Voices Of The Land
Long before there was a United States or a state of Tennessee, the land that is now East Tennessee was a magnet for travelers and settlers.
GalleryNatalie L. Haslam Signature Gallery
The People of East Tennessee
Long before there was a United States or a state of Tennessee, the land that is now East Tennessee was a magnet for travelers and settlers. First, Native Peoples. Then, the Europeans. The prospects of a better life outweighed both the challenges and dangers posed by the land and the inevitable conflicts between two divergent ways of living. This is the story of early East Tennessee told by the voices of its people.
When in the Gallery
- Children must be supervised at all times
- Listen when someone is speaking
- Use your “museum voice”
- Be careful with the artifacts
- Keep your hands to yourself
- Walk at all times
- Ask questions
- Follow instructions
1559 Landing of Tristan de Luna at Pensacola
Metal armor jangled and strange voices echoed across the land in 1540. Searching for riches, an expedition led by Hernando de Soto streamed over the mountains and down the valley. Worlds collided. What was clear to the Native Peoples about the Europeans was their cruelty. The Spaniards took food and women, forced men into service, and spread diseases. In the next two decades, similar expeditions followed. The Europeans’ travel journals provide the first written accounts of the land and Native Peoples of East Tennessee. Bells, such as this Clarksdale bell found in East Tennessee, were used as gifts for or barter with Native Americans by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.
The Earliest Voices of the Land
Tanasi. Toqua. Chilhowee. Many of this ancient region’s melodious place names came from the people who lived here as long as 12,000 years ago. At first, they were just small communities of hunter-gatherers, but over time they changed. Different groups rose, flourished, and were succeeded by others for thousands of years until they melded into an advanced civilization. These were among the people that Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto encountered in 1540. Although similar European expeditions followed, it would be another century before Native Peoples and Europeans had frequent contact.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Gift of Mrs. George E. Schanck, in memory of her brother, Arthur Hoppock Hearn, 1913.
Souvenir de Tokouo
By the mid-1600s, the Cherokee had replaced, and in some cases ousted, the remnants of other tribes living here. They claimed hunting rights to more than 40,000 square mils in what would become Tennessee and Kentucky. “The Principal People,” as they called themselves, had crossed the high mountains from the east and settled along the Little Tennessee, Tellico, and Hiwassee rivers. They became the dominant voice in the land for generations.
Courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Ridley Wills II
Trade: A Persuasive Voice
Over the Hills: Sergeant Gibbs and the Advance Party
The exchange of goods ultimately changed the Cherokee way of life and drew them into an international struggle between European powers. As commerce grew steadily on the frontier in the late 1600s, word spread of the Cherokee’s favorable valley location with its abundant furs. Many settlers followed the colonial traders who first traveled the native paths.
Courtesy of the artist. ©2006 Ken Smith.
Foreign Claims Spark Conflict
Posting of the Guard: Fort Loudoun in the Overhill Cherokees
The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was sparked when both Britain and France wanted to control the interior of eastern North America. The Cherokee, with their profitable fur trade and well-situated valley, were sought-after allies. The Cherokee sided with the British. In return, the British built a fort in the midst of Cherokee towns. The construction of Fort Loudoun and Cherokee support gave the British, instead of the French, a vital foothold in the region that would become East Tennessee.
Courtesy of the artist. ©2001 Ken Smith.
Longhunters: Freewheeling Competition
A Sound in the Silence
Glowing accounts of fertile land and rich resources influenced settlers to migrate into Cherokee country. Hunters who ventured for long periods of time deep into the frontier to hunt animals for profit earned the name “longhunters.” They were especially numerous in the region in the 1760s. Daniel Boone, Elijah Walden, Castleton Brooks, Julius Dugger, and others competed with the Cherokee for the rich pelts. Their enticing descriptions of the land represented a greater threat to the Cherokee way of life than did their presence.
Courtesy of the artist. ©2006 David Wright.
One Land, Many Claims
Landscape With Stream
For more than a century, the Cherokee had seen Europeans pass back and forth through the Great Valley. But now, in defiance of British law, they were here to stay, not just to trade. They cleared the land, built homes, and pushed ever farther down the valley. The settlers even formed their own independent government. And as their numbers grew, so did the demand for more and more of the Cherokee’s land.
Courtesy of the Frank H. McClung Museum, University of Tennessee, Knoxville.
From Hunting Grounds to Plow Shares
Early Morning in the Tennessee Mountains
Though the Watauga settlers had lived on the land since 1769, they were forbidden by British law from purchasing it directly from the Cherokee. Heretofore, they had cleverly side-stepped the order by arranging a lease. Later, in 1775, at Sycamore Shoals, the Watauga residents watched as Richard Henderson negotiated a deal called the Transylvania Purchase, to buy some 20 million acres in Kentucky and north of the Cumberland River. Encouraged, they bargained for and purchased the land they had been leasing. A concept of land ownership centuries old was about to change. The communal Cherokee hunting grounds were giving way to the European concept of individual ownership, of surveys and land deeds.
Courtesy of the First Tennessee Heritage Collection, owned by First Tennessee Bank.
The American Revolution’s Backcountry Patriots
Gathering of the Overmountain Men
In the fight for independence, most backcountry settlers pledged united support against the British. The Cherokee, however, sided with the British, hoping a victory would drive the intruding frontiersmen away from their land. Despite the constant danger of Cherokee attacks on their settlements, the frontier militia marched over the mountains to aid fellow patriots and earn fame at the Battle of King’s Mountain in South Carolina. The Overmountain Men also carried out retaliatory raids against Cherokee towns in Lower Tennessee. Some got their first glimpse of the fine lands of the lower valley during these forays and later returned to settle them.
Courtesy of the Tennessee State Museum, Nashville.
We Became “Volunteers”
Cades Cove in Pioneer Days
The War of 1812 won Tennesseans national recognition for their military and political prowess and garnered the nickname the Volunteer State.” Among the East Tennesseans were Sam Houston and native David Crockett, who had moved to Middle Tennessee by this time. East Tennesseans fought alongside General Andrew Jackson, who became a national hero at the battles of Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans.
Courtesy of Mardee Rochelle
A Land Too Small
Trail of Tears
By 1819, the Cherokee occupied only a remnant of their once vast holding. Many had successfully adopted white ways, but the states’ drive to expand and the discovery of gold on Cherokee land in Georgia fueled a push to remove them. On the infamous Trail of Tears, they left their homeland at gunpoint. Many made their arduous trip to the western territory (now Oklahoma) in the dead of winter.
Courtesy of the Woolaroc Museum, Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
David Crockett (1786–1836)
Patriot. Hunter. Legislator. Legend in his time and now. David Crockett was born in Greene County near the Nolichucky River and moved to Middle Tennessee in 1811. His wit brought him political office and fame. Yet at the height of his popularity, he defied President Andrew Jackson and opposed popular issues, such as Indian removal. In the 1830s, Crockett migrated to Texas, leaving his family in Tennessee behind. Crockett joined in the fight for Texas independence and died at the Alamo in 1836, at 50 years of age. “Besty,” David Crockett’s first rifle, c. 1803 Loaned by Joe and Art Swann In 1803, 17-year-old David Crockett bought his first gun, a Pennsylvania rifle that he described as “a capital one.” Three years later, in love with a local girl, Crockett traded it, along with labor, to neighbor John Canaday for a “courting horse.” Canaday later sold the gun to James McCuistion, whose descendants still own it.
Purchase made possible by a grant from Knox County, Tennessee.