The Native American Footprint on the Land



Native Americans were here at least 3,000 years before the arrival of explorers and settlers from Europe. By the 1600s the hunter/gatherer economy of the Cherokee Indians of the Appalachian region was also developing agricultural methods which would be adopted by the first white settlers of North Carolina. And the Indian network of trade routes often served as the basis of future roads and turnpikes. At the arrival of the first white settlers, Cherokee villages were surrounded by large corn fields which had been cleared using a slash and burn method. Gardens were planted beside rivers and streams. In addition to corn, the Cherokee grew beans, squash, sunflowers, pumpkins and other crops. While the men were the principal hunters, the Cherokee women tended the fields.


By the 1750s the Cherokee population stood at approximately 25,000. Twenty years later through open warfare with the relentlessly encroaching white population and by the ravaging effect of diseases carried by explorers and settlers the population had been reduced to less than 9,000.

Map of Cherokee's loss of land in a 100 year span“Whole Indian Nations have melted away like snowballs in the sun before the white man’s advance. They leave scarcely a name of our people except those wrongly recorded by their destroyers…. We had hoped that the white men would not be willing to travel beyond the mountains. Now that hope is gone. They have passed the mountains….” – Dragging Canoe, Cherokee leader, 1775

In the American Revolutionary War, the Cherokee chose to fight on the British side. They believed the English would help them keep their tribal lands. This choice would eventually cost them dearly: for many, the loss of their lives; for all, the loss of their land.

“…our settlements will gradually circumscribe and approach the Indians, and they will in time either incorporate with us as citizens of the United States, or remove beyond the Mississippi.”– Thomas Jefferson, 1803

Despite the earnest attempts by many Cherokee to “incorporate” with the white settlers, the final removal, ordered by President Andrew Jackson, took place in 1838. This infamous chapter in American history, in which more than 4,000 died on the journey to the West, became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

“We are now about to take our leave and kind farewell to our native land, the country that the Great Spirit gave our Fathers, we are on the eve of leaving that country that gave us birth…it is with sorrow we are forced by the white man to quit the scenes of our childhood… we bid farewell to it and all we hold dear.” – Charles Hicks, Tsalagi (Cherokee) Vice Chief, 1838