Coming Home

“I heard a council member once say that the only difference between the Eastern Band and the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma is a thousand miles and a hundred and sixty years. And it is a pretty good statement to me…”
– Tom Belt, member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma

In Murphy, the “Leech Place” of Cherokee lore, the Cherokee Heritage Trails interpretive center can be found at the Cherokee County Historical Museum. Outside stands a giant soapstone mud turtle, Saligugi, found in a quarry along the nearby Nottely River. Inside, displays and interpretation cover thousands of years of history along the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers and their tributaries.

This area – now Cherokee County and Clay County – in the heartland of the original Cherokee country, remained part of tribal lands until Removal, while surrounding land was ceded in treaties. Many displaced Cherokees from Georgia and North Carolina moved here in the early 1800’s, living in hastily constructed log cabins and swelling the population of the communities of Shooting Creek and the Valley Towns. Census records, spoliation claims, U.S. Army surveys, and present-day archaeology combine to draw a detailed picture of Cherokee life here prior to Removal.

Sites in Murphy

Cherokee County Historical MuseumThe Cherokee Heritage Trails interpretive center for the Murphy area is located in the Cherokee County Historical Museum, situated in downtown Murphy next to the Cherokee County courthouse. This non-profit museum, housed in a historic brick Carnegie library building, maintains extensive collections of prehistoric and historic era artifacts, as well as document collections important to the rich heritage of Cherokee County. Exhibits in the upstairs galleries include displays of seventeenth and eighteenth century Cherokee artifacts from Peachtree Mound and Village and other local sites. Displays of mid-nineteenth century farm and homestead equipment illuminate the lives of early white settlers in the area, while interspersed photographs chronicle the later nineteenth century and early twentieth century development of Murphy and Andrews. Photographic portraits of members of Murphy’s early African American community round out an image of Cherokee County’s unexpectedly diverse heritage.

The ground level floor of the museum houses exhibits that provide overviews of prehistoric era native culture and technology in the region. This part of the museum is a local center for the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and the Unicoi Turnpike National Millennium Flagship Trail; exhibits focus on presentation and interpretation of the Cherokee Trail of Tears and nineteenth century Cherokee life in the upper Hiwassee River Valley. These exhibits include a partial reconstruction of a Cherokee cabin interior from the 1830s, interpretations and maps of the Cherokee cultural landscape circa 1837-’38, and a treatment of local resistance against the military removal and the development of post-Removal Cherokee communities in the local area.

Contact : The Cherokee County Historical Museum, 87 Peachtree Street, Murphy, NC 28906
Phone: (828) 837-6792

Fort Butler, once located on a hilltop overlooking present-day Murphy, was headquarters for the Eastern Division of the U.S. Army of the Cherokee Nation during the forced removal of 1838. From mid- June through mid-July of that year, more than 3000 Cherokee prisoners from southwestern North Carolina and adjacent parts of Georgia passed through Fort Butler at the outset of the Trail of Tears. Although some Cherokee prisoners were incarcerated for as much as two weeks in the internment areas surrounding Fort Butler, most stayed at the fort only a few days before marching west along the Unicoi Turnpike toward the Cherokee Agency and “emigration depot” at Fort Cass, now Charleston. Tennessee.

The site of the fort, at the intersection of Cherokee and Fifth Streets near Riverside Drive in Murphy, North Carolina, is now privately owned and occupied by a large brick residence. Although substantially modified over the past 163 years, the site is still recognizable as the location that Lt. John C. Fremont sketched in 1837 (see figure [query: is this figure going to be included – ]). To gain Fremont’s perspective on the fort location and surrounding landscape, walk to the top of the hill at the intersection of Fifth and Hitchcock streets and look northwest-ward across the knoll toward downtown Murphy. Immediately downslope from the fort site, Cherokee Street follows the old Unicoi Turnpike alignment westward toward the internment camps of Tennessee and the new home of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
Contact: The Cherokee County Historical Museum, 87 Peachtree Street, Murphy, NC 28906
Phone: (828) 837-6792

Trail of Tears BasketMany of the Removal era sites in the Murphy area, such as Fort Butler, the Army encampments, Hunter’s Store and Ferry, the Unicoi Turnpike, Christie’s Ford and the Ned Christie farm, are brought together in a single interpretive context at the old L&N Depot, next to the Hiwassee River in Murphy. This Trail of Tears commemorative area features a series of outdoor interpretive panels along a short walkway that offers visitors vantage points of important sites clustered along the riverfront. The centerpiece of this riverside interpretive area is a low stone wall engraved with the names of more than 3,000 Cherokee citizens who passed through Fort Butler on the first leg of their 1838-1839 journey over the Trail of Tears. These names, in Sequoyan syllabary, are transcribed from signatures on an 1838 petition circulated by Cherokee councilman J.D. Wafford; this petition is the sole record of the names of all Cherokees, male and female, young and old, in the area.

