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Forest Service excavates fort along Trail of Tears
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Coker Creek, Tennessee (AP) 11-09
The U.S. Forest Service has begun to uncover the remains of a fort used to temporarily house migrating Cherokee along the Trail of Tears more than 170 years ago.
The land in Monroe County where Fort Armistead once stood has never been plowed or developed, so walking along the trails there and passing the numerous springs used by the Cherokee is like traveling back in time.
Forest Service archaeologist Quentin Bass told the Knoxville News Sentinel that work has revealed the locations of block houses, a parade ground, a powder magazine, barracks and storage pits. Archaeologists and volunteers also have discovered many articles discarded by soldiers and Cherokee.
The U.S. Forest Service purchased the 26-acre site in 2005 from the Dalton family. Kathleen Dalton said they had heard about rumors of a fort on the property, but after they found artifacts at the site, they knew the land should belong to the public.
“No one outside of this area knew about the location, but it was carried down through oral tradition,” Bass said.
Bass said representatives of three Cherokee tribes met at the fort’s remains about a year ago and were amazed by the beauty of the site that held the memory of such tragedy for their people.
Rare species of mushrooms, herbs and medicinal plants used centuries ago by American Indians are still growing there.
“This is a sacred place,” Bass said. “It certainly represents a crucial, and tragic, part of the history of not only the Cherokee people, but also the entire nation.”
The trail leading through Fort Armistead was used by American Indians for centuries and may have been used by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto in 1540. It was the lowest gap through the Appalachians.
In the early 19th century, the trail was used to drive herds of cattle, pigs and turkeys east over the mountains to sell in South Carolina.
Fort Armistead was built in 1832 to protect the Cherokee and keep white settlers out of the area after gold was located along Coker Creek. But in 1836 the function of the fort changed and it became a stop on the Trail of Tears, the campaign of forced removal of the Cherokee from their lands in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Future plans for the site are still being developed, but many Cherokee are advocating keeping it as a walk-in only site to maintain its solitude and the atmosphere of reverence.
Bass said it will be up to Cherokee National Forest officials, in consultation with the Cherokee, as to how to manage the fort.
“We have given ourselves a magnificent gift, and we should respect and preserve it,” he said.
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