The East Tennessee River Valley Commemorates the 175th Anniversary of the Trail of Tears

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The East Tennessee River Valley commemorates the 175th Anniversary of the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation in 1838 to Oklahoma. The East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, a partnership in sustainable travel with National Geographic, features many significant historic and interpretive sites showcasing the rich life and culture of the Cherokee and remembering the Trail of Tears with special events and exhibits throughout 2013.

Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux - courtesy of the Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma

Several important interpretive centers, with exhibits, replicas of buildings, and annual festivals celebrating the lives of the Cherokee and remembering the Trail of Tears, can be found in the East Tennessee River Valley.

The East Tennessee River Valley commemorates the 175th Anniversary of the Trail of Tears, the forced removal of the Cherokee Nation to Oklahoma. This tragic event will be remembered in special events and exhibits in the East Tennessee River Valley during 2013.

In 1830, the U.S. Indian Removal Act was passed to make land available for white settlement. A small minority of Cherokee signed the New Echota Treaty of 1835 relinquishing Cherokee Nation claims to lands east of the Mississippi River. Fifteen thousand Cherokees protested the Treaty as fraudulent. In May 1838, Federal troops and state militias forced the Cherokees into stockades. By November 1838, 15,000 Cherokees began the Removal to what is now Oklahoma traveling by land, rail, and water. By March 1839, all the survivors reached Oklahoma, but an estimated 4,000 Cherokees, old and young, died making the journey.

Some key commemorative events during the year include: The 175 Years: Cherokee Trail of Tears Memorial Service on May 18 at the New Echota Cherokee Capital State Historic Site in Calhoun, GA; the official opening of the original Federal Road Trail at the Chattanooga Moccasin Bend National Park on October 26 and 27; and a lecture by Principal Chief Bill John Baker, Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma) at the Tennessee Aquarium Auditorium, Chattanooga on October 28

“Several important interpretive centers with exhibits, replicas of buildings, and annual festivals celebrating the lives of the Cherokee and remembering the Trail of Tears can be found in the East Tennessee River Valley” says Jane Fowler, Manager, East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism Initiative. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, TN is dedicated to Sequoyah, a Cherokee leader who developed a writing system for the Cherokees which enabled thousands of Cherokee to become literate, much of the Bible and numerous hymns to be translated into Cherokee, and the publication of a newspaper, the “Cherokee Phoenix”. The Trail of Tears will be the theme of the Museum’s lecture series throughout the year and its fall festival.

Red Clay State Historic Park near Cleveland, TN marks the last location of the Cherokee councils before the Trail of Tears. It was here that Chief John Ross and 15,000 Cherokees rejected the proposed treaty with the U.S. Government. The park features replicas of Cherokee buildings, a video about the Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears, and the Cherokee Days of Recognition, featuring Cherokee dancers, storytellers, and more, held annually on the first weekend of August.

The trip west began at Charleston (Fort Cass) on the Hiwassee River north of Cleveland, TN. Cherokee Removal Memorial Park at Blythe Ferry features an interpretive center, a granite wall that documents significant events of the Cherokee people, and the floor of the amphitheater that depicts the different routes taken by the Cherokee Nation on their journey west.

The path now known as the Unicoi Turnpike Trail predates written history. It connected the Tennessee Overhill Region to Georgia and the Atlantic coastal ports. During the Removal it was used to transport over 3,000 Cherokee from Fort Butler at Murphy, North Carolina over the mountains to Coker Creek, TN and on to Fort Cass at Charleston, TN. A free trail map interprets the places, events and people during several historical periods, including the Trail of Tears.

The Chief Vann House in Chatsworth, GA was built in 1804 by James Vann, a Cherokee Indian leader and wealthy businessman, who established the largest and most prosperous plantation in the Cherokee Nation. The family lost their elegant home in the 1830’s, but the house survives as Georgia’s best-preserved historical Cherokee home.

In Knoxville, TN the Museum of East Tennessee History’s signature exhibit, Voices of the Land: The People of East Tennessee, includes the Cherokee Nation in the interpretation of the history and culture of East Tennessee during the past 250 years, including the Trail of Tears. The Frank H. McClung Museum features a permanent exhibit on Archaeology and the Native Peoples of Tennessee from 10,000 BC to the present. This exhibit showcases the results of more than 65 years of research by University of Tennessee archaeologists in partnership with the Tennessee Valley Authority in preparation for flooding the reservoirs along the Tennessee River and its tributaries and a video, “We Endure: The Journey of the Cherokee” tracing the history of the Cherokee throughout time.

Take a look at the East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide to learn more about these Cherokee sites and other geotourism venues and adventures and find out what makes this region a National Geographic Destination.

The East Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, a partnership in sustainable travel and tourism with National Geographic, is an online planning guide to a region “Where Rivers and Mountains Meet,” from the Smoky Mountains through Knoxville, Chattanooga and North Georgia. The MapGuide is a program coordinated by the Southeast Watershed Forum, a nonprofit organization helping communities protect and enhance their land and water resources.

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