey. Shooting Creek’s name, Du stayalv-yi, refers not to a gun battle, but to “Where it made a noise like thunder or shooting” according to James Mooney.