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.

The AT in the Smokies

The AT in the Smokies

The most hiked section of the Appalachian Trail

at logoThe southern tip of the Appalachian Mountains, with its temperate climate, slow changes in elevation and lush greenery, is a haven to hikers from around the world.  People flock to the Smokies especially to spend time on any number of trails, but the trail that is most popular and the one that a lot of people want to tackle part of is the Appalachian Trail. One end of the AT starts in the Smokies, in northern Georgia.  From that point you can work your way north to the heart of the Smokies in North Carolina and Tennessee, passing through state parks and national parks along the way.  It is a gradual climb that will inspire both awe and a renewed sense of respect for the mountain folk and Native Americans that hiked these trails season after season in the time before their were European style cities in the area.

North Georgia

In North Georgia, you will start at Springer Mountain, one of the southern most areas of the Smokies.  Technically you are in the foothills of the Smokies at this point.  The gentle slopes, the gradual climb, the verdant landscapes will help to build your anticipation as you progress north.  In this area, you will pass near towns and civilization.  The hike takes you near several state parks with facilities that are open almost year round, depending on the weather.  The North Georgia part of the AT is some of the easiest hiking that the trail has to offer.  Even if you start here when it is late spring you will find that the elevation is not high enough to give you the extremely cold temps that you will encounter in the highest elevations.

Fontana Dam

fontana damOne of the next high points on the trail that you will come across is Fontana Dam.  At this point on the AT you have made your way into North Carolina, your second state if you are heading north from Georgia.  Fontana Lake is one of those TVA created lakes that took in the small towns of Judson and Proctor (near present day Bryson City) when Fontana Dam was established in the early part of the 20th century.  As the trail winds around Fontana Dam, you are going to start to gain some serious altitude.  The elevation change will start to reveal a change in the wildlife and the flora around you.  Just north of Fontana Lake and Dam, yes you follow the dam as you start up the mountain, you will climb until you are walking the ridge of the Great SMoky Mountains in the GSMNP.  You are  also walking the Tennessee / North Carolina line at this point on the trail.

Clingman’s Dome and Newfound Gap Road

The top of the world in the Smokies is Clingman’s Dome.  You will go all the way to the top of this part of the mountain as you progress northward on the AT.  The climb to Clingman’s Dome will take some time even for the most seasoned of hikers but the breath taking views from these peaks are like no other you will find east of the Mississippi River.  As you reach the summit of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, you will immediately start back down again.  Soon you will arrive at the most visited portion of the GSMNP, the piece of the Appalachian Trail that starts at the Newfound Gap parking area and trailhead.  From this point you can hike almost 2 miles of the AT, the most hiked portion of the 2,200 mile trail.

Roan Mountain State Park

tn nc state lineIf you were to hike from the Newfound Gap trailhead and continue northward the next focal point you are going to come to is Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee.  If you happen to plan your hike through accordingly you can spend some time at the top of the mountain in the rhododendron garden while it is in bloom.  Bring a camera and prepare to take a lot of pictures.  With the Catawbas in bloom it is a pink and purple wonderland of color.  Roan Mountain also has lots of facilities that a Thru-Hiker might need to take advantage of like campgrounds and other amenities.

Hike the various pieces of the Appalachian Trail int he Smoky Mountains.  Take in the terrain and the sights and the sounds of nature from the trails that make up the AT.  Hike the most hiked portion of the trail and then you too can say that you hiked the AT!

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.

Highlands Playhouse

highlandsplayhouse1Highlands, NC has one of the best repertory theaters in Western North Carolina.  The Highlands Playhouse puts on countless shows throughout the year, using both professional and amateur actors.  They stage productions that range from one man shows to full stage productions to the delight of both the local and the tourist alike.

In 1938 a group of dedicated Highlanders presented a version of Kaufman and Connelly’s Dulcy. They put the show on in the local school auditorium.  Thus, the Highland Playhouse was born.  Over the years they have been under many different artistic directors and have seen many different actors on the stage.  They have performed everything from comedies to drams and everything in between.  This quaint theater has moved several times over the years but it is now in its own theater, near downtown and within easy walking distance for all of those tourists that enjoy Highlands throughout the year.

highlandsplayhouse2The Highlands Playhouse – whose legal name is the Highland Community Theater – is a non-profit organization that is funded by the people of Highlands, by companies in the area and of course by ticket sales to the shows they put on each year.  The monies they collect go to pay for the professional actors and actresses they bring in and of course to maintain the theater that they perform in.

