“Years ago, during the time when the whites were coming into this country, things were hard for the Cherokee…”
–Lloyd Sequoyah, 1978, from his testimony at hearings on the building of Tellico Dam

This legend foretells the survival of the Cherokee people, and so it is no surprise that it is located at Old Echota, one of the three original Cherokee mother towns, where the sacred fire burned. Although Old Echota and several Overhill towns have been submerged under Tellico Lake, as has the village of Tugaloo, the location of the sacred fire for the Lower Town; but the Cherokee people still survive and are preserving Kituwah, located in western North Carolina near the town of Cherokee.

Cherokee Heritage Trails in Tennessee bear a markedly different character from those in North Carolina. Because Tennessee has no contemporary Cherokee communities, the living Cherokee heritage is not well represented, although a number of venues offer works by Cherokee artists and crafts people, and periodically scheduled events present Cherokee performers. Neither is the eastern Tennessee landscape well represented in traditional Cherokee stories, many of which derive from the Eastern Band and focus on locales in the North Carolina mountains.

Sites in Vonore

Sequoyah Birthplace MuseumThe Sequoyah Birthplace Museum provides an excellent interpretive overview of Overhill Cherokee history, culture, and archaeology, and visitors to the Cherokee Heritage Trail should consider the museum a prerequisite point of departure for touring the Overhill Cherokee landscape of eastern Tennessee.

The museum, owned and operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, is situated on the south end of a 500-acre island created by Tellico Lake. In addition to the museum, the 47-acre complex includes a 300-seat amphitheater, a seven-sided open air pavilion, and picnic tables for visitors’ use. From the museum, a 150-yard pathway leads southwest across a field to a grassy mound that serves as a mausoleum for the remains of Cherokees exhumed from the town sites excavated for Tellico Lake; visitors may pay their respects to generations of Cherokees who lived and died in the lower Little Tennessee River Valley.

Contact information: The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum
576 TN-360
Vonore, TN 37885
Phone: (865) 884-6246

Website: www.sequoyahmuseum.org

Reenactors at Fort Loudoun

“The great King George has ordered his children, the Cherokees, and the English to love each other as Brothers and to live together as one people…”

— Capt. Raymond Demere, commander of Fort Loudoun, 1757

After leaving the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, visitors should tour nearby Fort Loudoun State Historic Park to become further acquainted with Anglo-Cherokee relations, diplomacy, and trade in the mid-eighteenth century. The state park, which fronts on the former Little Tennessee River channel, shares Great Island with Sequoyah Birthplace Museum, and is located approximately one mile to the northeast. The park features a reconstruction of Fort Loudoun, a state-maintained visitor’s center with well developed interpretive exhibits, walking trails, a large picnic area, and access to Tellico Lake.

Fort Loudoun (1756–1760), the first British military outpost west of the southern Appalachians, was founded at the request of pro-British Cherokee factions at Chota, who needed the fort and garrison to deter raiding on the Overhill towns by French allied Indians, to regulate trade and police unscrupulous traders, and to discourage French sentiment in some Overhill towns. The British considered the fort a much needed outpost against the French and “a strong curb upon the Upper Cherokees.” Although relations between the Overhill Cherokees and the South Carolina colonial troops were initially amicable, the situation gradually deteriorated, and the Cherokees laid siege to the fort at the outset of the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760–61. The garrison surrendered after a long siege, under terms that allowed their return to South Carolina, but Cherokee warriors ambushed the garrison about 15 miles south of the fort, killing 25 men in retaliation for the earlier killing of Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George. After the surrender, the Cherokee warriors sacked the fort, and a number of Cherokee families moved in. When they abandoned the grounds after nearly a year, local Cherokees burned the fort, a reminder of the British military presence in their heartland.

Contact: Fort Loudoun State Historic Area
338 Fort Loudoun Road
Vonore, TN 37885
Phone: (865) 884-2287

Across the lake from Fort Loudoun is the site of Tellico Blockhouse, a fort built in 1794 by the U.S. government to preserve the fragile peace between the Cherokees and white Americans. Stone foundations of fort building exposed by archaeological investigations during the 1970s have been stabilized for public visitation and the former wooden fortification walls are now represented by a low enclosure of corseted pilings. Interpretive exhibits interspersed among these ruins tell the story of the Tellico Blockhouse and its role maintaining order along the Cherokee frontier and promoting the “civilization” policy of the U.S. government. Visitors to the site can wander among the foundations and look across the river toward the old Cherokee Nation.

