Tribute to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and their New Business Enterprise

Those of us who grew up in this part of the country know Cherokee, North Carolina. Many of us, however, are unaware that there are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes. One is the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma; a second is the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, also in Oklahoma; and the third is the one we know best, the eastern band of Cherokee Indians, our friends across the mountains. There is a historical basis to how this split occurred, with most moving west while some cloistered in the Smokies.

During his four years as president, John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts enacted a protective tariff imposing duties on imports. The law was particularly unpopular in the South where the cotton trade was king. In the 1828 election, Andrew Jackson succeeded Adams as president and inherited the previous John C. Calhoun administration of South Carolina as vice president. Unfortunately, Jackson and Calhoun had a long history of political differences. In 1832, an election year, Jackson succeeded in passing a law lowering, but not eliminating, the tariff. Unhappy with Jackson’s modest attempt to appease the southern states, South Carolina—with Calhoun’s vigorous support—claimed the right to overturn the federal tariff law. When Jackson sent the Navy to Charleston and threatened to hang Calhoun as a traitor, the “cancellation crisis” was temporarily resolved. Calhoun, however, resigned as vice president in order to return to the Senate and champion the South.

To shore up his popularity in southern states for the ensuing elections, Jackson had earlier signed into law the Indian Removal Act, which authorized him as president to grant lands west of the Mississippi in exchange for Native American lands. in the States. At that time, nearly 125,000 Native Americans lived on millions of acres in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Florida. The tribes in these states that were considered “civilized” were the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek, and, of course, the Cherokee. Many members of these tribes owned land individually, learned to speak English, and converted to Christianity – considered hallmarks of “civilization”. A few even owned slaves to help them work their farms. White settlers, however, coveted their land to profit from the cotton industry and sometimes used violent means to gain access to it, looting and burning homes, stealing livestock, and squatting on Native American lands. Many states had passed laws in defiance of the tribes’ traditional sovereignty as self-government.

Jackson, who had once led troops to fight the Creeks in Alabama and the Seminoles in Florida, had taken up the cause of the white settlers. To illustrate, in the landmark case of Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia’s laws did not apply to tribal lands, implicitly asserting that the laws of other southern states had no force or effect. effect in the Indian nations. In response, Jackson, according to some reports, commented, “[Chief Justice] John Marshall has made his decision, now let him implement it. As the country’s top leader, Jackson shrugged off the decision. The Choctaw were the first to be sent west. The Creeks were next. Meanwhile, agents acting on behalf of the Cherokee negotiated the Treaty of New Echota, purporting to exchange all southeastern Cherokee lands in exchange for $5 million, resettlement assistance, and compensation for lost property. John Ross, however, the main chief of the Cherokees who was armed with 16,000 tribal signatures, protested the terms of the treaty, arguing that his people had not approved of its contents. Most simply refused to leave.

By the time Jackson was replaced in 1837 by his former vice president, Martin Van Buren, only 2,000 Cherokees had left their homeland for what was called the Oklahoma Territory. So Van Buren sent General Winfield Scott and 7,000 troops under his command to speed up the process. This led to what became known as the Trail of Tears. The soldiers marched some 15,000 Cherokees, with only what they could carry, more than 1,200 miles to Indian Territory. Tragically, more than 5,000 people died along the way, from exposure, dysentery, cholera, typhus, whooping cough and starvation. Still, not all Cherokees are gone. About 800 tribal members lived along the Oconaluftee River in western North Carolina. Their leader, Yonaguska, also known as the Drowning Bear, managed to avoid kidnapping with the help of his adopted white son, attorney William Holland Thomas. Thus begins the story of a Cherokee farmer and prophet named Tsali.

On November 1, 1838, during the roundup commanded by General Scott, Tsali, his wife, his brother, his three sons and their families were captured and taken under guard to a military post on the Hiwassee River. According to one account, when Tsali’s wife stopped to tend to her baby’s needs, one of the guards hit her and shoved her with his bayonet. When the mother, holding her baby, was forced to ride, her foot was dangling from the stirrup. She lost hold of the child, who fell to his death. In response, Tsali and his family attacked the soldiers, killing one guard and wounding or overpowering the others, then fled into the mountains. News that Tsali’s clan had evaded capture and hid in a cave near present-day Clingman’s Dome prompted others to join them. Over time, hundreds of Cherokees flocked to the area, surviving on roots and berries to stave off starvation.

Without enough soldiers to risk in such a remote part of the mountains but fearful of setting an intolerable precedent, General Scott had a situation in his hands. He chose to enlist the help of Thomas, who had won the trust of the tribe. Thomas was instructed to make an offer. If Tsali and his family surrendered to be tried by the military tribunals, the other Cherokees who had joined them in the mountains would remain free to stay. For their role in the murder of their guard soldier, Tsali, his brother, and his sons were executed by firing squad, allegedly made up of Cherokee prisoners. Tsali’s wife and youngest son, Wasidana, were spared. Fugitive Cherokee who had taken refuge in the Smokies became the ancestors of the now federally recognized band of Eastern Cherokee Indians, which is located on some 68,000 acres known as Qualla Boundary . Regardless of its precise historical accuracy, this saga and Tsali’s role as a martyr has become legend.

Since the summer of 1950, the drama Up to these hills, originally written by Kermit Hunter, performed at the outdoor Mountainside Theater in Cherokee. The story tells the story of the Eastern Band and has included the roles of figures such as Sequoyah, who created the Cherokee written language, Chief Yonaguska, Thomas and, of course, Tsali. More recently, Charles Frazier, the award-winning author of cold mountainpublished thirteen moonsa historical novel that refers to Tsali’s story as “Charley”.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which opened in 1934 during the Great Depression, has a long history with the Eastern Strip. Gatlinburg, of course, opened as the gateway city to the Smokies on the Tennessee side. Cherokee held this position in North Carolina. Gatlinburg and later Pigeon Forge began to prosper as resort towns after World War II, while Cherokee was less successful in developing its economy. Things really started to change in 1997. The Eastern Band opened Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. With four expansions since then, the Hôtel du Casino now has more than 1,100 rooms. And the gambling options compare favorably to those in Las Vegas. Dining options include Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Guy Fieri’s Kitchen, Brio Tuscan Grill, and other restaurants. Many Tennesseans travel through the mountains to add to the prosperity of the tribal council.

In order to qualify as a member and share in the income of the tribe, one must first have a direct line ancestor among the 3,146 authenticated people listed on the Eastern Band’s 1924 Baker Roll, as approved by an act of Congress; and second, must possess a minimum of 1/16 degree to meet the quantum blood requirements of the tribe. Today, Cherokee has more than 16,000. With communal ownership, each member of the tribe has received about $13,000 over the past year.

Now led by current Senior Chief Richard Sneed, the Eastern Band continues to thrive but with plans to diversify, having recently purchased over 400 acres in Sevierville. The properties are located on both sides of Interstate 40 at Exits 407, one of the busiest sections of the highway in the country. Approximately 200 acres in the southeast quadrant are under development. Buc-ee’s, a massive Texas-based convenience store conglomerate, is building a 74,000 square foot facility with 120 fuel pumps and car washes spanning more than a mile. As an anchor tenant in the Eastern Strip, Buc-ee’s, which has 38 locations in Texas alone, says its Sevierville store will be the nation’s largest convenience market and “home to the cleanest bathrooms in the world.” , the freshest food and the friendliest beavers. ”—the company’s mascot.

A direct quote from one of the many positive comments on a story posted on TheSmokies.com serves as inspiration for this column: “I sincerely hope that some kind of recognition or tribute will be offered to the American Indians whose the earth once was.” And now is again.