Another view into the amazing history of the Cherokee people - Wednesday, May 20
After a down day Tuesday of haircuts, dinner out and just plain relaxation, today we left Pigeon Forge and headed for North Carolina again. Our destination is Asheville where we have reservations at a KOA over the Memorial Day weekend, but we have an extra day built in and tonight we’ll stay in Cherokee.
The highway between Pigeon Forge and Cherokee goes right over the middle of the Great Smoky Mountains. It’s not a long drive nor a hard one, which is good because it gives even the driver a chance to enjoy this exquisite scenery. The grades are not too steep and the curves are not too sharp, and there are plenty of turnouts so you can get out of traffic and stop to enjoy the views.
When we were here in November all the trees were bare but the pines. There was still some color at the lower elevations, but the high country was decidedly gray. The lack of color did not in any way detract from the beauty. Trees devoid of leaves have a beauty all their own, but the scene was very different this time. Again the scene changed with the elevation, the trees near the bottom being fully leafed out, and the trees near the top still in the flower and bud stage.
The forest gives the overall impression of being all green, but a closer look reveals that the greens come in every shade from glowing yellow to nearly black, and there are a lot of reds and oranges and browns mixed in. On a sunny day the sky provides the blue, and a vivid and dazzling blue it is.
We finally descended into Cherokee and we headed straight for the Oconaluftee Indian Village, an attraction we were not able to see last week. Now it is open for the season and it will give us another chance to learn more about a culture that has increasingly captured our interest and admiration. No native people suffered more betrayal and brutality at the hands of the Euro-American white man, but the Cherokee have emerged a nation within a nation, that still has it’s pride intact. They have endured tenaciously, but with dignity and grace, and they have preserved their culture with energy and zeal. This accomplishment is not only in the interests of their own people, but it is a gift of incomparable value to all the people who inhabit this country today.
Their own literature says it better than I ever could, so I offer the following quotations:
In the country of the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains live the modern Cherokee, a people;
“whose history reaches back in an unbroken chain to a time when even the great pyramids of Egypt had yet to rise out of the African sands. Theirs is a culture whose legends of the creation were common knowledge even among even their youngest tribe members, a thousand generations before the first Aztec calendar was chiseled into stone.
“They were a thoughtful people who established democracy and equality many centuries before Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. A people so attuned to their natural environment and the spirits of their plants that their medicine men had a cure for every known ailment, millennia before the discovery of penicillin.
“They reigned supreme over the southeastern mountains of the North American continent for over 11,000 years. A people so proud that even great armies could not force them from their homeland among the streams and forests of what is called today Western North Carolina.
“They are one of the few Native American tribes to still occupy their original homelands - the Qualla Boundary - and they invented a written language without being literate in any language beforehand. Such bravery, foresight, tenacity, and intelligence has resulted in the vibrant Cherokee culture of today. A culture that thrives amid the demands of modern existence while honoring and preserving, and, in some cases, resurrecting eons-old traditions.”
We opted for a guided tour of the village, a down sized recreation of an actual village. It was a good decision because we learned infinitely more than we would have guiding ourselves. The tour started with a display of dances that were explained as we watched them, and then our guide took us on a fascinating tour through the village as it would have existed in the decades between the late 1600’s and the 1830’s when the Cherokee were betrayed by Andrew Jackson and were ordered deported to Oklahoma.
The tour included stops at exhibits where beadwork, pottery, baskets, finger weavings, carvings, weapons, animal traps and dugout canoes were being made in the traditional ways. We saw several generations of Cherokee home styles, from pre European times to the mid 1800s, and we entered and learned about storage houses, sweat lodges, and tribal council houses from tribe members who are extremely well informed about the culture as it existed over the centuries.
We left with a lot of insights, and a much better understanding of this proud and remarkable people. From the village it was a short drive to a campground on tribal land, and we settled into a rustic but nice campsite for the night.