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.

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.

Tennessee Theatre

tntheater2On October 1, 1928, a landmark was opened on Gay Street in Knoxville, TN – The Tennessee Theatre.  The first movie they ever played at this grand old theater was The Fleet’s In with Clara Bow.  From that time until today, this theater has been a cornerstone ofthe culture and history of Knoxville and East Tennessee.  Over the years, this venue has brought both the Silver Screen and live shows to the area and to this day is one of the favorite place sin the Smokies to take in a play or a movie.  Tradition and history are the catch words of the day at the Tennessee Theatre.

Knoxville’s Grand Entertainment Palace

From its inception, the Tennessee Theatre dominated the Gay Street area of Knoxville.  On Saturdays kids from around the city flocked to the corner to buy tickets and stand in line to take in the Saturday afternoon serials at the theater.  Throughout the years, movies were opened at the theatre, star studded casts were in attendance at show like Thunder Road – Robert Mitchum was in attendance at this premier.  The theater has been renovated several times over the years.  Each time it has gone through renovations, it has kept that old flare, that fill that it had the day it opened.  Unlike movie theaters of today, the inside of the Tennessee Theatre is a feast for the eyes, a testament to the builders that made this the Grand Palace of Entertainment that it still is.

The Official State Theatre of Tennessee

tntheater1In 1999, the Tennessee Theatre was made the Official Theatre of the State of Tennessee.  This designation, the establishment o the Historic Tennessee Theatre Foundation and the fact that people were donating money to the theatre meant that another, bigger renovation could occur.  The stage was modified to accommodate larger productions, enhancements to the acoustic nature of the theatre, modernized lighting and rigging and updates to the carpet and other decorations in the theatre.  The whole process of this renovation kept the original nature of the theatre in mind, kept the look and feel while making sure that the Tennessee Theatre was able to stay functional and bring in the best that Broadway and artists might have to offer.

Another aspect of the Tennessee Theatre is the Mighty Wurlitzer.  This pipe organ was installed when the theater opened in 1928.  For silent movies this Wurlitzer Organ provided the music and fell of the movie.  For the ‘talkies’ the Mighty Wurlitzer was the pre-show entertainment.  Nowadays, getting to hear the Mighty Wurlitzer played by a professional organist takes place most Mondays at the Tennessee Theatre.  The pipe organ was completely renovated in 2000 and is now a draw all by itself .  Throughout the year, the concerts that are given with th organ fill this grand olde theatre from top to bottom and side to side.

Check out the Tennessee Theatre the next time you are in the Knoxville area.  Visit their website and see what is playing or what Broadway show is in town.  You might get a chance to see a play or a performance that is not coming to your area but you will get to see a show performed in a one of the best theatrical venues that East Tennessee has to offer.

Tennessee Theatre
604 Gay Street
Knoxville, TN

Scottish Tartan Museum

stm1It was easy for the people from the Highlands of Scotland to find a home in the Smoky Mountains.  They found in the Smokies a place that resembled home, a place that looked like the land they had left.  The Scottish and the Irish that live din other parts of the former British Colonies made the move to the Smokies as well.  As the communities in the Smokies formed, these people shared there past, their heritage and their cultures with others, with their new neighbors.  In Franklin, North Carolina, there is a quaint museum that celebrates the Scottish heritage of the Smokies like no other.  The Scottish Tartan Museum tells the history of a people by telling the history of the Tartan.

Tartan is the fabric that not only is used in the manufacture of the traditional kilt but it is an identifier for the various Scottish Clans that exist.  The museum was formed out of the Scottish Tartan Society which started in Scotland in 1963.  The museum is a tribute to this unique fabric.  From pieces of tartan that are decades old, to representations of the way that kilts are made and worn this is one of the best niche museums that you will ever encounter.  It is well maintained and curated, the pieces have been lovingly collected and there is a story, well told, to go with each piece.

stm2And after you get out of the museum, if you are really feeling the Scottish vibe then you can go through their gift shop and pick up a piece of Scotland to take home.  From bumper stickers with the Scottish fag to your very own kilt this gift shop has everything – everything Scottish.  Music to books, t-shirts to food stuffs, there is a little something for everybody and it is worth the time just to stop by the gift shop if you don’t have time to walk through their museum.

Next time you visit the North Carolina side of the Smokies, stop by Franklin.  Head to downtown Franklin, literally, their original downtown.  Their downtown is very much like the downtown that you might have encountered in the 50s.  Small shops and cafes on the street, you park right in front of them and walk inside.  The Scottish Tartan Museum is no different.  It is located right at the dge of downtown.  Park in front and go right in.  The museum is located downstairs on the left as you go in, but when you walk through the doors you are in the middle of their gift shop.

