Just a few short months after the last forced Cherokee removal to Oklahoma, North Carolina established its westernmost county—Cherokee—on this day in 1839. Formed from lands “lately acquired” from the Cherokee, the new county comprised the western portion of Macon County, itself created the previous year.
After establishing county boundaries, the state legislature soon decreed that the county’s courthouse would operate temporarily in the buildings of Fort Butler, a U.S army fort critical to the Cherokee removal process. The fort and first court were located within the four hundred acres reserved for the town of “Murphey,” where a trading post and post office were already operating. As numerous white settlers moved to the new county, cutting trees, constructing homes, and trading land, a few hundred Cherokees remained in the area. One elderly man named Hog Bite (reportedly 97-years-old) openly defied the government and was allowed to stay, living for at least another decade. Around 400 other Cherokees—some of mixed lineage—continued to reside or resist in this westernmost section, particularly around the Hiwassee, Valley, and Cheoah river valleys.
During this period of internal improvements and agricultural growth in the new western counties, the legislature quickly passed several acts to develop this area. The state granted a charter to the Hiwassee Turnpike Company, tasked with building a road from Murphy into Tennessee, while a newly-improved state road also connected Franklin in Macon County to Georgia through Murphy, utilizing funds from the sale of Cherokee lands. In 1841, NC also passed an act to prevent the cutting of trees along the river valleys in Cherokee County. Within just two years, the population of the country grew to nearly 3,500, including at least 200 enslaved people held among 42 families. Eventually parts of Cherokee were split to form Clay and Graham counties in the following decades.