Hi, everybody. While Dave’s on a much-needed vacation, I’ll be pinch-hitting for him here at AppalachianHistory.net. I’ll be doing a piece each day this week, about a place near and dear to my heart– Southeast Tennessee. Some of the topics may be familiar to you; some may be brand new. But, either way, I hope you have fun getting to know my Southern Appalachia, my neck of the woods.
Today, I thought I’d start us out with a discussion about one of the most significant events in Southeast Tennessee history and the park that has sprung up as a result of it.
Red Clay State Historic Park sits in the southwest corner of Bradley County, Tennessee, just north of the Tennessee-Georgia line. And, it was at Red Clay that the Cherokee nation held its government-in-exile, its last councils, before embarking on the Trail of Tears.
Until 1832, the capital of the Cherokee nation had been at New Echota, Georgia, about an hour’s drive south of Red Clay, on Spring Place Road. But, a variety of factors caused the State of Georgia to outlaw the assembling of Cherokees in Georgia, except for the purpose of signing treaties that gave away their land. The discovery of gold in Dahlonega, just a couple of counties over, was not among the least of those factors.
So, from 1832 to 1838, the Cherokee nation held eleven general councils at Red Clay, with attendance upwards of 5,000 people. Various factions within the tribe argued the fate of the Cherokee people. But, in the end, the Cherokee nation split.
And, that’s where Red Clay gets personal for me.
I could tell you about “Cry of the Owl,” the play about the last council meeting. It premiered with the park’s opening. I was in it.
I could tell you about my prior girlfriends who I’ve taken on the hiking trail at the park. But, let’s not go there.
No, Red Clay gets personal for me because, in a very tangible way, the Cherokees never left Red Clay. The official story is that the western band of the Cherokee made the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma and the eastern band stayed in the western Carolina mountains, forming what is known today as Cherokee, North Carolina. But, then, there are the rest of us.
I don’t know a native-born Southeast Tennessean who isn’t at least partially Cherokee. On my father’s side, my great-grandmother was Meacy Louisy Kanzada Jane Hughes Hooker and she was a full-blooded Cherokee. On my mother’s side, my great-grandmother was Harriet Frazier Walker and she was a full-blooded Cherokee, too. Doing the math, that makes me a quarter Cherokee. And, I’m as proud of that heritage as I am the remaining English on my father’s side and the remaining Scots-Irish on my mother’s side.
And, my lineage isn’t that unique for this area. In fact, it’s rather common.
So, we’re left with a really nice state park. It covers 263 acres. It has a natural landmark, the Blue Hole Spring, which feeds into Mill Creek, which feeds into the Conasauga River and Coosa River systems. It has a picnic pavilion that holds up to 100 people. It has a park-ranger station, where you can learn more about the Cherokee nation and all the stuff that went on at the park.
And, Red Clay State Historic Park holds an irony. It’s a tribute to those who left and a reminder for those of us who didn’t.