The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland Tennessee (TN) and Bradley County Tennessee (Tn).

Of Bradley County Tn.

JUNE  2004

                            The People News, a free newspaper serving Cleveland and Bradley County Tn.

The People News
Special Report






A Cherokee Summer   

Red Clay State Park, interesting, educational and fun.

by Alexandra Edwards

When traveling through  East Tennessee, including here in beautiful Bradley County, seeing names like  Ocoee, Chestuee, Hiwassee, Ooltewah, Chilhowee and Etowah, it is apparent that this land was once home of the Cherokee Indians. The nearby  Cherokee National Forest with it's  high peak mountains, glistening lakes and waterfalls tells it's own story, but for those wishing to learn more about the history and lifestyles of  the native Cherokees, Red Clay State Historic Park is a must place to visit.

Located off Dalton Pike, which runs between Cleveland, Tennessee and Dalton Georgia, the park is close to the state line. The area known as Red Clay once served as Capital of the Cherokee Nation. The original capital and meeting place of the Cherokee government was actually in New Echota, Calhoun, Georgia, but in 1832 the state of Georgia made it illegal for Cherokees to hold any type of meeting unless it was to sign a treaty to give up their land. As a result the Cherokee Nation moved it's capital across the state line into Red Clay, Tennessee. From 1832 Red Clay served as the seat of Cherokee government until 1838 when  the Cherokee people were forced to move west to Oklahoma. This relocation is known historically as "The Trail of

Alexandra Edwards


Carol Crabtree, Park Ranger of Red Clay for the past ten years said, "Because the Red Clay council grounds became such an historic land mark in Tennessee, local people were interested in having the area preserved and protected for educational and recreational use."  "In 1979 the land was purchased by the state of Tennessee, a visitor center was built and Red Clay became a State Historic Park dedicated to the preservation of Cherokee history." The visitor center, named The James F. Corn Interpretive Center, includes exhibit rooms for cultural artifacts and documents representing the Cherokee period of 1832-1838. Exhibits include a colorful stained glass depiction of the Trail of Tears,  Cherokee farming and blacksmithing tools, masks and various tribal arts and crafts. There are displays of the Cherokee alphabet; traditional dances and myths and religion

are also among the exhibits. An informative and entertaining 8 minute video detailing the events that lead up to the Trail of Tears can be viewed in the center's theater upon request.

The Red  Clay Historic Park encompasses 263 natural wooded acres. A map marking the historical landmarks, amenities and nature trails is available from the visitor center.  One of the most interesting landmarks on the grounds is

"Council Springs" known to the locals as the "Blue Hole." This natural spring has a visible blue pool and was considered a sacred place to the Cherokee council. It provided an abundant water supply which is said to be the reason the the tribe chose this site for their council meetings.  The water rises from an underground cave below a rock ledge and finally flows into the Conasauga and

Coosa River systems. Some 504,000 gallons, at a rate of 350 gallons per minute pass through the site each day. The water maintains a year round temperature of about 56 degrees.

The council grounds have on display a council house similar to that used for Cherokee meetings and a  farmhouse with barn and corn crib, typical of one used by a middle class Cherokee farming family in the 1800's. Another interesting landmark is the Eternal flame. The story behind the flame is that during the tribe's removal to Oklahoma,  the Cherokees carried burning coals from their council fire at Red Clay. In the 1950's, Cherokee descendants wanted part of the fire transported to Cherokee, North

Carolina. Later, in April 1984, ten Cherokee runners with torches returned the flame to Red Clay to demonstrate that the Cherokee spirit is unquenchable.

For those that want a quiet escape to enjoy the natural outdoors "The Blue Hole Nature Trail" offers a wonderful opportunity to wander through the wilderness and observe wild life. Pick up the blue map at the visitor center and you are ready to go. This descriptive, numbered map marks a trail through 9 stops identifying trees and plants and explaining the way of life of the Cherokee in the mid 1800's.

Picnic tables with grills are provided for family picnics and for larger groups, a covered picnic shelter that seats up to 100 can be reserved. It is an ideal place for family reunions, church groups, birthday parties and company picnics.

The Park  has a large amphitheater that seats 500 people which can also be reserved for outdoor events. There is also a a mini amphitheater located by the Blue Hole Spring that seats about 50 people. While visiting the park for this

report, a wedding ceremony was being performed under a gazebo at the visitor center. "We have 30-40 weddings take place here and at the various landmarks in the park each year," said Ranger Crabtree. She advised that wedding groups should provide their own arrangements and seating and that bird seed rather

than rice be used to shower the bride and groom.

During the summer months educational programs and seminars are scheduled by the park's interpretive staff for groups of 10 or more. The activities include guided tours, nature walks, movies and blow gun demonstrations. Summer programs also include  "Cherokee myths and legends," " Hug a Tree" (finding your way in the woods), and "Leave No Trace" (an environmental education program).

On the first Saturday and Sunday of August the park hosts the annual Cherokee Days of Recognition. Visitors to this event can enjoy traditional

Cherokee  music, dance, storytelling, crafts and food. Another annual event at Red Clay is "The Nillie Bipper Art Show." which takes place during the first full weekend of October and features arts and craft booths, food and entertainment.

Summer hours for Red Clay State Historic Park are  8:00 am until sunset (March-November.) The Visitor Center is open from 8:00 am to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Sunday and Monday. A fee of $3 per vehicle is charged in the parking area but there are some exemptions. For more information and for summer schedules and reservations you can call Red Clay Historic Park at 423-478-0339.