Fort Played Role in Preserving Cherokee Rights

by permission of The Roane County News

Published in the Fall 2011 Discover Roane Page 14

 

Until white settlers moved to the area, the wild hills, forests and waterways of Roane County were the land of the Cherokee.

 

Rights to land and property would become both the defining cause and the tragedy of the Cherokee in Roane County and East Tennessee.


The first four decades of the 1800s were marked by the Cherokees relationship with white settlers and their struggle to maintain their property and lifestyle.


In 1826, an attorney representing local Indian Toka Will, told a Kingston court, He perceived his nation, with all the natural advantages belonging to it, to be gradually melting away before the brighter sun of civilization moving onwards from the East.


It was an accurate sentiment. Another renowned Roane County Cherokee, Pathkiller, was granted a 640-acre reservation, including a ferry service across the Clinch River.

 

The agreement was not to last. Pathkiller was evicted from the reserve and for years fought in court to regain rights to his land.

In 1807, Cherokees in the area fell prey to a scheme executed by the state of Tennessee.

 

On Sept. 21, Kingston was named the capital of Tennessee to fool the Indians into ceding one square mile of property in the vicinity of Fort Southwest Point. Kingstons capitalhood lasted just one day.

 

Despite the division and conflict between Cherokee Indians and settlers, at least one of East Tennessees forefathers did what he could to be fair to the Cherokee.


Return J. Meigs came to Fort Southwest Point at the turn of the 19th century as an agent of the federal government. 


It was his mission to honor the Cherokees land rights and preserve peace between Indians and settlers.


The Indians distrusted Meigs at first, but he proved to them he would not tolerate settlers invading Cherokee land.

 
To prove it, Meigs sent his soldiers to destroy the homesteads of those settlers.


Settlers passing through Indian territory had to file passports with Meigs and declare what property they were traveling with to prevent them from stealing from the Indians.


Also during Meigs time in Roane County, the Davis School for Cherokees was established to teach English to Indian children.


The Cherokee called Meigs The White Path as a symbol of their respect.


However, fighting, loss of territory and encroaching white settlements meant the diminishing of Cherokee numbers in East Tennessee throughout the early 1800s.

 

In 1838, the greatest tragedy was visited upon the Cherokee when President Andrew Jackson ordered their removal to the West along the Trail of Tears.


Many died in the forced march to reservations in Oklahoma.


There are stories of some East Tennessee Indians who escaped removal by hiding in caves, and many people of Cherokee descent stayed in the area with their white and mixed-heritage families.


Some who claim Cherokee ancestry remain in the area, and what is known of Cherokee history from the settlers perspective is preserved in Fort Southwest Point and the Roane County Archives.