Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park Hosts Inaugural Cherokee Heritage Day


Children perform dance at Cherokee Heritage Day

By Becky Parsons


ELIZABETHTON, Tennessee — Native American history, customs, and regalia were on vivid display at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park on Aug. 28 for what organizers said will be an annual celebration of Cherokee culture.


The event was presented by Indian Creek Productions, a nonprofit based in Jefferson City and dedicated to promoting education about the history and culture of Cherokee and other native peoples. Proceeds from the day will benefit the Friends of Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, which helps organize events hosted by the park.


“​The indigenous Cherokee were living on these lands long before people from other continents found their way to North America,” Jennifer Bauer, Sycamore Shoals park manager, said. “We have good evidence of the presence of indigenous people through artifacts found while surface hunting, along with archaeological and ground-penetrating radar studies conducted by universities and archaeological firms.”


At its height, the Cherokee nation controlled territory stretching from the Ohio River to northern Georgia and Alabama, including much of the southern Appalachian Mountains. In 1838 and 1839, under the presidency of Andrew Jackson, up to 15,000 Cherokees were forcibly removed to the area of present-day Oklahoma in what came to be called The Trail of Tears. As many as 4,000 Cherokees perished during the removal, leaving around 1,000 in Western North Carolina, who became the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians.


There are place names throughout the region that come from Cherokee culture and language. Even the name Tennessee is derived from a Cherokee village named Tanasi. But for the most part, according to Bauer, the historic presence of the Cherokee is not obvious in the region today.


“There are those of Cherokee descent, and many others, who are extremely interested in learning more about Cherokee culture,” Bauer said. “Through these presentations, visitors were enriched by being able to learn directly from the perspective and experience of the Cherokee.”


The presentations began at 10:30 a.m. with a Cherokee Flute performance and ended at 5 p.m. with a Native American Music performance.


Visitors enjoyed demonstrations of contemporary Cherokee crafts, skills, and performances. The event was unique in that all demonstrations were held by those of Cherokee descent. Sessions throughout the day included lessons and conversations on Cherokee language, lifeways, traditional dances, folklore and oral histories. Attendees could also watch basketmaking, finger weaving, beadwork, woodcarving, and the crafting of wampum and bandolier bags.


A replica of an 1828 Cherokee encampment was constructed outside the park’s visitor center. Attendees could explore a wedge tent and a lean-to kitchen area featuring period-specific utensils and dining items. Other demonstrations in the encampment area included blowguns, darts, and campfire cooking.


Bauer attributed the event’s success to Indian Creek Productions and its passion for sharing and educating others about native American skills and culture. It is a passion shared by Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, whose website describes the Sycamore Shoals area as being “forever linked with the rich traditions and influence of the Native Cherokee.”


Reflecting on her favorite part of the day, Bauer said, “I have a strong personal interest in tools and products produced by hand, thus all of those demonstrating their work was fascinating to me. The talks, stories, music, and language were also wonderful, but I believe the young children demonstrating 18th century dance really was captivating to everyone in attendance.”


Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park contains historic landmarks, such as the Carter Mansion, the oldest standing frame house in Tennessee, built in the 1770s. Other notable historic events at Sycamore Shoals include the Transylvania Purchase, the establishment of Fort Watauga and the muster of the Overmountain Men prior to the battle of King’s Mountain.


To learn more about Indian Creek Productions, Inc, find them on Facebook here.


To learn more about the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park, visit their website here.

Becky Parsons is a Graduate Assistant for the Center of Excellence for Appalachian Studies and Services, Graduate Candidate for Brand and Media Strategy, and editorial assistant with Appalachian Places.

Photographs contributed by Chad Fred Bailey and Appalachian Places staff