By Hank Basham, Field Editor, Panama City, Florida
DURING A VISIT to the Great Smoky Mountains region of North Carolina, my wife, Grettis, and I found a fascinating attraction: Oconaluftee Indian Village in Cherokee. What we experienced here you just can’t get from a history book!
At this authentic replica of a 1750 Cherokee community, guides in traditional garb explain tribal history and customs. We had ample time to watch each demonstration and ask questions as we strolled through the village, located on the Cherokee Indian Reservation.
I’ve collected arrowheads for years, so I especially enjoyed watching a demonstrator chip out a perfect one. We couldn’t believe the ease with which another man carved a canoe from a huge tree trunk, using fire and an ax.
Still another wielded a 6-foot blowgun with astonishing accuracy. Dart after dart hit his target, some 50 feet away!
We also watched in fascination as tribal women fashioned clay pots, strung beads, wove reed baskets and pounded corn into meal.
In the seven-sided Council House, found in every 18th-century Cherokee community, we learned about the infamous “Trail of Tears”. More than 4,000 Cherokee died in this harsh forced march of 16,000 men, women and children to Oklahoma. But we learned that about 1,000 Cherokee escaped and hid deep in the mountains, and eventually bought back these 56,000 acres. Their descendants now form the Eastern Band of the sovereign Cherokee Nation.
While strolling through an herb garden and along a nature trail afterward, we reflected on the wisdom of the ancients, who lived in such harmony in a truly magnificent setting.
Cherokee is where U.S. Highways 19 and 441 meet in western North Carolina, just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and about 55 miles west of Asheville.
Oconaluftee Indian Village (Tsali Boulevard and Drama Road) is open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily from May 15 to October 25. Tours are $13 for adults and $6 for children ages 6-13. For details, call 1-828-497-2315 (1-828-497-2111 in the off-season).
Interested in camping nearby? Check out KOA campground locations in North Carolina.
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