Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians

cherokee crestAs I have been writing about various locations, cities, restaurants and other touristy concepts in the Smoky Mountains area, one thing that I have realized that I have not focused on is the people that inhabited the area before the European settlers moved in. To that end, let’s talk about the Native Americans that dominated both sides of the mountains in the pre-pioneer days: the Cherokee Indians.  I will attempt to build a very brief history of the people.  Obviously, in the space of this article I am not going to touch on everything that is interesting, remarkable and culturally relevant about the Cherokee people but I hope that it spurs you on to go read more about them.

Before the English settlers first made their appearance on the scene, the people known as the Cherokee, or the Tsalagi as they call themselves, had an established culture and society.  They were hunter gathers but they also had a very advanced economic and political structure.  At their height, they took in parts of 7 southern states and they numbered over 150,000 people.  Their economy included trade routes that reached out to Native American tribes on the coast of North Carolina and even included reaching out to the first Europeans in the area, which came with DeSoto.

With the incursion of European people into the area, whether they were traders, trappers, explorers or settlers, the Cherokee way of life began to change.  The Cherokee lifestyle was governed by everyone, the women of the tribes appointed the leaders who ran the seven clans.  The women also controlled marriage and property while the men were in charge of educating the children.  The Cherokee chose to change their society and adapt some of the European ways as a chance to coexist with the new people that were moving to the area.  This was the Cherokee means of survival.  During this time of acculturation, the Cherokee adopted a very English way of educating their young and they taught their people English so that they could further their contact and interactions with their new neighbors.  By the time that the 1800s rolled around, the Cherokee had adopted a written constitution and they had establish boundaries to their lands, schools and they had even accepted the Christian missionaries into their communities.

ebci signThe start of the downfall of the Cherokee people was the passing of the Removal Act of 1830.  When President Andrew Jackson signed the Removal Act, the Cherokee people, 20,000 of them were forced to leave their tribal lands in North Carolina and walk, along the Trail of Tears, to reservation land in Oklahoma.  Only 16,000 of those 20,000 that started the walk, survived the journey westward.  You would think that this would have been the end to the Cherokee Indians in North Carolina, but a small group stayed behind, defying the US Government.

The Reservation Act of 1819 and the fact that some of the Cherokee evaded the army, left this small group landless but looking for a way to stay on their lands.  Will Thomas, an adopted Cherokee, started buying land using these displaced people money, seeing as the Cherokee could not buy land.  Over time, the Cherokee formed a corporation to own the land and they became a thriving community.  Fast forward to now and the Qualla Boundary or the reservation that is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians is a destination in the Smokies and the heart of gaming in the Southern Appalachians.

Again, this is not a complete or even concise history of this amazing group of people.  If you want to have a much better understanding of the Cherokee and their history in the Smokies, then you might want to visit Cherokee, NC and experience many of the historical and cultural legacies of the Cherokee.

Newfound Gap Road Re-Opens Early Following January Landslide

Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC reopened Monday, April 15 following a three month closure. The road was closed due to a January landslide that washed away a 200-foot section of pavement.

Work on the road was actually completed a month ahead of time, and as a reward for finishing the job early, contractors Phillips and Jordan Inc. will receive a $500,000 bonus, funded by the National Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The contract awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Inc. in January, totaled nearly $4 million and included incentives totaling $8,000 per day that the project was completed ahead of the May deadline.

In re-constructing the damaged section of Newfound Gap Road, engineers installed pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.

Heavy rainfall and an underground stream combined to loosen thousands of tons of rock, soil and trees in January. It was estimated that 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and road slid 45 feet down the side of the mountain.

A subsurface spring underneath the road was believed to be the mitigating factor for the landslide, in addition to the heavy rain that had poured over the area for a number of days. Between Monday and Wednesday the week of January 14, nearly 8 inches of rain were said to have fallen in the area.

Appalachian Trail – A History

Appalachian Trail

A History

The Appalachian Trail is one of the big draws for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Conceived in the 20s, this brain child of Benton MacKaye had the first section established in 1923 and now it is one of the three big trails in the United States.  Starting in Georgia and ending in Maine, this 2,200 mile trek is one of the accomplishments that makes a Thru-Hiker drool.  The first part of the Appalachia Trail starts in Northern Georgia inside the Smokies and the most hiked portion of the Appalachian Trail is the 1.7 miles that starts at the Newfound Gap Trailhead.

at logo on trailThe Appalachian Trail, or AT as it had come to be known, was thought of by Benton MacKaye and fellow hiking enthusiasts in New England.  They had been kicking around the idea of a national trail, an eastern trail that would cover the beauty of the Appalachian mountains for years.  Trail blazing started in the north, with trees and trails being emblazoned with the familiar diamond shaped logo that still marks trails to this day. As the years progressed people got more and more into the idea of a trail that covered most of the Appalachians.  Eventually this movement culminated in the idea that the trail would stretch from Georgia to Maine.  The AT grew in both fame and length as the years went on until it reached its current length of 2,200 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mt Katahdin in Maine.