From 1794 until 1806, Federal troops garrisoned at the Tellico Blockhouse guarded the northern Cherokee frontier against encroachment and attack by local white militia and posses. It was here at Tellico Blockhouse that the federal government initiated its new “civilization” program among the Cherokees, a plan to pacify Indian nations by transforming them into communities of yeoman farmers. Agents like Silas Dinsmoor and Return J. Meigs proffered farming equipment, spinning wheels, looms, and other goods to Cherokees throughout the nation, disbursing such wares from their office and warehouse at Tellico Blockhouse. The government also established a trading factory at Tellico, a store that provided goods to Cherokee customers at cost, a policy designed to wean the Cherokees from their trade with the British. Tellico Blockhouse also became a gateway into the Cherokee Nation; all travelers had to stop there to apply to the agent for passports before entering tribal lands. Visitors at Tellico included Louis-Philippe, the future king of France, and Moravian missionaries David Steiner and Abraham deSchweinitz (1799).

Contact: Superintendents Office
Fort Loudoun State Historic Area
338 Fort Loudoun Road
Vonore, TN 37885
Phone: (865) 884-2287

Sites Near Vonore

To reach the next town sites, Chota and Tanasi, continue southeast along TN 360 to the intersection with Pine Rd. (Monroe County Road 455) at Ballplay Creek, then travel Piney Flat Road (which becomes Rocky Hollow Road but remains County Road 455) southeast 6.8 miles to Bacon Ferry Road, a gravel road with signs directing visitors to the Chota and Tanasi memorials. Turn left on Bacon Ferry Road, which skirts the bend in the Little Tennessee River that was once home to Chota and Tanasi. The road passes the Tanasi memorial (at .8 miles) and ends in a cul-de-sac with parking lot at the pedestrian trail head to reach the Chota memorial.

Throughout much of the eighteenth century, the Overhill towns of Tanasi and, later, Chota, were recognized as “capitals” of the entire Cherokee Nation, beloved towns where Cherokees from all over the nation gathered for important national councils and religious events. The settlements were adjacent, and their intertwined history is complex. Tanasi (also written Tannassee, Tennessee, Tunasse, Tanassee, Tannassy, Tannassie, and Tennisse), which lends its name to the state and river, preceded Chota by decades as the Mother Town of the Overhill settlements and acknowledged capital of the nation. British colonial diplomats, like Col. George Chicken (1725) and Sir Alexander Cuming (1730), sought out Tanasi as the venue for negotiations with the tribe as a whole. On his mission to Overhill towns, Cuming obtained the “Crown of Tannassy, as an Emblem of universal Sovereignty over the whole Cherokee Nation,” along with three eagle tails and four scalps to present to King George II. as a purported gesture of Cherokee allegiance.

Contact information: The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum
P.O. Box 69, Citico Road
Vonore, TN 37885
Phone: (865) 884-6246

Side Trips

A brief, 45-minute drive northeast from Vonore on brings visitors to the regional center of Knoxville, where the Frank H. McClung Museum on the University of Tennessee campus features a new, permanent exhibition, Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee. This state-of-the art, comprehensive exhibition showcases 65 years of archaeological research by the University of Tennessee, and presents a detailed chronicle of native life in Tennessee (primarily eastern Tennessee) from the end of the Ice Age to modern times. The 3,200-square-foot exhibit hall is dominated by dramatic, life-sized murals by famed muralist Greg Harlin; these vignettes depict native life during the Paleo-Indian, Archaic, Woodland, Mississippian, and historic era Cherokee culture periods. The exhibits combine artifacts, images, and text to examine the changing lifeways of native peoples. The exhibit space is multi-tiered, with ramps and platforms defining different themes. Glass covered cases at floor level recreate excavated archaeological contexts such as a rock-filled fire hearth and an Archaic period dog burial. Pull-out study drawers allow visitors to learn more about particular types of artifacts and topics such as plant domestication, cave art, and mound building. A scale model of the 600-year-old village of Toqua can be explored with a fiber optic key. An education area in the center of the gallery presents five hands-on interactive exhibits where visitors can learn more about archaeology. This open space is also used in docent-led school group instruction.

The archaeological collections of McClung Museum are renowned, and the new exhibit features some of the most impressive examples of native art and craftsmanship in the eastern United States. The engraved shell gorgets, copper work, elaborate tobacco pipes, effigy vessels, and sandstone statues are fascinating for their aesthetic value as well as their cultural meanings. The Duck River cache of eccentric chipped stone objects from the Mississippian period and a 32.5-foot-long dugout canoe dating to 1797 are particularly noteworthy.

