Back in October, when the children were still really into Native Americans, we visited the historic site of the Cherokee capital at New Echota. It’s located in Northwest Georgia, in Calhoun, which is actually only about a 30 minute drive from our house. When we got there, I was surprised that it’s been as long as it has since my last visit.
New Echota was established as the Cherokee capital in the 1820s. The white Americans had told the Cherokee and other tribes that to be civilized they needed to live as the white men did. Then, they would accept them as civilized people within their country. Several tribes conformed to that image of “civilization,” including the Cherokee, and were referred to by the white people as the Five Civilized Tribes.
Then, something happened in the 1830s to change all that. Someone struck gold in Georgia and a big land lottery ensued. In giving out land to the white settlers during the gold rush, the government officials gave out Cherokee land to some of these settlers. In order to search everywhere for gold, the settlers were going to move the Cherokee off of their land.
The Cherokee sued and went all the way to the Supreme court. The justices ruled in the favor of the Cherokees. President Andrew Jackson said that the court had made their ruling, but that they could not enforce it, and he went ahead with Indian removal. The Trail of Tears would begin at New Echota, and it would carry the Cherokees all the way to Oklahoma.
Today, when you visit the historic site of New Echota, you’ll find a small museum, about 10 buildings, and a nice walking trail. Some of the buildings were there historically, and others were reconstructed when New Echota was declared a historic site.
The museum is small, but it shows all that it needs to. There are displays of traditional Cherokee houses, models of fields and farm set ups, a large display of the sounds of the Cherokee language, a raffle wheel from the land raffle, weapons, and all kinds of authentic tools and historic pieces. I actually would like to go back and absorb the museum itself a little more.
They also have a 17 minute film that they show that tells about some of the people of New Echota, such as the Vann family, Elias Boudinot, John Ross, Samuel Worcester, and Sequoyah. It’s really quite the fascinating story of the tug of war between two worlds. There were Indians who wanted to make treaties with the white men. They would move to Indian Country and try to maintain Cherokee rights. Other Cherokee would never sign a treaty with the white men who had already let them down again and again.
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. The United States army came and rounded them up and forced them out of their homes and their towns with nothing more than the clothes on their back. There begins the story that we now call the “trail of tears.”
Once you leave the museum, you had better be ready to walk. There are around 10 buildings on the property. Only the Samuel Worcester house is the original building on the property. The others have been recreated or transported from other sites in Georgia.
We happened to go to New Echota on what is called “New Echota days.” There were great demonstrations, sellers and storytellers that we had the opportunity to see and listen to as we walked through grounds of New Echota. As you can see from one of the pictures below, one of the demonstrators that we had the opportunity to see was a blacksmith. He demonstrated how a blacksmith made nails, and it was super cool.
In the houses, we discovered the regular elements of Cherokee life. There were skins, beds, fireplaces, masks and all kinds of paraphernalia. My children also got to try using a blow gun for the first time.
We got to wonder around in clapboard houses, log cabins, corn storage areas, and even a stable. Buildings also included a little schoolhouse type building, a court building and a printing press.
You can see where they keep the remnants of what would have been the streets preserved. You can see how, rather than looking like the traditional teepee/wigwams that we associate with the Indians, these houses look just like the houses of the white settlers. You can see how “civilized” their lifestyle was and you can tell that all they wanted was a space of their own to be their home.
By the time they got to Georgia, the whites had already expelled the Cherokee from most of their land to the north of Georgia. Even New Echota takes its name as a new capital to replace the capital that they had lost in Tennessee.
I was especially fascinated with the story of Samuel Worcester. He was a missionary who worked with the Cherokee and who schooled them in his home. He translated scripture into the Cherokee language.
Worcester went to jail because the state of Georgia arrested him for living on Cherokee land without a special permit from the state. He appealed and the Supreme Court heard his appeal. The Supreme Court ruled that Worcester should be released from jail as the American government and the Cherokee government were separate entities and the American government did not have the right to infringe on Cherokee affairs. I’m pretty sure that no one actually heeded the Supreme Court’s opinion on this case.
A few months later, Georgia finally got around to releasing Worcester from prison with the promise that he would not return to Cherokee lands. He agreed and moved to Indian country where he worked with the Cherokee that had been relocated by the Trail of Tears. He continued his translation of the Bible into Cherokee and he established the first printing press in Indian Country. He spent his whole life working tirelessly for the Cherokee people’s rights and to convert them to Christianity.
Because we went on a special day, we got to engage in a little spear throwing. All the kids except Owlet participated and had a great time practicing their best spear technique.
We also received the happy surprise near the end of our trip of lemonade and a fire to roast marshmallows on.
This was a great trip! There was so much to learn and so much we could still learn if we went back to New Echota. I didn’t even take any pictures of the store, the printing press, or the little church like building. We didn’t sample any of the Cherokee snacks they were selling or even read many of the informational signs.
There’s not a lot of information on the Cherokee Indians out there, so if you click on any of the links that I’ve made clickable, they’ll all take you to different Wikipedia articles. I’ve written once before about the Cherokee, just to share a mask project that Rose and I made. Don’t forget to check it out if you’ve never seen a Cherokee Booger Mask.
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