Bryson City • Cherokee • Qualla Boundary • Oconaluftee Village • Swain County
Western North Carolina • Great Smoky Mountain National Park
They revered their homelands unlike any other native nation. From beyond the horizon they ruled a North American territory that spanned throughout seven states. Migrating south from the Great Lakes in the late 1400’s, they inhabited this region for centuries, laying claim to their ancestral heritage. Many myths, legends and traditions foretold these great mountains, rivers and valley lands as their root of origins.
After holding dominance over their wilderness kingdom for generations, time and a way of life began to crumble as the white invaders persistently pressed their outer boundaries. Oppressed and out numbered they fell under the power of a young ambitious nation who gave little to no leniency for these noble people of honor and country.
This nation of aboriginals exist today as a formable reminder, holding those practices concerning ancient customs and traditions sacred, preserving a culture so true American that we often overlook the obvious persona of their prestige as our pre-nations original Red Fore Fathers, the Cherokee.
The Cherokee also known as the Principle People at the time of the their contact with white settlers, were a considerably accomplished native people of Northern America with over 200 Cherokee towns throughout the central southeast. They often lived in harmony through trade and treaty with the new settlers and its government though they did fought alongside the British against the new Americans. Due to trading goods with the Europeans in exchange for the Cherokee fur commodities, most Cherokee choose to assimilate the new European arrivals, these material goods and influence toward prospers lifestyles encouraged many of the people. A Cherokee named Sequoyah found it essential to create a written language for their people to preserve the future of their society believing education was the key to their long-term success with the new arrivals. That all changed in the early 1830’s when and abundance of gold was discovered in the Blue Ridge Mountains causing President Jackson to make a decree for the removal and possession of all properties of the Cherokee. This act lead to the infamous “Trail of Tears,” where thousand of Cherokee were rounded up and forced to the Oklahoma Territory where many died along the way.
Many of the Cherokee people hid out deep in the mountains and joined other Cherokee who lived in the remote corner of what is now Swain County. Their resistance to leave eventually led to the securing of the Cherokee Reservation or more properly referred to as Qualla (Native American) Boundary.
Cherokee; Qualla (Native American) Boundary
One of the greatest gifts of Swain County is the ever-growing town of Cherokee in the Qualla Boundary of North Carolina. An effort to evade the United States Army in the late 1830’s lead many of the Cherokee people to retreated deep into the remote region of what we know today as the Smoky Mountains. Due to an unfortunate turn of events between the Cherokee and the Army, a Cherokee named Tsali, his oldest son and his brother in-law were executed due to a skirmish resulting in military death. This surrender and execution freed the Cherokee people of further harassment by the Army. Today as well as then, these men are considered to be heroes. Their lives contributed to the present existence of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee in the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain region. This natural setting for the Cherokee People provides the means for the expression and lifestyle unique to this society of Native Americans. Their customs and contribution to history has enriched our Nation.
Most Americans take pride in our being a young strong Nation, yet we’re not so young after all. Native Americans are the key to our past. Archeologists date their presence in the Americas back 12,00 thousand years. Mound Builders of the Mississippian Culture occupied much of the southeastern and mid-western United States. Their advanced mound cities demonstrated the supremacy of these ancient societies through organization of individual governments, agriculture, trade, religious beliefs and customs. The Mound Builder were the predecessors of many of the Native Americans we know today.
The Cherokee People have been known throughout Early American history as the Civilized People, The preservation of the Cherokee culture along with other Native American cultures that have survived the ages are the cornerstone of our countries own past. A past that was stripped from our commonly known history books due to European genocide, disease and the expulsion of Native Americans from their homelands.
The town of Cherokee is a wonderful place to visit for people of all ages. There you’ll find both the gateway to North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains and the trailhead to the renowned scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. The community of Cherokee like all Native American Boundaries are self-governed by its tribal leaders. The experience you’ll find here in Cherokee is totally unique, their history, their customs and hospitality are that of a people who are accustomed to accepting the rights and beliefs of others. The fact is that they are the true blood right Americans and we are their welcomed guests still resonates from their sense of warm hospitality.
The Museum of the Cherokee Indian located along the Oconaluftee River is an enlightened experience. Its state-of-the-art displays tells the story of the early Native American’s and their encounters with the first Europeans to the time of the Cherokee People domination of the central southeastern United States beginning in the late 15th Century thru to the beginning of the 19th Century. The museum tour concludes with the mass exodus of the Cherokee from their homelands to the Oklahoma Territory along the “Trail of Tears". Many Cherokee date their relationship with this mountainous region to their origins of creation continuing to trade with this region for millenniums before their repopulation of the territory in the 1500’s. Possible warfare contributed to their migration from the Great Lakes region back to the southern United States prior to the 16th Century. The Museum of the Cherokee Indian begins with a beautiful animated film reliving their creation story and their prehistoric roots in this region of North America. Their struggle for survival remains as an example of an American success story in the land the Cherokee People have always cherished. The museum’s state-of-the-art displays are both informative and quite entertaining.
The fact that some descendents Cherokee believe tribal ancestors have been connected with this mountainous region since the days of the great mastodon hunts. A replica of a mastodon vertebra found in the local area is displayed in the museum. This theory has possibility, and in fact is supported by archeological findings. There’s a long abandon village site between the towns of Cherokee and Bryson City. Along the banks of the Tuskasegee River and bordered by highways U.S. 19 and U.S. 74 is the Kituwah Village. This is considered to be a very sacred site dating back possibly 10,000 years. The Blue Ridge Highlander finds this to be a very significant tale; the Highlander intends on sharing this story with its readers the site and its known history.
Next door to the Museum of the Cherokee Indians are the Cherokee Fairgrounds. The fairgrounds have an outdoor theater with stadium seating, which is covered from the back of the stage to the back row of seats, keeping out the elements of sun and rain. Here special events and festivals with live performances depicting tribal customs are old thru dance, storytelling and symbolic crafts.
Tiers sweep up the slope of the hills, forest surround the horizon; stage is centered front row, a time capsule is about to unfold. “Unto these Hills,” is an outstanding performance by a cast of 130 performers, telling the story of the Cherokee People and the Sacred Fire. Performances include elaborate costumes, song and dance with colorful stage settings. The outdoor theater for the live performance is hidden above the fairground behind a forest-covered hill. Over six million people have seen this great performance; no trip to Cherokee is complete without this experience, you will be moved!
The town of Cherokee also has the Oconaluftee Indian Village an actual replica of a 1750’s Cherokee village. Here daily life, arts, crafts and customs can be viewed and enjoyed, an experience that’s set back in time when the Great Cherokee Nation ruled these mountains and southeastern valleys.
The town of Cherokee has shops upon shops, dining throughout, lodging amusements parks and so much more. A popular and well-established addition to the town of Cherokee is an electronic gaming casino drawing large numbers of visitors daily throughout the year. A 15-story 600-room hotel, conference center and 6 restaurants make this a serious gaming facility.
Within the Qualla Boundary is the world of outdoor recreation you can fly fish for rainbow or brown mountain trout along the rushing water of Oconaluftee River. Oconaluftee River also offers white water rafting with Class IV and V rapids. Hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding and camping are also available throughout the region.
The Qualla Boundary offers spectacular waterfalls, scenic drives and the occasional sighting of black bears; natural wonders and majestic beauty will make your trip a memorable one. There’s much to do and see in Cherokee North Carolina, so make sure you take enough time to enjoy it all.
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