Program at Library focuses on re-discovering Cherokee Trails

February 24, 2012

      SYLVA – Lamar Marshall, cultural heritage director of the non-profit organization Wild South, will present a program on the Cherokee geography of Jackson and surrounding counties at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva on Tuesday, March 6 at 7pm. Many historic maps and graphics will be used in the presentation.

     Marshall has researched and mapped historic trails in the southeast for more than forty years, and the Cherokee Preservation Foundation has funded research for Cherokee trails research in western North Carolina for the last two years. According to Marshall, the early Indian trails evolved as the result of thousands of years of Native Americans’ interactions with animals, tribal migration, relocations, population shifts, and lifestyle changes due to European contact and trade. Geographical features were the key factors that led to the establishment and development of village sites and trail locations. Dividing ridges, passes and gaps, springs, river shoals, shallows, waterfalls, fords, and valleys all determined ultimately where trails were established. 

Don Wells, of Mountain Stewards (one of Wild South's partnering organizations), stands in the Cherokee Trading Path to Charleston, S.C. (Photo courtesy of Jackson County Public Library)

   The Cherokee Nation was divided into clusters of towns that were separated by mountain ranges. The Overhill towns on the Tennessee River just south of Knoxville were connected by trails with the Valley Towns near Murphy, which connected with the Middle Towns near Franklin and Bryson City. The Lower Towns lay between Charles Town, South Carolina, and the Middle Towns. Trails radiated out in every direction, connecting all the Towns and linking into a vast, continental Indian trail system.

     “Where these trails remain visible today,” says Marshall, “old beech trees with carvings and trail marker trees might still be found nearby. Abandoned segments meander through fields and forests, and loops that followed the natural contours of the land can be found veering off of paved highways.”

     Today, it is not uncommon to find abandoned Cherokee/pioneer roads that are ten or fifteen feet deep, reminiscent of the Natchez Trace in Tennessee and Mississippi. There are hundreds of remnants and many miles of preserved trails in the backwoods of the southern Appalachians. These historical corridors and trail remnants are being identified, mapped, recorded so that Cherokee geography can be preserved and take its place in the heritage of all Americans.

     For more information, please call the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva at 586-2016. This program is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Jackson County Public Library.

- Jackson County Public Library