Since the establishment of the AT, not only has the trail received national attention but it has received national funding too.  A national Appalachian Trail Conference was established in the 30s, which later became the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  This organization helps to track the number of people that are hiking the AT each year and also spends time making sure that the trail stays maintained and usable by guests.  Maintaining over 2,000 miles of trails is a huge undertaking but one that the AT Conservancy delights in.  Along with this, they provide tools and resources for Thru-Hikers, those people that take the time to hike from Georgia to Maine, a trip that might take 5-7 months depending on how many miles you are hiking a day.

at newfound gapThru-Hikers make up a huge number of the people that hike the AT each year.  These Thru-Hikers depend on the people that visit the area and the locals alike to keep them going as they cover the miles.  The people that hike the trails, especially the Thru-Hikers find themselves at the mercy of the elements and the conditions on the trails.  The brief respite that they get are jaunts into town in the back of a pickup to pick up supplies and get a break from the rigors of the trail.  They are hiking history on the AT.  They are covering the ground that was hiked by the frontiersmen, pioneers and the Native American people that inherited the land before white settlers arrived.  As Thru-Hikers make their way from Georgia toe Maine, or from Maine to Georgia, they pass through some of the most beautiful land that the country has to offer – the Smokies, the Blue Ridge the Shenandoah Valley and of course through the gorgeous landscape that is all of New England.

Kermit Hunter

Kermit Hunter is a well known American playwright.  But, he is also known in the history of the Smokies due to the fact that he wrote Unto These Hills, the second longest running outdoor drama in the US and one of the highlights to any visit to Cherokee, NC.  He also wrote the outdoor drama, Horn in the West which is performed each season in Boone, NC.

kermit hunter1Kermit Hunter was born in West Virginia.  After a time in the US Army in World War II, he went on to manage the North Carolina Symphony.  Over time, working with various theatrical companies, Hunter went on to his graduate studies program in Dramatic Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  While he was there several of his plays would be produced by the Carolina Playmaker’s.  At this same time, the city of Cherokee started to look for someone to write a dramatic interpretation of the Cherokee people to be performed at an outdoor site in Cherokee.

Hunter jumped on this project and began to transform the information and the vision of the Cherokee Historical Association into a script and then into a production.  Hunters draft won the submission contest and his most famous play, Unto These Hills was first performed in 1950.  Though the play has been changed over the years and the current version has little resemblance to the original Kermit Hunter play it is still his vision that put this outdoor drama on the map.  Hunter parlayed the success with Unto These Hills into scripting the play that would be performed by the Cherokee nation in Oklahoma until the mid-90s – The Trail of Tears.

Hunter’s other legacy is the play Horn in the West which is performed in Boone, NC during season each year.  This play tells the story of the people that founded the city of Boone and the Western north Carolina mountains.  Horn of the West features such American heroes as Daniel Boone and the story of a very dramatic and at times tragic time in American history.  This outdoor drama, while not as long running as Unto These Hills is still a part of the history and cultural scene in the Smokies.

In all, Kermit Hunter wrote more then 40 historical plays.  He is still known for his work in the SMokies and the people that are performing those works today in the same theaters and venues owe the tales the tell to Kermit Hunter.

Mountain Man Statue

“As you get older, remember to be yourself”

And it is from this saying that the Mountain Man, Yosef, got his name.  And of course, Yosef is the mascot for Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Now, when you find the statue on campus, you might wonder: why does he look so angry and why does he seem to be charging off the base of the monument itself?

