Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cherokee-Centers of Government (Eastern)

     The first recorded site of government was associated with the Overhill band of Cherokee Indians in Eastern Tennessee. They located their unofficial capital in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee. The Historic town of Tanasi was located on Cherokee,the Little Tennessee River in the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Near this site another settlement was established which was called Chote, Chota, or Echota. It is not known how the town received this name but is speculated that it was originally established by the Muskogee people and was later occupied by the Cherokee. Chota is the Hitchiti-Creek and Muskogee-Creek word for “Frog.”

      From the late 1740’s to 1788 Chota was the center of government of the Cherokee. The town began to be endangered as the developing government of the United States expanded their territory at the expense of the Indians. With the development of hostilities between Native Americans and the European Settlers, a systematic destruction of Indian settlements was under way. In 1776 the Cherokee towns of Great Tellico, Citico, Misloguo, Chithowoes, and Toqua were destroyed by Colonel William Christian but he spared Chota. John Seiver later returned and destroyed most of the “Overhill” towns including Chota. Following this the Cherokee Capital was relocated to Ustanali which is near present day Calhoun, Georgia. Both sites of the ancient towns of Tanasi and Chota (Echota) are now submerged by the Tellico Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River. The Chota Townhouse site was raised above the operating water level and was connected to the mainland via causeway. Chota does not appear in the historical records until 1745 but Tanasi is mentioned much earlier than that.

     Beginning in 1788, Ustanali, on the Coosawattee River, served as the seat of the Cherokee people. Little Turkey had been elected chief of the Cherokee and he abandoned Chota and moved to Ustanali. In 1823, a site nearby would be chosen by Major Ridge, who was then the chief of the Cherokee, to be the permanent location of their new Capital. Located at the confluence of the Coosawatte and Oosanaula Rivers, near Town Creek, was a Cherokee town called Gansagiyi (Gansagi). This location was chosen to be the site of the new capital. The name was changed to "New Echota.”

     Major Ridge had chosen a prime piece of property on which to build the new capital town. Hoping to establish a permanent seat of government, Major Ridge and Charles Hicks envisioned a modern, thriving town for their people. They had farms only four miles away and the site were in the middle of the lands claimed by the Cherokee. There could be no dispute at that time regarding the ownership of the land.
     At a council meeting in 1825, Major Ridge suggested plans for the new capital. One of the ways that he devised to secure approval was to make the recommendation that its name be Echota as that was the name of the ancient capital which had been located on the Little Tennessee River; suggesting that this one should be called “New Echota.”

     John Ross was elected Principal Chief at a convention in New Echota in 1827. A Republican system of government was established at that time. The plot of land on which the town was to rise was said to be as level and smooth as the floor of a house. The town was sectioned off with a two acre central square, a sixty foot wide main street, which was surrounded by one hundred-one acre lots, laid out in city style, to be sold for house places. Water was available from a large spring which was located near the center of town.

     Work was started on buildings which would be required to house the government and commercial businesses that were needed. There were also framed dwelling houses constructed. A two story council house was built to conduct the operations of the tribe. Also built was a courthouse for the Supreme Court, a printing shop in which the newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, was printed, stores and shops needed by the community.

     Business was conducted by the tribal leaders in this setting for only a short time but their presence in the Eastern United States was waning. By 1835 the removal of the Cherokee nation from their ancestral lands had begun and Georgia ordered that they abandon the location, seized their printing press, and proceeded in earnest to rid the territory of all Native Americans. Being forced from Georgia, the Cherokee leaders conducted their affairs briefly from Red Clay, Tennessee, but three years later (1838) the Trail of Tears would be in full march to Oklahoma. The government of the Cherokee would then be conducted by the Western Band of the tribe.

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