The Smoky Mointains Vistors Guide



The smoky Mountains are some of the tallest mountain ranges in the South Eastern United States. Because of the rough terrain passing this mountainous region the geology of the area acted as a natural barrier to European expansion in the early formative years of the first colonies of the United States.

As early as 9000 BC, we know that some of the first human beings of post-Pleistocene era entered  this area. Home to mammoths, bison and elk. They found a lush wilderness full of diverse plant life and exotic wildlife of which many species are now extinct. These Paleo-Indians were nomadic in nature and lived off the land in their constant quest for food and game.

Around 8000 B.C. Archaic people showed up in the Appalachians. It is quite possible that these Archaic peoples are the direct descendants of the Paleo-Indians, however their lifestyles differed from the hand to mouth existence of the former tenants of the smoky Mountains.

The Archaic Indians set up camps that were seasonal and moved from camp to camp depending on the resources and climate of the area at that particular time. Never over-hunting and always living in harmony with nature. This practice of moving settlements from place to place, allowed the former campsite to re-gentrify, re-grow and re-populate game, and was still used by early Native American Indians as recently as pre-Colonial times.

Trade was conducted with other peoples as far away as South America and with the introduction of corn and other crops, brought farming to the smoky Mountains, which in turn, created large ceremonial and cultural centers.

Through time, into what is now called the "Woodland Era", many major tribes such as the Choctaw, Creek and Chickasaw Nations entered into this area. As stated before it was very common for indigenous tribes to move from one area to another depending on such considerations as warfare, splintering of groups and living conditions. Later these same groups encountered some of the first Europeans. Hernando De Soto entered the region in the mid-1500's.

The Cherokee

The Great smoky Mountains region  was and still is home to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation.  For hundreds of years the entire, once powerful Cherokee Nation resided here on "The Land of a Thousand Smokes".

There were three main groups within the Cherokee Tribe, and at the time of European expansion they controlled a large portion of the land from the valleys of western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee to the rivers of Ohio that stretched all the way to South Carolina and Georgia.

Most people have an uneducated view of  Woodland Indians. The Cherokees wore no "War Bonnets" or lived in "Tee Pees". In all actuality many woodland cultures like the Cherokee were some of the first people to live in log cabins. Although most Cherokee homes had no windows per say, their roofs were made of bark and smoke from their fires escaped thru a hole in the roof.

The Cherokees were clan based and kinship ties between groups were very strong. Sometimes there would be inter-tribal warfare or what is called blood oaths. A proud and war like people. Many young warriors earned their status in the tribe through war deeds on the battle field. They also fought constantly with the tribes of Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaws for control of the region and driving the Shawnees out of the Cumberland River region.

After De Soto, the Spaniards showed up building forts in Florida. With military conquest and the fever for gold in mind, they sent out military and exploration parties to map out trade routes that eventually led them to the foothills of the mountains. The name Tennessee was first recorded by Captain Juan Pardo, the Spanish explorer, when he and his men passed through a Native American village named "Tanasqui" in 1567. European settlers later encountered a Cherokee town named "Tanasi" (or "Tanase") in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee. The town was located on a river of the same name (now known as the Little Tennessee River). The meaning and origin of the word are uncertain. Some accounts suggest it is a Cherokee modification of an earlier Yuchi / Creek word. It has been said to mean "meeting place", "winding river", or "river of the great bend"

Soon contact with English settlers occurred around the late 1600's. The meeting of Europeans had devastating results to the indigenous peoples of the Southern and Eastern area's, disease's alone brought by the new visitor's caused the deaths of millions of Native Americans. In some places entire villages were wiped off the face of the earth.

Of course the Cherokees found themselves competing for trade goods and weapons that the white settlers had brought with them, trading for furs, etc. Thus raising the stakes higher between them and other tribes. Creating a desire that contributed in escalating warfare and the depletion of natural resources.

Slavery had a part in shaping the destiny of the Cherokee as well and soon they found themselves exchanging prisoners of war for trade goods. The South Carolina Colonies eagerly accepted the human market to fuel their expansion, economy and work force. One has to keep in mind Native American Indians had a different concept of slavery than the Europeans. Usually captives of war or native slaves would be freed or adopted after say, a year or summer of service. Yet some Cherokees legally held slaves clear up to the Civil War.

During the French and Indian Wars most Cherokees sided with the French, who had established settlements in the New World by the early 1700's. The Cherokees singed a Treaty in 1754 with England which allowed the British to build outpost in their territory. In 1760 the Virginian Colonist declared war on the Cherokee People destroying many villages. Then the Cherokees retaliated and successfully attacked Fort Loudon.

After peace was made between the French and English in 1763. King George declared that no English settlements shall be made West of the Blue Ridge Divide. Of course the many wars and skirmishes the Cherokees had had over the previous years left them quite weakened and unable to stave off the advancements of white settlers moving into the areas claimed by the Cherokees.

The American Revolutionary War broke out in 1776 and most Cherokees sided with the British against the American Colonist. Naturally after siding with the losers of the American Revolution, the Cherokees had to sue for peace thus once again having to succeed much of their land east of the Blue Ridge under a new treaty. After 20 treaties the Cherokees finally signed the Treaty of Calhoun in 1819. succeeding in the lost of Cherokee land claims in The Smoky Mountains, opening up the door to European expansion.

In November 1828, Andrew Jackson succeeded John Q. Adams as President. He was a frontiersman and Indian hater, and the change boded no good to the Cherokees. Even though his life had been saved by a Cherokee at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, he ran for the presidency on a policy of Indian Removal.

