Good morning! I’m delighted to be here at the Trail of Tears Association National Conference. I appreciate the invitation from Jenna Quince and appreciate each and every one of you choosing to come to this session. I hope you find it informative, educational, and entertaining.

I want to focus on the North Carolina Cherokees during the Trail of Tears. From Brett’s opening statements this morning about the roundup and removal to Fort Armistead, where we know around 3,400 Cherokees passed through on their way to the west, to the presentations by TJ Holland and Lance Green focusing on the Tuckasegee and Valley Town Cherokees, there are many stories of the Cherokees during removal.

At the Guntersville meeting in Alabama, I started by talking about the Treaty of 1819 and how it eventually created the nucleus of those who became the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Today, we’ll focus on the nation-building efforts that grew out of the almost disastrous treaties of 1817 and 1819, which brought a new government and a new sovereign government here in North Carolina.

This year, I want to ensure I acknowledge my co-author and co-presenter, Mr. Tyler Howe. He has a master’s degree in Cherokee Studies from Western Carolina University and is an exceptional historical researcher. He reviews about 3,000 archaeological reports a year but still loves doing research. He has been doing additional work on the settlement patterns here in Soco Valley, which ties naturally into today’s topic.

I want to start with this 1814 map showing the state of North Carolina in yellow. It shows how the rest of North Carolina was seen as an expanse of nothingness without towns or significant features. Despite this perception, we continued to have white encroachment on Cherokee lands during this time period, increasing pressure on the Cherokees to emigrate. The federal idea was that the Cherokees would exchange their lands in the East—North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, and a corner of northeastern Alabama—for lands in what was called the Great American Desert, later known as Indian Territory.

This was not a particularly popular treaty. Cherokees did not look forward to leaving their beloved land for unfamiliar territory. To induce them to agree, they were offered the option to keep a square mile of their land (640 acres) if they gave up their Cherokee citizenship and became citizens of the state in which they lived. Despite the North Carolina State’s reluctance, 49 Cherokee heads of households signed the treaties of 1817 and 1819.

What were they thinking? The advantage was the chance to hold on to a square mile of their own land, land they had always possessed. This decision raises many questions. This particular reserve is the reserve of Kanati on the Tuckasegee River. Sadly, by 1820, many Cherokees were forced off their reserves, which were sold at county auctions to apply farmers.

During the 1820s, many Cherokees were in limbo. They couldn’t remain in North Carolina because they were Indians, and they had said goodbye to their relatives in the Cherokee Nation. Some filed suits in North Carolina courts to get recompense for their lost lands. One of the most famous cases is the 1824 Taylor vs. Welch case.

In contrast to the North Carolina Cherokees’ struggles, the Cherokee Nation on the other side of the Nantahala was coming into existence, forming a unified constitutional government. This is Junaluska’s reserve, where we had dinner last night. Junaluska, known as a reprobate in the 1820s, had an epiphany, changed his life, and became a leading man among the North Carolina Cherokees. He even tried to get his land back in court.

We have two reactions to these 1820s court cases. Some Cherokees left for Arkansas or further west, while others settled in what is now known as the Qualla Town. The 1829 agreement with the state of North Carolina resulted in a settlement where Cherokees received money for their lost lands, typically around $250 per reserve.

With this money, the Cherokees decided to do something different. They began purchasing land and forming a new community. This 1831 map shows where the Qualla Town Cherokees started buying land, and by 1840, they had acquired over 3,280 acres. They created a new settlement and governance structure, setting up their own system of self-determination.

In 1830, a letter from Thomas to a Cherokee named Mohicans shows that the land purchases were meant to provide a permanent home for the Cherokees. They were creating a self-governing community, different from the Cherokee Nation but still cherishing their heritage.

During the 1830s, as the removal crisis escalated, the Qualla Town Cherokees distinguished themselves from the Cherokee Nation. They formed a temperance society in 1829 and organized their own churches and schools. They were a well-organized, temperate, and industrious community.

As the removal drew nearer, the Qualla Town Cherokees continued to strengthen their community. This map shows the Qualla Boundary, where they settled and built their infrastructure. They were different from the hiding refugees often depicted; they were an industrious and organized society.

By 1836, the Qualla Town Cherokees had purchased significant amounts of land and continued to build their community. They even refused to provide scouts for the removal, asserting their independence. They maintained a self-governing community, different from both the Cherokee Nation and the hiding refugees.

In closing, I want to emphasize that there’s still a lot of work to be done in studying the Trail of Tears and Cherokee removal. It didn’t just affect those who went on the Trail; it affected those who stayed behind. We have many records, documents, and maps in North Carolina that tell the story of how the Eastern Band came together piece by piece.

I encourage you to explore John Finger’s book, The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819-1900, for more on this history. We have an opportunity to do a lot of research and education about the different choices Cherokees made when faced with removal.

Thank you very much for listening. We are happy to answer any questions you might have.

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