Removal era sites are particularly clustered along the river near the L&N Depot because the area near the confluence of the Hiwassee and Valley rivers has long been a strategic hub for regional transportation and communication. Just below the confluence, the relatively broad valley of the Hiwassee constricts into a narrow gorge, and paths and roads traveling westward are forced from the level valley into rugged uplands. The state road from Franklin, N.C. to Murphy, constructed by Cherokee contractors in 1836-1837, crossed Christie’s Ford just below the L&N Depot to join the Unicoi Turnpike, once the main thoroughfare through the region. Slightly downstream, below the mouth of Valley River, travelers headed west on the turnpike could cross the Hiwassee on A.R.S. Hunter’s ferry (ca. 1832) or via a bridge that Cherokee contractors built for Hunter in 1837.

Sites Near Murphy

Rivercane basket by Eva WolfeThe John C. Campbell Folk School at Brasstown, North Carolina is located near the mouth of Little Brasstown Creek, in the heart of the old Cherokee community of Aquohee (English translation: Big Place). The school, founded by Olive Dame Campbell in 1925, offers a wide variety of programs in folk arts and traditional music and dance aimed to foster appreciation for the traditional cultures of Appalachia while promoting personal development. As part of its campus enhancement, the school is developing a 1.5 mile walkway on its property along Little Brasstown Creek; this Rivercane Walk is interspersed with trail side exhibits that relate the natural and cultural history of the lower Brasstown Creek Valley and the surrounding area. One theme of the trail relates to the rivercane that lines the creek’s margin. Cane, which figured prominently in traditional Cherokee architecture and is still used for traditional crafts such as basketry and blowgun manufacture, signifies the health of stream side environments in the southern mountains, and the folk school’s efforts to restore and rejuvenate Little Brasstown Creek are symbolized by return and spread of the canebrakes.

Exhibit panels along the Rivercane Walk present an annotated map of the 19th century Cherokee cultural landscape in the lower Brasstown Creek Valley and discuss the Aquohee community and the lifeways of its Cherokee inhabitants on the eve of the 1838 military removal. Featured topics are the Aquohee District, a Cherokee administrative area centered at a local townhouse; Situwakee, the Aquohee District judge and Removal era leader who lived nearby on Settawig Road, and the Unicoi Turnpike, which ran along Settawig Road and crossed Brasstown Creek just north of the folk school property. Panels also discuss Peter Oganaya’s Baptist church at Aquohee (now Brasstown), where troops gathered to arrest the congregation for removal. One panel discusses local petroglyph sites, where images engraved in stream side boulders depict spirals, crosses, hands, four-legged animals and water monsters, icons carved by local inhabitants hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Contact: John C. Campbell Folk School, One Folk School Road, Brasstown, North Carolina 28902
Phone: (828) 837-2775

Side Trips

Site of Quanassee Village with Spikeback MoundSome of the more important Cherokee sites accessible from the Murphy hub are located eastward along U.S. 64 on the route toward Hayesville and can be visited in an afternoon’s scenic drive through the Hiwassee River Valley. All of this landscape is permeated by Cherokee history; some of the key sites accessible from U.S. 64 east of Murphy are the Peachtree Mound and Village locality at Peachtree, the Valleytowns Baptist Mission site at Peachtree, and the Aquohee community area at Brasstown (visit the John C. Campbell Folk School). Farther east, at Hayesville, is the site of Fort Hembree (a Removal era military post), the Spikebuck Mound and Village site, and the Clay County Historical Arts Museum.

From Peachtree, N.C. southeastward through Hayesville, U.S. 64 follows the route of the eighteenth century trading path that stretched from Charlestown, S.C. to the Overhill settlements of Tennessee. East of the Hiwassee River bridge in Clay County, U.S. 64 also corresponds with the Unicoi Turnpike, traveling along Sweetwater Creek, and crossing Sweetwater Gap to descend into Hayesville.

Valleytowns Baptist Mission

Seven miles east of Murphy, U.S. Highway 64 crosses the old Valleytowns Baptist Mission Farm on the west side of the Hiwassee River near Peachtree, North Carolina. Here, in 1820, the American Baptist Foreign Mission Board founded a church, boarding school, and model farm to “civilize” and Christianize the Cherokees in the Aquohee District, the most remote and insular part of the Cherokee Nation. The missionaries built at old Aquonatuste town; a small community of Natchez Indians abandoned the site when the Baptists arrived.