"I have long viewed treaties with the Indians an absurdity not to be reconciled to the principles of our Government. The Indians are the subjects of the United States, inhabiting it's territory and acknowledging it's sovereignty, then is it not absurd for the sovereign to negotiate by treaty with the subject. . . ."

Andrew Jackson had made the assumption that the Indians were subjects to the United States, which was false. Jackson is explaining that subjects should not have to negotiate a treaty, and that taking the land should be a right of the master (U.S.), upon his slave (Cherokee Indians).

"The Indian Removal Act" was passed by Congress in 1830, under Jackson's urging and by the end of Jackson's administration, Cherokees and almost all Indians in the east, had been moved west of the Mississippi. Thousands of Indians cheated out of their land, were forced to remove themselves from their native homelands and many died during the forced migration, infamously known as "Trail of Tears"

After Removal

However there were some Cherokees who refused to go and in order to save themselves or families,  went to the Mountains and rough ridges to hideout and avoid removal. Some assimilated into white culture. Swain County was formed in 1871 from Jackson (formed in 1851 from Haywood and Macon) and Macon Counties.

The area covered by Swain County was once Macon County, formed in 1828 from Indian Lands. The county was named in honor of former governor and University of NC president David Lowry Swain. The first court was held at Cold Spring Meeting House, and commissioners were assigned to lay out a town to be called Charleston and to select a site for the courthouse. In 1889 this town was renamed Bryson City (the present day county seat) in honor of Colonel Thad Dillard Bryson.

Eventually "The Qualla' Band Reservation", 50,000 acres, was finally established in 1868, part of it being in Swain County.  Recognizing those who had stayed behind as "the Eastern Band Cherokee."

 "The Indians were a potent , if not crucial[,] ecological factor in the distribution and composition of the forest. Their activities through millennia make the concept of "natural vegetation" a difficult one to uphold. This does not mean that there was no untouched forest, or even fluctuations of climate; but the idea of the forest as being in some pristine state of equilibrium with nature, awaiting the arrival of the transforming hand of the Europeans, has been all too readily accepted as comforting generalization and as a benchmark [by which] to measure all subsequent change. when the Europeans came to North America the forest had already been changed radically."

"Michael Williams"

In any case, evidence of Indian land use patterns in the Smokies suggest that the Indians were responsible for at least thinning forest, and that Europeans later cleared these more thoroughly and expanded them by burning, clearing, and grazing domestic animals.

The real major change that came to the Smokies was the introduction of live stock to the area. Such as free-range cattle, sheep and hogs.  By the 1840's white settlers had moved in and were prominent on all mountain river valleys.

Tennessee was admitted into the Union in 1796 and was the 16th state. By 1850, small settlements had been established like, Cades Cove, Raven Fork, Deep Creek, Forney Creek, Quallatown and Cataloochee.

The selling of livestock, the Fur trade, farming and Medicinal plants were the main commodity in the area. Pig iron was in great abundance in the Early 19th Century and was transported to bloomery forges all over the area. Cades cove got one of it's first bloomery forges in 1827. The 1840's found a decline in the mining of the low grade pig-iron.

Soon came the prospectors who looked and mined for Gold, Tin, Silver, Copper and Zinc. These first prospectors found little marketable deposits and it was until the Larger mining companies got involved that large quantities of ore was being produced out of the smoky Mountain Regions. The Epsom Salts Manufacturing Company was established in 1838 at Alum Cave until it was sold in 1854. Saltpeter was mined at Alum Cave for use by the Confederate Army to manufacture gunpowder. 

Another main commodity that was exploited was Timber. Quite a few towns were established from lumber camps, like Townsend, Gatlinburg, Bryson City, Elkmont, Ravensford, Proctor and Fontana. By the 1920's an estimated two-thirds of the Smokies had been logged over or burned by fires caused by logging operations.

So in less than hundred years expansion in the Smokies. Many changes and environmental effects on the area became very evident. Indian trails were widen to form stock trails, roads, turnpikes and train tracks were introduced to help transport commodities and resources out of the area. Wildlife was virtually becoming extinct. Rivers were polluted by mining operations and  mills, streams and rivers filled with sediments caused by erosion.

However, much virgin forest was still able to be maintained in the higher and more inaccessible regions of the smoky mountains.

A National Park

It wasn't until the early 1880's that we see the first movement towards creating a national park  for the Appalachians. North Carolina passed a resolution urging Congress to create a national park 1893. But there would be problem faced by eastern park advocates which, were not an obstacle for those out west who had help in creating parks like Yellowstone, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Most of those lands were Federal Lands and already owned by the government.

Most of the smoky Mountains however, were under private ownership as far back as colonial times. Any lands that would be deemed as park land would have to be bought. So how would the funds be raised? Where was money going to come from? And how could the creation of park land compete with plans being designed for other uses?

In 1901 Senator Pritchard of North Carolina and President Theodore Roosevelt tried to pass new bills that would authorize the use of $5 million Dollars to acquire land, but, logging interest and other members of Congress created obstacles preventing the establishment of a new National forest in the area until 1911. Which is when the "Weeks Act" passed. Between 1911 and 1916. Nearly 62,000 acres was purchased from the Little River Lumber Company. Congress established the National Park Service in 1916.

By 1926 more than a $1 million dollars had been raised by public citizens in Tennessee and North Carolina. Both states contributed $4 million dollars and the Rockefellers contributed another $5 million dollars. by 1935 more than 400,000 acres had come unto public ownership

In 1934, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was established, with part of it also in Swain County, Then in 1941 construction of Fontana Dam was authorized by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Today the national park, the reservation, and the TVA occupy about 280,000 acres of present day Swain County.

 President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the new park, in 1940.


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