NCTOTA to mark Cherokee town of Sand Town site

by May 10, 2023COMMUNITY sgadugi0 comments

The North Carolina Trail of Tears Association (NCTOTA) and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Franklin have partnered to mark the site of the post-Removal Cherokee town of Sand Town – located at 542 St. Johns Church Road in Franklin, N.C. A sign dedication is planned for Saturday, June 3, at 2 p.m. at the church. On April 6, 2022, several NCTOTA board members met with St. John’s Reverend Carl Southerland and Vestry Senior Warden Marcia McGarity to discuss the sign and its placement near the graves of Sand Town’s Cherokee headman Jim Woodpecker and his wife Sally. This dedication is the first post-Removal town site to be recognized and marked in western North Carolina.

Speakers at the dedication will include Dr. Brett Riggs, Sequoyah Distinguished Professor of Cherokee Studies at Western Carolina University; Jack Baker, president of the National Trail of Tears Association; and Will Chavez, Remember the Removal (RTR) Legacy Rider and Cherokee Phoenix assistant editor. Baker and Chavez will accompany the 2023 RTR bike riders from the Cherokee Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Every year, the RTR program chooses bicycle riders through a vigorous application and training process to make the 950-mile ride from New Echota, Ga., at the last capital of Old Cherokee Nation, to Tahlequah, Okla., over a two-week period to honor their ancestors.

The forced Removal began in the summer of 1838 when federal troops gathered Cherokees from the region to be centralized for mass removal to Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma). The government’s removal policy affected 3,000 Cherokees from North Carolina. The US government had built forts and roads to accommodate the forced exodus of Cherokees. Troops funneled all North Carolina Cherokees through Fort Butler in present-day Murphy, N.C.. From there, the Cherokees walked the Unicoi Turnpike through the gap to Fort Armistead at Tellico Plains, Tenn. They journeyed next to Fort Cass, the site of the Cherokee Indian Agency (present-day Charleston, Tenn.) to await their time to leave for the west. Having to nix travel by water due to a severe drought, the Cherokees encamped there until the fall. They then walked the entire way on what became known as the Trail of Tears, as many died in the sickly camps awaiting removal and along the way during one of the harshest of winters on record. The North Carolina Cherokees arrived in Indian Territory the spring of 1839.

There were some Cherokee families, however, that evaded the troops, hiding in the mountains or escaping to return to North Carolina. A few even walked back from the west. Of course, their homesteads were no longer theirs, the state having sold the land. These Cherokees, from many different towns, found themselves homeless refugees. Throughout western North Carolina, several white friends offered land where the Cherokees could reestablish themselves. William Siler allowed Woodpecker and other Cherokees to build Sand Town on Muskrat Branch. Others would settle on properties held by William H. Thomas and John Welch. The NCTOTA next plans to mark the Welch Farm and Snowbird post-Removal Cherokee communities in Cherokee and Graham counties, respectively.

 – N. C. Trail of Tears Association release