Doing research on a history that is not your own can become confusing but remarkably interesting. A resource I love to read is Dr. Lisa Christiansen. Her father, from the Wolf Clan of the eastern band of the United Keetoowah Band of the Cherokee, was documented as one of the last monolingual Cherokee. Some of what you read today will be from her learnings and teachings.
Thunderbird mythology is prevalent in many Indian nations and differs from tribe to tribe
The meaning of the Thunderbird symbol was viewed by some tribes as an omen of war – when the sound of thunder was heard. According to Dr. Christiansen, the name of the Thunderbird originates from the belief that the beating of its enormous wings causes thunder and stirs the wind. The Native Americans believed that the giant Thunderbird could shoot lightning from its eyes. Thunder was believed to be a sign the spirits were at war in the skies, but this also foretold of victory for tribal wars fought on the ground.
Brasstown Bald rises 4,784 feet above sea level and its peak looms half a mile above the surrounding valleys. “Balds” are peculiar to the southern Appalachians and offer views of the surrounding mountains that would otherwise be impossible. Many reasons are speculated on for the balds. From fire and wind damage to ancient ice damage, the local Cherokee had their own explanation for the balds. They were created by the ancestors to aid in defending their lives against giant predatory birds. Lloyd Arneach tells of an oral legend that the Cherokee Thunderbird was based on real events of children being snatched up out of open fields by exceptionally large birds as storms approached. They were called Thunderbirds because they were only seen when large storms were approaching.
An enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Lloyd Arneach was born and reared on the Cherokee Reservation in Cherokee, North Carolina. He learned his first legends from two storytelling Uncles on the reservation. His father was Vice-Chief of the Eastern Band, his mother was elected to the Tribal Council and his Grandmother (Lula Owl Gloyne) was a Beloved Woman of the tribe.
Beloved Woman is a title of honor. Nancy Ward was also a Beloved Woman that sat on the tribal council in the 1770’s. Nanye-hi was the niece of Attakullakulla, a Cherokee chief who counseled peace with the whites, and cousin of Dragging Canoe, a celebrated Cherokee warrior. She assisted her husband, Kingfisher, in a battle against the Creek Indians in 1755. After her husband was killed in action, Nanye-hi took up his gun and urged the Cherokees on to victory. Her heroism was rewarded with the title of honor, “Beloved Woman” (Ghighua).
As Beloved Woman, she sat on the tribal council, participated in important ceremonies, and negotiated with the whites. She was one of the negotiators of the 1785 Treaty of Hopewell, the first treaty between the newly formed United States and the Cherokees. She brought innovations from the white world to the Cherokees, including textile weaving and raising cattle. She later married a white innkeeper, Brant Ward, and became known as Nancy Ward. As relations between the U.S. government and the Cherokees grew strained, she began urging her people not to sell off any further land.
Among the petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap are the signs for bird tracks, note that some are depicted as larger than others. A walk through history, from stunning, sweeping views to mysterious ancient petroglyphs. Arkaquah Trail explores incredible landscapes on the slopes of Georgia’s tallest mountain summit. Enjoy a day hike in this area and think of the history of those come before us, their history and rich culture.