From the years 1832-1838, Red Clay served as the capitol of the Cherokee Nation. It is located about 12 miles south of Cleveland, on the extreme southwest corner of Bradley County, with the Georgia-Tennessee state line forming its southern boundary.
In 1832 the state of Georgia stripped the Cherokees of their political soverignity and made it illegal for them to meet for any reason other than to treaty away their land. At the time the Cherokees were a civilized nation, far from the wandering nomads first encountered by the early European explorers. Their capitol in New Echota, north Georgia, was set up with a constitution and political system patterned after that of the United States. They had Christian churches, schools, and a newspaper, the Phoenix, in both Cherokee and English.
The Cherokees found temporary refuge here at Red Clay, just over the Georgia line into Tennessee. Here was the actual beginning of the infamous "Trail of Tears," as the Cherokees finally accepted their unhappy fate and began the long dreadful march to new settlements in the Oklahoma Territory. Thousands would die along the way before they ever reached their new home.
This small visitor's center and museum at the Red Clay State Historical Park chonicles the history of the Cherokee Nation, centered around the time that it was headquartered here at Red Clay. It also tells the infamous story of the "Trail of Tears," when the Indians were removed from their homelands to the Oklahoma Territory. There is also a gift shop, and an auditorium where a short film about the Cherokees is shown upon request.
If the story doesn't make you angry and sad for the Indians, it's beyond my understanding.
Perhaps one reason I feel so strongly about the Cherokees and the Trail of Tears is that, according to my Mother, I have a bit of Indian blood in me.
These log buildings represent a typical Cherokee homestead of the early 1800's. It was little different than that which the European settlers had. A few of the Cherokees lived even much better, with brick homes and large plantations. Many were of mixed Anglo-Saxon and Indian blood, and a few even owned slaves. But to the white settlers who were greedy for land, they were Indians who needed to be removed, even by force. When the land was taken from the Cherokees it was divided among white settlers by lottery.
In addition to the historic preservation, Red Clay State Historical Park also has 263 acres of recreational opportunities. There is a 500 seat ampitheatre, picnic areas, and hiking trails. One trail is a 1.7 mile loop which leads to Overlook Tower, ascending and decending ridges which rise 200 feet from the valley floor. The picture is of my 84-year-old Dad crossing a footbridge on one of the trails.
Sleeping huts such as these, without windows, doors, or chinking, were used to house many delegates and visitors to the Councils. An Englishman who attended three of the gatherings, George W. Featherstonhaugh, gave this account of the Council of October, 1837:
"The most impressive feature, and that which imparted life to the whole, was an increasing current of Cherokee Indians, men, women, and children, moving about in every direction, and in the greatest order; and all except the younger ones preserving a grave and thoughtful demeanor, imposed upon them by the singular position in which they were placed, and by the trying alternative now presented to them of delivering up their native country to their oppressors, or perishing in vain resistance."
When Red Clay was the capitol of the Cherokee Nation eleven General Councils were held here. These were gatherings of national significance with as many as 5,000 people attending. They were also social events for the Indians who camped here for days or even weeks at a time.
Recent investigation suggests that the original council house may have been much larger than the one reconstructed here, possibly with an opening in the roof to allow smoke from the council fires to escape. Benches would have circled the building as those pictured, to seat the delegates from the eight districts. It is heartbreaking to realize that it was here the Cherokees finally came to acknowledge that they could never again return to the mountains, streams, fields, and farms that were their ancestral home.
This beautiful natural spring flows from a limestone ledge about 15 feet deep. and the water is so clear that it appears blue. It was the source of drinking water for the Red Clay Cherokee Council Grounds. Not only was this spring a practical feature, but for the Cherokee it was a mystical one as well.
According to Cherokee belief, another world like ours - animals, plants, and people - is in the underworld. Only the seasons are different. The streams that come from the mountains are the trails that lead to this underworld, and springs are the doorways by which it may be entered. To do this one must fast, go to water, and have one of the underworld people for a guide. We know the seasons are different because in the summer the water coming from the spring is cooler than above ground, and in the winter it is warmer.
The water flowing from this spring joins Mill Creek, a tributary to the Conasagua River.