Visit the Highlands Playhouse website and see what they have to offer the next time you are in town.  Plan your visit around taking in a show.  Sit down in an audience with towns people and tourists alike.  Especially, if you are in Highlands for a romantic getaway, there i snothing better for a night out with that special someone then to take in a play or live show.

Highlands Playhouse
362 Oak Street
Highlands, NC
828-526-2695
http://www.highlandsplayhouse.org

Unto These Hills

untothesehills1If you only have time to take in one attraction while you are in Cherokee, NC, that one attraction needs to be Unto These Hills.  This show has been part of the attraction scene in Cherokee for more then sixty years and it is the second oldest running outdoor drama in the US.  Combining the story of the Cherokee people, the music and sounds of the mountains and of course all of it under the stars in the Smoky Mountains, this action packed presentation has been bringing the people back year after year.

Unto These Hills opened to a crowd in Cherokee, NC on July 1, 1950.  Since that time, the show has run at the Mountainside Theater from June through August each year.  And though the script and the information has changed some over the years, the power of this drama has not changed at all.  Focusing on the people that called the Smokies home, Kermit Hunter, the original author was hoping to capture the spirit of these noble people that refused to be forced out of their land and stayed, even though they were told to walk the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

untothesehills3The story starts with the people that lived in the Smokies before the European setters came.  It tells a story of a cultured, civilized people that embraced their new neighbors from across the ocean.  They helped the settlers that came to the area and though some of the leaders realized that the Europeans were not going to reciprocate the good feelings, they still helped the white man establish their towns. Over time, as the Cherokee lost land and were forced higher into the mountains, Andrew Jackson – President of the United States – decreed that they would be removed to a reservation in Oklahoma.  Some of the Cherokee decided that they would not leave.  They stayed, hidden in the mountains until a time when they could be embraced by a different attitude and government.  All of this history and the culture of the Cherokee is contained inside this wonderful outdoor drama.

Since 1950, Unto These Hills has been performed in the same theater – the Mountainside Theater above Cherokee.  It is located in the same place as the Oconaluftee Indian Village, in fact they share a parking lot.  This 2800 seat amphitheater is all outdoors but the temperate weather in the Smokies and the elevation make it pleasant outside for all of the performances.

Next time you are in Cherokee, NC, or just on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, call ahead and make reservations.  Take the whole family to Unto These Hills, let them learn some American history, let them get a better appreciation for the people that lived in the Smokies before Europeans settlers came to the area and of course, remember that you are seeing a show that has been running since the middle of the 20th century.

Unto These Hills
688 Drama Road
Cherokee, NC
866-554-4557
http://www.cherokeesmokies.com/unto_these_hills.html

Deerpark Restaurant

dpr1One of my favorite places to eat, when I visit the Biltmore Estate is the Deerpark Resturant.  A trip to the Biltmore is not complete without good food and the Deerpark puts on a culinary show like you would not believe.  A buffet like no other, the Deerpark is something wholly different for the person looking for a great way to experience the opulence of a fine meal at the Biltmore.  Housed in a barn that was part of the original estate, you get to experience some history along with a good meal.

Let me set the scene:  you have purchased your entry into the Biltmore Estate and it is a glorious Sunday afternoon, around lunch time.  You and your family decide to go to the Deerpark, after a suggestion from the ticket office.  They call ahead for you and make a reservation for you.  You hop in the car and instead of stopping at the house, you continue through the beautiful grounds of the Biltmore Estate, following the signs, to the Deerpark.  From the time you pull into the parking lot you will feel that you are somewhere different.  You are at a barn that used to house some of the four legged residents of the estate.  The seating area is built around a central courtyard that at times has ice sculptures and can also be rented out for receptions throughout the year.

dpr2One of the staff members will escort you to your table and you will find that you are already experiencing the glory of the Vanderbillts. The table is laid out with beautiful stemware and silverware, cloth napkins and a fresh tablecloth.  They give you a brief rundown of the special of the day and then point you in the direction of the buffet. As you approach the tables of food you are going to realize very quickly that this is not your usual buffet.  No piles of over cooked food, no turines of processed soup, this is a gourmet buffet where the chefs of the Biltmore Estate get to experiment and dream.  Their dreams are edible, their experiments are delightful and the food the produce is amazing.  Fresh meats and vegetables prepared differently all the time sit side by side with field green salads and made to order omelettes.  And of course then there is the dessert table.  An entire table devoted to desserts.  From tartlets to pie to cake and cookies, the pastry staff at the Deerpark has been hard at work.

