Exploring Native American History in the Tennessee River Valley
President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law on May 28, 1830, and in the years following, the Five Civilized Tribes (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee) were forcefully removed from their lands to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. Estimates suggest that approximately 100,000 indigenous people were forced from their homes during that period, which is know referred to as the Trail of Tears, and that some 15,000 died during the journey west. The Tennessee River Valley has crafted an itinerary for exploring Native American history in the state of Tennessee and to honor those who suffered and died during removal.
So much history lies at the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park in Birchwood, Tenn. A Civil War skirmish, a main staging area for the Trail of Tears and Native American encampments are just a few of the events that led to the National Park Service identifying Blythe Ferry as a major site for interpretation on the National Trail of Tears.
Cherokee Removal Memorial Park is located along the Hiwassee River where it joins the Tennessee River, which has been a significant cross road for development of Indian culture for centuries. At the center of the park is Blythe Ferry. During the Cherokee Removal, nine of the 13 detachments under the supervision of Chief Ross exited their ancestral land at Blythe Ferry. Currently the ferry ramp is used for boat launching and fishing.
The Visitor Center contains an interpretive area and a library, where visitors can trace their Cherokee ancestry. It also serves as a resource for Native American history, the Trail of Tears documentation, local archeology and area wildlife.
Red Clay State Historic Park is a 263-acre park identifying the last location of the Cherokee councils before the 1838 Trail of Tears. The park is a certified interpretive site on the Trail of Tears and features replicas of a Cherokee farmhouse, cabins and council house as well as an interpretive center with exhibits and artifacts. The site also contains a natural landmark, the Blue Hole Spring, which was used by the Cherokee for their water supply during council meetings.
Located south of Benton, overlooking the banks of the Ocoee River is the gravesite of Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Overhill Cherokees. Ward is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics as she advocated for a woman's voice during a turbulent period in her tribe's history.
During the 1755 battle of Taliwa, she fought by her husband’s side and when he fell in battle, she rallied the Cherokee warriors to fight harder. With a rifle in hand, she helped lead a charge that brought victory to the Cherokees. Because of her valor, she earned the title “Beloved Woman” of the Cherokees. Throughout her adult life, she was respected and well known by the settlers moving into the Cherokee territory. She exerted considerable influence over the affairs of both the Cherokees and the white settlers and participated in treaty negotiations.
Deep inside a mountain in eastern Tennessee is the largest underground lake in the United States, the Lost Sea, which is part of a cave system called Craighead Caverns. The caverns have been known and used since the days of Native American Indians. From the tiny natural opening on the side of the mountain, the cave expands into a series of huge rooms. Nearly a mile from the entrance, a wide range of Indian artifacts including pottery, arrowheads, weapons, and jewelry have been found. At the bottom of the cave, some 140 feet below ground, guests are treated to a boat ride on the Lost Sea. The lake, covering more than four acres, is recognized by the U.S. Department of the interior as a Registered National Natural Landmark.
For a glimpse into the history of one of the oldest communities in the state of Tennessee, check out the Trade Mill and Native Heritage Days (Sept. 14-15, 2019). Activities lined up include singing, native dancing, storytelling, crafters, demonstrators, Bluegrass music, flute players, native drums, food vendors, petting zoo, crafts for kids and more. The festival takes place in the village of Trade, on the grounds of the Trade Center Community Center, the original location of the mountain gap where Native Americans came together with frontier families to trade furs and goods at the trading post established by Daniel Boone in the 18th century.
“The Tennessee River Valley developed this awe-inspiring itinerary to provide insight into better understanding Native American history and culture. Visitors can hear sacred stories, learn about the fascinating American Indian culture and experience history at these rare treasures located in Tennessee,” said Julie Graham, spokesperson for the Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council.
For more information or to discover additional Native American historical places in the Tennessee River Valley, visit https://www.exploreTRV.com.