You are currently viewing The Trail of Tears through the Raven Creek Settlement, aka Needmore, Little Tennessee River

The Trail of Tears through the Raven Creek Settlement, aka Needmore, Little Tennessee River

Lamar Marshall is Research Director for Southeast Heritage. He founded the non-profit conservation organization Wild South. His background includes 24 years in industrial engineering, land surveying, and plat production, and over 40 years mapping Southeastern Indian trails including Trail of Tears routes. Marshall worked closely with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office (THPO) and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation for about 10 years gathering rare archives, maps, and surveys documenting historic trails. He is a founding participant with the current Nikwasi Initiative.

The earliest historic maps document a principal Cherokee trail from Clayton, Georgia through Rabun Gap and following northward along one or both sides of the Little Tennessee River. This valley was the location of the Cherokee Middle Towns. East of the junction of the Little Tennessee, Nantahala, and Tuckasegee Rivers, lay the Cherokee Out Towns. This trail and its collateral shortcuts historically connected the Middle and Out Towns. After the valley was settled by whites after the 1817-1819 treaties, the old trail had been modified and widened for wagon traffic between Bryson City and Franklin. In 1838, this road was used to transport Cherokees from Fort Lindsay (modern Almond, NC) to Camp Dudley, which was located at or near Franklin, NC.

The ten-mile section of river trail between the thriving cluster of Middle Towns (Nikwasi, Watauga, Iotla, Burningtown, and Cowee) and a small, disjunct town called Alijoy, located about ten miles downstream, was historically remote and marginal. Brush Creek was originally called Raven Creek and a small Cherokee settlement located there was destroyed by the British Army in 1761.

It was sometime before 1827 that John Welch, Irad Hightower, and a handful of other white families migrated in the vicinity of the mouth of Wiggins Creek on the trail that crossed the dividing ridge to the Nantahala River settlements around Wesser. For a short time in history, the John Welch farm and surrounding community might well be likened to a modern country crossroads with a store and service station between towns.

The early twentieth-century community of Needmore grew up and faded away. Only a few ruins, rocks and obscure graves remain on the public lands that serve to preserve the last entrenched segments of the old trail.

My name is Lamar Marshall. I want to make sure that… oh, use the mic there, just… oh, okay. I do want to acknowledge that my wife, Kathleen, is with me, who has supported me through non-conventional work for the last 20 years, and her weaving that she does here at the school is out in the hall. Be sure and look at it, and… uh-oh, I’m in trouble.

Anyway, I moved here in 2008, and we actually live up Coweeta Valley on John Coon’s Reserve, which joins Beaver Dam’s Reserve, which touches on John Coohee’s Reserve, which may touch on Bear Goins’ Reserve. And when you come down to here, there’s a lot of Cherokee reserves right here.

The previous talk by Dr. Bill Jelskie… when I first moved up here and began working under grants with the Eastern Band, I got a Xerox copy of Brett Riggs’ reserve thesis… or dissertation, I guess. And it was great. It went along a couple of years later when Jelskie’s work came out. Here’s this incredible volume of material that I have to just say that everybody should get a copy of “New Plow and Old Ground” and read it because it is probably the most comprehensive collection of Cherokee testimony from 1820 to 1840 about those who were taken off their reserves. It’s a civil rights story—a brutal civil rights story—really, because there were Cherokee reserves all up and down this river in 1820 that were given under the Treaty of 1819 and 1817. Cherokees identified and submitted applications to get a square mile of land.

The white settlers that came in here more or less said, “These Cherokees ain’t going to stay on this land.” They went to the North Carolina Assembly, pulled some strings, and said it was urgent that they get this land surveyed now. The governor gave the go-ahead, and the federal government was surveying off tracks of one square mile for Cherokees who basically took up a checkerboard of clusters up and down the valley and pretty well got all the good land. But that’s where their houses were, where their homes were, where the towns were, and especially where the mounds were.

