CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Local tourism professionals are working alongside scholars, citizens and history buffs in a movement that is uncovering new stories and raising awareness of southeast Tennessee’s extremely significant Cherokee history, a part of America’s Native American past.
Representatives from Southeast Tennessee Tourism Association and the Convention & Visitors Bureau of the Cleveland/Bradley Chamber of Commerce are unveiling new driving trail brochures highlighting the rich Cherokee history and encouraging visitation to the area. The Bradley County brochure is titled “Your Passport to Explore Cherokee Heritage.” The SETTA brochure is “Southeast Tennessee Cherokee Native American Guide.”
A remarkable convergence of events prompted this focused attention and cooperative effort, including the opening of the Cherokee Removal Memorial Park; this year’s 30th anniversary of Red Clay State Park; the 25th anniversary of the Joint Council Reunion with the lighting of the eternal flame, and the PBS series “We Shall Remain,” which focused one entire episode on the Trail of Tears and the Cherokee experience in and around southeast Tennessee. Portions of the film were shot at Red Clay, the last eastern capital of the Cherokee Nation.
“Southeast Tennessee’s Native American History is one of the true hidden gems in Tennessee,” said Cindy Milligan, tourism director for SETTA. “We are committed to putting the spotlight on this region’s Cherokee history so that it is no longer hidden, but in fact, is raised to national and international prominence.”
Milligan is working alongside Melissa Woody at the Cleveland CVB and Dr. Carroll Van West, the director of the Center for Historic Preservation, to ensure that this history is properly interpreted and given its rightful place in southeast Tennessee’s history and the history of the Cherokee people.
“Many of these sites are being interpreted for the first time,” Woody said. “Just standing in these places where our Native people lived and worked, and then faced their most difficult life experience is truly moving. These sites are sacred.”
The brochures offer more than a crash course of Cherokee history. One guide takes visitors from early Cherokee years to in-depth removal routes of some 15,000 Cherokees. The other outlines the precise location of the Cherokee Agency where passports were required to enter into Cherokee territory. This same area later became the largest emigrating depot with federal troops holding Cherokee and other tribes for departure on the Trail of Tears.
Some of the highlights include Ross’s Landing in downtown Chattanooga, The Brainerd Mission Cemetery, The James Brown Cherokee Plantation, and Red Clay State Park, the last capital of the Cherokee Nation in the east. The Red Clay Council Grounds also became the center of the Cherokee Nation’s diplomatic efforts to avoid removal.
SETTA created its driving trail brochure with the help of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, Dr. Duane King, research specialist and noted scholar of the American Indian, and a committee of regional representatives.
According to Woody, the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU is currently conducting a heritage plan for Bradley County especially focused on Charleston. Under West’s direction, the team presented the plan in August. West said that Bradley County is an understudied area and the study should help organize sites and stories. The CVB and Charleston-Calhoun-Hiwassee Historical Society will use that plan to gain support for future project development and interpretation.
Woody recalls that many of the residents were reluctant to pass down such a tragic story through the generations. The recent national efforts to tell the Cherokee story have helped residents realize this is an important story to tell, especially during this national movement toward awareness of Native American history and culture.
Both guides are currently available at area Welcome Centers throughout Tennessee in addition to various tourism sites, museums, history centers and chamber offices. Brochures may also be found by visiting the SETTA Web site
and the Visit Cleveland Web site.
For more information, contact Cindy Milligan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (423) 424-4267, or Melissa Woody at email@example.com or call (423) 728-0808.