to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!
Sacagawea: I send you Greetings
from one of the most beautiful spots in the United States -- the
Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This
range covers 60 miles of the Appalachian Mountains and is 20 miles
in width. It straddles the states of Tennessee and North Carolina.
On a clear, bright sunny day, Mary and Marty took me over the mountains
to visit the Cherokee Indians. Abe, Ulysses, and Robert E. stayed
back in our hotel in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where they snoozed,
ate a lot of Tennessee's famous Sourwood Honey, and listened to
the creek burble past our balcony. Photo:
Mary and me at the entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National
The Cherokee, who have lived in these mountains
for hundreds of years before the coming of the white man, called
their homeland "Shaconage," meaning "blue, like smoke." This aptly
describes the scenery. Even on the clearest day, there is always
a light blue haze resting on the mountain tops, hence the name.
-- Forming the Great Smoky Mountains:
Cherokee have a wonderful legend explaining how the Smoky Mountains
came to be formed.
Long, long ago, when the earth was young
and still very soft, the Great Buzzard flew over it. This bird had
a huge wingspan. When he flapped his wings up, he pulled up the
land into mountain ranges and when he flapped his wings down, he
created the deep hollows and valley. That was how the Cherokee "Land
of Blue Mist" came to be. Today, you can still see the mountains
recede in waves with the deep hollows between the ridges where the
Great Buzzard flew. Photo: Me at the Morton
Overlook on the Newfound Gap Road. We are 4,837 feet above sea level.
Look behind me. Do you see the Land of the Blue Mist where the Great
Buzzard flapped his wings up and down?
Smoky Mountains National Park:
In 1926, the U.S. Congress became alarmed at the amount of commercial
logging rapidly depleting the virgin forests in the Smokies. In
1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established in
Tennessee and North Carolina to preserve this natural beauty for
generations to come. The main road through the mountains is the
Newfound Gap Road. It winds for 29 miles between Gatlinburg, Tennessee,
and Cherokee, North Carolina, through some of our country's most
we drove over the mountains, we saw many brooks and waterfalls.
The water temperature is about 55 degrees in the summertime, and
the evaporation is one of the reasons why there is always the light
blue mist in the Smokies. We were very fortunate to see masses of
Rosebay rhododendrons blooming along the roadside. These tiny flowers
are white or light pink in color and usually bloom in early July.
Photo: Mary and me on the way up the mountains.
Behind us are twin peaks called Chimney Tops. They have long been
used as a landmark by the Cherokee and white settlers alike.
With the Newfoundland Gap Road ending right
at the western boundary of the Cherokee Reservation, these Native
Americans, who had lived first in hiding then in isolation for almost
a hundred years, suddenly discovered the world had literally arrived
on their doorstep. The tribal chiefs saw this new development would
stimulate growth and economic opportunity for the cash-poor Cherokee.
Since trading and hospitality had always been a deep-rooted part
of the Cherokee culture, creating a twentieth century tourist industry
proved very easy for the tribe. Since then business has boomed in
Cherokee, North Carolina.
-- First Fire:
The Cherokee are known as the People of the Fire. In their legends,
the Cherokee tell the story of how they obtained the first fire.
After the Great Buzzard created the mountains,
many animals, fish, birds, and insects came to live in the Land
of Blue Mist -- but the land was dark. There was no sun. The creatures
knew there was the sun's fire on the other side of the world, but
they didn't know how to get it. One dark day, the Wolf called a
meeting of all the creatures. The Coyote suggested they dig a tunnel
through the earth to the other side and bring back some of the sun's
fire. The Mole dug the tunnel. It was a very long tunnel. Then the
animals debated how was the best way to get a piece of the sun and
bring it back through the tunnel. Many animals tried, but all of
them failed. Many were burned by the fire when they tried to carry
it. The other animals had to pour water over their burning friends
and snuffed out the fire. Then old Grandmother Spider offered to
go. Wolf said she was too old and too small, but she was also very
wise and she knew better. At last, Wolf allowed her to try. She
made a small clay pot she carried with two of her legs. Then she
slowly crawled through the tunnel. When she reached the other side,
she saw where the sun rested on the top of a mountain. Slowly, she
crawled up to the sun and broke off a piece of it. She put the little
bit of fire in her pot and fed it some dry grass and small sticks.
Then she crawled back down the tunnel. The way was long, but when
she returned to the other animals the fire still burned in her pot.