Contact: Frank H. McClung Museum
1327 Circle Park Drive
Knoxville, TN 37996
Phone: (865) 974-2144

Website: www.mcclungmuseum.utk.edu

Statue on the plaza at the Treaty of Holston Park in Knoxville

While in Knoxville, visit the site of the Treaty of Holston Park on the newly developed Knoxville Riverfront on the Tennessee River, a place the Cherokees once knew as Kuwohi, the Mulberry Place. Here, a new statue commemorates the 1791 signing of the Treaty of Holston between the Cherokee Nation and the United States government, an agreement that laid the foundation for relations between the Cherokees and the new federal government. This landmark treaty established the “civilization” program, an early federal policy for pacifying hostile tribes by encouraging farming and settled life.

The treaty ceded a large tract of Cherokee land (including present-day Knoxville) and was generally disadvantageous to the Cherokees, who felt that they had been duped by Governor William Blount, whom they knew as “The Dirt Captain.” The agreement barely stemmed white encroachment on Cherokee land; frontier violence between whites and Cherokees continued unabated, and a lasting peace was not concluded for three more years.

Contact: Public Affairs Office
City-County Building
Knoxville, TN 37901
Phone: (865) 215-2065

Scenic Drives

Cherokee town of TuskeegeeAfter visiting the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and Fort Loudoun, heritage trail guests are invited to tour the landscapes of the Overhill country by driving a 75-mile circuit that skirts many of the old town sites in the Little Tennessee, Tellico, and Hiwassee river valleys. This driving tour is designed to follow eighteenth century trails as closely as possible, routing visitors through the same hills and valleys that Attakullakulla, Oconostota, Nancy Ward, and thousands of other Overhill Cherokees traversed in their daily lives. Although the Anglo-American occupants of this landscape have wrought many changes over the past 180 years, much of the countryside retains a very rural character that harkens back to the heyday of the Overhill Cherokees and invites travelers to see the land as wayfarers did in the eighteenth century.

The complete circuit, from Vonore to the Hiwassee River and back, requires about two and a half hours of driving; this tour can be cut short at several junctures with access points to major highways. Many of the sites in this tour are located on private lands; these invite roadside viewing but not physical access. Most of the locations are currently unmarked and have no on-site interpretation, but their settings speak volumes about the Overhill world.

Brett Riggs supervising excavations at the Burnt Stand site

“I left Fort Butler on the 19th in charge of 800 Cherokees. I had not an officer along to assist me, and only my own company as a guard…”

— Capt. L.B. Webster, June 28, 1838.

Just as our modern communities, states, and regions are integrated by the interstate highway system, the old Cherokee Nation was interconnected by a network of trails that linked town settlements. For Cherokee villages, these foot trails were conduits to the outside world; people, goods, and information moved constantly over the trail system. In traveling the Cherokee Heritage Trail, visitors follow many ancient pathways that have been supplanted by modern roads. Seldom are these native paths discernible; recent development and road building have obliterated all vestiges of most Cherokee trails. However, much of the Unicoi Turnpike path, one of the main arteries of the Cherokee trail system, can still be retraced across southeastern Tennessee, southwestern North Carolina, and northeastern Georgia. Major segments of this trans-Appalachian route, which was developed as a commercial wagon road in the early nineteenth century, survive intact on national forest lands, and can be experienced by driving and hiking between the heritage trail interpretive hubs at Vonore, Tennessee, and Murphy, North Carolina.

During the eighteenth century, British travelers referred to the Unicoi Turnpike route as the “Tellico Path,” the “Overhill Trading Path,” or simply, the “great trading path.” This ancient route spanned the Cherokee Nation, connecting the Lower Towns in the foothills of South Carolina and Georgia with the Overhill settlements of eastern Tennessee. European traders, soldiers, and diplomats from the Carolina coast who plied this path entered the Cherokee back country along the north side of the Savannah River in South Carolina. The northern branch of the trail passed through the Lower towns of Keowee (now Lake Keowee, S.C.) and Oconee, crossed Oconee Mountain, and passed through Chattooga Town (where U.S. Highway 28 crosses Chattooga River). From the Chattooga River, the trail ascended Warwoman Creek, then descended Tuckaleechee Creek to Stecoah Old Town, near present-day Clayton, Georgia. Here, the path was joined by a southern branch, which ran through the Lower towns of Tugalo (now Lake Hartwell, near Toccoa, Georgia) and Tallulah to Stecoah. The area around Clayton is still known as “The Dividings,” a place where paths join and diverge.

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