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TRAIL OF HISTORY - TRAIL OF TEARS
By Marshall McClung
Participants of the upcoming twelve mile walk along the Tatham Gap Road from Andrews to Robbinsville, will be tracing a bit of dark history from our past. An effort is underway to draw more attention and interest to the history of the Cherokees in our area. Lou Jackson and Shirley Oswalt are organizing a "Trail of Tears" walk along Tatham Gap Road that is a part of the original road used in the Cherokee removal in the 1800's. An overnight encampment is planned at Tatham Gap, the midway point of the walk. Cherokee history, customs, and heritage will be discussed around the campfire.
Although the actual roundup and removal of the Cherokee was in 1838, a long ordeal of deceit and treachery on the part of the whites preceded that. A treaty in South Carolina in 1721 was the first formal loss of Cherokee territory to the whites. Many more were to follow. Another treaty in 1819 further decreased Cherokee landholdings, but did allow for some Cherokees to become U.S. citizens which allowed them to stay in the East during the removal.
In 1828, two events occurred which hastened the removal efforts; Andrew Jackson was elected president, and gold was discovered in northern Georgia. The U.S Supreme Court ruled against the laws being used to force the Cherokee from their lands, but the ruling was never enforced. Bit by bit, the large landholdings of the Cherokee which at their height exceeded 40,000 square miles in eight southern states were taken.
Prior to the actual removal, a census of the Cherokee was taken in 1835. Information obtained from this census aided the soldiers to come into the very hollows and coves where the Cherokee lived and forcibly remove them. The census listed around 17,000 Cherokees living in the East, of which 3,500 were in North Carolina. Around 4,000 died during the removal.
A series of forts and stockades to hold the Cherokee were built. These included Fort Montgomery at Robbinsville near the present day location of the upper plant building and United Methodist Church on Fort Hill. Other forts included Fort Hembree at Hayesville, Fort Butler at Murphy, and Fort Delaney at Andrews.
The route of the Tatham Gap Road built expressly for the removal of the Cherokee, was laid out by Lieutenant James Tatham and his son James G. Tatham of Valleytown (now Andrews, NC). Soldiers under the command of General Winfield Scott constructed the road that had a major part in the removal of the Cherokee from what is now Graham County.
Many of the Cherokee were forced from their homes at gunpoint by the soldiers who gave then little time to gather any of their belongings. A band of white renegades followed close on the heels of some of the soldiers, looting and burning the Cherokee homes before they were even out of sight. General John Elias Wool who participated in the removal wrote in a letter "The whole scene is a heart-breaking one. I would that I might remove every Indian beyond the reach of the white men who like vultures, are watching, ready to pounce upon their prey, and to strip them of everything they have."
Many of the Cherokee were forced to walk barefooted through rain and snow to whatever stockade they were going to be held in. Disease and starvation were rampant during the removal claiming many lives. The march to Oklahoma was not started until late October for many, which meant that winter caught them on the trail resulting in many more deaths due to exposure.
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These pages are from the people of Graham County, North Carolina.
For additional information on Graham County Adventures
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This page is maintained by Tom Livingston, Robbinsville, North Carolina