The Wolf threw the fire into the sky where it grew large and round,
and became the sun. Now the land was warm and bright.
are actually two groups of Cherokees: the Eastern Band who live
in the mountains of North Carolina, and the Cherokee Nation, a larger
group, who now live in Oklahoma. This is the direct result of the
infamous Removal Act enforced in 1838. Ever since the Europeans
began settling in the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi,
they expanded westward, seeking more land for farming. In the 1790's
this expansion moved from the lowlands up the mountainsides, over-running
the lands of the Cherokee. Photo: Mary
and me at the entrance to the Reservation. I was very excited to
The Cherokee protested to Congress and their
cause was championed by such notable men as Henry Clay, Davy Crockett,
and Daniel Webster. But these men's eloquent words fell upon deaf
ears. President Andrew Jackson, whose life had been saved in 1812,
by a Cherokee, signed the "Removal Treaty" literally forcing the
Cherokee, as well as the Creek, Chickasaw, and other southeastern
tribes out of their homelands and sent them to the Indian Territory
(now Oklahoma). The 1200 mile trek in the dead of winter 1837-1838
has become known as the "Trail of Tears."
Under the command of General Winfield Scott,
600 wagons, steamers, and keel boats moved over 16,000 Cherokee
from North Carolina to Oklahoma using both land and river. The journey
took nearly 180 days. At the trail's end, more than 4,000 Cherokee
had died from disease, ice storms, and utter despair. These disposed
Cherokee became known as the Cherokee Nation.
But not all the eastern Cherokee were rounded up by the army. Some
managed to escape, and they hid deep within the Great Smoky Mountains.
In time, this group, now known as the Eastern Band, felt confident
enough to return to farming their original homesites. In the late
1800's, Will Thomas, a white man who was adopted by the Eastern
Cherokee, purchased a large tract of land for his adoptive people.
This is the Qualla Boundary, more commonly called the Cherokee Reservation.
The Qualla Boundary is comprised of 56,000
acres in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains. The descendants
of the Cherokee who escaped the Removal now live on this Reservation
held in trust by the federal government. Today, over 12,000 descendants
of the Eastern Cherokee reside in one of the six communities in
the mountainous Boundary: Yellowhill, Birdtown, Painttown, Snowbird,
Big Cove, and Wolftown. The main town is Cherokee where most of
the tourist activities are located. The Eastern Band are governed
by a 12-member Tribal Council, a Principal Chief, a Vice Chief,
and the heads of Tribal departments.
visiting the Cherokee Reservation are often greeted by a member
of the tribe wearing elaborate feathered headdresses. This is not
traditional Cherokee garb. Rather it belongs to several Plains Indian
tribes like the Cheyenne and Sioux. Also a number of Tipi tents
are seen outside of stores along the main streets of Cherokee. Again,
this type of lodging is not traditional Cherokee, but Plains Indian.
Photo: A postcard of the Welcome sign
with a Cherokee dressed like a Plains Indian.
Why do the Cherokee wear feathered headdresses
and display tipis of the Plains Indians? Because this is what the
non-Indian tourists, who have watched hundreds of movies and TV
shows, expect to see when they come to an Indian Reservation. In
actual fact, the Cherokee adopted the European style of dress in
the late 1700's, and they have always lived in log cabins -- never
We spent a long time at the Museum of the
Cherokee Indian where we learned a great deal about the life and
culture of these people. The Museum is a modern, state-of-the-art
exhibition hall which also houses an Art and Gift Gallery featuring
some of the finest works of the Cherokee artisans. Next door to
the Museum is a large Ceremonial Field where many of the Cherokee
powwows and festivals are held. "Powwow" is an Algonquin Indian
word meaning a gathering for a ceremonial reason or a conference.
of the most important men of the Cherokee people was Sequoyah, who
invented a special alphabet for the Cherokee language in the 1820's.
Photo: Mary and me in front of the beautiful
statue of Sequoyah (left), and postcard of the Sequoyah statue at
While many Native American tribes now publish
books and newspapers in their own languages, only the Cherokee have
a special alphabet. The others use the Roman/Latin alphabet. Sequoyah
understood the importance of a written language.
Did you know
the Cherokee word for books translates as "talking leaves?"
Photo: Statue of Sequoyah. Notice Sequoyah
has tears running from his eyes. This is in remembrance of the Trail
of Tears which divided the Cherokee into two bands.
Photo: Me in front of the Sequoyah plaque.
The plaque states, " Sequoyah. This statue honoring Sequoyah,
the Cherokee genius who invented the Cherokee alphabet, was sculpted
from a single Giant California Sequoia (Redwood) log which was donated
and shipped by Georgia-Pacific. This is sculptor Peter Wolf Toth's
63rd statue across the United States and Canada commemorating the
contributions of Native Americans. Toth was invited to sculpt the
Sequoyah statue by Chief Robert S. Youngdeer and Museum Director
Ken Blankenship. Dedicated 30 September 1989."
I hope you have enjoyed my tour of the Cherokee
Reservation. From deep in the hills of the Great Smoky Mountains,
I bid you peace.
Ulysses: The next report is mine. I'll be
visiting a very interesting museum in Cookeville, Tennessee.
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