settlements during the "Colonial Period" ranging from 1710-85
included the "Lower Towns" along the upper Savannah River
and its tributaries. The "Overhill Towns" were along the upper
Tennessee and lower Little Tennessee rivers. "Out, Middle
and Valley Towns" included Cherokee settlements in North Carolina.
The "Valley Towns" were along the upper Hiwassee, Nantahala
and Valley rivers. The "Middle Towns" were situated along
the upper Little Tennessee River drainage basin, while the
"Out Towns" settlements were located along the Oconaluftee
and Tuckaseegee Rivers. The "Out Towns" was the location of
the current-day Qualla Boundary, commonly referred to today
as the Cherokee Indian Reservation. ANITA FINGER SMITH
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. The common perception of why the Eastern
Band of Cherokee Indians' ancestors remained in North Carolina after
the Trail of Tears in the 1830s is that many of them hid in western
North Carolina's mountains.
During a presentation at the Trail of Tears Association Conference
at Cape Girardeau, historian and genealogist Anita Finger Smith
of Cherokee, North Carolina, covered the five circumstances during
the early 19th century that contributed to the EBCI's ancestors
"Hopefully, it will clear up some of the misconceptions as to
why the EBCI remained after the removal of Cherokee to lands west
of the Mississippi," she said.
Finger Smith said during the "Contact Period" from 1670-1710,
which was prior to extended contact with Europeans, North Carolina
Cherokees' settlement patterns varied with individual farmsteads,
small villages and clustered towns. Towns were defined by the presence
of a townhouse or public building, which was the focal point of
civil, political and religious activity. Summer and winter homes
ringed a central plaza used for ceremonies, dances and games.
During the "Colonial Period," ranging from 1710-85, town clusters
within the Cherokee Nation were described mainly by river drainage
systems. These included the "Lower Towns" along the upper Savannah
River and its tributaries. The "Overhill Towns" were along the upper
Tennessee and lower Little Tennessee rivers. North Carolina Cherokee
settlements were designated the "Out, Middle and Valley Towns."
The "Valley Towns" were along the upper Hiwassee, Nantahala
and Valley rivers. The "Middle Towns" were situated along the upper
Little Tennessee River drainage basin, while the "Out Towns" were
located along the Oconaluftee and Tuckaseegee Rivers. The "Out Towns"
formed the location of the current Qualla Boundary, commonly referred
to as the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
The "Federal Period," from 1785 to 1820 was an era of change
for much of the CN throughout the southeast. The first two decades
of the 19th century witnessed attempts by the Americans to "civilize"
the Cherokees. Mixed bloods in the "Overhill" and "Lower" settlements
led an economic and social change while the "Valley, Middle and
Out Towns" of North Carolina were less affected by contact with
and pressure from the Anglo-Americans.
"This was based largely on their geographic isolation. This
region contained a larger proportion of full-bloods, less wealth
and less exposure to Christianity than most of the Cherokee Nation,"
Finger Smith said.
However, as the new United States expanded westward, the settlement
pattern, as the North Carolina Cherokees knew it, was about to change.
In 1819 the U.S. Congress ratified a treaty, supplementing a treaty
of two years earlier, that ceded a large portion of the CN, including
the majority of land in North Carolina, to the federal government.
The region around the "Middle and Out Towns" was included.
The 1809 Meigs census of the CN totaled 12,395 while only 1,065
Cherokees were enumerated in the "Middle and Out Towns." This indicated
that there were 1,065 North Carolina Cherokees whose land would
now be excluded from the CN because of the 1819 treaty.
The treaty states: "The United States agrees to pay, according
to the treaty of July 8, 1817, for all valuable improvements on
land within the country ceded by the Cherokees, and to allow a reservation
of 640 acres [one square mile] to each head of a family who elects
to become a citizen of the United States
Finger Smith said 91 "Middle and Out Town" heads of Cherokee
households filed claims for the 640-acre reservations. They agreed
to renounce their CN citizenship, and become known as the "Citizen
In August 1824, North Carolina negotiated with the "Citizen
Cherokee" a contract for payment of their 640-acre reservations
and allowed them to settle elsewhere in the area. Some of the "Citizen
Cherokee" moved to the "Valley and Out Towns," which were still
within the CN, but most of the "Citizen Cherokee" settled near a
site later called Quallatown, becoming known as the Oconalufteee
or Lufty or Qualla Indians.
During the "Nationalist Period" from 1820-35, the Quallatown
Indians lived among their few white neighbors, abiding North Carolina's
In 1830, a year after taking office, President Andrew Jackson
pushed through Congress legislation called the "Indian Removal Act."
It allowed the president to negotiate removal treaties with tribes
living east of the Mississippi River. Under these treaties, the
Indians were to give up lands east of the river in exchange for
lands to the west.
