Their Descendants...Their Stories...Their Achievements

Lifting the Mists of History on Their Way of Life

By: Ethelene Dyer Jones

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Unicoi Turnpike as a “Trail through Time” (Part 2)

Last week’s column presented the Georgia Historical Marker wording on the Unicoi Turnpike and gave a brief account of some of the importance of this road to the history of the area. It looked forward to November 12, 2011 when the Unicoi Turnpike Day will be held by the Towns County Historical Society, with an opportunity to hike along a portion of the old trail from the Unicoi Gap parking lot north of Helen and South of Hiawassee.

This important “Trail Through Time” has figured prominently in the history of the mountainous regions of North Georgia, western North Carolina, and eastern Tennessee. Let’s pursue some more highlights of this significant history.

In 1999, the section of the Unicoi Turnpike that stretches between Vonore, Tennessee and Murphy, North Carolina was designated as one of sixteen National Millennium Flagship Trails by the United States government. Reading the speech made by Mr. Brett Riggs, archaeologist, for the September 9, 2000 dedication service at the Sequoyah Museum Pow Wow, I found a rich store of information about the Unicoi Turnpike and its significance to history. I merely highlight here some of the dates and events of this Trail through Time.

Mr. Riggs told that the first Europeans to travel the Indian trail from Charleston, South Carolina to the Cherokee Overhill towns of Tellico, Chota and Tenasi in Tennessee—going through mountainous regions of what later became portions of four states, South Carolina, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee—were English traders with the names of Alexander Long, Cornelius Dogherty, Robert Bunning, and James Douglas. This history dates to 1690 when these men used pack animals to traverse the “Great Warpath” Trail and trade with the Indians.

Ten years later, by 1700, French traders had joined to ply their trade, coming from the New Orleans area, getting on this northern mountainous route, and finding the profitable business in furs and other items of trade from the Overhill Indians.

By 1730, Alexander Cumming, an English Trader was dealing with the Indians. In a well-researched book by William Steele, he tells of Cumming having designated the Cherokee Chieftain, Moytoy of the Tellico, TN area as “Emperor of the Cherokee.” Cumming took seven warriors back to England with him , among whom was the famous warrior Attaculla, or “Little Carpenter.” This “Empire” designated by the trader Cumming lasted until another trader in 1736, named Christian Gottlieb Priber, still designating Chief Moytoy as leader, made himself Secretary-of-State. Priber’s empire, however, was only five years in duration. He was arrested as a “French spy” and died in prison on the coast of Georgia at Ft. Frederica.

The French and Indian War (1755-1781) was the next large historic event that affected action on the Unicoi Trail. The British built Fort Loudon during this period. An amazing transport of twelve cannon were hauled over the Unicoi Trail, with the loss of only one of the horses that pulled the 300-pound cannon. After the British surrendered Ft. Loudon, the cannon were taken back over the trail to South Carolina.

The next major highlight in Unicoi Trail history was the American Revolution. We will recall from history that the Cherokee sided with the British against the American settlers. Along the Trail, John Sevier invaded Overhill Cherokee villages, coming as far east as Murphy and Andrews in North Carolina. Sevier’s army was surrounded at one time by about 500 Cherokee warriors at Tellico, but amazingly the U. S. troops escaped massacre. A fuller story of this encounter is given in J. G. M. Ramsey’s book, Annals of Tennessee.

Benjamin Hawkins, a US Indian Agent to the Cherokee and Creek tribes, made a journey in 1799 the whole length of the Unicoi Turnpike. His writings and journal have been preserved in what is entitled Letters of Benjamin Hawkins. This valuable account is in collections of the Georgia Historical Society (Volume IX, pages 110-113). His naming important landmarks along the trail and giving the time it took him to walk from point to point which he indicated has proved valuable in understanding the geography and lay-of-land of this ancient route.

We learned from last week’s account that a group of Whites and Cherokees joined to form the Unicoi (or Unaka) Turnpike Road (1813 and following). Improvements on the old trail enabled better travel conditions. The turnpike became a boon to agricultural production and marketing, trading, and even transport of settlers as they moved into mountainous regions to claim land and begin a new and brave way of life.

Then came the Gold Rush. Gold was discovered on Coker Creek in Tennessee in 1827 and at Duke’s Creek in upper Georgia in 1828. When the Cherokee were forced to give up all claims to their traditional homeland by the Treaty of New Echota in 1836, the plans for evacuation of the Indians began in earnest. We all know too well the Trail of Tears and the loss of many Indians along this route of exposure, illness and death. Unfortunately, many of the Cherokee were forcefully moved over portions of the Unicoi Trail from temporary stockades where they had been gathered. We have stories of how they mournfully waved farewell to their mountain homes.

The Civil War, too, 1862-1865, provided all-too-bloody tales along this “Trail in Time.” The hollows and mountainous hiding areas provided cover for guerilla bands and outlaws who marauded, stole and killed. Following the war, the Trail was still the scene of intrigue and high adventure. Many stories abound of how history has occurred along the trail.

Now an effort is under way to continue marking more portions of the trail as a “National Millennium Flagship Trail” along the whole mileage from the Tugalo River in Georgia to Bristol, Tn. This “Great Warpath Trail” has many miles and many stories still to be told.

c2011 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published October 20, 2011 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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