History of Wit’s End – Part 2 – The Cherokee Nation

(Photo looking west up the Conasauga valley. It was customary for the Cherokee people to hunt and make their homes in mountain valleys like this one. By John Moeller 3/10/2017)

For hundreds, if not thousands, of years indigenous people lived in the valley around Wit’s End, and made it their home. They called it Conasauga, meaning possibly “grass” or “grassy”. However, by the early 1800s Conasauga and current day Gilmer county, originally part of the Cherokee Nation territory, was being encroached on by white settlers looking for land and opportunity. This mountainous area was the last stronghold of the Cherokee people. As a result, it became the geographic center of the rapidly shrinking Cherokee Nation territory. The map below shows that the Cherokee land holdings had once stretched from Georgia to Ohio and Virginia to Missisippi.

(Cherokee Nation Territorial Limits map, by C.C. Royce, 1884 shows the original territory limits, and in order the shrinking of those land holdings 1-35, until their final territorial boundary (36) before their removal in 1838) 

During the late 1700s and early 1800s the Cherokee people and the territories they occupied stood in the way of a growing number of white immigrant settlers from the east (many Scots-Irish) who were looking for land and opportunity in the west. The only thing that kept white settlers from settling in lands occupied by the Cherokee was the fact that the US government and the chiefs of the Cherokee nation had negotiated treaties that clearly delineated the lands that belonged to the Cherokee Nation and thus prohibited the white settlement of these lands. For more than 100 years the US government had negotiated a series of treaties with the Cherokee nation that provided access to lands for its citizens in the west essentially encircling the Cherokee nation. By the early 1800s the treaties had the effect of massively shrinking the eastern land holdings of the Cherokee and pushing them onto a fraction of their original land. The last treaty in 1820 provided the nation with a remnant territory made up of the mountainous areas of northwest Georgia, and contiguous parts of extreme east Tennessee, extreme southwest North Carolina, and northeast Alabama. At this time and under pressure, many Cherokees moved out of the area and headed west to present day Arkansas and Oklahoma, where land was more abundant. However, those Cherokees who wished to remain in the east moved into this last bastion of land, hoping against hope that the treaties with the U.S. government and the rugged terrain of the maintains would hold and protect them and their families and would allow them to peacefully remain in the area in perpetuity. Unfortunately, the discovery of gold in the north Georgia mountains near Dahlonega in 1830 brought prospectors to the region, who encroached on the Cherokee’s land rights and further added pressure to the remaining Cherokees and their way of life. As their territory shrank, New Echota was established as the new capital of the Cherokee Nation around 1800 near present day Calhoun, Georgia, a mere 37 miles away from Conasauga. For generations Cherokees (and Creeks too) lived in Conasauga and the surrounding mountains right up until 1838 when the government hunted them down, rounded them up and forcibly deported them to Oklahoma. 

(Map of the 1838 Cherokee roundup and mass deportation) 

The Cherokees were a bright, peaceful and civilized people who in the decades before removal had adopted many of the ways of white settlers, including developing their own written language, and adopting the modern farming techniques of the white settlers from the east. The clipping below describes Cherokee life. 

It has been documented that the Cherokee settlement at Conasauga along with the one at nearby Mountaintown, were both located on the route of the “Old Ellijay Turnpike”. This turnpike was established by Georgia Governor Gilmer and the state legislature in 1834 to link Dahlonega with Dalton and ultimately, Chattanooga. The route most likely followed an early Indian path that connected Indian settlements like Conasauga along the way. One could speculate that this road was created to hasten the forced round up and removal of the remaining Cherokees in 1838. The Old Turnpike was a toll road and the western toll gate was established at Mulberry Gap just a mile and a half to the west of Conasauga (Loretta Coker).

When the time finally came in 1838, the US military forcibly removed the Cherokees from the Conasauga settlement (and surrounding Frog Mountain, now called Fort Mountain) and took them via the turnpike route 10 miles southeast to Fort Hetzel at present day Ellijay, the site of another former Cherokee settlement, where they were held until all the Cherokees were gathered from the immediately surrounding mountains. From there the Cherokees would have been force marched right back northwest up the turnpike past the remains of the Conasauga settlement through the toll gate at Mulberry Gap (I wonder who operated the toll gate), before they made their way to Chattanooga. Therefore, Conasauga was not only one of the very last Indian settlements in the east, it was likely one of the earliest stops along the route of the Trail of Tears. From Conasauga they made their way to Chattanooga, where they met up with other Cherokees from other parts of the nation, before being moved along to Oklahoma.

