“Friends and Fellow Citizens, We have met again in Gen. Council and greeted each other in friendship; for the enjoyment of this inestimable privilege on the present occasion, we are peculiarly indebted to the dispensations of an all wise Providence, whose omniscient power over the events of human affairs is supreme, and by whose judgements the fate of Nations is sealed.”
-John Ross, opening the last Cherokee National Council meeting, Red Clay, 1837

The visitors center at Red Clay illuminates nineteenth century Cherokee life in the early republic and details the federal removal policy and the 1838 military removal of Cherokees from eastern Tennessee. “The Cherokee Days” festival in August brings members of the Eastern Band here to demonstrate crafts and perform.

The Red Clay hub also provides access to nearby sites in the Chattanooga area: Ross’ Landing and the Brainerd Cemetery. At Ross’s Landing, Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross and his brother Lewis maintained a ferry and warehouse that became one of three major emigration depots during the Trail of Tears. Just downstream, Moccasin Bend, a National Landmark site, was important during the Civil War, the Trail of Tears, Dragging Canoe’s campaigns, and has been used by people for more than ten thousand years. Brainerd Cemetery remains witness to the mission and school of the same name.

Sites in Red Clay

Symbolic handshakeThis state historic area has been developed to preserve and commemorate the council grounds that served as the defacto capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1832 until 1837. The 260-acre park includes an interpretive center, reconstructions of the council building and a Cherokee farmstead, hiking trails, a picnic area, an overlook tower, and a 500-seat amphitheater. The focal point of the Red Clay park is the Council Spring, a large blue spring that issues more than a half-million gallons of water a day. In the early nineteenth century, the Council Spring was located in the midst of a dispersed community of Cherokee farmsteads known as Red Clay or Elawohdi, home to Charles Renatus Hicks, assistant principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. Beginning in 1816, Hicks hosted a series of national council meetings at Red Clay, establishing precedent for its later use. These general councils were often huge affairs; thousands of Cherokee citizens attended sessions and socialized at meetings that lasted days or weeks.

Visitors to the last capital of the Cherokee Nation in the east can learn more about Red Clay and its role in nineteenth century Cherokee life at the James F. Corn Interpretive Center. The center features a brief video presentation that details the Cherokee Nation’s struggle for its homeland and eventual forced removal to the west. The military removal and subsequent Trail of Tears emigration are also depicted by a series of stained glass images in a new addition that overlooks the Council Spring area. Interpretive exhibits in the center describe nineteenth century Cherokee government, economy, recreation, and religion; these exhibits vividly depict Cherokee assimilation of western lifeways and the cultural pluralism of Cherokee society.

Contact: Red Clay State Historic Park, 1140 Red Clay Park Road, SW, Cleveland, TN 37311
Phone: (423) 478-0339

Sites Near Red Clay

The modern city of Chattanooga grew up around a busy Cherokee river port known as Ross’s Landing. In 1815, Cherokee entrepreneur and future chief John Ross, and his business partner, Timothy Meigs, established a landing, ferry, and warehouse on the bluffs of the Tennessee River to take advantage of the traffic that plied the waters between the Cherokee Nation and the state of Tennessee. Flatboats, keelboats, and later, steamboats, unloaded their cargoes at Ross’s; teamsters with wagons hauled these mercantile goods to stores throughout the western portion of the Cherokee Nation. After Meigs died in 1817, Lewis Ross entered the thriving business, and the Ross brothers grew wealthy as merchants with commercial interests in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Ross’s Landing is now the centerpiece of Chattanooga’s revitalized downtown waterfront. Ross’s Landing Plaza, an urban park surrounding the Tennessee Aquarium, features a walkway with inscriptions of historic quotations by and about Cherokee people. The words of leaders such as The Old Tassel, The Dragging Canoe, and John Ross chronicle the Cherokees’ struggle to preserve their homeland against inexorable American expansion. The actual landing is submerged beneath the waters of Nickajack Lake between the Walnut Street and Market Street bridges; visitors can reach this waterfront via pedestrian walkways leading from the Market Street Bridge. Near the riverbank stands a bronze monument to the meteoric rise and tragic downfall of the Cherokee Nation in the east.

Contact: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, 1001 Market Street
Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402-2690
Phone: (423) 756-2121
E-mail: info@chattanooga-chamber.com

Northeast of Chattanooga, at the northern edge of the Eastgate Mall parking lot, stands the shady, wrought-iron-fenced Brainerd Cemetery, the last physical trace of a Congregationalist (Presbyterian) mission to the Cherokees that operated between 1817 and 1838. Within the fence are dozens of graves, some marked, most unmarked, of the Cherokee students and their white instructors who died in the service of Brainerd Mission. Among the graves is that of John Arch (Atsi), a celebrated Cherokee convert, teacher, and interpreter who walked from the remote mountains of North Carolina to become part of the Brainerd Mission family.

Contact: Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, 1001 Market Street Chattanooga, Tennessee 37402-2690
Phone: (423) 756-2121
E-mail: info@chattanooga-chamber.com

Cherokee Removal Memorial Park

New exhibits, deck over the ferry site at the river, and memorial in granite with maps and names.

Contact: Cherokee Removal Memorial Park at Blythe’s Ferry
6800 Blyth Ferry Lane, Birchwood, TN 37308

Phone: 423 339 2769
Website: www.cherokee.removal.org

Side Trips

Ocoee Whitewater CenterThe OWC marries the best of the natural and artificial worlds.  A sleepy river set in a lush, rocky river gorge, this section of the Ocoee was carefully modified into a channel to enhance its rapids.  During the 1996 Summer Olympics, the Ocoee Whitewater Center opened its doors as a premier whitewater venue for athletes from all over the world.

Now you can enjoy a wide variety of activities at the Center such as: hike or bike historic or forest trails, play in the water, picnic along the river, stroll through the native gardens and walkways.

Scenic Drive

Nancy Ward gravesiteNancy Ward, the famed Beloved Woman of Chota, rests in a small hilltop cemetery overlooking the Ocoee River, where U.S. Highway 411 crosses near the ancient ford of the Warrior’s Path and the old Federal Road. Ward, an important councillor and diplomat for the Cherokee Nation, spent her last days at a nearby inn within sight of this cemetery. During her long life (ca. 1738 – 1822), Ward witnessed profound changes in Cherokee culture, and was herself both innovator and conservator of Cherokee tradition. Oral tradition indicates that Nancy Ward was born in the Overhill settlement of Chota around 1738, a niece of the ascendant leader Attakullakulla. She married Kingfisher (Tsula) around 1752, and bore two children before Kingfisher was killed in the 1755 battle of Taliwa against the Creeks. She was with Kingfisher when he fell, and picked up his gun to continue the fight until the Cherokees had won a decisive victory. For her courage and tenacity, she was awarded the title of “War-Woman,” a distinction that gave her an influential voice in the Chota council.

Contact: Hiwassee River State Park, Spring Creek Road P.O. Box 5, Delano, TN 37325
Phone: (423) 263-0080

Contact: Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association, P.O. Box 143, L. & N Depot, Etowah, TN 37331
Phone:(423) 263-7232