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The Cherokee were the early people of Johnson County

Perhaps when we are considering early Johnson County history, in particular the first inhabitants of the county, we tend to think of explorers and settlers such as John Honeycutt, James Robertson, Daniel Boone and others who once blazed trails through the wilderness that became Johnson County or even settled here. But a little reflection on our part may turn our thoughts to the people who were hunters and gatherers in this region long before Honeycutt, Robertson or Boone set foot on Johnson County soil.
The Cherokee tribe of Native Americans once used what is now Johnson County as hunting grounds and there is evidence that it also was a burial ground as well. Some scholars believe ancestors of the Cherokee came to what is now North America on a land bridge that they believe once connected Siberia and Alaska but has since been covered with waters of the Bering Strait.
As a boy growing up on a small farm west of Mountain City, I often found arrowheads in newly plowed soil or in new ground (land cleared of brush, stumps and roots that was plowed for the first time). I imagined that hunting or warfare might have taken place on the very ground I was standing on. I think the arrowheads were more than likely the result of hunting game for food. I’m sure there have been many arrowheads and artifacts found by other Johnson County citizens as well. From my studies of the Cherokee tribe, I have concluded that they were a proud, freedom loving people. But, they were no match for the superior weapons of the white men who were bent upon claiming the land for their own.
Some of the most prominent members of the tribe include Attakullakulla, Dragging Canoe, Sequoyah and Nancy Ward. Attakullakulla, was a peaceful chief who for the most part worked in harmony with the encroaching whites. Dragging Canoe was a fierce warrior who refused to sign treaties that would diminish the land of his people. Sequoyah became famous for inventing his people’s own written language. Consequently, the Cherokee became literate in a short period of time.
Nancy Ward is one of the most famous persons in Cherokee history. It was said that she was a strikingly beautiful woman. Her nickname was Tsistuna-gis-ke in the Cherokee language, which translates to “Wild Rose” in English. While she had a kindly disposition, she was heroic in battle. She believed in peace and strived to save the lives of both Indians and Whites. She was born about 1737 or 1738 in the Cherokee capital of Echota on the Little Tennessee River in what is now East Tennessee. She died at an advanced age in 1822 or 1824. She is buried at what is now Benton, Tennessee.
The Cherokee were forcibly moved from their homeland to sites further west in the winter of 1838-39. It turned out to be a calamity as many died on the way from disease and exposure. The tribe lost nearly 25% of its number. Some members of the tribe hid out in the Mountains of North Carolina and escaped the “Trail of Tears” as the movement west came to be known. Many of their descendants remain there today.