When the mission opened its doors in November 1820, Cherokee parents from the surrounding region placed almost 50 children under the care of the Baptist teachers. The missionaries first attempted to teach school by English language total immersion, but most of the students were quickly disheartened by lessons in an alien tongue. The teachers, particularly Evan Jones, resolved to learn the Cherokee language and conduct the school in the best interest of the monolingual, full-blood Cherokee population. Through use of the Sequoyan syllabary as a primary teaching tool, the Valleytowns Baptist Mission school became the most successful and popular of the Protestant mission schools to operate in the Cherokee Nation.

Contact: The Cherokee County Historical Museum, 87 Peachtree Street, Murphy, NC 28906
Phone: (828) 837-6792

The site of Fort Hembree, a Removal era U.S. Army facility, is located on Fort Hill on the western side of Hayesville (use 1838 Army map). The site fronts on Fort Hembree road, and occupies the much of the hilltop flat across the western half of Fort Hill. The fort site is privately owned and is not open for public visitation, but a roadside exhibit at the junction of Fort Hembree road and U.S. 64 provides visitors an opportunity to view the landscape from the ground.

The U.S. Army founded Fort Hembree in 1837 as part of its preparation for the forced removal of the Cherokee people from southwestern North Carolina. The hilltop location commands the basin area formed by Town and Blair creeks and gave the army easy access to densely populated communities of Tusquittee and Shooting Creek. The fort also controlled the Unicoi Turnpike, and guaranteed the Army of the Cherokee Nation its primary line of supply and communication.

Contact: Clay County Historical Arts Council, P.O. Box 5, Hayesville, NC 28904.
Phone: (828) 389-6814 or (828) 837-6792

Clay County Historical and Arts Council MuseumThe Clay County Historical Arts Museum, located in the old county jail in Hayesville, North Carolina, features exhibits, recreated Cherokee dwellings, a walking trail to the Spikebuck Mound and Quanassee Town site, and a native botanical garden.
Exhibit panels detail the nineteenth century Cherokee landscape of Clay County, relate the role of Fort Hembree, and discuss the impact of the removal and Trail of Tears on the Cherokee people of Clay county. Artifact displays present materials recovered from excavations at the Spikebuck Village site, the old town seat of Quannassee; these reflect of the late prehistory and early history of the area that would become Hayesville. Other items exhibited in the museum, such as antique farm implements, a moonshine still, and an early telephone system represent the Anglo-American experience in Clay County.

Exhibit panels relate vignettes about the Cherokee inhabitants of the local area in the years leading up to the Cherokee removal. For instance, Judge Richard Walker, who lived west of Hayesville near Brasstown Creek, served as justice for the Cherokee Supreme Court. Walker, a full-blood reared by white adoptive parents, was an English literate planter and entrepreneur who owned extensive properties outside the Cherokee Nation. Walker, an early patron of the Baptist Mission, is immortalized by Walker Branch, a tributary of Brasstown Creek. Account records from Hyatt and Love’s Store at Hayesville are illustrated on one panel. These records list local Cherokee customers and their purchases; the accounts survive as part of a settlement in a business scam that one of the partners attempted- the other partner harassed Cherokee debtors for years. Another panel discusses the origins of local place names and their relations to the pre-Removal Cherokee communities of the Hayesville area. For instance, Blair Creek is named for George Blair, a Cherokee planter deported to Oklahoma in 1838; Downing Creek and Jack Rabbit Mountain are named for individuals (Richard Downing and Jack Rabbit) who managed to avoid removal.

Contact: Clay County Historical Arts Council, 21 Davis Loop, Hayesville, NC 28904.
Phone: (828) 389-6814


Scenic Drive

Today, visitors can tour the old Valley Towns with a scenic 20-minute drive through the center of the valley along U.S. 19/ 74 from Murphy to Andrews. More leisurely drives are afforded by the older parallel roads that run along the valley’s margins, such as the old Marble/ Coalville Road on the northwestern side of the valley or Fairview Road on the southeastern side. From the Cherokee County Historical Museum, follow Peachtree Street southward to the intersection with U.S. 64 and U.S. 19/ 74, then turn left on U.S. 19/ 74 toward Andrews and proceed northeastward.
This was once the primary commercial route through the region before the construction of the Unicoi Turnpike shifted traffic to the mouth of the Valley River.