“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.