To be continued…


Consider the lilies…

The trout lilies (above) are among some of the earliest spring wildflowers to bloom on the forest floor. Short in stature and typically growing in large clumps, they get their name because their leaves resemble small trout. The effect is pronounced because the clumps look like schools of fish. 

As a budding amateur naturalist, I am naturally curious about what grows in the forest. While I still love the stunning mountain vistas and breathtaking waterfalls that can only be reached by journeying, with each passing year, I am more and more fascinated by the rich plant diversity growing in the Appalachian mountain microcosm right under my nose at Wit’s End. Trout lilies are among the earlies spring bloomers. They grow prolifically near cool damp places and near creeks. While they are common, I have very  rarely caught them in bloom. I believe that is, in part, because the conditions they require to bloom are quite specific. Like almost every living thing in the forest they require just the right cocktail of soil, moisture and sun light conditions in order to thrive, bloom and propagate. Imagine my surprise when I found a patch of trout lilies all abloom growing under a massive blanket of kudzu (argh! That’s right I am still battling Kudzu more than 20 years after becoming the owner of this patch of ground). Despite my ongoing hostile relations with Kudzu, I had to appreciate the fact that it was contributing to the happiness of the lilies. This group of trout lilies make me think of the Matthew 6 text, “Consider the lilies. They neither toil nor spin, Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?”

I love that the lilies in the text and the ones I  discovered all abloom, can not add one day to their lives, nor do they have any real say over how long they live or whether or not they bloom. Their very life and blooming is completely dependent on whether or not they have the right growing conditions, i.e. the right amount of moisture, sunlight, soil & mineral complexion. 

Like the original audience that Jesus was speaking to in the text above, I find that I worry and fret about my financial destiny and that of my wife and our children, but more often than not, I tend to get most anxious about my own fulfillment and happiness in life along with the wellbeing of those who I love. I worry that I’m too removed from things the simple things that feed my soul and the souls of those I care about. I am often restless in my contrived world. It causes me to be frustrated and sullen. As an adult I have tried to isolate the triggers that lead me to these periods of general discontent, and after years of trying to diagnose my periodic failures to thrive, I have traced it, like the lilies, to not having the right growing conditions. Here is a true statement about me – if I get too removed from the natural world of trees, plants, clean air and water, and find my way a little too far into the man made contrived world my entire physical, spiritual, mental and emotional wellbeing suffers.
While I don’t want to project my version of truth on others, I have to wonder if people aren’t a little like the lilies in the referenced text, each requiring just the right conditions to grow and thrive as well. I also happen to wonder if human beings, made of matter, and ultimately returning to dust, don’t all consciously or unconsciously crave a stronger connection to the natural world. Do we need a rootedness in creation that serves to nurture our bodies, souls and minds? I’m not suggesting that we worship nature, nor am I suggesting that it is all that we need. However, I am wondering if the natural world is not a gift from our creator that contributes to our wellbeing, well beyond providing food, water, and oxygen for mere subsistence. As I write, I feel lighter and brighter because I have spent time with loved ones on spring break in a tropical spot where warm breezes, clear waters, lush plant life combined to provide a tonic for my soul. Is it possible that some of our angst and frustration with our very lives can be traced to losing touch with our truly natural roots?

After a long weeks of moving between the concrete and commercial jungles of the city and suburbia, and my constant, seemingly unavoidable tether to the digital world through my handheld device, I often feel numb, anxious, sometimes  even a hint of despair. I fear that a major bridge collapse last week on my route to work in metro Atlanta will contribute to much longer commutes and time spent in my car each day, further robbing me of my zeal for life. Among other simple things, a simple stroll through my yard, or a walk with the dog down the street helps. But I really feel as though I need  a good dousing or better yet a soaking in the natural world in order to recover my spirit and my zeal for life. Quite simply I have learned that my soul flourishes or withers based on whether or not I tend to my connection to the created order and my required growing conditions. 

As a sojourner, and not a master theologian, I can’t tell you that this is truth for all human beings. However, I do believe that there is truth in these thoughts.

If you find yourself feeling similarly I welcome your thoughts and questions on these matters. 

In case you would like to read it, here is the full version of the Matthew text 6 text.

““Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:25-34‬ ‭NIV‬‬