Well, the answer to those two questions in in the very essence of the Mountain Man himself.  Appalachian State chose as their mascot the embodiment of the people that tamed the mountains, that picked the Southern Appalachians as their home, that decided this was the place to live and fought to keep it and make it home.  The mountain men of the area faced a lot of adversity:

  • mountainmanstatue1The Terrain – One of the primary adversities that the mountain men faced was the terrain.  While the Appalachians are not the tallest mountains in America they are a wooded wasteland of trees and mountains that can be inhospitable at best.  A lot of the mountain men were descended from Scots-Irish stock and they felt they were back home when they reached the mountains in North Carolina.  These hardy men tamed the wilderness, cut trails, made farmsteads and eventually led to other people coming to the area and towns being founded. 
  • The Native Americans – The Mountain Men were not the only people that decided to call this land home.  They worked with and at times in opposition to the Native Americans that were already living here.  They fought to take and then keep the land they were on and they lost many of their numbers during these conflicts.
  • The US Government – The government of the United States tried to tame these mountain men as well.  Against all odds, and against laws and regulations that the government tried to enforce, the mountain men triumphed and carved out the wilderness to make their homes.
  • Other Mountain Men – Of course, the determination of the mountain was put to the test when they were put up against other mountain men.  These mountain men challenged each other as much as they waged war against the elements and the indeginous people that were already living in the mountains.

It is for these reasons that Appalachian State University picked the Mountain Man to be their mascot.  They wanted to show the determination that they had as a campus.  Their determination to excel against all odds.  They wanted to show that they had the skills and fortitude to succeed.  You can see this in the face of the statue, in the way that with upraised fists, he refuses to go down, refuses to be put aside or ignored.

Make sure that you go by and meet Yosef the next time you are in Boone, NC.  This tall, solid bronze statue is beautifully made and is a piece of art.  Take the kids by to see the mountain man with the crazy eyes and fists raised to the air.  Take a look at the people that helped settle the mountains and tame the wilderness.

Harrisburg Covered Bridge

There has been a covered bridge in the Harrisburg Community of Sevier County since the mid 1800s.  The bridge was used by the locals to cross the East Prong of the Little Pigeon River and connected the two separate parts of the community.

Originally, the Harrisburg Covered Bridge was named the McNutts Bridge but in 1875, the bridge was washed away during a storm and was completely destroyed.  Later that same year, a Sevier County Court established a committee to oversee the construction of a replacement bridge.  $50 was raised privately and $25 was donated by the county.  The people of the Harrisburg community donated all of the lumber that was needed and the labor.  The people of Harrisburg built the bridge and made sure they would be able to get back and forth to town easily and that they would be able to further grow their part of the county.

While other covered bridges around the country were being torn down, the people of Sevier County kept the Harrisburg Covered Bridge up and going.  IN the 1950s, the bridge was renovated, but by the 1970s the bridge had fallen into disrepair and was nearing the end of its life.  At this point in the bridges history, the Great Smokies Chapter and the Daughters of the American Revolution raised the money to keep the bridge up and to make sure that it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, you can still go visit the Harrisburg Bridge, take some pictures and drive through a bridge that has been around since 1875.  The bridge is 83 feet long, 14 feet wide and has 11-1/2 feet of clearance.  A true wonder of not only architecture but also of a people that wanted to keep their history alive.  Pencil the Harrisburg Covered Bridge into your next trip to the Smokies.  Drive a a little out of the way.  Head down Dolly Parton Parkway and follow it to Old State Highway 35.  Once you turn left on 35, follow the signs, the bridge is just a few miles down the road.  Get out and take some pictures and spend some time in real, living history.

Property Management

So you have purchased a rental cabin and you have decided that you want to rent it out as an investment property.  While the vacation rental industry is alive and well in the Smokies, and it can be a highly lucrative business, there are basically two ways to manage your vacation rental property:  V action Rental By Owner (VRBO) or through a Property Management Company (PMC).

VRBO

Running your vacation rental as a VRBO is still a valid way to do business. In this scenario, you take the bookings, manage the property, handle the cleaning, the maintenance and take the payments.  Of course, that also means that you are handling the booking, the maintenance, the cleaning and all of the other things that go along with renting your investment property as a vacation rental.  The good side of a VRBO is that you keep all of the money from the rentals, the bad part is that you are the owner and the property manager, something that can be difficult if you live in town and almost impossible is you live further away.  Most people do not want the hassle of renting the property themselves, instead they opt to hire a Property Management Company.