A prelude to removal was the 1835 Cherokee Census. It states
that 3,644 Cherokees lived in North Carolina, including those in
The onset of the Removal Period occurred with the Treaty of
New Echota on Dec. 29, 1835, by some Cherokee leaders. Article 12
of this treaty contained a loophole that read: "Those individuals
and families of the Cherokee Nation that are adverse to a removal
to the Cherokee country west of the Mississippi and are desirous
to become citizens of the States where they reside and such as are
qualified to take care of themselves
"This meant any Cherokee choosing to remain would have to acquire
their own land and otherwise fend for themselves. This loophole
would soon aid the Quallatown Cherokee in their opposition to the
removal," Finger Smith said.
In January 1836, a white attorney named William Thomas agreed
to represent the Indians of Quallatown, Cheoah (Buffalo Town) and
several smaller settlements. He was to inform federal authorities
that the "Citizen Cherokee" living in Quallatown intended to stay
in North Carolina, and he was to obtain their share of the treaty
Because of the Quallatown Indians' unusual citizenship status,
Thomas won recognition of their right from the U.S. government and
the treaty party of the CN. This ensured that the Quallatown Cherokees
were not legally subject to the forced removal.
In September 1837, 60 Quallatown heads of families, representing
333 Cherokees, were granted preliminary approval to remain. Thomas
was without doubt the most important individual connected with the
EBCI's history for 40 years or more. His stance on behalf of the
"Citizen Cherokee" was the first circumstance contributing to the
The second was the North Carolina Cherokees who possessed proper
certificates exempting them from removal. When the army began the
forced removal of Cherokees from North Carolina on June 12, 1838,
most Cherokees submitted peacefully to arrest and deportation. Some
families with white members held dual citizenship in North Carolina
and the CN and were exempt from removal. There were formal citizenship
laws that authorized whites married to tribal citizens to become
In North Carolina, if the head of the household was listed as
white, the spouse was Cherokee and the children mixed-blood. All
family members were North Carolina citizens, could legally hold
land and were exempt from removal. Other Cherokees, mostly the old
and sick, obtained emigration waivers.
Many more Cherokee families hid in the Snowbird and Hanging
Dog Mountains to escape troops. Along the Valley River, John Welch,
Gideon Morris, Junaluska, Wachacha, Nancy Hawkins and other exempted
Cherokees concealed, fed and supplied fugitives. Despite aid, the
Cherokees who hid suffered losses to starvation and disease after
months in the mountains.
The third circumstance is the North Carolina Cherokees who were
members of Oochella's Band.
The Cherokees of Nantahala Town, located in the lower Nantahala
River Valley, were a group that fled to the mountains when federal
troops and state militia came to the mountains to capture Cherokees
in June 1838.
Led by Oochella, the Nantahala fugitives evaded the troops for
months. The army feared that Oochella's band might turn to guerilla
warfare, and returned in September 1838 to pursue them. The troops
eventually captured dozens of Cherokees, including Oochella's old
neighbor, Tsali, and his extended family.
When Tsali, his sons and sons-in-law killed two of their captors
and escaped, the military sweep intensified. Other Cherokee fugitives,
who feared the manhunt would escalate into a war, brought in Tsali
and his band.
"After Tsali, Nantayalee Jake, Lowen and Big George were executed
in late November, Col. William S. Foster issued a proclamation that
granted amnesty to Oochella and his group," Finger Smith said.
Oochella and his band joined the Quallatown Cherokees and helped
establish the Wolf Town community, which survives as a modern township.
It is also where Finger Smith resides with her Cherokee husband.
The fourth circumstance is the North Carolina Cherokees who
resisted the removal.
By the end of 1838, the majority of Cherokees had made it to
Indian Territory, what is now Oklahoma. Those Cherokees who avoided
removal by evading the soldiers in their mountain hideouts were
dismissed by the War Department as not worth the trouble and expense
to remove, and could remain in their homeland. After the military
withdrawal, approximately 700 Cherokees resided in and around Quallatown,
mostly on property that Thomas had purchased on their behalf.
Another 400 North Carolina Cherokees were scattered along the
Cheoah, Valley and Hiwassee rivers, making about 1,100 Cherokees
in the state. Another 300 or so Cherokees resided in nearby areas
of Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. These included a number of mixed-bloods
and whites who were Cherokee only by marriage, the "Cherokee Countrymen."
The number of Cherokees remaining in the Southeast then was about
The fifth circumstance was the North Carolina Cherokees who
escaped after being removed.
Though the exact number of Cherokees who escaped and returned
on foot to North Carolina after the forced removal remains undocumented,
many family stories have been recorded.