The Deerpark Restaurant is a place that everyone should experience at least once.  You need to make sure that you include it the next time that you go to the Biltmore.  Of course, there are also those people that make the Deerpark their restaurant of choice whenever they go to the Biltmore Estate.  When you are in Asheville you are going to want to spend some time at the Biltmore.  Make sure that you pick a good place to eat, pick the Deerpark.

Deerpark Restaurant
Biltmore Estate
One Lodge Street
Asheville, NC
Reservations – 828-225-6260
http://www.biltmore.com/visit/dining/deerpark.asp

Harrah’s Cherokee

hcc2There is only one place to go if you are looking for world class gaming in the Smoky Mountains and that is Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, NC.  This casino and hotel opened in November of 1997 and it has become a desination unto itself in theyears since its opening.  The casino boasta hotel that contains 1,108 rooms and 107 suites.  The gaming area started with only electronic games but now it also has actual dealers for some games of chance.  Along with the hotel and casino, they have shopping world class dining and they bring in shows and celebrities throughout the year.

Over the years, Cherokee, NC has been trying to find ways to reinvent their town and bring in more and more visitors into their area.  With the addition of Harrah’s Cherokee, they have finally gotten a lock on the tourism market and they have used the new found draw to make continued improvements to Cherokee and offer more and more to the tourists and locals alike.  The casino provides jobs and is now the only gambling location in North Carolina and it boats the largest hotel in North Carolina as well.  The hotel, connected to the casino, is well maintained, beautiful and has amenities that you only find in huge resort areas.  Guests staying at Harrah’s Cherokee are treated to service that is beyond compare in rooms that are clean and well decorated.  Also, if you are there to game, you never have to leave the casino. You simply walk to the gaming floor, and get your game on.

hcc1And speaking of gaming, Harrah’s Cherokee has games to fit every taste.  State of the art video slot machines line all of the walls and most of the floor pace but their are also computerized versions of many of the game sof chance that you see in Las Vegas.  As of 2012, after attaining approval from the North Carolina legislature, Harrah’s Cherokee now has traditional hand dealt Blackjack, Roulette and Craps tables.  This live gaming, with live dealers, has taken Harrah’s Cherokee to the next level and brought in gamers that are looking for a more Vegas-style experience.  Whether you are into video gaming or live gaming, Harrah’s Cherokee has what you are looking for and has thousands of vsiitors each year.

But, let’s face it, you can’t game 24 hours a day and you are going to get hungry – Harrah’s Cherokee has you covered on that front as well.  Paula Deen’s Kitchen opening in the last few years, a Ruth Cris Steak House is also located inside the grounds of Harrah’s Cherokee, add to that an amazing buffet and lots of other culinary choices and you have more food than you can shake a steak at (pun intended).  There is also shopping located all around the casino so if you have a loved one that is spending a lot of time inside the casino there is plenty for you to do without even leaving the hotel.

Harrah’s Cherokee is a world class venue tucked into the shadows of the Smokies.  From gorgeous hotel rooms to world class gaming, dining and shopping – this stop on your trip tot he Smokies is more then memorable, it is unforgettable.

Harrah’s Cherokee
777 Casino Drive
Cherokee, NC
828-497-7777
www.harrahscherokee.com

Biltmore Estate

biltmore3One of the most visited attractions on the North Carolina side of the Smokies is the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina.  The largest private residence in the United States is located right in the heart of the Smokies and it is a wonder to view.  From room upon room decorated as they would have been back in the day, to the gardens that cover the grounds and world class restaurants, the Biltmore Estate is an all day excursion.