Property Management Company

iring a property management company is the way that most investment property owners chose to run their vacation rentals.  A PMC does exactly what the name suggests, they manage your vacation rental for you.  Here is a short list of what the PMC should be doing for you:

  • Marketing – The PMC should be spending their time making sure that people know your cabin is available to rent.  In print ads, radio spots, TV ads or online, the PMC should be reaching out through the various marketing medias to get more and more people into your cabin.
  • Reservations – The PMC is going to take those reservations as they come in and make sure that the guest is booked and that that money paid as a deposit is held for the reservation. They will handle all of the questions from the guests about the reservation and the property, saving you countless hours on the phone or spent emailing back and forth with potential guests.
  • Maintenance – When something breaks in the cabin, you have to fix it during the stay of the current guest or before the next guest comes in.  The PMC will take care of those maintenance items that happen over time.  They will also let you know when there are items that need your attention as the home owner becoming your eyes and ears.
  • Housekeeping – After every guest checks out, the vacation rental property has to be cleaned.  Scheduling that can become very time consuming, the PMC can make sure that the cabin stays clean and well maintained, even for those last minute bookings.
  • Payment Distribution – At the end of the month, or whenever your contract describes, the PMC will distribute the money that you have earned from the bookings throughout the previous period.

Using a PMC does mean that you are going to take a smaller profit for each night rented but when you look at the amount of time that will be consumed for each rental, it becomes easy to see that a PMC can be your best friend when you try your hand at an investment property.

Real Estate

There are many opportunities for those looking for Real Estate in the Smoky Mountains.  Whether you are looking for an investment property, commercial property or a home to relocate to, real estate of every shape and size abounds in the cities around the Smokies.

Relocation

After you have visted the Smokies for the third or fourth time in one year, you are going to start thinking that you ought to just move to the area.  And for those of us that have relocated to the SMokies, we welcome you with open arms.  When you start looking, there are a few pointers that might help you in your relocation efforts:

  • Look to the outlying areas for the best deals.  Right in Pigeon Forge or Gatlinburg is going to cost you (even in a buyers market).  Head to the cities that feed into the main towns for the best deals on land and homes.
  • Check out the school systems and see what each area has to offer.
  • Find a job – Unless you are retiring to the area, you are probably going to be looking for work.  You will find in the Smokies as in lots of tourist areas that the jobs are seasonal, based on the number of people that are in town.  If you are headed to a tourist area to live see what the seasonal jobs are going to look like and prepare yourslef and your budget accordingly.

Commercial Property

Maybe you are looking at bringing a business to the Smokies.  If so, the economy boom that the area experienced and then the downturn that the country had has left many store fronts and buildings vacant.  Obviously you can find a Realtor to assist you with the search for the perfect piece of property but it might be a good idea to spend some time in each of the areas.  See where the traffic is actually flowing.  Look for the empty store fronts, find a local and find out why they are really empty.

Don’t be suckered in by a good deal only to find out that the traffic pattern has changed and now that part of town is a ghost town during the best part of the year.  Do your research and make sure that you know as much or more about the area as the Realtor before you start the actual buying process.

Investment Properties

The real estate boom in the 90s and early part of the 21st century has left a lot of cabins open for new investors to walk in and buy for a great price.  In most cases, it is true that investment properties in the Smokies are cabins but of course there are exceptions to this rule.  If you happen to decide that you want to get into investment real estate in the Smoky Mountains, here are a few things to watch for before you buy:

  • Have the cabin inspected.  Make sure that past renters and property management companies have done a good job of maintaining the cabin.
  • Check the roads that your future renters will be taking into the cabin.  Make sure that they are well maintained, talk to the HOA for the area the cabin is in and see who maintains the roads in winter.
  • Check and see if the cabin is on city sewer, a septic tank or on a privately held utility for waste removal.  This becomes crucial to know when you are dealing with issues at your rental property.
  • Check out the property management company that is currently managing the cabin, see how it is renting and see what they do for the cut of the profits.

Investing in real estate in the Smokies is always a good idea but you need to do some research and make sure you know what you are getting into.  The upside of a rental property in the Smokies is that you always have a place to stay when you decide that you need a break from city life and need a vacation of your own.

Black Friday

It is Black Friday in the Smokies and there is plenty of shopping to be done.  From Asheville to Knoxville and back again, there is shopping for everyone and deals to be had around every corner.  People have been in line for over a week to get at those deals inside the big box stores.  In the Smokies  with the amount of shopping to be done, it is certain that people have been shopping and lining up to shop for the better part of  a day – even before the leftovers from Turkey Day are even left overs.