Take the family into the Scottish Tartan Museum, and learn a lot more about the people that founded most of the towns around the Smokies.  Learn about the Scottish people that moved into the area through the vehicle of the fabric they used to make a very unique piece of clothing called the kilt.  Walk through a museum dedicated to a fabric, a people and a lifestyle.  Visit Franklin, and step into the Highlands.  Who knows maybe you will leave with a kilt around your waist and smile on your face.

Scottish Tartan Museum
86 E Main St
Franklin, NC

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center

Want to learn more about life in the Smoky Mountains before the turn of the 20th century?  Then you need to pay a visit to the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center (GSMHC).

This museum and living history location teaches visitors about the people that settled the area and made their homes in the Smokies during the 1800s.  The GSMHC has three separate exhibits:  Native Americans of East Tennessee Museum, Pioneer and Mountain Culture & Tennessee on the Move.

Native Americans of East Tennessee

Before the first European settlers came to the area, native people like the Cherokee dwelled in the mists of the Smoky Mountains.  These people had more then just a hunting and gathering culture.  They had a society that had trade and infrastructure, they had political meetings and communities that stretched from the valleys to the hillsides.  This museum celebrates those people and their way of life before they were moved on by the European settlers that found this area to be so similar to the homes they left in Europe.

Pioneer & Mountain Culture

As the pioneer moved into the Southern Appalachians, they founded farms and homesteads.  They developed small communities that traded with each other and helped each other make it through the good times and the bad.  This part of the museum picks up the story of these mountains after the Native Americans had moved out of the mountains and the settlers and pioneers had made this land their own.  From the type of farming they did to the commerce they practiced.  Included in this part of the GSMHC is a living history farming display.  During the warmer months of the year and the harvest you can go see how these people lived, farmed and harvested their crops.  Included in the living history section is:

  • The Caldwell Log Cabin
  • Granary
  • The Montvale Station
  • Sawmill
  • Set-Off House from the Little River Lumber Company
  • Smokehouse
  • Two Cantilever Barns
  • Underground Still / Shed
  • Wheelwright Shop
  • Wilder Chapel

Tennessee on the Move

This is a collection of various forms of transportation that have gotten Tennesseans on the move since the 1800s.  Included in this exhibit is a freight wagon, a postal wagon, farming vehicles and turn of the century road construction equipment.

Spend a day in Townsend next time you visit the Smokies.  Learn more about the people that inhabited this region before the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Get your kids into history by letting them experience it first hand.  And be sure to check with the GSMHC before you arrive and see what special events they have going on.  You might find that this becomes a place you visit on every visit to the area.

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center
3/4 miles east of the traffic light at the intersection of Hwy 321 and Hwy 73
Townsend, TN

International Friendship Bell

During World War II Oak Ridge, TN was known as the Secret City.  It was and still is the host city for a government lab that is dedicated to researching all things atomic.  During the war, this research was designed to create the nuclear bombs that helped to end the war.  The bombs that they helped create were dropped on two Japanese cities: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In the early 90s, in celebration to the 50th anniversary of the founding of Oak Ridge and its part in the Manhattan Project.

Why the International Friendship Bell:

  • The bell was designed to fit into the theme of the City’s Celebration – Born of war, living for peace, growing through science.
  • The bell incorporates dates that reflect the workers in Oak Ridge with the Manhattan Project.  The role they played in helping to end WWII and the Cold War.
  • The bell, due to its traditional Japanese design is designed in a hope to focus on the peace between nations and promote understanding between the nation of Japan and the United States.

After a community wide exploration of what to do to celebrate the 50 year anniversary, it was decided to tie in the destruction to the two cities in Japan to the monument and the International Friendship Bell was commissioned.  The bell itself is a traditional Japanese bell.  It measures almost 5 feet wide at the base and is over 6 feet tall.  This impressive item is housed in a Japanese style enclosure and is made of bronze.  The outside of the bell is decorated with Japanese characters and is a work of art.  The two main panels on the bell were designed by Oak Ridge citizen Suzanna Harris.  The panels are covered in the natural characteristics of both Tennessee and Oak Ridge.  The official flowers, birds, and trees of each of these locations are etched into the bronze itself.  The basic goal is to extend that hand of peace to the people over the years that will see the bell and remind them of the past and to look to the future.

Next time you are in Oak Ridge, look for Bissell Park.  The bell itself is hard to miss.  It is a very large structure and a focal point in the park.  Stroll around the park and spend sometime with the International Friendship Bell.  Run your hands over the bronze figures and reliefs.  Grab the ringer and give it a go and listen to the tone that the bell makes.  Take your children and let them learn some history.  Let them learn about Oak Ridge and its connection to World War II and the world.

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!