So, it was a battle of states’ rights versus the federal government in those days, and it’s a civil rights story that’s brutal in many cases. The Cherokees here were forced out of this valley over the Nantahala Ridge and just clustered, living up and down Shooting Creek, Hiwassee River, Valley River, until 1838. So, what I want to do, and I want to emphasize my point here today, is that this corridor from this school all the way from Camp Dudley… this is a bare-bones map up here, but there’s about 23 miles, and about 10 miles of that is on public property.

We knew for a long time that this was an ancient, very ancient Cherokee trail that connects into the intercontinental network of Native American trails. By the trail here, this trail connected from Charlestown, South Carolina, up through South Carolina, through Clayton, Georgia, and then came over Raven Gap and down the Little Tennessee River. It was a main travelway and a trading path. So, the route itself is historic and very significant, but there’s so much collateral chronological history attached to it that it makes it even more important.

But I’m limited in time. Can we kill the lights or at least turn them down so I can see this thing? Let’s see if this pointer works. Yep, got a pointer. So y’all probably seen slide one already, I guess. On to two. This is just the Trail of Tears map. Most everybody knows the route. Fort Lindsay was down around Almond, just west of Bryson City at the conjunction of the Nantahala and the Little Tennessee River. So, this Cherokee trail followed the Little Tennessee River mostly on the east side, but it forwarded at Cowee Mound and went to Nikwasi.

I just pulled a couple of my maps for showing this trail to give you the geographical context before I start building onto it. Okay, we’ve seen this map, but about 26 miles. So, one of the first maps that I used when I came here, and I worked for almost 10 years… I meant to say thank you to the Eastern Band and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation because I was funded longer than a lot of people get funded. I went with Anita and other Cherokee people to Washington, D.C., and all over the United States gathering records. Brett Riggs early on discovered the old army map that was used in removal. It was probably mapped in 1837, with an 1838 date on it. But this map is a basic map.

Let’s back up here. This first map on here is the old army map, but during the Civil War, they had no new maps, so they took the 1838 map and came out with another map. So, I used this because it was very clear. Fort Lindsay is kind of faded on the army map. Here’s the same route and a couple of the main points in here, one of them being Raven Creek, which today is called Brush Creek, but that is not the Cherokee name. Brush Creek was not it.

I think most of us know, as I said earlier, this has always been a mentor to me, as well as all the other people like Lance Greene, that I study everything I can that they have written and learned, and then you start putting things together and get new records, and you start to see some things. What I want to show you here is that Brett delivered this a couple of several years ago at a Trail of Tears meeting. He found a smoking gun document, an affidavit or a voucher, where Benjamin Britton, one of the first settlers’ children who was here and settled at Iola near Cowee Mound, submitted this voucher for transporting—if I’m saying this right—Cherokees and their baggage from Fort Lindsay up the river.

Maybe the Cherokees were forced to walk, I don’t know. But at any rate, he wanted to be paid for hauling Cherokees and/or their baggage from Fort Lindsay up the river. They may not have been in a wagon right there, but it would be something like this. That’s Cowee Valley right there, and I just took another old wagon and superimposed some images of what it might look like—a wagon full of Cherokees if they were in a wagon. I don’t think they would want to have ridden in the wagon from Fort Lindsay to up here because that road is very rough. I have walked miles and miles of this original route. Ten miles of this is on public property, and the old road is still there. It has been graveled in some places. There is no place in the United States that I know of a ten-mile stretch of a genuine ancient Cherokee trail that was used in the Trail of Tears that is still intact and is on public land.

So, we’re beseeching the National Park Service to assist Brett and whatever it takes to go through the legal hoops to get this thing protected and preserved. One of the first maps I used when I came here was the old army map by WG Williams of the Corps of Engineers, the mapping division of the army. They did a reconnaissance mission in 1837, maybe a little before or after, but their goal was to map Western North Carolina. They had two things they were looking for: how to get the Cherokees transported out of this region, and what roads and trails were navigable by wagons. Secondly, if the Cherokees resisted, they needed a military strategic plan for negotiating this mountain territory and fighting the Cherokees.

The Cherokees had no intention of waging a war; they weren’t able to do that. Most of the Cherokees lived next door to white families, and they were friends. The Old Fort Lindsay was kind of faded there, so I superimposed it off the other map. That little square there is in the field notes of the.

Leave a Reply