Three hundred years ago the Southern Appalachians were home to the sovereign Cherokee Nation. Over sixty towns and settlements were connected by a well-worn system of foot trails, many of which later became bridle paths and wagon roads. This Indian trail system was the blueprint for the circuitry of the region’s modern road, and interstate systems. Cherokee towns and villages were scattered from Elizabethton, TN, to north Alabama, Western North Carolina, North Georgia and Upper South Carolina. The most isolated of these towns were in the remote valleys of Western North Carolina along the Little Tennessee, Cheoah, Valley, Hiwassee, Nantahala, and Tuckasegee Rivers. Mountainous barriers reaching into the sky surrounded these towns and European explorers described them as “impassable” on early.
There is abundant evidence indicating that some of the trails used by the early Indians of Georgia were already formed by large grazing animals, particularly buffalo. These animals ranged through much of Georgia and the Southeast until they were hunted to extinction in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century.
Most of Towns County’s archaeological sites were covered by Lake Chatuge in 1942. It was a rushed, private sector, war-time project. Village sites and mounds were destroyed without professional archaeological study. Prior to public improvements being constructed in the Brasstown Valley, the Georgia DOT and DNR did contract with private archaeological consultants during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Although most tourist-oriented literature describes the aboriginal occupants of Towns County as being Cherokee, the Cherokee Alliance did not even claim the northeastern tip of present-day Georgia until 1717. However, the Cherokee tribe occupied what is now Towns County longer than any other county in Georgia; roughly 1715-1838. Until 1793, what is now the western boundary of Towns County was the official western boundary of the Cherokee Nation in Georgia. After 1793, the eastern edge of the county was the eastern edge of Cherokee territory in Georgia.
Two important trade routes ran through present day Towns County. One, known today by its Cherokee name of the Unicoi Trail, connected the Gulf Coast with the Mountains via the Chattahoochee River and South Atlantic Coast with the Midwest via the Savannah River and Hiwassee River. An important east-west leg of the trail ran from the headwaters of the Savannah River to the headwaters of the Chattahoochee River at the Nacoochee Mound. It was joined by the Peachtree Trail that follows Peachtree Road and Peachtree Street all the way into downtown Atlanta.
Another important trail connected the Native American towns on the Hiwassee River with great regional capital of Etalwa (Etowah Mounds.) Etalwa dominated a region about 300 miles in diameter. Cultural symbols that functioned as the city’s “logo” can be found throughout the Georgia and western North Carolina Mountains. The Etalwa Trail followed the Etowah River to its source, then followed the route of US 19 over Neels Gap into Union County. This trail then cut through Track Rock Gap. From there approximately followed US Hwy. 76 east to the Hiawassee River.
I wanted to bring this information to you today, as fall is just around the corner. What better way to see and experience fall in the forest than to walk on of these old Indian trails? Watch for items of interest along the way. Petrographs, carved stone and trees with carvings. Walk the path of the People that made these journeys’, enjoy a change of seasons, most of all take a moment to actually see our mountains in all their glory.
Thank you for spending some of your time with us today and as always