Welcome to the Story of Katuah, the Land and its People

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For thousands of years cultures thrived in the East Tennessee and Southern Appalachia region. Archeologists have determined that as far back as 12,000 years ago humans, known as Paleo-Indians, were living in this region. To obtain their food, these bans of people searched through the forests looking for nuts, fruits and insects, fished in the rivers, and hunted large game as mastodon, caribou and white-tailed deer. The lush, deciduous forests which supported these people with renewable materials for shelter and food had come into existence after the end of the last ice-age, a long period of time in which biological life as we know it today had been surpressed due to an hospitable, cold environment.

About four thousand years later the lifestyle of these Indians had changed. Although scientists are not sure if this transition was drastic or gradually, the Archaic period, (8,000 - 900 B.C.) marked the beginning of a new and major form of survival which would change the face of the earth in the millennia to come: plant cultivation (or primitive horticulture). The changed forest ecology also motivated the Archaic Indians to hunt different animals than their Paleo-Indian forefathers thousands years earlier. The white-tailed deer remained favorite food, but the bear, opossum, raccoon, squirrel, and turkey were new prey. Also, hickory nuts, acorns, and other nuts became increasingly popular. The Archaic Indians appear to have lived together in groups of several families, sharing resources, knowledge, and celebrations.

Around 900 B.C. technological improvements, such as the manufacturing of pottery and more sophisticated use of agricultural methods, started a period called the Woodland, which lasted from 900 B.C. until A.D. 900. At the end of this period people started to grow small amounts of corn. Furthermore, burial mounds were first erected in this period. These large, impressive structures honored important, deceased individuals, but were also sometimes filled with objects alone. For food, the Woodland people remained fond of white-tailed deer, but mollusks, turtles, and fish were eaten as well. People would spend more and more time getting food from the river. Other animals present in the forests at these times included beavers, squirrels, rabbits, and turkeys. People also ate many nuts, of which hickory nuts were most popular, but also acorn and walnut. Later in this period squash, sunflower, and sumpweed were introduced as well..

Around A.D. 900 a slow shift in lifestyle was marked by the arrival of people coming from the central Mississippian River. This Mississipian Period, which lasted until A.D. 1600, is characterized by an increase of relationships people began to have with each other and with their built environment. Villages got bigger and became more permanent. Multiple buildings, storage pits and hearths, and occasional platform mounds and underground rooms are known to have existed. Many houses were set in a circle around a square or plaza. Small structures, perhaps winter sleeping quarters, were built alongside more substantial houses. Fences for defense in warfare were put around the community. Corn had become the primary food, while squash and
beans were also grown. Hunting, fishing, and gathering continued to play an important part.

Although Mississippian chiefdoms had begun to decline by A.D. 1500 the isolated security of the East Tennessee Mountains kept regional tribes strong. However, by the early 1600's Spanish robbery and spread of European diseases led to the end of Woodland cultures in East Tennessee.

The final Native American group to occupy the Little Tennessee River Valley was the Cherokee. Regular contact between the East Tennessee Cherokees and European traders did not begin until the early 1700s. The introduction of European goods (such as guns) and beliefs had a major effect on the traditional Cherokee culture. The efforts of the Cherokees to remain on their territory were in vain. The poor European soldiers often came in hope to find the land and fortune promised to them by their European  King. The thirst for land of these soldier often translated into the deceitful and sometimes forced signing away of Cherokee land in the hand of European colonists. The justification for what was more often stealing than a fair business deal was hidden under the promise of "progress of civilization." In 1830 the Congress of the United Stated passed the Indian Removal Act. In May 1838 General Winfield Scott was ordered to remove the remaining 15,000 Cherokees by force. Only a small number of Cherokees escaped this tragic tearing apart of people from their lands, taking refugee in the mountains of Western North Carolina (today the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians). This event is known in history as the Trail of Tears.

Today we can still learn a lot of the way in which native americans perceived our forefathers coming from Europe. Above all, the contact between native cultures and European colonizers started a period in which the relative balance of nature which had been sustained for thousands of years, became disturbed by a materialist hunger for land. The natives came of deceived:

Today, only 150 years later, these European descendants have made of this land something confused and ugly. Shopping malls, roads, golf courses, strip developments, industrial parks, and subdivisions thrive and proliferate, in the name of consumption.

The Cherokees called this land Katuah. We do not yet know it well enough to give it a name of our own.

University of Tennessee Transportation Center: Cultural periods represented in Tennessee.