Indigenous People of Appalachia

by olivia sanford


As time ticked, so did change in Appalachia. Time is something that never waits or stops, and often Appalachia is left at the brunt of the difficulties these changes have brought.  A group particularly victim to this change is the Cherokee. Cherokee resided all throughput Appalachia hundreds of years before the settlers arrived. Cades Cove is an example of the push to keep Native Americans off white man’s land. This is where the Native Americans would have resided before the Oliver family arrived in the early 1800’s with several others to follow soon.

As soon as the John Oliver arrived in Cades Cove, the first setter to arrive, there was an immediate fear of the Native Americans. His wife in particular has a documented fear of the indigenous group. Despite their fears, the Oliver’s had arrived during the wrong time of year. With no time to harvest crop before winter began, the hunger would set in. The Native American’s would be the individuals that would help the Oliver’s survive their first winter in the harsh mountains. The Native Americans generosity that winter would be at a loss years later as John Oliver, the same man they had helped survive, along with a large group of men would drive the group out. The land the white man had claimed, as theirs was on the footprints of the “savages” who had so respectfully treated and loved the land before the white men even knew it existed. [1]

Susan Keefe talks briefly about Native Americans in Appalachia before white settlers came on the scene. She says that there were about an estimated 60,000 Cherokee Native Americans that resided in Appalachia. As white men tore their way through Appalachia they began to destroy the social organizations of their community. Now Native American communities have almost completely disappeared. The largest residing community that holds one group of Native Americans in the mountains holds a number of about 11,000 individuals, which is about 2/10 of what the number formerly was.[2] While this does not directly concern the Native Americans in this specific location of Cades Cove, it does exhibit a very important aspect to it. The statistics show that the dwindling number of Native Americans today in the community is a statistic that Cades Cove was apart of. They, along with all the other surrounding communities not only in the Southern region of Appalachia but in the whole of Appalachia were apart of the selfish push to take on the land that was not theirs in the first place. Durwood Dunn in his book Cades Cove makes the individuals in the community of Cades Cove sound like the sturdy well rounded individuals who made God and their community first. While the individuals of Cades Cove did in fact do this, it is clear that there were flaws within in the individuals whether Dunn points it out or not.[3]

While their tragic story of being pushed out of the community leaves a bad taste in ones mouth, it is no comparison to the way those exact individuals pushed out the Native Americans who had lived on the land much longer then they ever had. To this day, there is still no true commemoration for the Cherokee in the park for all the native people who kept the land. No one wears the white cap in Cades Cove, along with the rest of Appalachia. In all the praises of their traits, no one ever mentions the tragedy even the stand up men the Oliver’s participated in. Just like the bareness in the photo, the absence of the Cherokee Native Americans and the appreciation for their community is ghostly, disappearing with the wind.


1 Durwood, Dunn. Cades Cove, 1-21. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998).

2 Keefe, Susan Emley. "Susan Emley Keefe: Appalachia and Its People." In People, Politics and Economic Life: Exploring Appalachia with Quantitative Methods, by Plaut Thomas, 3-24. Dubuque, Iowa: Appalachian State University, 1996.

[3] Durwood, Dunn. Cades Cove, 1-21. (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998).