They ruled a kingdom within a boundary that expanded throughout 7 states of what would become known as the southeastern United States. The land of the Cherokee People were rich in natural resources consuming tens of millions of acres of valleys, mountains, lakes and rushing rivers. Located within this kingdom of Native Americans were over 200 towns each ruled by tribal Warrior Chiefs and Priest Chiefs.
The kingdom of the Cherokee was so expansive that it was divided into three significant regions, the Upper, the Lower and the Middle Kingdoms.
The towns of the Lower Cherokee were located along the outer edge of the eastern Blue Ridge Mountains in the lands of the present day Carolinas and North Georgia.
The Cherokee People who lived in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province occupied the Middle Cherokee towns.
The Upper towns of the Cherokee People where located on the western edge of the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains in the Tennessee Valley.
The Cherokee People of the Upper towns were called the Overhill Cherokee by the British prior to the American Revolutionary War. The British named this region Overhill due to the 24 mountains the British army and white traders had to cross from the Carolinas to the Tennessee River Valley.
Today most visitors to the Blue Ridge and Smoky Mountains are under the impression that all of the Cherokee People lived in the interior of the mountains. This concept is due to their familiarity with the town of Cherokee in the Qualla Boundary located within Swain County, North Carolina. In fact only a minority of the Cherokee People lived in the mountain interior, the majority lived outside of the mountains where farmlands, wildlife, game and transportation were more accessible.
The rich lands of the Tennessee Valley offered a paradise of farmlands, rivers and hunting grounds with the neighboring Cumberland Mountains to the west and the Blue Ridge Mountain Province to the east. This provided an abundance of trade goods from the natural resources of the land. The Overhill Cherokee had normal dealings with fur traders as well as the British and French forces and they felt quite comfortable with their geographical position behind the western mountain wall of the Blue Ridge, Smoky Mountains. Although, it wasn't long before the encroachment of white settlers and their militia from the northern end of the Tennessee Valley began pressuring the Cherokee in the Overhill region.
Holding their own ground in the area known today as McMinn, Monroe and Polk Counties in southeastern Tennessee the Cherokee proved their fortitude against the white invaders.
The Cherokee People did give up some eastern lands by treaty in hopes of appeasing the white invader's lust for land. The Overhill Cherokee (Upper) and what remained of the Lower Cherokee in Northern Georgia went as far as assimilating their ways to coincide with the new Americans. They established a written language, formed a new constitutional government, and operated a newspaper the Cherokee Phoenix. The Cherokee also owned profitable businesses and plantations and even owned slaves like their white counterparts.
As more and more white settlers moved into the area the pressure increased in regards to more treaties and eventually moving the Cherokee People out of the southeastern United States, offering them lands in the Oklahoma territory in trade for the remainder of their ancestral homelands. It all came to an end in the late 1830's with the Indian Removal Act and the discovery of gold in the region. Treaty or not white prospectors poured into the area of the southern Blue Ridge Mountains. The infamous "Trail of Tears,"caused the remaining Cherokee, as many as 20,000 to be force marched to Oklahoma. It is estimated that between 2,000 to 4,000 Cherokee died in route, due to poor conditions and bad planning.
What the Cherokee left behind is a historical legacy that is still present and available for viewing in what today's Tennessee Overhill residents refer to as their "open air museum." Located throughout the towns and communities of Monroe, McMinn and Polk are historical sites connected to the life and times of the Overhill (Upper) Cherokee. Below are several attractions attributed to the Cherokee.
Great Tellico: This ancient site of an early Cherokee village is located in Monroe County near the town of Tellico Plains. The village was situated about a mile northeast of Tellico Plains along the east side of the Tellico River. The importance of this location is that it is located on the Unicoi Turnpike also known as the Overhill Trading Path, a trading route that connected the Overhill country with the piedmont and Up Country of South Carolina.
Hiwassee Old Town: On the edge of the Tennessee Valley just below Starr Mountain on the border of McMinn and Polk County was the Cherokee town also known as Great Hiwassee. This town or village was located on the northern bank of the Hiwassee River. The significance of the town was that it was on the Great Warrior's Path making Hiwassee Old Town a site used for Cherokee raiding parties.
Hiwassee River Valley: This beautiful valley along the Hiwassee River was home to many Cherokee, ancient fish weir and traps are still visible when the river is low. The majestic beauty of the land and its swift broad river, seems isolated although its location is just over the ridges behind Chilhowee and Starr Mountains. This very popular river and valley draws sightseers, rafting, canoeing, fly-fishing, horseback riding and trail hikers each year.
Nancy Ward Grave: Many Cherokees, missionaries and some white settlers were devoted friends to one another, always seeking peaceful relationships. Hearing of an impending raid against white settlers Nancy Ward a native Cherokee set about warning the them of the planned attack, her grave site and memorial is located in Polk County along highway 411.
Sequoyah Birthplace Museum: The Cherokee native Sequoyah also known as George Gist has been credited with the creation of the Cherokee syllabary, a unique method of Cherokee writing. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum is located on the southern bank of the Little Tennessee River in Monroe County. The museum is tribally owned and operated. The Sequoyah Birthplace Museum offers displays, insights and education concerning the Cherokee People of the Overhill country
Fort Loudoun: The first collaboration between the British and the Overhill Cherokee against the western advance of the French. Fort Loudoun was constructed in 1756 yet its romance between the Cherokee and British collapsed within 4 years due to warring incidences between the British and other Cherokees hundreds of miles away. Like most nations, clan loyalty inspired the Overhill Cherokee to war with local British at Fort Loudoun, the fort was abandoned and the British were force out of the region. Though time and the elements weathered the fort to extinctions the site has been excavated and the fort restored to its original structure. Fort Loudoun State Historic Area is opened daily with once a month Garrison Weekends presented by the Independent Company of South Carolina plus other events and festivals depicting life at the fort during the mid 1700's. At these event and garrison presentations both British and Cherokee performers show off their costumes and wares.