Asheville & Knoxville

Asheville and  Knoxville are the two biggest cities in the Smoky Mountain area.  You can be sure that all of the major chains will be full of shoppers.  Best Buy, Target, Walmart and many others will have people lining up to get at eh deals for Black Friday and of course to grab up the first of their holiday shopping.  Certainly the malls in both of these cities will be packed.  If you are planning to visit any of these areas, make sure to allow lots of time and if you are planning to shop make sure to get there early.  In fact, if you are reading this on Black Friday then you are probably already late, unless you are reading it on your smartphone.

Malls:

Outlets in the Smokies

The biggest outlet shopping to be had in the Smoky Mountains is in Sevierville and Pigeon Forge.  In Pigeon Forge, you can visit the Red Roof Mall on the Parkway or you can g to the only indoor outlet mall in the Smokies: Belz Outlet Mall located on Teaster Lane in Pigeon Forge. But of course, if you are looking for the best outlet shopping, prices as low as 75% off, then you are looking for nothing more then Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall in Sevierville, TN right on the Parkway.

Boutiques and Local Shops

And there is still another option.  You can always look to the small shops and boutiques in each of the mountain towns that surround the Smokies.  From Cashiers to Bristol, Asheville to Knoxville, there are great places to shop around every corner.  These small locations are locally owned in most cases and have items that you will never find anywhere else.   From Asheville’s Biltmore Village to Gatlinburg’s Great Smoky Arts and Crafts Community, you will find plenty to buy and you will be able to purchase those one of a kind items that you don’t find in a big box store.  Part of the fun of spending Thanksgiving away from your home town is being able to celebrate the holiday season a little different.  Going to boutique shopping areas like Gatlinburg’s The Village and tooling around Cashiers and Highlands in some of the best resort shopping in the southeast.

If you are going to be spending today, Black Friday shopping, and you are in the Smoky Mountains, make sure that you take in all the sights.  Make sure that you get those big box deals.  Make sure that you explore the outlet malls for even deeper discounts and of course, go to a smaller local store and really get a feel for the Smokies.  Meet the people that live in the area, spend time with your family while you start the shopping list and hopefully finish some of your shopping as well.  Spend Black Friday in one of the most beautiful place sin the world, the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

Thanksgiving in the Smokies

The humble mountain communities of the Smoky Mountains have been celebrating the fall harvest and Thanksgiving before there were established societies and towns.  Groups of farmers would gather at someones house, they might eat in the yard by the barn if the weather was good or if it was too chilly to eat outside they would crowd into the house that would come closest to holding them all.  The location of the meal didn’t matter really, nor did the food, what matter was that they were all together.

The first official Thanksgiving day was November 26, 1789.  George Washington declared the day a s a day of National thanksgiving, a day to celebrate the fact that we were no longer under the reign of the British.  Of course, the people had church leaders and civic leaders telling them of the tale of the first Thanksgiving, which of course was celebrated by the pilgrims.  This tradition had been handed down as oral tradition through the church and through community text books and school houses since the early 1700s.  Obviously the people of the Smoky Mountains and the Southern Appalachian since the area became settled and then became a state.

Of course, the Thanksgiving celebrated by the southern Highlanders, as they were known, was different then some of the Thanksgiving celebrations in other parts of the country.  These mountain farmers would might with those neighbors that they were close enough to to break bread together.  Each farm produced those staples they would need for their subsistence through the winter months but they would make sure that they had something special for Thanksgiving.  Let’s take a look at what one of these celebrations might have been like.

The year is 1850.  The people of Cades Cove  have gathered at the Elijah Oliver Place (near the halfway point of the Cades Cove Loop Road if you are curious).  The weather turned out breezy but nice so they are having the Thanksgiving celebration in the great outdoors with the Smoky Mountains as their backdrop.  Neighbors from around the cove have brought food and family with them for the Thanksgiving Day festivities.  The turkey is obvious choice for the meat of the day and if they were lucky when they were hunting they might even have two birds to serve for dinner instead of one.  As friends and family keep arriving the table is filled with sides of every shape form and fashion.  These settlers would have had vegetables and desserts made the fruits of their bountiful harvest.  Corn, apples, green beans, late summer and fall greens, fresh baked bread and corn bread – all of it harvested form the ground and made with their own two hands.  As the people trickle in the all sit around a table or around several tables and the patriarch of the Oliver family would have said a blessing of thanksgiving over the food.  Thanks would be given for the harvest, for family, for friends and for the beautiful land that they settled in many years ago.

Think about this as you bring in your family and friends for Thanksgiving.  Think about the settlers that called the Smokies home and the work they would go through to have a Thanksgiving meal with their families.

Happy Thanksgiving!