George Vanderbilt’s dream, the Biltmore Estate was completed in 1895.  This 250 room home was the center of a small city that included barns, gardens and was a working farming community.  From the library, still containing volumes classic literature to the kitchens that were designed to serve a small family to a huge gathering, seeing this wonder of architecture, roaming through the halls and imagining living in a 178,000 square foot home.  You get to visit almost every part of the home, from the swimming pool to the beautiful grand dining room.  And, if it is a gorgeous day outside, you are going to spend part of your day in the gardens.

biltmore2The grounds around the Biltmore Estate are a testament to the English Landcape garden style of landscaping.  Pathways and trails run through outdoor paradises that are decorated with flowering plants that change dramatically throughout the year.  The main garden area, called the Italian Garden changes from season to season and it draws in fans of landscaping and photographers alike from srping to summer.  The Tulip Festival each spring is one of the highlights of the Biltmore Estate season as tulips in every color spring forth, lending thir beauty to the landscape designs of Frederick Law Olmsted.  And, while you are strolling around outside, you will probably get a bit peckish – let’s go eat.

The food scene at Biltmore is out of this world.  From small bistro style restaurants to fine dining buffets at the Deerpark Restaurant, there is no end to your choices.  The Stables Cafe is the closet restaurant to the house itself be located with the shops to the right of the home if you are looking at the front of the Biltmore House.  Eclectic choices abound on the menu and there is a little something for everyone.  But maybe you are looking for a that place for a special Sunday brunch.  In this case you should head to the Deerpark Restaurant.  Located in what used to be stables on the grounds of the estate, the Deerpark is a buffet like you have never seen before.  The food is as good as the scenery and you will have choices that you won’t see at most of your local buffets.

All in all, a visit to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, is one of the most fun experiences you will have outside of the GSMNP.  The beautiful home, the immaculate grounds and the dining options will keep you captivated throughout the entirety of your stay.  Get there early and catch the early morning air from one of the balconies  or maybe you want to spend time with a camera to your eye exploring the gardens, whatever you interest, Biltmore has something for everyone.

Biltmore Estate
One Lodge Street
Asheville, NC
800-411-3812
www.biltmore.com

Moses Cone Manor

mcm1Whether you call it the Moses Cone Manor, Flat Top Manor, the Moses Cone Memorial Park or the Parkway Craft Center, the former home of Moses Cone that seats along the ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains is a majestic piece of architecture that has stood the test of time.  Moses Cone was a textile entrepreneur that created countless jobs in the area during his heyday.  The home itself was given to the National Park Service after his death but it is certainly something that he himself would have loved to have seen done.  Nowadays a visit to the Moses Cone Manor lets you see the handy work of countless crafters and artisans of the Southern Highlands Craft Guild.

Moses Cone was a huge name in the textile industry during the 19th century.  He and his brother Cesar started their careers as traveling salesmen.  The brothers found that their knowledge of dry goods from their time on the roads gave them a foothold in the textile industry.  Eventually, Cone moved his operations to Greensboro North Carolina.  The people of the highlands of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains had need of plain durable clothing.  Cone started manufacture denim and other such fabrics to be used by companies like Levis that made clothes that the people of the area needed and loved.  While he made his money through the textiles industry, he also gave back to the area through job creation and through his philanthropic actions.

mcm2He also built a home on top of the mountains, Flat Top Manor.  The home takes its name from the proximity of Flat Top Mountain.  Built at the turn of the century, the Flat Top Manor was finished in 1901.  It has 23 rooms and measures in at 13,000 square feet.  Built in the Victorian Neo-Colonial style, large white columns surround the front of the house.  Dormers up top and leaded glass in ever window make this a wonderful example of this style and because it is open to the public throughout the year, people get to roam though the halls and experience the home much the way that it would have been when it was built.

Flat Top Manor is also known as the Parkway Craft Center.  It is home to one of the exhibits of the Southern Highland Craft Guild.  With craft demonstrations daily and a wonderful gift shop, this is a huge stop for tourist visiting the area. Each year, more then 200,000 visitors come to the Parkway Craft Center to see the crafts that are for sale, learn more about the crafters and the crafts that are being made and of course, to visit the home itself.   Next time you are traveling the blue Ridge Parkway, stop at Milepost 294 and visit the home of Moses Cone:  Flat Top Manor.

Moses Cone Manor
667 Service Road
Blowing Rock, NC
828-295-7938
http://www.blueridgeheritage.com/attractions-destinations/moses-cone-manor