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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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.
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
"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"
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
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."
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."
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
much virgin forest was still able to be maintained in the higher
and more inaccessible regions of the smoky mountains.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the new park, in 1940.