One of the things that I find most fascinating about living in the North Georgia mountains is the deep connection to our past, when the southern Appalachians were the domain of the Cherokee Nation. The Cherokee had lived in these mountains for hundreds of years by the time the first Europeans began to explore the area. In the mid-seventeenth century, they commanded over 20,000 square miles and had a population estimated to be about 22,000.
The Cherokee peacefully co-existed with the new settlers, adopting many Western European customs and practices. Primarily an agrarian society, they had a flourishing culture with their own alphabet & high literacy rate. They lived in log homes, not tepees, and even adopted a modified European-style of dress. Many Cherokee, able to read the Bible, were converting to Christianity.
In 1829 gold was discovered in the North Georgia mountain town of Dahlonega, pre-dating the San Francisco gold rush by 21 years. That discovery sparked a thirst for land that put the Cherokee on a collision course with the newest settlers. By 1838–a mere 10-years later–the Cherokee were forcibly removed from their ancestral home and were forced to march over 1,000 miles to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. Food was scarce, sanitation was deplorable, and that winter was particularly harsh; by the end of the march, over 4,000 Cherokee had died. Known as the “The Trail of Tears,” or, as directly translated from the Cherokee language “The Trail Where They Cried.”
Today, there are still many reminders of the Cherokee in the North Georgia mountains, not the least of which are the many folks who can trace their roots back to a Cherokee ancestor. One of the visible vestiges of the Cherokee culture in our area are their “fish traps.” Settlements were common along the Toccoa River and the natives used an ingenious method of catching fish; by piling rocks and boulders across the river in a distinctive “V” shape, they were able to trap and catch fish as they swam into the “V.” These fish traps are, by some estimates, up to 500-years-old. It is wonderful to have this visible connection to such a noble people.