Report #11 from Sacagawea: July 22, 2001

Welcome 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 Park.

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.

Legend -- Forming the Great Smoky Mountains:
The 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?

Great 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 spectacular scenery.

As 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.

Legend -- 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.

Trail of Tears:
There 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 be there.

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.

Eastern Band:
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.

People 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 tents.

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.

Sequoyah:
One 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 night (right).

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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